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06. The Purpose of the Parables

 

Chapter 6

The Purpose of the Parables

Matthew 13:10-17

Eric H. H. Chang

Montreal, July 16, 1978

 

Today, we continue in our systematic exposition of God’s Word in Matthew 13:10-17. We come to the section which is in fact, wedged into the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. In this passage, there are some very 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 Chapter 4 and Luke Chapter 8, but we shall not look at them because they are very much shorter and less in content than this passage in Matthew.

To conceal or reveal?

I would like you to bear in mind a number of questions as we read this passage. First, we want to ask the question that comes up in verse 10, why did the Lord Jesus teach in parables? What is the purpose of the parable? Is it to hide the message of salvation, or is it to reveal the message of salvation? That is the crucial point. If the parable hides the message to some, is it God’s intention to hide it? We have to ask this question be­cause it reveals and deals with the wider question, what is God’s purpose towards us? Does He want to save us or doesn’t He want to save us? Now, if the purpose of a parable is to conceal salvation, presumably, the answer is that God doesn’t want to save us. That seems to be a strange reply, but we shall see that in certain theologies, that is in fact the reply. The theology of the Calvinistic type is that the parable is designed to conceal rather than reveal; it is judgment rather than grace. We shall look at this in more detail. But these are the questions that we need to ask: Why did the Lord Jesus speak to us in parables? Is salvation for everyone or not for everyone?

Now we read Matthew 13:10-11, where Jesus’ disciples ask him about speaking in parables to the multitudes:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them 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.”

In regard to this statement of the Lord Jesus, I want you to ask, is this a statement of intention, or is this a statement of fact? There is a crucial difference between the two. Is it God’s intention not to give the kingdom to some, but to give it to others? Then this confirms 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? Is it 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?

An error along the line will cost eternal well-being

To expound the Word of God requires clear thinking, as well as accurate exposition. Any error along the line is going to cause the most serious consequences, more serious than an error in any kind of study you could pursue in this world. An engineer’s mistake in the structural design will result in a bridge collapsing, with some lives being lost. But a preacher’s 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.

Matthew 13:12-17 reads:

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, 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 has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn to 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 we have very important questions to ask. Why did Jesus speak in parables? What reason did he give? Which people’s hearts have grown dull? In the first place, the people of Israel, of course. Isaiah addressed the words to the nation of Israel. Who has closed their eyes? They have. You can clearly see the passage is not easy to understand. But precisely because it is not easy to understand, it contains great truth of great importance.

I return to this question, why did the Lord Jesus speak in parables to the crowds? 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 the Lord Jesus, in fact, spoke the words in such a way that it was a word not of salvation, but of judgment, so that they could not understand. Salvation was there but they could not perceive it. Only to those whom God gave eyes to perceive, and ears to hear would understand; the others were deliberately blinded.

Well, what is the evidence for this? The evidence is exceedingly plain in John 12:38-40, which is quoting from Isaiah 6:10, and what does it say about God?

...so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”

God has blinded their eyes so that they shall not see; He has hardened their hearts so that they shall not perceive, so that they may not turn to Him to be healed. Calvin glories in this teaching. The predestinarians rejoice in this teaching. I don’t rejoice. I don’t glory in this teaching, because I am about to refute it. Now if Calvin is correct, that God does not want you to be saved, I shall close my Bible right here and walk away from the pulpit, for I have no message to preach. I don’t know why Calvin preached. I don’t know why I should preach, for God does not want people to turn in repentance. If there are non-Christians here, I don’t 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 perish.

But before we rush into such a conclusion, 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 look at this passage again, so that we come to the right conclusion. I want to show you first the exposition, then I want to show you what is the position. I am sorry that I will have to take the occasion to refer to people like Calvin, and to predestination. I want to say that much of what Calvin has said is of great value. I am no enemy of Calvin, but I differ on this one point, and I differ with him publicly and with no apology. I want to show that his theological thinking is wrong, his exegesis is wrong, and I hope that the process of showing you why, 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 multitudes, what should I be doing? Should I not follow and do the same? Why would I ever go forth and preach the gospel to the multitudes? Never! For Jesus is concerned that their eyes should be blinded. Is this what Jesus means? Does he also want to indicate that this is 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, religion is more important than people. I don’t wish to have any part of this kind of religion, and I make no apology for saying so. If religion 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 hearts, I don’t 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, which is exactly what so many have done. Calvin makes great use of this particular passage, John 12:38-40 in his work on this subject called, The Eternal Predestination of God. In fact, I read the related section again just yesterday, to refresh my mind on what he had to say, and I could agree on nothing except one point: he acknowledges that they sinned first. But I cannot agree that God chose to harden their hearts! In fact, the way I present it is even much too soft for what Calvin wanted to say.

