Ted Dekker is a successful, Christian novelist. In his short book Waking Up: To Who You Really Are (If You Dare) he wrote of his own struggles with the Christian life pointing out that his novels were his efforts at learning and becoming. They were the means by which he hashed out the truth of his own life as it relates to truth from God’s viewpoint. His books were not written to be entertainment, though that end, too, was reached.
That bit about Ted Dekker I learned while in the midst of trying to prepare a lesson on the parable of the sower for church. I had just finished reading Submerged, by Dani Pettrey, and In the First Circle, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The first book was quick, easy, and clean. The second was heavy and hard. Both concluding the near same time and needing the next book off to amazon.com I went. There was Dekker’s book.
This may seem an odd introduction to a lesson on this parable of parables, but we do well to recall that as Jesus lived he was, like Ted Dekker, like us, also learning.1 God provides what is needed for each moment building his children out to maturity. I needed what I read in Dekker that day for this lesson and all worked toward that end. Jesus in the cradle was not all knowing nor all wise. He was not play acting as an infant. While Jesus was divine he had left many features of his deity behind.
What did Jesus experience?
Jesus experienced sorrow, anger and discouragement at the skepticism and rejection of the clear truths he was giving. The prophets of old had known such rejection as Isaiah lamented saying, “Who has believed our message?”2 Jesus, now, was pinched by it as well. Where could Jesus take those sorrows but to God the Father? God helped and Jesus steadily grew in wisdom and stature and the knowledge of God.
He did not hide these insights under a barrel, but put them into parables. With those pictures he took his followers to the greater depths of understanding that they would need for their own concerns and the evangelical tasks ahead of them.
Pictures work very well for me. Word pictures work to stir and enliven Sunday school classes as well. A.B. Bruce in his exquisitely useful book, The Training of the Twelve, said that Jesus took earthly things and made them emblems of heavenly things. Jesus used the earthly to “become a mirror of the [heavenly], revealing the deep things of God to the common eye.”
The purpose of the parables…according to Jesus
10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.'” (Mark 4:10-12–ESV)
By the half-way point in Jesus’ ministry much had been witnessed by Israel especially around Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin 3. Startling and amazing were the teachings and doings of Christ, and clarity of response among the populace had begun to take its shape. “Repent” had been the message, but the larger mass of people was steadily refusing to repent and believe. Miracle after miracle, grace after grace and mercy after mercy was given, but time and again no response. They were like a stubborn lawnmower refusing to start.
Some time after this Jesus would send out the 12 as apostles4. At that juncture Jesus would tell them to invest no further effort in those who discarded their message. Jesus initiated that approach through ministry in parables. No amount of teaching would engender humble obedience by those who had proven unrepentant before the unprecedented. Miracles and teaching of Christ’s caliber were irrefutable offerings.
If a person did not respond to the first part of Christ’s ministry they would not respond to the second. Pearls have no fitting place before swine. If a person did not accept the implications of the miracles they would never see the meanings of the man.
So Jesus was not consigning men to “the outside,” he was merely giving men what they wanted. “Choose you this day whom you will serve,” said Joshua5. Men and women in Christ’s time had chosen. Those living in Israel had seen a great light6. Many had put a shade of rejection over it by being unwilling to come in to that light because their deeds were evil7.
Narrow is the way that leads to life
Separating from that broad group were the interested among whom were the chosen 12 and many others. The net of truth had been cast widely over Israel and this was the group willing to be caught.
The time had come for Jesus to take this group of the willing more deeply into God’s truths. In the second half of his ministry Jesus would begin to share the depths of learning he had obtained with those who would have them. Parables were vehicles of simplicity and clarity to those who would follow, but obscurity to those who were without.
This group, too, got what they wanted. They had chosen whom they would follow and so insight into the Kingdom of God would be granted and they would be the mustard seeds that would grow into the greatest tree in the garden. The grasps were there for the taking. Those who would may come and look. There the truths would stand with Jesus himself as teacher, guide and interpreter.