Mark 4:12 – Unwillingness Exposed
… So that ‘seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them’.Mark 4:12
"So that seeing they may see and not perceive." So that!
People have wondered about these words and, what is more, have been offended by them. They are "harsh" words. Who can bear them?
For starters, let's leave these words in their context. For you can only quote them in a climate of prophetic zeal and by acknowledging God's holiness.
Isaiah had caught these words about a nation that saw but was blind, it heard but was deaf and was very keen to escape from its own thoughts. Isaiah heard the words of our text when he was shown God's holiness and glory in a vision (Isaiah 6, John 12).
When these words are (frequently) referred to in Scriptures, they are always connected with the visions of Isaiah (Matthew 13:14, 15; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:26, 27). From that it is obvious that you can only do justice to Christ's words when you leave them in their context. Only then can you be at peace with them.
When the heavens opened before Isaiah's eyes he observed God in His radiant glory. Where God is there is His sovereignty; there everything is predestined; there is foreknowledge of all. From there are sent the prophetic words to Israel. These words are not prepared in the weakness of the human mind that would vainly try to twist them where the prophetic words would be contrary to His own mortal opinion. No, these words are sent in the power of the Eternal One, Who sends His Word in majesty. The Word comes with this power so that, when it comes, it will expose the hidden thoughts of those who receive it; so that what is inside will come out!
When Isaiah commences his prophecy the hearers will all have to take sides. Losing your way is a mistake when there is not a signpost. But it becomes a sin when the signpost is so evident to the traveller that he simply must know the way. Someone who has walked right past the sign, and is then found sauntering on the wrong road, is an unwilling person, not an ignorant individual. He will never be able to claim he did not know.
In this manner the signpost exposes the evil.
The man who places the sign on the roadside knows this. He knew even before he put it in the ground and even calculates beforehand the effect of his action. He places the direction sign so that those who do not want to see it must nevertheless see it. If an ignorant person gets lost we say: he is blind and cannot see. But when those who are informed get lost we say: seeing they cannot see.
Looking but not seeing; hearing but not listening; observing but not understanding. Where these things are found in the soul of those who are disobedient, the coming judgment will be just.
By bringing into the light the hidden unwillingness (which would Have remained hidden without the signpost), the judge has prepared the way for the sentence which will be justified before all. If the signpost had not stood at the cross-roads of life, they could have tried to plead ignorance and shouted: we are losing our way; we are tired; restore and heal us. Then, after a life of hidden unwillingness there would be an attempt to escape the sentence. This would be tried by employing the lie and a hypocritical plea of ignorance.
The judge wants to avoid that situation. Does this make him without mercy? Is it a crime to show someone the right way? We all know better! To show the right way is a good deed. But for the unwilling it has terrible consequences. This unwillingness is not something that God has done. This unwillingness is from him. But God did cause his unwillingness to become apparent. That is not from the person.
"Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!" (Romans 9:14). God does not want sin to be committed. He does however want to see the truth where there is sin. Hence that road sign; hence the Word; hence the task given to Isaiah.
Everyone who hears the Word will be tested by that prophetic Word.
This is the only way to understand Jesus' words when He calls on God's Word given to Isaiah.
Jesus speaks in parables; he makes use of riddles in which he sets out His teachings. Now please do not say that these are the opposite of a signpost. Do not say that these riddles, parables which are difficult to grasp, are in any way to blame for even one soul being lost in the darkness. A mysterious speech or a difficult parable can sometimes have more effect in exposing the hidden thoughts of the heart than a blunt exclamation.
If Jesus was to say to your face: this is how it is, then you might be offended at Him. Then you could say: that was too hard; the teacher caught me unawares, He was too blunt in His instruction; it was more than I could bear. You could try to justify your refusal to listen.
But now Jesus cuts you off at the pass; He foils your attempt to hide by speaking in parables and mysterious words. And then you have to show yourself as you truly are.
If you do want to hear, you will not immediately understand. The disciples too had to ask for clarification of the parables. Then your question will reveal who you are.
But what if you do not want to hear? What if you reject the speaker out of hand? What if you go to meet him with an unwilling frame of mind?
He will then, through parables, force your hand and make you come into the open as you are.
This can happen in different ways. Take the instance where a preacher gives you that "mysterious" word. You see an opportunity to "explain" his words about the parable in a most unfavourable light. You extract from his words a thought; but you cannot prove that the speaker in fact had put that thought in his words. But you hasten to impress upon others that this was the meaning, adding triumphantly to people that someone who speaks like that is not a prophet but a heretic. The 'parable' has then not made you hostile, but the use of the parable has made your enmity visible.
There is another way. All your life you have said; I am looking for the truth; I search and research, but I simply cannot find it. Poor me. You could easily say this so long as nothing was purposefully placed under your nose to force you to figure it out. But now Christ comes and puts before you a word, a parable, which is strange. But this word is so remarkable that you cannot push it aside as unimportant. It is quite strange and its meaning is not evident; it is not plain sailing, you say. But come now – you like searching and researching; you are thirsty for knowledge; you feel sorry for your fruitless endeavour! Go ahead then and make a start on this parable. Your enquiring mind has work again – you must now be happy.
But look now – you will not even start. Do you throw the word aside? Or do you rid yourself of it by a "this-is-easy" gesture: this is the way it is. In that event this one instance proves that your claims about being serious, and your assertions that you honestly want to delve into issues, were simply hot air. They prove that your words were only an attitude that you adopted in order to cover-up your self-satisfied soul and blame God for your ruin.
It is possible to cite more examples. The point is that God, Christ and the preached Word are not to blame for reprobation, the refusal to repent; but they do expose the sin that is there. That is the intention of the Father Who sends His Word. God does not want your sins. But if you insist on living in your sins, then He will force you to throw off your mask. No one will be able to say that God was obliged to heal the sick person who did not want life, but who wanted death.
To all who hear the Word this is a powerful message. It forces you to reveal yourself. People have to take sides wherever the Word is preached. And that choice has to come into the open.
What about the preachers? Let them bring the truth, and then they can be at peace. Whatever they preach, the result will be making secret things public. Isaiah's clear prophecy does it (Isaiah 6); Jesus' parables do it (Matthews 13, Luke 8, Mark 4); the wonderful sign does it (John 12:40); Paul's powerful argument (crowned with Bible texts) does it (Acts 28:26,27).
Prophecy is always light that not only illuminates things on the outside, but also the inside.
Jesus' preaching is very far removed from making Him a cold preacher who would expect, who would even cause people to continue in their unbelief. I repeat – Jesus' preaching is very far removed from such an outcome, so much so that Jesus marvels at their unbelief. Other people are amazed about faith and consider it quite normal that you are a sinner deserving condemnation. But Jesus marvels at their unbelief. Jesus will never accept the lie. But He does want the lie uncovered.
… So that ‘seeing they may see and not perceive’.