"A Blessed Grasp of the Truth"
(Delivered Sunday, October 1, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
As you pick up your Bibles this morning and turn to the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, I'd like to begin by reminding you of what a serious thing it is that we are doing.
You see; we are picking up the very words of the living God—preserved for us by the Holy Spirit, written down at His divine guidance, and translated by His providence into our language for our edification. And particularly, we are going to consider the words that were spoken on this earth by one who claimed to be the Son of God in human flesh, and who authenticated that claim in an ultimate way by rising from the dead. Can there be any greater privilege than to hear, and to be taught by, the words spoken by the Son of God as He walked upon this earth?
We are about to read these awesome words and then think together about what they say. And I just want to remind you that doing so obligates us. It makes us responsible for what we hear. How we respond personally to the privilege of hearing the word of God is the most important choice we could ever make. If I may put it this way, it is a 'water-shed' decision. It causes us to fall down the hill, as it where, on either one course or the other; and that course is a matter of eternal consequence. That's why I say that it is a serious thing that we're doing today.
In fact, I dare to even say that it is a dangerous thing! If, upon hearing the word of God, we do not choose to receive it for what it is, or if we choose to ignore it altogether; if we choose not to explore it deeper, and shrug our shoulders and say, “It's too hard to understand”; if we choose to go our own way in spite of what it says—not eagerly seeking to know more; if we do not receive it with genuine gratitude, and humble faith, and an earnest desire to know what it means; or—even more horrible to say—if we choose to sit in judgment of it, and critique it, and self-consciously turn our noses up to it and reject it, then we are making a serious and truly dangerous choice. We are choosing to harden our own hearts to God's revealed truth at a time when He has graciously seen fit to give it to us.
And if that is our choice, then—in judgment—God will respond by giving us what we want. We would be demonstrating that we do not want to hear what He says; and so, He will allow us to hear words of eternal truth, but not allow us to understand them so as to be saved by them. And I can't think of anything more horrible to give an account for on the day of judgment than that!
If, on the other hand, we hear God's words with humble reverence and a sincere desire to understand and obey what He says; if we—as the Scriptures say—“tremble” at God's word (Isaiah 66:2); if we hear His word with genuine trust in Jesus Christ—coming to Him for instruction and direction as to the One who, as Peter has said, is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), fully believing that He has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:69); if we place a proper value on what He says, and, as it were, say to Him from the heart, “Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:9-10), then we are making another serious but very wonderful choice.
We will then be making the choice to receive His instruction. And if that is our choice, God will respond by giving us what we want. We would be showing that we have hearts that are truly receptive to His truth; and He will graciously respond by giving us more and more of His truth. He will allow us to truly hear it, and understand it, and become transformed by it, and be saved by it. And then, when we finally stand before His throne,how glad we will be that we received what He had to say to us!
If the Son of God has walked on this earth and has spoken (and I affirm that He certainly has), then we are responsible for welcoming His words, and for truly hearing and heeding them in such a way as to lead to the saving of our souls. That's why I say that what we're doing this morning is a serious and dangerous thing. It is no trivial thing to hear God's words! And upon hearing them, nothing on earth is more important than how we choose to respond to the words that are spoken.
And so, with that introduction, I'd like to read our passage for this morning from Matthew 13:10-17. It comes after Jesus spoke a parable to the crowds and then announced, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (v. 9). We read;
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Let's begin by considering . . .
1. THE DISCIPLES'S QUESTION (v. 10).
Jesus had just spoken 'a parable' to the crowds. And afterwards, the twelve—and some who were with them (Mark 4:10)—came privately to Jesus and asked, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
The literal meaning of the word 'parable' is 'a placing of one thing by the side of another'. It's a teaching method our Lord used often. It was the telling of a story concerning something taken from everyday life—a story that illustrates a spiritual truth in a profound and penetrating way.
Chapter 13 is filled with parables. There are seven parables in all in this chapter; and these parables are meant to illustrate to us—as it says in verse 11—“the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”. And this leads us to another word we need to understand: “mystery”. The word “mystery”, as it's being spoken of by Jesus, refers to a divine truth that was hidden in times past but is now being revealed by the initiative of God. Men cannot 'figure out' such mysteries. They can only be known as God chooses to reveal them. I think that the apostle Paul gave a great definition of a “mystery” in Romans 16:25-26. He said that he preached “according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest . . .”
