To Hear is To Obey
A sermon on Luke 8:4-39 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 3/5/2006
What is the relationship between hearing and obeying?
In literature from The Arabian Nights to The Narnian Chronicles, a servant will respond to his despotic master’s command by saying, “To hear is to obey.”
But in your life: Does the phrase hold true? Is to hear to obey?
It doesn’t take much reflection to conclude that the answer is no. Many hear but do not obey.
What about yourself? We all hear. But we don’t obey. Not even when the speaker is in authority over us. Not even when the speaker is God.
In the chapters leading up to this one, Luke has focused on requirements and promises to Jesus’ followers:
Today’s text continues to build on all these themes, particularly the characteristics of being a son of the Most High. This text also continues to reveal the extent of Jesus’ authority; we’ll consider those aspects of the text next week. But today’s theme is: True faith hears and obeys.
We’ll examine this under three headings.
Verse 19-21 tell us of Jesus’ mother and brothers coming to see him. Mark tells us that they are concerned he is out of His mind. But Luke leaves out those details, focusing instead on the theme of hearing and obeying.
When his family arrives, word reaches Jesus that they want to see Him. Surely at this point everyone expects Jesus to take a break and go see them. He loves them. He has been away from them. They are his intimate family.
But Jesus does not act as expected. He instead says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
Do you see what Jesus is saying? “Do you know who is in My intimate family? Blood relationship means little. If you are a Son of the Most High, you are My brother. Sons of the Most High are like their Father – and thus are eager to obey Him, to become like Him. So be part of my intimate family! Hear me! Obey me!”
In verses 8b-10, between telling the parable of the seed and explaining it, Jesus also emphasizes the same theme, saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus says, “You have the physical equipment necessary – so use it! Let my words sink down into your inner being! Take these words to heart!”
In verse 9, the disciples then ask Him what the parable of the seed means. Before answering, Jesus tells them why He speaks in parables. He answers,
To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. Luke 8:10
His disciples – His intimate family, the Sons of the Most High – can know what God is doing. They can understand God’s plan. How? By using their ears! By taking to heart God’s words! But those who aren’t His disciples - those who aren’t willing to admit their unworthiness, who aren’t willing to admit their sinfulness, who aren’t willing to admit Jesus authority – will hear the audible sounds but not take anything to heart. They will hear the story, but it will remain a story, without touching them. As Paul will later write to the church in Corinth:
We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24
The same message can be most precious and most foolish.
What is this message to you? Are you using your ears? Do you understand what is at stake? Sons of the Most High hear and obey!
Before we look at the parable itself, consider verses 16-18, Jesus’ concluding statements after explaining the parable. Here He motivates us to take the parable to heart:
"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. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. 18 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."
We must take care to look at verses 16 and 17 in context, for in a more familiar passage Matthew uses similar sayings in a different context. As an itinerant preacher, Jesus uses the same illustration to make different points at different times. Here, He is discussing the importance of making sure you have heard the word. We already noted that in chapter 6 He had said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?” The thought is similar here. He is saying:
“If God has lit your lamp, you will shine. Others will see your light. If you have truly heard My word, if you have truly taken it to heart, you will bear fruit. You will change. You will shine my light forth. Your true light may be hidden temporarily, but you will eventually shine if you are truly mine. Alternately, the fact that your light is false may be hidden temporarily, but it will be manifest in the end. The truth will become apparent. So then take care how you hear! Don’t just give the appearance of hearing and understanding. Hold fast! When you have some true understanding, I promise you even more! But if you are self-deceived – if you never really heard, if you are just playacting at following Me – you will lose even what you think you have.”
“Take care how you hear.” This is the key exhortation in the entire passage. Jesus says all hangs on this command. He who has ears must hear. How can he hear?
The parable and Jesus’ subsequent explanation answer the question. The first three soil types and their contrast with the fourth soil type give us three answers.
1) Hold fast what you hear
The seed that falls along the path is eaten by birds. Jesus explains this in verse 12:
The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
Do these people have ears? Do they hear? Yes! But although they hear physically, what they hear has no impact on them. They don’t believe. They aren’t saved. They don’t take the message to heart. So they lose the message and all its benefits.
In contrast, when speaking in verse 15 of the seed that falls on the good soil, Jesus says such hearers “hold it fast in an honest and good heart.” He is making two points here. First, they hold the Word fast! They treat it as precious! They think of it as treasure! As read from Psalm 119:159-160, “How I love your precepts! . . . The sum of your word is truth.”
