I had been speaking to Linda for several weeks about her teenage son who had been making some bad decisions. He was a good kid. Smart kid. He had never gotten into trouble in the past. Then, something changed. He wasn’t listening to his mother any longer. Other voices had come onto the scene, voices that the young man was willing to listen to, and they were voices that he valued more than the voice of his mother. As the two sat in my office it was apparent that we weren’t getting through to him. We told him how much we loved him. We shared God’s Word with him and spoke to him about God’s will and purpose for his life. His mother said, “Son, I love you, but if you keep doing what you are doing you’re either going to end up in jail or dead.” Mom never claimed to be a prophet, but a few months later I got a phone call from Linda. She was distraught. Her voice was trembling. She was crying. Her son was in jail.
I went down to the County Jail to visit Mac. He was in solitary confinement. He was dressed in orange with his hands and ankles shackled. As they led him out of his cell he walked with his head down. I hugged him and told him how glad I was to see him. We sat down and I asked him what happened. He spoke softly, almost in disbelief, as I leaned in to listen. I reminded him of the words of his mother, the wisdom of his mother. I told him that his life wasn’t over, that God could take the horrible situation he was in and use it for good if he was willing to pay attention to what God was trying to teach him. Before I left I asked him, “How many of your friends have been to visit you?” He mumbled, “Nobody.”
I’ve been thinking about Mac as I’ve been studying our Scripture for this morning. Like the Pharisees who closed their ears and hearts to the truth of Jesus, Mac closed his ears and heart to the truth his mother shared with him. He knew the truth, he had been raised with the truth, but at some point he wanted what he desired more than he desired to live out the truth that he knew.
As we’ve been working our way through the Gospel of John we’ve witnessed this same problem with the Pharisees over and over again. In our Scripture for this morning I want us to focus on one central truth that has incredible application for your life and mine. Let’s read our Scripture, found in John 8:41-50, and then we’ll talk.
41 You are doing the works of your own father.” “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” 48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” 49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. (John 8:41-50 NIV)
Jesus had been teaching the truth every time He opened His mouth; some heard, believed, and followed while others closed their ears to the truth and went on their way. This morning I want us to focus on one verse, verse 43, and then spend the rest of our time taking a look at the connection between our ears, our heart, and the work that God wants to do in our lives. Take a look at verse 43 with me once again. Jesus said, “Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.” There are two words in these two sentences that if we don’t understand them then we can easily misinterpret what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees.
The word, “language” in the NIV is a translation of the Greek word, “?????” (lalia) which means, “speech, dialect, mode of speech, or speech which discloses the speaker’s native country.” Even though the word is only used four times in the New Testament, there are some examples that make the meaning very clear. Turn with me to Matthew 26:73. As you are turning there let me remind you that Jesus had told Peter that he would deny he even knew Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. Just before Peter denied Jesus for the third time, some people went up to Peter and spoke to him. Let’s read together.
73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” (Matthew 26:73 NIV)
Last week I was talking to someone from Boston. Now, let’s face it, it’s not too difficult to determine if someone is from Boston or Blanchard right? If you listen to people talk you can get a pretty good idea if they are from Mississippi or Maine or Mexico. That’s one way the word is used, but there is a second way this word is used and it is concerned with content and not accent. Let me give you an example. If you will remember our time taking a look at Jesus’ visit with the woman at the well back in John 4, then you will remember that after she spoke with Jesus she went back to her village and told everyone about Him. After listening to her speak about Jesus they went out to see Him for themselves. After listening to Jesus speak, we read in John 4:42.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42 NIV)
It wasn’t Jesus’ accent that convinced them that He was the Savior of the world, but it was the content of what He had to say. This is the meaning of the word as it is used in our Scripture for this morning. Jesus told the Pharisees, “Why is my language not clear to you?” Jesus wasn’t referring to His accent, but to the content of what He was saying.
