See, Hear, Know

Only when our eyes and ears remain open do we have a true encounter with God.

The first time someone reads His words, Jesus can sound a little harsh. For instance, He criticizes anyone who “hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it” (Matt. 13:19). Now, I’m not always the sharpest guy in the room, and the things of God can be complex. So is Jesus like a teacher reprimanding a 5-year-old for not understanding quantum physics? Does this mean one has to be an intellectual with an advanced degree to excel in the kingdom?

“So is Jesus like a teacher reprimanding a 5-year-old for not understanding quantum physics?”

Thankfully, the answer is no. Jesus is actually saying something quite different. When we zoom out to the broader context, He has just quoted Isaiah 6, which prophesies that the people will be “ever hearing, but never understanding” and “ever seeing, but never perceiving.” How can human beings see and hear but miss what’s happening right in front of them? It’s because, Isaiah says, “this people’s heart has become calloused” (Isa. 6:9-10 NIV).

Jesus is not talking about the problem of flunking your SATs here; He’s talking about a much different problem.

The Hardened Heart

In both the book of Isaiah and Jesus’ ministry, the hardened heart is a big deal. When we make something more ultimate than God—elevating gifts like sex, money, and power into idols—we can miss the best thing right in front of us: the Lord’s gracious presence. As our unthankful hearts become infatuated with getting that bigger house, that more intriguing romance, or that public applause, the lavish generosity of God’s kingdom can press up against our body without ever invading our soul. Building our own Babylons can distract us from the God who pursues us from below, showing up in our weakness.

“Jesus and chips away at the granite around our hearts so they can start to beat again.”

Fortunately, Isaiah talks about more than just hardened hearts; he describes a Messiah who softens them. God’s servant will open the eyes of the rebellious, Isaiah prophesies, so that “what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand” (Isa. 52:15, emphasis added). Jesus opens our eyes, pulls the wax out of our ears, and chips away at the granite around our hearts so they can start to beat again.

This Messiah will be a suffering servant, Isaiah tells us, who’ll give His life to bring us back to God: “He was pierced through for our transgressions ... and by His scourging we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). The reason the Savior’s suffering can heal hardened hearts is because it deals with the sin that’s the source of the problem. This Messianic King will “open blind eyes” (Isa. 42:7) and give His life for us, such that when He is exalted, “the eyes of those who see will not be blinded, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The mind of the hasty will discern the truth” (Isa. 32:3-4).

It’s possible to miss what’s right in front of us. We may want to keep our Christianity at a safe distance, where we’ve read some good truths and listened to some good music but can still keep God at bay. Yet the Father wants to invade the fullness of our lives, and He arrives in Christ so we might truly see, hear, and understand. In other words, Jesus came so we might intimately know and experience God’s redemptive love, within the context of relationship, in a way that transforms us from the inside out.

Two Blind Men

The second gospel drives this point home in a couple of familiar stories where more is going on than initially apparent. Mark writes that en route to Jerusalem to be crucified, Jesus heals two blind men. In the first account, the Lord rubs some saliva into the man’s eyes, which brings only partial improvement. The man says he can see people now, but unfortunately they look “like trees, walking around” (Mark 8:24). So Jesus does a “take two,” touching the imperfect eyes again. Then the man “looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly” (Mark 8:25).

“Jesus heals two blind men.”

What’s going on here? Did Jesus botch the healing and have to try again? No. On the contrary, this “take two” is actually part of the point. Let me explain. Immediately after this scene, Jesus asks the disciples who they believe Him to be, and Peter correctly answers, “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29 NIV). But Jesus then explains what this means—that He “must suffer many things and be rejected … and be killed” (Mark 8:31). What? Peter doesn’t get it,so he rebukes Jesus. Peter can see, in part, who Jesus is—the Messiah—but as was true of the blind man in the preceding story, the picture’s still fuzzy. It’s going to take some more work before his sight is clear.

Subsequent to this two-part healing of the blind man, Jesus predicts His death and resurrection three times. Each time, the disciples misunderstand, and Jesus has to correct them by teaching that the way to the kingdom is through the cross (Mark 8:31-38; Mark 9:30-37; Mark 10:32-45). And after Jesus gives these three “lessons,” guess which story immediately follows—Mark’s second (and only other) story about Jesus healing a blind man (Mark 10:46-52). Only this go-round, the healing works the first time.

The point? Jesus’ followers will only gradually and incrementally get that God’s victory comes through suffering, His power displayed in weakness. But eventually, as the Messiah softens their hearts, they’ll see Him clearly.

Jesus is a King, but His kingdom isn’t structured as we expect. The rulers of this hard-hearted world may lord it over others, but He tells us, “It is not this way among you” (Mark 10:42-43). As His followers, we’re to walk in the dust of the path He’s laid down before us and—like Him—surrender our lives in sacrificial love. Our endgame is that we might see Jesus as He truly is. That our ears might hear His voice cutting through the fortresses we’ve built to defend ourselves against His advance. That our hearts might be softened as we encounter, in Christ, the very presence of God.

 

Illustrations by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Listening to God

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What happens to my notes

19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.

9 He said, Go, and tell this people: `Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.'

10 Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed."

15 Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand.

5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

7 To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.

3 Then the eyes of those who see will not be blinded, And the ears of those who hear will listen.

4 The mind of the hasty will discern the truth, And the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak clearly.

24 And he looked up and said, I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around."

25 Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly.

29 And He continued by questioning them, But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to Him, You are the Christ."

31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

32 And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.

33 But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."

34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.

36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?

37 For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."

30 From there they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it.

31 For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later."

32 But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.

33 They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, What were you discussing on the way?"

34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all."

36 Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them,

37 Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me."

32 They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him,

33 saying, Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles.

34 They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again."

35 James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You."

36 And He said to them, What do you want Me to do for you?"

37 They said to Him, Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory."

38 But Jesus said to them, You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"

39 They said to Him, We are able." And Jesus said to them, The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.

40 But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."

41 Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John.

42 Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them.

43 But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant;

44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

46 Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road.

47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

48 Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

49 And Jesus stopped and said, Call him here. " So they called the blind man, saying to him, Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you."

50 Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus.

51 And answering him, Jesus said, What do you want Me to do for you?" And the blind man said to Him, Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!"

52 And Jesus said to him, Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.

42 Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them.

43 But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant;

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