Ears to Hear (Matthew 7, Luke 8)
Jesus explained that some hear but refuse to hear: "For the heart of this people has 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 heart and turn, so that I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear" (Matthew 13:15, 16).
There is hearing, and then there is “hearing.” There is “ear hearing” and there is “heart hearing.” If we applied this to the language we’ve used in our often quoted “plan of salvation” (the steps in the process of becoming a Christ disciple) namely, “hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized” – we could just as say, using the thoughts of Jesus, hear with ears, hear with heart (believe, repent, confess, be baptized). Our part is as simple as that.
We all know that good listeners make good company, good friends, good learners, good teachers, and good counselors. On the other hand, poor listeners, who wish only to hear themselves talk, who though listening are only planning what they're going to say as soon as whoever’s talking takes a breath, are usually cheated out of the better relationships in life. So how we listen is important since it determines a lot about our relationships to others. That’s absolutely true about our relationship with God. We’ll have no relationship with Him without listening to Him.
God Himself spoke from heaven and told us plainly who we should listen to when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, Hear Him!" (Matthew 17:5). Even dedicated Bible people can be sidetracked from what Jesus said because we sometimes focus our attention on Paul or John or Peter and some of the puzzling issues they raise as they write to early churches and Christians about belief and behavior. If Jesus is the One to be heard while standing shoulder to shoulder with Moses (great lawgiver) and Elijah (great prophet), He surely is the One to be heard among Paul, Peter, John, and others. God said, “This is my beloved Son; hear him.”
Children* (easy target, no?) show us it’s possible for words heard plainly (biologically speaking) to be not heard at all, i.e., ignored.
Jesus, in the parable of the sower, said that good hearts will hear the words of God and obey: "But the ones (words represented as “seeds”) that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15). Jesus addressed His disciples’ and the larger crowds’ way of hearing often. "Take heed,” He said, “what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given" (Mark 4:24). He once preached to a crowd: "Hear Me, everyone, and understand" (Mark 7:14). And on another occasion finished His teaching t His disciples this way: "Let these words sink down into your ears" (Luke 9:44).
He once explained to a crowd of listeners that His true family, “God’s family,” consists of those who listen to God: "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it" (Luke 8:21). The gospel of John particularly stays on this theme (John was writing at the end of the 1st century when great confusion had arisen because of voices competing with Jesus’ voice): "He who is of God hears God's words" (John 8:47), "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27), “When a man loves me, he follows my teaching. Then my Father will love him, and we will come to that man and make our home within him.” (John 14:23 PH), and "Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice" (John 18:37).
Perhaps that’s plenty to show the importance of hearing God’s words with our hearts so that they make us change inside and go on to act differently. I could go on. I’m not sure it can be overemphasized. So, it’s little wonder that faithful Christians keep a constant emphasis on themselves and others being in the Word, reading and studying, and being hungry for all of it they can get.
Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (or some equal phrase) often after He taught (Matthew 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9,23; 7:16; Luke 8:8; 14:35), perhaps every time and we just have some recorded. He’s still saying it in Revelation: every message to the seven churches ends that way. Certainly, other NT writers pick up the theme… e.g., James, Jesus’ brother, who told us to be “doers of the word, not hearers only” (James 1:22-23).
It’s a model, clear cut as can be, showing the basis on which Jesus will relate to us in a blessed way. Here’s the process: hear with ears, hear with hearts, con-sider the various consequences of the various available choices, then choose. Whether Israel, the church, or the world, God’s demand is hear and then be changed by what we hear. It ultimately means life or death. Either we will hear Him and say, “Lord, I’ll do Your will,” or we’ll hear only with our ears and He will say to us, “your destructive will be done.” And we’ll go to a place where we’ll never have to hear His voice again.
Jesus presented the truth on a take-it-or-leave-it basis: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" (Matthew 11:15).
God commanding that we hear Him is a recurring theme in the Bible. "Hear the Word of the Lord," or "Hear, O Israel," or "Listen to me," or "Today, hear His voice” are just a few samples.
Both good and bad hearing can be seen in the parable of the soils, an entire story about how people hear. Some hear superficially, like hard ground. Some hear emotionally, like rocky soil. Some hear short term and then are quickly distracted by other interests, like weedy soil. And some hear hungry with honest hearts and the Word is absorbed and takes root and grows a lot of fruit. Jesus closes that teaching with "Be careful how you hear," warning specifically, hear hungry for God with a good and honest heart that reacts appropriately to what God says. That listening pleases God and that listening God blesses.
Our way of hearing will always tell our spiritual status. We see many people make a superficial response to Jesus and the gospel – in scripture and life (maybe even our own lives). So there are always many who will say, "I heard You Lord, and did this and that in your name." But their hearing is not what He wishes since He said to them, "Depart from Me, I never knew you." We have to be far more than superficial disciples.
So how do I know if I'm the good-heart hearer? How do I make an honest assessment? On one occasion many disciples of Jesus walked away because they refused to hear (with their hearts) what Jesus was calling for in their lives (John 6). We discover how well we’ve heard by examining how hearing Him has changed our lives.
The true hearer hears obediently. As you leave a study or sermon or read a text, what are you thinking about what you’ve “heard”? Do you hear God’s Word with a desire and longing to obey it? Do we leave here on Sunday mornings saying, "I'm so glad I was here to hear that because I now know what I need to do to honor the Lord." Or do we head out the doors thinking, "I don't know how long I can keep coming and enduring all this stuff I’m supposed to do and be. It’s cramping my lifestyle and I don't want to listen to this anymore."
Listen to what Jesus said at the end of His magnificent Sermon on the Mount: "The one who hears My Word and obeys it is like a man who builds his house upon the rock." And there's what He told His disciples in John 8, "If you continue in My Word, you're my real disciple,” and in John 14 and 15: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."
It's important to preach the Word (Paul asked, “How can anyone hear without a preacher?), but it's critically important to hear with the ear and the heart. What kind of hearer are you? “Be careful how you listen.”