Have You Heard the Word (4): God's Hearing Test
Intro – One young college student had perfected the ability to sleep through class, awakening just as it ended. His prof was soon wise to the ruse, so next class period, just as he was waking up, the prof eyed him and said, “So, John, what do you think of that?” Naturally John had no clue, but he collected himself and asked, “Well, professor, what do you think?” The prof scoffed, “I don’t think – I know!” To which John replied, “I don’t think I know either.”
Well, God has something we need to know. But He made it so you really have to want it to get the message. You can’t sleep through class, or breeze through on someone else’s coattails if you want to know Him. Why didn’t He make it easier? Because He wants to know who really wants Him. His Word is a hearing test of our heart, and only those who really want Him will persist to pass.
That is the emphasis of our text. Luke 8:8, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Listen up! This is critical to your eternal existence. Luke 8:18, “Take care then how you hear.” This is a constant theme of Scripture. The command “Hear the Word of the Lord” appears 35 times in the OT. “Hear my words” – 12 times. John 5:24, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.” “Listen to me” – 48 times. God always exhorts in passages like Psa 81:8, “Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me!” When Peter started verbalizing at the Transfiguration, God stepped in and said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to HIM.” Are you detecting a trend?! God, having gone to the trouble of revealing Himself in words insists we listen! He weeds out those who won’t. You gotta want it.
Thus, Jesus urges this audience of hangers-on to listen. He knows the truth of Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Lack of information wasn’t the problem; lack of hearing was. Jesus is haunted by the faces He sees, alive with excitement at the spectacle, but dead to the spiritual reality of their hard hearts and lost condition. And so He begs that they listen, just like He begs that we listen. How important is it? Jesus says in Matt 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Everything else is temporary; the Word is permanent. One day we’ll either be judged by it, or it will be the thing we’ve heard, lived by, rejoiced in and found life thru!
Now look at Lu 8:9-10, “And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” Here is insight into why the Bible isn’t easy. Jesus spoke parables for 2 reasons -- one aimed at those who deep down don’t want to hear, and one at those who do. So why parables?
I. To Conceal Truth
Jesus tells His followers in v. 10, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables (note that they asked about interpreting a parable – singular – but Jesus responds with a general comment about parables – plural. He spoke in parables), so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” This warning should cause the hair on our back to stand up. Anxious as He is for us to know Him, God actually conceals truth from those don’t want Him. That’s ominous – hard to grasp. One of my favorite commentators could not stand that thought. He claims Jesus was saying, “To you disciples I have given the secrets of the kingdom straight out; but to this crowd I have to use parables, pictures to help them understand.” But bless his heart – that’s not Jesus’ meaning. He’s clearly saying parables are to conceal truth from some people.
Jesus quotes from Isa 6 where Isaiah gets a strange commission. Isa 6:8-10: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” God sends Isaiah to tell the people, “You’re not going to get this.” What is the point of that? Beloved, this is God shutting the door! He’s saying, “These people have rejected me time after time after time. I will still send the message, but they will not hear; they will not see; they will not understand, and they will not be healed. They will die in their sin.” That’s Isaiah’s mission. Now Jesus applies the same words to His false followers – people interested only in the spectacle – wanting His blessings, but not Him. For them, judgment is coming! It’s a chilling comment. Persistent rejecters are about to be confirmed in their unbelief. Parables conceal truth from those who don’t care. Those who care will dig out the meaning. Others will blow it off as unimportant. Imagine their surprise when they are judged one day by the very words they blew off.
Jesus says as much in John 12:47, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come (in my first coming) to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” God’s purpose in Christ was and always has been to save sinners. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. But when people refuse to listen, they condemn themselves by the message they refuse.
