They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
“‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’” (verses 25-27)
Having arrived in Rome, Paul reached out to the leaders of the Jewish community, inviting them to hear the message of Jesus. He spent a whole day expounding the Old Testament scriptures, trying to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised Saviour of his people. Joyfully, some believed. Sadly, others did not. Indeed, they disagreed vigorously.
So Paul sends them away with this quotation from Isaiah the prophet ringing in their ears: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding … seeing but never perceiving” (verse 26). It’s a profound indictment of their hard-heartedness.
This is the fifth time in the New Testament that this specific scripture passage is quoted. The first three times it is quoted by Jesus himself, in the context of his teaching about the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. He tells his disciples that he teaches in parables so that those who don’t believe will hear without hearing and see without seeing, but that those who do believe, who have received the secret of the Kingdom, will hear and see and turn and be healed.
The fourth time the quotation is used comes at the end of Jesus’ teaching ministry in John’s Gospel (John 12:40), just prior to the Upper Room discourse. John uses it to anchor his summary statement regarding the unresponsiveness of so many to Jesus’ teaching: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37).
All of this is against the background of Jesus’ very clear ministry of healing deaf ears and giving sight to blind eyes. Those who will receive find that sight and sound, understanding and perception, are freely bestowed. Indeed, Paul himself can gratefully attest to this wonder-working power of Jesus.
So, as we come to the end of this journey through the Acts of the Apostles, give thanks with Paul, and all of those early believers, for the joy-filled wonder of the salvation that is in Jesus. If he’s opened your eyes and heart, it is a miracle indeed. Give thanks.
But join also with Paul in the grief that comes in seeing all those who refuse to receive, who will not turn and be healed. Grieve, for the loss is great.
Yet never give up hope. Pray for the miracle of opened eyes and ears for those who as yet have not turned to Jesus for healing. Persevere, even as did the Apostle himself. Here’s the final sighting we have of him, given in the final lines of this book:
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ (verses 30-31).
May it be, even for us.
Dear Lord, thank you for the miracle of opened eyes and ears – I am eternally grateful. Please use even me in your ongoing ministry of turning others to you for healing and salvation. May the joy increase. May heaven be full.
Pray: Reflect on what Jesus has done in your own life. Give thanks from your heart – this is a gift for all eternity. Reflect on those you know and love who do not yet see. Pray, earnestly, that they might receive Jesus, also.