"Who Is Jesus?" part 9
The Storyteller
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
June 6, 2010

Stories; who likes stories? A good story is something you remember. Can anyone recall a story they were told as a child before they went to bed? When I was a kid, I remember my father telling me all kinds of stories before I would go to bed. I thought he was the best storyteller ever! I remember my brother, sister and I would all jump on his bed and beg for a story.

I also remember some of the stories I would read. I was an avid reader even as a toddler, and I kept a lot of my books. In fact, they’re now on shelves in Nate’s room and I’m having a great time rediscovering some of the stories I enjoyed as a kid. If only I could teach Nate how to not destroy every book he touches.

Or how about some of the stories you were told around a campfire, out in the woods, with someone holding a flashlight under their chin….ooohhh scary! That was always a highlight of a sleepover or of summer camp. And then somehow we were supposes to go to sleep!

A good story is makes you ‘feel’ something, it draws you in so you feel like you’re part of the story. And it doesn’t matter how long it is… a story might be just one sentence, or it may span several volumes.

You know who’s really good at telling stories? The news. If you watch the news, they’re not just disseminating information; they’re telling you stories. And they often provoke some kind of an emotional response. Think of the stories we heard about those suffering from the recent earthquakes in Haiti and in Guatemala. Or the stories of children who suffer in Africa from disease and malnutrition. Or the stories about specific families who lost everything during the financial crisis over the past couple years. These types of stories bring about an emotional response in us. We hurt because they are hurting.

So a good story has some kind of emotional component… sad, uplifting, humorous… whatever. What else does a good story have? A good story might have memorable characters, catchy phrases, and imagery that you can remember for days, weeks, or even years after you first hear it.

Great books through the ages have told stories… Beowulf, A Christmas Carol, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, To Kill a Mockingbird, Horton Hears a Who. And we’re so hooked on stories that you can now get them in the traditional book form, you can find them online, or you can even get them as audiobooks or ebooks.

And then you have movies… Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Marmaduke… they’re not just random images and sounds. They aim to tell a story. Some of them hit better than others, but they’re all at least trying to tell a compelling story. Even the movies that rely heavily on CGI or 3D or motion capture… despite all the bells and whistles they’re basically trying to do one thing: tell a story, and tell it in a compelling, captivating, memorable way.

Like Avatar… the biggest box office draw of all time. Telling the story of what basketball players would look like if they were oxygen deprived. Actually, it’s the story of when humans meet tall blue people on the distant planet Pandora.

[PowerPoint] Hey, wanna see what I’d look like if I were from that planet? Take a look… here’s me in a nice shade of blue. And this is what Noah would look like. As for Nate, well, looks like he’s in one of his moods. And same with Shera… listen, I don’t know what I did, but tell her I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry, and I’ll try to make up for it. (Used a feature available at http://reface.me)

So you can find stories in all kinds of formats today. But years ago, before the invention of the printing press, back when language was more oral than written, the telling of stories was one of the main ways to recall important events or to teach lessons. And so stories were told from one generation to another, to pass on the wisdom and the history of a society.

And you know the really great stories? I mean, there are ey These are good stories that entertain, but then there are great stories that go beyond just giving us a feeling or a memory… a great story can actually be life-changing. A great story is one that makes us want to change our behaviour.

And of course, the greatest storyteller in all of history was Jesus. His stories were compelling, captivating, entertaining, and above all life-changing.

We’ve been looking at a variety of aspect so the life of Jesus as we’ve worked our way through this message series entitle, “Who Is Jesus?” We’ve looked at some theology, we’ve looked at some of the events of His life, we’ve looked at how other people saw Him, we’ve looked at some of His actions… and today we’re looking at how He communicated. Specifically, how He communicated Truth through they use of stories. He called them parables.

Maybe you’ve heard that word before. What is a parable? I mean, it’s a work you don’t hear very much except in reference to the stories that Jesus told. What is a parable, anyway?

Parable παραβολή (parabolē) – to compare, to throw, to lay alongside.

