Have you ever really wondered why Jesus taught with parables? Sure, parables were common means of communication in his day, and they are easy to remember and share with others. But there may be a deeper reason at play that offers a powerful lesson for teaching the next generation. Let me explain.
In Mark 4:1-9, Jesus offers his famous teaching known as “The Parable of the Sower.” After sharing the parable, Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The very next verse describes a small group of people around Jesus, including the twelve, asking him about the parable.
Before explaining its meaning, Jesus says, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables” (v. 11). In other words, Jesus reserves truth for those who are willing to sacrifice for it.
The "Right" Reasons
Many people came to Jesus for material reasons, such as for food and healing, but not necessary because of spiritual motivation. Not everyone who came to him was truly interested in becoming a disciple. Thus, he strategically used parables as a way of weeding people out who didn’t come to him with a heart to know truth. Jesus was willing to explain the spiritual meaning of a parable, but only to those who sought it out.
In his commentary on Mark, James R Edwards explains, “Parables were the public persona of Jesus the teacher. By means of graphic images from everyday life, Jesus teased, tantalized, and tested his audiences, inviting them to an insider experience of the kingdom and of fellowship with himself” (p. 146).
This is one reason Jesus was such a good teacher–He tested people to see if they really had the heart and motivation for knowledge. If so, he shared it with them. If not, he let them walk away (consider the rich young ruler, Mark 10).
A Practical Idea
Here is a practical point for those of us who want to teach spiritual truth to the next generation: Resist offering truth too quickly. Rather, invite students to a deeper understanding and be willing to help those who show genuine interest.
Consider an example. A college student recently asked me how to discern God’s will for a big decision in his life. Rather than giving him a simple response, I told him I would be happy to talk if he would first do a Google search of biblical passages that discuss “God’s will,” read them in context, and then tell me what he found. To my surprise, he did. Thus, we had a wonderful discussion about the will of God, and he learned far more than if I had simply given him an answer.
The Bottom line
Here is the bottom line: Invite people to spiritual understanding but resist the temptation to offer truth too quickly.
Teaching through parables was not the only way Jesus communicated (He also asked hundreds of questions and he was a brilliant philosopher and apologist). Yet his approach of inviting people to deeper understanding, and rewarding those who seek it, is a strategy we can all learn from.
If you care about helping young people develop a Christian worldview, then please check out my recent book (co-written with J. Warner Wallace), So the Next Generation Will Know. It is a practical guide for parents, youth leaders, Christian schoolteacher, and other caring adults who want to pass on their faith to the next generation.