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He Told Stories

August 09 2018
August 09 2018

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This Sunday, August 19th, Redeemer not only “kicks off” its official fall program for children and youth ministries, but also begins a new sermon series titled “He Told Stories: A Study of the Parables of Jesus.” 

Our English word parable is simply a transliteration of the Greek word parabolē. In the Greek para means beside, and ballo means to throw or cast. Parables, then, are short, pithy stories cast alongside the ordinariness of life that illuminate important truths about the character of God, our lives in this world and Jesus’ coming Kingdom. Having told forty or so parables, they were clearly among Jesus’ favorite methods of teaching.

What is striking about the parables is how utterly ordinary is their subject matter — soil, sheep and seed, farmers, vineyards and banquets, stewards, coins and treasure. For this reason, hearers relaxed their defenses; no one immediately thought that Jesus was talking about matters of ultimate importance. That is, not until he finished the parable. Then, as Eugene Peterson writes, the parable went off like a “time bomb” exploding into our “unprotected hearts.”

The subversive character of parables is what makes them so powerful. The quiet, confident movement of small things, surprise reversals and deceiving appearances—they all suck us in and stick in our imaginations. It’s just there that the real work begins, that of being drawn closer to the Lord and his unconquerable love, having our faith strengthened and our hearts stirred to more passionate obedience. In this way, parables don’t dictate or demand, they instead stir our hearts and pull us toward Jesus and the Kingdom.

Their subversive character also served another purpose. When asked why he spoke in parables, Jesus answered, “To you (the disciples) it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them (the unbelieving crowds) it has not been given” (Mt. 13:11; cf. 13:34-35). To the disciples, Jesus’ parables revealed critical Kingdom truths, yet to those who opposed Jesus their deepest meaning could not be discerned due to the darkness of their own hearts. As a result, Jesus’ teaching remained enigmatic to Jewish authorities and this gave him critical time to carry out his earthly ministry.

In the history of interpretation, the church pendulum has variously swung between the poles of pedantically allegorizing every detail, the common practice in the early church, to concluding that parables only have one single point or meaning, an emphasis in the last century. The answer probably lies between these two perspectives. Parables are not strictly allegories, but they do have allegorical elements. As a result, parables stretch our viewpoints, and they have not only one significant point to make, but often two or three.

It’s my hope that from our study of the stories Jesus told, we will discern more deeply God’s passionate and gracious pursuit of our hearts, and consequently obediently submit our lives and more to his life-giving Kingdom. What is our God really like? How does Kingdom faithfulness really look? Join us as we explore the parables together.


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