Faith could be defined as just saying “yes” to Jesus. Put another way, obedience is the “yes” of faith to God’s Word. Previously, we noted that when Christians say “yes” in fulfilling the conditions of the Lord’s promises, He in turn says “yes” to our prayer requests. A prime example of this would be the two blind men of Matthew 9. Their encounter with our Lord went like this:
As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region. (Matthew 9:27 – 31 | TNIV)
In essence, those two blind men were saying “yes” to Christ’s ability, not so much to heal them, although they certainly had faith for that, but in His ability to show mercy to those who simply ask for it.
Those two men had been followers of Jesus. At one point, still in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus turned to His disciples and asked them a very simple question:
“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. (Matthew 13:51 | TNIV)
Let’s take a closer look at what these followers of Jesus had said “yes” to.
For the most part, Matthew 13 is made up of seven parables of the Kingdom. The main topic in this Gospel is the Kingdom, so it’s no wonder Matthew as the author, gives us this chapter, which represents Jesus’ uninterrupted teaching on the subject. All but one of these parables is introduced by the phrase: “The kingdom of God is like.” So in each parable, we are supposed to learn something about some aspect of the Kingdom. And herein lies a problem.
Not everybody got it or gets it. Parables are by their nature simple stories that may be somewhat difficult to understand. We might call them riddles. The purpose of parables in general, and certainly the purpose of these parables in particular, was to both reveal and conceal. Among those who had gathered around Jesus were those who had been led to trust in Him to such an extent that they by faith believed in His. Some of those teachings they understood, some they did not, but by faith they accepted them and believed what Jesus was saying. But there were also those in the crowd who, by their constant refusal to accept Him as who He really was, had hardened their hearts. The whole life of Jesus – His words and His works – were all designed to show man who He was: The One whom the prophets foretold would come. Some accepted the truth, others did not. Jesus taught in parables, not to be cute, but in order to further reveal the truth to those who had already accepted Him, but also to conceal that truth from those who rejected it. That’s the point of what Jesus said in Matthew 13:10 – 17 –
He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Those who have will be given more, and they will have an abundance. As for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (TNIV)
The parable of the sower, 13:1 – 9; 18 – 23
Even though most of us know this parable as “the parable of the sower,” the focus of the teaching isn’t on the sower at all, but rather on the various soils upon which the sower’s sees fall.
• Some seed fell on the hard pathways in the field. The birds came quickly to gobble up that seed.
• Some seed fell on a very thin layer of soil covering rocky ground. The heat of the noonday sun caused the seeds to both sprout quickly and to wither and die since they could not take root.
• Some seed fell on soil contaminated with weeds and thorns. The seeds grew for a while but the weeds and thorns choked them out.
• But some of the seeds fell on good, healthy soil. Those seeds grew and the harvest of grain was abundant.
That’s the parable. Jesus gives us the interpretation a few verses on:
When people hear the message about the kingdom and do not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their hearts. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to people who hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to people who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to people who hear the word and understand it. They produce a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:19 – 23 | TNIV)
Jesus is describing the four types of people, with four different kinds of hearts, who hear the Gospel. What was true back in His day is absolutely true today.
• The first heart is the stolid heart – the heart that has been made hard by either indifference or the pressures of life, that doesn’t even notice the Word of life when it hears it.
• The second heart is the shallow heart – that hears the Gospel, gets all excited about it, but fails to let that Word put down roots. These are shallow believers at best who live shallow, “thin” lives. When the hard times hit, they wither and die. These kinds of people are easily offended (skandalizetai) by things and just let the Word fade away.
• The third heart is the strangled heart. These people’s lives are so full of things and stuff and people and activities that God gets strangled out.
• The fourth heart is steady heart. These people hear the Gospel and the understand it. They bear good fruit, in varying degrees. The challenge to those with the steady hearts is to bear even more fruit and better fruit.
Now, soil is passive but the human heart isn’t. Jesus isn’t being fatalistic or preaching some kind of determinism; there are plenty of Scriptures that speak of our responsibility in hearing the Word and becoming doers of the Word.
This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns.” (Jeremiah 4:3 | NIV)
In other words, Judah and Jerusalem and all of God’s people need to remove the stoniness of self-will and spiritual hardness, and receive the Word of God and do something productive with it.
