“And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.’” (Matthew 13:11).
In the first two plagues of the Exodus story, whatever God empowered Moses to do, Pharaoh’s magicians could also do. That changed with the third plague. It is almost like God was in a contest with the magic of Egypt! Of course, the contest ended with the third plague – which the magicians could not duplicate. God was supreme.
With the next three plagues that lesson would be repeated, along with another one: This supreme God has a chosen people. “‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land. I will make a distinction between my people and your people” (Exodus 8:22-23).
My people. Your people.
Jesus emphasizes the distinction: “to you it has been given. But not to them.” The disciples were “insiders.” The crowds were “outsiders.”
To Christians Paul wrote ‘Christ gave himself to redeem us, to purify for himself a people who are his very own’ (Titus 2:14). Peter wrote: “[Y]ou are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God . . .” (1 Peter 2:9).
Insiders have two tasks: First, to behave like insiders – like Jesus – so that no one will malign the word of God, so that people will be ashamed of opposing us, so that we can make the teaching about God our Savior attractive to others (Titus 2:5,8,9). We can’t do that if our lives look theirs. Second, having made the word of God attractive by our behavior, we must bring those outsiders inside our world.
Chapter 13 of contains the third teaching section of Matthew it is mostly parables. A “parable” differs from a “fable.” Both are stories with meaning beyond the story itself, but the difference lies in the fact that a parable can be a true story; a fable never can. We have an example of a fable in Judges 9. There, Jotham tells a story involving talking plants. The story has meaning, but it is not a true story.
A parable on the other hand is a story taken from everyday life. It can be a true story, and you never know whether Jesus is simply drawing on his observations about life, or if he really has someone in mind.
In this only teaching section where Jesus addresses the crowds rather than just his disciples, Jesus deliberately speaks in such a way as to obscure his message. He admits to this in verses 11-15. In his explanation, he says the message is obscured because of the hearts of his listeners are hardened against his message. They aren’t seeing the way he sees, nor listening to what he has to say.
In reaching lost people, Christian people are often accused of using “religious” language – unintelligible to the unchurched. I believe our critics are correct, but I also believe there is little way around this. Our perspective is different from the unchurched. So is our value system. It is difficult for them to understand us. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reach them. After all, even Jesus’ disciples had difficulty understanding what Jesus was saying. But in time, they got it. To reach lost people, we have to be aware of how much separation there really is between us and build bridges to help them cross, recognizing that ultimately, we are dependent on God for success. That’s what the parable of the mustard seed is all about.