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6. The Purpose of the Parables

– Chapter 6 –

The Purpose of the Parables

Matthew 13:10–17

Montreal, July 16, 1978


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. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abun­dance, but from the one 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. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would 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 people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:10–17, ESV)

We continue our systematic exposition of God’s Word in Matthew chapter 13. Today we study Matthew 13:10–17, a passage which is wedged in the Parable of the Sower. By “wedged” we mean that this passage is placed between the parable and its explanation. In this passage we see some important matters that we have to deal with, and if we fail to deal with them correctly, we will go on the wrong track in understanding God’s Word.

The parallels to today’s passage are found in Mark chapter 4 and Luke chapter 8, but we will not look at them because they are much shorter and have less content than this passage in Matthew.

To conceal or to reveal?

I would like you to keep a number of questions in mind as we read this passage, Matthew 13:10–17. First, we ask the quest­ion that the disciples raised in verse 10: Why does the Lord Jesus teach the people in parables? Then we can ask, What is the purpose of the parable? Is it to hide or to reveal the mess­age of salvation? That is the crucial point. If the parable hides the message from some, is this God’s intention to hide it in the first place?

We ask this question because it leads to the wider question, What is God’s purpose for us? Does He want to save us or doesn’t He? If the purpose of a parable is to conceal salvation, presum­ably God wouldn’t want to save some of us. This answer may seem strange, but it is taught in certain theolog­ies. In Calvinistic theology, a parable is designed to conceal rather than reveal, conveying judgment rather than grace. We will look at this in greater detail.

So the questions we need to ask are: Why did the Lord speak to the people in parables? Is salvation for everyone or not for everyone?

Let us read the first part of today’s passage, in verses 10 and 11, in which the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks to the people in parables:

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 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. (Matthew 13:10–11, ESV)

Are these words of Jesus a statement of intention, or are they a statement of fact? There is a crucial difference between them. In other words, is it God’s intent­ion to give the kingdom to some and not to others? If the answer is yes, this would fall in line with predestinarian doctrine which teaches that some are chosen to be saved, but others are not. So is this a statement of fact or a statement of intention? Is it that God’s kingdom is given to you because you have received it, but not given to others because they have rejected it?

A preacher’s error can cost people their eternal welfare

Expounding God’s Word takes clear thinking as well as accur­ate exposition. Any error along the line will result in the most serious consequences, more serious than any error you can make in any area of study in the world. An engineer’s error in structural design could cause a bridge to collapse, with lives lost. But a mistake in expounding God’s Word could cost peo­ple their eternal welfare. That awesome responsi­bility has never ceased to frighten me. But I proceed under the grace of God.

Let us read the rest of passage, Matthew 13:12–17:

For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one 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. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is ful­filled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would 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 people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Mt. 13:12–17, ESV)

This passage raises some important questions. Why did Jesus speak in parables? What reasons did he give for doing so? Whose hearts have grown dull? Would they be the people of Israel in the first place? Isaiah originally addressed these words to the nation of Israel which had closed its eyes.

We can see that the passage is not easy to understand. But precisely because it is not easy to understand, it contains great truths of great importance.

I now return to the question: When Jesus spoke to the people in parables, was it to hide salvation from them, or was it 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 contrary to predestinarianism and Calvinism. But if you say it was to conceal the truth from them, then you have taken the predes­tinarian position, according to which Jesus spoke a word of judg­ment, not of salvation, so that they would not understand. According to this doctrine, salvat­ion was there but they could not see it, for the message of salvation is understood only by those to whom God has given eyes to perceive, and ears to hear; all the others were deliberately blinded.

What is the evidence for this? The evidence comes out in John 12:38–40, which quotes Isaiah 6:10.

38 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?” 39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40 “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. (John 12:38–40, ESV)

In verse 40, it is God who blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts so that they may not see or understand, thereby preventing them from turning to God for healing. John Calvin and his fellow predestinarians glory in this teaching. I don’t rejoice or glory in this teaching because I am about to refute it.

If Calvin is right in saying that God doesn’t you to be saved, I shall close my Bible right here and walk away from the pulpit, for I would have no mess­age to preach. I don’t know why Calvin should preach, or why I should preach, if God doesn’t want people to turn to Him in repentance. If there are non-Christians here, I wouldn’t know the purpose of my preaching to you if the preaching is designed to conceal rather than reveal, at least for those who are perishing.

