“Listen to me, all of you, and understand the meaning.”
1, 2. Why did many people not understand the meaning of Jesus’ words?
WHEN someone is speaking to us, we may hear the sound of his voice and even notice the tone of his voice. But to understand what he is saying, we need to understand the meaning of his words. (1 Corinthians 14:9) Jesus spoke to thousands in their own language. But not all of them understood the meaning of his words. So Jesus said: “Listen to me, all of you, and understand the meaning.”
2 Why did many of these people not understand what Jesus meant? Some already had their own opinions or even had wrong motives. Jesus said about these people: “You skillfully disregard the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.” (Mark 7:9) They did not try to get the meaning of Jesus’ words. They did not want to change their customs and their opinions. These people heard with their ears but did not understand with their heart. (Read Matthew 13:13-15.) How can we make sure that we are always willing to learn from Jesus’ teaching?
HOW WE CAN BENEFIT FROM JESUS’ TEACHING
3. Why could the disciples understand Jesus’ words?
3 We need to follow the example of Jesus’ humble disciples. He said to them: “Happy are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear.” (Matthew 13:16) Why were they able to understand Jesus’ words when others could not? They took three steps. First, they were willing to ask questions and try to find out what Jesus really meant. (Matthew 13:36; Mark 7:17) Second, they were willing to add the new things they were learning to what they had already accepted in their hearts. (Read Matthew 13:11, 12.) Third, they were willing to use what they learned to help themselves and others.
4. What three steps are necessary to understand Jesus’ illustrations?
4 Like the disciples, we also need to take three steps if we want to understand Jesus’ illustrations. First, we need to take the time to study and meditate on Jesus’ words, do research, and ask the right questions. That is knowledge. (Proverbs 2:4, 5) Second, we need to see how this knowledge connects with what we already know and how it can benefit us personally. That is understanding. (Proverbs 2:2, 3) Third, we should use what we have learned and apply it in our lives. That is wisdom.
Wisdom can save our life!
5. Illustrate the difference between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
5 What is the difference between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom? It could be illustrated this way: Imagine you are standing in the middle of a road and a bus is coming toward you. First, you see that it is a bus
6. What four questions will we ask while examining seven of Jesus’ illustrations? (See the box.)
6 In this article and the next, we will examine seven illustrations that Jesus used. We will ask the following questions: What does the illustration mean? (This is knowledge.) Why did Jesus tell us this illustration? (This is understanding.) How can we use this information to help ourselves and others? (This is wisdom.) Finally, what does this teach us about Jehovah and Jesus?
THE MUSTARD GRAIN
7. What is the meaning of Jesus’ illustration of the mustard grain?
7 Read Matthew 13:31, 32. What is the meaning of Jesus’ illustration of the mustard grain? The mustard grain represents both the Kingdom message that we preach and the Christian congregation. When the Christian congregation started in 33 C.E., it was very small, like “the tiniest of all the seeds.” In a short time, it grew rapidly because of the preaching work. Many did not expect that it would grow as much and as fast as it did. (Colossians 1:23) Jesus tells us that “the birds of heaven” were able to “find lodging among its branches.” This means that as the Christian congregation grew bigger, those with good hearts found spiritual food, shade, and shelter there.
The growth of the Christian congregation has been extraordinary
8. Why did Jesus use the illustration about the mustard grain?
8 Why did Jesus use this illustration? He used the amazing growth of a mustard grain to illustrate how God’s Kingdom grows, how it protects, and how it overcomes all obstacles. Since 1914, the growth of the Christian congregation has been extraordinary. (Isaiah 60:22) Those who are part of this congregation are helped to stay close to Jehovah. (Proverbs 2:7; Isaiah 32:1, 2) No opposition can stop the congregation from growing.
9. (a) What can we learn from the illustration of the mustard grain? (b) What does this teach us about Jehovah and Jesus?
9 What can we learn from the illustration of the mustard grain? We may live in an area where there are not many Witnesses and there is not much growth. Yet, we must never forget that the Kingdom can overcome any obstacle. This will give us the strength to endure. For example, when Brother Edwin Skinner arrived in India in 1926, there were not many Witnesses and the work was “hard going” because the growth was very slow. But he kept on preaching and saw the Kingdom message overcome great obstacles. Today there are more than 37,000 Witnesses in India, and more than 108,000 attended the Memorial in 2013. In the same year that Brother Skinner arrived in India, the work had just started in Zambia. Now there are more than 170,000 Witnesses there, and 763,915 attended the Memorial in 2013. This means that 1 in every 18 persons in Zambia attended the Memorial. What amazing growth!
10. What is the meaning of the illustration of the leaven?
10 Read Matthew 13:33. What is the meaning of the illustration of the leaven? This illustration refers to the Kingdom message and how it changes people’s lives. “The whole mass” of flour represents all the nations. The fermenting process pictures the way the Kingdom message is spreading as a result of the preaching work. While the growth of the mustard grain is visible right away, the spreading of the leaven is not. Only some time later do we see the results.