And it’s a very fluid situation. Christians need to be constantly making sure the soil of their hearts is tilled and read to receive the seeds the Lord sows there. This parable doesn’t apply to just “those people over there.” It applies to all of us with steady hearts. Whenever you think your heart is in good condition and you’re tempted to relax and coast a little, remember this little ditty:
When you get to heave
You will likely view,
Many folk there
Who’ll be a shock to you.
But don’t act surprised,
Or even show a care,
For they might be a little shocked
To see you there.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds, 13:24 – 30
This is actually a terrifying parable when you stop and think about it. It speaks of two different kinds of seeds sown by two different people: a farmer and his enemy. The weeds, at first, are often indistinguishable from wheat. When the farmer discovers the weeds among the grain, he doesn’t panic, but he remains patient. The wise farmer doesn’t want to risk losing any of his grain by pulling up the weeds before the harvest. When that time comes, he will have his reapers gather up and destroy the weeds.
The reason I say this parable is terrifying is that what Jesus is describing here is the true state of the Kingdom of God today. It’s also the true state the visible side of the Kingdom of God: the Church. The Church is full of both wheat – true believers, and weeds – believers in name only. And Satan is the one placing the weeds among the grain – unbelievers among the true believers.
The Devil is famous for using counterfeits for the things of God. For example, he uses weeds – counterfeit Christians to cause problems among genuine Christians (2 Corinthians 11:26). Satan has his very own counterfeit Gospel (Galatians 1:6 – 9). He tries to pawn off a counterfeit righteousness on the unsuspecting (Romans 10:1 – 3), and even has his very own counterfeit church (Revelation 2:9). Ultimately, at the end of the age, Satan will produce a counterfeit Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1 – 12).
The point Jesus is getting across here is that all these things are happening, yet God know about it and He is allowing it. The righteous and the wicked will continue to coexist in this age, but there will come a day when He will separate the wicked from the righteous, judging them and destroying them.
The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, 13:31 – 33
Essentially, these two parables are one. The first part, the parable of the mustard seed, describes the strange state of the church today.
Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:32 | NIV)
Contrary to what you might have been taught, this is not a good thing. The mustard plant does not grow into a tree. It’s a desert shrub; a simple herb. This tiny seed should have remained a shrubby plant, yet in this parable it grows into an gangly tree in which birds roost. What happened to make this shrub grow into a freakish tree? The answer is in the next parable:
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33 | NIV)
Once again, this isn’t a good thing. The woman and the yeast are not good things. We’ve seen the woman before in an earlier parable: she’s the enemy of farmer! And the yeast in this parable is the same thing as the weeds in the other parable. What we’re reading about here is Satan, sowing the yeast of false teaching, which produces false believers, filling up the church (or the Kingdom of God), making it grow all out of proportion. Nowhere in the Bible is yeast, or leaven, a good thing. It’s used almost 100 times in both Testaments and it’s always something bad, never anything good.
So the true state of Christianity today, as it has been since the days of Jesus, is not necessarily as it appears. You can look at a great big mega-church and be impressed by all the Christians that attend it, but in fact, according to Jesus, they aren’t all genuine. Only a fraction of them are. It’s not up to you or I to make that determination, however. Only He can do that, and He will in His time.
The parables of the hidden treasure and the pear of great price, 13:44 – 45
These two parables describe the true nature of the Kingdom of God:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “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 13:44 – 46 | NIV)
Far from something huge and loud and glossy and spectacular, the Kingdom of God is precious – something that is hard to find and something that must be sought after and obtained at a great price. One who wants to live in the Kingdom must give his all. There’s a high price to pay to be part of the true Kingdom of God.
The parable of the net, 13:47 – 50
In this final parable, Jesus has one more kick at the can to make sure those with ears to hear, hear what they are supposed to hear.
“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 blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47 – 50 | NIV)
Almost all the parables in Matthew 13 teach the same thing. Today, the Kingdom God, as exemplified by the Church of Jesus Christ, is full both true and false believers – weeds and wheat, good fish and bad, false teaching and good. Many of the false believers have been duped by bad teaching. Some have been caught up in wanting the things of God without wanting God Himself. But Jesus’ teaching is so important, He asked His disciples the question that started this whole thing:
“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. (Matthew 13:51 | NIV)
Well, we only have their word that they understood what Jesus was teaching. The question Jesus asked them, He asks to you: Do you understand the parables of Matthew 13? Hopefully now, you do.