9 Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?” 10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand” (Luke 8:9–10, NKJV).
A parable is a similitude in which a spiritual lesson is thrown alongside a commonly known occurrence (hence, the word parallel). Parables illustrate a truth “using comparison, hyperbole, or simile” (The Lexham Bible Dictionary). Christ’s parables are understandable by those with open ears and hearts (“He who has ears to hears, let him hear!” Luke 8:8, 18). These are the ones to whom it is given “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (v. 10-11; Matt. 13:10-12, 16-18). Although the parables reveal God’s truth about the kingdom of God, they are not understood by those who close their hearts, shut their eyes, and stop their ears (v. 10; Matt. 13:13-15). The state of mind we have when hearing the word of God is crucial to understanding and following it. That is the essence of the parable of the Sower and Soils that prompted the exchange with Jesus in today’s text (see Mark 4:10-13). The types of soil represent the condition of hearts and whether they receive the word of God (Luke 8:4-8, 11-15). The “noble and good heart” hears and keeps God’s word, bearing fruit with patience (Luke 8:15). (The Bereans in Acts 17:11 will become examples of this good heart.) Parables are beautiful expressions of the gospel of Christ. Our heart condition determines whether we are blessed by them or stumble over them. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15, NKJV)
Jesus repeatedly used this exhortation (Matt. 13:9; Lk. 14:35; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Having “ears to hear” is about having a heart that is ready to accept the teachings of Christ. Jesus used a similar exhortation when He said, “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matt. 19:12). Ears are closed to hearing the gospel of the kingdom when hearts refuse to receive it. So then, our heart condition reveals whether or not we have “ears to hear” God’s word. This is the essential message of the parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:3-9). The hard, closed heart does not receive the word of the kingdom (Matt. 13:19). The shallow, emotional heart listens – until the cost of discipleship is too great (Matt. 13:20-21). The crowded heart is overtaken by other concerns that choke the word and prevent hearing and fruitfulness (Matt. 13:22). The good heart is the soil that listens to God’s word, understands it and bears fruit (Matt. 13:23). The good heart hears (receives) the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:18). We must guard against having ears that “are hard of hearing” God’s word (Matt. 13:13-15). If you have “ears to hear” it means your heart receives the word of God, holds it fast, and bears fruit with endurance (Lk. 8:8, 15). The good news is we can change our hearts and start having ears to hear by repenting, receiving the truth, and obeying it. Do you have ears to hear God’s word?
But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28, NKJV)
Those who hear God’s word and keep it are more blessed than the womb which bore Jesus and the breasts which nursed Him. That’s impressive, since Mary was truly blessed among women (Luke 1:30, 42, 48). Jesus put a premium on keeping the word of God, not on merely hearing it. Indeed, it is keeping the word of God that shows one has “ears to hear” (Luke 8:8). In Luke 8:5-15 the parable of the sower and the soils depicts three hearts that hear the word of God, yet bear no fruit and are lost. It is only the good ground (“those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience”) that has “ears to hear” and are saved. When a sinner hears and keeps the word of God he is “saved by grace, through faith” – he has earned nothing (Ephesians 2:8-9). Why is that so difficult for some to accept? Well, to apply the words Jesus used when He taught this parable, because “seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand” (Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10). Either their heart has been hardened by unbelief, or it is spiritually shallow, or it is filled up with other things (Mark 4:13-20). Jesus promises His blessings when you hear word of God and keep it. Receiving His blessing depends on you.
Therefore hear the parable of the sower: (Matthew 13:18, NKJV)
If you are not familiar with the parable of the sower, please read it, and Jesus’ interpretation of it in Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23. Take time to “hear” the parable and learn its lessons, some of which are these: 1) The condition of one’s heart determines whether he or she will understand and accept God’s word. 2) The same word of God will be believed by some, and rejected by others. Therefore, we dare not try to change the message of truth in an attempt to entice people to accept it. 3) Satan is at work hardening hearts against the word of God. 4) Truth cannot thrive in the shallow soil of the emotion-based heart. We must have an abiding commitment to God’s word, come what may – not to how we feel about it. 5) Hearts that are distracted and filled with concerns for the things of this world do not have room for the word of God. A person cannot serve two masters with one heart (Matt. 6:24). 6) Good and honest hearts hear, understand, and follow the word of God. So, did you listen to the parable? Which heart do you have when you hear the word of God? Is your heart the hard, wayside soil? Is it the shallow, emotional heart that easily falls away when tested? Is it the overgrown heart that has no room for God’s word? Or, is it the good heart that receives truth, holds it fast, and patiently bears fruit? Make no mistake: You decide which soil describes your heart.
14 “The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.” (Mark 4:14–15, NKJV)
Satan wastes no time snatching away the word of God from hardened hearts. Like birds eating seeds off a well-traveled path, Satan plucks away God’s word from hearts that are closed against the truth. Closed minds refuses to give the word of God a fair hearing, therefore, they are not penetrated by the word of God. The gospel remains powerful to save, but it will not save the person who refuses to listen to and heed God’s message of salvation (Heb. 4:12). God does not force His word down people’s throats. The deceitfulness of sin darkens many hearts, calcifying their sensitivity toward the gospel of Christ. So, be very careful never to let sin deceive you into hardening your heart against the word of God (Heb. 3:13). Heart condition matters when it comes to hearing and receiving the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4:13, NKJV)
Do you want to understand the Bible? If you do, you can. It is not beyond your capability. It is not shrouded in dark sayings that prevent comprehension. Understanding all the Scriptures, like understanding the parables, requires an honest heart that listens and receives God’s word in order to follow it and bear its fruit in your life (Mk. 4:20; Lk. 8:15). Hard hearts, like hard ground, are closed and reject a knowledge of God’s word (Mk. 4:14-15). Like stony ground, shallow, emotional minds do not invest the time and effort needed to know and grow in the truth (Mk. 4:16-17). Like thorn-infested soil, hearts consumed with “the desire of other things” do not give due attention to knowing and obeying God’s word (Mk. 4:18-19). Which soil are you? You see, most people do not understand the Bible because they choose not to understand it; not because it cannot be understood. Now, that’s not too hard to understand, is it?