The Lord's Day Morning
November 29, 2009
“Take Care How You Listen”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 8. We’ll be looking at verses 16 to 21 today. As you turn to that passage I would remind you that this exhortation of Jesus to you and me, to His disciples, is on the heels of His parable of the sower and the essence of His parable of the sower in Luke 8:1-15 may be discerned in and distilled from verse 15 — “The seed is the good soil. These are the ones who have heard the Word in an honest and good heart and hold it fast and bear fruit with perseverance.”
He has been speaking to His disciples about what the Word is designed to produce in our lives and how we know whether we have truly received the Word of God. And this exhortation in Luke 8, verses 16 to 21, both in the story of the lamp and in the words to His own mother and brothers when they come to visit Him, is designed to reinforce and to expand and to elaborate the point that had been made in the parable of the sower. So let's bear that in mind as we prepare to hear God's Word and let's look to Him in prayer before we read it.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and so we ask that You would open our eyes to understand it as it is a passage about hearing the Word of God and hearing it rightly and truly. We pray that by Your Holy Spirit we would hear this passage about hearing the Word rightly and truly, that we would respond to it in faith, that we would believe Your Word, but that we would also do what Your Word tells us to do. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the Word of God beginning in Luke 8, verse 16:
“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. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take 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.
Then His mother and His brothers came to Him, but they could not reach Him because of the crowd. And He was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You.’ But He answered them, ‘My mother and My brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
How do you know if someone is listening to you? How do you know if they've really gotten what you said? You know, if you’re getting ready to send someone to the grocery store on an errand — “Honey, I want you to go and I want you to bring back an eye of round, and mushrooms, and tomatoes, and while you’re over in the vegetable section, they've got two for one on broccoli today. And I want some Golden Delicious apples and some Granny Smith apples too.” – And the list goes on. And when he comes home with Red Barron pizza and potato chips and Coke, you know he wasn't listening. Or if he's texting you from the grocery store — “What was it I was supposed to get?” — You know he wasn't listening.
Or, if you've said, “Now I want you to hang your clothes up and I want you to straighten your room” — you understand I've never heard this conversation before — “and I want you to do your music and I'm going to check it when I get back.” How do you know if that little person has listened to you? Well, it's whether he or she has done what you've asked, done what you've said.
Or maybe you’re an SEC football coach and you tell your kicker, “Do not kick the ball to that guy. Every time he touches the ball, something bad happens. Do not kick the ball to him.” How do you know whether your kicker has listened? It's whether he does what you said.
Or maybe you’re a captain speaking to a sailor and he says, “Aye, Aye, Sir,” which is supposed to mean, “I heard you, I understood what you said, and I will execute it.” The only way you know is whether what you've said has been executed.
That's what Jesus is talking about in this passage,
So I've got a question for you — How do you hear the Word of God? How's it going? Do you really hear the Word? When it's read to you aloud like Nate read to us this morning from Isaiah 62, how do you hear it? Does it go through one ear and out the other, or when you hear it do you realize that God has something that he wants you to know, something that He wants you to believe, something that He wants you to act upon, and are you sensitive to what He is saying to you in His Word? Do you respond to it by not only believing it and nodding in affirmation of it but actually doing what the Word of God tells you to do? Or do you listen politely but your mind is in neutral, or even more, there is no impetus in your heart to respond to obedience to God's Word?
That's what Jesus is talking about in this passage. He is exhorting His disciples to listen with care to the Word of God because listening to the Word of God is an eternally important matter. In this passage, Jesus makes it clear that how we respond now to the Word of God reveals ahead of time what is going to happen on the Last Day.
Jesus makes it clear that every time the Word of God is read or proclaimed the heart is revealed, and if we respond in obedience to the Word, what is revealed is that God is at work for grace and glory in our hearts.
And if we respond in indifference and in disobedience to God's Word, what is being revealed is a judgment that is stored up for everyone who does not hear the Word of God rightly. And so I want us to look closely at this passage and I want you to see two things that Jesus says loudly and clearly. And by God's grace and by the work of the Holy Spirit, it's my prayer that you will hear what Jesus is saying.
