30 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? 31 It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; 32 but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade” (Mark 4:30–32, NKJV).
There are many speculative and erroneous anticipations about the kingdom of God. Jesus described the nature of God’s kingdom (not of this world, spiritual, John 18:36) and when it would be established (before His generation passed away, Mark 9:1). To look for the kingdom’s future coming misunderstands and misapplies “the gospel of the kingdom of God” Jesus preached (Mark 1:14). The kingdom Jesus preached and established is His church (Matt. 16:18-19). Today’s parable pictures the growth of God’s kingdom. Despite its humble beginnings (like the tiny mustard seed, it would fill the earth (Isa. 2:1-4; Dan. 2:35; Matt. 28:19-20). Its humble start is in keeping with the humility of Jesus its king (Zech. 9:9; Mark 11:1-10). The kingdom’s seed, the word of God, is planted in good hearts that bear good fruit (Mark 4:14, 20). The kingdom of God did not come with military might and fanfare. It comes is within the hearts and lives of those who receive its gospel (Luke 17:20-21). From Pentecost in Acts 2 (through gospel preaching), the kingdom spread from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). Human armies do not defeat this kingdom; it is enduring, unshakeable (Heb. 12:28). All who receive the word of the kingdom (the gospel) and hold it fast obtain salvation, divine comfort, and the eternal provisions of citizenship in the kingdom of God (Col. 1:13-14; Eph. 1:3; Phil. 3:20).
9 Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?” 10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand” (Luke 8:9–10, NKJV).
A parable is a similitude in which a spiritual lesson is thrown alongside a commonly known occurrence (hence, the word parallel). Parables illustrate a truth “using comparison, hyperbole, or simile” (The Lexham Bible Dictionary). Christ’s parables are understandable by those with open ears and hearts (“He who has ears to hears, let him hear!” Luke 8:8, 18). These are the ones to whom it is given “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (v. 10-11; Matt. 13:10-12, 16-18). Although the parables reveal God’s truth about the kingdom of God, they are not understood by those who close their hearts, shut their eyes, and stop their ears (v. 10; Matt. 13:13-15). The state of mind we have when hearing the word of God is crucial to understanding and following it. That is the essence of the parable of the Sower and Soils that prompted the exchange with Jesus in today’s text (see Mark 4:10-13). The types of soil represent the condition of hearts and whether they receive the word of God (Luke 8:4-8, 11-15). The “noble and good heart” hears and keeps God’s word, bearing fruit with patience (Luke 8:15). (The Bereans in Acts 17:11 will become examples of this good heart.) Parables are beautiful expressions of the gospel of Christ. Our heart condition determines whether we are blessed by them or stumble over them. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
6 He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ 8 But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down’” (Luke 13:6–9, NKJV).
Jesus had just commanded repentance instead of rationalizing degrees of sin to escape personal accountability (Luke 13:1-5). The parable of the barren fig tree adds divine longsuffering and compassion to the necessity of repentance. (1) God expects us to bear fruit (v. 6). Disciples of Christ will bear fruit (John 15:1-8). (2) God is longsuffering, wanting sinners to repent (v. 7). The owner did not immediately cut down the fruitless tree. He searched three years for fruit. God seeks sinners’ repentance, not their demise (2 Pet. 3:9). So must we. (3) The compassionate mercy of God teaches us not to give up on sinners (vv. 8-9). The vinedresser asked for another year to tend the tree to stimulate fruit. Like Jesus, let us not quickly dismiss and forget those overtaken by sin (Gal. 6:1-2; James 5:19-20). They need our help, even as Christ helps us when we sin (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 4:14-16). (4) God will punish unrepented sin (v. 9). The owner would cut down the fruitless tree if it did not become productive (John 15:6). We will not escape accountability and punishment for our sins if we refuse to repent (Luke 13:3, 5). Redeem your time. Repent and be faithful to the Lord. God is compassionate, patient, and merciful; A jealous God who punishes sin yet shows mercy to those who love Him and keep His commandments (cf. Exod. 20:5-6).
1 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying: (Luke 15:1–3, NKJV).
Simply put, a parable is an illustration of divine truth. The illustration is taken from ordinary life events, from which the spiritual lesson is drawn. Greek dictionaries define a “parable” (parabole) as “a similitude…fictitious narrative (of common life conveying a moral)” (Strong’s, G3850). Understanding the parables depends on the condition of one’s heart. Jesus explained this in the parable of the soils, which He said is key to understanding the parables (Mark 4:13, 14-20). An open, honest heart receives its meaning, holds it fast, and bears good fruit (Luke 8:9-10, 15). Hard, closed hearts do not receive God’s word and fail to understand and apply the parables of the Lord (Matt. 13:10-22). In today’s passage, the scribes and Pharisees complained against Jesus for receiving and eating with sinners. They distorted the truth of the matter. The sinners came to Jesus to hear Him teach. He did not endorse their sins; just the opposite. He taught them the way of God in truth to save them. Jesus answered His critics with three parables. God is compassionate toward sinners (Luke 15:4-7), God values each and every soul (Lk. 15:8-10), and God mercifully forgives sinners who repent and return to Him (Luke 15:11-24). Like the elder son, the complainers were ungrateful of their blessings and unmerciful toward sinners (Lk. 15:25-32). Powerful lessons for those who have “ears to hear” (Matt. 13:9).
