James Meehan - When Jesus Hid the Truth
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Well, welcome my friends to a brand new series, titled "pictures of heaven" wherever you're joining us from. We're so thankful that you are here because Switch is a place where all are welcomed. You, your friends, your family, anybody, and everybody. The way that we like to say it is that you are welcome one and all, you are welcome short and tall. You are welcome all of y'all. I'm just kidding. We don't actually say it that way, but I wanted to test it. And so y'all let me know if that works and that should be a part of our language every week, but here's what we're doing we are kicking off a series, titled "pictures of heaven" where we're going to spend five weeks exploring the parables of Jesus, as He's using these stories to paint a picture of what it is like when the kingdom of heaven comes crashing into earth.
And so what I hope you will understand is that it is not my goal today to answer every question that you might have. It's not even my goal to get you to agree with me about part of the Bible. My goal is to simply help you understand just how beautiful, compelling, and wonderful Jesus is. My goal is to help equip you to understand what it looks like to live the way of Jesus. Because when we align our lives with His, here's what we get, not status wealth, fame, or power, the things that so many of us are chasing for, instead, what we get is purpose. We get meaning. We get life and life that is so much more full and meaningful than we could ever imagine. And so, like I said, we're going to be spending the next five weeks exploring some of these stories that Jesus told that have stuck with us throughout history.
Literally for 2000 years, these stories have been told and retold time and time again, because for 2000 years, people have believed that these stories of Jesus are still relevant and applicable to our lives today. But because this is the first week of our series, I think it's really important for us to kind of like lay the groundwork for what parables are and how we're meant to understand them. So in today's message, what I wanna do is answer four big questions. The first question, what are parables? The second question, how do we read them? Third, why did Jesus use them? And fourth, how do they apply to our lives today? And as we're discovering the answers to these questions, we'll be looking at one of Jesus's parables titled the parable of the sower.
Now this is a story that shows up in Matthew, Mark, Luke three out of the four gospel accounts. And every time this parable is used, it's kind of used as an introduction to help the readers of the gospels, understand what parables are and how to read them. And so what better parable to use to help us be introduced to the power that is found within these words? And so that first question, what are parables? What are parables? I really like the way that Klyne Snodgrass, he is a theologian and scholar defines them. He says they are stories with intent. The parables are of Jesus are stories that are meant to make a point. Tim Mackie from the Bible Project, he talks about the parables of Jesus being like commentaries explaining all of the things that Jesus was saying and doing. These parables of Jesus are the stories that are meant to provoke new ways of thinking in us, to confront our assumptions and challenge us to live the way of Jesus in our lives every single day.
"So what are parables? Parables are stories that are intended to teach us who God is, what his kingdom is like and how we are meant to live as his people". So now that we have an idea of what parables are, let's jump into this parable of the sower that starts in Luke 8. And what we're told is "that there was a large crowd gathering". There were people coming to Jesus from town after town when he told this parable, and here's what He says in verse five, He says, "a farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path it was trampled on and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants, but still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and it yielded a crop a hundred times more than what was sown. And when he said this, he called out whoever has ears to hear, let them hear".
So when it comes to the parables of Jesus, right, we read this where at first it was like, okay, cool that sounds good. But what do I do with it? Because if you're like me, you're not actually a farmer and so this farming metaphor doesn't really connect with you in the world that you live in today. And so it was like, okay, cool, cool, cool, cool, this is like a fun story. No idea what it means, which then brings us to that second question right? So how do we as modern readers engage parables of Jesus and understand what it is that Jesus is trying to communicate to us through these stories? And so one of the things that we talk about a lot in Switch is this idea that the Bible was not written in order to give us easy answers, but it was written to invite us to wrestle with hard truths. And that's exactly what these parables are trying to do.
"Parables don't give us easy answers. What they do is invite us to wrestle with hard truths". And as we're wrestling with these hard truths, what we wanna do is we wanna stay rooted in some principles to make sure that we don't get lost in this wrestling match. And so for us what we believe are the two most important principles for wrestling with the truth found in scripture are these: Number one that Jesus is King. And number two, that context is everything. You see as we're navigating the Bible there gonna be some things that we read that are really difficult for us to understand and wrap our minds around because it, a book written to a different group of people who spoke a different language, who lived in a very different culture than the one that we do today. And so it takes wisdom to wrestle with these words and understand how to apply them to us.
