Listening to Jesus’ Word

Date: 22 May 2022

Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan

Sermon Text: Luke 8:1-56

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Recently, I announced I was going for my evening walk, to which my wife Dawn handed me a cheque. It was with the instructions, to go and drop it off at the OCBC quick cheque deposit.

I set off for my walk and went to drop off the cheque.

1 week later, Dawn received the news from DBS, they could not honour the cheque that they were given. It then dawn on me that the cheque was to be placed in OCBC quick cheque deposit and not DBS.

Somehow, I had not heard the key word OCBC and that was critical. That costs lots of admin hassle and a delay in payment.

10 years ago, the doctor told me, you have high cholesterol, you need to do 2 things. Firstly, increase your exercise frequency and secondly, eat healthier. The doctor said, let’s attempt to improve it the natural way.

After 5 years, the results were still the same. The two habits I was supposed to form did not materialize. At the same time, I started to get chest tightness periodically.

Since I was hitting 50, the doctor told me, your treadmill ECG does not look good, you need to go for a CT Scan and since your cholesterol level is still in the danger zone, there is no choice now but to start you on cholesterol medication and that may be for life.

They sent me to the Polyclinic dietitian twice for consultation. When she asked what I normally eat, everything that I volunteered was on the list that said, eat once a year.

Those 2 consultations for me were truly depressing. And I’m sure for the dietitian, a confirmation that this is a stubborn uncle whom she will one day see admitted for heart issues.

Thank God that the CT scan results were okay and that my cholesterol levels are now within acceptable markers with medication.

As you can see, I’ve selective hearing issues and I’m disobedient to sound medical advice.

The question Scripture is asking us to appraise ourselves with today is, how am I listening to Jesus. Is my spiritual listening just as bad?

Are you, am I, listening to Jesus’ words selectively, hearing only what we want to hear? Are you, am I, just hearing Jesus’ words but disregarding them altogether?

Are we deliberately disobedient to sound divine instruction?

Last week Ps Luwin asked us to consider - are we loving Jesus? Today, the question posed is are we listening to Jesus. If to the question last week, we say a resounding yes, then I pray that today’s text will help us see that those who love Jesus, listen to Jesus in a certain way.

In chapter 7, all the incidences were situated in public areas amongst generally a crowd. In contrast you will find that Jesus interacted mainly with his disciples for the events in chapter 8.

It seems then, even as Jesus was revealing more of Himself to the disciples, he was also at the same time, helping them to understand how a disciple should respond to the revelation of who Jesus is.

His Word requires an appropriate response

Let’s begin to look at Luke 8, starting from v4 to v18. The parable of the sower and the lamp. I would like to use the parable of the sower as the key focus and relate everything else to it.

Bible commentators have labelled this parable of the sower as a mega-parable.

Giving to it the status of a leading parable. This is because it extensively included in all the synoptic gospels – in Matthew 13 and Mark 4.

All three gospels emphasize that we must be very careful about how we hear the word of God. Listening to Jesus is not just a passive matter, it is vitally important how we respond to what we have heard.

At this juncture, it might be good to recap why Luke’s gospel was written in the first place. Let’s go back to chapter 1.

Luke 1:3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Luke wrote to Theophilus a high ranking Roman official this gospel so that he might have certainty concerning the things he has been taught. It was to instruct and strengthen the faith of Theophilus.

The parable of the sower reinforces this point. When we listen well, it will strengthen our faith.

Why did Jesus give this parable?

Lk 8:10 he said, “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.’
Isa 6:9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

Jesus’ words in Luke 8:10 reference Isaiah 6:9-10. In Isaiah’s context the word of God had been given but because it had been persistently rejected, thus God was withdrawing His word from Israel.

So, Jesus spoke the parable of the sower to differentiate between those who will be part of His family and those who will not. Jesus’ disciples have been given the understanding but to those who have rejected Jesus’ words, their hearts will be dull, their ears heavy and their eyes blind.

It is thus a warning of judgement for those who reject the words of Jesus. May we today, heed this warning as well.

And this principle is complemented in the short parable about lighting a lamp in v16 to 18. The warning of v18 says, take care then how you hear, for if you do listen well, more will light will be given, but if you reject, then even the little light that shines will be taken away.

There will always be an impact on our lives when we encounter God’s word. It will not leave us unaffected. If we receive it well, then, more of God’s truth will penetrate our darkness. But if we reject it, then what little light that shines may instead be taken away.

Let us thus be circumspect when we come before God’s word. May each encounter with the living word leave us richer and not poorer spiritually.

