You Asked for It 2006 - Part 3
Blinded to the Truth
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 20, 2006

 

Main Passage: Mark 4:1-12 (NLT)

 

This is our third week in our August message series. And as you may recall, when I first started telling you about this series and asking for your requests, I even invited you to try to stump me. And I’ve got to tell you, you did a pretty good job for this week. Because today we’re going to be talking about one of the most controversial and misunderstood passages in all of Scripture. Sandra just read it for us. It was the last couple of verses when Jesus told His disciples...

Mark 4:11-12 (NLT)
“You are permitted to understand the secret about the Kingdom of God. But I am using these stories to conceal everything about it from outsiders, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘They see what I do, but they don’t perceive its meaning.
They hear my words, but they don’t understand.
So they will not turn from their sins and be forgiven.’”

Well, that doesn’t sound right, does it? I mean, what is the message of the Bible? It’s that every single person can find forgiveness, truth, and life in Jesus Christ. And you find that message verified repeatedly throughout the Bible. Here are a few examples:

John 3:16 (NLT)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

2 Peter 3:9 (NLT)
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NLT)
This is good and pleases God our Savior, for he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.

All of those verses seem to be saying that salvation is available for everyone. They even say that it’s God’s will for everyone to discover the truth and come to Him. So how can you reconcile these verses with the verses that Sandra read?

[Mark 4:11-12 (NLT)
“You are permitted to understand the secret about the Kingdom of God. But I am using these stories to conceal everything about it from outsiders, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘They see what I do, but they don’t perceive its meaning.
They hear my words, but they don’t understand.
So they will not turn from their sins and be forgiven.’”]

They seem contradictory, don’t they? On the one hand you’re reading that everyone’s welcome to come to Jesus; on the other, you’re reading that there are some who aren’t even permitted to understand the message. That doesn’t sound much like an all-loving God, does it? In fact, as one atheist put it…

“This is hardly a means for conveying anything like ‘universal love’ — it is instead a message of exclusion.”
~ Austin Cline, Atheist
http://atheism.about.com/od/biblegospelofmark/a/mark04b.htm


So how can this apparent contradiction be resolved? Well, let me tell you something about understanding the Bible. It can be dangerous for you to take one or two verses and interpret them without paying attention to the context. That’s certainly the case here. If you just take these two verses by themselves, then it looks like Jesus is saying that it is God’s will that some people are condemned, and so He blinds them to the Truth so that they are lost to a godless eternity.

Just looking at those verses alone, that’s what they seem to say. Problem is, that interpretation doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit with the context. It doesn’t fit with the context of the rest of the chapter and it doesn’t fit with the context of the Bible as a whole. And since God’s Word will never contradict itself, there must be a better interpretation.

So let’s put it in the context of the surrounding verses. In the first part of the chapter, Jesus tells one of His stories... What we call His parables. Jesus would often tell one of these stories to illustrate some truth to the listeners. So who were His listeners on this occasion?

Well, He was speaking to a large crowd of people, which included His disciples and some other followers as well as people from the area who had heard about Jesus and had come out to hear Him teach and hopefully perform some kind of miracle. Also in the crowd that day would be some religious leaders... the Pharisees... who had it out for Jesus. They felt threatened by Him, and they were sure that He was a liar out to deceive the masses. In fact, just a chapter earlier, when Jesus freed a man who had been demon-possessed, they accused Him of being a messenger from the devil.

Mark 3:22 (NLT)
But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.”

And so while Jesus was teaching the crowd and telling this parable, these religious leaders were right there in the crowd to try to trap Jesus and find something to accuse Him of and discredit Him with.

And so that’s the audience that Jesus was speaking to. Some were already following Him, some checking Him out, and some were dead-set against Him. So what did He say to this diverse crowd?