And as long as we can hold on to these principles, that Jesus is King in context is everything that will help us navigate all of these different words wisely Jesus the King. That means that everything in the Bible points to or comes from Jesus, it's one unified story leading us to our King Jesus, context is everything that means the best way to understand what somebody means in one situation is to look at everything else that they've said in every other situation. And when it comes to the Bible, the best way to understand the specific words and verses that might confuse us is to look at the things that Jesus said and did everywhere else, because it is all one unified story that's leading us to Jesus. Jesus is King and context is everything.
So when we think about the context of these parables, we have to understand what is it that Jesus was actually doing, because if Tim Mackie is right, and that these parables are meant to serve as commentaries on the ministry of Jesus, we've got to understand what was the ministry of Jesus. And in every single gospel account what we're told by Jesus himself is that His mission was to announce that the Kingdom of God had come near, right? He showed up in history, telling everybody who would listen, that the rule and reign of God was taking root and history and anybody who would say yes to the invitation would be welcomed in. And in all throughout the gospel accounts, we see Jesus performing miracles, casting out demons, preaching these different messages and telling parables, using stories to paint a picture of what He was doing.
And so, as we're reading these parables of Jesus, that's the context that we need to come back to that Jesus is announcing the subversive and dangerous message that there's a new king in town. That it's not Caesar. The emperor of Rome who's actually in charge. It's not the high priests of the Jewish may land that are in charge no, it is God who is in charge. And what that means is that justice, that goodness, that fulfillment, that life will be the new way of doing things in His kingdom. So what are parables? Parables are stories with intent. They're meant to provoke something in us to confront our assumptions and to produce a change. How do we read them? Well you remember that parables just like the rest of the Bible, isn't meant to give us easy answers, but it's intended to help us wrestle with hard truths. And as we're wrestling, we wanna hold onto the principles that Jesus is King and a context is everything.
So that's what parables are. That's how we read them wisely. Next question becomes, okay, cool. But like, why did Jesus use them? Is that really the most effective way to get his message across? And if you're asking that question, the good news is you're not alone. Like as a matter of fact that is the question that Jesus' disciples immediately asked Him after hearing this parable for the first time, if we continue on in Luke, what we're told is that his disciples asked him, what does this parable mean? In Matthew's account and Mark's account? There's a little bit more questions about, okay like, why do you teach in parables? And here's the answer that Jesus gives. He says "that the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others, I speak in parables so that though seeing, they may not see, though hearing, they may not understand".
Hold on, it sounds like Jesus is saying He teaches in parables so that people won't understand what He's saying. And I don't know about you, but that just seems a little bit weird. And so what I was doing as I was reading this, I was like, oh cool like Jesus is quoting from the prophet Isaiah. There's like this little footnote in the Bible that tells you that. So I went in like flipped all the way back to Isaiah chapter 6:9-10 to read like what he was quoting, thinking that, oh yeah, there's probably other stuff there that will help this make more sense. And so here's what Isaiah 6:9-10 says that Jesus is quoting from, it says this God talking to Isaiah says. Hey "go and tell this people you'll be ever hearing, but never understanding ever seeing, but never perceiving make the heart of this people calloused, make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears and understand what their hearts and would turn and be healed".
Are you paying attention? This quote that Jesus is pulling from the Old Testament literally goes on to say that yeah, yeah, yeah, I want you to say things so that people don't understand them. Not only that, but I want it to be so hard for people to understand, because if they did understand the message that you're providing then would turn and be healed. That's what Isaiah was told by God to preach to the nation of Israel so many years ago. And then Jesus is like picking up on that strand of thought in this gospel account saying, yeah, yeah, the reason I preach in parables is because the message of the Kingdom of God has been revealed to you, but not to them. And I wanna talk in such a way that even though they hear it they don't understand it. I'm not talking in such a way that they're calloused hearts, they're dull ear, they're closed eyes are unable to grasp what is being said, because if they understood it, they would turn to God and be healed.
