They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 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.'” Acts 28.23-27.
Paul has just been imprisoned in Rome but he has been allowed to live by himself with a soldier to guard him. And he is allowed to receive visitors, so he makes sure he receives lots of them — all the Jews he can who live in Rome — and he tries to show them the truth of the gospel he proclaims. But for the most part, the Jews cannot perceive what it is that he is seeing in “Moses and the Prophets.” For Paul, Jesus is there to be found on every page of the Old Testament, but these folk just cannot perceive him there. Why?
I kind-of got the answer to this question in advance yesterday morning. My wife and I had been staying overnight with some friends in Harrogate, and as my wife was getting ready for us to go down for breakfast (men are always ready before women, aren’t they!) I pulled a book from the bookcase in the guest bedroom. It was a book I remembered from years ago; Magic Eye and after a while, once I got the knack back, I began to enjoy it in just the way I used to, twenty or thirty years ago. The Magic Eye books are simply collections of images like the one below …
At first glance, the pictures are nothing but meaningless patterns of colours and shapes, but as you apply the technique prescribed, eventually a very sharp 3D image appears — planets, perhaps, floating in a great emptiness of space. The invisible becomes visible! And as the instructions on the Magic Eye site say: “Once you perceive the hidden image and depth, you can look around the entire 3D image. The longer you look, the clearer the image becomes.”
But it strikes me this morning that you need two things to see a hidden Magic Eye image. First, a willingness to see what is there and to believe that there is, in fact, something there to see. And secondly, the patience to sit and concentrate and take time and allow your eyes to find the image and bring it into focus within your consciousness.
How often do I fail to bring one or the other or both of those pre-requisites to my reading of Scripture? So often I read a passage at a rush and say to myself, “Well, there’s nothing in there for me today,” and then move on to something else. But if “all Scripture is God-breathed” as Paul insists that it is (2 Timothy 3.16), then there is something there for me to see if only I have the willingness to be shown it and the patience and commitment to let it come to me.
I say “to be shown it” because, unlike a Magic Eye picture, I cannot by my own efforts uncover the Living Word in the written word without the revelatory activity of the Holy Spirit going on in my heart and mind. He is the one who, as Jesus said, “will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (John 16.13-14).
If there are two pre-requisites for perceiving what others cannot see in a Magic Eye picture, then there are three for perceiving what others cannot see in the Scriptures; and the third is the Holy Spirit. It is to the Lord who is the Spirit that I pray in order that I may see the Lord who is Jesus.
Break Thou the bread of life,
dear Lord to me,
as Thou didst break the bread
beside the sea;
beyond the sacred page
I seek Thee, Lord;
my spirit longs for Thee,
Thou living Word!