Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 13:9 (Holman) “Anyone who has ears should listen!”
When I was a boy, my mom one day told me to do something. I didn’t hear her, didn’t do it, and dad spanked me. Years later, when I told Mom and Dad about their injustice, they said, “That helped make up for the many spankings you should have gotten, but didn’t.” Wrong answer. Though I didn’t appreciate their take on the event, the spanking did teach me a valuable lesson. Pay attention!
This is the lesson Jesus conveyed in our text. The phrase’s intent is like what we hope to attain if we underline, print in italics, use bold, full caps, and exclamation marks. Jesus was saying, “Wake up! Listen up! Pay attention!”
All can hear sounds, and receive or reject what they hear. This ability to obey or disobey entails obligation. Since we were created with ears in order that we might hear and receive Jesus’ words, we are expected to pay attention to Him.
Our Heavenly Father commanded the same. When Jesus was transfigured with Moses and Elijah, Christ’s face shone like the sun, and His clothes became dazzling. What was the purpose of this phenomenon? Moses and Elijah receded, but Jesus remained as God’s voice from Heaven said, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him” (Mark 9:7). This was the Father’s way of saying, “Pay attention!”
The command is to hear not only the sound, but also the sense, of Jesus’ words, to seek out the lessons they taught. Jesus’ deeper meanings were not hard to grasp. They just required research, a willingness to focus, dig, and contemplate. Profound spirituality happens not automatically, but by determined concentration.
When the shepherds came to see baby Jesus, they told Joseph and Mary what the angel had said, “Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you.” All were amazed at what the shepherds said. Mary was too, but went deeper, “treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them” (Luke 2:19). She realized something was going on much deeper than the surface events.
By saying, “Anyone who has ears should listen!” Jesus invited all who were serious about Him to investigate Him. Spiritual success hinges on earnest seeking as opposed to careless listening. Sadly we excel at selective hearing. It is possible to hear, yet not hear. Words can penetrate the eardrum without piercing the heart.
The nonchalant have ears, gristle on the side of their head. The intense have the same, but also inner ears which hear and perceive. Jesus’ teaching, especially in parables, requires concentration to disentangle the spiritual lesson encased in it.
Ears are a precious gift, given to let us heed a priceless message. Use them well. Their ultimate purpose is to hear God’s message. Pay attention! We are stewards of time, talents, and money. Power to hear aright is also a responsibility.
All organs of sense, vitally connected to our spiritual potential, carry with them a huge stewardship. God gave us physical senses to enable us to serve Him: eyes to read His Word, minds to worship, ears to hear Him, hands to serve, feet to go. If our senses are not channels whereby God’s will is communicated to us, we waste them, and will have to give God a reckoning for our failure to pay attention.
Our dilemma is easy to identify. Since our senses are physical and earthly, and are bombarded by physical, earthly stimulation, they by nature tend to crave physical, earthly satisfactions. Making room in our physical, earthly senses to prioritize spiritual, heavenly stimulation requires extra thought and effort from us.
To many, Jesus’ parables were only interesting tales, nothing more than stories. It is everyone’s duty to dig deeper into Christ’s teachings. Pay attention!
In the spiritual realm, the ongoing price of learning is unending willingness to be taught. In our text, Jesus was trying to stir up a desire in His hearers to learn, to understand, to pay attention, precisely the trait His disciples now displayed.
Matt. 13:10 Then the disciples came up and asked Him, “Why do You speak
to them in parables?”
Most of Jesus’ hearers didn’t pay attention, never asked the meaning of His parables, or took pains to seek farther, but the Twelve, like all earnest seekers, wanted to know more. They were willing to keep digging, to continue asking.
The Disciples were curious. Why did Jesus tell stories without explaining them? Unexplained, a parable was a riddle. Its meaning could only be guessed at. The Twelve, knowing the people did not understand Jesus’ precise meaning and missed the spiritual application, wanted to know why Jesus taught this way.
The Twelve wanted more. Do we still care enough about our faith to want to know more? Are we still eager seekers, having a sense of wonder? Are we digging deeper or did we somewhere let spirituality become ho hum, humdrum?
We can become complacent hearers, having heard so much we think there is nothing more to hear. Is “familiarity breeds contempt” true of our life with Jesus?
Pay attention! It is possible to know enough to be able to give right answers to all the questions and yet live at a surface level. Do we believe the Bible? We say yes. Does this mean we obey it? We again give the right answer, yes. But are we tithing, are our lives marked by sexual purity, no lusting, pornography, or sex outside marriage, are we loving our neighbor, are we worshiping, serving, going?
Right now some may be squirming somewhat. Hear the directive, “Pay attention!” Beware having heard sermons so long that you no longer hear them, of reading the Bible so often that you read it with a yawn. It’s easy to be politically correct in our answers, while totally wrong in our behavior. Pay attention!
Remember the reality check in James 2:19, “You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe–and they shudder.” Why did James share this tidbit of information? Did he intend it to be interesting material we could use in a trivial pursuit game? Did he share it solely because it’s interesting? Or was the way demons act portraying a behavior James did not want believers to imitate?
We not only have to make our thinking right. We must also make our actions right. How’s our spiritual listening these days? Focus. Concentrate heart, soul, mind, and strength on the spiritual, on Jesus’ words. Pay attention!