“Be Careful How You Hear”
April 28, 2019
Careful, obedient hearing of Jesus’ word has great benefits.
I. Hearing for integrity. (Luke 8:16-18)
II. Hearing for intimacy. (Luke 8:19-21)
III. Hearing for security. (Luke 8:22-25)
When we last left our story, before we celebrated Easter, we studied one of the great parables of Jesus, the parable of the soils. The concept of hearing God’s word turned out to be central to that parable. When he told it to the crowds, he said “he who has ears to hear let him hear.” When he explained it to the disciples, he said that the seed is the Word of God and each of the different kind of soils is a different kind of hearing. In other words instead of soil we really could be talking about different kinds of earwax. But Jesus makes hearing the key, and he’s not done with this subject. In today’s text he says you be careful how you hear, and that careful, obedient hearing has great benefits.
Hearing is important. I know this is true because I have a modest hearing loss. There was once a man who thought his wife was hard of hearing, so he decided to test her. One day he walked into the living room and she was seated with her back toward him. He said, “Can you hear me?” She didn’t respond. He moved a little closer, “Can you hear me?” Again, no response. Finally, he got right behind her, “Can you hear me?” She turned around, “For the third time, YES!”
But hearing is much more than just hearing words. Kent Crockett tells a story that he says actually happened to him. “When I walked up to a fast-food restaurant counter the cashier asked, “If this for here or to go?” “To go,” I replied. “I’ll take a cheeseburger and fries.” “Okay,” she said. “Cheeseburger and fries. For here or to go?” “To go,” I answered, figuring she didn’t hear me the first time. “Anything else?” “Yes, I’ll take a small diet Coke and an apple pie.” “That’ll be a cheeseburger, fries, small diet Coke, and an apple pie. Is that for here or to go?” I wondered if I was being videoed on hidden camera. “To go, please,” I said for the third time, chuckling under my breath. When they brought my order to the counter…it was on a tray!” You can hear words without listening.
Again, the story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. The ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I'm sure she had it coming."
Today we’ll see that careful, obedient hearing of Jesus’ word has great benefits. We’ll see that we need to be hearing the word for the purpose of integrity. We need to be hearing for the purpose of intimacy with God. And we need to be hearing for security in the storms of life. Let’s begin with Luke 8:16-18, hearing well for the sake of integrity. “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. 18Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”
Integrity is being the same on the inside, as you are on the outside. Each image in these verses is a picture of integrity. First, “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed.” The lamp here is like the seed in the parable of the soils. If you have light inside you, if you have the word growing within you, then integrity demands that you do not hide the light or choke the growth. Rather, you let the light shine out from you, you let the kingdom grow within you and bear fruit in the world. In Palestine, it may have been the custom to put out an oil lamp, by putting it under a jar. But what is the use of lighting it if you are just going to extinguish it? What use is lighting it if you put it under a bed, so it illuminates nothing. Jesus says put it on a stand, so those who come in can see the light. This is integrity, to let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father in heaven. People who see us should see the light not the lamp.
But Jesus says light works the other direction too. Verse 17: “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” In addition to shining out from us, the light inside will also reveal us as we are. Under the light of Jesus’ words, the hidden things within us will be disclosed. Or to back up again, the kind of soil you are, the kind of earwax you are will ultimately be revealed by your fruit. Do you have hidden attitudes in your heart, hidden hypocrisies of your life? These are plain to the Savior, and often he chooses to make them known, not only to you for the sake of confession and repentance, but to others for the sake of accountability or so that you might be chastened by consequences. If I came to you after the service, and said I’d learned what you’ve been hiding, would you think I was crazy, or would your thoughts immediately go to a particular subject or sin, wondering how I’d found out? If so, then there is, or at least was, an issue of integrity in your life. Now I won’t do that. I don’t know your hidden sin, but Jesus does. He wants to flood it with light in order to rescue you from it.
