The Thirty-Seven Parables of Jesus

Jesus uses narrative to inform us about his father’s kingdom

The Thirty-Seven Parables of JesusJesus uses parables—“an earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” as I learned in Sunday school—to teach us about the kingdom of God. We are part of the kingdom of God, and we need to do a better job of acting like it. Since Jesus talks much about the kingdom of God and next to nothing about church, perhaps we need to more seriously consider the kingdom of God as the basis for our behaviors, attitudes, and priorities.

Some of Jesus’s parables appear in two or three of the biographies of Jesus, and others, in just one. Interestingly, John does not include any parables in his biography of Jesus. Here are the parables the Bible records for us, along with a brief summary for each one:

The Sower: The farmer plants seeds. Some grow and produce a yield, but some don’t (Luke 8:5–8, Matthew 13:3–9, Mark 4:3–9).

The Lamp under a Bushel: People don’t turn on a light only to cover it (Luke 8:16–18, Matthew 5:14–15, Mark 4:21–25).

New Wine and Old Wineskins: Putting fresh wine in old wineskins will break the skins and spill the wine (Luke 5:37–39, Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:21–22).

The Fig Tree: A budding fig tree signals the approach of spring (Luke 21:29–33, Matthew 24:32–35, Mark 13:28–31).

The Wicked Tenants: Farmers rent a vineyard but refuse to pay their landlord and are punished in the end (Luke 20:9–16, Matthew 21:33–41, Mark 12:1–9).

The Mustard Seed: A mustard seed is small but produces a large tree (Luke 13:18–19, Matthew 13:31–32, Mark 4:30–32).

The Faithful Servant: A good servant is always ready and will be rewarded (Luke 12:35–48, Matthew 24:42–51, Mark 13:34–37).

The Strong Man: A strong man can protect his house, but a stronger man can overpower him (Matthew 12:29-32, Mark 3:27-29, Luke 11:21–23).

The Wise and Foolish Builders: Wise people build their house on a stable foundation (Luke 6:46–49, Matthew 7:24–27).

The Minas: Some servants invest their master’s money and earn a profit for him, but not all of them do (Luke 19:12–27, Matthew 25:14–30).

The Lost Sheep / the Good Shepherd: A shepherd leaves his flock to search for one sheep that wanders off (Luke 15:4–6, Matthew 18:10–14).

The Great Banquet: Some people miss a great feast because they’re too busy, and others take their place (Luke 14:15–24, Matthew 22:1–14).

The Leaven: A little bit of yeast makes dough rise (Luke 13:20–21, Matthew 13:33).

The Two Debtors: The person forgiven of the greater debt is more appreciative (Luke 7:41–43).

The Pharisee and the Publican: One man exalts himself before others, while another humbles himself before God (Luke 18:9–14).

The Evil Judge: A judge eventually gives a poor woman justice to stop her from bugging him (Luke 18:1–8).

The Master and Servant: Servants work and do their jobs without receiving thanks or honor (Luke 17:7–10).

The Unjust Steward: A man about to lose his job abuses his authority to gain favor from others (Luke 16:1–13).

The Rich Man and Lazarus: The poor Lazarus dies and goes to heaven; a rich man dies and goes to hell (Luke 16:19–31).

The Lost Coin: A woman loses one coin and diligently searches until she finds it (Luke 15:8–9).

The Prodigal Son / the Lost Son: One son is dutiful; the other son leaves home, wastes his money, and returns home in defeat, but receives a party from his dad (Luke 15:11–32).[The parables of Jesus should guide us into living the life he wishes us to live. Click To Tweet

The Wedding Feast: People assume a place of honor at a party and are embarrassed; others don’t and are elevated (Luke 14:7–14).

Counting the Cost: Don’t build a building if you’re not sure you can pay for it; don’t go to war unless you think you can win (Luke 14:28–33).

The Barren Fig Tree: A fig tree that produces no fruit receives a second chance, but not endless chances (Luke 13:6–9).

