The Stories of Jesus

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
August 11, 2022

This article is an excerpt from Dr. Mohler’s newest book, Tell Me The Stories of Jesus: The Explosive Power of Jesus’ Parables. For more information, click here. To order a copy of the book, click here.

Jesus came preaching the gospel of God—and he came telling stories. The most famous of Jesus’ stories are the parables. They are not tame stories intended to deliver sentimental messages. They are not moralistic, like Aesop’s famed fables. They are not fairy tales, such as the kind that abounded in medieval Europe. Nor are they stories intended for children, though children are often among the first to understand them. In the parables, Jesus was not concerned with mere self-improvement or trite moral messages. Not at all.

God’s own Son, God in human flesh, is who shared the parables with us. For this reason, Jesus’ parables reveal nothing less than the kingdom of heaven and the power of almighty God expressed in both judgment and grace. They illuminate God’s character and the hardness of sinful human hearts.

Sometimes the parables drew sinners into the kingdom of God. Sometimes they confused the very people who heard Jesus tell them. Their confusion often revealed a spiritual blindness and hardness of heart.

The parables are like hand grenades. Jesus took them out and set them before his hearers. Then . . . he pulled the pin out. Listen carefully, because the parable explodes. If you miss the blast of the story, you have missed the power of the parable. There is a reason that Jesus’ parables are so memorable. We simply can’t shake them. We can’t
escape them. We can’t forget them.

All too often, the parables angered Jesus’ listeners because they recognized that he was speaking not just to them but about them.

We may think that the power of the parables comes through our achievement in understanding them, but Jesus actually told his disciples that they only understood the parables because God’s grace had opened their eyes to see and their ears to hear. The same is true for us. In actuality, it may not be so much that we understand the parables, as that the parables understand us.

One who hears Jesus’ parables—really hears them—is counted in the kingdom of heaven. Those who refuse to hear the parables are in the kingdom of Satan, the Evil One. Jesus told us this himself.

The parables opened hearts to receive eternal life and the forgiveness of sins, but the parables also made some people so angry that they were determined to kill Jesus. And kill him they did.

At the most basic level, a parable is a comparison story, using simile or metaphor to help listeners move from a familiar reality to a deeper understanding of an important truth. Sometimes, the comparison is obvious, as when Jesus begins a parable with words such as, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” Parables that begin with a simple comparison usually open a window for our understanding, revealing and clarifying truths about the kingdom of God. At other times, the comparison is much more elaborate and embedded within the narrative, as when Jesus tells the parable of the sower. When Jesus begins a parable with characters taking action (for example, “A sower went out to sow”), watch out—an explosive comparison is coming, and the story will vastly expand your understanding of how the gospel works in human hearts. Sometimes, we learn best through a story that makes us see what we would otherwise miss. Stories can drive a truth deep into the human heart when nothing else can. The parables are powerful precisely because they catch us off guard.

As a young Christian, I often heard a parable described as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” That’s not a bad description, but the parables are not just about heaven; they are about the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God. They are about faithfulness in the present as much as they are about God’s promises for the future. They are about God’s reign, now and in the kingdom in its future fullness. They are about the good news—the gospel—and none of them is to be understood apart from the gospel.

Relatedly, we must guard against the temptation to allegorize the parables, which risks both misreading the text and getting lost in details at the expense of the parable’s intended effect. For centuries, the parables were buried in layer upon layer of allegorical interpretation. Claims were made, for example, that the ring put on the younger son’s finger in the parable of the prodigal son represented baptism. Every detail in a parable was ransacked for a meaning pointing to something else. Actually, the ring in the parable means a ring, a symbol of sonship. Pressing it further robs the parable of its power. The Protestant Reformers were right to point us to the plain meaning of the text. We will seek to do the same. We will look to Jesus to tell us what the parables mean.

Indeed, Christ has come and the kingdom is real. But the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Lord is coming again, and his kingdom will someday be established in its infinite fullness. As we learn from Jesus’ parables, we pray that prayer the Bible teaches us to pray in the closing words of Scripture: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

This article is an excerpt from Dr. Mohler’s newest book, Tell Me The Stories of Jesus: The Explosive Power of Jesus’ Parables. For more information, click here. To order a copy of the book, click here.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).