These particular “parables”, then, are meant to illustrate divine truth about certain “mysteries”; and these “mysteries” concern “the kingdom of heaven”. Jesus is the King who has come to this earth to establish His kingdom; and these parables teach us certain truths about His kingdom that human beings would never know by mere research or investigation. The first parable, which we have already looked at (vv.18-23), is concerned with the initiation, or “the sowing”, of this kingdom on earth. The next three (vv. 24-31, 31-32, and 33-43) are concerned with the growth and spread of this kingdom on the earth. The next two (vv. 44 and 45-46) speak of the great value of this kingdom to our Lord. Finally, the last one (vv. 47-50) speaks of the Lord's final reception and purification of this kingdom at the end of the age.
These parables are concerned with one of the greatest theme that human beings could contemplate—the kingdom of heaven, over which Jesus Christ will reign on this earth as King. But the things Jesus reveals in these parables are 'mysteries'; and no one could ever hope to understand these truths unless God, in His grace, condescended to reveal them to people to whom He had given ears to hear them.
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As Jesus spoke, I imagine that the disciples were watching the faces of the people in the crowds. I imagine that as He spoke to the crowds—not plainly and in the kind of straight-forward kind of way that one would expect, but rather in 'parables'—the disciples saw some perplexed looks on many faces. And I suspect that the disciples weren't entirely sure they understood His parables either. I imagine that the disciples were even thinking to themselves, “If He truly wanted people to understand these things, then why does He teach them in this way? Why doesn't He speak to them plainly? Why does He speak in parables?” And so, when His teaching was over, they went to Him privately and asked Him.
And this leads us to . . .
2. THE LORD'S ANSWER (vv. 11-15).
And here's the shocking thing that we discover. We discover that He actually didn't intend to be plain. He didn't intend for everyone to hear and understand what He was teaching. He meant to so reveal these mysteries that they would be revealed only to certain people . . . while remaining mysteries to others! He answered His disciples and told them, “Because it has been given to you [that is, to those who came to Him privately and spoke with Him—seeking to understand] to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [that is, to the people in the crowds] it has not been given” (v. 11).
Now, I don't believe that this means our Lord was refusing to reveal truth to some who truly wanted the truth. I believe Jesus is always glad to reveal the truths of His kingdom to whoever genuinely loves Him and sincerely desires to understand. It is His great desire to reveal the kingdom. That, in fact, is why He has ordered the gospel be preached in His name to the world. Elsewhere in Scripture, we read that He said,
It's never a matter, then, of whether or not the Lord is willing to reveal the truths of His kingdom to those who sincerely want to hear. Rather, it's always a matter of whether or not people sincerely want to hear! He goes on to say, “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has [or, as it says in Luke 8:18, “what he seems to have”] will be taken away from him.
The thing that makes all the difference is what the hearer “has”. Jesus didn't mean for His words to be truly 'heard' by everyone; because not everyone “has” what it takes to hear. We know this because He says in verse 9, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Obviously, all people who heard those words had 'ears'. But not everyone had 'ears to hear'.
To those who did have ears to hear—that is, to those who were “receptive” to Him; to those who believed on Him, and trusted Him, and who listened intently to what He said, and who placed eternal value on His words, and who intended fully to obey His teaching—He was ready to reveal eternal truth. He never holds back from revealing difficult spiritual truths to those who—with all their hearts—truly want to understand His words, and love Him, and obey Him, and follow Him faithfully, and be saved by Him from their sins.
But that same truth would be hidden from those who did not want to hear. That's why He spoke in 'parables'. They may even think that they have a grasp on things; but even what they think they have will be taken away from them. He said, “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (v. 13).
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And did you know that, in teaching in this way, Jesus was actually fulfilling a very important prophecy to the Jewish people? We read about this in the sixth chapter of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.
In Isaiah 6, we read of a remarkable vision the Lord gave to the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was given a vision of the Lord sitting on His heavenly throne, “high and lifted up”. It was at this time that the Lord humbled Isaiah, purified his lips, and called him into ministry as His prophet to Israel.
“Who shall I send,” the Lord asked; “And who will go for Us?” (Isaiah 6:8). And Isaiah said, “Here am I! Send me” (v. 9). Isaiah stepped forward in response to God's call. He would go to his people and bring the message God had for them. But he didn't realize what a difficult mission it would be. He didn't know that he would be delivering a message that the people did not want to receive—a message that would, in fact, result in judgment on the people who heard it. God told him,
Can you imagine what a difficult thing that must have been for Isaiah to do? Can you imagine how difficult it must have been to be sent by God to deliver a message to your own people that would only result in their becoming increasingly dull of spiritual hearing, increasingly blind in spiritual sight, and spiritually unperceptive of heart? They heard—but they did not have ears to truly 'hear' what they were hearing. God let Isaiah know that his prophetic ministry would result in the people of Israel hearing the truth, but not understanding it or perceiving it; and that all of this would go on happening until—at last—His judgment would finally fall upon them.
