Sickles were used to harvest gain as far back as the Neolithic era.
Sickles were used to harvest gain as far back as the Neolithic era. Illustrator unknown.

We conclude our study of Jesus' parables with a set of parables closely related to Jesus' core mission, "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). Jesus doesn't just want the disciples who follow him adopt his values, to become like him. He is also training his disciples to carry on his mission on earth.

12.1 A Heart for the Lost

12.2 Workers in the Harvest

12.3 Witnessing to the Lost

12.4 Teaching the Kingdom

12.1 A Heart for the Lost

Jesus provides a number of analogies and comparisons that teach us to love lost people like he does.

Analogy of the Doctor and the Sick (Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31; §53)

(Also called the Parable of the Great Physician)

The first we'll consider is the Analogy of the Doctor and the Sick. The context of this gem is the occasion of the conversion of Levi/Matthew, a tax collector who becomes a disciple of Jesus, one of the Twelve. Luke lays the scene for us.

"Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them." (Luke 5:29)

Tax Collectors and Sinners

As we learned when we studied the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Lesson 9.1), tax collectors were hated. They collected taxes for the Romans and had a reputation for overcharging and cheating. Levi is wealthy, so he can afford to put on a "great banquet" for Jesus at his rather large home. He invites "a large crowd" of his friends. Since no self-respecting Jew would befriend a tax collector, his friends are other tax collectors, and those in town of questionable morals and character, the outcasts of reputable society.

Jesus is severely criticized by the strict, proud Pharisees for eating with such a collection of "sinners." To associate with them, they thought, was a sign that Jesus approved of their lifestyle. Matthew continues the story:

"When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'" (Matthew 9:11)

Similarly, when Zacchaeus the "chief tax collector" of Jericho invites him to a meal, Jesus enemies mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'" On that occasion, Jesus responded, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:7, 10).

Healing the Sin-Sick Soul

Jesus turns to the scribes and Pharisees and responds to their criticism:

"12 It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."1 (Matthew 9:12-13)

The Analogy of the Doctor and the Sick is a simple metaphor. Jesus doesn't come for those who see themselves as righteous. As an African-American spiritual puts it, he comes to "heal the sin-sick soul."2

If all were righteous, spiritually healthy, Doctor Jesus would have no necessity to pay a house call. But because we are not so righteous after all, because our souls are troubled and besmirched by compromise -- because of all this, we desperately need Jesus to come and call us to something better than the filth we may be living in. We need him to call us to our best.

Mercy, not Sacrifice (Matthew 9:13)

Look at verse 13 again.

"Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:13)

Jesus is quoting the Old Testament prophet Hosea:

"For I desire mercy,
not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God
rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6)

The prophet speaks out God's frustration with both the northern and southern kingdoms (Ephraim and Judah), who claim that they loved God and go through the motions of religious observance, but have actually broken God's covenant and are unfaithful. They had kept the religious observances, but had lost the moral basis of a loving God.3 David and the prophets say much the same thing.4 As Tasker puts it, "It was mercy that found favor with God, not sacrifices offered by those who felt themselves to be morally superior."5

Jesus is saying that the Pharisees think they know the law, but they do not know God or God's heart of compassion for the lost. They honor God with their lips, Jesus says, "but their hearts are far from me."6 Jesus desires "mercy, not sacrifice" -- grace, not a sense of religious superiority over the lost.

Q56. (Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6) What does Jesus mean when he tells his disciples, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice"? What attitude did the Pharisees have towards sinners? What attitude did Jesus have toward sinners? What attitude do you have toward sinners? What is the role of a spiritual doctor?

Analogies of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 9:36; 10:5-6; 15:24; John 10:16)

Jesus' Analogies of the Lost Sheep also show us his heart. We began our study with the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Lesson 1.1) and later studied Parables of the Good Shepherd and the Sheep Gate (Lesson 7.4). In these we see the affection and sense of responsibility that a good shepherd has for his sheep. Beyond these, however, Jesus offers a number of analogies of "lost sheep," an analogy with deep roots in the Prophets.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray...." (Isaiah 53:6)

"My people have been lost sheep;
their shepherds have led them astray.... " (Jeremiah 50:6)

"They were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals." (Ezekiel 34:5)

Like Sheep without a Shepherd (Matthew 9:36)

Jesus' analogy is similar.

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36)

They are lost because their leaders, their shepherds, have failed them. The Jewish leaders have not guided them well or cared for them as we saw in Jesus' Parables of the Good Shepherd and the Sheep Gate (Lesson 7.4).

The people are harassed or dejected. "Harassed" can mean "weary" as well as "maltreated, molested, troubled."7 And they are also "helpless." This is from a word that means "to lie down," used of animals lying on the ground, perhaps "dejected."8 Jesus sees them like a herd of sheep in bad condition. His heart bleeds for them. The KJV catches the idea when it says, "He was moved with compassion."9

Peter picks up on this theme in his First Epistle:

"For you were like sheep going astray,
but now you have returned
to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1 Peter 2:25)

There is no startling lesson, since this isn't a parable-story with a point. It is, however, a powerful analogy that explains Jesus' view of his mission and the state of the people he is seeking to bring to his Father.

