“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
– Matthew 13:13
Matthew 13 is Jesus’ third discourse in the gospel of Matthew. This discourse consists primarily of parables that describe the kingdom of heaven. Jesus often used parables as a way to illustrate his teaching.
Jesus’ first kingdom parable discusses the reception of the gospel. Since Jesus gives a full explanation in , we will only focus on a few basic points of the parable. The sower of the story is Jesus Christ and those who spread the gospel, the Word of God. The various grounds represent the receptiveness of people to the gospel message as Jesus later explains. One of the aspects of this parable that is not explained by Jesus is the various crop yields in the good soil. A good explanation of this is that this represents the varying spiritual maturity of believers. Not all believers are on the same level in their walk with God. Those who have been walking with the Lord for decades should be (though may not always be) more spiritually mature than the new believer. As we continue to walk with God, we should be producing greater fruit and be more spiritually mature than when we began.
Jesus gives a brief interlude on understanding the parables that he teaches. The disciples question why Jesus teaches in parables instead of just proclaiming the plain truth of the parables. Jesus’ response is that the parable teaching on the kingdom of heaven is for those who belong to the kingdom of heaven. This would seem to indicate that the crowd was either not willing to receive what Christ was teaching or had not chosen to follow Christ. Without being receptive to Christ’s kingdom teaching, his parables become useless stories.
After Jesus’ interlude, he proceeds to explain the parable to his disciples. As we will see, even the disciples had a hard time understanding Jesus’ teachings. We have the benefit of seeing the big picture of God’s program and the meaning of Jesus’ teachings, but there are still things that, like rocky soil and thorns, can block our receptiveness to the Word of God. One thing we can learn from this parable is that we need to allow God’s Word to grow in our lives and grow in spiritual maturity as we continue in our walk with him.
Again, Jesus gives a parable and explanation about the kingdom of heaven. This time, he uses the picture of wheat and weeds. In this parable, an enemy comes and sows weeds into the field of wheat as a type of sabotage to the field owner. The type of weed that the listeners would probably think of is called “darnel”. It is a weed that looks similar to wheat when it is in the growing process but looks different once it matures. This explains why the owner of the field did not pull the weeds up right away. If his servants had done so, they may have pulled up the good wheat along with it. The servants in the parable are probably Jesus’ disciples, but Jesus did not want these disciples, who could not see the difference between the wheat and weeds – the good and the bad, the sinners and the saved – to pull it up until it matured. Instead, when it fully matured, the owner and his reapers would be able to see the difference and discard the weeds.
This parable illustrates the future judgment which will occur at the end of time. Disciples of Christ are not able to judge between the saved and unsaved because they cannot see the difference, but at the time of judgment, the distinction will be clear. We do not have the capacity to make judgments, but we can be sure that Christ can and will.
In between his parable and explanation, Jesus gives two other parables. In the first one, he compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed. He explains how the mustard seed is the smallest of known seeds and eventually grows into one of the largest trees in the garden. This illustration shows the progressive growth of the kingdom of heaven. It starts small – just Jesus and a few disciples, but will one day be an enormous kingdom with people of every tribe, tongue, and nation. We look forward to the day when Jesus will return to establish his kingdom on earth! Along similar lines, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to yeast in flour. If you know anything about yeast, it only takes a very little bit to make a large batch of dough. Again, the kingdom of heaven may start small, but it has a large impact.
Jesus gave his disciples three more parables privately. The first two parables emphasize the worth of the kingdom. In the parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, the men who find the valuables knew that they were worth so much that they were willing to trade everything they had for the item. The kingdom of heaven, like the treasure and pearl, has unfathomable worth. We must be willing to give up anything in order to be a part of the kingdom of heaven. reveals what the kingdom of heaven may cost us. Are we willing to give up everything we have – our sin, our habits, our possessions, our comfort – to gain the kingdom of heaven?
The third parable emphasizes the future judgment. When Christ returns, all will be gathered to him (like a net) for judgment. Both sinners (bad fish) and followers (good fish) will be judged and separated. The unbelievers will not be spared, but will be thrown into the fire. The believers will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus was teaching new things to his disciples; however, he does not want them to discard what the Scriptures have taught before him. Jesus’ statement in is instructional that both the new teachings of Jesus and the teachings of the Old Testament must be proclaimed by the disciples.
Again, we come to the conflict of Jesus and his family in . The people wondered where Jesus received his wisdom and powers. They knew where he came from – he was the carpenter’s son and his mother is Mary. How, then, did he have such wisdom and power? The people of Nazareth obviously did not understand how he could have received these – in fact, some thought he was crazy. Instead of seeing, hearing, and understanding, they were offended by him and rejected him. As a result of their rejection, he did not do many miracles there.