Does Jesus still speak to us today? It's a fair question to ask! Back in 2007 the magazine Christianity Today published an article on this theme. The anonymous author wrote,
Does God still speak? I grew up hearing testimonies about it, but until October 2005, I couldn't say it had ever happened to me. I'm a middle-aged professor of theology at a well-known Christian university. I've written award winning books. My name is on Christianity Today's masthead. For years I've taught that God still speaks. But I couldn't testify to it personally. I can only do so now anonymously, for reasons I hope will be clear. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/march/2.44.html)
And he goes on to describe how God supernaturally gave him a book title and outline and told him to use the profits from the sale of that book to help pay for the tuition of a needy student. It's a great read in many ways, except for these two facts. Firstly, it leaves you thinking that God - in the normal scheme of things – doesn't talk to us personally and secondly, it leaves you feeling that the Bible is at best a less exciting supernatural form of communication from God and at worst not a supernatural form of communication at all. It's more like an irrelevant outdated message from God.
Maybe some of you here tonight can relate to that. Maybe some of you are chasing what you perceive to be a supernatural experience of wanting to know that you have heard God speak to you personally, with certainty and with authority. Well the good news, that this article seems to have missed, is that we can hear God speak to us today. We've just got to look in the right place. And my task tonight is to help us do that under the heading 'Listening to Jesus word'. I've got 3 sub-headings and a whole stack of different scriptures to look at so let's get going. Firstly then…
1. What is Jesus' Word?
Let me be as clear as I can be. Jesus word is the Bible. In its entirety. Every word of the Bible is Jesus word.
How do we know this? Well, Christians believe "All Scripture is breathed out by God" (2 Tim 3:16) According to John 5:19 "Whatever God the Father does, the Son does likewise" So when in 1 Peter 1:21 God the Father by the HS guides the various human authors of Scripture, he does so in complete unity of action with Jesus. We know that according to (Gen 1:1-2) all things were made by the Father with the Spirit … and according to John 1 they were made through the Son as well. Finally, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 8:6 that "there is one … Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist." In other words, the inspiration of the Bible is thoroughly Trinitarian and we can have confidence that when we read the Bible we are reading the words of Jesus – God the Son.
All of which is not to say: that Jesus cannot communicate and guide us in other supernatural ways today. But he hasn't promised to do that. He hasn't promised to speak in any other way. Hebrews chapter 1 says Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. What is Jesus' word? – it's the Bible. Secondly, let's consider…
2. Why we listen to Jesus
I've got four reasons. Firstly, we are
There's a bit in the gospel accounts of Jesus life where he goes up a mountain to pray with a few of his disciples. The disciples fall asleep. As he's praying his appearance changes and we're told Jesus is joined by the OT prophets Moses and Elijah. It's called the Transfiguration. The disciples wake up, struggle to make sense of what is going on and then a cloud descends on them and they hear God's voice: "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" (Luke 9:35) It is, if you like, a kind of fulfilling of our OT reading – Jesus is the prophet that Moses predicted that the Lord would raise up. God the Father commands Jesus' disciples to listen to him.
Secondly there is
b. Nothing more sure than listening to Jesus through his word!
Peter, writing about those very events in his second letter says he didn't follow cleverly invented myths, he was an eyewitness to that amazing event. He saw what went on, he heard God's very voice – but 2 Peter 1:19 –we have something more sure, the prophetic word, Incredible! Peter is saying "I saw it. I heard it. But Jesus word written is more sure." Some think this could be translated as 'as sure'. But at the very least Jesus word carriers exactly the same certainty and so – as Peter continues - we would do well to pay attention [to it] as to a lamp shining in a dark place.
Thirdly Jesus' word equips us for life
c. Equipped for life!
2 Timothy 3:16-17 - 16: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
Psalm 119:105: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Romans 10:17: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
In other words for us to be truly equipped for life, we need to take all of scripture and use it as the only perfect source of guidance as we journey through this world and as we do that our faith will be increased!
Lastly we need to remember that Jesus' word is
And you've just got to read it to see that!
Last year the comedian Lee Mack appeared on Desert Island Discs. As many of you will know guests are invited to choose 8 records, a book and a luxury that they would take with them if they were marooned on a desert island. In addition they are gifted the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Here's what Lee Mack said: I'm glad you get the Bible because I would read the Bible. I think it's quite odd that people like myself…are quite happy to dismiss the Bible, but they've never read it…at the very least I'd read it.
