The Purpose of the Parables
Matthew 13:10-17, A Message by Pastor Eric Chang
Today we continue in our systematic exposition of God’s Word. We come to the section which is in fact wedged-in in Matthew 13 into the Parable of the Sower, in Mt 13:10-17. Now, in this passage, there are some very important things that the Lord wants to say to us. There are some very important questions and some important problems that we have to deal with, which if we fail to deal with correctly, we are going to be very much on the wrong track in understanding God’s Word. The parallel passages to this are in Mark 4 and Luke 8, but we shall not look at those because those are very much shorter than the Matthew passage, which is much longer and fuller in its content.
Purpose of Parables – To Conceal Or Reveal Salvation?
I shall read to you this passage and I would like you to bear in mind a number of questions as we read this. The first question we want to ask is the question that comes up in this very passage: Why did the Lord Jesus teach in parables? Was it in order to conceal the truth, that is, to conceal the message of salvation to man, or was it to reveal the message? That is the crucial point. What is the purpose of the parable? Is it to hide the message of salvation or is it to reveal the message of salvation? If it hides the message to some, is that because it is God’s intention to hide it? This is the kind of question we have to ask because this reveals and deals with the wider question: What is God’s purpose towards us? Does he want to save us or does he not want to save us? Now, if the purpose of a parable is to conceal salvation, then presumably the answer is that he does not want to save us. That seems a strange reply, but we shall see that in certain theologies, that is in fact the reply. The theology of the Calvinistic type is in fact something of this sort; that it is designed to conceal rather than reveal; it is judgment rather than grace. We shall look at this in more detail. But this is the kind of questions I would like you to bear in mind as we go along. Why did the Lord Jesus speak to us in parables? Is salvation for everyone or not for everyone? That is the kind of question that we need to ask.
Now, as we bear these questions in mind, we read on in Mt 13:10-11: “Then the disciples came and said to him,” that is, to Jesus, “‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’” that is, “Why do you speak to the crowds, the multitudes, in parables?” “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.’” [RSV] In regard to this sentence of the Lord Jesus, I want you to ask this question: Is this a statement of intention or is this a statement of fact? There is a crucial difference between these. Is it God’s intention not to give the kingdom to some and to give the kingdom to others, which means of course the predestinarian teaching that some are to be saved and some are not to be saved? Or is it simply a statement of fact, not of intention? That in fact, the kingdom of God has been given to you because you have received it, and in fact the kingdom of God has not been given to them because they have not received it? Which is the right answer? This is very important. These are the kinds of questions we must bear in mind.
Is Predestination Teaching Right Or Wrong?
To expound the Word of God requires clear-minded logic, clear thinking, as well as accurate exposition. Any error anywhere along the line is going to have the most serious consequences, more serious than any kind of study in this world you could pursue. An engineer who makes a structural design mistake will result in a bridge collapsing, something falling down, some lives being lost. But a preacher who makes a mistake may cost others their eternal well-being. The awesome responsibility has never ceased to frighten me. But I proceed under the grace of God.
Mt 13:12-17 says, “For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables...”. Why does he speak in parables? This is why. What is why? Think about it. “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. With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart…’”. Which people’s heart? In the first place, of course, the heart of the people of Israel. The words were being addressed by Isaiah to the nation of Israel. “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed…”. Who has closed? They have closed. “…lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Now here, you can clearly see that the passage is not easy to understand. But precisely because it is not easy to understand, it contains a very great truth in it – a great truth of great importance.
Now here, as I said, we must bear in mind the question: Why did the Lord Jesus preach in parables? When he opened his mouth to the crowds, he consistently spoke in parables. I return to this question: Was it in order to hide salvation from the people or was it in order to reveal salvation? What is your answer to this question? If you say it was designed to reveal the truth to them, then you have taken a position which is contrary to predestination and to Calvinism. If you say it is in order to conceal the truth from them, then you have taken the position which is represented by the predestination teaching, that God in fact spoke forth the words in such a way that it was a word not of salvation but in fact of judgment so that they could not see it, they could not understand it. Salvation was there but they could not perceive it. Only to those who were given the eyes to perceive and given the ears to hear, i.e., only those to whom God gave the capacity to understand, would understand; the others were deliberately blinded. Well, what is the evidence for this? The evidence for this is Jn 12:40, put for us exceedingly plain. What does Jn 12:40 say? Quoting now from Is 6:10 with a different translation, we read this starting from v39, “Therefore they could not believe. For Isaiah again said, ‘He (meaning God) has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’” God has blinded their eyes so that they shall not see. God has hardened their hearts so that they shall not perceive, so that they may not turn, so that they may not be healed. In this teaching, Calvin glories; in this teaching, the predestinarians rejoice.