Like how backwards does that seem coming from the mouth of Jesus quoting this prophet Isaiah? Because like the goal of the prophets was to deliver to the people the messages that God had intended for them. It's like, why would you make it more confusing? The Bible is already confusing it's like, as I'm reading this, I'm thinking that didn't make this easier and made it even more frustrating because I know that there are so many people who have felt this sense of dissatisfaction with Christianity, because what they've said is, hey, if the message was that important, why didn't God make it more obvious? Like this is one of the most common objections I hear people say today. It's like, if God really wanted me to believe in Him, then He would make it so obvious that I couldn't not.
And somehow Jesus thinks it's helpful to make things more confusing and if this message is really that important, like we say that it is that the message of Jesus is a message that frees us from our sin and reunites us to God. It is the message that all of creation has been longing for. That all of us are desperate for. And yet what Jesus is saying is that yeah, yeah I'm gonna say it in such a way that people don't understand it, because then if they did, they would turn to God healed. It sounds like Jesus doesn't want people to be healed. And I don't know if I like that. I don't know how to handle that. It sounds super excited about this parable and I'm confronted by this hard truth here. What it did is it forced me to start asking different questions. It forced me to start wondering, okay, like, why are these the words that are here?
Like, there's gotta be more to this because when I look throughout the Bible, when I look at the person of Jesus, what I see is love grace, mercy, all of those things that we're desperate for and so honestly this doesn't seem to fit. This seems to contradict everything else I know about Jesus. And so when I talked to one of my friends that I work with, I said, hey, bro, what if I told you that Jesus doesn't want people to understand what He's healing because He doesn't want them to repent to turn to God and be healed. My friend looked at me and said, yeah, I wouldn't believe you that seems ridiculous. I said, okay, will check this out, look at this. Right, I showed him this passage so that he could read it. And he kinda looks at me with this confused face. And he says, so what does that mean? I said, bro, I don't know yet, but I'm gonna find out I kept going on this journey of trying to discover what is it that Jesus is doing here?
And it brought me back to some of the person I mentioned earlier, Klyne Snodgrass. He defined parables as stories with intent. And what he talks about is this idea that parables can seal in order to reveal, they can seal in order to reveal. It's like one of those things where like, imagine, for instance, as Jesus is teaching this message and it's this important, but then he says, he's making it more confusing. It like, kind of made me think about, like, for instance, say somebody breaks into your house in the middle of the night and you're not sure what to do. So you're like, man I'm gonna call the authorities. So you go to dial 911, but then you just remembered that actually they had changed their number from 911 to 813971329057019 to make it more confusing and more difficult for people to call for help, right? That's what it sounds like Jesus is doing.
But what I started to learn is this idea of parables concealing in order to reveal is based on the fact that as human beings, there are a lot of times where when truth is in front of us, even if it's clear, even if it's available, we still reject it, right? Like have you ever seen somebody that has all of the evidence, the stories, the facts presented to them and they are still unwilling to change their mind? If you haven't welcome to the internet because it's everywhere. And I think this is, what's so fascinating about this idea, is that what the prophets were doing, what Jesus was picking up on is the idea that sometimes the best way to revealed truth is actually to conceal truth because sometimes before people are willing to hear the answer, first, they have to ask the question. I think one of the best examples of this in scripture is a prophet named Nathan who was sent by God to rebuke the king David.
Now the context of this parable is that David had just gone up onto his roof seen another man's wife, took her for himself, slept with her got her pregnant and in order to cover up, his actions had her real husband murdered. So that's what the king did and God wasn't okay with it. So he sent a prophet to rebuke the actions of David to call David to return to God. But Nathan was pretty smart because he understands like, hey, if I go call out the king, then more likely than not he's not gonna hear what I have to say. And he's probably gonna get me thrown in jail and then executed. So Nathan had to figure out a way to conceal this truth in order to reveal the truth.
And so here's what we read is the way that Nathan delivered this message to David. He comes to David and he tells him, hey David, "there were two men in a certain town, one rich and one poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle but the poor man had nothing except one tiny little lamb that he had bought. He raised it and it grew up with him and his children, it shared his food it drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him, now travel came to rich man. But the rich refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him instead, he took the tiny little lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him".