Before we rush to 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 may come to the right conclusions. I want to show you first the expos­ition, then the conclusion. I am sorry that I have to refer to people like John Calvin or teachings such as predestinarianism. Much of what Calvin says is of great value. I am no enemy of Calvin, but I differ on this one point, and I will do this publicly and without apology. I want to show that his theological thinking is wrong, his exegesis is wrong, and I hope that my explanation will not be too difficult for you to understand.

As I said, if John Calvin is right, I would have no reason what­soever to stand here and preach, since my preaching would be designed to conceal rather than reveal. If Jesus was concealing the truth from the multitudes, should I not follow him and do the same?

Was it Jesus’ intention that their eyes be blinded? Did he indicate that this is also what God wants? I say this with deep regret because, to my mind, it is almost inconceivable that such exegesis could be preached today. To some Christians, theology is more important than people. I don’t wish to have any part in this kind of religion, and I make no apology for saying so. If religion can glory in a God who chooses certain people to be consigned to hell, who blinds people, who deafens their ears and hardens their hearts, I don’t want to be a minister of that sort of religion. I thank God that this is not the God of the Bible. Never take Scripture out of context, as many have done.

Calvin makes great use of this particular passage, John 12:38–40, in his work, The Eternal Predestination of God. I read the relevant section again just yesterday, to refresh my mind on what he says, and I could agree on nothing except one point: he acknowledges that the people sinned first. But I cannot agree that God has chosen to harden their hearts arbitrarily.

Man’s heart is hardened — Who is responsible?

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

Let us now turn to God’s Word, and see what the Lord Jesus actually says. We turn again to Matthew 13:14–15, which is a quotation of Isaiah 6:9–10:

14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:14–15, ESV)

Now we look at John 12:40 which also quotes Isaiah 6:

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.” (John 12:40, ESV)

You may wonder why Matthew and John both quote Isaiah 6, yet arrive at different conclusions. In Matthew’s passage, it is the people who close their own eyes, but in John’s passage, it is God who closes their eyes. See the words in boldface above.

What accounts for the difference? The answer is that John 12:40 quotes Isaiah from the Hebrew Bible, but Matthew 13:14–15 quotes Isaiah from the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament trans­lated from the Hebrew Old Testament) with no change in tense or wording, apart from a few tiny var­iations. The Septuagint transla­tors softened the tone of the Hebrew Old Testament, for fear that the statement would be misunderstood by those who are untrained in the Bible. This is accepted by Matthew, who quotes the Septuagint version.

When you read Matthew’s version, you will notice that there is no ascription to God of hardening anyone’s heart or blinding anyone’s eyes. There is no statement that God did any of these things to them. The responsibility is placed fully and squarely upon the people of Israel for closing their eyes to God’s truth. Hence the Isaiah passage in the Septuagint is a statement of fact rather than of intention.

Let us turn to Isaiah 6:8–10 and see what it says. The follow­ing are two English translations. The first one is based on the Hebrew Old Testament; the second is based on the Septuagint (from a modern and scholarly translation, A New English Translation of the Septuagint):

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive.’ 10 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.” (Isaiah 6:8-10, RSV)

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go to this people?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘You will listen by listening, but you will not understand, and looking you will look, but you will not perceive.’ 10 For this people’s heart has grown fat, and with their ears they have heard heavily, and they have shut their eyes so that they might not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them.’” (Isaiah 6:8-10, A New English Translation of the Septuagint)

Notice the words in boldface. In the first passage from the Hebrew OT, it is God who shuts their eyes. In the second passage from the Greek OT, it is the people who close their own eyes. Verse 10 is where we see the key difference. In the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Isaiah, as God’s servant and instrument, was told to make the heart of the people fat, to make their ears heavy, and to shut their eyes — as seen in John 12:40 which quotes this. But in the Greek Old Testament, their spiritual condition is presented as a description of fact, with people shutting their own eyes, as reflected in Matthew 13:14–15. How then do we understand this?

1. Isaiah chapter 6 cannot be isolated from chapters 1 to 5

Let me put the matter to you simply: The matter is resolved when we look at the first five chapters of Isaiah, since they form the back­ground to Isaiah 6. We cannot isolate Isaiah chapter 6 from its con­text, Isaiah chapters 1 to 5. These chapters precede and explain chapter 6.

