THE AUSTRALIAN PRESBYTERIAN BIBLE CHURCH - May 21, 2006
PARABLES AND SPIRITUAL PERCEPTION
The parables of Christ in Matthew 13 are a picturesque, often confrontational, strictly uncompromising, realistic depiction of life into and in the Kingdom of Heaven. They leave any undistorted reader without any obscurity, and penetrate even into the heart of obscurity in the misty recesses of the hidden heart of man. Today, we examine the major thrust of some of them, so that we can find the cumulative impact of this series, as might the listeners at the time, from this overview. Never minimise Christ: magnify Him and so act as light-reflectors (Phil. 2:15), not absorbent, like cotton wool, but despatching Gospel light.
Today, we examine the major thrust of some of them, so that we can find the cumulative impact of this series, as might the listeners at the time, from this overview.
a) Matthew 13:1-9 The State of the Soil
Whether the seed from the sower fell on a path, rocky ground with shallow soil, thistled recesses or good soil, one thing was clear: the soil was the point. The seed was not in question. It is the word of God, its growth not the person, but the impact of truth. If the seed was crowded out, or its root system could not develop into the rock so near the surface, or the path was too hard for its penetration, or it was just plain ready, one thing was clear. The land had the 'opportunity' but its nature produced response.
This of course in no way presupposes any irrelevance to human will, nor does it make it the criterion: it merely makes it most clear that there is a result of all that occurs, and in the end, the soil will yield to or misuse the seed.
If the soil is ready, then the results are sure. What makes the soil suitable ? First it needs to be broken up. Thus Jeremiah has this in 4:3:
"Break up your fallow ground,
And do not sow among thorns.
4Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
And take away the foreskins of your hearts,
You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
Lest My fury come forth like fire,
And burn so that no one can quench it,
Because of the evil of your doings."
Then there is need of water, as the Spirit works, and single-mindedness, as the heart yields. The kingdom is not for playing, but for praying, and not with shiftless interest, but passionate zeal.
b) Matthew 13:11-17 The Tilt of the Will
Why speak in parables ? asked the disciples. They were blessed with the interpretation from Christ's lips (as are we!), but it was because of the imperious, impervious resistance to truth that this method of instruction was given: before the will operates, the mind may receive thus an input! Christ cited Isaiah 6, in context, to make this point on people closing their eyes lest they see and finding God, know Him.
c) Matthew 13:20-21 The Blocked Entry
In this seed-soil parable, Christ makes it clear that one case is that of temporary religious excitement, where the word of God is received for joy for a little while, but the shallow soil means that the first difficulties may lead to hardness so that the thing does not take root, the person does not take heart, the result is escape from truth by one means or another: the seed dies. This is NOT conversion, but mockery.
d) Matthew 13:23 The Growth in Grace
In this world, there is much evil, and friendship with it, says James, is enmity against God. It is mutually exclusive: do not try to combine, for that is rebellion at the outset. You live for one or the other: it cannot be both. Thus you may find yourself in the world (it does not say that the 'field' is the 'church' but the world), mixed with every sort of rascal and folly: but you proceed according to your own 'seed', straightforwardly, and right near you are many who are quite different, though at first they may seem like you. GROW in grace and in the knowledge of Christ (II Peter 3:18), for assimilation by proximity, growing like to what is near, it is madness if you mean business with God. Your whole business as in I John 3:9, is to grow in terms of this word, this seed, this power of God, and not to be like the weeds alongside, rather having within, Christ the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).
e) Matthew 13:24ff. The Contest by Evil
In this parable, Christ speaks of an enemy sowing weeds amid the good crop. Thus the devil is active even in trying to intersperse his evil ways among what is good, as with Judas among the disciples. There will be a judgment when the crop is reaped! It will all be so obvious then: but realise that the devil is an active, blighting agent, like virus in crops. He who is in you is stronger than the devil, so rejoice, but do not ignore his active agency for confusion! expect it ... (I John 4:4-6). Abiding in the word of God is critical in this challenge. RESIST Him, He is light-footed enough when Christ confronts Him (cf. Matthew 4).
f) Matthew 13:31ff. The Tiny Start
The mustard seed is used as a parable, for it can grow till birds can rest on it, and shade comes with it; but its beginnings, like those of the kingdom of heaven in the heart of a man, may be at first light insignificant. Yet at last growth, it has a whole world of grace and goodness about it. Inside, one grows from the first conviction of truth (His) and error (ours), to the last growth of understanding as one has long worked for Him as Saviour and Lord. From first to last, it is like a seed becoming a tree, a potential becoming actual, a tiny obscurity becoming a saving grace.
g) Matthew 13:33 The Divine Distribution
Here the same concept is expressed in even more spreading terms, as a little leaven moves from its place to cover an entire meal, leavening it. So may be the work in a nation; so may be the work of God and His truth as it impels the heart into every phase of life, making it lifted, not flat.
h) Matthew 13:36ff. The Dramatically Different Effects
The explanation of the weed parable shows us the burning of the weeds at the end of history, and the gathering of the good grain into barns. The weeds 'practise lawlessness' and create havoc, so inheriting their own doings. They were of a different ‘seed’ from the start, a diabolical invasion, a growth ruin.
i) Matthew 13:44 The Utter Abandon on Entry
Broad and deep as are the effects of the kingdom, and strong as are its results, yet there is an entry point: as when a man finds a field desired, and selling all he has to get it, buys it. Nothing is left: it is all or nothing, and you get it or you don't. 'Trying' is irrelevant. You make the sellings and you buy, or you don't.
j) Matthew 13:45 The Territory which Needs no Supplement
If it has the feeling of rest, as in a beautiful field, it has no less the feeling of 'the unsearchable riches of Christ' (Ephesians 3:8), as when a pearl is bought, all else being sold to gain it.
k) Matthew 13:47 The Realm of Realities
A fishing parable is moved into focus. Small and great fish may be gained in an expedition, but at the end at least, those not fit, little and ungrown, are throw-aways. With man, there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. There is to be a gathering and a differentiation, and what is His, will look like it, not because it is perfect, but because He is, and being received into the heart and life, showers forth His goodness, and having washed the heart and renewed the spirit, makes His people His own not only in name, but in divine dynamic unleased within, so that they grow in likeness to Him, who were founded anew, by His atonement.
Recall the Greek acronym, ‘fish’ in English, Jesus Christ Lord and only Saviour : HE does it! by grace, through faith, and that, it is not of yourselves, the whole cycle (Ephesians 2:8): having saved you, He will not relent (Romans 5:1-11), and having founded you, He never leaves you confounded (John 4:14, 10:9,27-28, 5:24). Those who are His, believers in Him as He is, have already "obtained an inheritance." It is not a fish farm, for His fish are in the high seas; but He knows His own, and will never leave or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). Rejoice therefore on its simplicity, its certainty, its consistency and His faithfulness, who buys what He gains, and keeps what is His own, irrevocable in His covenant, sustained by His Spirit, who in the very midst of waves and billows, know their eternal resource, who is able to keep what is committed to Him against that day, who are kept by the power of God to salvation (I Peter 1, II Timothy 1).