The Parables of Jesus
One warning as we start: this sermon is going to be full of building and remodel analogies. One is from this passage directly, but the rest are from me. As many of you know, we have been remodeling our house since this last summer. There is a reason Jesus, Paul, and other writers in Scripture use building as a picture for our faith, our relationships, and our pursuit of God—it works very well. The process of building anything, especially a house in our day and age, is…slow, difficult, complicated, interconnected, discouraging, exciting, and satisfying all rolled up into one complicated package.
For example, imagine you have driven or walked by a plot of land often, only to come by one day and realize they are building something there! You may have missed the survey stakes, the tractors that were grading the ground, but when structures begin to stand up in the middle of a field of grass you start to wonder, “What is going on there?”
We started our Luke series around Christmas, which fit very well with the beginning of Luke. We echoed Luke’s refrain throughout all of Advent that The King is Coming! Yet, as we have continued to preach through Luke, you may have begun to wonder, how is this all fitting together? What are we building here? I can begin to see structures, but I want to know what the final product will look like.
So here you go: like many sites put the pretty, architect rendering of a building with little people walking around it out in front to satisfy the people’s curiosity, here is our rendering of our goal for going through Luke.
Luke 1 & 2—Advent: The King is Coming!
Luke 5, 6, 7—Jesus’s Ministry
Luke 13, 14, 15, 16—Jesus’s Parables
Luke 8 & 9—Jesus’s Identity
Luke 17 & 18—A Disciple’s Identity
Luke 23 & 24—Jesus to Jerusalem
We have decided to try to preach through the bulk of Luke in 20 weeks. We know that means we won’t be able to preach through every nuance of each section—that could take several years! But we pray it will give you a broad understanding of this gospel, and the message that God is giving you through Luke’s specific portrayal of Jesus’s life and ministry.
In Luke 1 & 2 we looked at the expected King who came in an unexpected way. Over the last three weeks, like Luke, we have been highlighting the outlines of Jesus’s ministry. Don preached on Luke 5 and Jesus’s ministry and how he begins by revealing who he is: the God over creation and fish, and the God who can heal leprosy. And in the midst of revealing his ministry he begins calling disciples—disciples who will be “fishing” for disciples themselves.
Luke Miller preached on Luke 6, and the world–changing, upside–down principles of Jesus’s ministry. The poor and weak are to be confident and exalted, and those who seek worldly comfort and riches for themselves are to be pitied. As Jesus confronts the sinful desires of his generation and our generation, we have to wonder, “how?” “How could I possibly think that way?” And it is Jesus who offers us a future hope in joy everlasting in him! And Andrew preached on the types of people who Jesus is ministering to: those who have a big heart. He is looking for those who call out to him in their need like the Roman Centurion and come to him in their sin like the woman of the streets.
Starting today and for the next three weeks we are going to look at Jesus’s parables and what they say about him and those he is pursuing. And as we continue this journey we are going to realize that two main “characters” are emerging in this story: Jesus and his disciples. We are going to talk for four weeks about Jesus’s identity, because his ministry is revealing for us the type of God who has loved us, came to earth for us, and is commissioning us. So, in light of Jesus’s identity, his ministry is also about revealing his disciples’ identity—who they are as they are found in their Lord and Savior. And behind all of that is this constant move. You see it in our passage this morning:
“He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.”—Luke 13:22 ESV
Jesus knows the destiny of his time on earth, and it culminates in Jerusalem with his death and resurrection, which is where we will end on Easter this spring.
Our passage this morning is one of several large sections where Jesus uses parables—stories with an analogy to his ministry and goals that he uses to teach those who are following him.
Jesus has already been stating that his ministry is all about building a kingdom full of disciples who disciple others. Here, in our passage, Jesus is ‘doubling-down’ (a betting term that means doubling your bet when you see how good your cards are. Yes, we are a church that expects some of our people will actually know and relate with a betting term!). He wants to make sure we know this is his plan, and we should be a part of it.
Throughout Scripture, Jesus calls us to his plan in many ways. He casts great vision—speaks of what the days to come will look like, giving us a glimpse of life beyond this world that we might live out our time here on mission but joyfully awaiting the day we are with him in the new heavens and new earth. Here, he gives us warnings and encouragements. Just like I started this sermon with a warning, Jesus uses each of these parables as a warning or encouragement to understand correctly what the Kingdom of God will look like. The worry is that a warning can come across indicting and condemning: “You don’t understand, and you are failing!” However, we could also see these parables as correcting our expectations. Jesus wants us to be ready, so that when these feelings or missed expectations occur, we will be ready. This morning, in four different sections we are going to see these four main points:
Even when it may not look like it, Jesus is building and expanding his Kingdom with his disciples (Luke 13:18–21).
Jesus is building a Kingdom of disciples—strive to enter through relationship with Jesus! (Luke 13:22–30).