In late 1984, Beth and I were preparing to return to the US after three years in Kenya. We sold our Peugeot 305 for something like $7,000. For some reason, the transaction had to be carried out in cash. I then had to carry a significant portion of the cash to the customs office to pay a tax. At that time, the largest denomination of Kenyan currency was worth less than ten dollars, so I had more than 700 bills. I stuffed all these in a backpack and walked more than a mile to the customs office.
How do you imagine that I held that backpack? Did I swing it around my head? Did I toss it in the air? No! I tightened the shoulder straps, held it securely, and walked purposefully to the customs office.
Friends, the Word we hear is much more precious than $7000! Hold it fast!
The second point that Jesus makes in verse 15 is that a true listener holds the Word fast “in an honest and good heart.” The two adjectives in this phrase are both translated “good” when used to describe the fourth type of soil in verses 8 and 15. Jesus is making a parallel between the soil in the parable and the heart. The Word must be planted in an honest, good, noble heart.
Be sure that you don’t hear this as, “Clean up your heart and then you can hear!” Remember, we have seen already that a disciple must acknowledge that he is a sinner. We have already seen that true faith acknowledges its own unworthiness.
So then what is Jesus saying? James 1:21 is helpful here:
21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
We are to acknowledge our sin – and hate it! We must desire to be rid of it! We must acknowledge that we can’t change on our own – and therefore “receive with meekness the implanted word.” That will save you! That will bear fruit.
Do you see how different this is than saying, “OK, Jesus, now I’ve got my act together. I’ve cleaned up my life. Now I am good soil. Plant your Word in me!” That’s not meek. That’s not broken. We must hate sin. And we must acknowledge that we cannot fix our sin problem on our own. We need the implanted word. We need that word to save us.
So hold it fast! Plant it! Dig deep! Have it change you from the inside out! Then the light of Jesus will shine through you, and you will be shown to be His.
So take care how you hear! Hold fast the implanted word!
2) Persevere in what you hear
In the parable, some seed falls on rocky soil and germinates, but eventually withers and dies for lack of moisture. In verse 13, Jesus says that this refers to “those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” In contrast, the good soil bears “fruit with patience” or “with perseverance” or “with endurance.”
Note that these people again hear with their ears, but they don’t really hear.
So what is the lesson here? Not only must we hold fast to the Word. We must hold fast continually.
Think again about the $7000 in my backpack in Nairobi. Would it serve any purpose to hold that pack carefully for the first five minutes, then to say, “Whew! I held it fast! Hurrah!” – then celebrate by swinging it in the air?
We must hold the word fast, and keep on holding the word fast. We must endure. For Jesus tells us that a time of testing will come. We don’t know what particular trials we will face. But we do know that trials will come. As Paul tells Timothy,
all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12
Or as he said earlier to the disciples in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra,
Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. Acts 14:22
Jesus says, “Take care how you hear.” How must we hear? We must hold the word fast And we must keep on holding the word fast. Don’t let go for a minute. Persevere in it. Remind yourself day after day after day. Memorize the Word. Meditate on it.
3) Filter what you hear
In the parable, some seed falls among thorns. It too germinates, but the thorns end up choking the life out of the plant, and it dies. Jesus says in verse 14 that “they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.”
This illustration is another aspect of persevering in holding fast the implanted word. If the word is to bear fruit, we cannot let it get crowded out of our hearts. The word must be the primary focus of our hearts.
What crowds the word out of our hearts? One commentator calls the danger, “excessive self-concern for one’s welfare.” How important is your own welfare to you? Jesus is absolutely clear here. If we are aiming for worldly pleasures, is we are aiming for riches, if we are aiming to avoid worldly pain and sorrow, we will choke out the word of God.
What is the solution? Persevere in holding fast the faithful word! The world around us assaults us with distractions, cares, and pleasures. Filter all that out. Hold to what is good. Devote yourself to what is most important. Minimize the distraction of those cares that you must attend to.
Consider further this idea of filtering. Most of you have email accounts. Many of you, like me, receive more junk email than valuable email. How do you deal with that? I have been helped much by the junk mail filter in Mozilla Thunderbird. All I have to do is identify certain emails as junk, and the software develops criteria by which to figure out what is junk and what is not. It then filters my mail, so I never even see the junk. The program also will send designated types of emails to particular folders, categorizing them for me.
