Everybody is welcome! Alll may come! The Gospel is the good news of God’s grace to all. The party is on! And your invitation card is just there, on the mantelpiece.
There is one sense in which there is a sharp demarcation between insiders and outsiders. It’s in the area of revelation. By which I mean to say, understanding of the nature of the invitation itself.
I remember when I spent a very happy few years as a primary schoolteacher (and I better be cautious because some of those kids are now married with children and subscribe to this blog). One day I was going through something really abstruse and difficult (say the nine times table) and this wee lass looks up plaintively and says “I just don’t get it! I don’t get it!” It was as if all the mysteries of life were just there, on the handout sheet, but she couldn’t access them.
You receive the invitation, but you just don’t “get it” somehow.
Paul put it clearly in 1 Corinthians 2:14: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
And in v9: “What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived’
the things God has prepared for those who love him…”
You can’t visualise, or intellectualise or analyse what God has prepared for you. You have to receive it in a different way.
So Jesus told stories. He told story after story. Indeed, he never did any “teaching” without a story. And the stories were there to evoke interest, create readiness and prompt curiosity. And some just heard the story and others looked a little deeper. Don’t you just love that “Duh” moment when it says “And the Pharisees perceived that he was telling this story about them”?
And the stories were like seeds thrown into a ploughed field. Some seeds hit the hard path at the edge and the birds took them off. Some seeds hit the semi-ploughed outer perimeter and had no depth of soil to develop roots. Some seeds fell in badly cultivated ground where they were choked with thorns and weeds. And others fell into good earth and grew, and produced. And the farmer got his harvest.
At one level, it’s a story about the persistence of the farmer. The “Lord of the harvest” will have his harvest!
But of course, Jesus takes it deeper, providing an explanation. That’s unusual, for most times he simply told the story and encouraged them to figure it out. (And figuring it out was part of the process of growing in understanding).
“The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
This is quite clear, isn’t it? People respond to the gospel invitation in different ways: some are hardened (like the path) or shallow (like the rocky ground), or distracted (like the thorny soil) or ready to receive (like the good soil). The curious point comes just before that explanation:
“His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, ‘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.”
Jesus is quoting Isaiah 6:9, but it sounds as if he’s trying to make it difficult for the hearers!
So here’s that demarcation line between insiders (who “get it”) and outsiders who don’t. What makes the difference?
The difference is right there on the page. It is the disciples who receive; those who have already committed themselves lock, stock and barrel; the ones who have said “I will follow.” It is “those who love him” (in 1 Cor 2:9) who receive what God has prepared. And it those who come “through the Spirit” (in 1 Cor 2:14) who discern what God is saying and doing.
Love and committment are the prerequisites of revelation.
And it is no accident that this story immediately follows that of the “sinful woman” who anointed Jesus’s feet (in Luke 7: 36-50). Her own brokenness and heart-sorrow provided Jesus with the things that the Pharisee withheld: the kiss, the anointing, the footwashing.
And because she put herself in the position of disciple (“at his feet“), and, in the face of public scorn, demonstrated her own love and committment, then Jesus announced her forgiven, saved and at peace…. That is to say, he gave her a revelation of her standing before God.
And that is what he has prepared for you and me, too.