In chapter 6, Isaiah the great prophet had a vision of God, and God sent him forth: “Go and speak to this people. Make their heart fat (slow of spiritual under­standing), make their ears heavy (unable to hear the message), and shut their eyes (to prevent them from perceiv­ing spiritual truth).” Why? When you read the first five chapters of Isaiah, you will see why. The people had already shut their own eyes, being unwilling to see the truth, and were responsible for harden­ing their own hearts. We don’t have time to survey chapters 1 to 5 today, which you can read at home. But that is the background to, and the reason behind the Greek translation of Isaiah 6:9–10 which is quoted in Matthew 13:14–15.

2. The truth will close your eyes, ears, hearts

The book of Isaiah is often called “the Gospel of Isaiah” because in it, the coming of Christ — the Messiah — is so fully portrayed.

So how does Isaiah make the heart of the people dull, as commanded by God? If God had given you the instruction, “Go and preach the gospel, but shut the eyes of the people, close their ears, and make their hearts dull,” how will you do it? The answer is not guess­work; it appears right before us in Isaiah, and is the key to a correct exposit­ion. Did Isaiah obey God’s instruction to shut the eyes of the people? He certainly did! But how did he do it?

How do you go out and block the hearts of the people? Think about it. If you were assigned this job today, how will you do it? If I were given this job as Isaiah was given this job, what would I do to block your heart? Do I punch you in the chest to block your heart valve? Do I cover your eyes with my hands so that you cannot see? Do I stick my fingers into your ears so that you cannot hear? You will say, “That’s ridiculous!” Of course it is! But how then are we going to do it? Think, brothers and sisters, before you conclude that God wants the people to perish, that He selects only a small group to save and lets the others perish.

How exactly do you shut people’s ears and blind their eyes? How did Isaiah do it? He simply proclaimed the truth. How else can you do this task? You may say, “I have lost you.” Follow me for a mo­ment, and it won’t be hard to understand. And when you understand it, it will turn out to be amazing!

God’s truth will do one of two things in everyone’s life. The truth will either open your eyes or blind your eyes. God’s truth will either open your ears or close your ears. God’s truth will either make you alive or kill you. The truth does all this. When I preach God’s truth, some people close their ears, but others open their hearts. When I preach the message of Christ, some are going to live, some are going to die. Every preacher should understand this.

When I preach to a people who are like the Israelites, a stiff-necked and rebellious nation, I don’t have to do any­thing to close their eyes: they will simply resist the truth. God said to Ezekiel, “But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me. Because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads.” (Ezekiel 3:7–8, ESV)

God is not willing that any should perish

God is not willing that any should perish, a truth that Calvin denies. Calvin says that it is God’s will that some should perish, for there is no other way to under­stand this. I abhor this teach­ing! I have stated before and state again that God is simply not willing that any should perish even though He knows that the people will reject His Word. He sent one servant after another to proclaim the message to them.

That is seen in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants in the Vineyard (Mt. 20:1–16). After the tenants killed the first ser­vant, another ser­vant is sent to them by the owner, who represents God in the parable. Why send another? If they killed the first one, they will kill the next one. It is because God is not willing that they should perish. Last of all, He sent His own son, and they killed him too.

In Matthew 23:37, Jesus echoes the heart of his God and Father when he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your child­ren together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (ESV) The Lord Jesus was not willing that any should perish, but wanted to gather us under his wings.

Once we understand this, we will understand how God can blind people simply by speaking the truth. That is all we have to do. Do you now see how John 12:40 reads entirely differ­ently when you under­stand this principle of God’s Word? Light can give you sight or it can blind you. Light blinded Paul before it gave him sight. It is not just darkness that blinds, light can blind too. It is important to grasp this truth.

God sent Isaiah to make the heart of the people dull. How? Simply by preaching the truth, though God knew that they will not receive it. If He knew they will reject the gospel, why preach it? Because He was not willing that any should perish. That is the whole point! In Isaiah 65:2 are the beautiful words:

I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts. (Isaiah 65:2, NASB)

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

Do you understand it? God does not want you to perish. I have said before and say again, nobody enters hell unless he goes past Jesus’ nail-pierced hands. Jesus stands at the gates of hell and blocks them with his nail-pierced hands, and says, “I beg you not to enter.” He is not willing that any should perish, because that is his Father’s will.