(Lee Mack Desert Island Discs, Sunday 29th September 2013)
And if Lee Mack does get round to reading the Bible for himself, he will see that there is a lot in Jesus word:
He teaches about pressure, depression, marriage, divorce, singleness, parents, children, drugs, work, rest, play, money, wealth, poverty, generosity, lust, sex, power, government, tax, death, grief, holiness, friendship, looking after your body, ambition, overwork, justice, business, agriculture, animals, God, idols, Satan, heaven, hell, prayer, eternal life, abundant life, the Kingdom of heaven, loving your neighbour and loving God. Don't ever let anyone say Jesus word is irrelevant!
Now, some of you may well look at these reasons and you're saying in your mind "Jon – I know this! I know it is a command to listen to Jesus. I do believe that there is nothing more sure than God's word written. I do believe that it's beneficial for me and I'll be equipped (although I'm uncomfortable expressing that I get something out of this!) I do believe that Jesus' word is eternally relevant. It's just…that I still struggle day by day to listen to him." To which I would say "So do I!" In fact it may well be the case that our biggest problem is not that we don't know or believe the above – our biggest problem, my biggest problem is that knowing it, we still struggle to listen to Jesus in practice. What I want to do in response to that is to spend the rest of the time we have left looking in more detail at…
3. How we listen to Jesus
So would you turn in Bibles to our NT reading Luke 10:38-42. I love this little story that Luke records. We're taken to a house in a village just outside of Jerusalem where a woman lived with her brother and sister. Jesus chose their home as a place of rest in the days leading up to his crucifixion. Follow it through with me and try and picture the scene!
Now as they [the disciples] went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she [Martha] had a sister called Mary... (Their brother, although not mentioned here, is Lazarus).
Now, the differences between these two sisters are fascinating. Martha herself was probably the sort of person who is an organiser and the sort of person who concerns herself with everything being just right. Nothing wrong with that – nothing at all - I'm a bit like that! You know, the sort of person who likes to do the dishes straight away (at least in theory!), the sort of person who files their DVDs/CDs alphabetically, the sort of person whose books are arranged thematically! Detail is important, everything neat, tidy, order!
Martha's sister Mary, on the other hand, is a little more chilled out and relaxed. She was probably an "I'll do the dishes later" kind of person, the sort of person who after listening to a CD just pops it back anywhere on the shelf!
Anyway - we need to understand that despite their differences both Martha and Mary were faithful disciples of Jesus. Both had believed, both honoured Christ and both loved him. So this story isn't about someone of faith and someone not of faith. It is about the priority that we believers give to listening to Jesus, regardless of what we're like. Verse 39: Mary, [who] sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. Now, Luke wastes no time in getting Jesus though the door, and into the sitting room! And Mary sees it for what it is – I mean how often does the Saviour of the world drop by? This is a moment. This is the moment to sit at the feet of the most sacred life to grace this earth. This is Jesus! And where is chilled out Mary? She is with him. She is spending time with the Master, listening to him.
Now contrast this with Martha. Luke's next comment about Martha is that she was what? Verse 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. She was distracted by all the preparations. And so we picture Martha slaving away in the kitchen trying to get a meal ready while the others chill out and discuss heavenly things. It's not long before she reaches the point of exasperation – and the lid blows. Verse 40 carries on: And she went up to him and said; now I don't know about you but I once heard someone speculate that they could imagine Martha talking to Jesus but looking at Mary here. And its stuck with me. Do know what I mean? Hand on hips, dirty apron on, red face, hair a bit frazzled! Looking at Mary - but speaking loud enough so that her Saviour can hear! "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me."
How many of us can relate to Martha?! We go, day by day, week by week, busying ourselves and worrying about everything, everything that is apart from that which is really important: There is the deadline at work, there is FB to check, there are carpets to clean, there's a FB status to update, there is a school project to complete, there is tweet to twitter, there are emails and letters to catch up with, there's a video of dancing cats that we really must watch on YouTube, there are bills to pay, there's Home Group to prepare for, there are meetings to attend, there is car to service, there is the exam to revise for, there is shopping to be done, there's last year' Downton Abbey Christmas special to catch up on (which I've just done by the way because having two Christmas specials on my hard drive would have been ridiculous!). But from the ridiculous to the sublime there is so much to do! Or rather, there is so much to distract us from what really matters.
This week at Home Group we were asked the question: What do we complain about the most? Do you know what my answer was? The fact that I don't have enough time. There's always so much to do! But friends, the reality is that our lives are at best short. There simply isn't enough time to do everything! All our individual duties, responsibilities and activities won't naturally arrange themselves into a true and right order of priorities.
