I think a lot of people have the question: “Why didn’t more people recognize Jesus for who he was when we walked on earth?” We human beings are prone to see what we want to see, and to be blind to things we don’t want to acknowledge. Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah that many of the Jews wanted, so they did not “see” him for who he was. Not only that, but the bible is clear that mainly, this is a spiritual condition. We can ignore it, and let it get worse, or we can do some things to alleviate it.
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Matthew #41 . Matthew 13:1-17
The first nine verse of Matthew 13 are taken up with the parable of the sower, which Jesus explains later in the chapter. We will consider that parable next time, along with Jesus’ explanation of it. This time, I’d like to consider something that Matthew introduces in chapter 13: Jesus’ tendency to teach in parables. Matthew writes:
Then the disciples came up and asked Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables? ”
He answered them, “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them. For whoever has, more will be given to him, and he will have more than enough. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You will listen and listen, yet never understand; and you will look and look, yet never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown callous; their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn back — and I would cure them.
“But your eyes are blessed because they do see, and your ears because they do hear! For I assure you: Many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see yet didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear yet didn’t hear them.” (Matt 13:10-17, HCSB)
It’s true that parables can often be used to make a point. People have said that Jesus’ use of parables show what a great communicator he was. But Matthew records that at the time the parables confused many people, and especially, he records that one reason Jesus used them was to remain obscure to certain people.
Now, if you think that sounds strange, you aren’t alone. However, this is connected to a significant recurring theme of the bible. Over and over again throughout both the Old and New Testaments, we have the concept of people who do not perceive or understand God or His work; and it is implied that their lack of perception has to do with the fact that they have become spiritually calloused.
But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. (Deut 29:4)
“Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house. (Ezekiel 12:2)
As it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” (Romans 11:8)
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts. Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? (1Cor 1:18-20, HCSB)
I think a lot of people have the question: “Why didn’t more people recognize Jesus for who he was when we walked on earth?” This is something of an answer to that. We human beings are prone to see what we want to see, and to be blind to things we don’t want to acknowledge. Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah that many of the Jews wanted, so they did not “see” him for who he was. Not only that, but the bible is clear that mainly, this is a spiritual condition. It isn’t just an ordinary human tendency – it is a sign that some people have chosen to be oriented away from God. In the last chapter, Jesus suggested that a miracle would not convince the Pharisees. This theme is continued here. They have already made up their minds, and turned their hearts from God. So they see the miracles, or at the least hear about them from many witnesses, and yet they do not “see it.” Though seeing, they don’t perceive, though hearing, they don’t understand.
Paul explains the spiritual workings of this to the Corinthians:
Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man that is in him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. (1Cor 2:10-14, HCSB
I don’t think Jesus used parables to confuse people, so much as to reveal the fact that it is the Holy Spirit who leads people into truth. I don’t mean (and I don’t think Jesus meant) that no truth at all can be grasped without the Spirit. Certainly, we can learn many true things without the Spirit, like 2+2=4, and that it’s a bad idea to start a land war in Asia. But the saving truth of who Jesus is, and of what the Bible says: these things come from the Holy Spirit.
When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. Everything the Father has is Mine. This is why I told you that He takes from what is Mine and will declare it to you. (John 16:13-15, HCSB)
By the way, when we get to the parable of the sower, we will see this theme reiterated. The whole premise of that parable is the idea that some people are spiritually receptive and others are not. However, we will consider that particular parable in greater depth next week.
For now, I’d like to see what all this means for us today. There are many rational and positive reasons to consider Christianity an reasonable and intellectual world view. I sometimes get caught up in trying to explain how rational and reasonable it is to trust Jesus. But the truth is, there are aspects of our faith that go entirely against worldly common sense. And this Scripture, along with the others I have quoted, show us that the key factor in saving faith is our spiritual response, not our intellectual conviction.
For many people, this can be good news. You do not have to be a Bible scholar to help other people spiritually. You do not have to have all of the logical and intellectual answers. The most important thing is not intellectual understanding, but spiritual receptivity. And the Scriptures show us how to increase our own spiritual receptivity, and how to help others do the same.
First, we encounter the Holy Spirit through the words of the Bible.
One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. Now the Scripture says, Everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame, for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things! (Rom 10:10-15, HCSB)
It is clear that saving faith begins with hearing the word of God.
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. (Heb 4:12, HCSB)
If we would like be people who hear and understand; people who are not spiritually blind, we should spend time reading the Scripture and listening to those who preach it. We would like to influence the world for God, one of the best places to start is to share the words of the Bible with others, and to support preachers who preach the word of God.