I do not rejoice nor do I glory in this teaching because I am about to refute it. Now, if this be so, if this is correct, that God does not want you to be saved, then my brothers and sisters, I shall close my Bible right here and walk away from the pulpit, for I have no more message to preach. If Calvin is right, then I have no message to preach. I do not know why he preached and I do not know why I should preach, for God does not want those people to turn. It is because if there are non-Christians here, I do not know what is the purpose of this preaching then, seeing that the preaching is designed to conceal rather than to reveal, at least to those who are perishing. But before we rush into such conclusions, I praise God that the Word of God is not to be understood quite so superficially, and this is what I aim to expound.
Let us proceed then and look at this passage again so that we come to the right conclusion. I want to show you first the exposition of this, and then I want to show you what the position is. I am sorry that I will have to take the occasion to refer to people like Calvin, and to predestination. And I want to say, as I say this, that Calvin has said an awful lot that is exceedingly good – I am no enemy of Calvin’s – and that much of what he has said is of great value. But on this point, on this one point, I differ, and I differ with him publicly and with no apology. I want to show that his exegesis is wrong, his theological thinking is wrong, and I want to show you why. And I hope that you would be able to follow me and that the process is not too difficult for you to understand.
As I said to you before, if Calvin is right, I have no reason whatsoever to stand here and preach since the preaching is not designed to reveal but to conceal. For if Jesus was to conceal the truth to the crowds and to the multitudes, what should I be doing? Should I not follow and do the same? Why would I even go forth and preach the Gospel to the multitudes? Never! For God is concerned that their eyes should be blinded! But can it be? Is this what God means? Now, I say this with great regret because it is, to my mind, almost inconceivable that such an exegesis should be deduced and seriously preached today. Yet this is exactly what is done. To some people, doctrine is more important than people. To some people, religion is more important than people. This kind of religion I do not wish to have any part of and I make no apology for saying so. If that is religion, that can glory in a God that condemns people to hell, that glories in a God that blinds the people, that glories in a God that deafens their ears and hardens their heart, that kind of religion I want to have no part of. I do not want to be a minister of that sort of religion. But I thank God that that is not the God of the Bible. Never take Scripture out of context. But that is exactly what so many have done. Calvin, in his work on this subject called ‘The Eternal Predestination of God’, of course, makes great use of this particular passage. In fact I refreshed my mind on it just yesterday when I read again what he had to say in this section, and I could agree on nothing of what he had to say, except one point where he agrees that these people, their hearts were hardened because they themselves sinned. But this is not correct; he did not say quite so. He says he agrees that they sinned first, but God chose to harden their hearts! In fact, the way I have presented it was even much too soft for what Calvin wanted to say.
Hardening of Man’s Heart – God’s Responsibility or Man’s Responsibility?
Now, let us turn to the Word of God and see what God says. What does he actually say here? Well, he says this. First, we will turn immediately to the passage to the quotation from Scripture which is also what is quoted in Jn 12:40 and in Matthew 13 which begins at verse 14, “With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but never understand…’.” Now, if you look at this passage you will see how different this passage is from John 12, which is supposed to be also a quotation of Is 6:9-10, and you will wonder why. Why do both quote Isaiah 6 but quote it differently? The answer is this. In Mt 13:14, the passage in front of us, the quotation follows word for word the Greek Old Testament, not the Hebrew Old Testament. It follows the Septuagint word for word with no change in tense, no change in wording. It is the exact quotation from the Greek Old Testament. This means that you will see that the Greek Old Testament translators, fearing precisely the kind of misunderstanding that some people untrained in theology would make, had softened the force that we see in the Hebrew Old Testament. You will notice here that there is no ascription to God of hardening anyone’s heart or blinding anyone’s eyes. You read this passage and find nothing to that effect whatsoever. Let us read it again.
