Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. Matt 13:9 (KJV)
This is another one of those frequently misused statements. How many times have you heard this verse quoted in a context that implies willingness or unwillingness on the part of the listeners? I hope you can see the flaw there.
Jesus did not say, “Who hath ears, let him listen.” Listening is a conscious act; hearing is not. If you have ears that work, you can’t help but hear. Whether or not you listen is another subject. But Jesus isn’t speaking of attentiveness. He is speaking of the actual ability to hear. The very statement insinuates, nay, presupposes, that many of His listeners did not possess the spiritual faculty of hearing.
This quite interestingly illustrates what the Reformers called the general and the efficacious calls. When the Gospel is preached there is always a mixed audience. Some have been awakened by God’s Spirit and some have not. Some will be regenerated, some will not. The distinction lies not in the hearers, for Scripture declares, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). The difference lies in God’s sovereignty. “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).
Haven’t you ever heard (or perhaps you’ve actually spoken this) someone say that they grew up in church, or that they attended church for a long time and never heard the Gospel? Now, in today’s watered down sugar-coated Christian world, I believe that this is theoretically possible, however, it seems more likely to me that they are simply misinterpreting their own experience. Formerly, they had no ears to hear. Then when God’s appointed time arrived, He sovereignly regenerated them. They then had the faculty of hearing with which they heard the efficacious call of the Gospel to believe in Christ. They could easily have heard the same Gospel preached every Sunday for years. But until God, in His absolute sovereignty, opened their ears, they didn’t have ears to hear – thus they didn’t hear.
This reminds me of Theophilus of Antioch, the 3rd Century Apologist. Writing to an unbeliever, says, “For God is seen by those who are enabled to see Him when they have the eyes of their soul opened: for all have eyes; but in some they are overspread, and do not see the light of the sun. Yet it does not follow, because the blind do not see, that the light of the sun does not shine; but let the blind blame themselves and their own eyes." (Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus bk.1 ch.2)
Jesus' own audiences demonstrate this. No one could say that He didn't preach properly to them or that He hid His light under a bushel. But many that physically "heard" Him rejected Him to the point of crying, "Crucify!"