Jesus spoke a great deal in parables. A parable is an illustration, a story that is designed to teach a lesson. Jesus used them frequently and cited the common culture, norms, and situation of the time he was in so as to teach the listeners in terms they would understand.
The parables of Jesus embody much of his fundamental teaching. They are quite simple, memorable stories, often with humble imagery, each with a single message. Jesus’ parables are seemingly simple and memorable stories, often with imagery, and all convey messages. Scholars have commented that although these parables seem simple, the messages they convey are deep, and central to the teachings of Jesus.The kingdom of God is the centerpiece of Jesus’ teachings. Matthew speaks instead of the “kingdom of heaven.” However, a number of passages in Matthew are virtually identical to those in Mark and Luke, except for the substitution of “kingdom of heaven” for “kingdom of God.” Thus, the same reality is intended. The Gospel of John mentions the kingdom only twice but refers many times to the closely related concept of eternal life.
The Parables of Jesus can be found in all the gospels, except for John The Gospel of Luke contains both the largest total number of parables (24) and eighteen unique parables; the Gospel of Matthew contains 23 parables of which eleven are unique; and the Gospel of Mark contains eight parables of which two are unique.
What is a parable? A parable is a fictitious or made up story designed to teach a lesson through comparison. When you hear the story, you can relate it to your own life. It is like an illustration for the points in a sermon. It conveys its message of truth through analogy, through comparison or contrast.
All of you have heard of Aesop’s fables. After you tell a child a fable, you point out the moral of the story. A parable is like a fable in that it also has a moral or message behind the story. But parables are true to life. Parables are for adults. Animals and trees don’t talk. The power of a parable comes from the fact that you recognize that “that’s the way it is in real life.”
Parables are great because they tell a story that is easy to remember. How many of you can tell me the story of the three little pigs or Goldie Locks and the three bears? All of you. How many of you studied those stories this morning before you came to church? It is not like a bunch of principles we try to memorize and soon forget.
Parables are told so that only those who really care will come to know the truth. Not so much because they understand the parable, but because they care enough to ask what it means after the story is finished and hang around long enough to have it explained to them. The others don’t really care and leave. Remember, the disciples didn’t understand the parables, but they asked what Jesus meant after the crowds left. They had a soft and open heart. Understanding is an issue of the heart. Those who have a hard heart, also have closed eyes and closed ears and they don’t understand.
Matthew 13:10-17(HCSB) 10 Then the disciples came up and asked Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
11 He answered them, “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them. 12 For whoever has, more will be given to him, and he will have more than enough. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand. 14 Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You will listen and listen,
yet never understand;
and you will look and look,
yet never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown callous;
their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
otherwise they might see with their eyes
and hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn back—
and I would cure them.
16 “But your eyes are blessed because they do see, and your ears because they do hear! 17 For I assure you: Many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see yet didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear yet didn’t hear them.
Parables are told to make a point. They answer a question, deal with a problem, etc. What is the central truth or truths taught?
Parables are told in an historical context. Jesus is drawing on culture, historical events, etc. We need to ask what the historical and cultural context are. For example, when Jesus tells the parable about the nobleman giving his servants ten minas and then going away to receive a kingdom, He is alluding to an actual event that took place only a few years before. Archalaeus received the “rulership” Judea from his father Herod, but before he could take over, he had to go to Rome to be confirmed by Caesar.
We also need to look at the immediate literary context. What is going on in the text both before and after the parable? What has just happened or what has just been said? Did Jesus perform a miracle immediately before or after the parable? Did that miracle illustrate the truth in the parable?
What is the problem that prompted the parable? When Jesus told a parable, He was dealing with either a Question or an Attitude – Often both at the same time. The question might be spoken or unspoken, after all, He could read their minds. Or He might be dealing with a bad attitude. We have to examine the context to see if a question was asked or implied. And we need to see if there is an attitude that needs to be dealt with, etc.
What is the flow of the narrative? Does it center around the characters (biographical)? the sequence of events (chronological)? a logical argument? or an ideological theme?
How does the parable relate to the kingdom program of God?
Luke 5:33-39(HCSB) Then they said to Him, “John’s disciples fast often and say prayers, and those of the Pharisees do the same, but Yours eat and drink.” 34 Jesus said to them, “You can’t make the wedding guests fast while the groom is with them, can you? 35 But the time will come when the groom will be taken away from them—then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. Otherwise, not only will he tear the new, but also the piece from the new garment will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, it will spill, and the skins will be ruined. 38 But new wine should be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one, after drinking old wine, wants new, because he says, ‘The old is better.’
This parable is found in all three of the synoptic gospels Matthew 9, Mark 2, Luke 5.
Jesus acknowledges in this account that old wine is certainly better than new wine. Everyone who has every drank wine knows that aged wine taste better than newer wine. But neither new wine nor old wine is the point of the parable. The metaphors in the two parables were drawn from contemporary culture. New cloth had not yet shrunk, so that using new cloth to patch older clothing would result in a tear as it began to shrink. Similarly, old wineskins had been “stretched to the limit” or become brittle as wine had fermented inside them; using them again therefore risked bursting them.
Luke 7:31-35(HCSB) “To what then should I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to each other:
We played the flute for you,
but you didn’t dance;
we sang a lament,
but you didn’t weep!