Now, let’s take a look at the second word. Jesus said, “Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.” The word we need to look at, “?????” (logos), is translated by the phrase, “what I say,” in the NIV. That’s not a very good translation, but if you read the English Standard Version, King James Version, or New American Standard Version you will read, “…because you cannot hear my word.” They couldn’t or wouldn’t hear what Jesus had to say because they could not or would not embrace Jesus as the “message,” Jesus as the Messiah. Because they refused to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, they refused to listen to anything He had to say.
Was the problem of the Pharisees that they weren’t able to hear and understand what Jesus was saying or that they weren’t willing to hear and understand what Jesus was saying? I don’t think there’s a better example of just how unwilling we are to surrender to the truth of Jesus when what He says conflicts with what we are familiar with or with what we desire. No one studied the Scriptures more than those guys, no one knew the prophecies of Scripture about the Messiah better than those guys, and no one was more resistant to Jesus than those guys.
In John 5 we find the Jewish leaders irate with Jesus because He healed a man on the Sabbath. They wanted to kill Jesus. In John 5:39-40, Jesus said,
39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40 NIV)
They had the Scriptures, they studied them diligently, and yet they refused to come to Jesus even though the Scriptures all pointed to Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. They refused to come to Jesus.
Do You Have Ears to Hear?
What does this have to do with us? Is this just another history lesson? Is this just another Sunday morning sermon to fill our time, but holding no real relevance for the situations that you and I face in our day-to-day life? Nothing could be further from the truth. There has never been a time in history where we have more information about Jesus, what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and how to grow in our daily walk with Jesus. We have Christian book stores full of books and videos about Jesus. We have incredible Bible teachers like Tim Keller, N.T. Wright, Bruce Waltke, John R.W. Stott, and many, many more who have devoted their lives to studying the Bible and teaching what they have learned. Twenty years ago there were study tools that were only known by Bible teachers which today are available on the internet for anyone who wants to dig deep into God’s Word. At Britton Christian Church we’ve even taken a trip to Israel to study God’s Word in the very places where events took place. Yet, with all of these amazing helps at our fingertips, at our disposal, it still all boils down to one question, “Do you have ears to hear? Are you willing to submit and surrender everything you think you know, everything your heart desires so that you might come to know Jesus and allow Him to transform your life?” The question isn’t “what do you know,” but “are you willing to listen?”
As I’ve been reading God’s Word this week and praying through the Scriptures it has dawned on me that there is a direct link between our ears and our hearts. If we will listen to Jesus, surrender to His will, and seek to live in obedience to His purpose for our lives, then we will find our hearts moldable and pliable in His hands. On the other hand, if we continue to close our ears to Jesus then our hearts will begin to harden until they become as hard as stone. The writer of Hebrews put it this way, “As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:15 NIV) Isn’t that interesting? Our ears are tied to our hearts!
God is Speaking, But Are We Willing to Listen?
Throughout God’s Word we find that He speaks to His people over and over again. In Hebrews 1:1-2, we find that in times past, in the days before Jesus, God spoke to His people primarily through the prophets, but there came a day when God’s primary mode of communication shifted from His prophets to His Son. Read along with me.
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV)
What you and I have in God’s Word are the lessons and acts of Jesus, God’s only Son. God speaks to us through His Word and God is still speaking today. He speaks to us through His Word most clearly, but that isn’t the only way the Lord speaks to us. For every follower of Jesus, you have living within you the Holy Spirit of God given to you to lead you, convict you, and guide you as you seek to walk in God’s purpose and plan for your life. Jesus told His followers that after He ascended to the Father following His death and resurrection, the Father would send the Holy Spirit. Turn to John 14:26 with me.
26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26 NIV)
In John 16:13, Jesus spoke to His followers once again about the role the Holy Spirit would play in their lives. He said, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13 NIV) We don’t surrender our lives to Jesus as Lord and Savior just so we can go to church. We surrender our lives to Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit, as a gift from God, so that we can walk with Jesus–being led, guided, convicted, and taught by the Spirit. I share all of this with us so that you will know just how intimately God desires to interact with you and me. Is this not the most amazing thing you have ever heard in your life?! If the God of the Universe, the Creator of all things, desires to know you so well and to lead you through this life, why would anyone resist His offer?
