Teaching by Stories
“And the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ ” (Matthew 13:10, NASB).
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The three synoptic Gospels include parables given by Jesus. John’s gospel does not include these. However, John records that Jesus used many metaphors to convey his teachings, such as the vine and the branches, the bread of life, the many mansions, and the lesson of the Good Shepherd, the door, and the flock.
Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant
The Talents, Matthew 25:14-30 In Jesus’ parable of the talents we recognize that we are each individually accountable for the talents we have been given. The Lord expected the servants to increase the talents they were given. The Master rejoiced in the degrees of improvement over what they were entrusted with from the beginning.
Comparing this parable to that of the virgins, we see a contrast between those virgins, who were waiting for the Lord Jesus, and these servants who were working. The lesson of the virgins is about inward spiritual life, whereas this parable is about outward action and spiritual growth.
In Paul’s treatise on gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, he speaks of gifts of preaching, teaching, and other abilities. Not everyone has the same talents, but we all should have zeal to do the work of the Lord and to encourage each other in those opportunities. Let us not neglect our own activities. Let us ensure we are improving our own service toward the Lord and his people, for what the Lord entrusts us with now pales in comparison with what he will entrust us with in the future.
Those who receive the opportunity of running the Christian race and yet hide their talent in the ground are neglecting the gifts of the Lord. The Master commanded the talent be taken from the unprofitable servant. This parable applies to us, as believers, not to unbelievers who have not enlisted in the service of Christ. (For discussion of other lessons in this parable, see Reprint 3870.)
Although there are other deeper lessons in this parable, there is also a prophetic lesson based on its connection to the question from the previous chapter of Matthew, “Tell us, when these things shall be — And what the sign of thy presence, and the conclusion of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 Rotherham).
While the general lesson of the parable applies throughout the Gospel Age, our Lord’s return gives this parable special meaning to our day, as those found faithfully using their talents enter into their reward and begin to work with mankind as the next parable (Matthew 25:31- 46) explains.
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:21).
The Parable of the Lost Coin, Luke 15:8-10;
The Marriage Feast of the King’s Son, Matthew 22:1-4;
The Great Supper, Luke 14:16-24
In the Parable of the Lost Coin, a woman rejoices with her neighbors that she found a coin she had lost.
“When a Bethlehem woman marries, her bridegroom gives her a wedding gift of ten pieces of silver which she wears on a chain hanging from her curious helmet, with a central pendant. She prizes this gift very much and guards it carefully, because any carelessness on her part would be regarded by her husband as lack of affection and respect for him. He could even think she had purchased a lover with the lost money and he could, and very likely would, divorce her.
These coins were held sacred by the Jews and could not be taken for a debt. The wife could use this money only in case of need in widowhood. The lost coin of Christ’s parable was probably one of this chain of ten pieces of silver. We can understand the woman’s concern and anxiety when she lost the silver and why she ejoiced and called in her neighbors to rejoice with her when she found it” (Strange Scriptures that Perplex the Western Mind, Barbara Bowen, Erdmans, 1953, pages 37-38).
We who are reconciled to God find that it is most important to feed the sheep and help those who the Lord has already found. However, we also need to be true to the calling the Lord has given to us and not waste the gifts we have been given. Hold to the precious promises of the Lord and share this with all you meet, rejoicing with your neighbors over what you have found.
“Each Christian should ask himself, How much of God’s Spirit have I? How much of my time am I giving to helping my fellow-men out of their difficulties and trials back to God? How much am I sacrificing of my time and strength in going after the lost sheep?” (R5427).
Just like the woman who searched through all the dirty little corners of her home, Jesus sought the publicans and sinners who were just as lost. We also need to rid ourselves of the dirt and debris that crowds our lives and seek the precious golden promises the Lord has given to us.
“Devoted Israelites were valued by silver (Leviticus 5:15). … Gentiles who were consecrated to God were valued in Gold (Revelation 3:18)” (The Kingdom of God, Francis B Harris, 1913).
The parables of the marriage feast in Matthew and the great supper in Luke are quite similar to one another. One was given in the house of the Pharisee and the other was in the Temple. In both lessons all of the first ones called excused themselves from the supper. The Master then extended the invitation to the highways, the streets, and lanes of the city, to the poor, maimed, and blind.