This illustrates a critical principle – critical! Continued rejection leads to divine judgment. The idea that you can reject Jesus Christ time after time without consequence is foolishness. Many who followed Jesus loved the show, but they wanted no part of repentance. So, the time had come to lay the basis for judgment to follow. Continued rejection leads to condemnation. A prime example Pharaoh’s continued refusal to release Israel from captivity despite the plagues God sent. God gives us telling insight into Pharaoh’s heart as this happens. It’s a warning. Moses comes to Pharaoh for the first time in Exod 7:14: “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go.” The word translated “hard” here is כָּבֵד (kabed) from a root which means heavy, dull, or as NASB translates – stubborn. After the first plague (water to blood) in Exod 7:22, “Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” It’s a different word – חזק (chazaq) which means to harden. Pharaoh’s heart rebels at the whole idea of losing his slaves
But now go to Exod 8:15 after the plague of frogs (#2) Pharaoh promises the people can go, but reneges again: “But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” We’re back to stubborn, but this time HE stubborns his own heart. After a couple more plagues and reneging we get to Exod 8:32, “But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go.” Same as before – he stubborns his own heart. In 9:7 we find that Pharaoh’s heart is stubborned again – no assignment of responsibility. But Pharaoh has reached the end of his tether with God. So we find in Exod 9:12, “But the LORD hardened (suborned) the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses.” God says, “Okay, Pharaoh, your intent is clear; your rejection is total, so let me help you out.” And God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Dear friends, you don’t want to get to that point. You don’t want God helping you in your unbelief, but you reject Him enough times and He will. He’ll say, “Let me help you out.” God is amazingly generous; He’ll help you go whichever way you want. Remember the father of the demonized boy in Mark 9:24 who says, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And Jesus did – took his little faith and made it bigger. But you keep hardening your heart against God and the day will come when He says, “Enough! Let me help you out with your unbelief.” You don’t want to go there, dear friends.
Let me show you one other way that God emphasizes this truth. It’s marvelous that God gave us multiple Gospels. Taken together, they give comprehensive revelation. Lu 8:10 again: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God (the Gospel), but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” “So that” is a purpose clause. It tells us the parables are intended for others (unbelievers) for the purpose that they may not see or hear. God is closing the door on them with the parables. BUT look at Matt 13:13, “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.” That’s not a purpose clause, it’s a result clause. Here Jesus says He speaks in parables because they refuse to see; in Luke He uses parables to cause them not to see. Which is correct? And, of course, the answer is “BOTH.” Both are right. Just like Pharaoh -- reject often enough, and God will lock the door – just like He did in the days of Noah by the way.
There’s an unfinished sketch by Sir John Millais, the great English painter set in Noah’s time. A young man and a young woman, having just taken their marriage vows, are looking at each other with rapture in their eyes. They are oblivious to all else. The husband is about to kiss his bride. Above them stands a patriarchal figure, a father to one of them. He has lifted his hands, about to bestow his blessing; but his hands have frozen in mid-air. A servant has just stepped to the window and caught a glimpse of the watery scene outside. An elderly woman has also seen. Her hand stretches in despair; her face depicts amazement and horror. You can read her mind: “So Noah was right after all!” Yes – Noah was right. But in 120 years of preaching, only 7 pairs of ears heard! The others rejected until too late. Genesis 7:16 makes a big point: “And the LORD shut him in.” It wasn’t Noah who closed the ark; God closed the door on those who rejected. Because continued rejection leads to judgment. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.
II. To Reveal Truth
V. 10: “he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.’ Parables concealed truth from those who did not really want to know. But to true believers, it reveals kingdom truth. This parable is just one more way of teaching that truth to listeners – those of soft and fertile hearts.
A picture is worth 1000 words, right? They focus understanding. Why do they put pictures on assembly instructions? The ladies know. “So that men can try to put it together without reading the instructions!” Right? We are visually oriented! We all get help by seeing how it is supposed to look as you go along. That’s what parables do for truth-seekers. They show us difficult-to-grasp spiritual truth in graphic, concrete terms. They reveal God!
