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The parables of Jesus are brief, but powerful, stories that encapsulate spiritual truths. As you go through the parables, there are some things that you need to be aware of:
There's a reason why there are four gospels. It's not just that God decided that we needed to hear the same story from four different angles. But the different gospel writers actually wrote with different audiences in mind.
For instance, Mark's gospel was written for the Romans. The Romans were an action-oriented people, so the Gospel of Mark is the briefest of all. There is relatively little dialogue which keeps the action moving along, and out of the eighty times that the word "immediately" is used in the gospels, almost half of them are in Mark. Mark also quotes relatively little Scripture from the Old Testament as it had limited relevance to the Romans.
On the other hand, Matthew's gospel was written with a Jewish audience in mind. It begins by establishing Jesus' pedigree as a true son of Abraham and a direct descendent of King David's royal family. It quotes numerous Scriptures from the Old Testament to tie the events of the life of Jesus into Biblical prophecy.
Then there's the term "the kingdom of heaven." If you take a look at the other gospels, you may notice that in many of the same instances where Matthew talk about the kingdom of heaven, they talk about the kingdom of God.
The reason for this difference is that the Jews had a tradition that the name of God was so holy it should not even be mentioned. Of course, they took this to an extreme, but this tendency has even been passed down in many of our modern Bible translations where the name Yahweh is translated as either GOD or LORD.
However, out of respect for Jewish reverence for God's name, Matthew has used the term "the kingdom of heaven" thirty-two times, whereas he uses the term Kingdom of God only five times. In contrast, the audiences of Mark and Luke had no such scruples about God's name and so they always refer to the Kingdom of God.
A parable can be over-interpreted. It must be borne in mind that a parable generally has an overall theme and it is not always necessary to interpret absolutely everything in the parable. If a parable is fairly simple, then possibly everything in it has an important significance. But often there are details in the parable that may not signify anything in particular at all.
For instance, in the parable of the sower, the roots of the plants are not interpreted by Jesus and so we should resist the temptation to contribute our clever ideas and remember that the parables deliver important truths and not just sensational theories.
Sermon outlines on the following parables are currently available:
For more great material, check out FaithGiant's page on The Parables of Jesus.