The Lost Sheep of the House of Israel (Matthew 10:6; 15:24)

On two occasions the phrase, "the lost sheep of the house10 of Israel" differentiates Israelites from other ethnic groups.11

Upon sending out the Twelve: "5b Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 10:5b-6, ESV)

To the Syrophoenician Woman: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 15:24, ESV).

In these two verses, Jesus seems to be referring to the Jewish people as a whole.12 Jesus is the Jews' Messiah first, sent to them in fulfillment of promises made to David a thousand years before. Only when the Jewish leaders reject their Messiah does the door of salvation open to the Gentiles (see the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Lesson 2.3), as Paul puts it, "first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Romans 1:16).

Sheep of another Sheep Fold (John 10:16)

Notice that Jesus anticipates his flock expanding in the future.

"I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring13 them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." (John 10:16)

Who are the "other sheep that are not of this sheep pen"? Clearly, these are sheep that are not found in Judaism, but Gentiles who will come to faith in the future. Jesus' heart goes out to "lost sheep."

Q57. (Matthew 9:36) Why is Jesus' heartbroken over lost sheep? Who are the lost sheep of your community? Of the mission fields that you know about? What is your attitude toward them?

12.2 Workers in the Harvest

Fields are white for harvest.
Fields are white for harvest.

Now let's examine a series of parables and analogies having to do with outreach that use the agricultural images of sowing and harvest. We've already seen such images in the Parable of the Sower (Lesson 8.1), the Parable of the Weeds or Tares (Lesson 4.2), and the Parable of the Seed Growing by Itself (Lesson 7.1). Now let's consider some additional uses of these images.

Analogy of the Harvest and the Laborers (Matthew 9:37-38, §58; Luke 10:2, §139)

Jesus' metaphor of the Harvest and the Laborers is given in two different contexts, indicating to me that he probably said these words on a number of occasions. In Luke, Jesus says this when sending out the Seventy two-by-two on a preaching mission to the villages and towns he would later visit himself.

The Harvest Is Plentiful (Matthew 9:37; Luke 10:2)

But I want us to consider these words in Matthew's context, since it gives us a glimpse into Jesus' broken heart for the lost. We just looked at this passage above with the phrase "sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). Jesus sees the masses of people in town after town that are in such desperate spiritual need. He continues:

"37 The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Matthew 9:37-38)

In the agrarian economy of Palestine, harvest was an ever-present reality. It isn't surprising that the idea of harvest is used not only for bringing men and women to faith in Christ, but also for a final gathering of God's people at the end of the age (See Appendix 5. The Great Messianic Banquet).14 But here, Jesus has in mind an immediate harvest.

Fields are typically planted so that the whole field will become ripe about the same time. Seldom would you go into a field or orchard for selective picking. Rather, when the field is ripe you'd hire a number of harvesters and reap the whole field at one time.

Having too few workers at harvest time can be a disaster. The crop can rot in the field unless workers are available at the right time in sufficient numbers, and are willing to work very hard for this concentrated harvest season. Farmers get some rest in the winter, but the long summer harvest season often sees them working night and day. It is hot, sweaty, muscle-aching work.

Jesus' own workforce of sowers and harvesters has grown from 12 to now 70. (As mentioned above, Jesus also said these words at the sending out of the Seventy.)

Ask the Lord of the Harvest to Send Out Workers (Matthew 9:38)

It is hard to find committed workers.

"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few." (Matthew 9:37)

Immediately, Jesus gives his answer to the problem of too few workers

"Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out15 workers into his harvest field." (Matthew 9:38)

Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray to God, the Lord of the Harvest, for workers. Why? Because soon, Jesus will be in heaven and the apostles and their associates will be the harvest foremen in need of workers.

How does this process of recruiting harvesters work? Men can recruit workers, the best workers respond to an inner call from God, an inner sense that God himself wants them to be involved in an aspect of his work. Those who continue as workers are the ones who do so from a sense of calling, rather than having their arm twisted or doing a favor to me or to another leader.

Prayer must be our prime recruitment technique, preceding any other invitation to the work. That is Jesus' pattern. Before he appoints the Twelve Apostles, he spends the night in prayer (Luke 6:12). Human leaders may be the instruments in God's hands, but God is the moving force. Ultimately, it is the Lord of the harvest who sends out men and women as workers, not the foreman. The foreman merely directs the workers that the master hires and sends.

Analogy of Fields White for Harvest (John 4:35)

We see a similar figure of speech referring to spiritually needy people who are clearly not of "the house of Israel" to whom Jesus has been specifically sent (Matthew 10:6; 15:24). They are Samaritans.

John's Analogy of Fields White for Harvest is similar to the Synoptics' Analogy of the Harvest and the Laborers. As we saw in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lesson 11.3), the Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated the Jews with equal enmity.

