(If this Sunday is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, read this devotion in the morning, and the devotion entitled, “The Sunday Before the Season of Lent” in the evening, under this same tab.)
Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15
The Mystery of the Kingdom in Parables
Today, we begin a series of devotions on the parables of Jesus that happen to be grouped together in three of the gospels (that is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke; John’s gospel records more of Jesus’ discourses than his parables). The first parable that each of the three gospels begins with is the “Parable of the Sower,” although it really should be called, “the Parable of the Soils,” for that is what the parable is about. Its preeminence among the parables is cited by Jesus, himself, when, after the disciples ask him about the parables, he said, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” Thus, we must pay very close attention to it.
But first, we must ask with the disciples, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And Jesus’ answer might trouble some people. It has been given to the disciples “to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given”; indeed, “for those outside everything is in parables.” And this is what troubles some people. All three gospels then record Jesus’ citation of Isaiah 6:8-10, Isaiah’s call to ministry in which he is told that, preach and prophesy all he may, the people will not hear. Indeed, all that his preaching will do is make their hearts dull, their ears heavy, and their eyes blind. And why is this, “lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Lest? Yes, “lest.” In other words, the purpose of Jesus’ parables is to further enlighten those who are already members of the kingdom so that they “will have an abundance,” while the same parables only serve to further harden those who are outside lest they should be healed.
This is hard medicine. The interplay here is between God’s eternal election and man’s sinful heart. It is true that God turns some and not others. But those who are not turned do not wish to be turned anyway; they are content to remain in their sins. Would not those whom God turned be content to remain in their sins had He not turned them? Yes, they would. Then why turn only them and not all? We leave this to the inscrutable will of God. We do know that each and everyone deserves death and hell, for we have all sinned and gone our own way. That God chooses to save some is a credit to His manifold grace. But He does no injustice to those outside; He simply leaves them where they prefer to be. God does not wish their damnation (1 Timothy 2:4), nor does He prevent it, nor is He obliged to (Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:14-18). So let those on the “inside” be humble and pray for those on the “outside,” after all, who knows … (2 Timothy 2:25-26)?