THE GOOD NEWS: God's word preached by Jesus plainly in His parables
In Mark chapter 4, the Lord Jesus Christ tells two parables. They have been named the Parable of the Seed and the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
A parable is most commonly understood as a category of stories of illustration that Jesus told throughout His ministry on earth. Of all the recorded teaching of Jesus, one third is in the form of parables. And we know Jesus told many more parables than all that are recorded. Point being, Jesus relied heavily on parables.
Why? Why dance around the subject of being God’s Son sent to save the world from sin with talk of seed, sower, and mustard seed? With the salvation of souls at stake, why tell stories?
Precisely because the salvation of souls was at stake. For Jesus’ use of parables was to make things more simple. With parables, Jesus was not teaching graduate level courses. With parables, Jesus was making crayon drawings for preschoolers. That parables seem to us less clear is itself an indication of our thick-headed, hard-hearted inability to believe God’s Word.
You see, unbelief is the stubborn default of human nature. Unbelief is crass opposition to God’s will and not only refuses, but is unable, to receive and believe the Gospel.
So, as Jesus preached the Gospel, unbelief was the natural reaction of everyone who heard Him. He proclaimed God’s love and people naturally refused to hear, walked away, even conspired against Him.
So what was Jesus to do for people intent on not believing? Give up? Or go the extra mile? By using parables, Jesus went the extra mile.
Think of it this way. We might call sin the humanly incurable disease of the soul. And we might call forgiveness of sins the divine cure of the soul. In this way, the Gospel is God’s medicine and unbelief is the human will to spit it out.
So God flavors His medicine to get it past our natural gag reflex. And that flavoring, in a sense, is parables. Where the Good News of sin forgiven in Christ of its own is so terribly disgusting to the taste buds of our natural hearts, the design of parables is to coat those taste buds that the heart would not retch up the very medicine administered to cure it.
The point is, unbelief is not just characteristic of unbelievers. Unbelief is characteristic even of believers. Everyone has the spiritual spit reflex. Unbelief lingers and lurks within each of us — to the degree that we have a natural bent to despise preaching and God’s Word. And this leads us to take credit for God’s soul-saving work and to dismiss His means of doing His soul-saving work. That is why Jesus told the Parable of the Seed and the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
From the Parable of the Seed, you do not have to be a farmer to ‘get’ what Jesus makes plain — that a man who casts seed upon the soil can observe the sprouting and growing all the way to maturity and harvest but still cannot know ‘how’ it happens. In no way can the man who casts seed upon the soil, rightly, take any true credit for the crops he harvests.
Jesus said the kingdom of God is like that. All credit for people believing their souls are terminal with sin and trusting in Jesus Christ alone they have forgiveness cure for their souls goes to Jesus Christ alone.
From the Parable of the Mustard Seed you do not have to be a botanist to ‘get’ what Jesus makes plain – that a mustard seed is incredibly small yet packs incredible power. In short order, an insignificant seed becomes sufficient home and shelter for birds of the air.
Jesus said the kingdom of God is like that. The church appears incredibly powerless. As Martin Luther preached, “The church on earth must exist and fight in weakness, poverty, and affliction, fear, death, shame, and blame.”
Why ‘must’ the church on earth exist in this way? For this was the appearance of the One who is Head of the Church. In Jesus Christ, God came in weakness, poverty, and affliction, fear, death, shame, and blame. God, born of a virgin. God, tempted. God, suffered. God, poured out His blood. God, sacrificed, God, dead.
And then on the third day He unleashed His power and rose from the dead.
The Good News is Jesus packed this power into His Church. The power to raise spiritually dead unbelievers into living souls who believe they are terminal with sin and trust in Jesus Christ alone they have forgiveness remission cure. That power comes by God’s Word preached. Plainly, in parables.
Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.