Matthew Bible Study (The Gospel of the King and the Kingdom of Heaven)

Matthew 13:1-17, Perplexing Parables


How would you teach a crowd? The popularity of Jesus has continued to grow. We are told in Matthew 13:1 that Jesus is sitting by the sea and great crowds gathered around him. In fact, the crowds become so massive that Jesus gets into a boat that is nearby and sits in it. The whole crowd drew near and stood on the beach. This is your moment. You have a large crowd. You have your moment to teach the people. What are you going to tell them? What will be the teaching you will focus on? What should be said to the masses who have come?

I want you to notice what Jesus taught. Matthew 13:3 says that Jesus told the crowds many parables. Jesus told them spiritual stories. But I want you to consider that Jesus did not preach simple parables with easy explanations. You might have noticed this when you studied the parables in the past. The parables are not always easy to understand. To illustrate this, Matthew records a parable about a sower in verses 3-9.

The Parable of the Sower (13:3-9)

So listen to the parable of the sower. Jesus says that a sower is casting seed. Some of the seeds fell on the road and birds ate those seeds. Some of the seeds fell on ground that was full of rocks and not much soil. So the seed sprouted, but since there was no depth of soil, the plant was scorched by the sun and withered away. Some of seeds fell among thorns and the thorns grew around the plant and choked it out. Some seeds fell on good soil and produced grain. Some of the grain produced 100 times what was sown, some 60, and some 30. Then Jesus ends the parable with these words. “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (13:9). That is it. That is the end of the teaching. That is all Jesus says. It is a strange story when left at this. There is a sower and he casts seeds that end up in different places bringing about different results. But then Jesus ends by telling the people that they need to pay attention to what he just said.

Why Parables? (13:10-13)

Is this the way you would teach a crowd? Is this how you think you would capitalize on your teaching moment? It is not the way the disciples would teach the crowd. They are confused. They do not understand what Jesus is doing. Notice in verse 10 that Jesus’ disciples come to him and ask, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Why do you teach this way? Why are you telling parables to the crowds?

Jesus has a good reason for why he is teaching in this way. Verses 11-13 reveal what Jesus is doing. First, Jesus points out that his disciples already have an understanding that the crowds do not have. It has been given to them to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. They have, and more will be given to them (13:12). More will be given to those who have and less will be given to those who do not have anything. What does Jesus mean by this? We can better understand what Jesus is saying here after we look at the rest of Jesus’ answer. We do not want to misunderstand what Jesus is proclaiming about the knowledge of his disciples. So we will come back to these verses shortly. Let’s look at the rest of Jesus’ answer in verse 13.

Jesus says that the reason he is speaking to the crowds in parables is because they see but they do not see. They hear but they do not really hear or understand. Let me illustrate what this means. There are times when I am looking for a particular food in the pantry or the refrigerator. I am looking around and looking around and I can’t find what I am looking for. My wife will ask me what I am looking for and will in a moment find what I have spent so much time seeking but not finding. Why is she able to find what I am looking for and why was I unable to find what I was looking for? I was looking, right? Sure, but I was not really looking. I was not looking hard enough for it. If I really wanted it, then I would have started unloading the refrigerator until I found what I was looking for. But I was unwilling to do it. In short, I was being lazy in my looking. It was not a careful looking.

This is what Jesus is saying about the people. They all think that they are looking, but they are not really looking. They all think that they are hearing, but they are not really hearing. They think they understand, but they really do not understand. Now that is quite an indictment. If my wife said that I was not really looking, then I would argue back that I was. I think that I am looking. But in truth, I was not looking in such a way to find what I was looking for. Jesus is using this in a spiritual way. You really think you are looking but you really are not. You really think you are hearing but you really are not. You really think that you are understanding but you really are not.

Proving the Problem (13:14-15)

Now Jesus is going to prove what he is saying about the people by quoting from a prophecy from Isaiah. Isaiah spoke over 700 years earlier which said the same thing. Look at verses 14-15. Isaiah said that the people would see and hear but never really understand. Now Isaiah was not speaking about the first century in the days of Jesus. Isaiah was speaking about his own day and time. But Jesus is showing that nothing has changed with the hearts of the people. These people are acting in the same way. So why are they seeing and hearing but never understanding? Look at verse 15.

