Studies in Mark: the Hearing Ear and the Mystery of the Kingdom

Mark 4:9‑12  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 9
20. the Hearing Far and the Mystery of the Kingdom
“And he said, Who1 hath ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parables. And he said unto them, Unto you is given2 the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive 3 and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest haply4 they should turn again,5 and it6 should be forgiven them” (4:9-12, R.V.).
The Lord had by His miracles and signs fully established His title to be heard as the Prophet of Jehovah. But in the result He might adopt the language of Isaiah, and inquire, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” For the nation was like “the deaf adder [asp] that stoppeth her ear, which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.” Jesus, as the anointed King and Redeemer, had called, but there was no response, save blasphemously to ascribe His works of mercy and might to the power of the evil one. The Servant of the Lord did not, however, in view of His repulse both in Juda and in Galilee, abandon Himself to despair like the despondent Elijah of old, and flee from the place of testimony to Horeb. If the nation at large refused to listen, He was mindful of the simple and faithful ones who were “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” And from this period onward He addressed His ministry not to the mass as such, but to the individuals who were desirous of divine instruction. “And he said, Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” EARS TO HEAR. This phrase was used by our Lord more than once, and in each case His accompanying utterance contained a meaning which did not, so to speak, lie upon the surface, but needed faith and love in the heart, as well as the Spirit's unction, for its true apprehension. In Matthew an abbreviated form of the words is found, “Who hath ears, let him hear.” And in that Gospel it is recorded in one other connection besides in that of the parables. The Lord was speaking to the multitudes concerning John the Baptist and his super-eminence as a prophet, being none other than the messenger of Jehovah and the forerunner of the Messiah, as Malachi had foretold. “And,” said He to His audience, “if ye will receive it, this is Elijah which is to come He that hath ears, let him hear” (Matt. 11:14, 1514And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. 15He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11:14‑15)). Only faith discerned that the King had come in humiliation, and also that the predicted forerunner had preceded Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, not yet, however, to introduce the day of God's vengeance, but the day of His salvation.
Those who had the ears of faith were called to hear this revelation concerning the extended scope of the prophecy of Malachi, and to know that Elijah was yet to come and restore all things, and also that he had come and that the nation “did unto him whatsoever they listed” (Matt. 17:11, 1211And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. 12But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. (Matthew 17:11‑12)).
Luke also records the phrase in one other association besides in that of the parables (Luke 8:88And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Luke 8:8)). The Lord was speaking to the great crowds that went after Him with reference to the stern and uncompromising self-denial and endurance which would be the lot of such as became His disciples. The follower of the humbled Messiah, He declared, must renounce all things. Yet His disciples were the salt of the earth, the sole preservative against the universal spread of the corrupting influences of evil. And the Lord concluded this saying by the words, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:25-3525And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, 26If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? 29Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, 30Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. 31Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? 32Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. 33So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. 34Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be seasoned? 35It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Luke 14:25‑35)). For all had not faith, and only faith could understand the new teaching that the way of divine service was not yet in the exercise of power but in the endurance of suffering and shame.
In Mark this brief but striking call occurs in the seventh chapter as well as in this. There we learn of the Lord teaching, in contrast with the law of Moses which concerned itself with man's overt acts, that man is defiled by the evil thoughts and motives which proceed from his heart. “He called to him the multitude again, and said unto them, Hear me all of you, and understand. There is nothing from without the man that going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 7:14-16).7 The saying was weighty, and only the sons of faith, now as well as then, receive this truth by which men are condemned down to the very core of their being. There must be the “ear to hear"; in other words, the experience of Rom. 6 and 7 as well as of Rom. 3.
In this chapter the phrase occurs again (ver. 23), but it comes with special emphasis at the close of the parable of the sower. And this force appears the more striking when we connect it with the Lord's call for attention at the beginning of the parable. “Hearken,” He said, and having portrayed Himself as the Sower, He added, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” It was a summons to the individual to free himself from the heedless mass. And as the Lord addressed this appeal to His earthly people, so was His cry reiterated to each of the seven churches in Asia; “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches” (Rev. 2 and 3). Amid general ecclesiastical declension, the Lord requires individual faithfulness in regarding His word and His warning.
WHO HEARS?
Who then were those who heard the Prophet of Jehovah? There need be no doubt regarding the correct answer to this question, since the Lord Himself gave it. Speaking to His disciples, He said, “Blessed are your eyes for they see; and your ears for they hear” (Matt. 13:1616But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. (Matthew 13:16)). They were His followers, for they had heard Him. As the sheep of the “little flock” they had heard the voice of the good Shepherd (John 10:3, 273To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. (John 10:3)
27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: (John 10:27)
). When He was instructing His disciples, He described them as those who heard. “I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you” (Luke 6:2727But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, (Luke 6:27)). Again, the Lord said, “My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:2121And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it. (Luke 8:21)). These had hungered and thirsted after the word of righteousness and were blessed indeed, for by the Prophet's ministry they were filled.