Verse 18 “Take care then how you hear.” Jesus is now referring directly back to the parable of the soils with this word “hear.” The soils referred to various groups of people, and the outcome for the seed referred to the responses that they had when they heard the word of God, the message of Jesus. Depending on how you listen to the word, you can be the hardened soil, the dry soil on the rock, the thorny soil, or the good soil. So be careful how you hear. Don’t hear flippantly, don’t hear distractedly, don’t hear hypocritically. Instead listen to the word of God and the words of Jesus humbly, openly, sincerely.
“For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” This is a typical saying of Jesus. In this context what he means is that if you think you are listening well and being obedient, but you really aren’t, you will never produce fruit, you will wither and die, or be choked off. But if you are truly obedient, listening and responding with integrity to the message, then you will have much fruit. So the first reason to be “take care how you hear,” to be careful to hear well is so that the light can work integrity in you. If you want to be a person of integrity, listen well and obey the desires of Jesus expressed in his word.
But hearing is not all responsibility, hard work and self-examination. We also take care how we hear, because that’s the way to deep intimacy with Jesus. Luke 8:19-21 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
Jesus says bluntly that those who hear, and obey, are those who are really close to him, a close as his mother and his brothers. This is one of several references to Jesus’ family. There is a detailed description in Matthew 13 “Coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56And are not all his sisters with us?” The Catholic Church would have us believe that Mary remained a virgin and that these brothers and sisters were really cousins, or children of Joseph by an earlier marriage. But there is no evidence that we should interpret these texts in such a strained way. These are Jesus’ brothers. Mary’s children.
They have come to visit Jesus, but they can’t get close because of the crowd. This is about the tenth time Luke has referred to the crowds and their size. This middle portion of Jesus’ ministry is the peak of his popularity, and wherever he goes, these huge crowds follow, to listen and to see.
Apparently, he is inside a house, or possibly inside the synagogue, and his mother and his brothers can’t even get inside. But someone in the crowd recognizes them, or they speak to someone, and word gets to Jesus that “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” We would expect Jesus to respond warmly to them. We know that he had a good relationship with his mother, even at the crucifixion, and one of his brothers, James, became a key leader in the church. On the other hand, there was a time when his family did not believe he was the Christ. Mark records an incident in which they accused him of being mentally unstable. So, the relationship was not always good, and we don’t know their motives for visiting him here.
What’s clear is that Jesus chose to use this moment as an opportunity to teach something important to his followers. He replied: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” Jesus is describing the closest of relationships, the family. “You’ll be as close to me as a mother, as a brother, if you hear my word and do it. An essential part of intimacy, or relationship with Jesus, is to listen to his words to hear them with integrity, with the kind of hearing that does what he says. To build your house on the rock, the firm foundation of Jesus, you have to put his commands into practice.
Do you see the promise, though, the promise of closeness to Jesus? If you were to rate the closeness of your relationship with Jesus on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a complete stranger, 10 the closest possible bond, where would you fall? And does it seem to you that obedience would make that number go up? Its easy to think of obedience as something cold and formal, as something imposed and difficult, something that strains relationships. But Jesus says obedience draws us close, wraps us in love, comforts our hearts, that it is better than the best of family relationships. The key is to hear his word as the word of a friend, which compels us into action out of friendship and commitment.
Do you desire that intimacy? Through the history of the church there have been many who have experienced exactly what Jesus is saying here, that the obedient enjoy a special intimacy with the Savior. St. Augustine, in the 4th century, describes this so expressively. “I love you, Lord, not doubtingly, but with absolute certainty. Your Word beat upon my heart until I fell in love with you. And what do I love when I love you? Not physical beauty, or the grandeur of our existence in time, or the radiance of light that pleases the eye, or the sweet melody of old familiar songs, or the fragrance of flowers, or the taste of manna or honey, or the arms we use to clasp each other. None of these do I love when I love my God. Yet there is a kind of light, and a kind of melody, and a kind of fragrance and a kind of food and a kind of embracing when I love my God.”