The word “Parable” comes from this Greek word: παραβολή (parabolē) and means “to compare”, “to throw” “to lay alongside.”

So really, what it means to tell a parable is to lay some kind of truth or moral lesson alongside a story. You use the story as a means to convey that truth.

And nobody did that better than Jesus. In your notes, you see a list of 36 different parables that Jesus told that are recorded in the first four books of the New Testament… in the biographies of His life.

LIST FROM WIKIPEDIA “Parables of Jesus”
1. The Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29)   
2. The Two Debtors (Luke 7:41-43)
3. The Lamp under a Bushel (Matthew 5:14-15; Mark 4:21-25; Luke 8:16-18)
4. Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37)
5. The Friend at Night (Luke 11:5-8)
6. The Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21)
7. The Wise and the Foolish Builders (Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:46-49)
8. New Wine into Old Wineskins (Matthew 9:17-17; Mark 2:22-22; Luke 5:37-39)
9. Parable of the strong man (Matthew 12:29-29; Mark 3:27-27; Luke 11:21-22)
10. Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:5-8)   
11. Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30)
12. The Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9)
13. Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-19)    
14. The Yeast (Matthew 13:33-33; Luke 13:20-21)
15. Parable of the Pearl (Matthew 13:44-46)   
16. Drawing in the Net (Matthew 13:47-50)
17. The Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:52-52)
18. Counting the Cost (Luke 14:28-33)
19. The Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:10-14; Luke 15:4-6)
20. The Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35)
21. The Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-9)
22. Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
23. The Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13)
24. Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)
25. The Master and Servant (Luke 17:7-10)
26. The Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-9)
27. Pharisees and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:10-14)
28. The Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)
29. The Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32)
30. The Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21:33-41; Mark 12:1-9; Luke 20:9-16)
31. The Great Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24)
32. The Budding Fig Tree (Matthew 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-31; Luke 21:29-33)
33. The Faithful Servant (Matthew 24:42-51; Mark 13:34-37; Luke 12:35-48)
34. The Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)
35. The Talents or Minas (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27)
36. The Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46)
You may be quite familiar with some of these parables; others you may not be so familiar with. Probably the best known ones would be…. What? The Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan.

We’ve talked about many of these parables here before and we’ll talk about many if not all of them in future weeks here at Sunrise. So today, we’re not really getting into any of them in any detail. If you want to look them up for yourself, then you see the references there in your notes.

But we’re just talking about the parables of Jesus in general. Why did He tell them? What was their purpose? It was pretty common for Jesus to tell a parable… In fact, in Matthew 13 it tells us that Jesus never spoke to crowds of people without telling at least one parable. But why? Why did Jesus tell so many parables? And perhaps an even more important question, why wasn’t He more direct? Because even through a lot of people heard Jesus tell those stories, many of them walked away confused. Oh, they may have thought it was a nice story, but they didn’t really get it.

Well, His disciples even asked Jesus why He told so many parables, and this was His response…

Matthew 13:13-15 (NLT)
“For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.
This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,
‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand.
When you see what I do, you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear,
   and they have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see,
   and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand,
   and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’”

Great. Does that make any sense to you? Doesn’t that fly in the face of everything we know about the message of Jesus? I mean, it’s not supposed to be hidden, is it? Aren’t we supposed to share the message of Jesus is a simple, practical, understandable way? But here Jesus is basically saying, “I tell parables so people won’t understand what I’m talking about.”

And this is actually one area where I have one up on Jesus. You see, I don’t have to tell stories for people to not know what I’m talking about. That just seems to happen naturally sometimes.

Seriously, what’s Jesus talking about here? Why wouldn’t He want people to understand?

Well, I don’t think it’s so much that Jesus didn’t want the people to understand as it is that the people weren’t prepared to understand. A lot of the people that heard those stories really weren’t that interested in the stories. They were there to see Jesus perform one of those miracles we talked about last week. They were there to see what all the fuss was about. They were there because their friends were there. It was the place to be. And they didn’t want to miss out.