So, the parable explains to us that the seed which is the word of God, falls on 4 types of soil – along the path, amongst rocks, amongst thorns and finally on the good soil.

The crowd hear the parable in v4, but it is the disciples in v9 that get the explanation.

In each of the soil, the seed, which is the word of God is sown. What happens has nothing to do with the quality of the seed, it is dependent on the condition of the soil.

Since all 4 soils depict the spiritual state of man, the condition of the soil that is on the path, confront us with the reality that there are dark spiritual powers at work in our world.

The devil and his kind are actively taking away gospel seeds that are being sown.

We should thus never underestimate how challenging it is to witness for the Lord. It is a spiritual battle that we engage in for the souls of man.

It means also that we do not get discourage when the good news is rejected. We may be disappointed, but we are not surprised.

Do you think that people who exhibit the rocky or thorns-infested soil are true believers? I’m sure many of us Singaporean Christians can identify with them.

Earlier in chapter 6, Jesus said, a good tree will bear good fruit. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit. So, a good tree must bear the right fruit.

Now here in chapter 8, an additional truth is given. A good tree must bear fruit.

No good tree can be fruitless. Thus, rocky and thorn infested soil cannot be the norm for true believers.

So we observe that for the seeds that fell on rocky ground, due to shallow roots, there was not enough moisture, the plant dies. Because the plant does not survive, they bear no fruit.

It means that God does allow times of testing to weed out the fair-weather believers from the genuine ones. Can we see our testing in that light?

Thus for true believers, our testing be the refining fire that God allows us to experience.

Through testing, we grow deeper roots and in so doing, we become assured of the genuineness of our faith.

We have just gone through Covid. I pray that through our response to this pandemic, it has enabled us to display to ourselves and to our loved ones the certainty of the hope that we have in Christ Jesus.

Let’s look at the thorn-infested soil. Jesus describes that they are choked as ‘they go on their way’. Meaning as they live out their lives. The thorns do not all come up at once. It grows along with the plant.

In the rocky soil we could say there was persecution. But here it is preoccupation. No pressure, just pleasure. This is what 1 Jn 2:16 describes as the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life.

Look at this picture of a climbing vine on a tree. These vines kill a tree through various means. They block sunlight from the tree, so little photosynthesis. They add unnecessary weight to the tree and also compete with the tree from nutrients.

They look innocent, not like thorns, yet they are deadly to the tree. The desires of the world are like that too.

Jesus says if your spiritual state is like that of the thorn-infested soil, be warned. For your fruit will not mature. It means you bear no fruit.

For those of us who have been believers for some time, we would acknowledge that for the first 3 types of soil, it would be no surprize that the devil has a hand in all of them.

We can never put it past the devil to use persecution for the faith and the deceitfulness of the world to tear believers away.

So, the first 3 soils are negative examples of listening to Jesus. Thus, the only way to listen to Jesus is that of the good soil. To hear the world, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience.

Against persecution, believers are to hold fast to God’s word. Hebrews tells us, Jesus is the anchor of our souls. Hold fast to Jesus.

Against the preoccupation of worldly pleasures, we are to bear fruit with patience.

It means there is discipline in our lives. It means like a responsible gardener, we intentionally tend to our lives and not get side-tracked.

There is steadfastness, there is endurance.

V15 gives us a picture not just of conversion but of sanctification. A long journey of becoming more and more like Jesus.

For such believers, their description is that of 2 Tim 4:7

2 Tim 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Let us be the good soil that listens to Jesus appropriately. May our lives be modeled after 2 Tim 4:7.

His Word forms His family

Notice with me that Luke bookends the parable of the sower with descriptions of who are his disciples (v1-3) and who are his family (v19-21).

I submit, Luke is showing to Theophilus, concrete examples of those who are the good soil of the parable. Basically, showing in real life, what it means to listen appropriately to Jesus’ words.

And those who listen appropriately to Jesus’ words, He will form into His family. These are the ones who will partake of God’s kingdom.

Luke 8:1 tells us Jesus went about proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. This is the sower sowing the seed.

And Luke says, those with him were his disciples and some women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna.

The description of who is following Jesus and His word gives us clues as to who can qualify. And it basically shouts anyone.

Luke has already given us some description of who the disciples were. In chapter 5, he tells us of Simon Peter, James and John. They were I suppose our equivalent of blue collar workers who runs an SME.

In that same chapter, Jesus calls Levi. And Levi is a tax collector. That’s someone despised by the Jews for they worked for the Roman occupiers and enriched themselves at the expense of the masses.

Anyone can qualify to listen to Jesus’ Word.