This rich man who had all the sheep you could ask for, instead of killing and cooking one of his own took the one sheep that the poor family had. And when David hears this, we're told that "he burned with anger against the man. And he says to Nathan, as surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die. He must pay for the lamb four times over because he did such a thing and had no pity. And then Nathan looks at David and he says, you are that man". Because you are the king of Israel, you had everything you could ask for. And you took this woman without asking, you murdered her husband to cover up your actions. What you did David was wrong. You are the man. And because of the way that this truth was delivered, David heard it, he received it and he responded with repentance.
This is what parables are meant to do, they are meant to reveal truth in such a way that it sneaks past our defenses, that it buries itself deep inside of us, that it gets planted in our hearts and it produces a change. And so as I'm learning about the parables, what I'm realizing is, oh, this is really interesting. It's almost like what Jesus is doing here is trying to confront the assumptions of his audience because that's exactly what parables are meant to do. And so when I think about that idea of parables, they can seal in order to reveal, when I put it in the context of Isaiah six, nine and 10, this message that Isaiah was delivering to the people in the context was this, that the people had been warned and warned and warned that if they didn't turn back to God and end their abuse and oppression of the disadvantage, that judgment would come. But over and over and over again, the people ignored the warnings that were given.
So Klyne Snodgrass who have already mentioned, he says this about that passage, Isaiah six, nine and 10. This idea that these people's hearts are hard and if they weren't, they would turn to God and be healed. What Klyne Snodgrass says is that "these words are meant to be understood forcefully not literally". What they express is that this hardening of hearts has already happened, that the people are unwilling to hear. So what they're meant to be is a provocation to bring about hearing and obedience. Like, have you ever had a friend who was super competitive? And if you challenge them to do anything, like they would take it up. But then there's that one thing where they said no and so you hit them with a thing. Yeah, you probably couldn't do it anyways.
And then they like 100% tried to do that thing. Like that's part of what's happening here is it sounds like what God is asking Isaiah to do is to basically tell the people like, hey, even if you did hear the message, you wouldn't care enough to repent. And he's sort of like using some reverse psychology to confront, to shock the hearers, to actually be open to the wrongs that they had been committing. And when I was reading this, I just kept being reminded of another story in the Old Testament where somebody, their heart was hard. They were unwilling to hear the message that the prophet of God was delivering to them. And I think this is a story that probably immediately come up in the minds of Isaiah's original audience and Jesus's original audience because for the Jewish people, like their most famous story that shaped who they were as a nation, was the delivery of the Israelite people from Egypt in the Exodus.
And in this story, there's this guy named Pharaoh, the king of Egypt and over and over again, Moses, the prophet goes to Pharaoh and says, hey, God is asking you to let his people go. And what we're told is that Pharaoh's heart is hard. He's unwilling to receive the message and he refuses, to let the people go. And so judgment comes. that's where the story of the 10 plagues shows up. And we take that idea and we look at the passage in Isaiah, what we see he is, there's a prophet who is warning people that, hey, if you don't repent, judgment will come. And then we've got Jesus who's repeating the same message. If you don't repent, judgment will come. And so we see these parallels and there's a prophet delivering a message and the people won't receive it, but the people are Pharaoh, Israel and Israel.
And so here's my argument, my argument would be that when Jesus is quoting from the prophet Isaiah, what he is trying to do is to confront his audience with the reality that they had moved so far from God's will that they were just like Pharaoh, that they were a new Egypt. You see what Jesus was doing as he's traveling around preaching about the Kingdom of God is He is calling out the corruption and the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He's saying, hey, you say all the right things on the outside, you look really pretty, but on the inside, you are abusing your power. You are oppressing the people of God, you are doing exactly what Pharaoh did to your ancestors so long ago and the time has come for you to repent, to return to God and be healed.
But honestly, you probably feel really comfortable. So you may not even repent. Jesus is delivering a message that is confronting the assumptions of his audience and He is inviting them to open themselves up to what it is that God wants to say to them. Why did Jesus teach in parables? Because sometimes when the truth confronts us directly, we just put our walls up and ignore it. And parables have this beautiful way of sneaking around the walls of digging beneath the surface of planting themselves inside of us so that they get buried in our hearts and they can produce a real change. So what are parables? Parables are these stories that Jesus told intended to produce a change in his hearers, intended to help them understand who God is, what his kingdom was like and how they were meant to respond as the people of God. How do we read them? Well, we've got to remember that Jesus is king and context is everything. Why did Jesus use them? Because parables have this really beautiful way of concealing truth in order to reveal truth.