The hearts of the people were dull. They had hard hearts. Further, they ears were hard of hearing. They have closed their eyes. If this was not the case, then their eyes would see, their ears would hear, and their hearts would understand which would make it possible for Jesus to heal them. Notice that Jesus does not say that they cannot look. Rather, they hearts are dull, their ears are shut, and their eyes are closed. They are not looking and that is why they cannot be healed. If they would truly open their eyes, open their ears, and open their hearts, then they would be able to see, hear, and understand.

So how does this explain why Jesus is teaching in parables? Why would you use parables to talk to the crowds? Jesus spoke in parables to see who would want to look deeper. Jesus spoke in parables to see who would want to try to understand what Jesus is saying. Jesus tells a spiritual story but ends it by asking, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” In other words, who wants to understand what I just said? Who wants to figure out the important things I am teaching? Who wants to go beyond a surface level seeing and hearing?

What Jesus is not dumbing down the gospel for the crowds. Rather, he is doing the opposite. Jesus is telling God’s truths in such a way to see who will be dismissive and who will want to try to understand. This is an important truth. Our mission is not to merely preach and teach the easy parts of God’s word. We must teach all of God’s word, even the hard parts. But what if the crowds don’t understand? What if people do not understand the harder books of the Bible or the harder teachings in the Bible? Do we see what Jesus is saying? Jesus is telling us that those who are really looking are going to try to understand and they are going to seek. Those who are not truly looking are going to be dismissive and not seek to understand. Jesus is using his complex parables to strain out the true seekers from those who think they are looking but are not really looking. Jesus is sifting out who has dull hearts and closed eyes from those who really want to know.

Why Disciples Understand (13:16-17)

Now look at what Jesus says to his disciples in verses 16-17. They are blessed because their eyes truly see and their ears truly hear. These are the things that many prophets and righteous people were so desirous to see and understand. But the disciples are able to see and understand. Why? Because the disciples of Jesus are the ones who go beyond a surface level seeking. The disciples of Jesus are those who hear hard things and want to understand, not walk away. The disciples of Jesus are those who are not turned off by depth but seek to reach those depths in their spiritual understanding.

Let me bring you back to verses 11-12. Why was it given to the disciples to understand the secrets of the kingdom? It was not because they had a special revelation or special insight. It was given to them to understand because they were truly seeking. They are the ones asking questions. They ask Jesus why he is speaking in parables. They are the ones in verse 36 who come to Jesus after telling a complex parable, asking for his explanation. They seek and, when teachings are hard, they ask. They really wanted to know more.

Now verse 12 makes sense. Those who have been truly seeking and understand, more will be given. There is even more to grasp and God is going to give that to you when you are seeking for more. But to those who do not have, that is, who do not understand because they are not truly seeking, then even what you have will be taken away. You are never going to see, hear, or understand because you do not have the heart to look harder and look deeper. The dismissive will miss out and lose even more. The challenged will seek and prove themselves to be his disciples.

So What About You?

So what about you? Jesus did not make his teachings easy. There are concepts and teachings that require more than a minute of reflection. But Jesus did this to see who is just surface level looking in the pantry and who is willing to unload the pantry to find understanding. In short, Jesus is asking us to consider our hearts today. If we find Bible studies hard, then this is God challenging us to see if we have a heart that wants to know or if we are not really wanting to know. If we find sermons complex, not because the speaker is unclear, but because the concepts are difficult, then God is challenging us to see if we have a seeking heart or if just think we want to look and hear. God gave us hard books of the Bible, hard teachings, hard concepts, and amazing depth to his word so that we would know who we really are. Do we want to know about what God has to say about himself in hard prophetic books like Ezekiel and Revelation? Or will we walk away because it is hard and we are not willing to unload the pantry to find his great truths inside?

What about you? There are many people who think they are looking, but they are not really looking. Many people think they hear, but they are not really listening. Many people think they understand, but they really are not understanding. When confronted with the complexity of God and his word, they are just going to walk away. Jesus is looking for sincere seekers. Is that you? Can we help you learn more about Jesus and his word? Can we help you truly see, truly hear, and truly understand? True disciples truly seek. God is not keeping you from understanding. Only you are. What about you?

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