Jesus and his band of disciples are traveling through Samaria and have stopped at Jacob's well. The disciples go into the nearby village of Sychar to get food, while Jesus has an encounter with a Samaritan woman at the well, leading her to faith (John 4:1-30).

When the disciples return, Jesus isn't interested in eating. Rather, he says:

"My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." (John 4:34)

Jesus sees the tremendous spiritual needs of Samaria itself, so he shares this passion with his disciples.

"Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." (John 4:34)

It isn't yet the season of harvest; harvest is still four months off. But Jesus asks his disciples to look beyond the natural harvest that isn't ready, to the spiritual harvest that is indeed ripe! He has just brought a Samaritan woman to faith, and knows that she will bring the whole town, many of whom will become believers as well (John 4:39-42). Jesus tells his disciples, "Open your eyes" (NIV), "look around you" (NRSV), "lift up your eyes" (ESV, KJV). So often we are blind to the spiritual state of others, such as their state of readiness to receive Christ. Jesus tells his disciples to become alert to the readiness of the harvest. When Jesus speaks of "harvesting the crop for eternal life" (verse 30), he is talking about bringing people from unbelief to faith and from sin and destruction to eternal life.16

Analogy of the Sowers and Reapers (John 4:36-38)

Jesus continues the harvest analogy by focusing on the importance of all the jobs related to the harvest -- and the disciples' part in it.

"36 Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying 'One sows and another reaps' is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor." (John 4:36-38)

Jesus refers to a popular proverb of the day: "One sows and another reaps."

In Jesus' analogy, both sower and reaper are glad, because when the harvest comes in the workers get paid! -- the sower (usually the farmer himself) and the reapers (often temporary workers hired to bring in the harvest quickly). Who sowed the seed that resulted in the spiritual harvest of this Samaritan town? Perhaps the Old Testament prophets or the Father, who prepared them for this hour.

To the Corinthian church that was tearing down one preacher to exalt another, the Apostle Paul used a similar analogy:

"What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe -- as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor." (1 Corinthians 3:5-8)

Whether your ministry is primarily to sow (share your faith, testify, preach), to water (encourage people on their faith journey), or to reap (lead people to Christ), all are important -- and when the harvest comes in, everyone will "get paid," that is, receive our reward.

Q58. (Matthew 9:37-38; John 4:35-38) Where in your region does the harvest seem most ripe, that is, where people are most receptive to the gospel? Do you see yourself mainly as a sower or a reaper? Why is there such a shortage of reapers? Would you be willing to be a reaper, if Jesus helps you?

Analogies of the Sheep and Wolves, Serpents and Doves (Matthew 10:16, §58; Luke 10:3, §139)

As Jesus sends out his laborers into the harvest, he uses analogies of sheep and wolves, serpents and doves. Matthew's citation is at the sending out of the Twelve. Luke's is at the sending out of the Seventy.

"I am sending17 you out like sheep among wolves.
Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16)

"Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves." (Luke 10:3)

Sheep, of course, are vulnerable animals that are often prey to wolves.18 Jesus knows that the preaching of his message will bring his disciples ferocious attacks from enemies who will seek to silence them by any means.

"'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." (John 15:20)

He tells his followers to expect persecution and not be intimidated by it.19 Sheep among wolves.

Because he knows this is coming, he switches to another pair of analogies.

"Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16b)

Snakes20 are sometimes symbols of deceit and lurking danger. Their venom is deadly. Satan is identified as a serpent,21 as are the Pharisees and Sadducees.22 The disciples, however, are to take on a serpent's legendary craftiness, cleverness, and shrewdness,23 not the serpent's threat of attack. Rather, they are to be as harmless as doves.24 They are not to win people over by force, but by truth and love.

We will not survive long as Christian workers unless we stay very close to the Shepherd for our protection and strength. We are not supermen. We are very vulnerable to Satan's attack and therefore we must continually rely upon Jesus' strength rather than our own.

12.3 Witnessing to the Lost

We have been examining Jesus' parables and analogies about caring for the lost. Now let's look at his parables concerning a disciple's witness.

Analogy of Sparrows (Matthew 10:29-30, §60; Luke 12:6-7, §155)

One fear we have of witnessing is the adverse reaction of the people we are witnessing to. Indeed, the disciples had reason to fear physical violence against them or even death. They refuse to accept it, but Jesus knows he will soon be crucified. Jesus seeks to allay their fears.

Your opponents can only kill the body, he tells them. Don't fear men; rather, fear God who is the final Judge (Matthew 10:26-28). And, of course, he can usher you into his Kingdom!

Now he gives a brief comparison, an analogy, to help his disciples understand God's love and care for them.

"29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?25 And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from26 your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:29-31, ESV)

Jesus refers to sparrows, but not just regular sparrows -- "little sparrows."27 Sparrows and other wild birds were sold in the marketplace for food.28 There isn't much meat on a little sparrow, of course -- that is why the price is so very low. Nevertheless, for the very poorest person, it provided a bit of protein.