The Rich Fool: A rich man built bigger barns to store his wealth so he could take it easy, but he died the next day (Luke 12:16–21).

The Friend at Night: A man pounds on his neighbor’s door for help in the middle of the night (Luke 11:5–8).

The Good Samaritan: A man goes to great risk to help another in need (Luke 10:25–37).

The Tares: Weeds grow in the field and will be separated from the grain and then burned after the harvest (Matthew 13:24–30).

The Pearl: A man sells everything to buy a pearl of great value (Matthew 13:45–46).

Drawing in the Net: All fish are caught in a fishnet. The good ones are kept and the bad ones discarded (Matthew 13:47–50).

The Hidden Treasure: A man discovers buried treasure and then buys the property so he can have it (Matthew 13:44).

The Unforgiving Servant: A man is punished after he is forgiven of a large debt but then refuses to forgive a small debt owed to him (Matthew 18:23–35).

The Workers in the Vineyard: All men receive a full day’s wage regardless of how many hours they work (Matthew 20:1–16).

The Two Sons: One son tells his father he won’t work and then does; the other son promises to work and then doesn’t (Matthew 21:28–32).

The Ten Virgins: Ten girls anticipate a party. Some are prepared to wait and they get in; the ones who aren’t prepared miss out. (Matthew 25:1–13).

The Sheep and the Goats: A shepherd separates his sheep from his goats (Matthew 25:31–46).

The Growing Seed: A man plants seeds, but he can’t control what happens to them (Mark 4:26–29).

A synopsis of each parable is given, but their meanings are for you to consider. May each one guide us into living the life Jesus wishes us to live.

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Why Did Jesus Use Parables and What Do They Tell Us?

The Bible records Jesus’s parables to explain the kingdom of God

Why Did Jesus Use Parables and What Do They Tell Us?Jesus talks a lot about the kingdom of God and hardly ever mentions church. This suggests church may be our idea and not his. Perhaps Jesus just wants us to be part of the kingdom of God and church doesn’t matter so much. Seriously.

In reading what Jesus says about the subject, twelve truths about the kingdom of God emerge. We can use these to guide our perspective in what it means to follow Jesus. If we would truly do this, it could change everything about how today’s church functions.

The Kingdom of God: We learn about the kingdom of God from Jesus’s parables. Many times Jesus says “the kingdom of God is like . . . ” and then he launches into a parable. (Matthew often writes “kingdom of heaven,” but he means the same thing as kingdom of God.) Parables teach about the kingdom of God and inform us of what it means to follow Jesus. Click To Tweet

Does this mean all of Jesus’s parables teach us about the kingdom of God? I think so. If the parables can instruct us about the kingdom of God, then they too can inform us of what it means to follow Jesus and how we should think, talk, and act.

Why Parables? Jesus’s disciples ask him why he uses parables when he talks to the people. Though today we see Jesus’s parables as a great teaching tool, Jesus says he uses parables to keep the masses from understanding, that only his followers truly know what the parables mean. And he cites the prophet Isaiah to prove his point (Matthew 13:10-17, Isaiah 6:9-10).

This suggests Jesus intends his followers to understand and apply his parables. To insiders the parables are a guide; to outsiders the parables are a mystery, albeit an intriguing one. Jesus says, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables” (Luke 8:10, Mark 4:11-12). While the Bible doesn’t tell us Jesus’s explanation of every parable, as his followers we should be able to readily comprehend his intention.

The Bible records thirty-seven of Jesus’s parables for us to consider. (Some people come up with different numbers, as low as thirty-three and as high as forty-six.) Luke records the most parables, followed closely by Matthew. Mark, the shortest of Jesus’s four biographies, provides far fewer, while John gives none.