Now, the last question is, okay, so how does this parable apply to us today? How do the other parables apply to us today? As we continue on in this series that's the question that the following weeks we're gonna be focused in on. But what I wanna do is look one more time at this parable of the sower, because after Jesus introduces the parable, after his disciples ask Him what it means. Jesus gives this explanation of his words. He says in verse 11, Luke chapter eight, again:
"this is the meaning of the parable. The Seed that the sowers planting is the Word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, but then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy, but they have no root. So they believe for a while but in the time of testing, they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches. and pleasures, and they never mature. But the seed on good soil, it stands for those with a noble and good heart who hear the word, who retain it and by persevering they produce a crop".
So what is this parable trying to teach us today? What's trying to show us that the message of Jesus has been made available to everyone who's willing to hear it, but for some of us, when we hear it, we won't understand it. We won't actually receive it. And so the message will be taken from us. For others of us maybe we hear it and we get excited for a little bit, but then as soon as following Jesus gets hard.
We think, you know what? This actually isn't worth it so we give up. For others of us, the seed gets planted and we start following Jesus but then we get distracted by all the things of this world, wealth, fame, power, popularity, all those things that we want. We start chasing and we turn our backs on Jesus. But then there are some of us who will receive the word that is planted in us and it will produce a crop 100 times what is planted. What Jesus is doing as He's teaching us this parable is He's inviting us to receive his words with humility and respond to His words with obedience. So the question for you today is this, will you receive the words of Jesus? And if you do, how will you respond? Let's pray together.
Father God we thank you so much for the fact that you have brought us here together today. I pray for all of us as we are joining together from wherever we might be around the world, that God, we would be open to whatever it is that you want us to hear today.
What I know is that there are probably some of you right now, where if you were honest, you would recognize that you've and the kind of person where maybe you've heard about Jesus and you've been a little bit curious, but never enough to actually respond with obedience. Never enough to actually put Jesus his words into action but today you wanna be like the good soil. You wanna receive it with humility and respond with obedience and you want God's help to that. Would you just raise your hand, type it in the chat wherever you might be so that I can pray for you.
Heavenly Father I pray for those students right now. I pray for all of us as we are hearing this message that we would receive what you have for us, that we would respond with obedience, that we wouldn't just be hearers of your word, but we would be doers of your word that we would discover by putting these words into practice. The joy that comes from serving you and being used by you.
Still in an attitude of prayer, there are others of you right now, where what you would recognize is that you don't really know who Jesus is, that you don't really have a relationship with him that maybe you've been trying out this church thing for a while but you just aren't convinced, but there's something that is shifting in you today. As you're hearing this message, those questions are bubbling up to the surface about whether or not Jesus is worth it. And what I know for me is that once I made the decision to put my trust in Him, that's when everything changed. But I'm not saying that life got easier, but let me tell you something life got better because I wasn't doing it on my own.
And I believe that there are some of you right now that are here today to finally put your trust in Jesus, to make the decision to go before Him with all that you are. And to say, Jesus, I wanna follow you. The reality is all of us as human beings, we've all sinned. We've made mistakes. We fallen short. We've done things that hurt ourselves and others in that sin has separated us from God, but in Jesus God made a way for all of us to be reunited with Him through Jesus' death on the cross, through his resurrection, from the dead, God made a way so that all of us could be rescued from our sin and united with him. And I think that's exactly why some of you are here today to experience the grace of Jesus, to be transformed from the inside out.
And if that's you and you realize that today is the day where you make a choice to put your trust in Jesus, wherever you are, lift your hand right now, type it in the chat below. Let us know that you're committing your life to Jesus, click on the moment that's there so that we can help you understand what it means to follow Jesus. And as people are making that decision for the first time as a Switch family, we're gonna pray together because even though you had to make that choice on your own, you don't have to pray alone. So all together, out loud, repeat after me:
Heavenly Father, forgive me. I'm turning from my sense. I'm turning towards you. I need your love. I need your grace. I need your mercy. It's in Jesus name amen.