John MacArthur has a new book coming out on Jesus’ parables, and I recommend it. It’s called Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed through the Stories Jesus Told, and while it didn’t radically change my understanding of any of the parables, it did deepen it, both theologically and devotionally—more than I was expecting.
MacArthur explains what a parable is in this way:
A parable is an ingeniously simple word picture illuminating a profound spiritual lesson…. Parables are not to be mined for layer upon layer of secret significance. Their lessons are simple, focused, without much embellishment.*
As the parables are designed to teach one particular point, each of the chapters is titled according to the theological lesson taught by the parable (or parables) discussed in that chapter—lessons about receiving the Word, the cost of discipleship, justice and grace, neighborly love, justification by faith, faithfulness, being wise as serpents, Heaven and Hell, and persistence in prayer.
MacArthur doesn’t just explain the historical and cultural background of each parable, along with the context of each one within the surrounding text; he also brings in quite a bit of theology, gathering relevant verses from other parts of the Bible to round out each lesson Jesus is teaching.
Because of the richness of the theology, it took me longer than usual to read this book. But don’t conclude from this that this was a difficult book to read. It was actually very readable. Rather, I just found myself frequently wanting to pause to meditate on these truths about Jesus and His kingdom. I wanted to slow down and go over every angle of each bit in my mind—to let it shape my view of Jesus and become part of the way I see the world.
We often hear that we should tell stories, like Jesus, because that’s the best way to help people clearly learn and remember significant truths. But when asked by His disciples, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus responded, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” In other words, the parables actually obscure truths from people who don’t want hear them. MacArthur explains:
The symbolism hides the truth from anyone without the discipline or desire to seek out Christ’s meaning. That’s why Jesus adopted that style of teaching. It was a divine judgment against those who met His teaching with scorn, unbelief, or apathy….
In short, Jesus’ parables had a clear twofold purpose: They hid the truth from self-righteous or self-satisfied people who fancied themselves too sophisticated to learn from Jesus, while the same parables revealed truth to eager souls with childlike faith—those who were hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
These parables have been given to you “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” and MacArthur’s book will help you understand and appreciate them. Since the book is both readable and theologically rewarding, I especially recommend it for new Christians. What better way for them to see Jesus more clearly and build a theological foundation than by learning from Jesus’ parables?
*All quotes are from the uncorrected proof provided to us for reviewing purposes.