Here’s the great thing. “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.” That tells us truth is knowable. It may not be easy; it may not be obvious; it may not be intuitive, but it can be known. If we don’t get it, the fault is not God’s! Do you get my point? So, over the next couple of weeks, I want us to see 4 things required of us to know God thru parables.
We must be very clear on this. Every person who is outside of Christ is there because they want to be there. They may say they want to know God, but those who say they do not understand do not really want to understand; they do not want the accountability that comes with knowing Him. Jesus told His disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.” Why to them and not to others? Because they had a passion for God – not for rules, not for regulations, not for ritual, but for God. They were still novices, but they desired to know God. These guys were fishermen from Galilee who were down in Judea following John the Baptist when Jesus found them. They wanted to know God! God says in Deut 4:29, “But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Isaiah 55:6 advises, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” God’s there for those who truly seek Him – in His way, under His terms, according to His will and thru His Word. But His Word is forever a mystery to the hangers-on, the thrill-seekers, and half-hearted.
V. 9, “And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant.” They longed to know. David says in Psa 25:14, “The friendship (better translated secret counsel as NASB and NIV) of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” God’s insights are given to true believers. I Cor 2:12, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (Jump to 14) 14 The natural person (uncommitted) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
In Hosea 5 God calls Israel to repent of their idolatry – like today’s idols of career, wealth, pleasure, family, some addiction in place of God. Hos 5:15, “I will return again to my place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.” God gives understanding only to those who truly seek it. Look at Hos 6:1, “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.” Healing and understanding come to true seekers. You have to want it. Say like Jacob, ““I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen 32:26).
William Pitt the Younger was the youngest PM in British history until his premature death at age 46 in 1806. He had a great friend in parliament – William Wilberforce, the pioneer in the abolition of slavery in England. Wilberforce became a committed believer at age 26 and longed for his friend to know Christ as well. Pitt was a formal Christian, went to church once in a while, knew the lingo. But he had no saving faith. Wilberforce got Pitt to go hear Richard Cecil, a gospel preacher whom Wilberforce loved. On the day they went, Wilberforce felt he had never heard the Gospel with more clarity or power. He thrilled to God’s truth. He couldn’t wait for Pitt’s reaction. But Pitt said, “You know, Wilberforce, I did my very best to concentrate with the whole of my power upon what that man was saying, but I have not the slightest idea as to what he has been talking about.” How could there be two such diverse reactions from two equally brilliant men? One was seeking God with his whole heart. The other was placating a friend with no desire for God other than as a sidelight. Beloved, God will not be a sidelight for anyone. Neither would you if God.
Even believers fall prey to lack of desire. Peter warns, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (I Pet 2:2-3). Peter realized that the more we get, the more we will want. The more we experience God’s goodness, the more we will want Him. Many are like the family whose 7-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a mild form of diabetes. A new diet regimen was required. Mom said, “Do you think you could eat green beans?” The daughter relied, “No, I haven’t liked green beans since the accident.” Mom asked, “What accident?” The little girl replied, “When I accidentally ate a green bean.” Some of us are like that with the Word. We had a bad experience. Started to read the Bible and hit Leviticus and that was it for us. Green beans! Oh, Beloved, there is so much awaiting those who want it.
Conc -- David says in Psa 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” If you get some green beans, don’t give up, Beloved. Go back for more. You will soon find that the Lord is good, and you will want all you can get. John MacArthur has been studying and preaching the Word for almost 45 years now. He says, “There are many days when I can hardly stand what I am discovering. It just overwhelms me. In every paragraph there is this incomparable Jesus Christ and He is just devastatingly powerful and glorious. It is a crushing experience to be exposed to Him, and yet it is the most exalting thing – to realize He has embraced me for all eternity! I would rather preach Christ than anything else. He is the most compelling subject in all the universe.” We can know Him that way too, dear friends, but we have to want Him. That’s who He reveals Himself to. You can’t sleep thru class and get to know God. Let’s pray.