Well, He told them about a farmer planting seeds in his field. Now, farming in His day was a little different than it is today. For one thing, today we use equipment and vehicles that continually get in my way on the highway. Also today, we plant everything in nice long rows and the seeds are planted systematically at regular intervals in these rows. But in Jesus’ day, when a farmer would plant seeds, he wouldn’t be concerned about planting everything in neat little rows. In fact, he would scatter the seeds everywhere. He would go out and throw the seeds onto different sections of his field. He’d have kind of a footpath going through the field where he would walk, and he’s throw the seeds on both sides of him, trying to cover as much territory as possible.

Now, what would happen? Most of the seeds would land in the nicely tilled soil. But there would be seeds that would also fall onto the footpath itself, or onto shallow, rocky soil, or even into some thorns and weeds.

So while Jesus was telling this story about a farmer planting his seeds, He explained that the seeds that fell onto the footpath would be either trampled under foot or eaten up by birds. The seeds that fell onto the shallow, rocky soil, would begin to grow, but because their roots couldn’t go very deep they would be exposed to the hot mid-day sun, shrivel up, and die from lack of moisture. The seeds that fell among the thorns would start to grow, too, but thorns and weeds grow much faster than vegetable plants and before long the thorns and weeds would choke the life out of the other plants. But of course the majority of the seeds would fall onto good soil, and they’d be able to take root and thrive, even multiplying more seeds and therefore more plants.

That was it. That was the story that Jesus told. Then He said, “If you’ve got ears, then listen up. Pay attention to what I’ve told you.” And then the crowd dispersed.

A little later, Jesus was hanging out with His disciples and some of the others who had chosen to follow Him, and they started to ask Him about this story. I suspect these disciples were a lot like you and me... They didn’t want to appear stupid in front of the crowd, and so they waited until later to admit that they didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about.

So it was then that Jesus told them...

Mark 4:11-12 (NLT)
“You are permitted to understand the secret about the Kingdom of God. But I am using these stories to conceal everything about it from outsiders, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘They see what I do, but they don’t perceive its meaning.
They hear my words, but they don’t understand.
So they will not turn from their sins and be forgiven.’”

Just hold on... We’ll come back to that. But we also need to look at what happens after these verses. Because Jesus went on to explain to them what the story meant. He explains that it’s basically a story about four different kinds of soil and how each one responds to the seed, which is the message of salvation.

 

The Four Types of Soil:
(Receptivity to the Message of Jesus)

A. The footpath represents those with hardened hearts who never allow the message to take root.

They’ve heard the message about Jesus Christ, but they’re resistant and even hostile toward it. They never even give it a chance.

But the problem is not with Jesus or with the message, the problem is with the hardened heart… hardened by cynicism and skepticism and egotism… hardened by disbelief and nagging doubts that they can’t or won’t get past. And though they are not beyond God’s reach, it will be difficult for them to move beyond their hardness to belief.

 

B. The rocky soil represents those who accept the message wholeheartedly, but abandon it when things get tough.

They like the idea of faith, but not if it becomes inconvenient or uncomfortable. When the going gets tough, they abandon it. When the heat is on, they shrivel up and die. When their faith is tested, they fail the test. Why? Because their roots do not go deep enough. They do not allow the message of Jesus to saturate their lives. Instead of trusting Jesus to help them through their trials, they rely on their own resources. Instead of looking to Him as their ever-present source of help, they choose to look within and away from Him. They’re not really rooted in Christ, or they would know that they can look to Him and trust Him. Instead, they abandon Him.

 

C. The thorny soil represents those who accept the message, but become distracted by the cares and concerns of life.

Jesus explained that many people hear the message and respond to it, and they begin to grow in their newfound faith… only to lose it when other things crowd God out. Life’s busy, and it’s easy to see how that could happen.

 

D. The good soil represents those who accept the message, thrive, and multiply.

These people are hungry for more of God. They want to know Him above all. They want their faith to become strong, and they allow Jesus to impact every aspect of their lives. They choose to follow Him, come what may. They are devoted to Him. Their roots go deep into the Word of God and to prayer. And they produce seeds that result in others hearing the message and responding to it, as well.

 

Okay, so that’s the explanation of the story that Jesus told. And He seemed to be saying that everyone who heard the message would fall into one of those four categories. I think that’s still true today. I mean, I know people who fit into all of those categories. Don’t you? But let’s stick to the specific audience that Jesus was addressing that day.

