I love a good story. However, I have found that most stories, especially more recent ones, are not that good. Truly good stories are typically very old. They have stood the test of time. They not only communicate to our intellects and connect our hearts to their characters, but they also reach the very depths of our souls. Good stories make us laugh and cry. They challenge us and comfort us. They do not leave us unchanged.
Not long ago, I finished reading Victor Hugo’s classic Les Misérables. As soon as I placed the book back on the shelf, I felt compelled to read it again, for only after reading the book did I feel as if I understood all that Hugo was communicating from the first page. Good stories are like that. Thoughtful storytellers provide thoughtful readers with a lens through which they can see the story’s overarching message. Once readers see it, they want to read the story all over again, because they now grasp what the story is all about. They feel as if they have unlocked its code and as if they were even a part of the story.
We as believers love Jesus’ parables not simply because they are good stories well told but because the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes, ears, and hearts to understand their message.
This is one reason children love to read the same bedtime stories over and over again, and it is why we as Christians love to read the Bible over and over again. But how many times have you heard an unbeliever or a professing atheist say something such as, “I’ve read the Bible once, and I knew it wasn’t for me”? When I hear that, I want to respond, “In truth, you’ve actually never read the Bible.” They may have read the words, but they didn’t have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the heart to perceive what the Author of the Bible is communicating. They could not understand the Author’s overarching message, so they had no desire to read it again.
Jesus was the master storyteller who, as prophesied in Psalm 78 (see Matt. 13:35), often taught using parables to illustrate His overarching message. He did this for at least two reasons: to confound those who rejected Him and to enlighten those who received Him (Mark 4:11–12). If someone finds all of Jesus’ stories confounding, it is because our sovereign God has not given him the eyes to see, the ears to hear, or the heart to perceive the saving truth of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
However, we as believers love Jesus’ parables not simply because they are good stories well told but because the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes, ears, and hearts to understand their message. We identify with the characters in His parables, and we want to hear them time and time again as we forever rest in our Father’s prodigal love for us.
Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is cotranslator and coeditor of A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin.