Light of the World

Booklet 18

Christ Teaches in Parables

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: 'I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world" (Matthew 13:34, 35).

Everybody loves a secret, and you are probably no exception. In the parables of Jesus, we discover "things hidden since the creation of the world." As the wise Master Teacher, He opened up life's spiritual mysteries by relating His various parables.

Our Lord used parables to illustrate spiritual truths. In these parables—or stories—He referred to familiar earthly objects or incidents and used them to teach the huge crowds that gathered by the Lake of Galilee. He made use of the experiences of shepherds, businessmen, builders, tillers of the soil, travelers, and homemakers to teach the people essential religious truths. He gave many of His parables to the people who gathered to hear Him in Capernaum or in Jerusalem. Near the close of His life, He gave His most impressive parables on the Mount of Olives.

Jesus spoke in parables for two reasons. First, He wanted to stimulate questions about His kingdom. He knew that sincere people who really wanted to know what was right, would not rest until they had searched out the meaning of the truths He taught. These parables acted like an alarm clock, arousing the sleeping minds of the vast audiences who heard Him. Second, Christ found it necessary to teach certain truths in symbols, because the Jewish leaders were watching His words to find some cause to arrest and condemn Him. As opposition against Him grew, Jesus used parables more and more to convey His warnings to Israel. If He had spoken more plainly and frankly, His ministry would have been cut short much sooner. Let's begin our booklet with the best known of all Christ's parables.

(Read Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23, Mark 4:1-20 and Luke 8:4-15)
Christ is seated in a boat on the Lake of Galilee while the eager multitude stands on the beach, listening closely to His words. As we join the crowd, we are thrilled by the simple but effective illustrations used by the Master Storyteller.

"Then he told them many things in parables, saying: 'A farmer went out to sow his seed' " (Matthew 13:3).

"Some fell along the path," Jesus says, "and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil" (Mathew 13:4, 5). The seeds sprouted for just a little while, and then the sun scorched them, and they withered because they had no depth of root.

Jesus then describes the seed that fell among thorns, which choked out the tender growth. Then He said, "Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown" (Matthew 13:8).

As Jesus speaks, we see, nearby, a farmer scattering seeds of grain on the freshly plowed soil. Here is a living illustration of truth. But what does Jesus mean by the parable? Who is the sower? What does the seed represent?

The sower is the Son of man. The seed is the Word of God. The soil represents different kinds of hearers. Let's look closely at each part of this parable.

1. The Sower. Jesus came from heaven to this earth to scatter the grain of heavenly truth. He is the Sower. By this parable He taught that His kingdom was to prevail by planting a new principle of life in human hearts. It was not to prevail by the sword. Christians are to scatter the gospel seed as Christ did and then let God take care of the harvest. Patiently they must wait for the growth that will come if they trust in God. The Christian faith will finally triumph over all earthly opposition.

2. The Seed. There is spiritual life in God's Word. This is the seed. Jesus said:

"The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life" (John 6:63). "Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life" (John 5:24).

Those who say that the Bible cannot be understood do not know the secret of its life-giving power. As you read the life of Christ with a purpose to know His will, do you not feel the stimulating power of the Word? If the good seed has taken root in your heart, do you not find the love of Jesus and all the Christian graces growing stronger in your life every day?

3. The Soil. The growth of the seed depends on the nature of the soil. In the parable, the listeners themselves were the soil. If people fail, they have no one to blame but themselves. But if they succeed, it is because they have related themselves properly to God and to their fellow men. Life is a matter of right or wrong relationships. The power of choice lies with us. We ourselves must determine what we will become. It is true, we cannot change ourselves, but God can change us. As this secret of life is fully understood, there will be more transformed Christians.

4. The Seed by the Wayside. The wayside, where some seed fell, represents careless listeners. And there were many of these in the crowd that listened to Christ, just as there are today. Like a pathway that is beaten down with the passing of many feet, the hearts of these people have become hardened by sin. The world of pleasure has made of their lives a highway to perdition, and the good seed cannot grow on such hard ground. This fact needs to be understood.

5. The Stony Ground. There is little depth of soil here. The plants may spring up for a time but, because the roots cannot enter the rock and find nourishment, they soon die. Many people who profess to be Christians have only a superficial experience. Beneath the tiny growth is the natural, selfish heart, hard as a rock. Ezekiel calls such a heart a heart of stone (see Ezekiel 11:19). The only hope for such hearts is to "be born from above" (John 3:3, margin) and receive a new heart, a "heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26).

6. Among Thorns. Sometimes the gospel seed falls among thorns and poisonous weeds, which represent the cares of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, sinful pleasures, and the desire for many little things that encroach upon the Christian's time and life and imperil his soul (see Mark 4:19).

