The Messiah And The Prophet – Part 3
Whoever Has Ears To Hear…
Several centuries ago, a learned German philosopher began investigating a new philosophy coming out of Japan. This philosophy was called, “Zen.” The philosopher poured through every piece of written material he cold find on this Zen philosophy, but there was scarce information available. Then one day he learned that one of the leading masters of this philosophy was also able to read, write and speak Latin, he made up his mind to travel to Japan to investigate.
Through several years of correspondence, arrangements were finally made for the German philosopher to travel by ship to Japan to study first-hand the mystical and mostly unknown Zen. After several months at sea, the two men finally met.
The Zen master greeted his guest with great formality and invited him into a small room that held only a low table off to one side. On the table were several items, but there were no pictures or photographs on the wall and no other furnishings. The host gestured to one side of the low table and then moved to the opposite side and knelt down on the floor. A little confused but too excited to question this strange protocol, the guest sat cross-legged on the floor on the opposite side of his host. He immediately launched into a rapid-fie monologue about how excited and pleased he was to have finally arrived and about how much he was looking forward to learning about Zen.
All the while, his host was going through the exacting procedures of preparing tea for his honored guest. Tea is an important part of that culture and its preparation and presentation have been developed into an art form. In fact, the formal cha-no-yu is a four-hour affair where every shadow, ever fold of fabric, every angle of light, absolutely every detail is orchestrated to communicate and to garner a variety of emotional responses from the guests.
The German guest was still speaking in run-on sentences about all he had learned through his studies and all that he had read about Zen in particular. His host had a neutral expression on his face and continued to prepare the tea.
Finally, the tea was ready and the host pulled back his sleeve and began pouring the steaming liquid into his guest’s cup. His guest was oblivious to what was happening until the liquid reached the lip of the cup.
Still the Zen master poured. Tea spilled over the rim of the guest’s cup and flooded across the lacquered surface of the table. The guest became so agitated that he interrupted himself and called out, “Stop! My cup is over-full! It won’t hold any more!”
With that, the host stopped pouring, slowly set the tea pot back on its brazier, sat back on his heels and looked calmly at his guest for several seconds without speaking. The two men sat silently, then the Zen master spoke slowly and clearly, “As with you, my friend. If you would know Zen, you must first empty your cup.”
I tell you that story as a way to remind you how full we get with I own ideas and notions of things and how closed we are to paying attention when we really need to. We reach a turning point in the teachings of Jesus Christ when we come to this verse.
In our text today, just one simple verse, we have Jesus saying, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Matthew 11:15).”
What Jesus is saying is in what is known as the third person imperative. It is an epiphonema, which is a concentrated, powerful and passionate utterance used to convey urgency and gravity. In other words, what He is actually saying is, “Whoever has ears had better listen and understand!” Or, “Are you listening? Really listening? You had better be!”
Most of our modern English translations make this sentence sound like a permissive suggestion instead of the demand that it really is.
So, are you listening?
This particular phrase only occurs fourteen times in the entire Bible. Two of these are in the Old Testament and are in the negative. Both times, God is speaking to His people about not “having ears to hear” because of their rebellious hearts. The rest of the occurrences of this phrase are in the New Testament and all of them personally uttered by Jesus Christ.
I thought it would be appropriate to look at each of the occurrences and pay attention to the context of what Jesus was saying when He used this phrase and what was so important about what He was saying that He wanted to make sure that everyone was paying very close attention.
Let’s start with this context. It is the first time it occurs. The first time anything occurs in the Bible is always significant.
The first question we need to ask is, “Is Jesus trying to get us to focus on what He has just said, what He is about to say, or both?”
I am going to say “both”, but with a codicil: I am convinced that paying attention to His words about John telescope us into paying closer and stricter attention to what follows – I see this phrase as a bridge, if you will, between the two segments of His speech.
Jesus has just made very clear what John and his ministry were really all about. John was the prophesied forerunner for the Messiah. John became the capstone of all of the prophets that had spoken throughout human history. They had all been pointing toward that moment in time when the Messiah would come. Part of that coming was the coming of “Elijah” (not in person or a reincarnation, but the spirit and mantle of that powerful prophet).
Yet, their pointing was like the overhead light in the family dining room that is on a dimmer switch. As time progressed and the coming of the Messiah drew nearer, the dimmer switch was turned just a little more in a clockwise direction, thus illuminating His coming a little more. Each succeeding prophet cast a little bit more light on some aspect or other of the coming of the Messiah than the ones preceding him. Yet, not all of them had as clear a picture as John did, for the light he was allowed to shine on the coming of the Messiah was a spotlight, drawing all attention on the immediate arrival of the One for Whom they had waited for generations.
From that point in His speech, Jesus changes focus and directs His listeners’ attention on what the fulfillment of John’s ministry should indicate to them and what it actually means.
Jesus has validated John’s life and his ministry and told His audience, “This is what you have been waiting for. Now, pay very close attention to what I am saying to you. Mark my words: it is absolutely critical that you get this!”
This is bigger then exclamation points, underlines, billboards, loudspeakers, press releases, fanfares and confetti dropped from the sky. We are absolutely not to miss what Jesus is saying.