These two parables contain various groupings of three. The Matthew parable is in three acts.
● A king is giving a great supper in honor of his son’s marriage.
● Preparations are made and invitations sent, but the request is refused.
● A great call is made to many others to come to the wedding.
There are three callings.
● The first invitation (Matthew 22:2-3).
● In the second invitation the call is renewed (Matthew 22:4-7).
● The third invitation is open to all (Matthew 22:9-10).
There are three hindrances.
● They would not come (Matthew 22:3).
● They made light of it and went their own way (Matthew 22:5).
● Some refused the wedding garment (Matthew 22:11).
The Luke parable also contains three hindrances.
● Land (Luke 14:18).
● Oxen (Luke 14:19).
● Family (Luke 14:20).
The main idea here is that God is selecting a little flock (Luke 12:32) from those throughout the world and even outside of the Jewish nation. The three callings mentioned in the parables picture —
● The First Call, which Israel rejected (Matthew 22:3).
● The Second Call, when Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel to all “beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47, Acts 13:46).
● The Third Call, the call of the Gentiles (Matthew 22:9, Luke 14:23).
Three is the “first geometrical figure. Two straight lines cannot possibly enclose any space, or form a plain figure; neither can two plain surfaces form a solid. Three lines are necessary to form a plain figure; and three dimensions of length, breadth, and height are necessary to form a solid. Hence three is the symbol of the cube, or solid contents. … there are three divisions completing time — Past, Present, and Future. … Three, therefore, stands for that which is solid, real, substantial, complete” (Numerics in the Scriptures, J. W. Kesner, Sr., page 25).
The number three is representative of completeness, or Jesus’ complete sacrifice for us. Some other examples of this are —
● Gifts from the magi, gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).
● His first miracle is on the third day (John 2:1).
● Jesus said that he would be in the grave three days (Matthew 12:39-40, 27:62-64).
● Three disciples are with Jesus in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37, Mark 14:33).
● Jesus prayed three times before the soldiers arrived (Matthew 26:44, Mark 14:32-42).
● Jesus had trial before three courts (Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate, Matthew 26:57-68, Luke 22:54-23:25).
● The inscription on the cross was in three languages (Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, John 19:19-20).
● There were three crosses (John 19:18).
● There were three women at the cross who were named (all named Mary, John 19:25).
● Jesus was placed on the cross at the third hour. Three hours later darkness came. Jesus died three hours after that (Matthew 27:45- 46,50, Mark 15:25,33-34,37).
● Jesus rose on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:4).
In these parables we can see clearly that the three invitations showed how complete the calling was. The three hindrances show how complete the rejection was. The three callings to Israel, the Jews in Jerusalem, and the Gentiles, show how complete the calling of God has been.
We are called to come to the wedding. We do not invite ourselves. We are not only called to put on the wedding garment, but also holiness of character, the righteousness of Christ (Isaiah 64:6, 61:10). Those who did not have a wedding garment on were removed from the wedding. Let us not be included in this group.
The parable of the wedding feast concludes with the king inspecting his guests and finding that some did not have on a wedding garment.
“The little word ‘not’ appeared twice over, but it is not the same word on those two occasions. The first word, ou, simply marks a fact; he had not it on. But when the King asked him the reason, Jesus used a slightly different word for ‘not,’ me, which suggested not merely the fact that he lacked the wedding garment, but that he did so defiantly, of his own thought, and will, and intention” (The Parables and Metaphors of Our God, G. Campbell Morgan, 1943, page 118).
The lesson is found in the last verse of the parable, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Worldly possessions are the debris of life and should not hinder us from recognizing and following the call of our Master. Our future treasure is in heaven (Philippians 3:20, Colossians 3:1-3). Remember that we are fallen and need Christ’s righteousness. Let us not reject the “wedding garment” that has been provided for us.
We have been called for a great spiritual blessing, but have we fully submitted ourselves to the Master? Have we removed the selfishness and pride that gets in our way of serving the Lord and his people? True worship originates with humility, for only he that humbles himself shall be exalted (Luke 14:11, 18:14).
The Last Shall Be First — The Parable of the Penny / The Laborers in the Vineyard, Matthew 19:16-20:1-16
When the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must do to get eternal life, Jesus replied that he must keep the commandments. The young ruler asked, “Which commandments?” This is quite a strange question because Jewish people were to keep all of the commandments. Jesus aptly summarized his answer in the commandments forbidding murder, adultery, stealing, and bearing false witness, as well as honoring father and mother and loving your neighbor as yourself.