Here, what we read in the Greek Old Testament and quoted in Matthew in full is simply this: “You shall indeed hear but you will not understand…”. It is a statement of fact. “…you will hear but you will not understand, you will see but you will not perceive”, that is, you will look and you will not see. Verse 15, which is the explanation for this reason that they will look and not see, listen and not hear because these people’s hearts have grown dull and their ears are heavy, are all statements of fact. God did not do any of these things; they simply are statements of fact. And their eyes they have closed – the responsibility is put fully and squarely upon the people of Israel for closing their eyes to God’s truth. There is no ascription whatsoever to God. Have you noticed that?
Now, let us turn to Isaiah and see what it actually says there. In the English translation here, it will follow the Hebrew, not the Greek. Thus, we have an idea what the Hebrew is saying. In Is 6:9 we read: “And he said,” that is, God said. He said it to whom? He said it to Isaiah, “‘Go, and say to this people: “Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive.”’” Is this a statement of fact? Or is it a statement of intention? What is it? Let us read v10. Now we see the difference in the Hebrew Old Testament, “Make the heart of this people fat, and (make) their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Now you can see where Jn 12:40 comes from. It is quoting from the Hebrew Old Testament. Here, Isaiah is told as God’s servant and God’s instrument to go and make the heart of this people fat. He is told to go and make their ears heavy and shut their eyes. So, Jn 12:40 is really saying that God is doing this through Isaiah. You say, “Ah, so the Calvinists are right.” Yes, partially so. However, when you understand why, then the whole picture changes. Let me put the question very simply to you now. Isaiah the great prophet of God has had a vision of God, and God is going to send him forth. And now, he sends Isaiah forth and says, “Go and speak to this people. Make their heart fat”, i.e. dull or slow of spiritual understanding. “Go and shut their eyes”, not blind them, but just shut them, “and see that their ears do not hear.” Why? When you read the first five chapters, you will know why. It is because they had already shut their eyes. That is the background to the Greek translation – they shut their eyes. That is the first point.
The second point is simply this, and it is so wonderful once you understand it. Isaiah is sent out to preach the Gospel, what is often called the Gospel of Isaiah. It is because hardly in any other Gospel do you see so fully portrayed the coming of Christ, the coming of the Messiah. That is why [the book of] Isaiah is often spoken of as the Gospel of Isaiah. He is sent forth to preach the Gospel to Israel. Now, let me ask you this question: Isaiah is here commanded to go forth and make the heart of this people heavy, so how does he do it? How? If God gave to me the command, “Go and make the heart of this people heavy, shut their eyes, close their ears,” how do I go about it? If God gave you the instruction, “Go out there, preach the Gospel, but shut the eyes of the people, close their ears, make their hearts heavy,” I ask you, how do you do it? How?
Now, that is the key to a correct exposition. The answer is not guesswork; the answer is right before us in Isaiah. Well, how did Isaiah do it? Did he obey God’s command? Certainly! So, how did he do it? Praise God! It is so wonderful. Well, what is your answer? If this were a Bible study, I would like to hear your answer. How do you do it? How do you go out and shut the hearts of the people? You think about it. If you had this job to do today, I ask you, how are you going to do it? If I am given this job to do just as Isaiah was, how am I going to do it? How am I going to shut your heart? Shall I come to you and give you a punch in the chest hoping that it will close the valve there? Shall I suddenly put my hands around your eyes so that you cannot see? Shall I put my fingers in your ears and stop your ears while I am preaching? I hold your ears there while I am preaching the Gospel, so you cannot hear, right? I have shut your ears. You say, “That’s ridiculous!” Of course, it is ridiculous! Well, then, how are we going to do it?
Think, brothers and sisters, before you come to these kinds of conclusions such as that God wants everybody to perish, or that he wants them – most of them – to perish. He selects only a small group that he wants to save, and then he lets the others perish. What kind of teaching is this? How do you shut people’s ears? How do you blind their eyes? Just how? Look at what Isaiah did. What did he do? Quite simply, he went and proclaimed the truth. That is what he did. What else did he do? How else do you do this work? You say, “Now I have lost you.” Follow me a moment and you will understand. It is not that difficult to understand.
