By Sam E. Stone
Each week our lesson planners include a devotional reading that is parallel to the message of the printed text. Their choice for today, Luke 8:9-15, comes from Jesus’ parable about the sower. It clarifies and confirms the meaning of Isaiah 29. God is concerned about what we really mean when we say we worship.
In Luke 8:10, Jesus quotes a similar passage in Isaiah (6:9) that warns those who are “hearing, but never understanding . . . seeing, but never perceiving.” Lewis Foster notes, “These words do not mean that God desires that some will not understand, but it expresses the sad truth that those who are not willing to dig for the treasure will never find it. Their disinterest in spiritual truths and their concentration on the things of this world keep them from pursuing the deeper lessons of the parable.”
Isaiah declared that his hearers have made themselves blind and drunk. They refuse to see and understand the prophetic message. R. B. Y. Scott writes, “Willful disobedience to moral and spiritual claims upon his life finally destroys man’s capacity to hear and respond.” Such people stagger like a drunk man in their moral confusion. For them, all that Isaiah has been prophesying means nothing. The people to whom the message has been given come up with meaningless excuses (“I can’t read it; it’s sealed” or even “I don’t know how to read”).
Described in these verses is a person who bandages his eyes and covers his head (v. 10). By this he shows an unwillingness to listen and learn what the Lord is saying to him through inspired messengers. One of the New Testament passages citing this reference is Romans 11:7ff. When speaking of how only a remnant of Israel will be saved, Paul explained, “The others were hardened,” referring to Isaiah 29:10.
The so-called worshippers whom Isaiah condemned were only interested in keeping up appearances. If you had heard them sing or pray, you might have thought they were deeply spiritual. The problem is, you can’t see inside them like God can. Their hearts are far from me. Their worship . . . is based on merely human rules they have been taught. These words of Isaiah were quoted by Jesus when he described the Pharisees and teachers of the law in his day (see Matthew 15:1-9). Mark also recounts what Jesus said about these people, as he quotes this text: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites . . . ‘They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules’” (Mark 7:6, 7).
How God reacts to hypocritical worship is clear: The wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish. In speaking to the Corinthians years later, the apostle Paul contrasted the truth of the gospel with the so-called wisdom of “the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:18ff). He concludes, “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (v. 25). No “human rules” can produce the kind of worship the cross can generate. Regardless of how the world’s intellectuals may view things, it is God’s analysis that counts in the end.
On another occasion, Paul cited these words of Isaiah to make his case when challenged by some people who wanted their choices and decisions to have supreme authority. “Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Romans 9:20). Such a view would turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! The people of Israel would be judged for their unbelief. Faulty thinking does not excuse wrong actions any more than the potter’s clay can condemn the potter for how it has been made. When we worship, we must do so from the heart, in harmony with God’s will.
H. Lynn Gardner summed it up well: “The religious leaders and the crowds had opportunities to trust and understand Jesus’ teachings concerning his kingdom, but their selfish and materialistic view of religion and life kept them from seeking to truly understand. They heard the words, but did not understand their intended meaning.” Isaiah’s warning is still needed today if we are to worship the Lord with meaning!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.