I. God's word is given to us to change us.
The first thing that He tells us is that God's Word is given to us to change us. God's truth is given to us to shine in us and from us. Truth is given to shine. The light of God's Word in us is meant to produce a life that bears witness to God's grace and God's glory. You see that so clearly, don't you, in verse 16, where Jesus says, “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.” Now that illustration frankly may be lost on us because we live in a world lit by Entergy. We can have plenty of light in our homes, 24/7, with the flip of a switch.
When mother was here just a few weeks ago we were pulling out of the driveway in the early evening and getting ready to drive off and go somewhere and she turned back and looked at the house and she said, “Ligon, I think you've left on every light in your house.” And I looked back and I thought, “You know, mom, you’re probably right. We probably have left on every light in our house,” so this illustration may be a little lost on us. There was a book written a number of years ago called, A World Lit Only by Fire. Some of you have probably read it. It is in part a social history of what it would have been like to be in medieval Europe and to live daily with the inconveniences that surrounded life and one of the things that it pointed out was that your life was completely controlled by the rising and the setting of the sun because after the sun went down, there was no Entergy to turn on the street light or to supply light to your home. The only light you had was from the fire or from candles or from some sort of a lamp. Now in that world, if you can put yourself there, this illustration makes perfect sense. In that world, where there are no artificial lights to give light after darkness, when a light is lit in a room it is not going to be hidden because the very purpose of that light is to give light to the room so that people can see who would otherwise be completely surrounded by blinding darkness.
And Jesus is saying that's what the Word of God is given to produce in your lives. It's given to produce light, the light of a life. In other words, the Word of God is not just given to us so that we will know things that other people don't know. The Word of God is not just given to us so that we will nod in a sense to it and “Hmmm, hmmm, yes.” It's given to change the way we are so that we bear witness, so that we become lights, individually and as a people — “a city on a hill.” We are to give light through our lives and so Jesus makes it clear that God's truth is put in us so that we may shine, so that our lives bear testimony to the truth that has been put in us.
II. We must take care how we listen to the truth and respond to it.
Then Jesus says that we must take care how we listen to the truth and that the way to listen to the truth is to listen to the truth in such a way that we respond to it, that we do it, that we obey it. Look at what Jesus says at the end of this passage in verse 21 — “My mother and My brothers are” — who? – “those who hear the Word of God and do it.” What is Jesus saying? He's saying you haven't heard the truth until you've done it. You haven't heard the truth the way God intends you to hear the truth until you've done it. The truth heard rightly is the truth done obediently. The truth is heard rightly only when it produces in our lives, fruit. Again, go back to verse 15 immediately prior to our passage. What does the word produce when it falls in the good soil? “It bears fruit with perseverance.”
And Jesus is saying, “When you hear the Word of God, recognize that God has given that Word to you, whether you’re reading your Bible alone, whether you’re reading it with your family, whether you’re listening to the minister read it in a long reading on Sunday morning, whether you’re listening to a short passage be read like Luke 8: 16-21, or whether you’re hearing the Word expounded. When you hear that Word, His goal is not simply for you to know something of its contents and even to nod in affirmation that yes you agree with it, but that truth is to be worked into your life in such a way that you respond to that truth with obedience.” So that for instance, if you’re reading a passage in the Bible that contains the Gospel your response to that Gospel is not simply to be, “Oh yes, I've heard that before. I think I agree with that.” But it is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners and to rest and trust in Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel, to trust Him with your everlasting life, and then to share with others how they might come to know the living God in Jesus Christ. To hear the Gospel rightly is to respond to it by believing, trusting, and sharing the Gospel.