Man’s heart is hardened—Is God responsible or man?

1. The Greek and Hebrew texts of Isaiah 6:9-10 are different

Now let us turn to the Word of God and see what the Lord Jesus actually says. First, we will turn immediately to Matthew 13:14-15, which is a quotation of Isaiah 6:9-10,

“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 has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes 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.’”

It is also quoted in John 12:40,

“He 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.”

But you will wonder why do both quote Isaiah 6 but differently? The answer is this. The quotation in Matthew 13:14-15 is quoted from the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, with no change in tense, no change in wording. You will see that the Greek Old Testament translators had softened the force that we see in the Hebrew Old Testament, fearing precisely misunderstanding by some people who are untrained in theology. When you read this passage, you will notice that there is no ascription to God hardening anyone’s heart or blinding anyone’s eyes.

Let us read it again. What we read in the Greek Old Testament, and quoted in Matthew 13 in full, are all statements of fact. Matthew 13:14 states: “You shall indeed hear but you will not understand, you will indeed see but you will not perceive.” Then verse 15 states that the reason they see and do not perceive, hear and do not understand is: “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed.” God did not do any of these things. The responsibility is put fully and squarely upon the people of Israel for closing their eyes to God’s truth. Have you noticed that there is no ascription to God whatsoever?

Now let us turn to Isaiah 6:9-10 and see what it actually says. The English translation follows the Hebrew Old Testament, not the Greek:

“And He said, ‘Go, and say to this people: Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people fat, and 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.’”

Is what God said to Isaiah in verse 9 a statement of fact, or is it a statement of intention? What is it? We see the difference in the Hebrew Old Testament from the Greek Old Testament in verse 10.

You can also see that John 12:40 is quoting from the Hebrew Old Testament. Here Isaiah, as God’s servant and God’s instrument, is told to make the heart of this people fat, to make their ears heavy, and to shut their eyes. So John 12:40 is saying that God is doing this through Isaiah. You will say, “Ah, so the Calvinists are right!” Yes, partially so, but when you understand the reason, the whole picture changes.

Let me put the situation to you very simply now. First, Isaiah the great prophet of God has had a vision of God, and God sends him forth saying, “Go and speak to this people. Make their heart fat (i.e. slow of spiritual understanding); close their eyes, but not blind them, and see to it that their ears do not hear.” Why? When you read the first five chapters of Isaiah, you will know why. The people had already shut their eyes. That is the background to the Greek translation of Isaiah 6:9-10, which is quoted in Matthew 13:14-15.

2. The truth Isaiah proclaimed closed eyes, ears, hearts

Secondly, Isaiah is sent forth to preach the gospel to Israel, and the book of Isaiah is often spoken of as “the Gospel of Isaiah,” because the coming of Christ, or the coming of the Messiah is so fully portrayed in it. Now let me ask you, how does Isaiah make the heart of this people heavy as commanded by God? If God gave you the instruction, “Go and preach the gospel, but shut the eyes of the people, close their ears, make their hearts heavy,” how do you do it? Now that is the key to a correct exposition. The answer is not guesswork; it is right before us in Isaiah. Did Isaiah obey God’s command? Certainly! How did he do it?

How do you go out and block the hearts of the people? Think about it. If you had this job to do today, how are you going to do it? If I am given this job now, just as Isaiah was given this job, how am I going to block your heart? Shall I come to you and give you a punch in the chest hoping that it will close the valve? Shall I suddenly put my hands around your eyes so that you cannot see? Shall I put my fingers in your ears when I am preaching the gospel, so that you can’t hear? You will say, “It’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 conclusion such as, God wants everyone to perish, or He selects only a small group to save and 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? What did Isaiah do? Quite simple. He proclaimed the truth. How else do you do this work? Now you will say, “I have lost you.” Follow me for a moment, and it is not that difficult to understand, and it is so wonderful when you 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 close your ears. The truth of God will either make you alive, or it will kill you. The truth does it all. When I preach the truth of God, some people are going to close their ears, and some people are going to open their hearts. When I preach the message of Christ, some people are going to live, some people are going to die. Every preacher should understand this perfectly. Now when I preach to a people who are like what the Israelites were, a stiff-necked and rebellious nation, I don’t have to do anything to close their eyes, they will resist the truth. As God said to Ezekiel, “When you preach that word, they will reject you. But I will give you a forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint, and you will preach to them all the same.” (Eze. 3:7-9)

God is not willing that anyone should perish

God was not willing that any should perish, which is 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! God is simply not willing, that even though He knew the people did not want to hear His Word, He sent one servant after another.