Now you can see how dangerous is the superficial and inaccur­ate exposition of the Word that takes a passage like John 12:40 and says, “Aha! God wants you to perish, so He blinds your eyes.” Before you jump to this conclusion, ask how does God blind your eyes? Simply by speaking the truth. God’s truth is hard to swallow, and many reject it, as a Chinese proverb brings out well: “Truthful words are hard to the ears, good medicine is bitter to your taste” (忠言逆耳,良藥苦口). We may know that something is the truth, but we don’t like it.

That is why I have always urged you as Christians to love the truth, and love it to the end. We can esta­blish firmly and without question, and with a solid Scriptural basis, that God is unwilling that any should perish. This is confirmed by the apostle Peter:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slow­ness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, ESV)

What gives Calvinism its plausibility?

What gives Calvinism its plausibility on predestination? By quoting verses like John 12:40 to those who are not equipped to un­derstand it, thus creating a prima facie situation. Every lawyer knows that a state­ment may appear to show one side on the face of it, but turns out to be quite the opposite after you examine it. This can also happen in Scripture, that things are not always what they seem to be.

What gives plausibility to the Calvinistic predestinarian doctrine is that it concentrates on one point, and one point only: the will of God. In analyzing predestination teaching, you only have to under­stand this one thing: the whole focus is on God’s will, regarding which the Bible has a lot to say. It sounds convincing until you see two things that are not Scriptural about this teaching of God’s will.

First error: God’s will is sovereign, overriding His love and His holiness

This error emphasizes God’s will to the neglect of His holiness and His love. In predestination teaching, neither God’s holi­ness nor God’s love counts for much, for they are sacrificed to a doctrine of God’s will. I have no time to expound this in detail except to put it in simple terms: In this teach­ing, whether God saves or doesn’t save a person, has nothing to do with His love or His holiness, but is entirely a matter of His will. “I choose to save you whether you are a sinner or not.” You may be a dreadful sinner, but God chooses to save you simply because it is His will. Or you may be a good person, but God doesn’t choose to save you. His will is all that matters. That is Calvinism in its essence.

They don’t deny His holiness or His love, but they don’t focus much on them. But 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 because they talk about the sovereignty of God’s will. God does whatever He likes. A thing is right by the fact that God wills to carry it out. There is no other standard of right or wrong. They don’t ask wheth­er right or wrong could be measured by the light of God’s love or holiness. God’s sovereign will, as they put it, covers everything. It is one thing to speak of God’s sovereignty, but another as to whether it is the Biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

Second error: God’s will is incomprehensible

Secondly, it is argued that because God’s will is sovereign, it is incom­prehen­sible and inscrutable. They use this argument to cover any questioning of their doctrine of God’s will. Calvin often speaks of God’s will as incomprehensible. If you question Calvin about it, he will simply say it’s incomprehen­sible. That is a safe way of defending something incompre­hensible. You cannot attack something that is perpetually incomprehensible. Who are you but a man? Calvin often quotes the words, “Who art thou, O man?” God is God, you are man, so don’t ask any questions about God’s incompre­hen­sible will.

The dangers of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination

What are the dangers of this doctrine? The dangers are many. I will speak out forthrightly because I am aware of its frightful dangers.

1. You cannot love God whose will is incomprehensible

The danger is that God becomes unintelligible. How do you love God when there is no way for you to understand His actions, since His will is incomprehensible? You can only wor­ship Him blindly, not because of His love or His holiness, but because of His supreme will. And you, as a creature, will simply submit to Him. He dictates and you obey. His will is supreme, so worship Him. He commands and it shall be. With such a doctrine, I wonder if it is possible to truly love God, not just to fear Him.

2. You cease to be responsible for your actions

The second consequence of this doctrine is that it 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, for only God’s will matters. This doctrine will breed a Christianized irres­ponsibility with fearful consequences.

What is the error of Calvinism? It is simply this: Nowhere do I see in Scripture that God’s will is ever made without rhyme or reason. Everywhere in the Bible, we see that God’s will is governed by His love and His holiness. For human beings and equally for the God of the Bible, your character governs the function of your will. That is why you can often predict what a certain person will do or decide to do in the circum­stances, because you know his character well enough. You know how his will functions. It is simply not true to Scripture to say that the will, whether God’s or man’s, functions independently of character. Yet that is what predestinarian doctrine presup­poses.