Therefore, like these sisters, we have a choice to make. Will be a Martha and allow the distractions? Or will we be a Mary and consciously insist on 'sitting at the Lord's feet and listening to him', and make that our number one priority?
Because I identify more with Martha in this story I find myself feeling that she's a little hard done by. I mean, sure she shouldn't have made that angry outburst, but her heart's in the right place, she wants to provide for Jesus and show him honour and respect and truly welcome her guest. And I think Jesus knows this, which is why I imagine what comes next being said in a gentle tone:
But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."
In other words "all your fussing wasn't necessary Martha – a simple piece of bread and a bowl of soup would have done, all I wanted to do was spend time with my friends! All I wanted was to spend time with you. But you have allowed the apparently important to distract you from the essential." Hear Jesus' words echo through the centuries JPC: one thing is necessary. What's that? What do we learn from this passage above all else: That we must make listening to Jesus the priority!
So how do we do it? How do we listen to Jesus?
Is it sheer will power alone?
I understand that by saying that there is something we should/must do – I am making that thing a hostage to legalism. I'm not talking about a works based approach here – each time we say what we must do, we must be just as quick to say what God has already done for us in Christ through his grace! But with that caveat let me suggest that we need two Ps. We need to PLAN and we need to PRAY.
We need to plan to spend time listening to Jesus by reading his word regularly. Daily. We need to plan a time and a place where we can sweep away the distractions and be free from them whatever they are! And if needs be we need to let others know of that. I remember my Mum telling me that she knew how important listening to Jesus was to her Mum, my Grandma. When she was little, my Mum knew not to disturb Grandma when Grandma was reading her Bible. And my Mum told me that not in a critical spirit, but in one of love and devotion and complete respect. We need a place and a time and also to plan a plan of how we are going to read the Bible. (loads of good resources at the back of church to help you with this). Because if we're not intentional in this, other things will get in and distract us.
But as well as plan we also need to pray. And we need to pray because listening to Jesus through the Bible is a supernatural activity. We can't force hearing the voice of Jesus. Sadly it is perfectly possible to read the bible from cover to cover and not hear Jesus' voice. And so we need to pray that he would speak to us through his Spirit. That as the book of Hebrews says: we would know Jesus' word to be alive and active. If you are chasing an extra-biblical supernatural communication experience with God, like the author of that Christianity Today article that I quoted at the start, understand this: Jesus speaks supernaturally through his written word, the Bible.
Let me explain by way of illustration. When I was doing my basic training in the RAF I learnt three things about how to start a fire. I needed heat, fuel and oxygen. Without any one of these three things there's no fire. During my survival exercise I woke up in my bivvy one night absolutely freezing, snow on the ground. I went to the previous night's fire that was almost out and needed to get it going again. There was a layer of ash covering those embers which I needed to clear away. Having done that I dropped more fuel on to them. But that wasn't enough. I needed more oxygen to get those flames bursting into life, and so I knelt down and I blew! I was alerted this week to see this as a picture of what is going on when we listen to Jesus. The embers, (the heat) are a picture of our transformed, renewed hearts. The ash covering those embers represents all the distractions that threaten to suffocate that renewed heart. And so we need to brush those distractions through our intentional planning. And so what we do is we take the fuel of our daily devotional bible reading, our memorising of Scripture, our attempts to live out a life of repentance & faith and all of that drops onto the glowing embers of a transformed heart. But we go nowhere, unless God does his work too. And so we plead with him through prayer to supernaturally blow the wind of his HS through our fuel and cause the flames of understanding and devotion and affection to burst into life.
Does Jesus still speak to us today – you bet your life he does!
And he does so (to quote one pastor theologian) through the "supremely-glorious communication" of the Bible which explodes in the receptive heart in a personal, powerful and transforming way. He goes on to say the following, and with this I will conclude,
The great need of our time is for people to experience the living reality of God by hearing his word personally and transformingly in Scripture. Something is incredibly wrong when the words we hear outside Scripture are more powerful and more affecting to us than the inspired word of God.
Let us cry with the psalmist, "Incline my heart to your word Lord - Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law" Psalm 119.
Let's do that now – let's pray!
Heavenly Father we thank you for Jesus' words.
Help us to do the one thing that is necessary and listen to him – daily!
Please help us clear away the ash of distraction.
Come Lord Jesus and blow your Spirit through this church and across our land.
In the mighty name of Jesus we pray. Amen