“God the Farmer.” That is the title of this Sunday’s sermon where I’ll be unpacking Matthew 13:1-23. I decided to blog about something I won’t have time to preach on in that passage….it’s one of the hardest things to understand that Jesus ever said.
Do I have your attention? Read on!
Jesus begins teaching the parable of the sower, explaining how seed is planted in four very different soils yielding four very different results. As He finishes teaching, His disciples ask Him, “Why do you speak to people in parables?” (Matthew 13:10). And that is a really good question. Because it seems that by teaching in parables, Jesus isn’t being very “seeker” friendly. He isn’t putting the cookies on the lowest shelf, so to speak. He isn’t making things easier to understand. If anything, He is making them harder.
So why does Jesus teach in parables? He gives the answer in Matthew 13:11-17. In these verses Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10, and says something that doesn’t make sense at first. He says: This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’” (Matthew 13:13-15).
At first it seems like Jesus is saying He teaches in parables because He does NOT want people to repent or to be healed. Yet, this simply doesn’t make sense because we know that the reason Jesus came was to seek and save the lost (Mark 10:45) and we know God wants all to repent and be saved (2 Peter 3:9). We know that our God is healer (Acts 10:38).
So why did Jesus say what He said in those verses? Two thoughts….
1st — the first things we miss as American Christians is how a Jewish person would have heard what Jesus said. Hebrew teachers (which include Isaiah and Jesus) would sometimes express an effect as though it were a cause, in order to emphasize the point they were making. This seems backwards to us as American Christians but it wasn’t to them. So in the case of Isaiah, he volunteers to be God’s messenger to the Hebrew people, and here is a paraphrase of Isaiah 6:9-10, getting at the meaning of what God says to Isaiah: “Go and deliver my message, but don’t expect them to pay any attention to it. The effect of your preaching will be their persistent refusal to accept what you say, to the point where they will have rendered themselves incapable of accepting it.” And this is exactly what Isaiah experienced for the next forty years as a prophet. Isaiah’s experience was repeated 700 years later in Jesus’ ministry. History repeated itself. So Jesus applied the words of Isaiah 6:9–10 to the effect (not, of course, to the purpose) of His own ministry. [Note: this paragraph was adapted from the book Hard Sayings of the Bible]
2nd — While Jesus wants all to be saved, He isn’t interested in creating “fans” or “admirers”….He wants genuine “followers.” He isn’t interested in drawing a crowd, in filling the Roman Coliseum on a Sunday morning. In fact, when a crowd gathered around Him, more often than not Jesus uses that as an opportunity to give a really hard teaching that drove away those who were just fans.
That’s why Jesus teaches in parables. So that anyone who wasn’t genuinely listening wouldn’t get it. But those whose ears were open…those who weren’t content with just being in the crowd…would be compelled to seek the truth of the parable, and in the process they would encounter the Truth.
***Join us this Sunday at The Eastside Vineyard Church. My sermon (titled God the Farmer) will focus on Matthew 13:1-23 – the parable of the sower. When we read this parable we tend to think we are the “good soil” — maybe we aren’t the 100-fold version but we’re at least the 30-fold…right? But what if we’ve been reading this parable wrong? June 3rd. 10:30am. More info at tevchurch.org***