Or if you’re reading the law and you’re convicted by the Word that is in that law, you’re realizing that you’re guilty of the sin that law is speaking against, you are to respond in repentance and in confession. You’re not just to say, “Yes, that's wrong or right. Other people shouldn't do that.” But it's to recognize that, “I've done this Lord. I've broken this law. I repent of this. I confess my sin to You. I ask that You would forgive me and cleanse me and change me as I read Your law.”
Or maybe you’re reading a Bible passage about providence and you’re not just supposed to sit back and think, “You know, providence is such an interesting doctrine, very deep, very intellectual. I've read many books on providence.” No, your response to the doctrine of God's providence is to look into your own life and say, “Lord, I have no idea what You’re doing in my life. I have no idea why You are doing what You are doing now, but this I do know — You are in charge and You love me and You are wise and good, and so there is nothing meaningless in my life, even though very frankly, it feels worse than that right now. I trust You, Lord. I know You are the God of providence. I know that You want my good. I know that You have promised to bring about Your perfect will for me. I don't see the way to the end. I know though that You know the end from the beginning and that Your purposes are good for me and that You will cause all things to work together for my good.” No, the way you respond to providence is not through some intellectual exercise where you go out and get another book, but you begin to actually believe God's good purposes in your life and live like you really believe that God has good purposes in your life.
Or when you hear or when you read a passage about God's election. What's that to produce in you? Well it's first of all to produce humility. If God has chosen us and not we Him, we have nothing to brag about. The most humble people in the world ought to be people who have read and heard about God's election. And then what else does it produce? It produces gratitude. “Lord,” Isaac Watts says, “why was I a guest? Why was I invited to come to this feast and why did I enter in and sit down at this banquet hall when thousands make a wretched choice and rather starve than come?” It leads to gratitude. And then it leads to mercy, because if you've receive mercy, you want to show mercy to others because you know how precious that mercy is to you.
Or when you read about and hear God's Word speak to you about election, you don't just respond to it by letting it go in one ear and out the other or nodding in silent assent, but it changes your life. It grows you in humility and in gratitude and in mercy.
Or if you read about justification, you respond to it by ceasing to trust in your own righteousness, by resting and trusting in Jesus alone for salvation, by refusing to try and justify yourself through putting up a façade of reputation and hiding your sins from others, or putting others down so you look better, or trying to balance out your evil deeds with your good deeds to get credit with God. You cease that game and you trust in Jesus Christ.
Or if you’re reading the Bible about sanctification, what do you do? You pursue holiness. You respond to the Word of God by pursing love, by craving the growth of real Christian love in your life where you’re looking out for the best interests of your neighbor despite the cost to yourself. You pursue purity and Christ-like, grace-wrought, generosity.
Or what if you’re reading what the Bible says about glorification, how do you respond to that? Well you respond in it by realizing that your hope is not in the final analysis in this world, and therefore there is no disappointment in this world that can rob you of your deepest hope and joy because your deepest hope and joy await across a finish line that will not be crossed until a multitude of men and women and boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation are standing around a throne singing “Hallelujah to the Lamb! Worthy is He!” And then and there you will realize that your hopes have been fulfilled to a deeper reality that you could not have even comprehended in this world. And therefore you’re never without hope in this world.
No, God's Word is meant to be responded to.
Are you sensitive to God's Word? Do you respond to God's Word?
Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.
The last three weeks it seems like everywhere I have turned, whether it's a children's devotional or whether it's from the pulpit, God has been hitting me over the head with a truth that I needed to know. Sometimes I'm sensitive to the Word of God like that where every word, whether it's a Twitter from a friend or a children's message or a message from the pulpit, has seemed designed specifically for me. But even then I have to ask myself this question — “I'm attuned to this Word, I'm sensitive that this Word is for me, but have I responded to this Word? Have I believed the promises that it holds out? Have I heard the warnings that it has given? Have I understood the threatenings? Have I responded to the Word of God?” You see, Jesus is saying in this passage – the truth is only truly heard when the truth is done. Only when we have put the truth to practice have we really heard that truth.
