Posted by: pmarkrobb | May 16, 2014

it sounds as though

We were blessed early this week with a thoughtful and honest email from one of our readers.  It referred to a verse that was in our reading schedule for later in the week, and I was touched by the sincerity and transparency of their words.  I wonder if you will hear a resonant echo in the past or present of your own walk of faith.  Our reader inquired, I “…was wondering if someone could comment on Mark 4:12.  It sounds as though there are people that Jesus doesn’t want to understand or be saved.  This portion of scripture has always been difficult for me to understand and figure out.  Any thoughts, background, or commentary would be greatly appreciated.”

Can you imagine being in the crowd when Jesus taught?  We are privileged to have the words of His stories, but can you close your eyes for a moment, put yourself in the middle of a scene and see with your minds-eye what kind of storyteller Jesus was?  Can you hear the tone of His voice, see the look on His face and feel the gentle touch of His words?  There were undoubtedly times when His tone was sharp, but that was rare, and always with a divine purpose.  There were also moments of great warmth, measureless grace and unconditional forgiveness.  Consider the scene of the woman about to be stoned for committing adultery (John 8:1-11) … an angry, “righteous” mob surrounding her, seeking to exact the just punishment for her sins.  “Let him who is without sin among you,” I hear him say to those gathered with stones in their hands and judgement in their hearts.  “Neither do I” and “Go and sin no more,” He speaks into to a deeply broken heart and life in desperate need of true love, grace and forgiveness.  God in human form looks into the face of an adulterer and says, “Neither do I” condemn you.  How?  Why?  I can only guess it’s because He sees straight through to the heart and what He saw that day must have been a heart that was changed in an instant … and forever.

In response our reader’s desire to understand Jesus’ response to His disciples in Mark 4:12, I am tempted to offer the words of 2 Peter 3:9…

 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

I’m “tempted” because it’s just what we do when we’re asked a question … we give an answer.  I’ll encourage our reader (and you) that it is good and profitable to continue to ask your questions of God.  So much more will come of the resulting conversation, than what any other human voice could offer in response.  At the same time, I also believe God may have a larger purpose in our reader not keeping their thoughts hidden under a bushel, and in our exploring them today.   So here are some of the thoughts He has been working out in my own life in the days since receiving the email.

It is because of the verse in 2nd Peter, and others like it (John 3:16-17, I Tim 2:7), that I do not believe that Jesus used parables like riddles in order to confound people so that some wouldn’t believe.  Or, as our reader so honestly put it, “there are people that Jesus doesn’t want to understand or be saved.”

If you’ll allow, I’d like to change gears for a second and share something personal.  It’s concerning another difficult question that people have deep convictions or uncertainty over, but I think might be helpful in what we are considering in Mark 4:12.  I recall my grandfather illustrating his beliefs on the doctrines of free will and predestination this way one time.  He said he believed there were two signs hanging above the gate to the entrance of heaven.  The sign on the side that faced this world read, “Whosoever will, may come.”  The sign from heaven’s vantage read, “I chose you before the foundation of the world.”  I remember him continuing on with how that impacted his practice of sharing the gospel.  He believed that it wasn’t his to pick and choose with whom he shared the gospel on this side of heaven.  He chose to share it freely with all, and let God be responsible for the rest.

I hear my grandfather’s voice as I read Jesus’ words in Mark 4:12.  I believe that God desires for all his children to choose Him.  At the same time, I also believe that He knows the hearts of all, both those who will, and those who won’t.  In telling stories that only those with ears to hear and eyes to see would understand, I believe Jesus is saying that the kingdom of heaven is not a fact to be proved by a clearly illustrated story.  It’s not to be understood by the head with some manner of A+B=C wordly logic.  It is a great and wonderful mystery and Truth to be believed by a heart and life that catches just a glimpse of Jesus and instantly “sees.”  It is told of in a language that only a child of His truly “hears.”  These are the stories of Jesus, the stories He tells “so that they may look and look,yet not perceive; they may listen and listen, yet not understand; otherwise, they might turn back — and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:12)

Does God wish for any precious creation of His to be “outside?” (Mark 4:11)  Does Jesus teach with stories that confuse and deliberately lead some toward unbelief?  I say, and I believe scripture says, “absolutely not!”  But do I believe that Jesus tells stories that only His children can truly hear and understand?  Yes.  Our God is not manipulative; not even when the ends would be just.

I believe God does not wish for any to perish.  I also believe He knows the hearts and lives that will not choose Him.  I believe He pursues all, but coerces none.  I believe there is so little I know, and so much that can be experienced when we consider our questions with Him.  Thank you reader, for your honesty and for allowing us all to consider your important question together.



  1. Thanks for the encouragement for us to converse with God over this question.

    “There is a way that seems right to man…….but in the end it leads to death.”

    “For My thoughts are not your thoughts…… the heavens are higher than the earth……so are My thoughts than your thoughts.”

    “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.”

    To direct us to the Source of “thoughts” and “ways” and the Spirit of truth is refreshing. 🙂 This particular scripture – Mark 4:12 – is on a list I have started that I titled “Hard Scriptures”. They “exist” in my coming and going daily relationship/conversation with God. my Father. It has been interesting, and enjoyable, to “see” and “hear” in some other areas of life and truth – His nature/being – as these not yet understood questions remain and prompt these additional areas of talk and thought. It sometimes appears that His response to me is, “before you can understand that, you must first know Me in this…..and this……and this. He is very gracious, enjoying the process/relationship with me. The pressure to get the answer is swallowed up by the joy of discovery in His other “thoughts” and “ways”.

    Thanks, again, for being comfortable with some questions remaining on the table and in the conversation! 🙂

  2. After reading Friday’s post (thank you, by the way) and spending some time praying about the scripture, God took my mind back to the book of Job (chapter 38) and the chapter where God speaks to Job and his suffering and basically tells him, I am God and you are NOT! That’s not to say that I think Job 38 answers the question in Mark 4. But it does tell me that God is in control and He is just and merciful and gracious and because of all that, I can trust Him. It also tells me that I can continue to question and seek out answers to the mysteries that remain. 😉

    Thank you again!

    • I dind’t know where to find this info then kaboom it was here.

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