How Should We Read Jesus’ Parables?: some basic guidance

Jesus knew we loved stories and so He spoke from stories quite a bit of the time. The type of stories he used were called parables. What is a parable? A parable is often defined as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” It’s a story that deals with earthy things in order to talk about deeper things.

The word ‘parable’ comes from two Greek words:

  • Para: which means “alongside”
  • Bole: which means “to throw”

So parable literally means “to throw alongside” or “to compare.” As Stuart Briscoe says: “A parable is a story designed to compare that which is patently obvious to that which may not be obvious at all.”[1]

Jesus used parables to draw His hearers in by talking about everyday things they were familiar with: taxes, fishing, house cleaning, farming, family…

But as He drew the story to a close it became clear—for those who were really listening—that He was also hitting at a deeper meaning. He was opening up a discussion about unseen things by talking about things we could see. He was talking about spiritual truth through everyday things.

But how should we read parables? Let me first offer a word of caution that weneed to think about how we are approaching these stories so that we’re not expecting them to be something they’re not.

Let me use a parable of sorts to explain what I mean. Suppose we were going to watch a movie and suppose that someone picked “Little Women” or “Sense and Sensibility,” both clearly long and sweeping, romantic dramas. Now, it would be very important for me to approach watching these movies in the right way. If I approach viewing those movies looking for action, blood and guts, or non-stop laughs, I am going to be sorely disappointed. Even if I could agree that the movie was good—good acting, good cinematography, good character development, good musical scoring—if I’m expecting the movie to be a comedy or an action movie then I may not understand the point of the movie and may not even think it’s good.

In earlier times in the church’s history, biblical scholars used a method of interpretation that included a lot of allegory. Allegories are stories where nearly every character, item, or event signifies some other thing. Those earlier interpreters provided a wide variety of meanings particularly when it came to interpreting parables, where allegorical or spiritual meanings were linked to many elements within the parables.

While allegorical interpretation does have some value in certain ways, this is not usually how we are supposed to read parables, unless Jesus makes it abundantly clear that such meanings are there. “Parables are not allegories – even if at times they have what appear to us to be allegorical features.”[2]

When we pay attention to their context—the situation or questions that prompted the story—we will find that the parables have one clear and pointed impact related to one fundamental issue.

When we read or listen to parables we shouldn’t try to find secret meanings in every nook and cranny of the story, but try to listen, with the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, for the strong, power-packed point on the main issue that hits us like swift punch in the gut.

So, as we approach the reading and interpretaton of parables, let us pray God will help us to hear the main idea Christ was speaking then and is speaking to us here and now today.


[1] Stuart Briscoe, Patterns for Power (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1979), 5.

[2] Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993), 138.

Eastbrook at Home – September 5, 2021

Eastbrook-At-Home-Series-GFX_16x9-Title

Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM.

We continue our series, “Stories of the Kingdom: Parable of Jesus,” as I preach on the parables of the treasure in the field, the pearl, and the net from Matthew 13:44-50.

This series continues our extended journey through the Gospel of Matthew, which includes our previous series “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” and “The Messiah’s Mission.”

We also continue in-person services at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 AM this weekend at the Eastbrook Campus, and you no longer need to RSVP ahead of time.

If you are new to Eastbrook, we want to welcome you to worship and would ask you to text EBCnew to 94000 as a first step into community here at Eastbrook.

Each Sunday at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts. You can also access the service directly via Vimeo, the Eastbrook app, or Facebook.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in your tithes and offerings to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

Eastbrook at Home – August 29, 2021

Eastbrook-At-Home-Series-GFX_16x9-Title

Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM.

We continue our series, “Stories of the Kingdom: Parable of Jesus,” as I preach on the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast from Matthew 13:31-35.

This series continues our extended journey through the Gospel of Matthew, which includes our previous series “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” and “The Messiah’s Mission.”

We also continue in-person services at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 AM this weekend at the Eastbrook Campus, and you no longer need to RSVP ahead of time.

If you are new to Eastbrook, we want to welcome you to worship and would ask you to text EBCnew to 94000 as a first step into community here at Eastbrook.

Each Sunday at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts. You can also access the service directly via Vimeo, the Eastbrook app, or Facebook.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in your tithes and offerings to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

Eastbrook at Home – August 22, 2021

Eastbrook-At-Home-Series-GFX_16x9-Title

Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM.

We continue our series, “Stories of the Kingdom: Parable of Jesus,” as I preach on the parable of the wheat on the weeds from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

This series continues our extended journey through the Gospel of Matthew, which includes our previous series “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” and “The Messiah’s Mission.”

We also continue in-person services at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 AM this weekend at the Eastbrook Campus, and you no longer need to RSVP ahead of time.

If you are new to Eastbrook, we want to welcome you to worship and would ask you to text EBCnew to 94000 as a first step into community here at Eastbrook.

Each Sunday at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts. You can also access the service directly via Vimeo, the Eastbrook app, or Facebook.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in your tithes and offerings to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

The Seed: receiving the message of the kingdom of heaven

“Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed.'” (Matthew 13:3)

Jesus’ parable of the sower and the soils begins with the farmer sowing his seed into the soils around. There is a wondrous extravagance, even an open-handed wildness, to the way the farmer sows the seed. Later, when interpreting the parable to His disciples, Jesus says the seed is: “the message of the kingdom” sown in a person’s heart (13:19). Just before that, He describes the seed as “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven [that] has been given to you” (13:11).

What is the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven? What is this message? Well, in very simple terms it is the reality that God has come to us in Jesus of Nazareth. He is God in the flesh, yes, fully God and fully man. He has come to save us from the power over sin, by which we stand guilty before God. He has come to forgive us as the great sacrifice at the Cross. He has come to free us from the power of evil, which keeps us imprisoned and separated from God. He has come to liberate and set us free at the Cross.  He has come to reconcile us back to God, to heal and restore our relationship with the God who has created us. He has come as a great relational reconciler at the Cross.

If you’ve never experienced that forgiveness in Jesus, that freedom in Jesus, that re-connection with God through Jesus, then maybe today should be the day to reach out to God and tell Him you want to experience that. Why not let this be the day you begin a journey with God?

And if you have experienced the power of Jesus’ message being sown into your life, let today be a day you celebrate that great gift. Lift up Jesus in your words and heart today. Worship Him and thank Him. Then, go out and share Jesus with others in both your words and deeds. Friends, this seed of the kingdom of heaven is the greatest gift God has ever given and the greatest gift we could ever know.

As Jesus also says just before His explanation of the parable:

Blessed are your eyes because they see, and you ear because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. (13:16-17)

Let us savor the seed sown into our lives in Jesus Christ. The secrets of the kingdom of heaven are now ours in Christ through the Cross and the Resurrection.