11. Why did Jesus use the illustration about the leaven?
11 Why did Jesus use this illustration? Jesus showed that the Kingdom message has the power to reach “the most distant part of the earth” and to cause many changes in the hearts of people. (Acts 1:8) At first we may not notice these changes, but they are happening. Large numbers of people everywhere are accepting the Kingdom message and are letting this powerful message change their personality.
12, 13. Give examples of how the preaching work has grown just as described in the illustration about the leaven.
12 The effect of the preaching work is often seen years after people first hear the message. For example, back in 1982, Franz and Margit, a couple who were serving at Bethel in Brazil, witnessed in a small town. They started several Bible studies, one with a mother and her four children. The oldest boy was just 12 years old at the time. He was very shy and often tried to hide before the study began. Because of a change of assignment, Franz and Margit could not continue the study. Twenty-five years later, they went back for a visit. Imagine their joy when they found a congregation of 69 publishers, 13 of whom were regular pioneers, all meeting in a new Kingdom Hall! And that shy boy had grown up and now serves as the coordinator of the body of elders! Like the leaven in Jesus’ illustration, the Kingdom message had spread and changed many lives.
13 Even in countries where the brothers cannot preach freely, the power of the Kingdom message is still able to change people. We are often surprised when we learn how far the message has spread in such countries. For example, the Kingdom message reached Cuba in 1910, and Brother Russell visited this island in 1913. At first, there was not much growth. But what is happening in Cuba today? There are over 96,000 publishers preaching the good news, and 229,726 attended the Memorial in 2013. That is 1 out of every 48 inhabitants. Even in countries that are not under ban, the Kingdom message may have reached into areas where local Witnesses do not think that witnessing can be done. * (See footnote.)
Jehovah has everything under control
14, 15. (a) How can we personally benefit from the lesson in the illustration of the leaven? (b) What does this teach us about Jehovah and Jesus?
14 How can we benefit from what Jesus taught us in the illustration of the leaven? When we meditate on the meaning of Jesus’ illustration, we realize that we do not need to worry about how the Kingdom message will reach the millions of people who have not yet heard it. Jehovah has everything under control. But what is our work? God’s Word answers: “Sow your seed in the morning and do not let your hand rest until the evening; for you do not know which will have success, whether this one or that one, or whether they will both do well.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6) Of course, we should always remember to ask Jehovah to bless the preaching work, especially in countries where the work is restricted.
15 Also, we should not be discouraged if we do not see the results of our preaching work right away. We should not despise “the day of small beginnings.” (Zechariah 4:10) The results may eventually be far greater and more wonderful than we ever imagined!
THE TRAVELING MERCHANT AND THE HIDDEN TREASURE
16. What is the meaning of the illustration about the traveling merchant and the illustration about the hidden treasure?
16 Read Matthew 13:44-46. What is the meaning of the illustrations about the traveling merchant and the hidden treasure? In Jesus’ time, some merchants would travel very far to search for the finest pearls and buy them. The “one pearl of high value” in Jesus’ illustration represents the precious truth of the Kingdom, and the merchant represents those people with good hearts who search everywhere to find this truth. The merchant was willing to sell everything he had “promptly” so that he could buy this valuable pearl. Jesus also gave an illustration of a man who was working in a field and found “hidden” treasure. Unlike the merchant, this man was not searching for treasure. But once he saw its value, he too was willing to sell “everything” so that he could have it.
17. Why did Jesus give the illustrations about the traveling merchant and the hidden treasure?
17 Why did Jesus give those two illustrations? He showed that the truth can be found in different ways. Some people search for the truth and make sacrifices to find it. Others find the truth even though they are not searching for it, perhaps when someone preaches to them. Each of the men in these two illustrations recognized the value of what he had found and was willing to make huge sacrifices to get it.
Be willing to do anything to keep the truth first in your life
18. (a) How can we benefit from these two illustrations? (b) What does this teach us about Jehovah and Jesus?
18 How can we benefit from these two illustrations? (Matthew 6:19-21) Ask yourself: ‘Do I have the same attitude toward the truth as these men had? Do I view the truth as a treasure? Am I willing to make sacrifices to get it, or do I allow other things to distract me, such as the daily cares of life?’ (Matthew 6:22-24, 33; Luke 5:27, 28; Philippians 3:8) If we really love the truth, we will be willing to do anything to keep it first in our life.
19. What will we consider in the next article?
19 May we show that we have listened and really understood the meaning of these illustrations. Remember that it is not enough for us just to know what they mean. We need to apply what we learn from them. In the next article, we will consider three more illustrations and see what lessons we can learn from them.
^ par. 13 You can read similar experiences from Argentina (2001 Yearbook, page 186); East Germany (1999 Yearbook, page 83); Papua New Guinea (2005 Yearbook, page 63); and Robinson Crusoe Island (The Watchtower, June 15, 2000, page 9).