Matthew 13:14,15 contains a quote from Isaiah 6:9,10 - "Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them." It appears that God is commanding Isaiah to harden the peoples' hearts. If read superficially, it might seem that God desired to harden their hearts. The true meaning is that God commanded Isaiah to teach, even though the people, by hardening themselves against the teaching, would be made worse rather than better by it. Thus, the unbelievers of Jesus' day had much in common with the Israelites of Isaiah's day; the prophecy was ultimately "fulfilled" in them. There have always been some who refuse to listen to and embrace spiritual truth, especially when it rebukes their sinful behavior and challenges them to repent.
Jesus then addresses His disciples, who were a wonderful contrast to the unbelievers - "Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear" (Matt. 13:16). His disciples were spiritually perceptive and open to divine instruction. They sought after truth and would most certainly find it. Our Lord goes on to say - "Many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it" (Matt. 13:17). Jesus provides a glimpse into the hearts of the prophets of old as well as other righteous men of the past. Truly, they longed to be witnesses of the Messiah's ministry (cf. I Pet. 1:10-12; Luke 2:25ff). The thought contained within Matthew 13:17 could be applied to disciples today just as well as it could to first century disciples. They had a blessed privilege in being able to witness the Messiah as He taught, performed miracles, and did good. However, in some ways we are even more blessed, for we have God's complete and final revelation (cf. Jude 3). The knowledge available to us is so much greater than that which the prophets and righteous men of antiquity were able to access. They longed to have and to know what is available to us. We should praise the Lord consequently and treasure the holy Scriptures, being good students of the word! The tragedy of this passage is that there were unbelievers then, as there are now, who reject that which men before them desired so earnestly to see and hear!
Before concluding this general study on parables, let us briefly consider the use of parables in the twenty-first century. Since Jesus, the greatest teacher the world has ever known, masterfully used parables to impart spiritual truths, faithful preachers today should also use parables to convey the divine message. One way this can be done is to carefully study an inspired parable and expound upon its meaning. We will do this in tomorrow's feature lesson (as well as other future lessons). However, one must be careful never to interpret any parabolic details in a way that would contradict other passages from God's word. When teaching from the parables of Christ, one should look for the central thought or main idea and not be swept away attempting to interpret every detail found therein. Details are important, yes, but one can easily miss the point of a parable if he obsesses over what "such and such" represents or means. Worse yet, some have twisted the details of certain inspired parables and contrived fanciful theories and false doctrines (II Pet. 3:16).
Another way to teach using parables today is to create a story to express spiritual principles found in God's word. Although such cannot (and should not) always be done, it can be a wonderful illustrative tool if used properly. However, with any tool, one must be cautious. The purpose of using parables in preaching must be to teach; any entertainment value must be secondary (as was always the case in Jesus' teachings). I'm afraid that some who preach today have forgotten this truth (cf. II Tim. 4:3,4).