Jesus Taught Through Stories
If you are like me, you enjoy a good story; especially if it is told by a great story teller. Story telling is a simple, yet effective way to teach a lesson to others.
Jesus told stories to illustrate deep spiritual truths. The biblical word to describe these types of stories is called a parable. A parable has been described as an earthly story that has a heavenly meaning.
There are many parables that Jesus told that are recorded throughout the Gospels (primarily the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Here are a few that you may easily recognize:
- The parable of the Good Samaritan
- The parable of the mustard seed
- The parable of the prodigal son
- The parable of the lost sheep
- The parable of the wise and foolish builders
But the question for the sake of this article is why? Why did Jesus use story telling? Jesus was not only fully human, he was fully God. He is all knowing (omniscient); yet it has been documented that nearly 1/3 of his teaching was done through parables. So why did Jesus use this method of teaching? You guessed it, so we could grasp his teaching. I’ve heard it said before that in order for people to get what is being taught at a deep level, the teacher must be able to make complex teachings simple to understand. A friend of mine describes this process as “putting the cookies on the bottom shelf so everyone can get to them.” Hey, food analogies work for me. I digress.
Are there times when we make things too difficult in our biblical learning? I think you could make an argument that we do. Stories have a way of connecting with us on a personal level. When Jesus told a parable (earthly story), it immediately penetrated the heart (Hebrews 4:12,13) and the people who were listening to the story not only got the meaning of the story, but had to personally wrestle with their heart as it related to the story. The same is true for us today.
Take for example one the parables above, “the parable of the wise and foolish builders” found in Matthew 7:24-27 (also in Luke 6:46-49).
This passage of Scripture comes at the conclusion of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus begins by teaching his disciples only and ends by teaching a large crowd that had gathered as he taught (Matthew chapters 5-7). He has just taught about money, worry, fasting, murder, adultery, false prophets, giving to the needy, forgiveness, and prayer to name a few. He then concludes his teaching with this parable of the wise and foolish builders.
Jesus says “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Ask yourself these two questions. What does this parable mean and how does this apply to my life? I find myself using this parable quite a bit in counseling. Many people understand this teaching but come to counseling because they have neglected to apply the teaching to their lives personally. I tell them in a loving way, that “right now you are facing some storms in your life and it sounds to me like you are trying to weather the storm based on your own reasoning (sand) instead of doing what we know to do; which is to build upon the rock by following the clear teachings of Scripture.” This passage is a simple yet profound reminder that we are not only to be hearers of the Word but to do what it tells us (James 1:22).
That is the essence of why Jesus told parables. He wanted and wants his children to learn God’s truths, live them out, and lead others to do the same. Parables are a great way to illustrate truth to others. Take time to read through the parables listed above and ask yourself what God is trying to teach you at this point in your life. Memorize a parable and share it with your kids , co-workers, neighbors, and/or your small group and see what God will do through those conversations. These simple stories had powerful impact when Jesus told them. The same is true for us as we learn them personally and share them with others.