Mark 4:9-12 (NIV): Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
As Jesus preached the parable of the soils, as it was with every parable that He told, He knew that representatives of each of the four kinds of soil were right there in the crowd. Not just the good soil that would receive His word and begin to grow into the kingdom, but those whose hearts were so hardened that His words bounced right off; those whose hearts were shallow, whose lives were emotionally drive, and who would fall away at the first trial; and those whose lives were so crowded that, even though they would receive His word, would not produce fruit for the kingdom. His call, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” reflected that many people in the crowd would not be able to hear what He was saying. He was doing more than referring to the truth that spiritual truths are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). He was pointing to the outworking of the fact that the His coming was for two purposes, depending on the hearts of each person, and how they received Him.
Every time Jesus appeared in public, every time He spoke, He divided people into two, and only two, groups. One group was composed of those who received Him and His words, and so were being saved. The other group was made up of those who rejected Him and His words, and so were being condemned. When Jesus spoke in parables those with open hearts (“ears to hear”) received His word: their eyes lit up, and the concepts took root in their minds and hearts. But those who had closed their hearts to Jesus showed no insight or understanding, writing off His teachings as ridiculous stories that made no sense. They weren’t condemned because they didn’t’ get the story; their hardened hearts were displayed by their lack of understanding.
The truth of this is shown by Jesus’ quote from Isaiah 6:9-10. Those were words that God spoke to Isaiah when He first made him a prophet and sent him to speak God’s words to the people. Through this warning, God told him that his words would be rejected by many of those to whom he was being sent. Understand that God’s greatest desire was that all would hear, listen, turn, and be saved. He knew that the captivities in Assyria and Babylon were looming just over the horizon, and He longed for His people to repent and turn back to Him before He had to bring that strong judgment on them. But God also knew His people: that many of them had already hardened their hearts against His word, had closed their eyes so that they could no longer find His path, and had plugged their ears against His voice. This had made them liable to His judgment. But still God sent His messenger, because He also knew that there was a remnant, a chunk of the people whose hearts were seeking Him, who would see, who would have “ears to hear.”
Some reject the idea that Jesus first visit had anything to do with judgment or condemnation, and quote John 3:17 in support of their position: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. And that is true. But it was not Jesus who condemned the hard hearted; it was they who condemned themselves by their refusal to receive Him, as the very next verse clearly states: Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:18 NIV)
Father, there are many today as well who do not receive Jesus, who do not believe in His name, and who are therefore living the life of the condemned. But there are also more than we think whose hearts are searching for the truth, and who are waiting for us to sow the seed of the gospel into the prepared soil of their hearts. Help us, all of Your people, to be faithful to Your Great Commission, to be trustworthy witnesses who keep the work of Your kingdom first in our agendas. And, Lord, I also pray for the hard-hearted among us. I have seen You work in those hard hearts to soften and break them up in response to the passionate prayers of Your people. (I’m one of them!) Help us to keep praying for our family members, our friends, our neighbors and coworkers, even those with hard hearts, so that, with Your help, we can help them to be reconciled to You. Amen.