5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 6 He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ 8 But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:5–9, NKJV)
Christ’s call to repent or perish in Luke 13:1-5 is urgent. When we repent, we will bear its fruit – a changed life (Lk. 3:7-14). This sets the scene for the parable of the barren fig tree. The Lord looks for the spiritual fruit of repentance in our lives. Like a fruitless fig tree, we are just taking up space when we fail to bear good fruit (see verse 7). Even so, the Lord is longsuffering toward us. He intensely desires our salvation, not our destruction, and so He gives us time and opportunity to repent (1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Each of us should ask ourselves the piercing question, “Am I just taking up ground or bearing good fruit?” If our answer is the former, may we quickly repent and start bearing its fruit. If not, we will surely perish (Lk. 13:1-5, 9; 2 Pet. 3:9-10).
3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:3–7, NKJV)
Jesus taught the parable of the lost sheep in response to those who complained He “receives sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15:1-2). This slur was against Jesus and those who came to hear Him. The record shows Jesus was teaching these lost souls, not endorsing their sins. The parable illustrates the compassion of the Lord toward the lost. His work of teaching them the gospel was heaven’s work of seeking and saving the lost (Lk. 19:10). The parable also reflects heaven’s joy when one sinner who repents. We cannot escape the linkage of the sinner’s repentance to salvation. God is seeking the lost, and when the lost repent, they are “found” (saved). Instead of chastising Jesus for trying to save sinners, these complainers revealed themselves as ones who needed to repent; they needed saving, too. Like Jesus, compassion for the lost drives us to teach them the gospel, persuading souls to repent toward God and have faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20-21).
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15, NKJV)
Jesus repeatedly used this exhortation (Matt. 13:9; Lk. 14:35; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Having “ears to hear” is about having a heart that is ready to accept the teachings of Christ. Jesus used a similar exhortation when He said, “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matt. 19:12). Ears are closed to hearing the gospel of the kingdom when hearts refuse to receive it. So then, our heart condition reveals whether or not we have “ears to hear” God’s word. This is the essential message of the parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:3-9). The hard, closed heart does not receive the word of the kingdom (Matt. 13:19). The shallow, emotional heart listens – until the cost of discipleship is too great (Matt. 13:20-21). The crowded heart is overtaken by other concerns that choke the word and prevent hearing and fruitfulness (Matt. 13:22). The good heart is the soil that listens to God’s word, understands it and bears fruit (Matt. 13:23). The good heart hears (receives) the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:18). We must guard against having ears that “are hard of hearing” God’s word (Matt. 13:13-15). If you have “ears to hear” it means your heart receives the word of God, holds it fast, and bears fruit with endurance (Lk. 8:8, 15). The good news is we can change our hearts and start having ears to hear by repenting, receiving the truth, and obeying it. Do you have ears to hear God’s word?
But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28, NKJV)
Those who hear God’s word and keep it are more blessed than the womb which bore Jesus and the breasts which nursed Him. That’s impressive, since Mary was truly blessed among women (Luke 1:30, 42, 48). Jesus put a premium on keeping the word of God, not on merely hearing it. Indeed, it is keeping the word of God that shows one has “ears to hear” (Luke 8:8). In Luke 8:5-15 the parable of the sower and the soils depicts three hearts that hear the word of God, yet bear no fruit and are lost. It is only the good ground (“those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience”) that has “ears to hear” and are saved. When a sinner hears and keeps the word of God he is “saved by grace, through faith” – he has earned nothing (Ephesians 2:8-9). Why is that so difficult for some to accept? Well, to apply the words Jesus used when He taught this parable, because “seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand” (Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10). Either their heart has been hardened by unbelief, or it is spiritually shallow, or it is filled up with other things (Mark 4:13-20). Jesus promises His blessings when you hear word of God and keep it. Receiving His blessing depends on you.
Therefore hear the parable of the sower: (Matthew 13:18, NKJV)
If you are not familiar with the parable of the sower, please read it, and Jesus’ interpretation of it in Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23. Take time to “hear” the parable and learn its lessons, some of which are these: 1) The condition of one’s heart determines whether he or she will understand and accept God’s word. 2) The same word of God will be believed by some, and rejected by others. Therefore, we dare not try to change the message of truth in an attempt to entice people to accept it. 3) Satan is at work hardening hearts against the word of God. 4) Truth cannot thrive in the shallow soil of the emotion-based heart. We must have an abiding commitment to God’s word, come what may – not to how we feel about it. 5) Hearts that are distracted and filled with concerns for the things of this world do not have room for the word of God. A person cannot serve two masters with one heart (Matt. 6:24). 6) Good and honest hearts hear, understand, and follow the word of God. So, did you listen to the parable? Which heart do you have when you hear the word of God? Is your heart the hard, wayside soil? Is it the shallow, emotional heart that easily falls away when tested? Is it the overgrown heart that has no room for God’s word? Or, is it the good heart that receives truth, holds it fast, and patiently bears fruit? Make no mistake: You decide which soil describes your heart.