7. "Good Ground" Hearers. These are the ones who receive the words of Christ "not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13). They receive the Scriptures gladly, willingly, and that is why they bear fruit. That is why they are different from the others. As they open their hearts humbly to be taught by the Lord, He plants the seed in their hearts, and then there is a moral transformation!

"For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. . . . And this is the word that was preached to you" (1 Peter 1:23, 25.)

Not all "good ground" hearers produce the same amount of fruit. They all bear good fruit, but some are more fruitful than others. It is not the quantity, so much as the quality, that is important. Are you a "good ground" hearer?

We listen again to the Savior, as He explains the nature of His kingdom in another parable about seed sowing:

"He also said, 'This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come' " (Mark 4:26-29).

The parable of the growing seed shows that God is at work in the natural world and that He is at work in the spiritual world as well, building His kingdom into the hearts of men.

The growth of the plant represents Christian experience. As the plant grows, it lives. As the Christian grows in grace and in the knowledge of his Lord and Savior, he lives—but not unless he grows. As the plant is perfect at every stage of development, so the Christian may be perfect at every stage in his development. This is known as sanctification, a work of grace that continues daily. Are these Bible studies helping you to become grounded more deeply in God? Be submissive to Him and give Him a chance, ample time, and all that there is of yourself. But remember, sanctification begins when you decide to follow Christ. Then you start growing.

By the parable of the mustard seed Christ taught that His kingdom, which seemed so insignificant in its beginning, would someday reach out like the roots of a great plant and cover the earth. But the scribes and Pharisees were contemptuous of His claims. He had no money or material possessions. He had no degrees from the schools of His time. His followers were mostly humble laborers and fishermen. The Pharisees and the Sadducees did not follow Him. How could He expect to make an impact on the world? But Christ knew that His spiritual kingdom would triumph, whereas material things would fail. And so:

"He told them another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches' " (Matthew 13:31, 32).

Christianity is like the mustard seed that takes hold of the soil and grows. First, it is small, but then it becomes very large. Within two or three decades after Christ spoke these words, His teachings had spread throughout a great part of the world. Within a few centuries, the Roman emperor acknowledged himself to be a Christian. Today, Christianity is one of the most widespread of all religions, and literally hundreds of millions of people acknowledge Christ to be their King. Approximately one out of every three people in the world today professes to be a Christian. And so the tiny mustard seed has reached out and literally covered the earth! This is the greatest miracle of all (see Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18, 19).

Now we take a careful look at the great crowd that has gathered about Jesus to hear His teaching. There are people of all classes:

"The poor, the illiterate, the ragged beggar, the robber with the seal of guilt upon his face, the maimed, the dissipated, the merchant and the man of leisure, high and low, rich and poor, all crowding upon one another for a place to stand and hear the words of Christ" (Ellen G. White, Christ's Object Lessons, page 95).

Does the kingdom of God consist only of these poor, downtrodden people? Many of the highly educated and powerful Jewish leaders wondered about that, too. So Christ explained that His kingdom is for all who will receive it, regardless of their status in this life. Listen to His words:

"He told them still another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough' " (Matthew 13:33).

Leaven, an agent introduced into the dough from without, is a symbol God's grace implanted within the life by the Holy Spirit. It is something from outside that takes possession of us, not simply the development of our own potential powers. A knowledge of truth is not enough. Truth must enter the life, even as leaven, or yeast, is mixed with the dough and completely permeates it. When the life itself is changed and the thoughts and acts are brought into harmony with the truth that is professed, we know that the leaven is working. The social or economic status of the individual himself means little, but his attitude toward the truths that Christ taught means everything! How many there are who have never learned this secret! But those who have humbly received Christ as their Savior know the meaning of that goodness and greatness that is acceptable to God.

The blessings of the gospel of Jesus are now compared first to treasure hidden in a field (see Matthew 13:44), and second, to a priceless pearl (see Matthew 13:45, 46). In Christ Himself "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). He "has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30). His life alone is stainless and without defect, like a pure, white pearl. In Jesus is all the glory of the Father, and "the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9). His words inspire the listening throng:

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it" (Matthew 13:45, 56).

In this parable, the pearl is not represented as a gift, for it took all that the merchant owned to buy it. And, while it is true that Christ and the gospel are held out to us as a gift, this priceless treasure is only for those who give themselves without reserve to God. Those who surrender body, soul, and spirit to Him receive Christ and all the treasures of heaven in return. This is the kind of exchange that brings the greatest profit!

The parable has another meaning also. It not only teaches that men and women are seeking God, but that God is seeking men and women. Lost humanity is the pearl of great price, and Christ is the heavenly Merchant Man seeking our salvation. It is true that we are defiled by sin, but through Jesus we may become as pure and spotless as the precious pearl.

