Images of the Savior (22 â€“ His Speaking in Parables)
Many generations before our Savior walked on the earth, it was prophesied of him, â€œI will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of oldâ€ (Psalm 78:2); and when he finally arrived upon this earth, we may see how thoroughly he fulfilled this prophecy, uttering parables and sayings which contained all the truth and wisdom of heaven, but which hid their rich wisdom from the understanding of the learned and respected men of Israel, and opened them up to the wondering faith of the simplest child. How true is the praise of the psalmist, â€œOut of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have perfected praiseâ€ (Matthew 21:16; Psalm 8:2)! And nowhere do we see more clearly the wisdom of Christ in his utterance of parables than when he â€œsat beside the sea; and there gathered together unto him many crowds, so that he entered a boat and sat down, and all the crowd stood upon the shore; and he spoke to them many things in parablesâ€ (Matthew 13:2-3). To this account, what Jesus spoke to the people in parables and mysteries, and the reason for his enigmatic method of instruction, we will now turn our attention, as the Spirit of God permits.
Let us first observe what it was that Jesus taught by these means. We see from the outset that these parables all have to do with the long-awaited Kingdom, finally come down to earth in the person, words, and deeds of our Savior. Now, although the Jews were awaiting this promised Kingdom, and earnestly hoping for the Son of David to take up the scepter once again, it is evident how different their expectations were, as to what sort of Kingdom it should be. They were expecting a King who would conquer with a sword and extend his dominion through bloodshed and conquest; but the truth is, God's Kingdom would be extended, not through a proud display of might, but through humble toil and sweat; not through treading down the enemy, but through being trampled upon, and overcoming in patient love; not through taking the life of others, but through giving up one's own life, and seeing it multiplied in the end. And thus we learn from Jesus' first parable: the mighty warriors of the Kingdom of Heaven are they who toil and sweat to bring to the world the good news of Jesus' great victory through humility and death, and who seek as the reward of their labor a few souls who, through their message, die with Christ, and with him spring up into new and fruitful life â€“ a few fruitful souls out of the many who give no heed, or have no root, or are too entangled with the cares of this world. How different a conception of kingly dominion is this from the ideals of the world! Has not God truly chosen to put to shame the proud and noble through the base and foolish vessels he has chosen (see I Corinthians 1:26-31)? Did not our King overcome the enemy by his willful giving up of himself to be bruised? Will we not do the same, if we would see his Kingdom spread? Let us lay down our lives, give up our bodies to be beaten and our souls to be mocked, so that by the Christ-like example of our willing humility, God will be pleased to snatch a few souls from the kingdom of the Serpent and usher them into the marvelous Kingdom of his Son, when they have seen the truth of our message displayed in the character of our lives.
And now, let us observe that this Kingdom grows through slow and imperceptible means, but is unstoppable in its sure increase. Well has the prophet Isaiah spoken of our King, that â€œof the increase of his government, there will be no endâ€ (Isaiah 9:7)! Is this not truly the case? Look at how persecuted God's Church has been throughout history, look at how the enemy has raged against her, look at how meek and humble she has been, how utterly unlike any kingdom of men, all of which grow through pride and violence, through bloodshed and fear â€“ how could such an unlikely Kingdom grow at all? But as a little yeast in a great lump of dough soon permeates and changes the nature of the whole, so is Jesus' small and afflicted Church in the world. Or rather, as the slightest of seeds mysteriously becomes the greatest of plants, so the smallest and lowliest of kingdoms will certainly overshadow them all, and lift up her head far above the greatest kingdoms on the face of the earth. Is this not the work of the Lord? Who can know the power within a seed, which looks so powerless and impotent, and yet, when it is cast out upon the earth and trampled down by the feet of men, slowly rises up until it towers far above all? Men may build their own works and kingdoms, through well-planned and mighty labors which are at once evident to all; but only God can cause a seed to grow, and only he can cause his Kingdom to increase through the same mysterious and unobserved ways. Certainly, the Church of our Savior is God's Kingdom, and the greatest display of his wisdom and power that the world has ever seen (Ephesians 3:9-11; 20-21)!
