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Saturday, November 28, 2015

"Parables" (John MacArthur)

TITLE: Parables: The Mysteries of God's Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told
AUTHOR: John MacArthur
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2015, (288 pages).

Are parables just stories of entertainment? What are the purposes of parables? Why did Jesus teach in parables? Should we adopt the same methods? What can the parables reveal to us today? What are the unique characteristics of parables? Renowned author and pastor John MacArthur has written a passionate 288-page treatment of Jesus' parables in a way that is very MacArthur: conviction; passion; biblical; unrelenting; clear; and polemical. He contrasts the way Matthew and Luke narrates the parables. The former tends to be as brief as possible while the latter focuses on details like personality and life. He believes that contrary to some interpreters, Jesus' message is pointed and focused on a single major point. The parables are "rarely even multidimensional." He asserts that there is a central lesson and as we study the parables, we can all be "true disciples, carefully seeking wisdom and understanding with obedient hearts." He selects a dozen parables arranged in ten themes.

Beginning with Jesus' frequent clashes with the Pharisees and religious leaders, MacArthur launches with the reason why Jesus teaches in parables. From the Sabbath to teachings about the condition of the heart, Jesus challenges the Pharisees without compromising on the Word. Second, Jesus talks about the willingness of people to receiving the Word of God. In the Parable of the Sower, the Word of God is the key focus. How are we hearing it? Third, we learn about the cost of discipleship, and here, MacArthur draws in the parable of the pearl of great price, the hidden treasure, and describes the six vital truths of the kingdom. Fourth, the parable of the vineyard is about the owner of a vineyard who chooses who to employ and how much to reward. Grace and justice is completely God's prerogative. Fifth, Jesus expounds the parables with regard to neighbourly love. Using the Good Samaritan parable, Jesus challenges the hearts of the Pharisees by telling the story of how even the despised Samaritan can do a better job in obeying the very law the Pharisees often trumpet. Sixth, the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector is an opportunity to teach justification by faith. By contrasting the two men's position, posture, and prayer, we learn what it means to try and please God on our own terms or on God's terms. Seventh, the Parable of the Two Servants, the Ten Virgins, the Talents, are used as examples of the need to be faithful. It is when we are constantly living in expectation of the Lord's coming that we can be motivated toward faithfulness and to be ready when the Lord arrives. Eight, the Parable of the Wise Steward teaches us "serpentine wisdom." MacArthur draws three powerful lessons to teach us lessons on how money can be used for the good of others; how we are only stewards of God's possessions; and how we must avoid letting money be enthroned in our hearts. Nine, the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is also a lesson to teach us the reality of heaven and hell. We learn about God's judgment, and the need for hearers to take seriously the words of Jesus while we can. Finally, we learn from the parable of the persistent widow about the value and power of persistent prayer. As a "postscript to Luke 17," this parable is about judgment that is to come. We pray and not lose heart because God will eventually demonstrate once and for all, He is sovereign to all, regardless of whether the world recognize it or not.

So What?

This book is definitely a gem to behold. It is one of the most powerful and insightful expositions on the selected parables of Jesus. Note that the Parable of the Prodigal Son has been excluded as MacArthur has written a whole book previously about it, entitled "A Tale of Two Sons." The rest of MacArthur's commentary on the other parables can also be found in a larger volume of "The MacArthur New Testament Commentary" series. There is an accompanying "Parables Workbook" to help small groups engage in deeper discussion over the several key parables covered in the book.
  1. The Parable of the Soils (Matthew 13:2-23)
  2. The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37)
  3. The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45-46)
  4. The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-15)
  5. The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
  6. The Parable of the Two Sons (Luke 15:11-32)
Apart from the late James Montgomery Boice's "The Parables of Jesus," no other book on the parables has come close in terms of comprehensive treatment. This book certainly is a worthy companion to Boice's classic. Central to MacArthur's way of writing is his passion for revealing the truths in the parables, are often hidden from "sloppy" readers. He rebukes many modern pulpit speakers for using arguments rather than storytelling. He does not have nice things to say about megachurches and preaching that seem to entertain rather than expounding Scripture. He calls preachers to be storytellers, just like Jesus did in the parables. He rebukes preachers who seem to leave interpretations to the imaginations of hearers. Such methods leave people without much biblical direction. MacArthur's conviction is this:

"While the parables do illustrate and clarify truth for those with ears to hear, they have precisely the opposite effect on those who oppose and reject Christ. The symbolism hides the truth from anyone without the discipline or desire to seek out Christ's meaning. That's why Jesus adopted that style of teaching." (xix)

Jesus has two major reasons for speaking the parables. First, it is to hide the truth from the self-righteous who are not open to learning truth. Second, it is to reveal the truth to eager learners with childlike faith. While Boice conveniently categorizes the parables of Jesus into five different categories, MacArthur chooses ten themes. Whether you are a Bible study leader, a preacher, a teacher, or a lay reader, there is always something to provoke or to remind us about Jesus' teachings. The parables remain such a powerful teaching tool because they are relevant, timeless, and always penetrating to the heart. However, it is also frustrating and challenging, especially for those who are self-righteous in their own eyes. Parables enlighten some but frustrate others. Hopefully, readers will be in the former camp.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Thomas-Nelson and BookLookBloggers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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