An insignificant grain of sand enclosed within the oyster may, through a miraculous process of nature, be transformed into a beautiful pearl. So, through faith in Christ, all of God's children may develop beauty of character. God does not look upon us as worthless, but through His Son He sees us redeemed and saved at last. And Jesus, having found His precious pearls, makes them beautiful by setting them in His own glorious diadem.

"They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown (Zechariah 9:16).

" 'They will be mine,' says the LORD Almighty, 'in the day when I make up my treasured possession' " (Malachi 3:17).

By the parable of the net, Jesus taught that both good and bad people are gathered into the church. The casting of the net represented the work of Christians in preaching the gospel. The Savior taught that unconverted as well as converted people would enter the church. This parable answers the question that bothers so many: Why does the church have so many hypocrites?

"Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:47-50).

We should not forget that a traitor was found even among the twelve disciples. But Jesus did not reject Him—Judas rejected Christ. He left the circle of the disciples and went out and betrayed the Savior.

By this parable, Christ showed also that character—not profession—decides our destiny. He didn't want the people to think that the position they occupied in the church would save them or that God would excuse their sins simply because they held a church office. Only the righteous will enter heaven.

A parallel truth is revealed in the parable of the tares. Read Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. From this parable we learn that there will never come a time when all the world will be converted and turn to God. At the time of the harvest, at the end of the world, the wheat and the tares will be separated. The righteous—the wheat—will be taken to heaven. The wicked—the weeds or tares—will be destroyed. This same truth is taught by the parable of the net and the fish in Matthew 13:47-50. The good and the bad are separated on the shore after the net is drawn in. This is evidence that the righteous and the wicked will be separated in the final judgment. So we see that the popular concept of world conversion is out of harmony with the teachings of Jesus.

The time is coming soon when probation will close for every person. Then the destiny of every individual will be decided forever. That solemn hour is described by John the Revelator:

"The time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy. Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done" (Revelation 22:10-12; see Ezekiel 33:11).

God wants everyone to be saved. It is not His will that any should be lost (see 2 Peter 3:9). But the decision rests with us. Every individual is the arbiter of his own destiny.

We are now living in the period of grace. Probationary time still lingers, and God's Spirit is pleading with us to accept the gift of life. Those who do so will be saved. Those who reject or neglect salvation will be lost. Sin is ruinous, and God must destroy it from his universe. Are you employing the hours of probationary time in a way that will ensure the eternal well being of yourself and your family? Let GO of sin—let GOD save you! Cling to Him by faith, and you may be sure that He will hold you fast.

As Christ taught the people, He also taught His disciples. After giving the parable of the net, He asked them, " 'Have you understood all these things?' . . . . 'Yes,' they replied" (Matthew 13:51). Then He proceeded to show them what His followers are to do with the truths they receive from Him.

"He said to them, 'Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old' " (Matthew 13:52).

In this parable, the Master showed that truth has little value unless it is passed on to others. The disciples had communed with Him and learned of him. Now they were to communicate what they had learned. As the truth is shared with others, its life giving-power increases, and the one who is the channel of blessing is enriched by the experience. His Christian life becomes a vital thing like the lush green valley that channels the river to the sea.

We should never forget that the truths that Jesus taught were both new and old. The Word of God includes both the New Testament and the Old Testament, and one is not complete without the other. It is as necessary to understand the lessons of the Old Testament as it is to understand those of the New Testament. Christ is the Great Treasure of the Old Testament as He is of the New. It was Christ who saved individuals in Old Testament times as well as in New Testament times. As one writer puts it:

"The Old Testament sheds light upon the New, and the New upon the Old. Each is a revelation of the glory of God in Christ. Both present truths that will continually reveal new depths of meaning to the earnest seeker" (Ellen G. White, Christ's Object Lessons, page 128).

These parables to which we have listened are the best stories we have ever heard. Will Jesus continue to teach like this tomorrow and the next day? That is the question we ask, as we leave with the crowds that have gathered to hear the Master Teacher. As we walk away, we think seriously of the truths we have heard. Many questions about the spiritual life are now beginning to be answered.

In Booklets 19 and 20 we will continue our study of the parables of Jesus.


Original manuscript author: Beatrice S. Neall
Editors revised edition: Barbara Shelley, Sue Robinson
Design and Layout: DEC Designs, Morisset, New South Wales Australia.
Used by permission of Discovery Centre, Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia.
Graphics: Still images taken from Matthew video, copyright © 1997, 2004 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
Scripture: Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Cover Picture: "The Light of the World" by Nathan Green, ©2004 All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2007 revised edition, Voice of Prophecy, California.