Brother Lawrence, in the 17th century, in The Practice of the Presence of God, gave another picture of the intimacy of the obedient. “I have no other will but God’s will, which I seek to fulfil in all things, and to which I am so committed that I would not wish to pick up a piece of straw without his command, I do nothing else but abide in his holy presence, and I do this by a simple attentiveness, and an habitual, loving turning of my eyes on Him. This I should call the actual presence of God, or to put it better, a wordless and secret conversation between the soul and God. The king, full of goodness and mercy, embraces me lovingly, makes me eat at his table, serves me with his own hands, gives me the keys to his treasures, and treats me just as if I were his favorite.”
Now lest you think that this kind of intimacy through hearing and doing the Word was some ancient historical phenomenon, let me assure you that it still true much closer to home. I love reading the notes that volunteers leave in our guest book after serving with Crisis Response. Notes like “This past week has been so amazing. I have seen God in special ways each day and getting to be here serving gives me so much joy. I find myself having a growth in my walk with Christ this week.” Or “praising God for his work in us that continues to grow us closer and more like Jesus.” Or “Dear Jesus: we saw you in each part of the week, in the work, in the prayer and sharing times, in our prayer walks.”
So there is great integrity that grows from being careful how you hear the word. There is wonderful intimacy that comes hearing his word and doing it. Finally, there is a security that comes from careful hearing. Verses 22-25. One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24They went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
Jesus calls his disciples to leave the crowd and get in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. You remember, of course, that the Sea of Galilee, or Tiberias is really a lake, about 13 miles long and 8 wide. This makes it significantly larger than Clear Lake, but smaller than Galveston Bay. The lake is located 700 feet below sea level, and is surrounded by mountains, and strong, unpredictable winds often come barreling down those mountains, making this small lake at times a very dangerous place. It’s unlikely that there was any sign of a storm when Jesus and the disciples got in the boat and headed across the lake.
We see evidence of Jesus’ humanity in the fact that he fell asleep in the boat. I expect, by this point of his ministry, Jesus was humanly tired. Chapter after chapter he’s been pursued by large crowds. In the last section not even his mother and brothers could get through. When Jesus said, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake,” it was escape the crowds and get some rest with his disciples. And he takes a nap in the boat. But the storm that comes up is so strong and sudden that the experienced fishermen manning this boat are convinced they will drown. The boat was being swamped, filling with water. Mark’s account tells us specifically that the disciples were terrified. They wake Jesus in alarm and cry out to him, “Master, Master, we’re drowning.” Now its not at all clear to me what they expected when they woke Jesus. It may be simply that they were preparing to abandon ship, and wanted to make sure that he was ready. Or maybe some of them thought he should be helping them. Why should he sleep when the rest are straining every muscle? On the other hand, some might have had an inkling he could do something supernatural to help.
But before we talk about what Jesus did, I want to look back at this episode with the help of twenty-twenty hindsight. Think about this. Who were they with? They were with the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord, the Master. Further, they were doing what he had told them to do: “Let’s go to the other side of the lake.” They were doing his will. What’s the implication? That they were in fact, safe, the whole time. They were listening to God the Son and obeying. It’s not likely that he was going to drown, so it’s not likely that they were going to drown. When you’re with Jesus and doing his will, you are secure no matter what storm rages. Obedience to Jesus is the safest place you can be.
So, when the disciples wake Jesus up, it is really out of compassion for them that he rebukes the wind and the raging waters. The storm subsides, and all is calm. Why can we have security? Because Jesus does have the power and authority to calm any troubled sea. He can keep and guard and protect his own. It is this infinite power, which we call omnipotence, that provides half of the reason why it’s reasonable to have faith day by day. The other half is that he cares. He cares about his disciples, he cares about us. Because of his love he wants what’s best for us, and because of his power he is able to do what he wants.
If the disciples had been taking care to hear Jesus, or really taking care to see Jesus, they would have been, in very practical way, more secure. Several of them had seen the miraculous catch of fish. Most had seen him heal the centurion’s son with only a word. They had seen him raise the woman’s child from the dead. They had seen him heal the man with leprosy and cast out the demon. Furthermore, they had heard Jesus commend the faith of some of these people especially the faith of the centurion, his great confidence in Jesus’ power.