John Shifts His Focus: Interestingly, John also talks much less about the kingdom of God compared to the other three gospels, mentioning it only twice. John wrote his gospel last, much later than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Could John’s failure to mention any parables and his scant mention of the kingdom of God, signal a change in perspective? Perhaps this suggests that by the time John wrote his gospel account, Jesus’s followers had already moved away from his kingdom of God teaching and the parables that support it.

Regardless, we can honor Jesus by returning our attention to what he says about the kingdom of God. His parables are a great place to start.

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12 Key Truths about the Kingdom of God

Consider the kingdom of God as the ultimate church model

12 Key Truths about the Kingdom of GodLast Sunday we pointed out that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God but we made a church. The Bible records Jesus talking about the kingdom of God (and the comparable phrase, kingdom of heaven) eighty-five times. Jesus only mentions church three times.

To guide how we should function as his followers today, we must consider what Jesus says about the kingdom of God. Here are twelve key truths about the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God:

1) Is Close: A dozen times or more Jesus proclaims the present reality of the kingdom of God. He says it is near (Luke 10:11), it is upon you (Luke 11:20), and in your midst (Luke 17:21). It happened in that generation (Luke 21:32), and some saw it before they died (Luke 9:27).

2) Belongs to Us: Jesus tells his disciples that the kingdom of God has been given to them (Mark 4:11). As his followers today, his modern-day disciples, that truth extends to us. Another time Jesus tells the crowd that the kingdom of God belongs to them (Luke 6:20). Here he specifically connects with poor people, but aren’t most all of us poor in this world? (And if we consider ourselves rich, see #3.)

3) Is an Enigma: The kingdom of God is hard to understand (Luke 8:10), happens while we are alive (Luke 9:27), and goes against our sense of order (Luke 13:30). It can’t be seen (Luke 17:20), is hard for the wealthy to grasp (Luke 18:18-24), and is a secret to many (Mark 4:11). Yep, the kingdom of God is very much an enigma, but we need to try to understand it. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can.

4) Has Different Priorities: The kingdom of God is more important than anything else (Luke 9:60-62), which includes church, by the way. In the kingdom of God we will have spiritual greatness (Luke 7:28) and experience the first being last and the last being first (Luke 13:30); see #3 enigma.

5) Provides Great Reward: What we give up for the kingdom of God will be given back many times over in eternity (Luke 18:29-30).

6) Requires Total Commitment: We need to remove anything that holds us back from the kingdom of God (Mark 9:47) and give up things that seem important (Mark 10:29), but when we do there will be a great return.

7) Represents Good News: Jesus says the kingdom of God is good news (Luke 4:43, Luke 8:1), which he shares with others. We should do the same; see #8.

8) Must be Shared: Not only does Jesus share the good news of the kingdom of God, but he wants us to do the same (Luke 8:1) and as we go, he expects us to heal people (Luke 9:2). Yep, the kingdom of God is about supernatural healing; see #9.

9) Includes Miracles: Part of the kingdom of God is healing (Luke 9:11, Luke 9:2, Luke 10:9) and driving out demons (Luke 11:20, Matthew 12:28). Don’t skip this part. The Bible says these supernatural feats are part of the kingdom of God package. And don’t we want the total package?

10) Offers a Huge Impact: The kingdom of God may start out small, but it grows into something significant (Luke 13:18-20), just like a tiny mustard seed and yeast. But the growth part is not our responsibility. God handles that (Mark 4:26-29).

11) Is Open for All and Inclusive: People will flock from all parts of life to be part of the kingdom of God (Luke 13:29), especially those on the outside (Luke 14:15-24). Plus it’s open for kids and those with childlike faith (Luke 18:16-17, Mark 10:14); see #12.The people we least expect to be part of the kingdom of God will be there. Click To Tweet

12) Is Counterintuitive: The kingdom of God is hard to enter (Matthew 19:24, Luke 13:23-30), especially for those who place their trust in money (Luke 18:25, Mark 10:17-25). Some of the people we most expect to be part of the kingdom of God will miss out (Luke 13:28, Matthew 21:31) as others take their place (Matthew 21:43, Luke 14:15-24). Being part of the kingdom of God requires we experience a new birth (John 3:3-6), a spiritual rebirth, which requires a simple, unwavering child-like faith (Mark 10:15).