But small as these little birds are, not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. He knows and cares for them! To underscore his point, Jesus says, "Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered." Jesus wants us to know that God knows us intimately. We are not identified in his records merely as a "soul registration number," but as a person who is distinct and about which he knows every minute detail -- and still loves us!

Jesus uses the argument of the smaller to the greater here. If the cheapest little sparrows are not forgotten by God, how much more he remembers you, who "are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:31). We are to speak the word of God fearlessly, knowing that God values us greatly and will take care of us forever!

Analogy of Fishers of Men (Matthew 4:18-20; Mark 1:16-18; §11; Luke 5:10-11, §17)

Stories of the call of Peter and the disciples are very familiar to us.

"18b They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen (halieus).
19 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers (halieus) of men.' 20 At once they left their nets and followed him." (Matthew 4:18-20)

The phrase "fishers29 of men" is a simple comparison. In the same way that they used to catch fish, now they will catch men.

Luke has a wonderful turn of phrase that follows the miraculous catch of fish.

"From now on you will be catching men." (Luke 5:10b)

The verb used here is nearly unique in the New Testament: zōgreō, "to capture alive" or "to spare life," and it builds on the idea of fish being taken alive in the nets.30 Peter had been catching fish to kill and sell them. But now he will be taking men alive to give them liberty.31 Catch and release to freedom in Christ!

Analogy of the Savorless Salt (Matthew 5:13, §20; Mark 9:50; Luke 14:34-35, §171)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew groups together three parables on witness. For this reason, we'll follow Matthew's order as we study them. They occur immediately after the Beatitudes that end with predictions of persecution for those who stand up for Jesus, no doubt as an encouragement to witness no matter what the threat.

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men." (Matthew 5:13)

A proper amount of salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) is essential to sustain life, so ancient peoples traded whatever was required to obtain it. In Palestine, most salt was mined from salt caves around the Dead Sea. Both ancient and modern peoples have used salt as both (1) a food preservative and (2) to bring out the flavor of foods.

Preservative or Seasoning?

What does it mean to be "the salt of the earth"?

Preservative. If we use the preservative analogy, we would say that Christians by their very presence help preserve the world and hold back the wrath of God against it. We think of Abraham arguing with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:25, 23, 32) and God's quest for a man to "stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land" (Ezekiel 22:30).

But our presence is not only a shield against the wrath of God upon the earth. We also serve as those who by their wholesome presence bring about change and healing in a corrupt society. For example, historians credit the fearless preaching of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield for saving England from its drunkenness and sin. This awakened conscience was responsible for the final prohibition of the slave trade in England.

Seasoning. While it is true that ancient peoples used salt as a preservative, a search of the Bible for this use of salt comes up nearly empty.32 There is much more mention of salt being used as seasoning, and in the parable we are studying, Jesus seems to be referring more to salt's taste than its effects.

Salt was used with sacrifices as a way of honoring the King to whom the sacrifices were made.33 Salt was also used in the making of covenants.34 We read of its ability to add flavor to food.35 Paul writes,

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned36 with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6).

Here, as in Jesus' parable of Christians being the salt of the earth, salt has to do with witness and conversation.

I believe that the primary meaning of "You are the salt of the earth" has to do with a willingness to live our lives with the "tang" of our faith intact. We are under so much pressure to soft-pedal our distinct faith in Christ in order to blend in with society. Believers are to be "tangy," yet gracious, rather than bland and insipid.

Impurities in Salt

The salt the Israelites obtained was often impure, mixed with alkali salts from around the Dead Sea. Water could leach out the sodium chloride, leaving the other salts intact. It still looked like salt, but tasted insipid. This seems to be the basis of Jesus' warning about salt losing its saltiness. The essential Christ-inspired difference in our lives can be leached out by the constant flow of the world's values through our lives.37

If we no longer stand boldly and faithfully for Christ and Christian values, we become worthless to him as disciples. Less than worthless, in fact, since by our mild claims of our Christianity, we act as a counterfeit of the real salt. Worthless, insipid, tangy-less salt is good for nothing except for throwing on the pathway to keep the grass from growing on it. Would you rather be a grass killer or a food enhancer?

Analogy of the City on a Hill (Matthew 5:14; §20)

The next parables in this series on the Sermon on the Mount involve visibility. Jesus says:

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden." (Matthew 5:14)

Cities were usually situated on hilltops for protection against attack. It is much more difficult to storm a walled city while attacking uphill. Defenders have always known that victory is achieved by capturing and holding the high ground. Jesus' point, however, is not a city's defense, but its visibility. You can't hide a city built on a hilltop, though you can certainly defend it.

