Hearing, But Not Understanding Jesus

Jesus’ disciples came and said to him, “Why do you use parables when you speak to the crowds?”

Jesus replied, “Because they haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but you have.  For those who have will receive more and they will have more than enough. But as for those who don’t have, even the little they have will be taken away from them.  This is why I speak to the crowds in parables: although they see, they don’t really see; and although they hear, they don’t really hear or understand. What Isaiah prophesied has become completely true for them:
You will hear, to be sure, but never understand; and you will certainly see but never recognize what you are seeing. For this people’s senses have become calloused, and they’ve become hard of hearing, and they’ve shut their eyes so that they won’t see with their eyes or hear with their ears or understand with their minds, and change their hearts and lives that I may heal them.
  -Matthew 13:10-15

Have you ever wondered how people can hear the good news about Christ and say, "no thanks"?  They say,"no thanks", by ignoring the message, begging to differ with it, or rejecting it.  This not only happens in a crowd listening to to an evangelist and when non-church people attend a funeral or a wedding, but it also happens at every sort or church gathering.

In this account, there is Jesus, the crowds, and Jesus' disciples.  People in the crowd are interested in Jesus.  They might identify themselves as followers.  Wherever Jesus goes, they go.  In today's culture, they might wear a Jesus t-shirt or have a Bible verse tattooed on them. 

The disciples questioned Jesus as to why he spoke to the crowds in parables. Parables are stories Jesus used to illustrate something about the kingdom. Parables are also like riddles.  People would have understood how farming works, but maybe not been able to make the connection to how a story about farming illustrated a kingdom principle.

Every week, preachers teach from Jesus' parables and explain to their hearers as best they can, what they mean.  People can sit through a systematic unpacking of scripture by a gifted communicator and still not receive it.  Why is this or how can this be?  Perhaps because God offers us choice.  It's an invitation.  It's permission.  But we have to do something and for whatever reason, some people refuse.  Sometimes the Bible calls this a hard heart, or a stubborn heart as the CEB translates it.

The writer if Hebrews, writing to believers, has a very serious word about this, quoting Psalm 95:

So, as the Holy Spirit says,
Today, if you hear his voice, don’t have stubborn hearts as they did in the rebellion, on the day when they tested me in the desert.
That is where your ancestors challenged and tested me, though they had seen my work for forty years.
So I was angry with them.
I said, “Their hearts always go off course, and they don’t know my ways.”
Because of my anger I swore: “They will never enter my rest!”
Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that none of you have an evil, unfaithful heart that abandons the living God.  Instead, encourage each other every day, as long as it’s called “today,” so that none of you become insensitive to God because of sin’s deception.  We are partners with Christ, but only if we hold on to the confidence we had in the beginning until the end.

When it says,

Today, if you hear his voice, don’t have stubborn hearts as they did in the rebellion.
Who was it who rebelled when they heard his voice? Wasn’t it all of those who were brought out of Egypt by Moses?   And with whom was God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it with the ones who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert?  And against whom did he swear that they would never enter his rest, if not against the ones who were disobedient?  We see that they couldn’t enter because of their lack of faith.  -Hebrews 3:7-19

This section of Hebrews illustrates how serious God is about obedience.  When God has made something clear to us, he expects us to obey and follow.  God is not mean, but he is Holy and good.  God wants to protect us from injury and lead us to wholeness and holiness.  God spoke very clearly at times in the Old Testament and there were consequences for not obeying.

Does Hebrews 3 teach us that disobedient, unfaithful Christians do not go to heaven?  No.  Does Hebrews 3 teach us that salvation is through faith plus faithfulness?  No.  The rest that God wants the Christian to enter into is God's inheritance for the believer in this life.  It is the calling and the walk that Jesus paid for, that all Christians have the invitation to walk in on earth.

The reason for parables is God's mercy.  God is patient and long suffering with the not yet believer and the unbelieving believer.  He gives them something that is clear to the enlightened, it is clear to someone who's spirit has been born anew and who is in a process of growth, of getting it.  God puts something out there for the unbeliever that baffles them or might even offend them, especially if they are proudly invested in their own ideas of how things should work.

The answer to why Jesus spoke in parables is answered by Jesus, "because they haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven".  The secrets, the mysteries of the kingdom can only be received by revelation.  You either get it or you don't get it.  Nicodemus, in John 3, didn't get it; and Jesus was ministering to him in his, "I don't get it-ness".  Nick may very well have got it after that encounter.

The revelation of receiving the secrets and knowing them and getting them does not come by natural insight.  In fact, they are illogical.  Knowing the secrets comes from a divine exchange.  You must receive them from God.  Relationship with God is key.  Face-time.  It may be all new to you, but you have to open up in intimacy (into-me-see) with God to receive the secrets, the revelations, to have the eyes and the ears of your heart opened.  If you are not interested in that path, if you don't open up, if you don't get real with God, and if you don't bow; you won't get it and you stay in the crowd till you do.

Staying in the crowd, belonging but not believing, being a Christian in name only, not having a working intimate relationship with God where you are allowing yourself to be transformed into the likeness of His Son; will give you a life of religion where you will actually be worse off.  Jesus says of crowd Christians, "but as for those who don’t have, even the little they have will be taken away from them."  That's not a place you want to be.

The indictment from Isaiah that Jesus quotes also has hope in it.  If those with hard hearts who are not getting it would come to God, change their hearts, ask God to change their hearts, would repent, would make an exchange, would surrender their lives and say "everything is on the table, in your hands"; and would become disciples, then they would be healed.  "That I may heal them", says God.  Repentance is key.  Jesus message was, "repent"(Matt. 3:2, 4:17).  The church's message is also "repent" (Acts 2:28, 3:19, 8:22, 17:30, 26:20).  Jesus is calling churches to repent (Rev. 2:5, 2:16, 2:21-2, 3:3, and 3:19).  Repentance is a lifestyle for the believer.  It is our salvation (Isa. 30 15).