That is the whole message of the Lord Jesus in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants in the Vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16). When the tenants killed the first servant, God, the owner sent another one. Why? If they killed the first one, they will kill the next one. Because He was not willing that they should perish. He sent another servant after one is killed. And he sent last of all, His son, and they killed His son too.

In Matthew 23:37, the Lord Jesus echoes his Father and his God to say, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem that kills the prophets. How often I would have gathered you under my wings, but you would not.” That is, “I was not willing that you should perish. I wanted to gather you under my wings, but you didn’t want to.”

Once we understand this, we’ll understand how God can blind the people. How? Simply by speaking the truth. That is all we have to do. Do you see now how John 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. It is not just darkness that blinds, light can blind too. It is so important to grasp this truth!

Indeed, God sent forth Isaiah to make the heart of these people heavy. How? By preaching the truth, and God knew the people would not receive it. Since He knew they would not receive the gospel, why preach it? Because He was not willing that any should perish. That is the whole point! In Isaiah 65:2 are those beautiful words:

“All day long I have stretched out my hands to a stiff-necked and rebellious people.”

Why bother to stretch out your hands to stiff-necked people? Because God was not willing that they should perish.

Can you understand that? God does not want you to perish. I have said before and I say again, nobody will go into hell unless he pushes past the nail-pierced hands of Jesus, His Christ, and goes there. He stands at the gates of hell and blocks them with his nail-pierced hands and says, “I beg you not to go through.” He is not willing that any should perish, because that is his Father's will.

By now you can see how dangerous is the superficial, inaccurate exposition of the Word that takes a passage like John 12:40 and says, “Aha! God wants you to perish because God blinds your eyes.” Before you jump to such conclusions, ask how does God blind your eyes? It is through God speaking the truth. It is so hard to swallow the truth, and so many people reject the truth that we, Chinese, know this proverb very well: “忠言逆耳﹐良藥苦口”, which means “Truthful words are hard to the ears, good medicine is bitter to your taste.” We may know it is true, but we don’t like it.

That is why I have urged you, as Christians, to always love the truth, and love it to the end. The truth of the matter is we can establish firmly and without question, under solid Scriptural basis, God is not willing that any should perish. This is confirmed in 2 Peter 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 the majority to perish, preaches an unheard-of heresy. Consider this carefully.

What gives Calvinism plausibility?

I want to stop for a moment. What gives Calvinism its plausibility? Calvinism derives its plausibility on this matter of predestination, simply by quoting verses like John 12:40 to people who are not equipped to understand it. It gives a prima facie situation. As every lawyer knows, a statement may seem to be something on the face of it at first, then it turns out to be quite the opposite of what it appears to be, when you examine it. This principle also holds in Scripture, that things are not always what they seem to be.

What gives plausibility to the predestination doctrine in Calvinism, is that they concentrate on one point and one point only, namely, the will of God. Now to analyze predestination teaching in Calvinism, you only have to understand this one thing: his whole focus is on the will of God that the Bible has a lot to say about. So that sounds good, until you realize two things that are not Scriptural about this teaching of the will of God.

1. God’s will is sovereign, and discounts His holiness and love

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 are sacrificed to a doctrine of the will of God. I have no time to expound in detail what this means, but to put it simply, it does mean that whether God saves 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, because it is simply His will. Or you may be a very good person, but God simply doesn’t choose to save you. His will is all that matters. That is Calvinism in its essence.

They don’t deny His holiness, but there is not much use for it or His love for that matter. God can hardly be spoken of as a God of love when He is willing to let the majority perish. But they don’t worry about that either. They talk so much about the sovereignty of God’s will. He does whatever He likes to do. A thing is right because God wants to do it. There is no other standard of right or wrong. There is even no question that right or wrong could be measured in the light of God’s holiness or love. That sovereign will of God as they put it, covers everything else. 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.

2. God’s will is also incomprehensible

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 God’s will as being incomprehensible. So every time you question him, he simply says it is incomprehensible. Well, it is quite safe to keep saying that 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. Don’t ask any questions! This means God’s will is utterly incomprehen­sible. If we ask no questions about the will of God, then we need not reason. We can think about the Bible, but don’t ask any questions when it comes to the will of God, because it is already stated in advance that it is incomprehensible.

