Prepare Our Hearts – September 23

A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Mark 4:10-13

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that
“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,    and may indeed hear but not understand,lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

Making the drive from Huntsville north into Tennessee, be it towards Ardmore, Fayetteville, or even South Pittsburg (not the one with the “h”), one of the first things immediately noticeable upon crossing the state line are groupings of gas stations and convenience stores advertising the ability to purchase lottery tickets. Not coincidentally, Alabama is one of just six states without a state lottery, thus denying its fine citizens easy access to “playing” the “games” with eye-popping jackpots that on occasion exceed a billion dollars, yes that is billion with a “b.” The idea of a sudden windfall of such epic proportions has quite the effect on people, who gladly line up for the privilege of handing over their hard earned cash for an infinitesimal chance at fortune. Outside of a few scratch-off tickets in college, I have personally not tried my hand at winning big money, although over the years some relatives have been known to partake including one in particular who only plays when the jackpot gets above $100 million, not because a lesser win would not be worth it, but as sort of an internal guardrail to keep her from playing too often.

Now, what if someone told you they had discovered a secret that guaranteed winning the lottery every time you played? Chances are you would be pretty skeptical, but probably at least pay attention. After all, if the information was wrong, the only thing lost would be a few dollars, but if it was accurate…it could change your life forever.

After Jesus taught the crowd using parables, the disciples were befuddled. They knew the stories had deeper meanings but were clueless as to what they were, nor did they understand why Jesus chose to speak in riddles. He responded to their query by quoting from Isaiah 6, when the prophet was taken up in a vision into the holy throne room of God. In the presence of His angelic court attendants, the Lord commissioned a trembling Isaiah to go to the people of Israel with the message, “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” Despite numerous warnings and all objections to the contrary, the people of Israel had fallen headlong into idolatry and pagan worship. As a result of compromising their faith and coopting the values and practices of their unbelieving neighbors, the Lord was going to bring judgment upon His beloved.

Although they had in their possession the holy Word of the covenant and knew well how the Lord had provided deliverance for their forefathers and promised His lavish blessing upon them, they had rejected the one true God in favor of lesser things. Because they had hardened their hearts and denied the truth, although they would still hear the words of the Lord, they could no longer understand, and although they could read the written Word of God, they had lost the ability to perceive. But despite their disobedience, the Lord had not given up on His people. Later in the book, Isaiah would go on to describe the coming day of salvation, when the servant of the Lord, although despised and rejected by his people, would be pierced for their transgressions, crushed for their iniquities, yet by His wounds they would be healed.

In speaking in parables, Jesus was not intentionally trying to mislead people who were earnestly seeking Him. Rather, the reception of the parable revealed the heart of the listener. Another prophet, Jeremiah, known as the “weeping prophet,” also brought words of woe to the people of God but, like Isaiah, they were not without hope. In Jeremiah 29:13, the Lord promises His unfaithful people, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

When the pharisees and teachers of the law heard the message of Jesus and saw the miracles of Jesus, they felt threatened and grew increasingly hostile. His message of repentance and forgiveness and acts of mercy towards sinners did not align with their works-based religion, and Jesus understood that their appearance of righteousness and personal holiness was nothing more than a charade. They had manipulated the Word of God to devise a system of power and control over their fellow man devoid of faith, hope, and love.

Those, like His disciples, who loved and sought the Lord, heard and saw the same things the pharisees did, but their hearts were not hardened. Although they did not always immediately grasp the full meaning of His message, they knew the secret things belong to the Lord and turned to Jesus for answers. Even when the words grew more challenging and the way became more difficult, the disciples still believed, as Peter would declare on their behalf, that only Jesus had the words of life.

Sadly, many today react to the good news of the gospel of Jesus as they would to a shadowy figure offering the numbers to tomorrow’s lottery drawing. The offer of eternal life and forgiveness of sin sounds too good to be true so they never give it anything more than a passing glance; Jesus doesn’t fit into the value system they have worked so hard to construct for themselves. Equally disappointing, many “Christians” hold the gospel message close to the vest like a winning jackpot ticket that might be lost or stolen. The message of salvation is not a secret to be kept but a treasure to be shared. Rather than diminishing in value, our joy becomes richer and deeper and greater as more daughters and sons are added to the family. We may not always understand the words of Jesus, and we may not always like what we hear, but we can always trust that He knows what’s best and He proved on the cross that He loves us to the end.

Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, You are the best thing that could ever happen to us. You have promised that You have incredible things in store for those who love and seek You. We ask that You would open our hearts to the beautiful mystery of the gospel, that as God You became man so that as man we might be reconciled to God and become heirs to a treasure far beyond any we could comprehend. We pray in Your precious name, Amen.