Have you ever known anyone who could tell a good story? I mean, one that has twists and turns throughout, maybe one that brings you to tears, or one that leaves you hanging on at the end. Everyone loves a good story, whether it be one around the campfire or a scary ghost story. Have you ever wondered why Jesus spoke in parables? Why He chose to tell stories to get His message across to everyone?
WHO DOESN’T LOVE A GOOD STORY
My dad was an amazing storyteller. When he was still alive, he would throw in some of his goofy humor, weave the characters together, have it take an unexpected turn near the end and leave you thinking, “Hmmm, I hadn’t thought about that.”
You know who else was an awesome storyteller? Jesus! He is the Master Storyteller. Throughout Scripture, we see so many occasions in which Jesus taught through stories. Stories that we call parables. A parable is described as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. In a parable, there is always more than meets the eye. A hidden message most of the time, you might even say. One that is used to teach truths, to answer questions. Perhaps one that challenges or encourages us, maybe even shocks us.
So, have you ever wondered why Jesus spoke in parables?
Jesus used parables throughout Scripture to teach His disciples as well as the people He encountered. He made these stories come alive so that they could resonate in our hearts today.
WHY SPEAK IN PARABLES
So, why did Jesus tell parables?
Couldn’t He have just spoken truth without telling stories to get His meaning across? Even the disciples asked Jesus this question. Surely Jesus could have spoke plainly, not weaving stories in His message.
But would we have listened? I’m not so sure.
So, He spoke in parables, demonstrating His power and authority and we can see throughout Scripture the 4 great reasons why He did so.
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER
In John 13, we read about the parable of the sower. We can all probably remember this story. The one about a farmer who scattered his seeds. Some of the seed fell on the path and the birds came along and ate it. And some of the seed fell on rocky ground without much soil. That seed grew quickly but when the scorching sun came, it died off. Yet, some of the seed fell and mixed in with thorns. Those thorns killed the plants as they grew. And finally, there was seed that fell on good, fertile soil. This seed was well rooted, and it produced abundant crops.
And at the end of the parable, Jesus says:
Whoever has ears, let them hear.” The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” Mt 13:9-10 (NIV)
4 REASONS JESUS SPOKE IN PARABLES
And Jesus goes on to give us some insight into why He spoke in parables with that answer and several other examples in Scripture. I think there are 4 main reasons He chose to tell us stories, parables, to get His message across to us.
COMMUNICATE HIS MESSAGE TO ALL
First, Jesus used parables to communicate His message to us all clearly. He wanted to connect with us on a personal level. So that we would open our hearts to receive His message. So that we would not only receive, but also accept and respond to His truths.
. The stories He told, the imagery He used, the meaning in His message; all contributed to His ability to connect with both the common people He met every day as well as the religious leaders and Pharisees. Jesus’ storytelling got people’s attention, in both good and bad ways. And that was His intention.
TO SEPARATE HIS LISTENERS
With His intention to connect with people and get their attention, He told stories that would divide His audience. Dr. Kenneth Boa, President of Reflections Ministries and Trinity House Publishers, said the parables of Jesus were “designed to reveal truth to those who would receive it and conceal truth from those who would reject it. If a person’s heart is right, he will hear the teachings of Jesus and respond and be healed. But if the heart is not right, he will only hear a story.”
We see this specifically in Scripture in the parable of The Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. You will remember that the story goes something like this:
When Jesus appears in the second coming, He will gather all the people in front of Him. He will separate us, like a shepherd separates his flock. Setting the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. He will say to those on His right:
Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Mt 25:34 (NIV)
While He divides, He shows us that there is no gray or in between. Only black and white. We must either choose to hear, accept and live out our faith in Him or we may choose to reject all of this, acknowledging the consequences of our choices. And it leaves the listeners, and us, to think and ask, “Who am I? A sheep or a goat? What will I choose? To hear and respond or to listen and reject?” The choice is ours and Jesus uses His parables to make this distinction quite clear. Jesus Himself said:
Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them… Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” Mt 13:11-13 (NIV)
Those who hear Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God will respond in faith, living out their lives as followers of Jesus. They will respond with open hearts while those who reject His message have closed off their hearts to the Word of God, listening but not truly understanding. Never fully letting the message resonate and take their hearts captive. Do you want to read more on living for Jesus? Check out my previous post called Sold Out for Christ – How to Live a Life Surrendered.
Jesus speaking in parables was even prophesied in the Old Testament book of Isaiah when the prophet Isaiah said:
Here am I. Send me!” He (Jesus) said, “Go and tell this people:” ’Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.” Is 6:8-10 (NIV)
Jesus spoke with wisdom and authority as He told His stories. He knew they had been prophesied in Old Testament times. Scripture reminds us again of this in Psalms 78:1-2 (NIV):
My people hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known.”
NO UPPER HAND
This leads us into the final reason Jesus spoke to us in parables. We talked about how He was a wonderful communicator, able to personally connect with both the average, everyday people on the streets as well as the religious leaders of His time. His stories separated His listeners causing them to think and ask, “Will I accept and respond to His teaching?”
His parables were foretold in the Old Testament by the prophet Isaiah who prophesied the wisdom and authority with which Jesus would speak. And it is just that wisdom and authority that left the Pharisees and religious leaders feeling threatened. As they grew more and more worried about Jesus’ power and the following He was accumulating, these leaders began to look for ways that they could undermine Him. They searched for ways to trip Him up, to catch Him in His words. To dissect the truth of His message.
JESUS HEALS ON THE SABBATH
We see this in the story in which Jesus heals on the Sabbath. God specifically tells His people in the book of Leviticus to observe the Sabbath, to keep this day holy and rest from any work as He laid out the Ten Commandments. And Jesus comes along and heals on the Sabbath day, breaking all the rules according to the Pharisees.
Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.” Mk 3:2-4 (NIV)
THE PLOT THICKENS
Immediately after this, Scripture tells us that the Pharisees began to plot against Jesus’ life. To kill Him. For the truth He told and the words that they could not comprehend and chose to reject. They had worked tirelessly to catch Jesus, trying to trip Him up while He taught.
But Jesus continued to speak with wisdom as He told His parables knowing that the religious leaders had closed off their hearts to God’s truth. He knew they would not understand His message, would not respond to God’s call in their lives and so He spoke in parables. He knew it would be difficult for the religious leaders to trip Him up while He told what seemed like seemingly unimportant stories to those who would not listen to God. At the same time, those whose hearts were open to God would be able to hear and understand the message that His stories held.
Thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus. Thank you for sending Him to teach us, to connect with us and open our hearts to you. Help us to hear your message, to respond with faith to live out our lives on fire for you. Give us your grace to not fall into false faith, like the Pharisees. Let us be teachable, Lord. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.