The Purpose and Use of Parables
Jesus loved to tell stories. The Bible calls these stories parables. Jesus used these as his primary method of teaching about God and the kingdom of God to the people of his day [See Mt 13, 18; Mk 4; Lk 15]. They were meant to, by way of analogy or comparison, communicate some truth about the kingdom of God, God himself, or humanity. Here is an example from Matthew 13:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Mt 13: 45-46).
In this short parable (story) Jesus tells of a merchant who finds a valuable pearl. Upon finding it he sold everything he had to buy it. Jesus says that this is what the kingdom of heaven is like.
The truth in the parable is that the kingdom of heaven truly satisfies the deepest desires of the human soul and is a thing so valuable, so precious, so rapturous, and sublime that selling all one has acquired up to that point is of little value by comparison.
A Parable For Our Time
There is another parable of Jesus I want to look at that functions in much the same way as the parable above does in that it uses comparisons to illustrate something true. The only difference between the two parables is that this parable addresses the spiritual condition of people. The parable is found in Mark 4: 2-8:
Mark 4: 2-8 “And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
In the story, there is a sower sowing seeds. As he is throwing the seed down it lands in four different places, they are:
- The Wayside (Path)
- Rocky Ground
- Among Thorns
- Good Ground
Jesus makes it clear in his explanation of this parable to his disciples (Mk 4: 13-20) that each of these places represents the inner condition of the souls of people who hear the word. Of course, the optimal environment for the word to land is on “good ground.” Only on good ground does the seed produce any type of crop (of varying quantities). The seed that fell on the wayside gets eaten by birds before it even has a chance. It is the other two conditions (the rocky ground and the thorns) that I would like to take a closer look at.
As I approach my 40th year of life I can say that I have witnessed at least two periods of time where this parable speaks clearly. What I have in mind is that during these times it seemed clear that the dominant (not only) strategy Satan was using against the church of Christ were these.
The first period of time was dominated by the “Prosperity Gospel” which had the most steam in America from 1990-2010. These years were filled with all the usual suspects that us reformed types like to soundly critique and refute. The idea behind this horrific teaching is basically that you and your happiness are God’s greatest concern and he will do whatever it takes to keep you happy, healthy and wealthy provided you have enough faith to believe for it.
The connection between the “prosperity gospel” and the parable of the sower that Jesus told can be found in the seed that fell among the thorns (4:7). Jesus said that the seed which fell here was “choked” and produced nothing. In his explanation he adds more. He says that after these people hear the word, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mk 4:19).
It is at this point that the truly evil nature of the prosperity gospel and its proponents are revealed because this Satanic aim to choke or strangle the true word from people’s hearts is coming from things called “ministries” and places called “churches” and from people called “pastors.” Through the preaching and teaching that spews from this unholy alliance, these places are literally creating the type of people this parable describes. They are creating food for the enemy.
The Rocky Ground
The second period is on-going as I write these words. This is a time of great social and cultural change and unrest. Not since the 1960’s when the sexual revolution, Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement were all swirling round in our culture has there been this much contention, anger and division in the country and in the church.
It is only natural for people, when faced with dangerous, divisive, and difficult times to retreat into groups of like-minded individuals valuing the “strength in numbers” theory. In our country this has looked socially like “liberals” and “conservatives”. The political equivalent is the Democrat/Republican divide which has become a chasm so large that reconciliation seems unlikely.
What has been eye-opening has been what this has done to the people of the church. It has been surprising to see how the church splintered in light of the recent racial and social unrest. We now have things like the so-called “woke” church, and Christians calling themselves “progressive.” Many Christians have been swept up in these social and cultural winds finding themselves siding with and defending the arguments of anti-authority groups, abortionists, race-baiters, and those of the sexually deviant populations.
What all these groups have in common is their opposition to religion, religious belief, and religious people largely because of their insistence of that dreadful thing called objective truth. The problem this creates is that these “Christians” cannot live properly in both of these worlds because they are incompatible and irreconcilable. They are being forced to choose and sadly many are walking away from the faith.
Jesus’ parable captures this dilemma when it speaks about some people as “stony (or rocky) ground.” They are people who are happy about hearing the word of God when it is easy and safe to do so. The problem is that the word is never allowed to sink deep into the soul and take root. Thus they may show initial signs of acceptance and excitement at God’s word, but when trials, tribulations, and persecutions come because of the word…they fall away.
Is this not what we are currently seeing among some of our brethren?
Many have called themselves “Christian” in a time when doing so had no real negative social, cultural or economic cost attached to it. That time is drawing to a close. Now that the winds are swirling and we see people being swept up from “Christian” places and landing in worldly places (ethnicity, politics, social justice, identity) this invites us to examine our roots.
That is exactly what we will do in part 2.
A Prayer Challenge
Perhaps you were once bound by the “thorns” in Jesus’ story and by his mercy, he pulled you out from it. First of all…HALLELUJAH! Would you commit to praying for another brother and sister who is still bound in the things of this world because of bad teaching? (1 Tim 6: 3-6)
If you know someone who is suddenly “woke” to a form of Christianity that doesn’t emphasize what the Bible emphasizes or believes that the culture informs the Bible and not the other way around…would you commit to consistently pray for them? (Gal 6: 1-3)