And next, we observe that this Kingdom will have many spies, traitors, and false citizens in its midst; but these will all be marked out and destroyed in the end. Oh, but our enemy is spiteful! When he saw that he could not destroy Christ's Kingdom by trampling upon her, he used deceitful malice instead, and slipped in to plant his own false and worthless seeds. Look at the fruit of his cunning work today! Look at the false churches, false prophets, corrupt denominations and fellowships â€“ are there left any true stalks of wheat at all among all the tares? And look, moreover, at all the insincere professors even within the true churches, who have been raised up in the embrace of right doctrine, and yet have no true heart for the King. Ah, how pitiable is the state of the Kingdom in our time! But take heart, for it has been worse off yet â€“ who but a handful of hated and afflicted believers hiding out in mountains and caves were left within the Church in the days before God shook her mightily through the words of Luther and the reformers? And yet, in her humblest days, God has not left himself without a remnant. We may be sure that, even though tares may spring up all around us, even though our gospel nets may catch many a worthless fish, God knows who are his, and he will seal them all in the day of judgment â€“ but those who are mere imposters, however convincing they may be to other men, God will cast into the fire, where they will be tormented with the enemy who planted them.
And finally, we observe how precious this kingdom is, to those who have been called into its borders. The world may look upon us with condescending pity: â€œHave they not sold everything they possessed which was of value, and for what? To purchase a worthless field of weeds?â€ So they may scoff, for they have not seen the buried treasure which God has revealed to us. In the field which is despised by the world, whose delight is in their cars and houses and money and fame, there is a treasure which outshines them all. Who, when his eyes have been opened to the wonder and the treasure of who Jesus is, can have any more taste for the world's dung heap? The world's greatest possessions will rot and burn; but Jesus will grow all the more glorious, throughout all of time. The world's most glamorous attractions will soon grow old and lose their appeal. But who can fathom the manifold depths of Jesus' attractions? In him is everything good, everything enjoyable, everything which can inspire awe and wonder, worship and praise â€“ and all in infinite proportions, so that the soul who has praised him the longest will be the hungriest to experience more of him. All eternity will be an ever-increasing exultation of delight in the great treasure we have stumbled across in the unlikeliest of places â€“ the unwanted fields of the world. Do we have to give up everything to follow our Savior into his Kingdom? Yes, but it is no sacrifice at all, but a cause for great joy. Who would not trade his dung heap for the world's greatest treasure, when once his eyes have been opened? And Jesus is our hidden treasure, our pearl of great price. Oh, let us rejoice in him!
Now, we must notice that Jesus' words of rich wisdom and eternal, joy-giving comfort were not intended for everyone. No, the proud and wise men of this world stumbled upon them, as they were destined to do (see I Peter 2:8). This is why Jesus spoke in parables: to blind the eyes and harden the hearts of those who had wisdom and understanding in their own conceit. Just as Isaiah prophesied long ago, so Jesus was fulfilling, hardening the hearts of his people, lest they should convert and be healed (Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:10-17). Is this not great cause for humility? If we are wise, then we are foolish in God's sight. But if we are foolish, then will God give us his wisdom, a wisdom which will confound the wise and exalt the humble (I Corinthians 1:18-25). Let us approach our Savior as little children, seeking his wisdom and pleading for a glimpse of his glory, which is the sum and substance of all our treasure. If we approach him in pride, thinking that we know something, will he not harden our hearts too, and blind our eyes to his own great worth? But if we plead in humility for his grace, he will not turn us away, but will satisfy our souls with the deep and thirst-quenching knowledge of himself. Then, we will be as those who have been taught the mysteries of the Kingdom, then we will be as those who are enabled to cast out of their store-houses old and new treasures, treasures of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ, treasures from God's earliest words of revelation until his last and greatest revelation in the incarnate Son â€“ and these treasures will be for the enriching of the world, and the spread of the Heavenly Kingdom.