At first glance, Jesus' saying about, "You are the light of the world," doesn't seem to go with his short analogy of a city on a hill. Before electricity, cities weren't lit up at night, except perhaps by some torches or small flickering lamps behind the city walls. But what connects "the light of the world" and the city set on a hill is visibility. These are both images of visibility. Christians are not to be hidden away. They are to be visible, not blending in, but distinct from the world. This and the next parable are to be metaphors of uncompromising witness.

Analogy of the Lamp under a Bushel (Matthew 5:15, §20; Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16-17, §94; Luke 11:33; §153)

(Also known as the Parable of the Lamp under a Bowl)

Jesus told the Analogy of the Lamp under a Bushel in various contexts, as we'll see. The Gospels show us at least three distinct lessons that Jesus taught from it.

The Light of the World

Jesus tells his disciples (in Matthew only), "You are the light38 of the world" (Matthew 5:14) -- a simple metaphor. The concept of light and darkness are often used in the Bible to contrast righteousness vs. wickedness, life vs. death, truth vs. lies.39 We explore this theme further in Analogies of Walking in Light and Darkness (Appendix 4.1). But here, by declaring the disciples "the light of the world," Jesus is saying that by your presence and witness and deeds people will see truth that can set them free.

True Israel was designed to display God's truth and goodness throughout the whole world, to be "a light for the Gentiles" (Isaiah 49:6b). Whereas this commission had once been given to the nation of Israel, it is now passed on to the people of the Messiah, the citizens of the Kingdom of God. It is our commission!

"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you." (Isaiah 60:1)

We are to be salt for the world and light for the world -- to the glory of God!

Placement of a Lamp

Byzantine period oil lamp, found in tomb in Samaria, village of Fandaqomiya (Pentacomia)
Byzantine period oil lamp, found in tomb in Samaria, village of Fandaqomiya (Pentacomia). Photo: Thameen Darby.

Now that Jesus has established the disciples' importance as witnesses of Jesus' Kingdom, he carries the image further to the placement of a lamp.

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house." (Matthew 5:14-15)

In Jesus' day, homes were commonly lit by small clay lamps that could be held in the palm of the hand. The most primitive consisted of a saucer to hold the olive oil, in which was immersed one end of a wick that lay in an indentation or spout in the rim. Later, clay lamps were sometimes covered, with a hole in the top in which to pour the oil, and a hole at one side for the wick. (Incidentally, don't be confused by the KJV translation of Greek lychnos, "lamp," as "candle." The word is best translated "lamp.")

Now Jesus contrasts the way that the lamp might be displayed once you've lighted it.

Do not put a lamp ....

Do put a lamp ...

Under a bushel basket40 (Matthew 5:14-15; Mark 4:21; Luke 11:33)  

On a stand41 (Matthew 5:14-15; Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16; 11:33)

Under a vessel42 (Luke 8:16)
Under a bed43 (Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16)
In a cellar44 (Luke 11:33)
Peck basket, about 11 inches (28 cm.) in diameter and about 12 inches (30 cm.) height.
The 'bushel basket' (modios) described would probably hold about one peck (8.75 liters or 2.3 gallons). Pictured is a modern peck basket, about 11 inches (28 cm.) in diameter and about 12 inches (30 cm.) height.

You don't put a lamp under something to hide its light. That is silly! Rather you elevate it on a lamp stand or perhaps hang it from the ceiling rafters so that it provides the greatest possible illumination within a room.

1. Live Open, Righteous Lives that Give Glory to God (Matthew 5:16)

"In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

Sometimes people place a false dichotomy between words and deeds. "I testify to my faith in God by the way I live," some say defiantly. "I don't have to say anything."

I agree that we must live lives that bring credit upon Jesus or our words won't be taken seriously. They will be laughed at as hypocrisy, thrown back in our face, and become a cause of greater unbelief on the part of those who watch us.

But deeds without words tell only half the story. Our witness must consist of both deeds and words that point to God the Father and bring glory to him. What a privilege we have to be the agents of evoking praise to our Father in heaven!

2. Truth Cannot Ultimately Be Hidden (Mark 4:22-25; Luke 8:16-18)

Jesus teaches a second truth from the image of the lamp out in the open rather than being hidden.

"16 No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 17 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him." (Luke 8:16-18)

This is a simple comparison. Just as you put a lamp in the open to shed its light to all, so nothing will be hidden on Judgment Day. As a result, listen carefully and put what you know into practice. Those who do, will understand more; those who don't, will lose what they think they have. We cannot live double lives; we must live the truths we know!

Q59. (Matthew 5:13-14) Why is a sharp and tasty witness so important? What is a bland witness to Jesus? How do we stay "salty"? Why are people tempted to hide their "light" or witness? What does Jesus say about that?

12.4 Teaching the Kingdom

Parable of the Scribes of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:51-52, §103)

(Also known as the Parable of the Householder)

We conclude our study of Jesus' parables with a parable placed by Matthew at the end his "parables chapter." Jesus has just explained to his disciples the meaning of the Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-50).

"51 'Have you understood all these things?' Jesus asked.

'Yes,' they replied.