In response to Jesus’ instruction the rich young ruler replied that he had done so since his youth. But after Jesus suggested that he sell all he had, he left because he was unable to fulfill Jesus’ requirement to give it all away. The response, however, from the Apostle Peter was, “Behold, we have left everything and followed you; what then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27, NASB).
Jesus gave an answer and a parable in response to Peter’s question. “At the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Matthew 19:28- 29, NRSV).
What did Jesus mean that the first would be last and the last first? There is a simple lesson. Immediately following this statement in Matthew 19:30, Jesus continued his lesson and response to Peter in Chapter 20. There is no time lapse between chapters 19 and 20. He ended with this same phrase that he used in chapter 19 — that the last shall be first and the first last.
In chapter 20, Jesus continued his answer to Peter by giving the parable of the vineyard. He says that the Kingdom of God will be like a landowner who goes out to hire some men to work in his vineyard.
To the first workers in the morning he promised that if they would work for the day he would give them a penny (Matthew 20:2). At the third, sixth, and ninth hour, he called more workers and promised to give them “whatever is right” (Matthew 20:4-5). However, at the eleventh hour, the landowner went out again and when he found more standing around and doing nothing he asked them, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” When they replied that nobody had hired them, he told them to go work in his vineyard. The owner simply does not promise them anything at all (Matthew 20:7, NASB).
It is interesting to note that just like the call to the marriage feast, there are three groupings mentioned here —
● One group was promised a penny.
● One group was promised what was right.
● One group was not promised anything.
Even more interesting, the landowner went out five times to find workers. In the Scriptures, the number five symbolizes the Church or the Grace the Church has been given, being called to follow Jesus. A few examples of this are —
● Matthew 25, Five wise virgins
● John 6, Feeding of the five thousand
● Genesis 41:34, Joseph’s storage of grain was one part in five.
● Exodus 26:27, The entrance of the tabernacle was supported by five posts.
● Ezekiel 40-41, Ezekiel’s temple, representing the Church in Glory, has measures divisible by five.
● 1 Samuel 17:40, David used five smooth stones to slay the giant.
● Job 38:7, Isaiah 14:12, 2 Peter 1:19, Revelation 2:28, Revelation 22:16.
The term “morning star” appears five times in Scripture, illustrating the “Significance of this term in connection to Jesus, to Satan, and to the deliverance of the church and the world” (Symbolic Numbers — Their Meaning and Their Evidence for the Canon of Scripture, Jeff Hausmann, 2012, page 11).
At the end of the day when everyone had finished working in the vineyard they all gathered for their reward. The master paid the group that worked last, first. He paid the group that worked first, last. He paid those whom he had promised nothing a penny. He paid those whom he had promised “what was right” a penny. He paid the workers he had promised a penny exactly what he promised them, a penny.
The first workers who had worked all day felt cheated. They were working out in the fields all day, and they saw that everyone received a penny. Was this right? Well, after all, they were promised a penny, and this is what they received.
The landowner’s response to those who had worked all day is brilliant — “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15 NASB).
God’s calling of the Church members through the age illustrates His grace. All those who are faithful will receive a reward, regardless of when they were called. The Jewish law followers will receive a reward as well. Even though they were God’s first chosen ones for a much longer duration than the Christians, they too will get what they were promised. The Jews were first, but will be last.1 The last will be first. All will receive the grace of God and have a reward. Let us be faithful to receive it. Enter God’s service with loyalty, for no matter how long we serve, we will, if faithful, receive what has been promised to us.
(1) Editor’s note: The lesson of this parable must include a reference to Peter’s previous question in Matthew 19:27 concerning the reward that the disciples would receive for leaving everything to follow Jesus. An answer to that question appears to be the immediate point of the parable here. Jesus promised the rich young ruler the same reward as he promised the disciples, and Peter reacted to that. The rich man (picturing Israel who claimed to keep the law) refused the conditions that Jesus had outlined and thus missed the reward. Israel is not part of this picture. It is about those who actually labor in the Lord’s vineyard. Jesus will reward his followers as he sees fit.