There is another thing that we can do to make ourselves more open to the Holy Spirit, and also to help others to be more open. Paul wanted exactly these things for the Ephesians. So he spoke the word of God to them, and he prayed, as shown below. Prayer is a powerful mechanism for opening our own hearts to the Holy Spirit and opening the hearts of others.
For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power in the inner man through His Spirit, and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:14-19, HCSB)
By the way you can take this prayer that Paul prayed here and pray it for yourself and for others. There’s nothing wrong with using Paul’s words, after all, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. When I pray this scripture, I do it something like this:
Father, I come before you trusting in the riches of your glory and mercy and ask you to strengthen me and my friends in our inner beings so that through your Holy Spirit Jesus can dwell more fully in our hearts and our faith is increased. Make us rooted and firmly established in your love and help us to understand the incredible greatness and depth and height of your love and to be filled with all of your fullness. In Jesus name, amen.
A very important third way to help ourselves and others be open to the Holy Spirit, is to meet regularly with other believers for worship, prayer and encouragement.
Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb 10:19-25, HCSB)
I meet people all the time who say, “but I don’t get much out of church.”
What I want to say in response is: “So church is all about you? You feel no need to encourage others? You have nothing to offer anyone else?” I understand that you won’t make good connections in every possible church, and you should certainly try to be in a place where the bible teaching actually comes from the bible, glorifies Jesus, and calls people to trust and obey Him. But it is vitally important to be connected to other Christians, and you need to be there for them, as well as for yourself. Quit “going when you feel like it” and take some responsibility not only for your own spiritual condition, but that of your Christian brothers and sisters. You will struggle spiritually if you are erratic about connecting with other believers for worship, prayer and encouragement. And also, you will cause some other believers to struggle as well, if they can’t count on you to be there for them. We are family, and God is our Father. He wants us to be here for each other.
When we step back and consider this whole topic, there is a downside. Jesus is clearly saying that some people don’t “get it.” It may seem discouraging to realize that some people have a spiritual condition and keeps their hearts closed to the Lord. But if we know anything from Scripture, it is that that spiritual condition does not have to be permanent; it can be changed. Saul of Tarsus was blinded to the truth of who Jesus was; he was not receptive to the Holy Spirit. And yet, he did not stay that way. The Lord broke through into his life, and he became known as “Paul,” a great apostle.
I was recently reminded of how powerfully the Holy Spirit can work, even in someone who seems opposed to it. About six months ago, someone came to this sermon blog. This person, whom I will call “Jane,” for anonymity, did not like what I had written or said in a particular sermon. She posted a long and vehemently negative comment on the blog. It looked to me as if she’d missed the entire point of the sermon, and I tried to encourage her to make sure she understood what I was saying. She replied with an even longer, more angry comment. At that point, I assumed she was just a “troll,” someone who is simply out looking for an argument. It bothered me however, and I shared the situation with one of our elders. He suggested that I should respond at least one more time, and then we said a brief prayer for Jane.
Just this past week, Jane contacted me again. She described how the Lord had been working on her heart, and she asked forgiveness for the negative things she had said in her comments on the blog. If you had asked me six months ago to evaluate Jane’s spiritual condition based on her comments, I probably would have been fairly negative in my assessment. Praise the Lord, it isn’t my job to evaluate anyone else’s spiritual condition! I think it is important for all of us remember that we can’t really see everything that God may be doing in a person’s life.
Maybe it isn’t someone else that you’re frustrated with, but yourself. The same truth applies: God is not done with you yet. The battle isn’t over, you are not doomed to be hardhearted toward the Holy Spirit. As we continue to read the Bible and pray and remain connected to other believers, the Holy Spirit continues to work on us.
It is somewhat like the business of the sin against the Holy Spirit: I think if you have any concern that you might be calloused toward the Lord, that you might be in danger of “seeing but not perceiving, hearing but not understanding,” then your concern should be a cause for hope. The people who are truly calloused toward the Lord are not concerned about it. If you are worried about it, then he still probably has room to work in your heart.
Let’s hear the good news that Jesus shared with his disciples: “the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven have been given to you to know.” Paul says: “Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God.” We can be among Jesus’ disciples. We can be among those who have received the Holy Spirit so that we may understand what has been freely given us by God. All we need to do is continue to trust him, continue to obey him, and continue on in reading the Bible, prayer, and being connected with other believers.
Pause for a moment and let the Holy Spirit speak to you about this Scripture.
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