But somehow, even in the face of all this evidence of Jesus’ care and Jesus’ power, they didn’t have faith in him at that moment when the storm raged. He has to turn and ask them: “Where is your faith?” Why don’t you have confidence? For them the answer might be that they weren’t yet sure who he was. We haven’t reached chapter 9 yet. Jesus hasn’t asked them that central question: Who do you say that I am. Peter hasn’t taught them that he is the Christ, the promised Messiah. They’re still asking “who is this?” But what’s our excuse? We not only have all those miracles and all that testimony to cling to, but we have his resurrection and victory as a foundation for our faith.
We can have confidence. When we are trying to be obedient, seeking to carefully hear his word we can have faith, real confidence in the security of our position no matter what storms he might allow in our lives. As one of the ‘storm’ songs we’ve sung over the years says “sometimes he calms the storm, sometimes he calms his child.” That is security and intimacy. We can have confidence that by his love, he will never leave us or forsake us. We can have confidence that when we pray according to his will, he delights to answer us, rescue us, even calm a raging sea. Careful hearing of his word leads to this security. We are held in his arms and protected. We know, intimately this same Jesus who “commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” The very forces of nature hear his word. We do at times see miracles in our situations. I have, over and over, in nearly 50 years as a believer. Just recently we’ve seen this provision for Luke, as we heard, not only in the sale of his house for more than expected, but also a way for him to keep his current job but work from an office near Wichita where his family has been since Harvey.
That’s Jesus speaking into a storm. But the question Jesus asks, “where is your faith?” does draw us back to the question of careful hearing. Faith grows as we see the things he does, but often in the chaos of those things, we can miss the pattern of his provision. It’s when we go back to basics and ask “what does God teach, as true, about his character and his provision and his promises and his loving-kindness?” It’s when we become convinced of these things that we can have security in the storms of life and faith.
So what have we seen? The first benefit of careful hearing is integrity. When we hear his word to obey it, we become the same within as we are without, letting the light of Jesus’ presence shine in us, and out from us. The second benefit of hearing his word and doing it is intimacy. Those who learn to hear the Savior and do his will discover a very profound relationship of love with the Savior, closer even than the human relationship of mother, or brother.
The third benefit of really listening is security. If you are going where the Savior is going, and the Savior is with you, then nothing can possibly harm you. You can have that great confidence that the disciples lacked, that though the storm rages on. If my Savior is with me in the boat, then I have nothing to fear.
I want to close with an illustration from my old field of mechanical engineering. The illustration rises out of a mechanical engineer’s definition of integrity. In my field integrity meant no leaks. I worked with pressure vessels, big metal tanks and towers in the chemical plants. When you put a pressurized gas or a high-pressure liquid inside a vessel, the last thing you want is a leak. So, you check and recheck the integrity of the vessel. Now there was one special kind of pressure vessel called a layered vessel. It was made with a thin layer of some special material: it might be corrosion resistant, or good at high temperature. And behind that thin layer was a thick layer of regular steel that held it in place. Think of yourself, your life as that thin, inner layer. When the pressure is applied, when the stress builds up, if the thin inner layer tried to stand alone it would burst. It would lose its integrity, and everything would spill out.
That’s us without Jesus. But when the steel is added around the thin layer, you get integrity: it doesn’t leak because the steel behind absorbs the force and stress. You get intimacy: as the pressure mounts, the thin layer is pressed more and more onto the supporting steel structure. And you get security: the thin layer can’t handle the pressure alone, but the steel can handle it easily. No matter how high the pressure gets, the thin layer is not affected at all. You and I, friends, are a very thin layer. But if we listen carefully to what Jesus says, we will find that even when the pressures build up, and the stresses increase, we have Jesus around us, to maintain our integrity, to support us fully through an intimate relationship, and to provide us with the security that we need.
Careful, obedient hearing of Jesus’ word has great benefits.