The dangers of the Doctrine of Predestination

What are the dangers of this kind of doctrine? The dangers are manifold. I speak out more forthrightly than perhaps any other preacher, because I am aware of its frightful dangers.

1. You cannot love God whose will is incomprehensible

The danger is that God becomes utterly unintelligible. And how do you love God, when there is no way you can understand His actions, because His will is incomprehensible? Therefore you have 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 to really love God—not just fear or adore—with such a kind of doctrine.

2. You cease to be responsible for your actions

The second consequence of this is that it utterly removes human responsibility. You cease to be responsible for your actions, because the only thing that matters is God’s will. What you do or don’t do doesn’t really matter, except the will of God. In other words, it develops a so-called “Christianized irresponsibility.” The consequences are fearful.

What is the error of Calvinism? The error is simply this: nowhere do I see in the Scripture that, God’s will is ever made to become something which there is no rhyme or reason to it. Everywhere in the Bible, you see God’s love and God’s holiness govern His will. Now this is true both in human beings, and in the God of the Bible. Your character governs the function of your will, doesn’t it? That is why you can often predict what a certain person will do or decide, because you know his character well enough. You know how his will function. It is simply not true to say that, will functions independent of character. It is simply not true either of God or of man, as we see in Scripture. That is what this kind of doctrine presupposes.

Therefore we find in the Scripture that, God’s love and God’s holi­ness are what govern the functioning of His will. Now I can understand God in this way. I cannot understand God 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? Probably the answer to that, is you don’t respond. God simply does all the responding in you. You are simply more or less a spiritual marionette.

I know that some of what we have discussed would be over your heads, because it 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 I apologize if some of it has gone over your head, but I know the others need to understand.

Lord Jesus uses parables to help us understand the truth

In the light of all these discussions, let us now ask the question, when Christ 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 you are in a better position to answer this question. Did the Lord Jesus preach 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 to 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 don’t want the people to understand? Can you imagine me purposely preaching to you, so that you will not understand? Will we attribute to God what we ourselves would not do? That is why I said, if I preach with this intention that you should not understand, would it not be wiser that I don’t 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 more or less an illustration. That is all it is, isn’t it? It is a well-chosen illustration which packs the divine truth into the picture of that illustration. Now let us ask the question, what is an illustration for? Is an illustration designed to conceal what you want to say, or is 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 to stop him from understanding. That is plain, isn’t it? Now when the Lord Jesus preaches in parables, he is simply preaching with illustration, and the illustration is to help you understand. Or to use the words of the Lord Jesus in John 3:12 when he spoke to Nicodemus, “If I speak to you of earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you understand if I speak to you of 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. If you can understand the earthly picture, 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 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 them, do you turn to Romans Chapter 8 and begin to give them an exposition of salvation? All the children would look at you and think, “What exactly is he saying?” Of course, you don’t teach children like this. Why? 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 pictures? Why? Because they don’t want the children to understand? No, of course they want the children to understand. Then why do they use pictures? Why don’t they speak plain language? The simple reason is, the children cannot understand plain language. You have got to put it into pictures to help them to grasp the teaching in the Bible.

That is exactly what the Lord Jesus is doing. He comes to this multitude of people, most of them farmers, you will well remember. Is he going to give them an exposition as Paul does in Romans Chapter 8? Of course not! They cannot understand it! What does he do? He speaks to them on their level. He tells them a story to think about, and as they think, they get the message that is inside. Just as you sow the seed of a Bible story in a child’s heart, so that as the child grows and thinks about it, he says, “Oh yeah, I begin to see what is the point of that story.” The whole purpose of Jesus telling parables is that he wants us to understand.

You only understand as much truth as you are willing to obey

This takes us on to this question, Why then do Christians have so great a problem understanding? Why? Well, as it is said here, they have closed their eyes, their spiritual responses are dull; they don’t open their eyes to the things of God. Paul says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 4:3, that 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. And that is why he said in 2 Corinthians 4:3, “If our gospel is concealed, or veiled or hidden, it is only hidden to those who are perishing.” Why is it hidden to those who are perishing? Because they don’t want to hear the truth. They don’t want to respond to God’s Word.

This verse contains the essence of truth you must grasp: You will only understand as much truth as you are willing to obey. 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 spiritual dwarfs. And I repeat, you will only understand God’s Word in proport­ion as you are willing to obey it.

