Sunday, January 13, 2013

Matthew 13 - Parables of the Kingdom and Rejection in Nazareth

LINK: Matthew 13

BACKGROUND

It is later on in the day, and Jesus has just refused to give a sign to the religious leaders to prove who He is and clarified that blood lines are not what make one a family.

This marks a transition point in Jesus' ministry. This new phase includes parables. They enabled Him to continue teaching His disciples without being troubled by the religious leaders trying to trap Him in His words (Matthew 13:13). The meaning behind His mysterious words would be revealed to those who were truly seeking.

A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. It "uses evident truth from a known field (nature or human life) to convey new truth in an unknown" (The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Kittel, p. 775). Our English word parable is a combination of two Greek words para meaning "alongside" and ballo meaning "to throw or cast." Jesus put a figurative picture alongside a teaching so that we might understand its meaning. He used pictures from agrarian life because that was what the people understood in this agrarian society. Parables were known in the Old Testament times. So, it figures that Jesus would perfect them!

77. Jesus tells the parable of the four soils: Matthew 13:1-9, Mark 4:1-9, Luke 8:4-8

The figurative picture of the sower and the seed would have made a connection in this agrarian society.  You will observe the seed fell on four different kinds of soil: 1) beside the road, 2) rocky places (a place where a thin surface of earth covers a rock), 3) thorns (ground not thoroughly cleared of thistles and such), and 4) good soil (soft and tender, moist and clean). 

78. Jesus explains the parable of the four soils: Matthew 13:10-23, Mark 4:10-25, Luke 8:9-18

When they were alone, His disciples and close followers asked Him why there was a shift in His teaching to parables.  Jesus revealed that He used the parables because He was making known to them the "secrets (mysteries) of the kingdom of heaven," but people were slow to understand (Mark 4:33-34). Those who do not have the spiritual acuity to comprehend and understand the parables or reject God's revelation would be left out by the veil that covered them. The parables answered mysteries for those who were ready to hear. 
The word “mysteries” in Scripture is not used in its classical sense—of religious secrets, nor yet of things incomprehensible, or in their own nature difficult to be understood—but in the sense of things of purely divine revelation, and, usually, things darkly announced under the ancient economy, and during all that period darkly understood, but fully published under the Gospel (1Co 2:6–10Eph 3:3–689). “The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” then, mean those glorious Gospel truths which at that time only the more advanced disciples could appreciate, and they but partially.  
(A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Mt 13:11)
Jesus knew that the majority of the multitudes were not true seekers. Their hearts were not prepared to hear the good news of the kingdom. 

Jesus does not explain who the sower is, but we can deduce that it is anyone who proclaims the word of God. Jesus explained that the seed is the "word of God" and the soils are the "different states of the human heart" (Ibid., Mark 4:14). All three of these human hearts have one thing in common -- they do not bear fruit: 
1) Beside the road - This is the hard heart. "The great truth here taught is, that hearts all unbroken and hard are not fit soil for saving truth" (Ibid.). The seed does not penetrate or make an impression. Therefore, the heart is easy prey for the enemy of all human hearts, Satan (birds) who does not want anyone to believe and be saved (Luke 8:12). 
2) Rocky places - This is the shallow heart.  Much of Palestine has a thin layer of soil on top of rock. The seed springs up at first, but with no moisture (Luke 8:6) and place for roots to go down deep (Mark 4:6), it withers.  
"The great truth here taught is that hearts superficially impressed are apt to receive the truth with readiness, and even with joy (Lu 8:13); but the heat of tribulation or persecution because of the word, or the trials which their new profession brings upon them quickly dries up their relish for the truth, and withers all the hasty promise of fruit which they showed. Such disappointing issues of a faithful and awakening ministry—alas, how frequent are they" (Ibid. Mk 4:16).
3) Thorns - This is the crowded heartThe "cares of the world" mean "anxious, unrelaxing attention to the business of this present life."  The "deceitfulness of riches" means "riches which are the fruit of this worldly care.'"  The "pleasures of this life" (Luke 8:14) or "desire for other things" are the "enjoyments in themselves [that] may be innocent, which worldly prosperity enables one to indulge" (Ibid. Mark 4:19). These all take ones attention away for the spiritual, drawing on a person's money, time, and energy. God gets what is left over when He should get the best and first of our "wealth" of money, time, and energy (Proverbs 3:9, Matthew 6:33). There is no fruit that results from this!
Notice that all of the above fruitless "hearts" are kept from bearing fruit because of the three enemies of every believer: the world, the flesh, and the devil (Ephesians 2:1-3)!
4) Good soil - This is the soft heart. The soil is tilled and soft and able to retain moisture because it isn't just top soil on top of rock. There are no worldly distractions and entanglements because it does the will of the Father:
 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. 
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 
For all that is in the world, 
the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes 
and the boastful pride of life, 
is not from the Father, but is from the world. 
(1 John 2:15–16)  

They "accept" the word. The Greek word here (paradechontai) means to "welcome it for themselves." This heart brings forth the lasting fruit of a changed life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:19-23).