33 For John the Baptist did not come eating bread or drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”
Jesus answers with a word picture. He says, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?” With those words Jesus teaches us two things: one is that fasting was by and large associated with mourning in that day. It was an expression of broken-heartedness and desperation, usually over sin or over some danger. It was something you did when things were not going the way you want them to.
But that’s not the situation with the disciples of Jesus. This is the second thing he teaches: the Messiah has come and his coming is like the coming of a bridegroom to a wedding feast. This is just too good to mingle with fasting. So Jesus was making a tremendous claim for himself here. In the Old Testament God had pictured himself as the husband of his people Israel. Now his Son, the Messiah, the long hoped-for one, has come and he claims to be the Bridegroom—that is, the husband of his people, who will be the true Israel. This is the kind of partially veiled claim Jesus made about his identity with God. If you had ears to hear, you could hear it. God, the one who betrothed Israel to himself in covenant love, has come.
The patch of unshrunk cloth and the new wine represent the new reality that has come with Jesus—the kingdom of God is here. The Bridegroom has come. The Messiah is in our midst. And that is not merely temporary. He is not merely here and then gone. The kingdom of God did not come in Jesus and then just vanish out of the world.
Jesus died for our sins once for all. He rose from the dead once for all. The Spirit was sent into the world as the real presence of Jesus among us. The kingdom is the reigning power of Christ in the world subduing hearts to the king and creating a people who believe him and serve him. The Spirit of the Bridegroom is gathering and purifying a bride for Christ.
If a woman sewed a patch of new cloth on a piece of garment that had been washed, the next time it was washed the patch would then shrink and ruin the whole garment. If new wine was poured into old wineskins, the pressure of the gas from the fermentation would break the old wineskin and the wine would sip out and be lost.
Do not mix the old covenant with the new covenant.
Jesus’ disciples had just received new teachings from the Lord and they needed to know how to relate that life to the old truths of the Jewish faith. With these illustrations, Christ taught how to relate the old and the new.
Jesus taught that to put new cloth on an old garment would destroy both. To put new wine into old wineskins would also destroy both. To try to mix Law and Grace would effectively destroy both. Jesus is saying some things just cannot be mixed. When God reveals a new thing, He sometimes wants us to totally forget about the old.
Isaiah 43:18-19(HCSB)18 “Do not remember the past events,
pay no attention to things of old.19 Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it?
Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.
Jesus’ mission involved a radical break with common religious practices for what he brings is not a patch but a whole new garment. Jesus’ teaching is like fermenting wine that seems to almost have inherent vigor and can not be contained within an old rigid system.
Jesus, during the Last Supper, spoke of a new covenant, which is indeed new and not merely an improved extension of the old.
Luke 22:20(HCSB) 20 In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you.
How is the new covenant different from the old? The new covenant is a once-and-for-all sacrifice of sin while the old covenant requires repeated sacrifice of sins.
When Jesus spoke of the new covenant, He was referring to His blood as shed for the forgiveness of our sins in place of the old covenant which simply uses the blood of animals.
Matthew 26:28(HCSB)28 For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.
The big difference between this blood sacrifice and the one in the old covenant is that it is only offered once for our sins. The old covenant requires repeated sacrifice of sin and shedding of blood before God would forgive the people of their sins. When Christ died for our sins, He paid for its debt and satisfied God’s divine justice completely. There is no need for us to continually offer sacrifices for our sins by punishing ourselves.
In the parable, Jesus is telling us not to be guilty of mixing the old covenant with the new covenant. The new covenant promises a complete sacrifice for sin at Calvary. We must not mix this new covenant with the old covenant and continue to live our lives as if we need to continually punish ourselves or do works of penance as recompense for our sins.
Do not try to live your new life with your old.
When you invite Jesus into your life, He does not do a partial job of patching up your life. He turns you into a totally new creation.
2 Corinthians 5:17(HCSB)17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.
We must not hinder God’s effort to turn us into a new creation by trying to live our new life alongside our old one. Let us seriously examine our life to see which aspects are not consistent with the life of a Christian. We must get rid of all sins that God brings to our attention. It is no use if we serve God faithfully in church and witness to our friends if we continue to hold on to secret sins in our lives. Like the parable, the inconsistency will eat us up. The new cloth will cut a hold in the old garment. As we try to read the Bible but continue to hold on to sin, the new life will eat us up and make us more and more guilty. Let’s heed to Jesus’ warning in this parable. Do not let the new cloth tear us up by our not letting go of the old cloth. Let’s determine to rid our lives of all sin, as God points them out to us, so that we can live a joyful Christian life.
It is difficult to insist on someone accepting new things immediately.
In Luke 5:39(HCSB) 39 And no one, after drinking old wine, wants new, because he says, ‘The old is better.’, Jesus emphasized that people tend to want the old and reject the new, assuming that the old is better. It is difficult to convince someone to accept new things, not to mention convincing them to accept them immediately. This principle is helpful when we are dealing with new Christians. When a person first becomes a Christian, he is told of the many things that are expected of him. Yet we should give the new Christian time to grow up. No newborn baby starts talking and running immediately. In a similar way, we cannot expect a new Christian to have the motivation to immediately go for overnight prayer meetings, street evangelism or fasting. All these require commitment that comes with spiritual maturity. Let’s give them time to grow.