There’s more, but this will get us started.

How can these teachings from Jesus inform how we act today as his followers? This should change everything, but will we let it?

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Jesus Talked about the Kingdom of God and We Made a Church

What if Jesus never intended his followers to form a church as we know it today?

Jesus Talked about the Kingdom of God and We Made a ChurchI looked at where the Bible talks about the kingdom of God and where it talks about church. What I learned is shocking.

These are New Testament Considerations: Both the church and the kingdom of God (along with the kingdom of Heaven) are New Testament concepts. None of these terms occur in the Old Testament. Since Jesus comes to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17), the kingdom of God must be one way he intends to do so.

Jesus Teaches about the Kingdom of God, not Church: Jesus talks much about the kingdom of God (Heaven) and little about the church: fifty-four times versus three. Clearly Jesus focuses his teaching on the kingdom of God. If the kingdom of God is so important to Jesus, it should be important to us as well.If the kingdom of God was so important to Jesus, it should be important to us, too. Click To Tweet

A Change Occurs in Acts: A transition of emphasis happens in the book of Acts, with twenty-one mentions of church and only six mentions of the kingdom of God. Early on Jesus’s followers shift their focus from the kingdom of God to the church. This is logical because a church is a tangible result while the kingdom of God is a more ethereal concept. But just because this is a logical shift, that doesn’t make it right.

Jesus’s Followers Focus on Church: The rest of the New Testament (Romans through Revelation) emphasizes church over the kingdom of God: ninety times versus eight. Even though the early followers of Jesus favor the practice of church over the concept of the kingdom of God, the fact remains that their practice of church then is far different from ours today.

Today’s church should push aside her traditions and practices to replace them with what Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God. It will change everything.

(Here’s the background:

The word church occurs 114 times in the Bible, all in the New Testament. Of the four accounts of Jesus, church only occurs in Matthew and then just three times. Acts, the book about the early church, mentions church twenty-one times. The word church occurs in the majority of the rest of the New Testament books (fifteen of them).

Instead of church, Jesus talks about the kingdom of God. The phrase, kingdom of God, occurs sixty-eight times in the Bible, again, all in the New Testament. The majority of occurrences are in the four biographies of Jesus, accounting for fifty-four of its sixty-eight appearances. Acts mentions the kingdom of God six times, with only eight occurrences popping up in the rest of the New Testament.

Matthew generally writes using the kingdom of Heaven instead of the kingdom of God. He uses kingdom of Heaven thirty-one times and is the only writer in the Bible to use this phrase. By comparing parallel passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see the same account with the only difference being that Matthew writes kingdom of Heaven whereas Mark and Luke use kingdom of God. Clearly Matthew, the only biblical writer to use kingdom of Heaven, equates it to kingdom of God. Additionally Matthew uses the kingdom of God five times.)

When and Where is the Kingdom of God?

Should we consider the kingdom of God as our future in heaven or as our present reality on earth?

When and Where is the Kingdom of God?The Bible often talks about the Kingdom of God, sixty-eight times in all (in the NIV). Five biblical authors – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul – cover this topic in ten of the New Testament’s books. Luke writes the most about the kingdom of God, accounting for half of the mentions. Of course most of the teaching about God’s coming kingdom comes from Jesus himself.

Most people equate the kingdom of God with heaven, our future reward, something to anticipate in a glorious afterlife. In reading the Bible it’s easy to understand the kingdom of God as a forthcoming event that will change everything – for the better. As such the kingdom of God looms as our future outcome in heaven; it is valuable, something for us to pursue with glorious expectation.

