Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Family of Jesus - Luke 8:4-21. Sermon on Sunday 17th August 2008 in St Elizabeth's Parish Church, Dundonald

I wonder how good you are at spotting family resemblances. As some of you will know, we got married last month. Weddings are a time when the families come together, especially some people you haven’t seen for a while. I don’t know about you, but when our family comes together, they start into the comparisons. I have one cousin in particular, who some people think looks a bit like me.

So in our reading today, when Jesus’ mother and his brothers come along, perhaps people noticed some similarities. But when they try to get to see Jesus, they can’t make it – the crowds are too large. Instead, they send a message to Jesus that they are there. They wanted to see him. Maybe they thought they had some priority over the crowds. Jesus would make time for them because they were his family.

Yet what Jesus says may seem surprising, perhaps even rude. ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’ (8:21) Jesus is redefining who belongs to his family. No longer is it on the basis of human relationships – being born into the right family. Rather, it is on the basis of hearing and doing God’s word.

We’ll see now as we consider the whole passage that this hearing and doing of God’s word is the key. In fact, you could say that the family likeness in the family of God is this very feature of hearing and doing. You’ll remember that in the Letter to the Hebrews, the author spells out how Jesus is our brother: ‘Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.’ (Heb 2:17)

For Jesus, therefore, the family likeness for his brothers and sisters is to hear and do the word of the Father. But before we look at the passage, we first need to do a hearing test. At the end of verse 8, Jesus cries out ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ It’s almost like a sound check, making sure that people are listening, and are really hearing him – not just hearing the stories he tells, but actually listening and understanding.

For example, a few months ago I was in Italy with some friends from college. I could have sat in the cafes or town centres all day listening to the voices speaking Italian. But just because I was hearing the sounds didn’t mean that I was hearing the people – hearing and understanding.

This is precisely what Jesus is talking about when the disciples ask him to explain the parable (of the sower). ‘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.”’ (10)

When you listen to the teaching of Jesus, do you just hear the stories, or are you really hearing – hearing to understand the secrets of the kingdom? How is your hearing?

We see the importance of hearing in the parable of the sower (although perhaps it should be known as the parable of the soils). You’ve probably heard the parable before – the sower sows his seed, with it landing in various places, with the corresponding response.

Some people in the crowd may have thought that Jesus was talking about farming methods, as if he was from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. But there’s more going on here than just a story about a farmer. We get the hint in Jesus’ words in verse 8 – let him who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Notice, as Jesus explains the parable to his disciples, that the people represented by the four kinds of soil all heard the word – none can be excused for not knowing or hearing. Look with me at verses 12-15 – look at the repeated pattern in each verse of ‘those who hear (the word).’ All hear – that’s for sure. But not all do. Remember the family likeness we’re thinking of this morning – hearing and doing. It’s not enough to just hear the word of God – we also have to do it, obey it.

Otherwise, then the seed on the path would have been fine. But as we see, the seed, the word, is snatched away. (Notice that the devil will try to take the word away, to stop us from reading our Bibles – there are so many attractive alternatives!). The seed on rocky soil had immediate impact, but also immediate failing when the hard times came, because they weren’t building their life on the word. Or the seed among weeds, which began to flourish under the word, but then was choked by the cares and the riches and the pleasures of life. The Word wasn’t first priority for these people. It got crowded out. It’s easier just to watch TV in the evening rather than reading the bible. We would rather just read a novel or the newspaper, than spend time in our Bibles.

How’s your hearing today? Do you take the time to hear and understand? What about through the week? Do you immerse yourself in your Bible reading to hear God’s word? You could get involved in the fellowship groups when they begin again to share with others in learning and hearing and encourage one another to the doing of God’s word.

Yes, hearing the word of God is so very important. As if to underline that and put it in bold with flashing lights, Jesus says in verse 18 ‘Take care how you hear.’ And we need to take care how we hear, because it is reflected in our doing.

At first reading, it appears that verses 16-17 don’t seem to fit. It’s hard to see what Jesus is getting at. And yet, as we recall the twin themes of hearing and doing, it all makes sense.

Imagine, for a second, that there was a power cut, as there was at home yesterday. Everyone scrambles for the candles, trying to remember where they were left. But when you light them, you wouldn’t hide them down the back of the sofa. No, you would put them in the centre of the room, or up on a table so that everyone can see.

What Jesus is saying here is that when we hear the word, then we really have to do it – we have to obey. If we just hear the word and do nothing about it, then it’s like lighting a lamp and putting it away.

But more than that, if we have heard the good news of the word of God, then we need to pass it on. If we have been lit up by the gospel, then we should be shining so that others can see the light.

Think of Paul’s words to the Colossian Christians, reminding them of what God has done for them. ‘He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.’ (Col 1:13). So if we’re no longer in darkness, but in God’s marvellous light – ‘walk as children of light’ (Ephesians 5:8). Hearing God’s word should and must change us – as stark as moving from darkness to light. We’re called to live for God, to shine for him. I’m reminded of the old children’s hymn – ‘Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light.’

This is all the more so when we consider verse 17 – we’re to shine, to show God’s word in our doing, because there will come a day when all the secret things will be revealed, and brought to light. It appears that this refers to the secrets of the kingdom (10). While some people are blinded now, there will come a day when all will see Jesus for who he is – the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. But on that day it will be too late.

This is why Jesus tells us to take care how you hear. You see, some people read verse 18 and think that it’s all about possessions or money or wealth. 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.

But it’s all about hearing the word, and doing it! Here there are two types of people. First, there are those who have, and there are those who don’t have, but who think they do.

The first group are those who have the word of God. These are the people who hear the word, and obey it – like the good soil of the parable. They’re also the people who have heard the word, the light has been lit, and they shine, doing God’s word and telling others.

At the end, when the judgement comes, they will be rewarded with the promise of ‘more will be given.’ Those who delight in hearing and doing God’s word will be given more – they will spend eternity with Him, in close fellowship with Him. They are displaying the family likeness – becoming more like Jesus.

But the second group, well that’s a different story. These people may well have been good churchgoers. They maybe knew their memory verses off by heart at Sunday School. They could quote chapter and verse on any subject. They thought they had God’s word nailed.

But it turns out that they had not. Yes, they had heard the word, but they had done nothing about it. No obedience, just a building up of knowledge, a puffing up of pride. There’s no family likeness in them – they aren’t becoming more like Jesus, and in the end, on that day, even what they think they have is taken away from them.

Friends, this was me. I grew up through Sunday School and church. I was involved in Boys' Brigade, in the choir, and anything else that was going. At BB, I would always win the Scripture Cup. I knew my Bible. I knew about God. But here’s the thing – I didn’t know God. I thought I knew, but I wasn’t living in obedience and faith.

Thankfully the Lord saved me, and my life has been turned around. Hearing and doing God’s word is not easy – it’s so much easier to go with the flow with the world around us. But in the end, it doesn’t profit to go with the flow. Rather, we need to ‘hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.’

We’re called today to hear, to truly hear God’s word. But not just to hear, we’re also called to obey – to do it. Remember the words of James – ‘But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.’ (James 1:22).

Why not take a hearing test this afternoon. Take half an hour to pray, and consider how you hear God – and what you do about what you read in his word.

Jesus calls us to display the family likeness – just like my former church, which had the mission statement ‘more like Jesus’ – ‘my mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’

He who has ears, let him hear… Take care then how you hear.

1 comment :