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Why Did Jesus Speak in Parables?


At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. “If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.” (Luke 22:66-67)

On one hand, I understand their frustration. If Jesus is the Messiah why doesn’t he campaign under that banner. Why doesn’t He just clearly say, “I am the Messiah”?

On the other hand, their question exposes their foolishness and stubbornness. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. The duck doesn’t need to say “I’m a duck” for us to give it that moniker.

And it’s a bit disingenuous to say “He didn’t give enough evidence” when I never truly put the evidence under a microscope.

I think there is an assumption here that if Jesus is truly the Messiah, then it ought to be easy. It should be undeniable, slap you across the face with a board, kind of clarity. But that’s really not taking into account what Jesus said about parables in Mark 4.

Mark 4:1-20 is another one of those Markan sandwiches. The top bun is the parable of the soils. The bottom bun is the explanation of that parable. (Don’t you just love it when Jesus explains his parables?) The meat, though, is tricky.

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,

“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”

(Mark 4:10-12)

I’ve heard it said before that Jesus speaks in parables because they are like sermon illustrations. They are heavenly truths given to us in earthly garb. That sounds great, but it’s not what Jesus said about parables. Parables are invitations. They aren’t obvious. They aren’t explicit. They require a bit more digging. They aren’t easy.

And Jesus tells us why by quoting Isaiah 6:9-10. He says that parables are given so that things aren’t obvious or easy. Now why does he do this? Why not just make things easy? I mean, if this is life or death type stuff why play around here with difficult parables that could be misunderstood?

Because it’s really not about understanding as much as it is about the desire to understand. The kingdom of God isn’t about getting all the right answers on a trivia question. It’s about having a heart that desires God.