52 He said to them, 'Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.'" '(Matthew 13:51-52)

The term "teacher of the law" (NIV), "scribe" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is unexpected, since in Jesus' day, the scribes were Jesus' enemies, though the word "scribe" itself didn't have negative connotations. In secular Greek grammateus is the title of a high official. In Judaism it usually refers to "specialists in the law of Moses: experts in the law, scholars versed in the law, scribes," here by extension, "an interpreter of teaching, scribe, instructor."45 Scribes in Judaism were "responsible for making decisions in courts of law; they taught the Torah to their students; and they expounded the meaning and application of the Torah."46

The great post-exilic reformer Ezra is described as "the priest, the scribe, a man learned in matters of the commandments of the Lord and his statutes for Israel" (Ezra 7:11). Like Nicodemus and the Apostle Paul, scribes were trained by being disciples of leading rabbis for several years. Then they were qualified as Torah scholars, trained in the application of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) to everyday life.

Later in Matthew's Gospel, the word "scribe" is applied to Jesus' disciples themselves. To the leaders of the Jews, who have made themselves enemies of the Messiah, Jesus says:

"I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town." (Matthew 23:34, ESV)

Cross-Trained Disciples

Jesus uses a curious phrase that could be translated, "a scribe discipled for the kingdom of heaven." The word translated "instructed" or "trained" is the verb form of the common noun translated "disciples."47 In Matthew 13, Jesus has been training or discipling his disciples by telling parables and then explaining parables to his disciples. He asks them, "Do you understand what I've been teaching you?" and they respond positively.

Only then he says to them,

"Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." (Matthew 13:42, ESV)

A regular scribe in Jesus' day was trained to interpret the Torah. But the disciples are "scribes trained for the Kingdom," equipped to interpret the Torah correctly, as tutored by the Messiah himself.

"Cross-training" began as a term used of military special forces members who might be trained in several different disciplines so they become proficient in each -- weapons, medic, and explosives, or weapons, sniper, communications. In sports, cross-training is athletic training in sports other than one's usual sport. In fitness, cross training is employing fitness practices from several disciplines. CrossFit gyms, for example, train members in Olympic weight training, rope climbing, running, rowing, as well as normal push-ups, pull-ups, jumping jacks, and burpees.

Both Old and New

Jesus cross-trains his disciples with a knowledge of both the Old Testament Scriptures and how to walk in the Spirit, preach, heal, witness, and teach the "new wine" of the gospel. A kingdom-trained scribe is:

"... Like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." (verse 52)

Safe is a modern-day treasure chestImagine a wealthy farmer whose household consists of his immediate family as well as several servants.48 Every wealthy man would have a secure storeroom kept locked at all times. Or a chest-type lock box where valuables could be secured.49 (Today, we would call it a "safe.") To show off to his guest, he brings out of his storeroom some old family heirlooms handed down from his grandfather's time, as well as a few of his new acquisitions, such as a beautiful gold broach studded with emeralds imported from Corinth for his wife to wear on special occasions. Some old treasures, and some new ones also.

The Kingdom-trained scribe isn't just able to expound on and apply the Torah. He or she also is able to listen for God's voice, heal the sick, explain the gospel of salvation in simple terms, and comfort the hurting.

My friend, Jesus has you in training to be a scribe of the Kingdom, competent in the Scriptures as well as in sharing the Good News and ministering to the needy. Don't skip his training, or just rush through it. He wants you to be well-equipped to represent his Kingdom.

Jesus' Parables for Disciples, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles50 the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)

Aspire to teach the Scriptures carefully and accurately.

Q60. (Matthew 13:51-52) What is the "old" that the householder brings out of his treasure box? What is the "new." In what way must we disciples be "cross-trained" as scribes of the Kingdom?

This concludes our study of Jesus' parables. There are a few more in Appendix 4 that you might consider as well. I encourage you -- don't leave these parables behind, but ponder them, talk about them with your Christian friends, extract from them all the juice of Jesus' disciple-forming teaching. Turn them over in your mind, seek not only to understand them, but to walk in their truths, that you might be a well-equipped disciple, a "scribe trained for the Kingdom."


Father, we know that Jesus has a passionate heart for the harvest. Too often we are complacent about reaching others for Christ. Rather than being disciples who follow Jesus in this, we ignore his teaching and leading. Renew in us a zeal for you and your work, for the lost and for the harvest for which Jesus died. In His holy name, we pray. Amen.


References and Abbreviations

[1] Luke adds the words "to repentance."

[2] The phrase is from a wonderful African-American spiritual, "There Is a Balm in Gilead."

[3] "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6, NIV). "Steadfast love" (ESV, NRSV), "mercy" (NIV, KJV) is the Hebrew noun hesed, is one of the words God uses to describe his steadfast love, mercy, and lovingkindness. This is parallel to "Acknowledgement of God" (NIV), "knowledge" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) using the noun daʿat, "knowledge," from the very broadly used noun yādaʿ, "to know" in every sense. I believe that the NIV's "acknowledge" is a poor translation in this context. Rather the word means here "knowledge of = acquaintance with God" (Holladay 73, I, 3a). "Sacrifice" and "burnt offerings" are clearly used in parallel.

