To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.
The entire Sixth Chapter of Jeremiah is a lament for how far the children of Israel have strayed from God. The aging prophet speaks the Lord's truth over the nation and Jerusalem; they are full of oppression, violence and plundering. They have committed abominations against the Lord and are unashamed. They ignore the teachings of the Prophets and reject the Word of the Lord. Jeremiah calls them "stubborn rebels", and warns that there is a refining fire coming upon the Land, in which the Lord will no longer protect them. He asks if there is anyone who will listen to him, but knows that no one will hear because their ears have been closed by God because He is tired of their rebellion.
How often have we read this same cautionary warning in the New Testament? How many times did Jesus say, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" I will tell you that I am writing about this theme today because my husband had a recurring dream that I was to bring this to your attention, and that we were to pay special attention to exactly what it was that Jesus wanted us to hear.
A glance at the Bible told me that our Lord spoke these words often, as an ancillary follow-up to His parables. I found it interesting in Matthew 13, that the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke in parables, and He told them that the mysteries of Heaven had been given to certain people, but not to all. As Matthew Henry, the 17th Century theologian, so eloquently puts it: "A parable is a shell that keeps good fruit for the diligent, but keeps it from the slothful."
In other words, Knowledge is a gift from God, and through His Grace and Sovereignty, He gives or withholds it at His pleasure. For the one who diligently wants to grow in his understanding of God, he will find that he hears the hidden message in the parables. To those who hear God’s word, and see his divine interventions, and yet make no effort to understand and perceive His will, they will receive the teaching of the parables in vain. The words of the Lord will be wasted on them, because their heart is hardened.
So, just what did Jesus want us to hear? In fact, in both Matthew 13, and Mark 9, the Parable of the Sower is repeated. Apparently, God wants to make sure we get the meaning. He is trying to teach the Disciples that the Gospel Message will not bear fruit among everyone with whom they share it. There will be those who hear the Word, and it is easily taken from them because they do not guard it. Others will embrace it for a time, but it has not pierced their hard hearts because it was laid in shallow ground. Still others will hear the Word, but they are surrounded by forces that will choke the life out of it, and it cannot survive the sorrows of this world. But they will have success when the Word is planted in a rich soil, and a yearning heart; it will grow, and spread and produce a harvest far beyond what was planted. Those are the ones who will hear!
In Mark, Chapter 4, is the difficult passage in which Jesus compares John the Baptist with the Prophet Elijah. He reveals that the Spirit of Elijah, who was taken up to God, has now returned as God's Messenger through the Prophet John the Baptist. When Jesus tells them, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear", He is telling them, in essence, that those things were dark and hard to understand, and therefore needed their attention. They were of great concern and consequence, and deserved their full scrutiny. If they were given the gift of hearing and understanding, then they needed to use it to understand that John the Baptist is the one of whom their prophet Malachi spoke; the one who would prepare the way for their Messiah. It was incumbent upon them to use the gift of understanding that they had been given by God, so that they could share it with others who would hear.
The same could be said of Christ's repeated command to the Seven Churches in the Book of Revelation: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." This directive is repeated for each of the Seven Churches in Revelation 1-3. Don't you think He wants us to pay special attention to what is plainly revealed to us in these passages? The Lord makes it very clear that He holds these Churches in His Right Hand -- they are HIS churches!
As He points out the characteristics of each Church, He tells them to hear what He has to say to them. To the Loveless Church (Ephesus), He tells them to overcome their strict, legalistic heart and return (repent) to exemplifying the Love of Christ that they first demonstrated. If they will hear what He has to say, they will once again eat of the Tree of Life and exhibit new life in their church.
To the Persecuted Church (Smyrna) He reveals that He intimately knows the hate and suffering they are experiencing for His sake. But wants them to hear the encouragement He is offering that they will be rewarded for their perseverance.
To the Comprising Church (Pergamus), Jesus shows that He is aware that they have slipped in their devotion to Him, and have admitted false doctrine into His Church. He wants those who will hear to eat only of His sustaining Bread, and to repent of their sins. In return, they will receive new life in their faith.
To the Corrupt Church (Thyratira), He appears as the Son of God, with blazing eyes. He is angry that they have let the immorality of Jezebel overtake the purity of His Church. He sternly warns those who follow her, that He is able to search hearts and minds, and His justice will be swift. To those who have ears to understand His teaching, they will need to hold fast until He returns, and they will be given power over the nations.
To the Dead Church (Sardis), Christ warns that He is not fooled by their good reputation of works, for He knows that their heart is cold and lifeless. Once again He promises renewal to those who repent and understand the hearing of their ears.
It is only to the Faithful Church (at Philadelphia) that Jesus has strong praise. They are an example of those who have used their ears to hear, and who have not denied His name, but kept His commandments to persevere in the midst of temptation and suffering.
And, finally, to the Lukewarm Church (Laodicea), Jesus warns them that their wealth and position will not buy them security in His kingdom. They choose to hear only what makes them comfortable, and it will be their ruination. He tells them to repent and seek His Kingdom, not the wealth of this world.
So, as you can see, when people shut up their ears, it is usually because the word of God is offensive to them. It gives them no pleasure and they do not wish to receive the life-giving sustenance and wisdom that God offers them through faith in His Son. And it is sad to contemplate that there will be some people to whom we cannot teach His Gospel Message, because they refuse to hear. But we must not be discouraged, and continue to sow the Word upon all the ground before us. Ultimately, whether people hear or not, is the Sovereign decision of God. But we must all be like Jeremiah and continue to ask "Who will listen to me?" You never know whose life you will speak the Word into, and how they will respond. But you can trust God to use it for His glorification!