You see, the truth of God will do one of two things in every person’s life. The truth will either open your eyes or it will blind your eyes. The truth of God will either open your ears or it will shut your ears. The truth of God will either make you alive or it will kill you. That is what the answer is. The truth does it all. When I preach the truth of God, some people are going to shut their ears and some people are going to open their heart. When I preach the message of Christ, some people are going to live, while some people are going to die. Every preacher knows that. In other words, every preacher should understand this perfectly. Now, when I preach to a people who are like the Israelites, who were a stiff-necked and rebellious nation, I do not have to do anything to shut their eyes. They will resist the truth. It is just as God said to Ezekiel, “When you preach that word, they will reject you. But I will give you a forehead like adamant. You will just go out there and preach all the same.” (Ezek 3:9)
God Is Not Willing That Any Should Perish
God was not willing that any should perish – a truth denied by Calvin, unfortunately. For, according to Calvin, God was most willing that the majority should perish. There is no other way to understand it. I abhor such teaching. I have stated so before and I state so again. You see, God is simply not willing [that any should perish]. Even though he knew the people did not want to hear his Word, he sent one servant and another servant and another servant. That is the whole message of the Lord Jesus in the Parable of the Vineyard, the Parable of the Tenants. They killed one and he sent another one. Why? If they killed the first one, then they will kill the next one. It is because he is not willing that they should perish, so he sent another one. They killed this one, so he sent another one. They killed this one, too, yet he sent another one. And he sent, last of all, his son, too. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem that kills the prophets! How often would I have gathered you under my wings, but you would not.” (Mt 23:37) It is not: “I would not” but “you would not”! “I was not willing that you should perish. I wanted to gather you under my wings, but you did not want me to.”
Now, once we understand this, we understand by what means God can blind the people. How? It is simply by speaking the truth. That is all we have to do. Do you see now how Jn 12:40 sounds entirely different when you understand this principle of God’s Word? The light can give you sight or it can blind you. The light blinded Paul before it gave him sight. You see, it is not just darkness that blinds; light can blind, too. This is the point you have got to understand. Oh, it is so important to grasp this truth. Indeed God sent Isaiah forth to make the heart of these people heavy. How? By preaching the truth! Why? It is because the people will not receive it and God knew they would not receive it. So, since he knew they would not receive it, why preach the Gospel? It is because he was not willing that any should perish! That is the whole point! In the Old Testament, we read those beautiful words, “How I have stretched out my hands all day long”; all day long I have stretched out my hands, “to a stiff-necked and rebellious people.” (Is 65:2) Well, why bother to stretch out your hands since they are a stiff-necked people? It is because he was not willing that they should perish, brothers and sisters. Can you understand that? He is not willing. He does not want you to perish. I have said before and I say again, nobody will go into hell except by pushing past the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. He stands at the gates of hell and blocks them with his nail-pierced hands and says, “I beg you not to go through.” Nobody will go into hell except if he pushes past the hands of Jesus and goes there. That is how you are going to get to hell. He is not willing that any should perish.
By now you can see how dangerous is the superficial, inaccurate exposition of the Word that takes a passage like John 12 and says, “Aha! Aha! There you see! God wants you to perish because God blinds your eyes.” Yes, but how? Before you jump to such conclusions, it is through the truth. He speaks the truth. We Chinese know very well what this means. We know how hard it is to swallow the truth, and that is why so many people reject the truth. – we know these words very well – “Good words, truthful words are hard to the ears.” How many times have I quoted that to you? – “Good medicine is bitter to your taste.” We do not like the truth; we may know it is true but we do not like it. That is why I have urged you on as Christians always to love the truth. Whatever the consequences of it, stick it through. Love the truth and love it to the end. Now, consider carefully these words. The truth of the matter is that we can establish firmly and without question in Scripture, under solid scriptural basis, that God is not willing that any should perish. And he says so in 2 Pet 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Anyone who dares to say that God wills people to perish, indeed that the majority should perish, preaches an unheard-of heresy. And so, consider this carefully.
What Gives Calvinism Its Plausibility In Its Predestinarian Aspect?