Jesus’s disciples are to count the cost to enter his Kingdom—it will be everything. (Luke 14:25–33)
A disciple can be useless and of no value to the Kingdom. (Luke 14:34–35)
Will you pray with me that we would actually walk away with a heart to hear these warnings and encouragements this morning?
Building His Kingdom (Luke 13:18–21)
“He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”—Luke 13:18–21
It was June 22 that I rented an attic vacuum and sucked out the insulation from the attic in our living room. A group of guys from church came over and on June 23 we donned hazmat suits and ripped out the sheetrock that contained “asbestos.” The next weekend the demo crew and their bulldozers came and shortly after that all we had left of our living room was a flat platform and a hole in the ground next to it. It didn’t look much different for several weeks, but slowly and surely, the makings of a new room and house began to emerge.
I learned a similar lesson as a third-grade teacher. If you want kids to enjoy the project where you bury a seed in dirt in a cup and then watch and measure the results, pick something like a pole bean that grows so fast you can literally watch it weave and bend its way upwards. Don’t choose trees or bushes…they are very discouraging!
Of our four sections we will look at this morning, this first one and the last one are the shortest, and all of them are fairly simple to understand. Yet shorter doesn’t mean any easier to live out. Jesus does not want us to be discouraged by the slow growth of the Kingdom of God. The Jewish expectation was that the Messiah would come in power and might and immediately make the Jewish nation his kingdom and through it reign the entire world. The Jews would immediately go from a nation that was kicked around for centuries to a powerhouse. Yet, Jesus defies that stereotype and came first as a humble servant, and as a lamb led to the slaughter.
We want to see the kingdom of God now! In our lives, in our friends lives, in our country, across this entire planet, we want to see Jesus ruling, and ruling in power! We want them saved today. We want ourselves to be fully transformed and without sin today. Yet, in Jesus’s wisdom and for our good, he came first in mercy and grace and patiently grows us and others. We see his kingdom now, in part, as his people come to faith and worship him. Yet it is like a little bit of leaven or yeast. Like a small seed of the tree that grows slowly—but it does grow!
The warning here is twofold. Table Rock, don’t lose heart at the progress we can’t see. Whether it is in your own life, the life of a loved one, or the lost world around you—don’t lose heart! God is building his kingdom, and he is doing it slowly. The second part of the warning is to not lose heart because what God does isn’t flashy or showy—but it is effective and magnificent! How I wish my remodel was like one of those time-lapse videos where a cable home makeover shows a crew of dozens descending on a house and in weeks it is finished! It is flashy and makes for good television, but it isn’t reality. Remodeling takes time. Leaven takes time. Seeds take time to grow. But both result in something amazing. Leaven and yeast can raise an entire container of flour and a tree grows to eventually house birds and animals as this passage tells us. What God is doing today in building the Kingdom of God isn’t always seen nor is it showy, but it will be effective!
A Kingdom of Disciples: Strive to Enter (Luke 13:22–30)
“He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from. ’Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets. ’But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil! ’In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”—Luke 13:22–30
It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t actually answer the question given to him right away. Jesus starts by answering a different question. Perhaps, like in other areas of scripture, he actually knows the problem of the person asking the question and answers that issue. He answers “who” will get into the kingdom of God first, and then how many, and gives three warnings or encouragements throughout.
The first encouragement is to strive!
“Strive to enter through the narrow door!”
To our ears this may sound like work. Oh, I’m supposed to work hard to make sure I get into heaven through this narrow door. But that isn’t what Jesus is saying at all! In fact, as we look at this parable, we see that Jesus himself is the narrow door. He is both the provision for our sin and salvation and the keeper of the door. And to some he is going to say:
“I do not know where you come from.”
It is in this context that we begin to understand what striving means. We are talking about a relationship with God himself! He expects to know us! We so often want to think about our Christian faith as a first grade note. “Do you want to be my friend? Check one: Yes or No.” We check, yes and we are good—BFFs! We think that we can check the box, “come to faith,” make a decision to ask Jesus into our heart, or be baptized, and we are done. But if we view our life as a relationship with Jesus Christ himself, that changes everything. Jesus checked the box “Yes” on the cross, yet I live out what I find in most relationships. I am selfish, and I am self centered. I want to kick dirt on people when I don’t get my way. I want to ignore them for other friends in the playground of life. It is work to be in a relationship with Jesus because I am a sinner and I have to turn back to that relationship again and again. Strive Christian! Don’t be upset that it takes work to be in a relationship. But also rest in the God who is the perfect friend, the perfect father, the one who has loved us like no other could and will not let you go!
This is accompanied by a warning: don’t assume your company means you are actually in a relationship with Jesus. They say:
“We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.”
So far this morning the warning and encouragements have been for Christians. But this one is for those who come to church regularly. Hang out with the Christians and have heard all the stories and know how to do good things. Yet, they have no relationship with Jesus. This is not a light warning. Jesus says:
“Depart from me, all you workers of evil!”
