Jesus’s ministry lasted three years and was filled with amazing teachings and events. What first comes to many people’s mind when they think of Jesus are His miracles and His parables. And because they play such a large role in His ministry, we will focus on them for part of this lesson. But since His friendships and conversations were such a large part of His ministry, we will also look at those. Jesus’s parables captivated people and His miracles demonstrated His power to heal people. But He was more than a miracle worker and teacher. He was a friend. He sat by a well and talked with a troubled woman. He lovingly forgave Peter for denying Him. He was a real person, and He cared about other people. He ministered through conversations and friendships as powerfully as He did through miracles and parables.
I. Jesus’s Miracles
Let’s talk, first of all, about Jesus’s miracles. We define a miracle as a work of God that transcends the ordinary powers of nature and reveals a divine truth.
II. Jesus’s Parables
A second major aspect of Jesus’s ministry is His parables. A parable is an imaginary story told in a way that could have happened. That’s the difference between a parable and a fable. If you read Aesop’s Fables, you probably are not afraid you will meet a Cyclops on a lonely road. We all realize no Cyclops exist because they only appear in a fable, which is an imaginary story that could not have happened. A parable is an imaginary story that could have happened.
Jesus used parables for an important reason. There was no actual good Samaritan named Fred. There was no actual prodigal son named Billy. Jesus told the good Samaritan’s story as a parable because He wants all of us to see ourselves as a good Samaritan. He told the prodigal story as a parable because He wants all prodigals to realize that God stops at nothing to restore us. If He told a real story about Billy, the town prodigal, His listeners would be able to say, “Well, yeah, I remember that guy. Bad dude. Glad I’m not like him.” No, Jesus constructed these stories in such a way that we are in them. Because there isn’t a good Samaritan or a prodigal son, they become stories about you the good Samaritan and you the forgiven prodigal.
Jesus started teaching in parables during the second year of His ministry when the religious leaders unequivocally rejected Him as their king. Following that event, recorded in Matthew 12, Jesus told His first parable, the story of the sower and the seeds, recorded in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. It is only one of two parables that all three Synoptic Gospels record. After Jesus told that parable, “The disciples . . . said to him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ ” (Matthew 13:10). If He had been using parables previously, this would be a strange question for the disciples to ask.
And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:11–13 ESV).
The “having,” and “not having” in Jesus’s explanation is a reference to knowledge of His teachings. Jesus used parables to reveal truth to those who wanted it and to conceal truth from those who rejected and ridiculed it. Following His own advice from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refused to cast His pearls of truth before those who would think of them as lightly as pigs would think of pearls. Those who want to hear God’s spiritual truth, hear it. Those who don’t—just hear a good story.
Because the parables contain profound truth woven into stories, we need to know how to read them. But parables require some skill to understand their truth clearly. Three suggestions will help us understand Jesus’s parables better.
III. Jesus’s Conversations and Relationships
Jesus’s miracles and the parables are things people relate to Jesus’s ministry. But Jesus also ministered through relationships. He selected twelve men out of the larger body of disciples to be His apostles. The term disciple has a broad meaning and refers to someone’s pupils or followers. All those who followed Jesus and listened to His teaching were sometimes referred to as disciples. But Luke tells us that Jesus called His “disciples” together and selected twelve of them whom He named as “apostles.” These twelve became an inner circle of closer associates within Jesus’s larger following of disciples; and Jesus spent most of His time them. They ministered together. They ate and traveled and laughed and talked together. They were His closest companions and friends. He shared His last Passover meal with them the night before He was crucified. Even among the twelve, he had three—Peter, James, and John—with whom He had a closer relationship.
Mary and Martha had a special place in Jesus’s affection. He doesn’t call them disciples, although they certainly were. But they were more that that. They were close, dear friends. It’s interesting that two of Jesus’s closest friends were women. This was not a normal relationship for a religious teacher in Jesus’s culture.
Jesus also ministered through conversations. John 3 records a visit Jesus had with a religious leader named Nicodemus. John 4 tells the story of Jesus sitting at a well in the heat of the day having a long conversation with a woman who was a Samaritan and a sinner: three reasons why Jesus shouldn’t have been talking with her. He violated social norms because He was doing what He came to do. He could say, “See this woman? She’s the reason I came to earth. She’s the reason I came to Samaria. I came to seek and to save people just like my new friend here.” As you study Jesus’s life, don’t skip over the wonderful conversations. They add a personal and relational dimension to Jesus that we don’t want to miss.
Jesus taught in parables so we can see ourselves in His profound teachings. He did miracles because He cares about our condition and can do something about it. But the brilliant teacher and powerful miracle worker also took time for friendships; and He was secure enough to engage in vulnerable conversations. We can obviously see reasons to worship Him. But it’s also important to love Him and relate to Him as a caring friend.