[4] Psalm 51:16-17; 40:6; 58:7-14; Proverbs 15:8; 21:27; Isaiah 1:11-15; Jeremiah 7:22-23; Amos 5:21-23; Mark 12:33; Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:16.

[5] R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries; Eerdmans, 1961), p. 97.

[6] Matthew 15:8, quoting Isaiah 29:13.

[7] "Harassed" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "fainted" (KJV) is skyllō, originally, "flay, skin," then "weary, harass," here in the passive, "dejected" (BDAG 933, 1). In classical Greek it can mean "maltreat, molest" as well as "trouble, annoy" (Liddell-Scott 1617, meanings 2 and 3).

[8] "Helpless" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "scattered abroad" (KJV) is rhiptō, here, with no connotation of violence, "put/lay something down." It can be used of an animal lying on the ground. Here, "they were distressed and dejected" (BDAG 906, 2).

[9] "Had compassion" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "moved with compassion" (KJV) is splanchnizomai, "have pity, feel sympathy" (BDAG 938), from splanchnon, "inward parts, entrails," seen in the ancient world as the seat of the emotions.

[10] The NIV excludes the words "the house of," presuming that the term Israel conveys the idea well enough by itself. In the New Testament outside of the Gospels, the term "house of Israel" appears also in Acts 2:36; 7:42; Hebrews 8:8, 10, mostly in quotations of Old Testament texts.

[11] "The lost sheep of the house of Israel" is used only in Matthew, a gospel intended for Jewish readers.

[12] "The lost sheep of the house of Israel" doesn't seem to refer to Jewish sinners in particular, as when he uses the phrase, "to seek and to save the lost" with regard to tax collectors and sinners (Luke 19:10), in the Analogy of the Doctor and Sick (Lesson 12.1), and in the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Lesson 1.1).

[13] "Bring" is agō, "lead, bring, lead off, lead away" (BDAG 16, 1a).

[14] Matthew 13:39; Revelation 14:15.

[15] "Send out" is ekballō. At the root level, the word means "to throw out," then, "force to leave, drive out, expel," literally, "'throw out' more or less forcibly." Here it has the idea, "to cause to go or remove from a position (without force), send out/away, release, bring out" (BDAG 299, 2).

[16] A number of Christian hymns use this kind of language, such as "Bringing in the Sheaves" and "Come Ye Thankful People Come."

[17] "Sending" (Matthew 10:16; Luke 10:3) is apostellō, "to dispatch someone for the achievement of some objective, send away/out" (BDAG 120, 1bβ).

[18] "Sheep" is the plural of probaton, "sheep" (BDAG 866). "Lambs" is the plural of arēn, "lamb" as an animal for slaughter, here as a type of weakness (BDAG 130). Used only in this passage in the New Testament. "Wolves" is the plural lukos, "wolf" (BDAG 604, 1).

[19] Matthew 10:22--25; 24:9; Luke 21:12--19; John 16:2.

[20] "Serpents" (NIV, ESV, KJV), "snakes" (NRSV) is the plural of ophis, "a limbless reptile, snake, serpent," here as a symbol of cleverness (BDAG 744, 1).

[21] Genesis 3; Revelation 12:9; 20:2.

[22] Matthew 3:7; 12:34; 23:33; Luke 3:7.

[23] "Wise" (ESV, NRSV, KJV), "shrewd" (NIV) is phronimos, "pertaining to understanding associated with insight and wisdom, sensible, thoughtful, prudent, wise" (BDAG 1063).

[24] "Innocent" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "harmless" (KJV) is akeraios, "unmixed," figuratively, "pure, innocent" (BDAG 35). The KJV follows the Western Text (D) in using instead the adjective aplous, "single, without guile, sincere, straightforward," that is, without a hidden agenda (BDAG 104). "Doves" is the plural of peristera, "pigeon, dove" (BDAG 806).

[25] "Penny" is assarion, "a Roman copper coin worth about one-sixteenth of a denarius," here "be sold for a paltry sum" (BDAG 145). Luke has five sparrows for two pennies -- a bargain!

[26] "Apart from" (ESV, NRSV), "without" (KJV). NIV renders this "apart from the will of your Father." But "will" is not in the text. This is the preposition aneu, "without," here, with the sense, "without the knowledge and consent of" (BDAG 78, a). So Liddell-Scott, p. 135. "Without one's will or intervention" (Thayer, p. 44).

[27] Strouthion, a diminutive form of strouthos, "sparrow" (BDAG 949; Marshall, Luke, p. 514).

[28] Marshall (Luke, p. 514) claims that "sparrows were not in fact eaten." However, Moulton and Milligan (p. 593) cite evidence of the sale of sparrows for food in antiquity. So also Morris, Matthew, p. 263, fn. 66; and Otto Bauernfeind, strouthion, TDNT 7:730-732.

