A Surprisingly Common Bible Reference

There are a few Old Testament passages that get quoted in the New Testament with regularity, but I think the most surprising one is Isaiah 6:9-10.

“Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

The first time I noticed this quote was in Jesus’ own words, who references it in every gospel. I was surprised that no gospel writer was like, “Oh, we can’t say that. I’ll just skip that part in my version.” Likewise, Paul quotes it in two different parts of his own writing.

God doesn’t want people to be healed by salvation? What do we do with that?

First, we balance it out with other parts of the Bible that declare that “God wishes all to be saved,” as that is the nature and character of his heart. Secondly, we recognize that salvation is not something that we do, but something God does. We do not choose to get saved out of our own volition, as we commonly express these days. We do not choose Jesus—he chooses us. If we are Christians it is because God and God only has invited us in and we accepted. We did not break our way into Heaven without the invitation. Salvation is always an initiative on God’s behalf.

Thirdly, we then recognize that though it is God’s heart for all to be saved, not everyone is ready for the invitation. There is a certain quality that God is looking for in us—perhaps something akin to a blend of repentance, humility, interest and desire. And if we don’t yet have what God desires in our character, then even though he wishes us to be saved, we may not yet be at the particular juncture in which we’re ready—for we can’t follow Jesus as our master if we have cold and hard hearts. We are not soft and moldable enough yet to be a citizen of Heaven.

Jesus quoted this verse as the reason he spoke in parables. Not everyone in the crowd was there for God. Plenty just wanted free food or a miracle. Though they may have gotten that, the real food and miracle would be masked behind Jesus’ storytelling in such a way that the Holy Spirit would have to reveal the truth to those who were actually hungry enough to hear the parable as it was. The Spirit was the encryption key to making Jesus’ words not sound like gibberish, and the Spirit chose whose ears would be opened to hear it.

This verse probably gets quoted so much in the New Testament because of all the rejection Jesus and the early Church faced. This was the greatest news of all time! Paul worked hard to help people see where both the law and prophets declared it. Why weren’t people believing? Isaiah provided the answer. It reminded them that no matter what they did to evangelize well, their message wouldn’t always be accepted—and that wasn’t always because of them.

*This devotional was created out of the themes of Acts 28:17-31 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net.

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