Warren Wiersbe goes on to explain more about fruit: 
Fruit is the test of true salvation (Matt. 7:16). This would include holiness (Rom. 6:22), Christian character (Gal. 5:22–23), good works (Col. 1:10), winning others to Christ (Rom. 1:13), sharing what we have (Rom. 15:25–28), and praising God (Heb. 13:15). If a plant is to bear fruit, it must be rooted in soil and exposed to sunshine.   
(The Bible Exposition Commentary, Mt 13:1)
Mark 4:21-25 and Luke 8:16-18 add a little addendum that is not in the Matthew 13 account. These authors explain that just as lamps are meant to give light and not be out of sight, Jesus was destined to be revealed. The measure in these passages means that the more truth we receive and apply now the more we will receive in the future. 

80. Weeds: Matthew 13:24-30
83. Jesus explains: Matthew 13:36-43

True believers and false believers will exist together until the harvest at the end of the Age when Jesus comes again.

81. Mustard seed: Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-34

Mustard seeds are not the smallest seeds in the world, but they were probably the smallest that the Jews would have sown at that time. From a small seed, the mustard plant grows to 12-15 feet! Believers in the kingdom would be small in the beginning but grow rapidly. Jesus began with 12 well-trained (but imperfect) disciples and later there were 500 believers (1 Corinthians 15:6). Then there were 3,000 at Pentecost (Acts 2).  Read Acts to read about spontaneous growth. Read Revelation 5:9 for where it is going.

82. Yeast: Matthew 13:33-35

In other Bible passages, yeast is a symbol of evil and uncleanness, but here it is a symbol of the amazing, multiplying growth of the kingdom.

84. Hidden treasure: Matthew 13:44

The kingdom is more valuable than anything, and we must be willing to give up everything to obtain it.

85. Pearl merchant: Matthew 13:45-4

This has the same meaning as the hidden treasure parable.

86. Fishing net: Matthew 13:47-52

This is similar to the wheat and weeds parable. Angels will separate the wicked from the righteous when Christ returns. 

91. The people of Nazareth refuse to believe: Matthew 13:53-58, Mark 6:1-6


Here marks a transition from Jesus' ministry in the region of Galilee to the regions outside. His opposition and rejection (even by His hometown!) increased during this time, and He revealed more and more to His disciples who He really was. 


REFLECTION/APPLICATION

Whew! Matthew 13 is PACKED!  There is so much applicability in this chapter! 

I focused on the Parable of the Four Soils. I have always loved it. So much so that I have just spent three hours meditating on and studying it this morning!  It was time well spent.

For those of us who are believers, God has sown on the good soil of our hearts, but we need to continue to tend our garden. The world, the flesh, and the enemy are still there to keep us from being fruit bearers. As much as we may hate to pull weeds (I do because of my tall frame and bad back) and protect our gardens from predators (we have a real deer problem here and must cover our garden with a net), it is necessary to see fruit!

Look at the four hearts. Where is your heart right now?

Do you protect your heart/garden from predators? I pray my armor on most mornings (Ephesians 6) and want to grow to do it every morning. I want to pray protection over my life and the life of my loved ones.

Do you keep yourself free from entanglements with the world?  I see so many in this third soil. Our hearts are so crowded with other things, and God does not get our best.  Do we "honor the Lord from our wealth and from the first of all our produce" (Proverbs 3:9)? We are not just talking about material wealth, but the wealth of the hours and energy that God gives us every day to bear fruit for eternity!  How are you stewarding those hours? Do you give Him the best of your day to commune with Him and bear fruit for eternity or do the worries of the day get you?

Talk to God about the condition of your soil/heart right now. Believer, how does your garden grow?  

Unbeliever, pray that God would give you ears and eyes to hear and see (Matthew 13:9, 14-15).  I encourage you to pray Romans 12:1 and substitute the words ears and eyes when the verse says bodies. 

PRAYER

Lord, we sincerely desire to have tender and soft soil in our garden and fruit that is protected from predators and devoid of weeds. Teach us how we can tend to the garden You have given us. We want to bear fruit for You that goes into eternity!  Lord, we present our ears and eyes as living and holy sacrifices, acceptable to You (Romans 12:1). I pray You would break up the hard soil of unbelieving hearts around us. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen. 
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