Last Sunday we began our summer series (“Like: Jesus’ Words About the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel of Matthew”), a 12-week look at some of the parables Jesus told. My goal in week #1? Lay the groundwork! We did this by examining the text and context of Matthew 13. Consequently, many good questions surfaced, some which we addressed in the service, the remaining which we will answer here.
But first, a humble and humorous correction. In answering a question about our series logo, I stated the wavy lines were the mathematical symbol for congruence, not equal. However, the wavy lines are, to be more precise, the mathematical symbol for approximate. Though I think we all understand the point of the logo, and can agree that using congruent and approximate interchangeably isn’t a problem, I still wanted to clarify the “textbook” meaning of the symbol. The point? The approximate symbol (≈) is our way of visually representing Jesus’ words when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”
Incidentally, for those who “geek” out on math, the symbol for congruence is one wavy line over an equals sign, the symbol for similar is ~, and the symbol for approximate is ≈.
Now to the remaining questions. [Note: Some of these questions may require a bit of context, so feel free to listen to the message here if you want more of the background.)
Q: “What about those who don’t ‘get it?’ Should they live their lives in a “who cares” mentality because their eternal lives are futile?” Keep in mind that someone who doesn’t ‘get it’ — whose eyes have yet to be opened by God (2 Cor. 4:3-6) — doesn’t know they don’t ‘get it.’ Neither do they actually think their lives, now or in the future, are futile. Frankly, you are asking someone without the Holy Spirit to exercise spiritual discernment. This is an impossible task apart from regeneration by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2; John 3). What they should do, to be most precise, is repent and believe the Gospel, thus taking them from futility to fruitfulness. Let us pray and work to that end!
Q: “Does this mean when we reject Christ he conceals his truth to us? What about Peter? He denied Christ three times and the truth was revealed to him again.” I think we have multiple issues in play here. Let me dissect the question for our benefit.
First, it is possible for an unbeliever to reject Christ to the point that he/she is no longer convicted of their sin and thus the truth is, from their vantage point, “concealed” to him/her. The Bible calls this the “hardening of the heart” (Romans 2:5; Hebrews 3:12-13). Remember — A heart is hardened over time and in the face of truth. Continued rejection can result in a person who is no longer soft to the truth or pliable by the truth, but instead cold and unbendable to God. How long this takes and when this occurs varies. But it would be unwise to say that an unbeliever can perpetually reject the claims of Christ and suppress the truth without searing their conscience and being “given over” to the full extent of their sin (Romans 1).
Furthermore, there is a dreadful place where a believer, living in persistant sin, can continually resist Christ’s calls to repentance and be “handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor. 5). This is a sobering thought! Some refer to it as the “sin unto death” (1 John 5:16-17). Before this untimely result, however, God welcomes his children back into fellowship through confession and submission (1 John 1:9). This is obviously the first and best path for God’s people who are entangled by sin.
So what about Peter? I believe Peter was a believer, and when he sinned by denying he knew Christ, he was immediately convicted by the simple look of Jesus and drawn back into fellowship through repentance and confession. I don’t think Peter’s situation is akin to an unbeliever rejecting Christ repeatedly or ultimately, no should he be used to build any kind of doctrine or belief about how God relates to unbelievers when they refuse to believe.
Q: “Are parables supposed to be understood to us as belevers today? What if I don’t undertand one now?” Yes, we are supposed to undertand them today. And we can, thanks to the Holy Spirit. After all, they have much to teach us about the kingdom of heaven.
However, the implication of your question seems to be that, if you don’t ‘get’ one (or more) of the parables, maybe you’re not really one of God’s. If that’s really the hidden worry, let me encourage you by saying that ‘getting it’ doesn’t mean you have full and perfect knowledge immediately. It does mean you have a desire and appetite; “ears to hear” as Mathew 13 says. In fact, even the disciples, when asked by Jesus if they understood the parables, responded with a “Yes,” but they still needed more explanation (which is evident by the fact that Jesus took time to teach them what specific parables meant in more detail). This is the crux of the issue — are your ears attune to God’s voice so that you are listening to him and what he says about his kingdom? That’s what’s being juxtaposed against those who were rejecting Christ and refusing to listen to him.
Q: “If Jesus was speaking to the crowds in parables to conceal things from them, why did he have to explain it to the disciples (v 36)?” It is true that there are several parables Jesus explains to the disciples in further detail. Why? We aren’t told explicitly, but I tend to think that where he gave more explanation, he must have known they would need that information to navigate their upcoming mission more specifically. I don’t think it was because they were on the outside and still didn’t ‘get it.’ Like I said in the previous answer, it wasn’t that they didn’t want to listen or couldn’t ‘get it.’ They actually did ‘get it,’ but for reasons unknown, more information and instruction was needed and provided regarding certain of the stories. In fact, I’d assert it was precisely because they did ‘get it’ that Jesus continued explaining more thoroughly and deeply some of the parables.
Q: “Who is he calling righteous in v 17? And why?” I believe he is referring to the Old Testament prophets and people who, through faith in God’s promise of the coming Messiah, were granted righteousness. These were the ones (specifically the prophets) who initially declared the mysteries (i.e., secrets), but never understood the full extent of them. They longed to know more for sure, but since their role was one of initially prophesying what would come, not ultimately announcing it had come, they must have lived with some sense of divine anticipation.
Q: “You said parables aren’t meant to walk on all fours? But Jesus seemed to do exactly this in several, like the one about the sower. Why?” Perhaps a better way to say it would be to say that we shouldn’t make a parable walk on all fours. Where Jesus gives meaning to specific items, well, there’s meaning! But where he doesn’t, let’s not impose specific correlations and analogies that possibly stretch the text in ways the author/speaker never intended. When he did, like in the story of the sower, it must be to communicate more clearly the meaning and help the reader/listener avoid confusion or misunderstanding. Vice versa, when there is little detail, I think it is safe to asume Jesus knew the clarity and meaning would be sufficiently obvious with the story “as is.”