But what gives to Calvinism its plausibility? Here I want to stop for a moment. Calvinism derives its plausibility on this matter of predestination simply by quoting verses like Jn 12:40 to people who are not equipped to understand this. It gives a prima facie situation, that is, what it looks on the face of it. As every lawyer knows, a statement may look and sound like something on the face of it at first sight, until you examine it, and it turns out, in fact, to be quite the opposite of what it appears to be. In this sense, everyone should understand this principle of reasoning that things are not always, in Scripture, what they appear to be, or what they seem to be, until you understand the principle.
What gives to Calvinism in its predestinarian aspect the plausibility to this doctrine is this thing. They concentrate on one point and one point only; namely, the will of God. Now, to understand, to analyze predestination teaching in Calvinism, you have to understand only this one thing – his whole focus is on the will of God. Now, that sounds good because the Bible has a lot to say about the will of God, until you realize two things about this teaching of the will of God which are not scriptural.
First, it is an emphasis on the will of God to the utter neglect of both his holiness and his love. In other words, in this predestination teaching, neither God’s holiness nor God’s love counts for anything. They have all gone by the board. They are sacrificed to a doctrine of the will of God. I have no time to expound in detail what this means, but it does mean simply this: that whether God saves a person or does not save a person has nothing to do with either his love or his holiness; it is entirely a matter of his will. “I choose to save you whether you are a sinner or not a sinner.” You may be a dreadful sinner but God chooses to save you. He chooses to do so; it is simply his will. Or you may be a very good person but God simply does not choose to save you. It is his will that matters – that is all that matters. That is Calvinism in its essence. It has nothing much to do with either his holiness (which they do not deny, but not much use is made of it), nor his love for that matter. How can you speak of a God who loves? It is because, really, a God who is willing to let the majority perish can hardly be spoken of as a God of love. But about that, they do not worry either. All that matters is God’s will and the sovereignty of God that they talk about so much. It is simply really the sovereignty of his will. That is what they mean. He does whatever he likes to do. There is no question of right or wrong. A thing is right or wrong because God wants to do it. There is no other standard of right or wrong. There is no question even that it could be measured in the light of his holiness or his love – nothing! That sovereign will of God, as they put it, is over everything else and covers everything else. Everything else goes. Now, if you call that sovereignty of God, that is one thing; but whether that is the Bible doctrine of sovereignty of God is another matter.
Secondly, because God’s will is sovereign, it is also incomprehensible. That is the way they cover any possibility of questioning their doctrine: it is incomprehensible. Calvin loves to speak about it as being incomprehensible. So every time you question him, he simply says that it is incomprehensible. Well, that is quite safe. If you keep saying that, of course, there is no way to comprehend it. You cannot attack something which is constantly incomprehensible. Who are you? You are just a man. And he likes to quote those words, “Who art thou, O man?” He is God, you are man, so do not ask any questions! This means, of course, we might as well not think at all. We need not reason. We need not think because it is utterly incomprehensible. We ask no questions about the will of God. You can read the Bible, you can think about the Bible, but when it comes to the will of God, do not ask any questions because it is incomprehensible. It is already stated in advance. What is the danger of this kind of doctrine? The dangers of this doctrine are manifold. And I speak out more forthrightly than perhaps any other preacher because I am aware of its frightful dangers.
The Consequences Of The Doctrine Of Predestination
The danger is that God becomes utterly unintelligible. And how do you love a God who behaves in no way that you can understand? There is no way you can understand his actions because he is incomprehensible; his will is incomprehensible. Therefore, you have got to worship him blindly, not because of his love, not because of his holiness, but because of his supreme will. And you, as a creature, simply bow down to him. That is all there is to it. He dictates and you will follow. You worship him because his will is supreme. He commands and it will be so. I wonder if it is possible really to love God – I mean really love, not just fear or adore, but love – with such kind of a doctrine.
The second consequence of this is that it utterly removes human responsibility. You really cease to be responsible for your actions because the only thing that matters is God’s will. What you do or do not do really does not matter. Nothing really matters except the will of God.