Many of the verses support this understanding of the kingdom of God as something in our future, but others don’t align so nicely with that interpretation and some even confound it. Consider Jesus saying that the kingdom of God is near (Mark 1:15), with some translations, such as the International Standard Version, saying the kingdom of God is now.

While we might postulate that Jesus’s birth or his public ministry ushers in this understanding of the kingdom of God, at the “last supper” Jesus says he will not eat with his followers again until after the kingdom of God comes. Then he dies, rises from the dead, and later shares a meal with his people, confirming that the kingdom of God has come.The kingdom of God comes two thousand years ago, and it is still here for us today. Click To Tweet

So the kingdom of God comes two thousand years ago and is still here for us today. We are living in it, or at least we have the potential to. What Jesus says about the kingdom of God and what Paul writes about it in the Bible is more than a future possibility, it is a present reality for us to live in today – if we are willing.

If the kingdom of God is closer to us than heaven, it becomes a present day proposition, something for us to consider, to pursue, and to embrace in our everyday lives.

Jesus is the kingdom of God, which emerges when he rises from the dead to prove his mastery over evil. The kingdom of God is here for us to embrace now, and it’s waiting for us to experience fully after we die.

Who Says We Should Give 10% to the Local Church?

Fundamentalist preachers twist what the Bible says and misapply it for their own benefit

Who Says We Should Give 10% to the Local Church?I was taught to give 10 percent of my money to church. I’ve heard many evangelical preachers assert that their followers had to give 10 percent to the local church. It was a tithe, an obligation. You could, of course, give more. That was a voluntary offering, but the 10 percent baseline was a requirement. If you failed to do so, it was a sin.

Says who?

It turns out the preachers who proclaim the 10-percent-to-the-local-church rule made it up. They want to fund their operation and ensure their paycheck.

Seriously, it’s not in the Bible.

The Bible never says to give 10 percent of our money to the local church. It’s not a command or even a guideline. Any place the New Testament mentions a tithe it’s in reference to the Old Testament Law, which Jesus fulfilled.

And don’t forget that the Old Testament tithe was from the harvest, not a paycheck. It was to the national temple, not a local assembly. Plus, how many of the 613 Old Testament Laws do you follow? Not many, I suspect.

So if you want to re-interpret the Old Testament and forget that Jesus fulfilled it, go ahead and tithe as a legalistic requirement. Just don’t act like it is an obligation or command others to do so.The New Testament never says to give 10 percent to the local church. Click To Tweet

Here’s what the New Testament has to say:

In the New Testament we see a principle of stewardship, of carefully using what God blesses us with to help those around us. If you feel God calling you to give 10 percent to your local church, than go ahead and do it. But know that the Bible doesn’t command it. (It doesn’t prohibit it either.) What I see in the Bible is a clear principle to help the poor and assist those who go outside the church to tell others about Jesus.

May our focus be on advancing the kingdom of God more so than on perpetuating the manmade institution of what many today call church.

What are your thoughts on tithing? In what ways can we be generous to help others and advance God’s kingdom?

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Do You Think Like an Exile? Do You Act Like a Foreigner?

If you are a citizen of the Kingdom of God, then you live here as a foreigner.

Do You Think Like an Exile? Do You Act Like a Foreigner?

Peter writes his first letter to Christians scattered about in pagan cities. He first calls them exiles. Later he refers to them as foreigners. I prefer the label of aliens. It has an otherworldly connotation.

The point is that they don’t fit in where they are. They are outsiders subsisting in a society that doesn’t understand their thinking and their way of life. They live in a culture that is opposed to Jesus.

Peter doesn’t tell them they need to adapt and settle down. Instead he tells them to live careful lives, hold onto their awe of God, and refrain from immorality. They are to persist as foreigners, as if they are just passing through – because they are.If you are a citizen of the kingdom of God, then you live here as a foreigner. Click To Tweet

They are citizens of the Kingdom of God, children of the King of kings. Their allegiance is to God. Their real domicile, their eternal home, is in heaven. Holding onto this perspective, they realize they are here for the short-term. With eyes fixed on Jesus, they maintain their earthly status as foreigners, as exiles, and as aliens – both in an actual physical sense and with a faith-filled, future-focused, spiritual expectation.