[29] "Fishers" is the plural of halieus, "one whose occupation is catching fish, fisher" (BDAG 44), from hals, halos, "the sea." The word is used in the Septuagint and in Greek literature in the vocabulary of war and hunting.

[30] Zōgreō, BDAG 430; Green, Luke, pp. 234-235. The word also forms the title of a book on soul-winning by Charles Gallaudet Trumbull, Taking Men Alive (Revell, 1938, reprint of 1907 YMCA edition).

[31] The only other time the word is used in the New Testament is regarding helping people escape from "trap of the devil, who has taken them captive (zōgreō) to do his will" (2 Timothy 2:25-26). Men can either be live captives of Satan or freed servants of Jesus. Jesus "captures" men to free them.

[32] The apocryphal Epistle of Jeremiah speaks of women who preserve some of the meat sacrificed to idols: "As for the things that are sacrificed unto them, their priests sell and abuse; in like manner their wives lay up part thereof in salt; but unto the poor and impotent they give nothing of it" (part of Baruch 6:28). In the canonical scriptures we see salt to render land unusable (Judges 9:45), the rubbing of newborns with salt (to purify them? Ezekiel 16:4), Elisha's use of salt to sweeten or purify a spring and remove its poison (2 Kings 2:20-21).

[33] Leviticus 2:13; Ezra 6:9; Ezekiel 43:24.

[34] Numbers 18:19.

[35] Job 6:6.

[36] "Seasoned" is artuō, "to add condiments to something, to season, to salt" (BDAG 137).

[37] Friedrich Hauck, halas, TDNT 1:228-229; William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Daily Study Bible; Edinburgh: St. Andrews Press, 1956, 1958), volume 1, p. 115.

[38] "Light" is phōs, from which we get word "phosphorescent." Phōs is the generic word for "light" in contrast to darkness.

[39] God lives in "unapproachable light" and glory (1 Timothy 6:16). In John's Gospel, Jesus proclaims himself as "the Light of the world" (John 8:12).

[40] "Basket" (ESV), "bowl" (NIV), "bushel basket" (NRSV), "bushel" (KJV) is modios, a grain measure containing 16 sextarii = about 8.75 liters about 2.3 gallons, almost one peck, 'a peck measure' (Matthew 5:15; Mark 4:21; Luke 11:33) (BDAG 656). Also "a vessel of this capacity" (Liddell-Scott 1140, 2). ISBE (1:562) sees this as "perhaps a tub or bowl such as are used to measure grain," but if it were pottery, it would be quite heavy and bulky. I think this must be a basket. A modern peck basket is about 11 inches (28 cm.) in diameter and about 12 inches (30 cm.) high.

[41] "Stand" (NIV, ESV), "lampstand" (NRSV), "candlestick" (KJV) is luxnia, "lampstand" upon which lamps were placed or hung (BDAG 606).

[42] "Jar" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "vessel" (KJV) is skeuos, "A container of any kind, "vessel, jar, dish" (BDAG 927, 2).

[43] "Bed" is klinē, "bed, couch" (BDAG 549, 1).

[44] "Cellar" (ESV, NRSV), "a place where it will be hidden" (NIV), "in a secret place" (KJV) is kruptē, "a place for hiding or storing something, a dark and hidden place, a cellar" (BDAG 570).

[45] Grammateus, BDAG 206, 2b.

[46] D. A. Hagner, "Scribes," ISBE 4:360.

[47] "Instructed" (NIV, KJV), "trained" (ESV, NRSV) is mathēteuō, "to be a pupil," with implication of being an adherent of the teacher, here, "become a disciple" (BDAG 609, 1b). The verb is used three times in the New Testament. Much more common is the noun form, mathētēs, "disciple," used 260 times.

[48] "Owner of a house" (NIV), "master of a house/household" (ESV, NRSV), "householder" (KJV) is oikodespotēs, "master of the house, householder" (BDAG 695). Despotēs means "owner, master." We usually use the derived word "despot" in a negative sense, but the Greek didn't carry a negative implication.

[49] "Storeroom" (NIV), "treasure" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is thēsauros (from which we get our word "thesaurus"), "a place where something is kept for safekeeping, repository," here, "storehouse, storeroom" (BDAG 456, 1aβ), from thēsaurizō, "lay up, store up, gather, save." We also see this word in the Analogy of the Treasure Chest of the Heart, Lesson 10.1.

[50] "Handles/handling" (ESV, NIV), "explaining" (NRSV), "dividing" (KJV) is orthotomeō, "to cut straight," from ortho-, "straight" + temnō, "to cut." Here it would probably mean "to guide the word of truth along a straight path (like a road that goes straight to its goal)," without being turned aside by wordy debates or impious talk (BDAG 722). Moulton and Milligan discuss other meanings such as, "teach the word aright, expound (it) soundly, shape rightly, and preach fearlessly" (cited in BDAG 722).

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