Luke 8:9-10 (ESV)
And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant,  he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.
The disciples ask Jesus why He speaks in parables. The answer is difficult for us and many attempts have been made to lessen its blows. He speaks in parables first of all, because to the disciples it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom but such knowledge has not been given to others (verse 10). Second of all He speaks in parables so that people may see and yet not see, and hear, and yet not understand. This is what gets many very worked up. It is a hard saying, but the meaning seems pretty clear. If we compare it to the original saying to Isaiah it becomes even clearer (Isaiah 6:9-13). The Word of God preached will produce no converts because its purpose is to bring judgement. But I am not writing to try to justify the Almighty’s actions regarding who He chooses to enlighten with the Gospel. He is up for that task and He does not need my help.
I am just struck by what Jesus says in two pieces of His teaching that seem to relate to this first one. Jesus tells the disciples that He speaks in parables so that they may not understand. The next thing He says is that when the Word is sown the reason some do not believe is because the evil one comes and steals the seed away (verse 12). There is nothing here about God preventing them from understanding. It would seem to me that if He said “I preach in parables so that they will not understand” then the next thing to be said would be “for instance, the reason some do not believe is because God prevents the seed sown from taking root. But He doesn’t. What He does say is that Satan comes and steals the seed away. Why does Jesus say that? He says that because it is what happens. And Satan, in doing so, commits a grave evil and will be punished severely for it.
Now we jump down to verse 19. “Take care how you hear …”. If God decides who is going to understand or not and Satan steals seed away so that people cannot understand, why in the world do we need to take care how we hear? Isn’t the die already cast? Between God and Satan what chance does anyone have? Not the right questions. The questions we are to ask when we are taught truth is not “Does God want me to understand?” or “Is Satan going to steal this away?”, but rather, “Have I taken sufficient care to understand what is being said here?” You have heard Gospel preaching and if you take care to understand it properly God will help you. You should know that Satan does not want you to understand and that there will be obstacles to true understanding.
So, who is responsible for the unbelief of those to whom we give the Gospel – God? Satan? Them? God cannot be charged with sin but if their unbelief is a judicial act by God then we can say that in justice He is doing what is right. Satan cannot be credited with doing anything right so we can say that his act of stealing seed away is a horrible act of hatred and sin as he tries to prevent God from saving people and prevent people from hearing more of the Word. Those people who hear Gospel teaching and do not take care to understand it are free moral agents who have a responsibility to do with the teaching as God has said they should. To not take the necessary care to understand the teaching is sinful and they should, and will, be held to account for it. And when they are, they will neither blame God or the devil for the way they handled the Gospel they were taught. They will see that they should have taken care to understand what God, in His providence allowed them to hear preached. They will remember that they texted their way through that particular message. They will remember that it all seemed such nonsense. They will remember that someone said “you’ll regret your attitude some day”.
All this stuff is really too marvelous for words. In the simple telling of a parable we have the sovereignty of God, the evil of Satan, the responsibility of human beings. It’s hard for us to put all this together. I’m glad that it is. To be able to understand it all is way above our pay grade.