What is then the scriptural teaching? What is the error? The error is simply this: nowhere in the Scripture is God’s will ever made to become something which is unintelligible in the sense that there is no rhyme or reason to it. Nowhere do I see that. Everywhere in the Bible, you see that God’s love and God’s holiness govern the will. Now, this is true both in human beings and it is true in the Bible. Your will does not work for no particular reason. It is governed by your character. Your character governs the function of your will, does it not? That is why I often can predict what a certain person will do or decide, and you can predict what a certain person will do or decide because you know his character well enough. You will know how his will will function. It is simply not true to say that the will functions independent of character. It is simply not true either of God, as we see in Scripture, or of man. That is what this kind of doctrine presupposes. So, therefore, we find in the Scripture that God’s love and God’s holiness are what govern the functioning of his will. Now, in this way, I can understand God. I cannot understand him perfectly, but I can understand him in good measure. And I can respond to his love. I can respond to his holiness. But I cannot respond to a will that is arbitrary, that is unpredictable, and that has no particular rhyme or reason that I can grasp. How do you respond? The answer to that probably is you do not respond. God simply does all the responding in you. You are simply more or less a spiritual marionette, a puppet pulled on a string.
The Lord Jesus Uses Parables To Help Us Understand
Let us return to the Bible. Let us now ask the question in the light of all these discussions, which some of it I know would be over your heads, that is, too theological and too philosophical. But I have to speak in such a way that for those who are equipped to handle it, they can get something too, because all preaching today can often be so superficial that those who want to think and who want to work at it are really given nothing to think about, nothing to work at. So, if some of it has gone over your head, then I apologize for this. But for the others, I know they need to understand. Now, I hope we are in a position to understand the answer to our question.
When the Lord Jesus spoke in parables, was it in order to conceal the truth or was it to reveal? What would your answer be now? I hope [that by now], you are in a better position to answer this question. Was it that the Lord Jesus preached to the crowds with the deliberate intention that they should not understand? Can you imagine that situation? Would this not reduce the whole of Jesus’ preaching into a ridiculous exercise, if one might say so with some degree of reverence? What is the point of going out to preach at all if you do not want the people to understand? Imagine if I have to preach to you with the purpose in mind that you will not understand. Can you imagine that? Will we attribute to God what we ourselves would not do? That is why I said, if I have to preach with this purpose, this intention that you should not understand, then would it not be more sane and more sensible and more wise that I do not preach at all, that I close my Bible and walk off? No, I preach with the intention that you should understand.
So, let us ask a further question: What is a parable? Well, a parable is nothing more or less than an illustration. That is all it is, isn’t it? It is a well-chosen illustration which packs the divine truth into the pictures of that illustration. Now let us ask the question: What is an illustration for? Is it an illustration in order to conceal what you want to say, or is it an illustration designed to reveal what you want to say? Well, put in this way, the answer of course is very plain. You use an illustration to help a person to understand, not in order to stop him from understanding. That is plain, isn’t it? Now, when the Lord Jesus then preaches in parables, he is simply preaching with illustrations. That is all. And the illustrations are to help you to understand. Or to use the words that the Lord Jesus uses in Jn 3:12 when he spoke to Nicodemus, he said, “If I speak to you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you understand if I speak to you heavenly things?” Now, that perfectly illustrates the point of a parable. He knows we have trouble understanding spiritual things, so he speaks to us in earthly pictures. He says, “If I speak to you spiritual things, you won’t understand. So, what do I do? I speak to you in earthly pictures. Now, if you can understand the earthly picture, then you will understand by extension what I am saying to you spiritually. But if you cannot even understand the earthly picture, how are you going to understand the spiritual things that I speak to you in plain language? You will not grasp what I am saying.” Now, that seems perfectly easy to understand.
Here then, we come towards the conclusion of our message, and we begin to realize one thing. The Lord Jesus is trying to bring the truth to us in such a way that we can understand it in terms of pictures – in terms of birds, of flowers, of trees, of the sunshine, of the things you see when you look around. He knows our spiritual understanding is so dull that he speaks to us as a teacher would speak to Sunday school children. Now, I am sure some of you have taught Sunday school children. What do you do? When you speak to Sunday school children, do you open to Romans 8 and begin, “Now, salvation is…”, and you begin to give them an exposition of salvation? All the children will look at you and think, “Now, what exactly is he saying?” Of course, you do not teach children like this. Why? It is because they cannot understand. So, how do you teach children? What do you do? Have you ever seen how Sunday school teachers are always resorting to parables, always returning to pictures? Why? It is because they do not want the children to understand? No, of course they want the children to understand. Then why do they use pictures? Why do they not speak plain language? The simple reason is that children cannot understand plain language. You have got to put it into pictures to help them to grasp it.