I wonder how well I do to live like that.

Do you act like a foreigner in our culture? Do you think of yourself as an alien in our world?

(1 Peter 1:1, 1 Peter 1:17, 1 Peter 2:11)

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Book Review: A Spirituality of Fundraising

A Spirituality of Fundraising

By Henri J. M. Nouwen (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

Book Review: A Spirituality of FundraisingBased on a speech Henri Nouwen gave in 1992, this book is the eventual outcome. In it, Henri challenges us to consider the spiritual aspects of raising money for Christian service and outreach opportunities. It should not be an unpleasant reality but a form of service whereby vision is shared and people are invited into missional participation. In viewing fund-raising as a ministry opportunity, we are able to help the “Kingdom of God come about.”

Before embarking on a fundraising effort, those doing the asking need to first consider their own views and perspectives on money. Their security needs to rest completely in God. If they have ungodly notions about money, their efforts to raise funds for ministry purposes will be limited.

When approaching wealthy people for donations, there is first the opportunity to minister to them and their needs. Financially well-off folks struggle, too, and need love. In this way, fund-raising is really about creating long-term relationships with donors and potential donors, inviting people into spiritual communion. It is about building community.

In this, prayer is the starting point of soliciting contributions for ministry. As such, this book is a must-read for those engaged in Christian fundraising.

[A Spirituality of Fundraising, by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Published by Upper Room, 2011, ISBN: 978-0835810449, 64 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

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Reflecting on Church #19: Having God’s Perspective

 With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #19.

We’ve visited many small churches on our journey. Except for this one, all these tiny congregations desperately desired to grow numerically. Although this is partly for survival (a church needs to maintain a core base of people to function and pay their bills), striving to be larger buys into society’s unshakable conviction that bigger is better.

However, evaluating the significance of a church based on their size is man’s perspective, whereas God judges success by a different standard. This pastor is one man who truly understands this. His focus is on growing the kingdom of God, not his congregation. His goal is to help all of Jesus’ church, not just one branch. We need more ministers and more churches with this perspective.

[See my reflections about Church #18 and Church #20 or start with Church #1.]

A Fresh Sunday Experience (Visiting Church #38)

The church meets in the all-purpose room of a local school. The atmosphere is casual, with people milling about, talking, sipping coffee, and munching snacks. With all ages represented, we see many kids present. Jeans and t-shirts abound.

A team of four (guitar, bass, drums, and vocals) lead the singing. As a special treat, three members of a ballet company worship with us in dance. Ballet and guitars strike me as a disparate pairing, but the result is beautiful, as they worship God with movement. Though some may disagree, dance belongs in church; it adds depth to our praise of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For the past several weeks, we’ve seen traditionally dressed ministers give traditionally sounding sermons; I yearn for something fresh. Today’s pastor and message accomplish that, offering a much-appreciated reprieve from the tired routine. The pastor doesn’t stand on the stage behind a pulpit, but is on our level using a music stand. His style is accessible and calm. I feel at peace.

“Isn’t the story of Jesus’ birth absurd?” he dares to ask. This isn’t a rhetorical device or a rational denial, but a challenge to deeply consider all the Bible offers and the ramifications of its narrative. Instead of focusing on the familiar and skipping the confusing, he digs into the perplexing passages of the Bible – and encourages us to do the same. At the touch of his iPad, he displays the verses for us to read on the screen stationed to his right.

The kingdom of God starts now, today. He encourages us to ask tough questions about the Bible and God, inviting us to journey with them towards Jesus.

Afterwards we stay to talk about family and faith.

God provided what I needed today; he refreshed my soul.

[Read about Church #37 and Church #39, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #38.]