Before we look at the immediate context, let’s look at the other contexts that Jesus uses this phrase in and see if perhaps there might be a common thread that binds them all together.
Here’s the list: Matthew 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8; 14:35; Revelation 2:7,11,17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 13:9.
The first thing you will notice is that Matthew 13:9, Mark 4:9, and Luke 8:8, all come at the conclusion of what is known as “The Parable of the Sower”.
This parable is very clearly a message about salvation. In it, Jesus says that there is one type of seed (the Gospel), and four types of soil. Only one of those four sols actually bears fruit. The other three either don’t produce anything, or they only produce a flash-in-the-pan “salvation” that isn’t really salvation at all.
There is a very strong warning here to everyone who hears or reads these words. Whoever is truly saved – whoever has really and truly become a child of the Living God – will have a life that is obviously in keeping with the nature and character of Christ. We will study this in much greater detail when we reach Matthew 13. For now, make sure you note that there is a grave warning here about what real salvation looks like and what it doesn’t.
Take a look then at Luke 8:17-18, that comes at the end of Luke’s account of Jesus giving His disciples an explanation of this parable. Look at what He says: "For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him."
Then we see another link between this passage in Luke 8, and the one on Mark 4:21-23. Mark shows us that all three of these teaching times of Jesus go together – not necessarily chronologically, but in theme. Jesus had a habit of repeating His teachings on several occasions; that’s why we see slight variations in, say, Matthew’s account of “The Sermon On The Mount” recorded in Matthew 5-7, and Luke’s recording of a similar yet encapsulated version in Luke 6:20-49. It isn’t that they are differing accounts of the same event; they are accounts of different events entirely. This should give you a simple tool when confronting objections to the Gospels because they “don’t agree”.
What is the warning in Mark and Luke? Don’t “hide your light” – in other words, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, your entire life should be a spotlight shining on the face of Jesus Christ. Some would argue that a candle and a spotlight have two very different levels of intensity. I beg to differ – it depends on how dark it is. The darker the environment, the brighter even candlelight can seem.
Okay, so let’s look at the Luke 14:35 passage. When we see it within the larger context, we have Jesus once again giving a warning about the eternal consequences of the kind of life-witness that we live.
What does He say (Luke 14:34-35)? “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
Where have we heard a message from Jesus about salt before? Right, back in Matthew 5:13, in the Sermon on the Mount, just before He makes His comments about us being the light of the world. Look at the word picture we have in Luke 14. Not very attractive, is it? Can you imagine not even being fit enough for a manure pile? How bad do you think Jesus thinks it is for us to not be the salt of the earth?
Do you remember what salt signified? What does salt do? Preserves what is good, purifies what is unsanitary or unclean, acts as a preventative agent against decay, creates thirst, helps retain water and fluids essential to survival – does this all sound familiar?
So what we have in these texts is a reinforcing, an emphasizing, of what our life as Christians is supposed to look like. Do you see any indication of vagueness or camouflage? No, I don’t either.
Okay, so let’s look at the last contexts for this phrase, “Listen up!” All eight of them are found in the book of Revelation. Keep in mind that these are the last words Jesus personally communicated to anyone on earth. When this book was finished, direct revelation ended. Let’s read each of them in context:
• Revelation 2:1-7;
At a future time, we will hopefully be able to look at these much more closely and in depth. For now, it is sufficient for us to see that there is a consistent theme running through these passages.
When we look at all of these together, including the very picturesque and symbolic language of the last one, what is the notion that we see throughout?
Exactly right – there is a very severe warning from Jesus about faithfulness in our obedience to the life and faith He has called us to.
He will not cotton to defectors or to the lazy. There is no “sorta” when it comes to being a Christian, anymore than there is a “sorta” to being pregnant – you either are or you aren’t.
Now that we have clearly gotten the idea that when Jesus says, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” He is actually sending us a warning about something that has eternal ramifications, we need to look at our own lives in light of these warnings and see where we stand.
In our initial text for today, Matthew 11:15, the warning is significant because Jesus has just let everyone within earshot know that prophecy is being fulfilled in that very hour and it all has eternal significance for each of them.
Jesus then follows with an extensive warning. We will get into greater detain on this next time. For the time being, we will do an overview and see if our observation about the phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear" is a valid one.
The remainder of the verses in this section are a long denunciation of the fickle hardheadedness and stiff-necked attitude of the majority of the people of that day. They had their idea of what the Messiah was going to be like and what His coming would mean and there was no changing their minds. For the most part, the people who were given the fulfillment of God’s promise directly were the least willing to hear what He had to see and recognize what it was He was doing.
You know, we like to think that we would have recognized Jesus, we would have responded differently than those foolish people did back then. I think not. We are just as foolish about what Jesus has to say to us today, and we have the benefit of living on this side of the empty tomb. What’s our excuse?
Look into your own life for a moment – and I’m preaching to myself as well.
Where do you stand in all of this? This is the personal application part of Bible study. This is where we allow the searchlight of the Holy Spirit to show us what God has to say to us as individuals and as a fellowship of believers. Welcome that light; don’t shy away from it or try to elude it – it will haunt you if you do.