In our section here, Jesus is specifically talking to those Jewish people—likely the Pharisees and Sadducees—who thought they would be in heaven because of their knowledge and position. They are warned they will see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in heaven, but they themselves won’t be. But the warning is for anyone in this type of situation. One of the hardest places to be is comfortable. In with the right crowd, seemingly doing the right things, but not willing to submit our lives to Jesus to do the hard work of “striving,” as we previously saw, to have a relationship with God.
As we have seen before when we looked at the Psalms and talked through our priority of spreading, God has always had a plan for those who were not part of the Jewish nation. The Jews were meant to be a light to the nations around them, a place they could come and learn about Yahweh and worship him alone…but that rarely happened. Here, Jesus promises, again, that it will not be just the Jewish people—in this way he answers the original question of how many. The kingdom of God will include many other people:
“And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the Kingdom of God.”
Again, we see that God’s indictment against the Jewish people means gospel grace and mercy through Jesus Christ. You and I are here today as believers because it pleased God through Jesus to bring the good news of salvation to all people! This is the third warning or encouragement in this section: love that God loves to see his good news spread to all people and take part in that work!
Jesus’s Disciples Count the Cost (Luke 14:25–33)
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”—Luke 14:25–33 ESV
Oh, the woes I could tell you of trying to count the cost of remodeling in Boise, Idaho in 2018 at the height of a housing boom. I can barely get contractors to come help us, let alone have any guess at how much the cost of their materials or labor will have increased in just the last month. In this section, Jesus asks his disciples to do something seemingly simple: count the cost. But don’t miss the picture! In the gospels, the coming kingdom is the kingdom of Jesus. He is the king marching into our territory. Those who build towers to store up their worldly riches are those who think they can provide for their future security themselves. When Jesus urges us to count the cost, we should realize that we cannot do it on our own! Our storehouse of works will never be enough to bring before our holy king. The battle for perfect righteousness will leave us dead on the battlefield. We need to seek peace: peace with our God through Jesus Christ.
The only option in the ancient world when a King was marching to war was to head out to him before he got to your country, make peace, and join him in his procession against those who you now are against. It is in this context that he urges us to hate our mothers, brothers, family. This is trying to capture the essence of a Jewish Old Testament phrasing of “love-less.” We must be willing to put Jesus first and forsake anything else that gets in our way of being in relationship with Jesus. Dying to yourself and picking up your cross means being willing to admit you are not sufficient on your own, Table Rock, and you need the perfect life, death, and the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We want to be found on his side, in his Kingdom.
So as disciples in this Kingdom of Jesus we are to stay encouraged even though the kingdom grows slowly—both in us and around us. Jesus’s Kingdom is guided along by God’s plans and results in a magnificent and sure ending. We are to strive in our relationship with Jesus to know and love him! We don’t want to be deceived that our being in church or Life Group or with the right friends means our salvation is secure—rather through knowing the one who has saved u, our salvation is secure! And we want to heed the warning of Israel and love to see that good news spread—we are disciples who make disciples! And we want to count the cost, for God may require much of us in this process. We are to be those who rightly see the king in his glory coming, and head out to make peace and join his procession.
Table Rock, what would change in your life if this was emblematic of your walk with God? Would you have more patience with your friends, family, and neighbors as you slowly walk with them and share the joy you have in Jesus? Would you be more patient with yourself? Would you do your part to work harder on your relationship with Jesus as you realize the relationship alone is what matters—not your surroundings, your friend group, or your even your church? Would you disciple others with more ferver if you realized the sin of Israel—to ignore those outside and only group up and relate within the family of Jesus—is also your temptation? What might you be willing to give up to be on mission as a disciple of Jesus making disciples? What would you forsake to meet your King before the battle is here and you are found lacking? There will be a lot for you all to discuss in Life Groups this week!
Salty Disciples (Luke 14:34–35)
What I find amazing is the “exclamation mark” Jesus puts on this section. He has been calling us to rightly understand his Kingdom and the life of a disciple. This is our “saltiness”—the distinct flavor we are to have in this world. Throughout Scripture salt and light describe the ways in which the world should be confronted by our actions and love of God. Here, Jesus reminds us of an amazing and scary truth:
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”—Luke 14:34–35
Table Rock, what good are we as disciples if we don’t bear the distinctive mark of disciples? Our lack of hope in the transformative power of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ, our preoccupation on the idols of life instead of our Savior and Lord, and our lack of desire to engage others for the gospel leaves us a bland stew of self-satisfaction in a world longing to see and savor the joy of knowing Jesus!
Table Rock, delight that you have been called as disciples into the Kingdom of Jesus! Come to him this morning thankful that you have a role to play in this magnificent plan of God’s as a disciple creating disciples.
Being a disciple of Jesus takes work.
Being a disciple of Jesus can be hard.
Being a disciple of Jesus will cost you much—most of all your pride.
Being a disciple of Jesus is worth it!
Yes, we will fail. Like with any relationship, it will have struggles. Thankfully, Jesus has permanently checked that checkmark “Yes” in our relationship with him. He will not walk away, and we can rest in his finished work on our behalf.