They weren’t there seeking spiritual truth. So when Jesus told His parables, it’s not so much as they couldn’t understand as it was that they just didn’t care to understand.

Here… take a look at this old commercial from 1980… and feel free to sing along…

[VIDEO – French’s Mustard Commercial with little boy singing “You Are My Sunshine”)
(You are my sunshine, My only sunshine.
You make me happy When skies are grey.
You'll never know, dear, How much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away.)]

You remember that commercial? I sure do. And I remember learning that song as a kid, just like many of you. I read one place where it’s said to be the third best-known song in the world, right after Happy Birthday and White Christmas. Oh, and a bit of trivia… that song was often used in The A-Team. Remember how Mr. T (B.A. Barakus) was afraid of flying? The rest of the team would sometimes use that song to distract him while they drugged him. The new movie comes out next weekend, so it’ll be interesting to see if they still use that song.

But it’s such a happy song… such a nice song… isn’t it? But do you know what that song is actually about? It’s about a man whose sweetheart has just left him for someone else. It’s not a happy song at all! Check out a couple of the verses…

The other night, dear, As I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms.
When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
And I hung my head and cried.

You told me once, dear You really loved me
And no one else could come between
But now you've left me And love another
You have shattered all my dreams.

Not very happy, is it? But how many times do we sing that song and not even realize what it’s really about?

I think the parables of Jesus were something like that. Jesus would tell a story, and it would be packed full of spiritual truth. Life-changing truth. But if the people weren’t paying attention or if they were just looking to hear a nice story, they weren’t going to get it. It wasn’t really hidden from them, but they just missed it.

So in talking about why Jesus used parables, I think one reason would be…

Why did Jesus Use Parables?

1.    To allow people to receive or reject the truth.

And the choice would be theirs. They could recognize and receive the truth of Jesus’ words, or they could choose to ignore and reject it. Take another look at what Jesus said…

Matthew 13:15 (NLT)
…They have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand…

Who has closed their eyes? “THEY” have closed their own eyes. It’s not Jesus hiding it; it’s them refusing to see it. So Jesus is talking specifically about people in the crowd… not the whole crowd, but those in the crowd… who are just shutting themselves off. They don’t get it because they don’t want to get it. They don’t want to be challenged, they don’t want to be convicted, they don’t want their lives to be changed, they don’t want to be exposed to spiritual truth… maybe because they have their own agenda, maybe because they just want to see a few miracles and hear a few nice stories, or maybe because they’re afraid to face the reality of who Jesus is and how badly they need Him. I think it was true back then, and I think the same thing is true today.

Have you ever gone to hear “Handel’s Messiah”? It’s one of the most famous oratorios ever composed… kind of like an opera including orchestra, a choir, soloists… and it includes that incredibly inspiring “Hallelujah Chorus.” Even Beethoven said that Handel was “the greatest composer that ever lived.” And he went on to say, “I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb.” Pretty high praise.

Well, every Christmas down at the Confederation Centre there’s a performance of Handel’s Messiah. Shera and I went a few years ago, and if you’ve never heard it for yourself you should think about going this year. It’s an incredible composition.

And it’s all about Jesus. If you know the Hallelujah Chorus from it, it talks about Him being the “King of Kings, Lord of Lords” and how “He shall reign forever and ever.”

But I wonder how many people go and listen to that… or even how many people sing in the choir or sing the solos… and never realize what it’s all about. It’s just a nice piece of music for them. They’re impressed by the music, but nothing else.

Or how many people show up at Christmas time to hear their child or their grandchild perform in a Christmas production… but all they really pay attention to is whether the kid got the words right or not?

How many people attend church for the social aspect, but never really pay attention to the message. How many people read the Bible and just come away with the idea that Jesus was a nice guy who just set an example for how we should live. He’s so much more than that, but how many people miss that?

Why do they miss it? Because they don’t care. They’re not looking for anything else. They’re ignorant of who Jesus really is and they want to stay that way. I think Jesus told parables so that the people who wanted to remain ignorant could stay that way if they wanted to.