We find in Scripture that God’s love and God’s holi­ness are the qualities that govern the functioning of His will. Now I can under­stand God! I might not understand Him perfectly, but I can under­stand Him in good mea­sure. I can respond to His love and holiness, but I cannot respond to a will that is arbi­trary, unpredictable, and has no rhyme or reason that I can see. How do you respond to such a God? The answer is probably that you don’t. God does all the res­ponding in you; you are more or less a spiritual marionette.

Some of what we are discussing may be over your heads, being too theological or philosophical. But I have to present it in a way that is suitable for those who are equipped to handle it, so that they can get something too. Nowadays, preaching is often so superficial that those who want to think and work at it, are given nothing much. I apologize if some of this is over your heads, but others need to understand it.

Jesus uses parables to help us understand the truth

In the light of all this discussion, let us now ask: When Jesus spoke in parables, was it 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 specific intention that they would not understand his message?

Can you imagine if that is the situation? Would this not reduce Jesus’ preaching to a meaningless exercise, if we may reverently say so? What is the point of preaching if you don’t want the people to understand your message? Can you imag­ine me purposely preaching a message with the intention that you won’t understand it? Are we attributing to Christ what we ourselves would not do? As I said, if I preach with the intention that you do not understand, would it not be wiser that I don’t preach at all, that I close my Bible and walk away? No, I preach with the intention that you should understand.

Let us ask a further question: What is a parable? Well, a parable is more or less an illustration. That’s all it is, isn’t it? A parable is a well-chosen illustration that packs the divine truth into a picture. Let us then ask, What is an illustration for? Is it designed to conceal what you want to say, or reveal what you want to say? Put this way, the answer is plain. You use an illustration to help a person understand, not to stop him from understanding. This is plain, isn’t it? And when the Lord Jesus preaches in parables, he is simply preaching by means of an illustration, which is designed to help you understand.

Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3:12, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” This illustrates perfectly the point of a parable. Jesus knows that we have problems understand­ing spiritual things, so he speaks to us in earthly pictures. He says, “If I tell you spiritual things, you won’t under­stand. So I speak to you in earthly pic­tures. If you can understand the earthly picture, you will understand by extension the spiritual picture. But if you don’t even understand the earthly picture, how are you going to under­stand the spiritual things that I tell you in plain language?”

The Lord Jesus brings out the truth in a way we can under­stand it by means of pictures: birds, flowers, trees, sunshine, and other famil­iar things. He knows that our spiritual under­stand­ing is dull, so he speaks to us as a teacher might speak to Sunday school children. Some of you have taught Sunday school children. When you speak to them, do you turn to Romans chapter 8 and give them an exposition of sal­vation? The children will stare at you and wonder what you are saying. You don’t teach children this way because they won’t understand it. So how do you teach them? Have you ever seen how Sunday school teachers use pictures? Do they use pictures in order that the children may not understand? Of course they want the child­ren to understand. They use pictures rather than direct speech because children often cannot under­stand spoken language. You have to put the message in pictures to help them grasp the teaching in the Bible.

That is exactly what the Lord Jesus does. He speaks to the people, most of them farmers. Is he going to give them an exposit­ion as Paul does in Romans chapter 8? Of course not. They won’t understand it. So the Lord speaks to them on their level. He tells them a story for them to think about; and as they reflect on the story, they catch its inner message. This is like sowing the seed of a Bible story in a child’s heart: as the child thinks about it, he or she will say, “Oh yeah, I see the story!” The Lord’s whole intention in telling parables is that we may understand.

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

This leads to a question: Why do Christians have such great problems understanding spiritual truth? As today’s passage explains, they have closed their eyes to the things of God; their spiritual response is dull. Yet Paul says that the gospel is not hidden (2Cor. 4:3). When Paul preaches the gospel, he doesn’t preach it so that people won’t under­stand, but that they may under­stand. Hence he says in the same verse, “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perish­ing.” Why is it hidden to those who are perish­ing? Because they don’t want to hear the truth or respond to God’s Word.

This verse contains a principle you must grasp: You will only under­stand as much truth as you are willing to obey it. That is why some people are saved and others are not, and why some become spiritual giants and others become spirit­ual dwarfs. I repeat, you will only understand God’s Word in proport­ion to your willing­ness to obey it.