Who in the crowd that day would have been the good soil?

Well, I suppose the disciples would have been. At least, most of them, most of the time. I mean, when Jesus was arrested, they all kind of scattered. John came back and was there at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified, along with Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene and some other women. So they would all be good soil. And then after the resurrection, the rest of the disciples other than Judas were willing to give up their lives for the message, and the Church literally multiplied because of them. And so they all turned out to be pretty good soil.

So who in the crowd would have been the rocky ground... where the message would have taken root but wouldn’t go very deep, and so they’d abandon their faith under pressure?

Well, again, the disciples fit this if you look specifically at how they abandoned Jesus around the crucifixion. And I imagine there were a lot of other followers besides the twelve who followed Jesus when things were going smoothly, but who abandoned Him when things got rocky. So they’d be the rocky soil.


Who would be the thorny soil… who would accept the message only to have the spiritual life choked out of them by all the distractions of life?

I suspect many of the people from the surrounding area would fit this category. They had heard about Jesus, there was a buzz about Him, things were happening around Him, it was exciting to be around Him... but to them He was just a fad. And before long, they’d get distracted and move on to the next thing. They’d be the thorny soil.


And so that leaves us with the footpath... The hardened soil where the seed could never take root. Who would that be?

I think that would describe the Pharisees... those religious leaders who were never going to accept Jesus, no matter what He said or did. And they probably weren’t alone. There were probably others who where there that day who scoffed at Jesus. They had already made up their minds about Him and nothing was going to convince them otherwise. Not even a resurrection.


So considering those four types of people, who do you think Jesus was talking about when He said...

Mark 4:11-12 (NLT)
“But I am using these stories to conceal everything about it from outsiders, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘They see what I do, but they don’t perceive its meaning.
They hear my words, but they don’t understand.
So they will not turn from their sins and be forgiven.’”

Who was He talking about? Who were these “outsiders”? Who’s the “they” that Jesus was referring to? I believe Jesus was talking about the Pharisees and others who were hostile toward Him. He was talking about footpath people. They would hear what He was saying, but they would never understand. They would see what He was doing, but they would never really see who He is.


But yet the question remains... Why would Jesus purposefully keep them blinded and hide the truth from them? And the answer would be, He doesn’t.

But don’t those verses say that He does? Well, they appear to. But that would contradict what the rest of the Bible says. But we can’t just throw those verses away, either, so let’s see if we can find a better understanding.

And fortunately for us, it’s pretty easy in this case. Because all we have to do is look at one of the other Gospels which records Jesus saying the same thing and expanding on it a bit. Over in Matthew...

Matthew 13:11-15 (NLT)
“You have been permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others have not. To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But to those who are not listening, even what they have will be taken away from them. That is why I tell these stories, because people see what I do, but they don’t really see. They hear what I say, but they don’t really hear, and they don’t understand. This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, which says:
‘You will hear my words, but you will not understand; you will see what I do, but you will not perceive its meaning.
For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’”


Okay, so looking at those verses, again we see that there are some people who have hardened hearts and are blinded to the truth. But this time, it also identifies who does the blinding. In the Gospel of Mark, it looked like it was God. But here in Matthew it actually tells us...

Matthew 13:15 (NLT)
“For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes…’”

“They have closed their eyes.” Those Pharisees and others who reject the message do so by their own choosing. They are given every opportunity to receive the message, but they choose to reject it. They harden their own hearts. They close their own eyes. They cover their own ears. The choice is theirs.

“In the Bible, discovering truth always requires faith. The absence of faith puts us outside the reach of God’s truth.”
~ Life Application NT Commentary


But still, those verses in Mark seem to say that Jesus purposefully conceals His message from who He calls “outsiders.” What’s that all about?