That’s what we need to do with the cares of this life, with pleasures, with riches. Some of these are junk – we want to filter them out completely and never pay them any attention. Some – like our finances – require a degree of attention. They need to be filtered into a folder which we will attend to at the proper time. But we want to keep all that out of our heart. We want to fill our heart with the word. We want that word to bear fruit.
You are to be the aroma of Christ in the world, instead of taking the aroma of the world into your heart.
So take care how you hear. Hold fast to the faithful word. Endure in holding on to it, especially when trials come. Filter out the cares, pleasures, and distractions of this life, so that you can endure in holding to the word. And so bear fruit.
Luke then underlines these truths through two stories. Both emphasize the authority of Jesus, and both emphasize some aspect of hearing and obeying.
In the first story, the disciples and Jesus are crossing the lake. The Savior is asleep in the stern when a huge windstorm arises. Several disciples are experienced fishermen who have braved many storms, but when the boat starts to fill with water, it looks as if all is lost. Yet Jesus still sleeps! They wake Him, saying, “We are perishing!”
What does Jesus do? He speaks. He rebukes the wind and the waves. All is calm.
He then rebukes the disciples, asking: “Where is your faith?” And they fear and marvel.
Listen to what the disciples then say to each other:
“Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?" Luke 8:25b
The word translated “obey” is the Greek word for “hear” with a prefix added that intensifies its meaning. I presume it originally meant something like “to really, really hear” and thus came to me “obey.” In any case, this word echoes the earlier exhortations to hear.
Do you see the point? The wind and the waves don’t have ears – but they hear and obey Jesus. The disciples have ears – but in the boat, they let the cares of this life choke out the words of Jesus. They did not hold fast to the word. They did not have faith.
What about you and me? We have ears. Will we hear and obey, like the wind and the waves?
The second story takes place after they get to the other side of the lake. A man who has many demons comes to meet him. We won’t go through the entire story, but ask yourselves: Who hears and obeys in this story? Who hears and yet doesn’t understand? Who sees and yet doesn’t see?
There are two who hear and obey. First, the demons! Jesus speaks, and the demons leave the man, entering the pigs. Even demons hear and obey Jesus.
Who else? Look at verses 38-39:
The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
Understandably, this man really wants to go with Jesus. Jesus has called many others to come and follow Him. But instead, Jesus gives this man a task: “Speak of what God has done. Be my agent in this area.” So he does exactly that, proclaiming throughout the city what God has done through Jesus.
This man didn’t know much. He was just freed of demons. He wanted to learn more from Jesus. He wanted to spend time with Jesus. Those were good desires. But Jesus tells him to do something contrary to his desires. The man hears. And he obeys.
So the demons hear and obey. The man saved from the demons hears and obeys.
What about the people of the region?
Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. Luke 8:35-37
Did the people of the region hear? Yes! They heard what Jesus had done. They heard an accurate report. They also saw with their eyes that the man who had been so troubled, and who had caused them so much trouble, was now in his right mind.
So what is their reaction? Thankfulness? Awe? Praise?
No. Jesus has disrupted their lives. After all, some pigs have died. So they tell Jesus, “Please leave us alone. Let us go back to normal and pretend this never happened. We like our lives very much the way they are, thank you.”
These people didn’t have any great riches or pleasures by our standards. Nevertheless, the pleasures of this life choked out the word of God. So they ask the incarnate word of God to leave. Jesus was with them – and they told Him, “Go away!”
Listen carefully: These people show that it is perfectly possible to be in Jesus presence, to hear His words, to witness a miracle – and walk away. The heard Him – yet didn’t hear. They saw Him – yet didn’t see.
The same holds today. You can be in church, you can sing worship songs, you can hear biblical preaching – and walk away, not hearing in your heart. You can see and yet not see; you can hear and yet not hear.
Take care how you hear! Let the word of God be implanted in you! Accept it with meekness! Acknowledge your sinfulness, your hard heart and your tendency to be hard of hearing!
Sons of the Most High hear and obey. So will you do that? Will you hold fast to what you hear? Will you persevere in what you hear? Will you filter what you hear?
May you truly hear – and thus may you bear fruit a hundredfold.
This sermon was preached on 3/5/06 at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC. Darrell Bock’s Luke 1:1-9:50 (Baker, 1994) was helpful.
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