2.    To reveal the secrets of the Kingdom to those who wanted to understand.

Back in World War II, when radio communication would be used to transmit tactical data from one location to another, the Allied forces were afraid that the enemy was going to listen in to their messages and would crack any codes they used. So one of they things they did was use some of the languages of Native North Americas like the Cherokee or especially the Navajo.

Their grammar was complex and it was an unwritten language… there were fewer than 30 non-Navajos in the world who spoke the language… so the Marines would deploy a Navajo with each division and they’d be able to communicate with each other and enemy would have no idea what they were saying.

But if you were able to understand Navajo, then you’d get it. You’d understand. You’d get the message, and you could act on it.

So here’s the parallel: when Jesus would speak in parables, it was like an undecipherable code for those who didn’t want to hear it. But for people who were open to what Jesus was saying and who wanted to hear the Truth of His words, it was as if they spoke the language. They wanted to hear, so they could hear. In fact, at the end of many of the parables, Jesus finished by saying something like…

Matthew 13:9 (NLT)
“Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

So for people who just aren’t interest, Jesus gives them their wish and tells stories that allow them to reject His message and remain ignorant. For those who want to discover His truth, His stories reveal it to them in ways they can understand. And I think a third reason Jesus uses parables is…

3.    To make them more receptive the next time.

For people who are basically non-interested and closed off… maybe they’ll hear something Jesus says and it will intrigue them… it will nudge them a bit so they’ll become more receptive the next time.

Mark 4:10-12 (MSG)
“You've been given insight into God's kingdom—you know how it works. But to those who can't see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward receptive insight. These are people—
   Whose eyes are open but don't see a thing,
   Whose ears are open but don't understand a word,
   Who avoid making an about-face and getting forgiven.”

So Jesus is nudging them along. They’re not ready to receive the message yet, but they’re becoming more receptive.

For those of us who are open to what He has to say, His stories allow us to digest His message in bite-sized pieces. They force us to ask questions and dig for Truth. They help us to internalize the message because we can identify with the stories. They’re not just lectures to listen to; they’re stories with real life-application.

So whether you’re closed off to the message of Jesus or you’re open to it… the Parables help us move a little further along.

How Do I Respond to the Parables of Jesus?

Well, Jesus said His parables reveal the mysteries or the secrets of the Kingdom. And when someone tells you a secret, what’s the first thing you ask? “Why are you telling me this?” Right? Because when someone tells you a secret, it’s usually for a reason. So when you read one of the parables of Jesus or when we talk about them here, the first thing you should do is…

A.    Ask why Jesus is telling this parable.

What is the message? What is He telling me about how I should live? What’s He revealing about the Kingdom of God? What do I learn about God from this parable? What do I learn about myself?

B.    Act on the message of the parable.

If it’s calling for a life-change, then change. If it’s calling you to trust Him, then trust Him. If it’s revealing some kind of a warning, then heed the warning. If it’s showing you how to love more fully, then strive to put it into practice. If it’s about how to relate to other people, then pay attention to it. 36 parables. Jesus told each parable for a reason, so we need to ask what that reason is and then act on it.

And the third thing is this: When you hear a secret the first thing you want to do is tell it to someone else, right? Most of the time that’d be the wrong thing to do. But in this case, it’s okay. So letter “C”…

C.    Pass it on.

One of the best ways for you to really “get it” and take the message of Jesus to heart is for you to share it with other people. What is God teaching you in life? What is Jesus revealing to you, through the parables or through any other method? Share it. Share it with your friends, share it with your family, share it with your small group, share it with other believers, you can even share it with people who haven’t yet placed their hope in Jesus… people who are far from God. Because for them, even through they may have so far rejected the message of Jesus, maybe the encouragement they need in order to take Him seriously is what He’s doing in your life. As Jesus said to Paul…

Acts 26:17-18 (NLT)
“Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.”

The Purpose of the Parables by Joel Pankow
Jesus Speaks In Parables by Gordon Kroeker
Steven Buhr Westshore Community Church



Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2010 SunriseOnline.ca