The Bible is full of issues that challenge the believer to think deeply about their faith and develop a good understanding of what it means to be a Christian. One issue has fueled debate for centuries. Quite frequently, Jesus used parables to explain His message and this led to a bit of confusion among those who heard it as well as confusion to those who read His words today.
Matthew 13:34, Mark 4:34, and John 10:6 all allude to the fact that Jesus intentionally used parables in His teachings and never taught without them. If parables themselves were so hard to comprehend, why would Jesus employ them to teach His message? Jesus’s answer is given in Matthew 13:13 when He states, “This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” Confused even more? Well, there is a reason Jesus used parables and His answer does not have to be as confusing as it sounds!
To get to why Jesus would use parables to prevent those who heard them from understanding, it may be beneficial to imagine two islands in the middle of an ocean that are connected by a bridge. We are going to journey from one of those islands to the other using that bridge to better understand why Jesus would speak in a way that was hard to comprehend.
Let us begin on our island represented by an unlikely source in the Old Testament: King Solomon and the Book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes begins with a familiar verse in 1:1, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” as Solomon uses this book to show that no matter the amount of wealth, wisdom, power, knowledge, toil, self-indulgence, and self-attempts at righteous living, there is nothing new to God and it is all in vain.
Positive stuff right? Real Zig Ziglar material right there. (Sarcasm implied)
So what on earth does this have to do with why Jesus would intentionally use parables to confuse those who heard them? Actually, quite a lot. Whether Solomon realized it or not, he was actually making a great evangelical argument.
You see, King Solomon had it all. He had money, power, authority, a vast wealth of knowledge, and anything he wanted. You might say he was living the glamorized American Dream. So if Solomon had all of these things, why on earth did he come to consider it all as vanity and pointless?
The answer is simple yet profound: Solomon was speaking to the need of a relationship with God on a personal level.
Solomon certainly had knowledge of the Scriptures and he built the first Jewish Temple. He was the son of David and inherited the kingdom of Israel as the king of God’s people. Solomon did initially have a personal relationship with God and he was considered to be the wisest man of his time and certainly prior to the arrival of Jesus. Yet, as Solomon grew old, it seems as though he fell away from the relationship he had with God and lost sight of life’s beauty. He eventually would worship false gods and idols turning from God (1 Kings 11).
Since Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon at an old age, it is a bit easier to see why he saw all he had (as well as life) to be meaningless: He no longer had a personal relationship with God. He may have still have the head knowledge of his encounters with God, but he no longer knew him in his heart. He gives God His due within Ecclesiastes, but he warns that the world and all one acquires in the world can drive a man’s heart away from God.
So how do we get from this realization about Ecclesiastes on our island to Jesus speaking in parables on the other? We cross the bridge in between!
The bridge connecting the two islands is constructed by Paul. Paul writes to the Church of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
What does love have to do with this? John the Apostle reminds us in 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
So we have John saying that God is love and Paul saying that without love, everything is useless. Taking it further: God is love and without a personal relationship with Him, all seems useless. One can have ample understanding of the Bible, the history of it, the archaeological findings, the prophecies throughout, and the science that supports it, but if they have no relationship with God, there is no point.
Some call it the “fifteen inch journey”. The “fifteen inch journey” refers to the common distance from the head to the heart. In other words, it is taking the head knowledge we have of God and journeying into our heart, opening that heart to Him, and entering into a personal relationship with Him. Maybe for you the bridge is more like fifteen feet, yards, miles or an even greater length. Maybe for you, the bridge seems impossible.
Know this: With God, there is no impossible.
We need God to cross that bridge. We need that relationship with the Father to cross that bridge. We need to enter into a relationship of love with our Creator.
Once we have that relationship with God, we journey to the other island where Jesus speaks in parables. Here is the honest truth as to why Jesus did this: The parable challenges the mind to grasp what is meant for the heart to comprehend. Jesus specifically used parables for this reason.
That is why parables such as the Prodigal Son are difficult to understand. The son takes his father’s money, leaves, squanders it, and his father throws a lavish party when he returns! Talk about an awkward situation. Only a heart that is in a personal relationship with God can see that God is always at the ready to accept us back even when we wander to our own devices. You can get to this conclusion in the mind, but you cannot fathom the immense love and mercy God shows in welcoming us back until you know Him in your heart through the Holy Spirit and by way of the sacrifice of Christ.
You see, Jesus reminds us that the gate to Heaven is narrow in Matthew 7 and that has drastic implications. Many will have knowledge of God, but few will allow Him into their hearts. Many will have understanding of Scriptures, but few will commune with the Holy Spirit in their hearts. Many will acknowledge Christ is Lord, but few will acknowledge Him in their hearts.
In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
Every believer should be familiar with this passage and what it entails. Jesus gave His life to facilitate a personal relationship in the heart of man. He seemingly moved the Temple into man’s heart. He desires to dwell there just as God desires an intimate relationship with His creation. If Jesus is not in your heart, you are not saved. All the biblical knowledge in the world cannot save you from the God given grace of a personal relationship with the Father and Lord.
Why did Jesus speak in parables? To test man to open their hearts and allow Him in.