It is instructive to observe that the Lord Himself took the place of subjection. As the Servant of Jehovah He had the opened ear in both His ministry and His suffering, waiting for directions upon Him who sent Him. This spirit of subjection and obedience was according to prophecy: “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I should know how to sustain with words him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are taught. The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair” (Isa. 1:4-64Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. 5Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. (Isaiah 1:4‑6), R.V.). His ear was open as the true Prophet to hear, and what He heard He communicated to men. Thus He said to His disciples, “All things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:1515Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. (John 15:15)).
The believing followers of Jesus, then, were those that “heard,” and what they heard they declared, as the apostle John wrote (1 John 1:11That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (1 John 1:1)). But the nation would not hear. It is true that Israel boasted in their great “Shema,” wherein the prophet Moses recalled them to the privilege and responsibility of the revelations under the law (Deut. 6:44Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: (Deuteronomy 6:4); Mark 12:2929And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: (Mark 12:29)). “Hear, O Israel,”
Moses exhorted, “the LORD our God is one LORD,” following this call with a summary of the ten words. But Israel was the “deaf servant” of Jehovah; and now God had raised up another Prophet, of whom it was written, “Him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall speak unto you” (Deut. 18:1515The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; (Deuteronomy 18:15); Acts 3:22, 23; 7:3722For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. 23And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. (Acts 3:22‑23)
37This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. (Acts 7:37)
). And as Moses had solemnly adjured the people, “Hear, O Israel,” so now One greater than Moses cried, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” What if they did not hear? For those who refused to hearken, that ancient prophecy contained a warning equally solemn. “It shall come to pass that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him” (Deut. 18:1919And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. (Deuteronomy 18:19)).
THE PROPHET'S PRIVACY
The Lord Jesus, amid His multitudinous and multifarious services for Jehovah in the midst of His chosen people, preserved to Himself seasons of retirement from, or cessation from, public activities, wherein there was opportunity either for personal private communion with His Father (Matt. 14:2323And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. (Matthew 14:23); Mark 1:3535And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. (Mark 1:35); Luke 9:1818And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am? (Luke 9:18); John 6:1515When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone. (John 6:15)), or for intercourse with His friends and followers. On the latter occasions there were peculiarly sweet and choice communications confided by the Heavenly Teacher to His own intimate circle, chosen by Himself “out of the world.” After the execution of John the Baptist, and the return of the apostles from their mission journeys, Jesus said to them, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while; for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they went away in a boat to a desert place apart” (Mark 6:31, 3231And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. 32And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. (Mark 6:31‑32); Matt. 14:1313When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. (Matthew 14:13); Luke 9:1010And the apostles, when they were returned, told him all that they had done. And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. (Luke 9:10)). So also when the Lord saw fit to grant unto the favored trio a glimpse of His personal glory He led them up into the privacy of the mountain side. “Jesus taketh with him Peter and James and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart; and he was transfigured before them” (Matt. 17:1, 21And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 2And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. (Matthew 17:1‑2); Mark 9:22And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. (Mark 9:2)). The Lord had matters for the eyes and ears of His own which were not for the populace. This accords with what on one occasion He said to His disciples, “privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see; for I say unto you, that many prophets and kings desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them not” (Luke 10:23, 2423And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: 24For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. (Luke 10:23‑24)).
The apostles sometimes utilized moments of His privacy to lay before Him their difficulties. They came to Him “apart” to know why they were unable to cast the demon out of a young man (Matt. 17:1919Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? (Matthew 17:19); Mark 9:2828And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? (Mark 9:28)). And again, at the close of His ministry, when certain of them desired to know more concerning the destruction of the temple, and what would be the sign of His coming and the end of the age, they came to Him privately with their questions as He sat on the mount of Olives (Matt. 24:33And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? (Matthew 24:3); Mark 13:33And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, (Mark 13:3)). These were not exceptional instances, for they had been accustomed to such private tuition, as we read, “without a parable spake he not unto them [the multitude]; but privately to his own disciples he expounded all things” (Mark 4:3434But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples. (Mark 4:34)).
Here we find the disciples under similar circumstances seeking instruction in the significance of the parable of the sower and others. “When he was alone8 they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parables.” It is interesting to see that others besides the twelve apostles were desirous of being taught, and none of them were denied. And while this teaching may be regarded as exclusive, esoteric, and committed in this manner to these chosen witnesses in order that after the Lord's ascension it might be promulgated throughout the world, the general truth is important that the ways of God are made known in the hush of the sanctuary rather than in the noise of the camp. The impending destruction of the cities of the plain was imparted, not to Lot in the bustling streets of Sodom, but, to Abraham in the quiet of a torrid noontide at his own tent door. David in the wilderness with his sheep, not Eliab in the camp of Saul, ]earned the mind of God about Goliath. So it was that not to the surging crowds by the Galilaean lake, but to the disciples who came to Him as He was alone in the house, the Prophet of Jehovah revealed the truth concerning the peculiar character of the coming kingdom.
[W. J. H.]
(To be continued)