Soft sponge or hard…?

Acts 28:17-31

And it came to pass after three days that Paul called the leaders of the Jews together. So when they had come together, he said to them: “Men and brethren, though I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, who, when they had examined me, wanted to let me go, because there was no cause for putting me to death.  But when the Jews  spoke against it, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, not that I had anything of which to accuse my nation. For this reason therefore I have called for you, to see you and speak with you, because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”

Then they said to him, “We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you.  But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.”

So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved. So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our  fathers, saying,

            ‘Go to this people and say:

             “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand;

             And seeing you will see, and not perceive;

             For the hearts of this people have grown dull.

             Their ears are hard of hearing,

              And their eyes they have closed,

            Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,

           Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,

            So that I should heal them.” ’

 “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”  And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.

Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.

 You will be ever hearing but

    Never understanding

You will be ever seeing but

   Never perceiving.

This is given as a description of a calloused heart in one translation.  Another says hardened and others say gross.  All of these words would describe one who cannot be reached.  Hearts that are closed off, do not respond, do not express emotion or compassion.  It’s as if they have been exposed to the message so frequently without responding that they can no longer sense the tug at their hearts to acknowledge the love that God extends.  We are told over and over how God loves His creation and desires a relationship with us.  We are also told over and over how self-oriented mankind is turning the deaf ear to this message of love.  The deaf ear results in desensitization.  We soon cannot hear it.  God says this is done by choice: “their eyes they have closed,” Looking at the word calloused brings to mind two words; hard and rough.  The soft, gentle, supple nature that draws an invitation to touch has become repulsive inviting rejection.  This is not to end on a depressive note, rather God also states if we choose to listen and see He will heal: “Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” ’

Paul’s response to those from the Jewish community who reacted with callous rejection was to let them know God’s message of love as expressed through the salvation brought to us by Jesus  would still be extended, but now it would be extended  to any who would listen.

Take away is this:  We want to be ever hearing and understanding, ever seeing and perceiving.  We want hearts that respond and receive.  Be immersed in the Word of God, be immersed in His love, let it fill up the sponge of who we are until we cannot hold anymore and it runs out of us onto those around us.  Be soft as the sponge receiving rather than  hard as the sponge refusing the waters of the Spirit.  Fill up and spill out.

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We know who we are…

 

Matthew 11:1-6 

When Jesus finished placing this charge before his twelve disciples, he went on to teach and preach in their villages. 2 John, meanwhile, had been locked up in prison. When he got wind of what Jesus was doing, he sent his own disciples 3 to ask, “Are you the One we’ve been expecting, or are we still waiting?” 4 Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on: 5 The blind see, The lame walk, Lepers are cleansed, The deaf hear, The dead are raised, The wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side. 6 “Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves most blessed!”

All of Chapter 10 from vs. 5 on was a body of instructions to his disciples.  Can we see those as instructions to us?  Yes, since he later told them to go out and make disciples – they were to carry on His work to all the world, not just Israel.  That comes at the end of the story.  After the cross we all were brought into the kingdom — Abraham’s seed had blessed all nations.  So we need to heed those instructions, they tell us who we are, what our assignment is.  When we receive the assignment we then are to carry on the work and make disciples of all nations.  It is good to remember the disciples spent three years receiving the Word, watching the healing, raising of the dead, driving out demons and cleansing the leper.  Then, during that time they were given a practicum session putting what they heard and saw into practice.  They heard, then did; they became doers of the Word.

During the time with Christ and following His crucifixion, the disciples  wrestled with disfavor and favor, they were tested through Christ’s trial and death, their faith was tried by fire; did they really believe what they believed was really real?  They had to deal with grief, doubt, distrust, and returned to their old lives.  We see the same among us today.  But when He was revealed to them, salvation occurred; then Christ  left and the Holy Spirit was given.  Now the complete, final transformation took place.  Peter, no longer a fisherman, no longer doubting, no longer afraid, no longer denying his stand, became a preacher/teacher with a message, became the emissary of Christ, one who stood in His place and continued His work.  He suffered for it, but received a reward as well.  What have we learned? We know who we are;  We are who God says we are. What can we do?  We can do all things through Christ.

Continuing in Chapter 11 we see John the Baptist sending his disciples to Jesus with a question.  He hears what is happening and confirms Jesus’ ministry and position with the question:”Are you the one who is to come or should we expect another?”

Jesus replies: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me. Another translation puts it more clearly; ‘God blesses those who are not offended by me.

We know who we are; we are who God says we are.  Can the same be said of us should the question be asked, are you the one?  Are we the one with the message that delivers and brings life and love?  Can the same be said: Go and report what you see and hear… What would be said?  What is heard of us, what is seen of us?