Closing the eyes is an act of the will. They don’t want to see the truth. I fear today, that even if you are a Christian, you may have opened your eyes only in part. You only want enough of the gospel to get you to heaven. 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 as much of the gospel as will get them to heaven. They don’t want to hear more than that, and they hope that the minimum will be required of them. Now if you think like this, you may end up with nothing at all. That is the significance of these words in Luke 8:18 (Mt. 13:12, 25:29), “To him that has will more be given, to him that has not even what he thinks he has, will be taken away.” The point is, you never know how much of the gospel 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? Do you say, “Oh no! That’s asking too much! Surely, you can lower the cost of the gospel? Surely, there must be a sale? 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 to be saved costs you nothing. Hallelujah! All you do is believe in God, and you will be saved. You will have peace, and you will have joy. It costs you nothing! You come forward while the choir is singing, and all you have to do is sign the decision card.” So the choir sings beautifully, and your heart is being moved, and while everybody is quiet with their heads bowed, you will come to the front, and a counselor will speak to you. I can also say, “All you have to do is believe in Jesus.” Then why don’t I do it? Because I know I will not be speaking the truth.

You are not even told what “believe in Jesus” means. Presumably, you confess your sins. You are willing enough to do that. But what does it mean to “believe in Jesus”? Does it mean you believe that he died for you? So you confess your sins, and believe that Jesus died for you. Hallelujah! You are in heaven, or almost there anyway! Now with this kind of a gospel, what is there to worry about? You are willing to listen to this any time, because it costs you absolutely nothing.

In fact, Mr. Whitelaw stated unashamedly in “The Reason Why”, a very well-publicized tract, of which I have to say I am utterly ashamed: “Becoming a Christian means you have everything to gain, and absolute­ly nothing to lose.” He is a businessman, who once did business in Shanghai, and he wrote this tract which was distributed by the millions, and not surprisingly, everybody was willing to get something for nothing.

Now tell me where do you see this in the Bible? “Except a man deny himself,” is what Jesus says. But Mr. Whitelaw and other people like him have other ways to present the gospel. I don’t intend to say this. I am going to speak the truth. As I have said before, even if nobody ever comes to worship in this place again, it doesn’t worry me. I shall speak the truth. That is my commission. If that truth blinds the person, it’s not because I desire to blind the person. It’s because that is what the truth will do to those who don’t want to hear it.

Key to understanding the truth: total obedience to Christ

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, and the least God requires from us is that we give ourselves totally to Jesus. A total response to Jesus is to obey the will of God. 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, and say as the apostle Paul says, “From now on, I live no more for myself, but for him who died for me and rose again.” (2 Cor. 5:15). No Christian ever lives to himself again. He lives only for Jesus, who died for him. That is the gospel!

“All you have to believe is that Jesus died for you,” is an essential part of it, but not all. If you really believe that Jesus died for you, 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 in obedience to God’s will, I’ll give myself to him, to put on him, to imitate him in obedience to God’s will. That is the only possible response of faith. How can we lower the cost of salvation and adulterate the gospel?

So my question to you is this: you say you believe in Jesus, but do you understand that it means to live for him, and therefore for God, whom he represents? I am not talking about full-time service. I mean, living for Christ and for God wherever you are right now, as a student, in the office, in the factory, doing that job for Him, studying for Him. You belong to Him because you were bought with a price.

That is why the one title that Paul gloried in is, “slave of Jesus Christ”. The word “servant” means slave. Paul opens every letter with, “I belong to Jesus.” In fact, he declares, “I have given myself to him. He has bought me, I am a slave of Jesus Christ. I rejoice to be his slave, because he is totally committed to obeying his Father and God.” Do you rejoice to be a slave of Jesus Christ? That is salvation! God is not willing that any should perish, so He sent His Son who speaks the truth to us as plainly as we can understand it. And I have sought to speak to you the truth as plainly as you can understand.

Matthew 13:16 says, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” Whose eyes are blessed because they see? The dis­ciples’. Why? Because they have yielded themselves totally to the Christ of God. No wonder they are blessed. If you have already committed yourself fully to Christ and to God, then indeed, you are blessed because your eyes see. Has it ever struck you how clearly your eyes can see? Don’t you praise God how clearly your ears can hear? Don’t you rejoice in the fact that God has caused His holy Spirit to fill your heart as it says in Romans 5:5, “God’s love is shed abroad into our hearts by His Spirit”?

Therefore, I say once more, whether God’s Word is open or closed to you, is not because God doesn’t want you to understand. God forbid such teaching! God wants you to understand. That is why His Christ, the Lord Jesus puts it to you as clearly as it is ever possible, if necessary by parable. Whether you understand or not depends on you.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church