Dancing to a Different Tune: The Necessity of Using Our Ears

NOTE: And we’re back! This has been quite a year, and my hiatus from weekly posting on the gospel of Matthew was much longer than I anticipated. I’m more pleased than I can say to be back at it.

My deepest gratitude to all who continued to support my work during this time. You directly enabled the writing of Refiner’s Fire, To the Temporary Residents, and The Quarantine Chronicles over this last year. You are my heroes.


Anyone who has ears should listen!

To what should I compare this generation? It’s like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to each other:

We played the flute for you,
but you didn’t dance;
we sang a lament,
but you didn’t mourn!

For John did not come eating or drinking, and they say, “He has a demon!” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. (Matthew 11:15-19)

Has there ever been a more fitting call for our times? Having addressed the doubts of John the Baptist, used Scripture to obliquely declare himself the long-awaited Messiah, and challenged his listeners to believe the kingdom of God had arrived in their midst, Jesus pressed them to be among those who “have ears” and use them.

Or as other translations put it, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (ESV).

For the last several posts we have mostly practiced putting ourselves into the feet of Jesus’s disciples and trying to hear Matthew’s story in their context, but if you’ll indulge me, I want to address this passage squarely from our context today. In our information-and-opinion-saturated age, it is incredibly relevant.

The Sounds of the Square

When God is speaking, we are responsible to listen. There’s a note of rebuke in Jesus’s words: Look, you have ears. USE THEM.

The trouble is, God’s voice isn’t the only one filling the atmosphere. We live in a noisy world, noisy as a market square full of voices — hawking wares, singing songs, playing games, preaching messages, slinging accusations, and stirring up zeal or apathy as the case may be.

And every last one of those voices wants a response from us. In fact, when we don’t respond, the market reacts with offense. We played the flute for you, but you didn’t dance, they say. We sang a lament, but you didn’t mourn.

The marketplace of the world wants our attention. And not only does the culture around us want us to listen, it also wants us to react — predictably, and on script.

(I’ll let you do the practical application of this on your own; it’s not hard — think of social media, mainstream media, the news, gossip in the lunchroom, Netflix, the classroom, the family dinner table on holidays, etc.)

Some of this noise is malevolent, but much of it is simply immature. “They are like children sitting in the marketplaces,” Jesus said. Still, its aim is to capture our attention, manipulate our emotions, and above all, get a reaction.

We are singing, the world tells us. We want you to dance.

The Signal in the Noise

Although we have new means of calling out for each other’s attention, noise has always been a problem. The noise of crowds and the pressures of culture have always been present in the human experience.

Despite the vast technological differences between our day and Jesus’s, this was the problem in his day also. God had sent forth a clear message. He’d done far more than that, in fact; the Word of God had taken on human form.

The apostle John, who was present in this moment recorded by Matthew, later wrote:

The Word became flesh
and took up residence among us.
We beheld His glory,
The glory as the One and Only Son from the Father,
full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Paul also wrote that God’s eternal message had been “made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:10). Jesus was the living message, the Word of God made flesh — the One we should listen to. He was the signal in the noise of the cosmos. He still is.

But then, there were other voices. Insistent, loud, manipulative, and as demanding and changeable as children.

The message of the world isn’t consistent, after all. It wants one reaction from us one day, and something entirely different the next. It’s driven by whim and by circumstance, by the changing fads of philosophy and fashion.

Among other things, this underlying immaturity and changeability means the world has no clear or consistent basis for judgment. Hence their maddeningly inconsistent assessments of John and Jesus:

For John did not come eating or drinking, and they say, “He has a demon!” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

To these accusations, Jesus simply said that wisdom would be vindicated by her deeds. In other words, the results of wise beliefs and actions would eventually confirm the rightness of those beliefs and actions.

But he refused to respond to the demands of the crowd — to adjust his messaging or refresh his brand. He didn’t ask the crowd what song they were singing so he could join in — even to bring better perspectives to bear.

Instead, he knew his own song, and he sang it consistently. He listened to the Father, in prayer, in constant communion. He knew himself — his identity, his calling, his place in the prophetic history of the world.

Jesus played heaven’s dance. He sang heaven’s lament. He called us to listen to him.

He still does.

Therefore, in Our Day

I opened this post by asking whether there has ever been a more appropriate call for our times. Because it is true: we live in a marketplace so amplified that it’s a wonder we can hear anything at all in the din.

The spirit of the world is loud and proud. It tells us what to care about, what to think about (and how to think about it), who to be, how to act, what to tolerate, what to love, what to feel.

It trumpets its own importance. It insists we listen.

And yet so much of the noise is nothing more than a child’s tantrum or momentary, passing whim.

Let Us Hear

If we wish to be wise people, whose lives are vindicated by wisdom’s fruit; if we wish to be stable; if we are tired of feeling used and manipulated …

We must recognize that we have ears and that it’s up to us how we listen.

Jesus is still speaking. He is still the message of God. Scripture is still the written words of God.

Let’s take the necessary steps to hear — to hear Jesus, to hear the Bible. Let’s turn off the noise (after all, it’s our own hands turning it on most of the time). Let’s withdraw and relearn silence. Let’s spend time in the Scriptures and in prayer. Let’s talk with each other about love and joy and resurrection. Let’s sing redemption’s song.

Let’s tune into heaven until we can hear its harmonies again.

We can. God has given us what we need. Anyone who has ears should listen.


This is Part 196 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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One response to “Dancing to a Different Tune: The Necessity of Using Our Ears”

  1. […] Part 196: Dancing to a Different Tune: The Necessity of Using Our Ears (Matthew 11:15-19) […]

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