Well, He also makes it clear that the message is available to anyone who will listen. And that’s the key: the message is available to anyone who will listen. So how does He conceal it from those who won’t listen? He conceals it by repeatedly giving people the opportunity to hear it and receive it. And each time they reject it, they reinforce their blindness to it. In this sense, Jesus does harden their hearts by continually forcing them to decide. But it’s by their own decision, not His. If they were willing to listen and give Him a fair hearing, then they would hear and understand. But they continually choose to close their eyes to the truth about Jesus.

Now, I know all of that’s a bit complicated, but I hope you were able to follow it. Basically, I’m saying that the people who are blinded to the truth are blinded by their own choosing.

I should also add, it can be a temporary blindness. Remember, there was a time when Paul was on the side of the Pharisees. He was actively persecuting the early Christians and trying to wipe out the Church. He was blinded to the truth, and wasn’t about to accept the message of Jesus. But then one day all that changed, and He became one of the heroes of the early Church.

Or how about the brothers of Jesus? There was a time that they thought Jesus was out of His mind. They called Him insane. There was no way their brother could be God. But after the resurrection, they were convinced. One of them, Jude, even wrote one of the letters that’s included in our New Testament. Their blindness was temporary.

Perhaps you know people who seem far from God. They seem hardened and blinded to His message. My advice to you is, don’t give up on them. Keep praying for them. Their blindness may be temporary. So pray that God will prepare them to receive His message, and do not lose heart.


Now, let me make an observation. This farmer that Jesus told about went out to plant in his field, but he allowed some of his seeds to fall on the footpath and on the rocky soil and among the thorns. Why? I mean, if the farmer were any good, wouldn’t he be a bit more careful? Why would he allow seed to be wasted like that?

I think that’s a picture of God’s grace. His grace is spread liberally, so it’s inevitable that some would fall among the thorns and rocks and footpaths. His blessings are given even to those who reject Him, and His message is entrusted even to those least likely to respond. And the truth is, sometimes seeds do take root and grow in the strangest of places. So from God’s perspective, it’s worth it for His message to be spread far and wide, even among those who are likely to reject it. That’s not where the majority of His efforts are concentrated… He concentrates on those who are likely to respond… but neither does He neglect those who are unlikely to respond. Even though they are suffering from a self-imposed blindness, He reveals His truth to them just in case they decide to open their eyes.


So what’s the message in all of this for you and for me? Here are five faith lessons…

 

Faith Lessons from the Story of the Farmer:

1. I must be focused on Jesus regardless of distractions.

The thorny soil is where distractions can choke the life out of you. But if you want to be “good soil”, then you need to maintain your focus on Jesus in spite of the distractions. In fact, you need to minimize and manage those distractions, as much as possible.

Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…

 

2. I must be devoted to Jesus regardless of the pressures.

Because the pressures are going to come. They’re inevitable. Life will get rocky. And so you have to decide now… will you be devoted to Jesus, come what may?

Hebrews 12:3 (NIV)
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Don’t allow the storms of life to upend your faith.

 

3. I must be open to the teachings of Jesus.

The problem with the footpath was that it wasn’t even open to receiving the seeds. But for you and me, we need to be open to receiving the seed of the Word of God… and more than that, we need to put it into practice. Jesus said…

Matthew 7:24 (NLT)
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and obeys me is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.”

 

4. I must produce good fruit that multiplies.

That was the good soil, right? The seed took root and grew strong and healthy. And what’s more, it spread and multiplied. Now normally, a farmer can expect good seed to produce a crop 7 to 10 times what was planted. He’s pleased with that kind of return. Can you imagine the thrill a farmer would experience with a return of 30, 60, or even 100 times? But that’s what Jesus said. That’s the power of the message. It’s a potent seed, which produces incredible results.

Acts 1:8 (NLT)
“But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere…”

 

5. I must spread the message freely, regardless of the response.

Every person is given the free will to make up their own mind if they will receive the message or not. That’s their choice, and you can’t make it for them. But what’s important is that you provide them with the choice, and then they choose how they will respond. Their response is not my responsibility. My responsibility is to spread the seed freely and generously. As Paul said…

Romans 1:16 (NLT)
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes…

 

 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2006 SunriseOnline.ca