So are you listening to the Word of God, really listening to the Word of God — listening to the Word of God, recognizing it's for you, not for your neighbor sitting next to you, listening to the Word of God realizing that God intends to change you from the inside out by His Word dwelling richly in you so that your light will shine? It's a perennial challenge, isn't it? You know it was, even in Puritan times. Thomas Goodwin was a learned professor of theology and a very, very famous preacher in England, and he told John Howe, who eventually wrote a book on the lives of some of the famous Puritans, he told John Howe the story that I'm about to tell you. There was a man named John Rogers of Dedham [1572-1636] who was a very famous preacher. He was what we would call today a “hellfire and brimstone preacher.” And he was not a man who had been part of the great halls of academia. He was a simple country preacher. But Thomas Goodwin who was part of the halls of academia wanted to go and hear him preach, and so one day he got on his horse and he wrote out into the country to hear John Rogers of Dedham preach. He said,
“I took a journey to hear him preach on his lecture day and Mr. Rogers was preaching on the subject of the Scriptures and in his sermon he fell into such an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible. The people weren't hearing the Word of God. And he impersonated God to the people. He said, ‘Well, I have trusted you so long with My Bible and yet you have slighted it. It lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs. Do you not care to listen to it? Do you use My Bible so? Well you shall have My Bible no longer!” And then Thomas Goodwin says he literally picked the Bible up from the cushion on the pulpit and he began to walk away with it. And then as he seemed as if he were going away, tearing it away from them, but then he turned around and he impersonated the people speaking back to God. And he fell down on his knees and he cried out and he pled most earnestly, “Lord, whatever you do to us, do not take the Bible from us. Kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods, only spare us Your Bible. Do not take away the Bible.” And then he turned again and impersonated God to the people. “Say you so? Well I will try you a little while longer. Here is My Bible for you. I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, observe it more, practice it more, live more according to it.”
By these actions, Thomas Goodwin told John How, Mr. Rogers put all the congregation into so strange a posture that the place was deluge with tears. In fact, Dr. Goodwin was so deeply affected, that as he left the building and went out to his horse he could not mount his horse. He hung on his horse's neck for more than a quarter of an hour, weeping, because he realized he had not been hearing the Word of God.
So how is it with you? Are you hearing the Word of God? Can you remember a time in your life when it was as if the preacher has looked into the inmost recesses of your heart and opened you up and poured the Word of God in and as painful as it was it was the most restorative thing that you've ever experienced and you believed and you were new and you responded. But has it been weeks, and months, and even years since you heard the Word of God like that?
Jesus is saying in this passage how you hear the Word of God reveals something that is going to transpire at the final day. And here is what He says is going to transpire at the final day — the final day, those who have heard the Word of God are going to be given everything, and those who have not heard the Word of God are going to have everything taken away.
Do you realize that what happens every time the Word of God is read, every time the Word of God is proclaimed, something happens in this place or wherever the Word of God is taught rightly that portends what will happen on the Judgment Day?
Do you realize that the Word of God is powerful and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword and it always works? The Word of God always works. It always works to do one of two things — either to draw sinners to faith in Christ and to build up saints in grace in Him, or to heap up the condemnation of those who will not hear it. Those two things always happen when the Word of God is preached.
And those things portend what will happen on the final judgment. And Jesus says what will happen in verse 18 — “To the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.” That is why listening to the Word of God carefully and rightly is of eternal consequence. My friends, take care how you listen.
Heavenly Father, we know we need spiritual ears even to begin to listen. That in part means knowing that we are sinners who need Your grace, that in part means recognizing that so many of the things that we set our hearts and our affections upon in this world are bobbles and they will not last, but above all it means recognizing that You are our only hope and in the end You are our greatest joy. It is my prayer, O Lord, that no member of this congregation get to glory and not know those three things, that no one here in the hearing of Your Word would stand before the Almighty on the Last Day and have every last thing taken away. Lord God, grant that we would hear, in Jesus' name. Amen.
As you live by His holy precepts, having heard His Word, may grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.