Closing the eyes is an act of the will, an unwillingness to see the truth. I fear that even if you are a Christian, you may open your eyes only partially. You want just enough of the gospel to get you to heaven. Am I right or am I wrong? I may have touched on a sore spot there. I suspect that many go to mass evangelistic rallies because they only want as much of the gospel as will get them to heaven. They don’t want to hear more beyond that, in the hope that the minimum will be required of them. The problem is that you don’t know how much of the gospel is just enough. If you think like this, you may end up with nothing at all. That is the significance of the following words in Luke 8:18 (Mt. 13:12; 25:29):

Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away. (ESV)

When you come to the Word of God, have you not often said, “I don’t like listening to this. I don’t think we need to prac­tice it. It’s too demanding and impossible to practice.” When Jesus says, “Except a man take up his cross and deny himself and follow me, he cannot be my disciple,” what do you say to that? Do you say, “No way. That’s asking too much. The cost is too high. Surely you can lower the cost of the gospel, and appeal to the crowds. How do you expect me to be saved — to become your disciple — if you ask me to deny myself?”

Another preacher comes along and says, “Salvation costs you nothing. Hallelujah! All you have to do is believe in God, and you will be saved. You will have peace and joy. It costs you nothing! Come to the front when the choir is singing, and sign the decision card.”

The choir sings beautifully, and your heart is moved. When every­body is quiet with their heads bowed, you come to the front, and a counselor speaks with you.

I too can preach, “All you have to do is believe in Jesus.” But I don’t do that because I know I wouldn’t be speaking the truth.

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

In fact, Robert Laidlaw stated it unashamedly in The Reason Why, a well-publicized tract of which I have to say I am utterly ashamed. To him, becoming a Christian means that you have everything to gain, and absolutely nothing to lose. He was a businessman who once did business in Shanghai. He wrote this tract which was distributed by the millions. Its popular appeal is not surprising because every­body hopes to get something for nothing.

Now where do you see in the Bible that becoming a Christian means gaining everything and losing absolutely nothing? “Except a man deny himself,” is what Jesus says. But Mr. Laidlaw and people like him present a different gospel. I don’t intend to teach this kind of gospel because I will speak the truth. As I have said before, even if nobody ever comes to worship in this place again, that doesn’t worry me. I will speak the truth. That is my commission. If the truth blinds people, it’s not because I want to blind them, but because that is what the truth does to those who don’t want to hear it.

Understand the truth by obeying Christ

Brothers and sisters, I ask you to judge for yourselves whether this is the gospel we ought to preach. Jesus paid the price of our redemption, and the very least that God requires of us is that we give ourselves totally to Jesus, His Son. A total response to Jesus is an act of obed­ience to God’s will. That is what “believe” means in the Biblical sense. It’s not just that Jesus died for me, but that because he died for me, I believe with a total response, and say with Paul, “I no longer live for myself, but for him who died for me and rose again” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:15). No Christian ever lives for him­self again, but only for the Lord Jesus, the one who died for him. That is the gospel!

“All you need to believe is that Jesus died for you,” is an essential part of the message, but not all. If you truly believe that Jesus died for you, what should your response be even if you don’t know the Bible? To me, the only fitting response is that if he gave himself for me in his obedience to God’s will, I will give myself to him, put on Christ, and imitate him in obey­ing God’s will. That is the only possible response of faith. Why do we lower the cost of salvation and adulterate the gospel?

If you say you believe in Jesus, do you understand that it also means living for him and therefore for God? I am not talking about full-time ministry, but living for Christ where­ver you are, at school, in the office, in the factory — whether you are working at your company or studying for God. You belong to him because you were bought with a price.

The one title that Paul gloried in is “slave of Jesus Christ.” Some Bibles use the word “servant,” but the Greek word means a slave. Paul begins every letter by saying something to the effect “I belong to Jesus,” or “I have given myself to Jesus Christ. He bought me, so I am his slave. I rejoice to be his slave because he is committed to obeying God his Father.” 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 to speak the truth as plainly as we can understand it. And I seek to speak to you the truth as plainly as you can under­stand it.

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, for they have yielded themselves totally to God. No wonder they are blessed. If you commit yourself fully to God, you are indeed blessed because your eyes will see. Have you ever been amazed by how clearly your eyes can see? Don’t you praise God for your ears that hear? Don’t you rejoice in that God has caused His Holy Spirit to fill your heart as it says in Romans 5:5, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”?

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 a teaching! He wants you to understand His message. That is why His Christ, the Lord Jesus, conveys it to you as clearly as ever possible, even by a parable. Whether you understand or not depends on you. 


(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church