Note: The following is a detailed write-up of Pastor How‘s message over the weekend of October 3rd & 4th. “The Parables of Jesus Part 1” is the first of 3 parts in this opening season of a new sermon series, which will be covered across multiple seasons over the next few years.
Parables – stories that provide earthly analogies for the heavenly messages behind them.
Commonly used by Jesus, their purpose is to help our worldly minds comprehend and understand spiritual principles more easily. Because naturally, we have no concept of Heaven to begin with.
Throughout this sermon, Pastor How shares his interpretation of Matthew 13, which is probably the most accurate, balanced and thought-provoking one I’ve ever heard. In the book of Matthew, chapter 13, Jesus taught using 8 parables, 4 of which were shared to the multitudes and another 4 that were only shared to His disciples.
Usually, we would read each parable individually and interpret them as they are. But what we have failed to realize is that Jesus actually had ONE overarching message behind all 8 parables. What is it? Well, here’s what we’ve learned from unpacking the first 4 parables that were covered in this part:
“13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” – Mark 4:13
According to the verse above, one thing is for sure. This first parable in Matthew 13 is the key to deciphering and decoding all the other parables in the same chapter. The Parable of the Sower, after being explained by Jesus, gives us a set of “decryption keys” to work with:
“Seed” refers to the Word of God.
“Birds of the air” refer to the wicked one/Satan.
“Soil” refers to our heart, which can be categorized into one of 4 types:
- Stony places
- Good ground
So as seen above, there are 4 different kinds of hearts! When God drops a word into us, whether we receive it or not or how we receive it depends on what kind of heart we have.
The “Wayside” heart, just like its literal counterpart has been “trampled upon” and hurt so much that it’s hardened. And of course, a ground/heart that is hardened can receive nothing.
The “Stony” ground or heart on the other hand is where the seeds of plants can be grown and the Word of God can be sown. However, due to its stony nature, these plants are unable to grow roots and when the Sun shines upon them, they get scorched and wither away. Perhaps you’ve already gotten it, but basically the Sun represents problems in our lives, which can be good or bad. If we Christians do not grow “roots” within ourselves, these problems will cause us to leave God and church due to discouragement. But if we do, these problems will make us stronger like how sunlight will make rooted plants stronger!
“Hot water hardens eggs but softens potatoes. It depends on what substance we are made of.”
The “Thorns” in the ground or our heart represent the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. During our time on Earth, we will be tested by pressures and tempted by pleasures.
Lastly, the “Good” ground symbolizes a heart that not only hears, but understands God’s word. It’s funny because the truth will not set us free – as compared to the understanding of that truth. When that happens, just as how good ground produces fruit, a good heart will also produce the fruits of good character. But of course, good character traits aren’t gifts that are just given to us. They need to be worked on and developed, just like how fruits have to be cultivated and grown.
“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23
“24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.” – Matthew 13:24-25
The second parable that Jesus talked about is really interesting. Let’s begin with how it starts – “The kingdom of heaven”. What you will realize is that if you read all the subsequent parables in the chapter, Jesus will start them off the same way. In fact, all of the parables in Matthew 13 begins with “The kingdom of heaven”, except of course the first one – the Parable of the Sower. This makes the first parable really unique and reinforces its importance as a source of reference like we’ve discussed previously.
But before we come back to the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, what exactly is “the kingdom of heaven”? One thing it definitely isn’t is Heaven. Pastor How explains that the kingdom of Heaven is not Heaven itself, but rather, it is the dominion of the King (God) on Earth during His absence. With that covered, we would then study the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares and once again see another set of “keys” that Jesus has given to us after his explanation in Matthew 13:36-43:
The “man who sowed good seed” refers to the Son of Man, Jesus Christ Himself.
The “field” refers to the world.
“Good seed” refers to the sons of the kingdom/“good ground” Christians.
“Tares” refer to the sons of the wicked one.
The “enemy” refers to the devil.
The “harvest” refers to the end of the age.
The “reapers” refer to angels.
As Pastor How went through this parable with us, we were taught to also refer back to the first parable. And as we did, this whole parable about wheat & tares made more sense. For example, if it’s true that soil represents the human heart as Jesus explained, it would also be true to say that a field which is a collective of a body of soils represents the world that is a collective of the hearts of more than 7 billion people on the planet.
And if you and I are really “good ground” Christians, Jesus would want to send us into the world to make a difference and be a light shining for Him in the darkness! But He will only “sow good seed”. The bad kind of seeds that will produce tares are sown by the enemy. Here’s a fact: the devil cannot create, and can only copy and counterfeit. God is the ultimate Creator. So who do these “tares” or “sons of the wicked one” refer to? Well, they refer to false Christians.
Yup! Don’t be surprised. They do exist. I’ve met some before, and at some point of time in the past, I could have been one myself. So at this point of time, I want to write to both non-Christians and Christians alike. To non-Christians, if you personally know me and I have offended you unknowingly before, I deeply apologize and want you to know that I did not mean it. I’m constantly working on it! And to those who do not know me, please understand that there are many “Ian”s out there (Christians minus the Christ). If you’ve met any one of them before, please do not lump every other Christian in together with them and see us all as the same. Bad or false Christians do not change the 100% goodness of God. There are Christians who do live in His ways.
