The Parables in Their Setting - Part 5
Denis Clapham, Birmingham
In those days on earth when the kingdom of heaven drew near, there were experts in the study of the law of Moses who formed schools, and taught their pupils orally. Their laudable aim was to write nothing, but to let the sacred Word alone speak. Supposedly possessing the key of knowledge with which to open the treasures of wisdom, they were revered more than father and mother by their disciples. Alas, from what we know of them, most of them seem to have searched the Scriptures without finding Him of whom they speak, and so their instruction inevitably imparted little of lasting worth. Against such a background the King told the parable of
The Householder's Treasure, Matt. 13. 51-52. "Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old". This concluding parable of the eight in Matthew 13, like the introductory one, has to do with the word of the kingdom. It discloses that those who understood the secrets which the King had brought to light, would be as scribes having fresh treasures of knowledge to add to what they already possessed from a true understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Let us now take another look at the setting of this important series of parables. They were actually spoken to conceal the secrets of the kingdom of heaven from the people who wanted a king to set them free from Roman oppression, and to give them of his bounty, without their having to acknowledge his right to rule them. In His declared policy the Lord Jesus had first insisted on practical righteousness, and this had been enough to cause the leaders to begin to demonstrate that hatred and opposition towards Him, which never abated until He was taken and crucified. But, since it was written, "A sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom", Psa. 45- 6—7; Heb. 1. 8-9, how could the King of righteousness do otherwise? Of course, He knew that He must first be despised and rejected by men, then be anointed and crowned by God in heaven, and appear in His presence as our Intercessor. He also knew that a bride would be procured for Him, and that she would prepare herself for the day when she must leave her home and country for His, and that they would be united in all the glory and bliss of heaven, and there make their abode in His Father's house. Yet, with perfect understanding of the range and details of the prophetic Word, He could look beyond these things to His second advent, and to the throne of David to which His genealogy bore incontrovertible testimony that He alone had the title. And in the parables spoken that day He disclosed His fore-knowledge, both of the means by which His earthly realm would ultimately be peopled, and of the way in which all that which was incongruous would finally be removed from it.
We have now to follow the King in His movements subsequent to the death of His forerunner, Matt. 14. 12, since they evidently have a great bearing on His remaining parables. For the first time He goes away to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, 15. 21. There the Canaanite woman's great faith causes Him to show His power towards her daughter, albeit He had told her that He was not sent "but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel", 15. 24. Soon after this He came into the borders of Caesarea Philippi, 16. 13, and while there elicited from Simon Peter the confession demonstrating that His Father had now made known to men the glorious truth, that the rejected King and despised Nazarene is none other than the Messiah, the Son of the living God, 16. 16. "From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem", 16. 21. From this point in Matthew's record we learn that His sufferings precede His glories; that His cross comes before His crown. The two comings of the Son of Man are also contrasted for the first time: "For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father", 16. 27; "For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost", 18. 11. What is connected with each coming is clearly stated, and we shall do well not to lose sight of it as we give ear to the next two parables spoken to illustrate the characteristic grace belonging to "your Father", 18. 14; and the just government which shall be exercised by "my father", 18. 35.
The Lost Sheep, 18. 12-14, *s a utt^e parable beautifully illustrating the value that the Father sets on "little ones". Children are exceedingly precious to Him. They epitomize humility, and consequently point the way to becoming great in the kingdom of heaven, 18. 4; in heaven their angels always behold His face, v. 10; out of their mouths He has perfected praise, 21.16. This parable shows that, just as a shepherd must find a lost lamb, so the Father in heaven could not rest until He had made full provision for the recovery of all on earth who had strayed away from Him. The work of the Good Shepherd on the cross, which alone secures grace for the humble and obedient, is not enlarged on. But, surely, the shepherd's lonely search even "unto the mountains", r.v., suggests it.
The Unmerciful Servant, 18. 23-35. In contrast to the former parable, which is a true-to-life picture of the man who cared for every one of his sheep amid the well known dangers of the Galilean countryside, this one vividly portrays a situation, which a subjugated people like the Jews would readily appreciate. A visit from a puppet monarch of their Roman overlords could mean for them either the discharge of debtors, or their imprisonment, according to his fickle mood at the time. Thus the seventh similitude of the kingdom of heaven in this Gospel was spoken to emphasize the need for mercy to be shown by those who obtained divine mercy. For, just as in the kingdom the merciful shall obtain mercy, 5. 7, so the unmerciful shall know no mercy. Neither will the King's eye pity, nor His sword spare, when He rises up in that day to exercise justice.
The recounting of these two parables marked the last words spoken by the King in Galilee before going to Jerusalem to die. Thereafter we read, "he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan", 19. 1. The shadow of the cross had already fallen across His path. With little more than a week to live, and each moment bringing Him nearer His "hour", who can begin to know the extent of His soul's trouble? Perhaps we too readily tend to think of His sorrows in terras of His passion, but would not the previously known horror of that passion, so minutely recorded in the Scriptures, have increasingly burdened His spirit every step of His way? Notwithstanding the certainty of it, His strength of purpose, His zeal, His delight in doing His Father's will, never waned. It is in full view then of the end, that the remaining parables were spoken (see the table in Paper 1). Four lead up to the moment when His foes were silenced for good, 22. 46; six more follow His departure from the temple for the last time before its destruction. God willing, the sixth paper in this series will attempt an explanation of the next four parables in their setting.