Isaiah was prophesying to his own people about the Lord Jesus, who would one day come as their Savior and King. And in this morning's passage, we see that this very same Savior and King was before them. And yet, they heard His words, and saw His miracles, and beheld His signs, and would not receive Him or welcome Him as their King. And so, as the disciples had gathered around Him privately, He looked at the crowds and said,
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Before we go any further, I need to point out something very important to you. When God spoke those words first to Isaiah, it was made clear that he was being sent by God to speak in such a way that his speaking would result in the 'hearers' not hearing. God told Isaiah, “You go and make the heart of this people dull. You go and make their ears heavy. You go and shut their eyes.” But here, in our Lord's words, we find that it was the people who were doing this to themselves. It was they who grew dull. It was they who had become hard of hearing. It was they who had shut their own eyes. It was they who had made themselves incapable of hearing.
It is a dreadful thing to hear the truth from God, and yet to close one's self up to that truth so that it isn't heard. In Romans 1—in one of the most dreadful passages in all the Bible—Paul writes;
You could certainly say that, in judgment, God Himself darkened their hearts. But you'd also have to equally say that they darkened their own hearts, and willingly 'suppressed the truth in unrighteousness'.
And so, I wonder if there might be someone here today who has been hearing the words from this gospel concerning the Lord Jesus Christ—the Son of God in human flesh; but who is choosing to suppress those truths in his or her heart. I wonder if there is someone here today who is refusing to 'hear'. Perhaps you hear in a mechanical sense; but you will not allow yourself to have 'ears to hear', and are refusing to let the truth about Jesus sink into your heart in such a way as to be saved.
If that's you this morning, I need to tell you something in love. If you make it your choice NOT to hear in such a way as to let the truths about Jesus sink into your heart—if you receive the truth in such a way as to show that you don't really want it—then God will eventually respond by giving you what you want. Seeing, you will not see. Hearing, you will not hear nor understand. You will be unable to perceive the saving truth that is laid before your eyes, or hear the saving truth that is spoken in your ears, or understand spiritual truth with your heart.
Please, never plug your ears, or close your eyes, or harden your heart to the truth that God presents to you in His word concerning the Savior, Jesus Christ! Instead, open your heart up to the good news that God's word is proclaiming to you; and—with all your being—receive it and seek to understand it. You will never, in all eternity, regret it if you gain ears to hear . . . and truly hear!
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This leads us, finally, to notice . . .
3. THE HEARERS' BLESSEDNESS (vv. 16-17).
Jesus makes a distinction between the indifferent people in the crowds, and the followers who came to Him privately and eagerly sought to understand. He told His followers, “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear . . .” (v. 16).
I have to tell you; as someone who once mocked Jesus; as someone who once said that I didn't believe in Him, and didn't want anything to do with Him; as someone who once fought against Him because I didn't want Him interfering with the way I wanted to live and the things I wanted to do or believe; it is a great blessing today to be able to say that, whereas I once was blind to Him, I now see; and whereas I once was deaf to His words, I now hear.
It was His grace that did this to me. He graciously gives 'saving eyes' to the spiritually blind, and 'saving ears' to the spiritually dull, and a 'saving understanding' to those who spiritually did not understand. No one who is blind or deaf or ignorant to Him has to remain that way.
Those who were, right then, speaking with Him, had been given sight and hearing and understanding of heart. And look at how blessed He says they are because of it. “[F]or assuredly [or literally, “Amen!”], I say to you that 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” (v. 17). These humble followers knew the King Jesus that others, in past generations, had longed to know . . . and were saved by Him!
The apostle Peter wrote about this; and I suspect he was even thinking of these very words from Jesus when he wrote. He said to his believing Jewish brothers and sisters;
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Jesus spoke in parables and revealed the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. But He was selective about it. He issued a great invitation—but also affirmed a great qualification: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
If you have ears to hear, then greatly value the words of God that have been brought to your hearing! Receive those words with all of your being. Value them as precious words of divine truth that lead to the saving of the soul. Seek, with all your heart, to know—in an ever-deepening and personal way—the Son of God who is revealed in them. Come to Him. Trust Him. Love Him. Obey Him.
And praise Him and thank Him; because “it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven . . .”
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