Now to all the Christians reading this, my Pastor is not teaching us to judge and criticize those whom we deem are false Christians. It’s not in our position to “go to war” with them. At the end of the age, God will send out His angels to do it Himself (Matthew 13:41-42). And besides, you never know when these people may change for the better! I mean come on, have we all been so good all along? Wheat produces fruit, but tares don’t. So if we really are good and have the fruits of the Spirit within us, we should let God send us into our world to be witnesses for Him, not judges.
This third parable is probably one of those that we either misunderstand, or don’t understand at all. Especially if you’re Singaporean like me, you would know that most of us ain’t farmers, botanists or horticulturists and wouldn’t get this parable. Pastor How probably spent hours digging into the Word and researching on mustard plants and trees because what he shared with us next blew my mind.
In Matthew 13:31-32, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed, probably the smallest of all seeds which is sown into the ground by a man. And “when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” But did you know that that statement didn’t make sense? Well, I didn’t either until Pastor How explained further!
You can Google it, but basically, a mustard plant and a mustard tree are 2 totally different species of plants. They are unrelated and a mustard seed only grows to a mustard plant, not a mustard tree. That statement above is as good as saying an orchid flower will grow into a coconut tree! So contrary to popular belief, this parable is actually talking about an unnatural kind of growth that will happen in the kingdom of heaven – an unnatural growth that will occur in some churches, where they will grow to a point that “birds of the air” can “come and nest in its branches”.
Wait hold on, “birds of the air”? Sounds awfully familiar. That’s because it’s one of the “keys” provided by Jesus in the first parable! What does it represent again? The enemy, the wicked one, the devil, Satan. So does it mean that if churches grow big, it’s a bad thing because the devil can take residence inside them? Of course not! Let me make myself very clear again. Pastor How isn’t saying that all big churches are bad, or that churches should not be big. In fact, we want our church to be bigger too. But if our church or any church were to be big, it must happen naturally. It must be by God’s will and spirit, not ours!
A church cannot be built by the ambitions and ego of its leader or pastor. Because even if it does grow big, it will happen in such an unnatural way that management of it is difficult. And when that happens, the devil can have the freedom to operate within its walls. This can be compared to a man growing huge muscles but on steroids. There are side effects. If the devil cannot destroy the church by failure, he will destroy it by success.
“Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
We do not need to grow at all cost. In Heart of God Church, our pastors believe in using the church to build people, and not the other way around. A plant or tree can only grow as tall as its seed allows it to. We can only grow as tall as our genetic code. Likewise, a church can only grow according to that “seed” or “genetic code” that God has placed on the inside of it. There’s always a limit to a child’s physical growth as she grows up to become an adult. But when she grows up and gets married, she will eventually give birth to more children that will also grow up. The same goes for the church. There’s always a maximum cap to a church’s growth. But there’s no saying how many more churches that can be birthed forth from this one church as a result of its fruitfulness!
“Don’t use people to build the church. Use the church to build people.”
The last parable that Pastor How covered and we will be talking about today is this one about leaven. Once again, the message that Jesus is trying to convey over here is nothing like we’ve ever thought of. The common interpretation of this parable is that the leaven represents the gospel that will be spread all over the world. But this doesn’t make sense because firstly, if it is indeed a representation of the Word of God, why must it be hidden as described in Matthew 13:33? It should be preached throughout the entire world!
Secondly, if we look at different parts of the Bible, leaven is always used to symbolize something bad. For example, in Matthew 16:11-12, leaven symbolizes the false “doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” This is also probably what Jesus is talking about here in this parable – false doctrines.
“Leaven” refers to false doctrine.
“Meal” or “bread” refers to the Word of God.
Here’s the scary thing about false doctrines. They are usually mixed in with the “bread” of the Word of God. It isn’t obvious, and can come in the form of a sermon, a message, an article or a book. They may not necessarily be totally wrong, but neither are they totally right. They could be half-truths that we will receive gladly if we are not careful. We must constantly discern the good and bad of what we read and listen! It doesn’t mean that something popular is naturally good. And even if something is good, it doesn’t mean that it is of God. Just 2 weekends ago, we had John Bevere in our church sharing a message from his newest book “Good or God”? And that’s exactly what he talked about too.
In this first part of “The Parables of Jesus” series, we have truly learned a lot. Through this in-depth look at the first 4 parables shared by Jesus in Matthew 13, we can see that Satan’s tactics are to plant counterfeit Christians into the world, establish counterfeit churches and preach a counterfeit gospel through them. In this current age and time that we live in, we must take heed to guard our hearts and be discerning. Some of us may have encountered any of the above and have been discouraged, disappointed, disillusioned or deceived. But we must expect these things to happen and stay strong.
“13 Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13
If you enjoyed reading this post, you got to come and hear the next part for yourself. In our humanly perspective, it may seem like the kingdom of heaven is on the edge of defeat and despair. But in God’s eyes, He has another plan altogether through all this. He will have the final victory. This weekend, Pastor How will be unveiling this through Jesus’s next 4 parables in Matthew 13. I can’t wait already!
Last but not last, I must say that even though I may have been able to write down and share with you what he has preached, hearing the man himself is at least 10 times better than reading my posts. On October 10 & 11, mindsets will be shifted, hearts will be touched and lives will be changed. So come and experience it for yourself. See you in church!