Matthew 13:1-17, The Parables of Jesus

[August 31, 2008] Chapters 11-12 of Matthew are the background of chapter 13. In today’s reading (Matthew 13:1-17) Jesus literally but also symbolically leaves the house where the disciples were gathered and speaks to the crowds, who are those who are not yet willing to commit themselves, who do not yet believe. He sits in a boat (symbolizing the church) in the sea (symbolizing the Gentile nations) and speaks to the crowd on the shore. (These symbols are not new in Matthew.) So chapter 13 continues and completes the theme that began in chapter 11, which is the people’s reaction to Jesus.

The first four parables are spoken to the crowds and are about what happens to the kingdom in the hands of the world. So the first parable is about how four different grounds “receive” the Word but only in one type of ground is the Word effective. The second parable is about the visible kingdom being made up of unbelievers as well as believers (this is not about the church, for the field is not the church but the world). The third parable is about the unnatural growth of the visible kingdom. The fourth parable is about the expansion of the visible kingdom by the presence of leaven, a corrupting influence.

The next three parables are told inside the house to the disciples alone. They are about the secret presence of the kingdom in the world. The treasure hidden and the pearl of great value both speak of what is real. Then there is the judgment when the fish are sorted.

He speaks to them in parables and the crowd does not understand Him. This corresponds to the repeated lack of understanding we have seen in the previous two chapters. The crux here is what to make of verses 10-17 with the chiastic quote from Isaiah in the middle. The key is what Jesus said in 11:25-27: “No one fully knows the Son except the Father; neither does anyone fully know the Father except the Son and him to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” The disciples will slowly begin to understand Him in the next few chapters until Jesus says to Peter, “Blessed are you … Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in the heavens.” Here He says, “Blessed are your eyes … and your ears,” “to you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, but to them it has not been given.” In other words, we can only know who Jesus is if it is revealed to us by God the Father through the Holy Spirit. It is something given. Knowing Christ is a gift of grace. We cannot know it on our own. It is not enough to be wise and intelligent. In fact our wisdom and knowledge only get in the way (actually our confidence and pride in our own wisdom and intelligence). We cannot know who Christ is on our own.

In chapter 16, when Jesus said, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in the heavens,” He called Peter “blessed,” the same as He is now calling His disciples in 13:16. This blessedness is the same as in chapter 5 and 11. We cannot arrive at such knowledge nor this blessedness on our own. Let us pray for God to reveal Christ to us!

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