And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind 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
In this passage the LORD calls Isaiah to prophesy to his people that they’re just not “getting it”. They’ve been repeatedly told God’s message but failed to understand it. It brings to mind people today — people who don’t pay attention and don’t care. The LORD’s response to this attitude was as if to say, “OK. Go ahead. Stay just as deaf and dumb and ignorant as you wish. Because you choose not to pay attention to my commands, you will pay the consequences. I will remove my blessings from you and you will suffer my judgements against you.”
The LORD’s judgements against his chosen people were harsh. Yet even though his judgements all but destroyed them, he promised them a “holy seed” (Isaiah 6:13) which refers to the Messiah’s eventual restoration of both their blessings and their relationship with God. For centuries of enduring every conceivable hardship, the messianic prophecies of the Bible enabled the Jews to anticipate a light at the end of the tunnel. They had something wonderful to look forward to: the coming of Messiah, who would bring heaven to earth.
About 770 years after Isaiah’s prophesy to Judea, Jesus was proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Today, we call it the gospel — the message of salvation from sin through faith in Jesus. The term gospel also refers to the recounting of the message and ministry of Jesus, each of the first four books of the New Testament being a “gospel”. But gospel is simply an old word that means “good news”. The simple and direct intent of the New Testament writers was to pass on that good news to all who had ears to hear.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” — Isaiah 52:7
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. — Luke 4:18,19, quoting Isaiah 61:1,2
Why was the message that Jesus proclaimed called “good news”? And what significance did that description hold for the Jews who heard it? When Jesus came to proclaim the good news, his coming on the scene had been long anticipated. Both he and his message were the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, or better said, many Biblical prophecies. You can read them for yourself. They’re right there in the Bible.
In those days, Jews were familiar with Scripture and anticipated the coming of their Messiah. One such man was Simeon, in Luke 2:25-32. From Isaiah 40:1-5, Simeon associated words like consolation (comfort) and salvation with the coming of the Messiah. In that prophecy, we find consolation for the judgement God’s people had received, along with the promise of ultimate salvation and seeing the glory of the LORD.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” — Isaiah 40:1-5
The news that God’s judgement against their sin would be ended, that Messiah would be their savior and that the glory of the LORD would be revealed could produce nothing but joy in the hearts of those who had eagerly awaited his coming. Announcing the birth of Christ, the angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). It was with joy that the people greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, crying, “Hosanna (“Save us” or “Deliver us”)! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
John (the voice calling in Isaiah 40:3) had called the people to prepare their hearts for this joy, saying, “Turn from your sins to God, for the kingdom of Heaven is near!” (Matthew 4:17). This, then, was the good news that Jesus proclaimed, describing the kingdom of heaven as near and accessible to those whose hearts were prepared and were willing to follow him to enter it. Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes from hearing the message. When a person believes it, it’s good news. But what you don’t understand, you can’t believe. Not everyone understood Jesus then or now. It appears that in order to receive the truth, God first gives us understanding.
In John 17:6 Jesus said to the Father, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.” These were the Jewish believers. They heard God’s message and understood it. It was good news to them, and they believed. But what do we say to those who do not recognize God’s message as good news, neither understanding it nor believing? Is God being hard and cruel by simply not choosing them? Or is it something in a person’s heart that chooses disbelief?
Luke 3:17 describes the LORD using a winnowing fork to separate the wheat from the chaff. This symbolic separation differentiates believers from non-believers. Another symbolic representation is used in the first chapter of John. It speaks of the utter separation between light and darkness. In verse 12, belief is spoken of as receiving the Word. One cannot receive the Word without being receptive. Therefore the whole burden of hearing, understanding and receiving the good news rests on how open a person’s heart is to God.
A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown. — Luke 8:5-8
After telling the parable of the sower, Jesus called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Then to his disciples, he explained, ” The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’ ” (Luke 8:8b & 10, referencing Isaiah 6:9,10). Though Jesus urges all to hear the good news, there remains the winnowing fork of Luke 3:17. Why will some hear and understand the good news, while others will not?
When God chooses to reveal his good news to anyone, that person hears it and understands it. But does God choose to reveal his good news to everyone? In Luke 10:22 Jesus says, “… no one fully knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (emphasis added).
The powerful message of the parable of the sower remains, despite the fact we do not live in the agrarian culture familiar to Jesus and his audiences. In his explanation of the parable (Luke 8:11-15) Jesus says the seed is the word of God. Even today, the word “broadcast” is used to mean sowing seed. The comparison is apt. Four circumstances are listed, describing those who “hear” this broadcast of the good news.
The first is “along the path”, where the devil can easily prevent some from believing by taking away the word from their hearts. The second is “on rocks”, where for lack of soil, the word cannot take root. Those individuals fall away when life tests them, even though at first they received the word with joy. The third is “among thorns”, where they are choked, both by worries and pleasures, so that they do not grow and mature. The fourth is “on good soil”, which Jesus describes as “those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
The “good news” is only good to those whose hearts are ready to receive it. To them, the good news is of great joy, so they have ears to hear it. The “rich soil” in the parable of the sower is the heart of a person who has anticipated the good news. That rich soil is prepared and receptive to the good news when they hear it. It doesn’t just happen.
Notice that God broadcasts his message everywhere, even places where it doesn’t seem to have the slightest chance of doing any good: on a busy path, between a rock and a hard spot, in a tangle of thorns. But regardless of where a person is when he hears the good news, he doesn’t have to stay there forever. Human beings can change their hearts, even if they can’t change their circumstances. It isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. With God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
If you have ears to hear, hear the good news of the kingdom of heaven. You will be blessed if you open your heart joyfully and receive the Word of God when you hear it. But to do so, your heart must be prepared. And as to the condition of your heart, that’s up to you. Simply said, check your attitude. Psalm 46:10 begins, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Are you open to hear whatever the LORD has to say to you, or do you just expect him to answer your questions? If you’re asking the wrong questions, then you’re up a creek without a paddle. So, are you really open to God? He’s revealed what we need to know in the Bible. Have you read it? Have you examined it? Do you understand it? Or have you rejected it out of prejudice?
Have you prayed? Some people don’t even try to pray because they don’t know how. Very basically, praying is just talking with God, but it involves listening, too. Most of all, you have to be honest when you pray — real honest. And you have to acknowledge it’s the perfect, holy, almighty, loving Creator of the universe with whom you’re talking.
The LORD is knocking on the door of your heart (Revelation 3:20). It isn’t a wooden door. It’s a door of flesh and blood. Have you heard him knocking? Have you heard the good news of the kingdom of heaven?