Turning a Deaf Ear to God
History shows us that people throughout time have turned a deaf ear to God. We tend to want God’s help and intervention when we find ourselves in dire straits, but we really don’t want God telling us what to do. Let me give you an example. In Zechariah 7:8-12 we find the LORD speaking to His people through the prophet Zechariah about the situation that brought about God’s judgment. Read along with me.
8 And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ 11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry. (Zechariah 7:8-12 NIV)
God had made clear to His people how He was leading them to live their lives, how they were treat one another. What did they do? Did they open their ears and hearts to God? That’s not what we read. Look at verses 11-12 which tells us, “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen…” There you see it again; our ears are inextricably linked to our hearts. Over and over again throughout the Old Testament we find God calling out to His people, speaking to His people, and yet they refused to listen. Things were no different in Jesus’ day. In Matthew 13:15, Jesus said,
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ (Matthew 13:15 NIV)
There is nothing more tragic than for God to speak to us, to reveal to us the Truth of His unfathomable, immeasurable love for us demonstrated in Jesus giving His life for us so that we might be reconciled with God, and for us to close our ears, harden our heart, and walk away.
God Still Speaks
God is speaking to you and me this morning. I’m not just referring to God showing us the way to salvation and reconciliation, even though that is the issue of greatest importance. Jesus said that He is standing at the door of our hearts and knocking. If you and I will just open the door He will come in. (Revelation 3:20) Some of you who are here this morning have been hearing Him knocking for some time, but you’ve resisted and you are continuing to resist to this day. You turn up the music in your head to try and drown out the knocking, but He keeps knocking. You try to occupy your time and your thoughts with anything in order to silence the sound of the Savior at the door to your heart, but His love keeps knocking. I’ve been praying that today will be the day you open the door and let Him in.
God speaks to us in other ways as well. I went to lunch with a couple of guys this week that wanted to know how to share their faith with someone at work. We talked about that for a bit and then I asked, “Why are you asking me this question?” One of the guys said, “You know there are times in my life when I just know God is leading me to speak to someone and I don’t do it.” I asked some more questions and found out the reason why he is hesitant is because of fear and uncertainty. He’s fearful of what others will think about him, he’s fearful that he will be rejected, etc. He’s uncertain if he will be able to adequately explain the gospel and answer any questions that come about.
Just last week I was speaking with another friend who told me he was driving by a guy with a sack of groceries in his arms and he felt that God was leading him to turn around and give the guy a ride. Have you ever felt the Lord leading you to do something for someone even though they never asked? How many times have we felt led by God to do something and we talked ourselves out of it?
A few years ago there was a young couple who were both doctors down at the OU Health Science Center. How they got to BCC was nothing short of God’s leading. They had been looking for a church home when one day a train stopped on the tracks and caused Courtney to take a short cut through this neighborhood. She saw the church, told Andy, and they never left until they moved to Germany last year.
When Connie and I were dating she was a romantic language major. Then, one day she told me she felt that the Lord was leading her to change her major to music. It really didn’t make much sense back then, but hindsight is 20/20 and it has made perfect sense for the past 20 years.
God is still speaking. The question is, “Are you willing to listen and follow Him wherever He leads you and whatever He is leading you to do?” It is so much easier to play it safe, to do what we’ve always done, and live within the lines of the life we’ve carved out for ourselves, but that’s not God’s will for you and me. We must open our ears, open our hearts, and desire to be led by the Lord. The Psalmist wrote,
8 I will listen to what God the LORD says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants– but let them not turn to folly. (Psalm 85:8 NIV)
Listen to God and refuse to return to the way of the hard-hearted person who wants their way more than they want God’s way. Are you willing? The Lord has been speaking, but are you listening, are you paying attention? Have you closed your ears to God? Have you hardened your heart to God? Confess the mistake you’ve made and turn to Him this morning with ears and heart wide open.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 22, 2015