Why don’t they believe? This is a common question. It may be the most common objection that I know of to a reformed understanding of salvation. People, out of a desire to understand why some people do not entrust themselves to Christ, will raise the question of why this would happen. And the only place they can land where they are comfortable is to say that people do not believe because, though God gave them every opportunity, they simply chose not to.
I thought about this in a recent rereading of Matthew. In our church, we will soon be returning to Matthew for our sermon series, and I thought I’d better remind myself of what has passed. And in Matthew 13, Jesus speaks in many parables. The disciples are very curious as to why he would do so.
Do you remember how Jesus responded?
Matthew 13:10-11 – Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
Why did Jesus speak to them in parables? Why don’t they believe? To the disciples, Jesus responded by pointing out an answer that is a little different than what the disciples wanted to know. Jesus points out that, for the disciples, they should be thrilled that they do believe. Why? It was granted to them to believe. It was given to them to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. The disciples have been given a gift, a kindness from God.
Note, please, that the gift from God is a free gift. Nothing, absolutely nothing, obligates God to give the disciples this knowledge. There is nothing that would make God a bad person or a wrongdoer if he did not give it. It is a free thing that God may do, to show his kindness, for his pleasure.
Jesus then speaks to the disciples about those who do not get to hear the message clearly. He cites Isaiah 6, where the Lord told Isaiah that all his preaching will dull the sight and harden the hearts of the people to whom he preaches. And Jesus says that this is what is happening with the parables.
But what are we to do with that information? How are we supposed to feel? Jesus says this to the disciples.
Matthew 13:16-17 – 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
What the disciples were to do was to see that they had been blessed by God. Why were they blessed by God? Were they blessed because they chose to believe? No, that is not at all what Jesus says. They were blessed in that they were granted by God the message they were hearing. It is not that they had faith that made them a step better than those around them. On the contrary, their blessing is that God gave them eyes to see and ears to hear. Jesus said, “Blessed are your eyes.” He was telling them that they were blessed because God chose to reveal something to them that others around them were not receiving. They were gifted by God with the gift of faith.