That is exactly what the Lord Jesus is doing. He comes to this multitude of people of which most are farmers, you will well remember. What is he going to do? Is he going to give them an exposition as Paul does in Romans 8? Of course not! They cannot understand it! What does he do? He speaks to them on their level. He tells them a story. He tells them a story for them to think about. Gradually, as they think about it, they get the message that is inside. Just as you sow the seed of a story in a child’s heart so that as the child grows and thinks about it, he says, “Oh, yeah! I begin to see now what the point of that story was.” That is the whole purpose of parables. He wants us to understand.
You Will Understand Only As Much Truth As You Are Willing To Obey
Now, this takes us on to this question as Christians: Why then do Christians have so great a problem in understanding? Why? Well, as it is said here, their eyes they have shut. Their spiritual responses are dull. They do not open their eyes to the things of God. Paul says the same thing in 2 Cor 4:3. He says our Gospel is not hidden. When Paul went out to preach the Gospel, he did not preach so that they did not understand; he preached with the intention that they should understand. That is why he said in 2 Cor 4:3, “If our Gospel is concealed, or veiled or hidden, it is hidden only to those who are perishing.” Why is it hidden to those who are perishing? It is because they do not want to hear the truth. They do not want to respond to God’s Word. Now here, in summary, contains the essence of truth you must grasp. You will understand only so much truth as you are willing to obey. I want to repeat this, for it is the secret of the Christian life. It is the secret as to why some people are saved and some are not saved, why some people become mighty spiritual giants and some people become spiritually nothing, that is, spiritual dwarfs. I repeat it again: you will only understand God’s Word in proportion as you are willing to obey.
By shutting the eyes, it is an act of the will. They do not want to hear it. They do not want to see it. I fear, today, that even if you are a Christian, you may have opened your eyes only in part; the rest you do not want to hear. You want only so much of the Gospel that will be sufficient to get you to heaven. More than that, you do not want to hear. Am I right or am I wrong? I fear that I have touched you at a sore spot there. I suspect that many people go to great evangelistic rallies because they only want so much of the Gospel as will get them to heaven, no more and no less. And they hope that that will be the minimum, that is, the minimum that will be required of them. If it is that, then that is enough. More than that, they do not want to hear. Now, if you think like this, you may end up with nothing at all. That is the significance of these words, “To him that has will more be given. To him that has not, even what he thinks he has, he will lose.” You see, the point is this: you never know how much is just enough. When you come to the Word of God, have you not often said, “Oh, I don’t really like to listen to this. I don’t think we have to practice this. This is far too demanding. This is not possible to practice”? When the Lord Jesus says, “Except a man take up his cross and deny himself and follow me, he cannot be my disciple,” what do you say? “Oh no, that’s asking too much. Too much! Surely you can reduce the price of the Gospel to something lower than that! Surely it must be the sale season right now. I mean, you have to come down with your prices. You have got to appeal to the crowds. The cost is too high. How do you expect me to be saved, to become a disciple, if you want me to deny even myself? No way!”
But the preacher comes along and says, “Now, brothers and sisters, to be saved costs you nothing. Oh yes! All you do is believe in Jesus (hallelujah!!) and you will be saved, and you will have peace, and you will have joy.” You see, I can do it pretty well too, right? Not bad! I can do that, too. Then why do I not do it? It is because I know I will not be speaking the truth. “It costs you nothing. All you have got to do is sign the decision card. But first, you come forward while the choir is singing.” They sing beautifully, so your heart is being moved. While everybody is quiet and their heads are bowed, you go to the front, and thereafter, a counselor speaks to you. “All you have got to do” – that is all you have got to do! – “is to believe in Jesus. That’s all you have got to do.” Oh, this is wonderful! Believe in Jesus?! I am not even told what ‘believe in Jesus’ means. But presumably, I confess my sins. I am willing enough to do that. “I believe in Jesus” – what does it mean? Does it mean that I believe that he died for me? So, I confess my sins and confess that I believe in Jesus, that he died for me, and hallelujah, I am in heaven, or almost there anyway! Now, with this kind of a gospel, sure, what is there to worry about? There is no cost. Nothing! You may be saying to yourself, “I am willing to listen to this. This I am willing to listen to any time because it costs me absolutely nothing.”
And in fact, this is stated unashamedly. “You have nothing to lose; only something to gain”, as Whitelaw put it in ‘The Reason Why’, a very well-publicized tract of which I am utterly ashamed, I have to say. He is a businessman who once operated in Shanghai and wrote this tract which is distributed by the millions. Not surprisingly, of course, everybody is willing to have something for nothing. And so, he goes around saying, “You see, becoming a Christian means you have everything to gain and you have absolutely nothing to lose.” Now, you read the Bible and you tell me where in the Bible you see this. “Except a man deny himself,” that is what Jesus says. But Mr. Whitelaw and other people like him have other ways to present the Gospel. I do not intend to say this, but I am going to speak the truth. As I have said before, even if every single person walks out, if nobody ever comes to worship in this place again, it does not worry me. I shall speak the truth. That is my commission. If that truth blinds the person, it is not because I desire to blind the person. It is because that is what the truth will do to those who do not want to hear it.
Believing In Jesus Means We Give Ourselves Totally To Him
Now, brothers and sisters, I ask you to judge for yourselves whether this is the Gospel which we should preach. Jesus paid the price of our redemption, but he wants a total response from us; he gives himself completely to us, the least he requires from us is that we give ourselves totally to him. That is what ‘believe’ means in the Biblical sense. It is not just that Jesus died for me, but that because he died for me, I believe with a total response by saying, as the apostle Paul says, “From now on, I live no more for myself, but for him who died for me and rose again.” Paul says in 2 Cor 5:15 that nobody ever lives to himself again who is a Christian; he lives only for him, that is, for Jesus, who died for him. That is the Gospel! Anything else that is preached that says, “All you have to believe is that Jesus died for you”, is not saying all of it. That is an important, essential part of it, but that is not all.
If you believe that Jesus died for you, if you really believe it, what should be your response? Even if you did not know the Bible, what should be your response? For me, I can see the only response is that if he gave himself for me, I give myself for him. That is the only response of faith possible. How else can we lower the price of salvation and dilute and adulterate the Gospel? And so, my question to you is this: You say you believe in Jesus, praise God! But do you understand that it means living for him? Again, I am not talking about full-time service and the like. I mean living for him wherever you are right now, as a student, as a worker in the office or in the factory, wherever you are. Living for Jesus wherever you are! Doing that work for him, that job for him, studying for him! You belong to him. As Paul says, you were bought with a price – you belong to him. That is why the one title that Paul gloried in is ‘slave of Jesus Christ’. The word ‘servant’, as you all know, means slave. Every letter that Paul opens, he says, “I belong to Jesus.” He declares, in fact, “I have given myself to him. He has bought me, I am his. I am a slave of Jesus Christ. I rejoice to be his slave.” Do you rejoice? That is salvation. He is not willing that any should perish. He speaks to us the truth as plainly as we can understand it. And I have sought to speak to you the truth as plainly as you can understand it.
In Mt 13:16 it says, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” “Blessed are your eyes” – whose eyes? Whose? Who is he speaking to? He is speaking to his disciples. Whose eyes are blessed because they see? It is the disciples’ eyes. Why? It is because they have yielded themselves totally to him. No wonder they are blessed. If today, you have already committed yourself fully to Christ as the disciples did, then indeed blessed are you because now your eyes see. Has it ever struck you how clearly your eyes can see? Do you not praise God how clearly your ears can hear? Do you not rejoice in the fact that God has caused the Holy Spirit to fill your heart? It says in Rom 5:5, “God’s love is shed abroad into our hearts by his Spirit.” Therefore, the secret (if it is a secret at all) is simply in these words. The whole difference (as I have said and I say once more) whether God’s Word is open to you or closed to you is not because God wants you not to understand. God forbid such teaching! God wants you to understand! He puts it to you as clearly as it is ever possible to put it, if necessary by illustration, which is what the Lord Jesus does here – by parable. Whether you understand or not depends on you.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church