Hearing Voices

a79ed-listeningJohn 10:22-30
10:22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 10:23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
10:25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me;
10:26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 10:27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 10:29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 10:30 The Father and I are one.”

 As a Pastor I often wonder how my messages are heard by the congregation. Comments made by church members make me realize that they hear something different than what I am preaching. A scripture, phrase or a single word can give the message and entirely different meaning to an individual than its original intention. I can often look out at my people (Yes I can see you!) and spot some nodding their head in approval while other may scowl at what I just said. Some seem confused, bored or preoccupied with other things. (I told you I can see you!) Thus I can understand the frustration Jesus must have felt when people mistrusted what he was saying while others experience an epiphany.
In John 10: 22-30, Jesus was at the Temple in Jerusalem, during the Feast of Dedication, which observes the re-establishment of the temple after the Jewish revolt against Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes (an-tie-0h-kuhs  E pip a na us) in 164 BC. Under Epiphanes the temple had been converted to worship Greek gods and Jewish devotion had been banned. A revolt led by Judas Maccabeus (Mac a be us) re-established the temple for Jewish religious observance and suppressed a movement to ‘Hellenize” or convert Judaism to Greek theology. Thus the festival of Dedication commemorates the successful defense against radical changes in the Jewish faith. Today the feast is celebrated in December as Hanukkah.
The people gathered on Solomon’s Portico where devout Jews who had come to commemorate the re-establishment of their faith. As God’s chosen people they sought to defend the faith which had been their identity and strength since the time of Abram. These Hebrews wanted to protect their religions from heretics and radicals who would fundamentally alter what they believed.
Jesus spoke of ideas and concepts that didn’t fit with the traditional thinking of the times. To the worshippers his voice brought disruption and uncertainty rather than stability and continuity with the old ways. Though Jesus’ words and deeds spoke clearly enough, many heard them as threats.  Their reaction to Jesus may have been similar to Christians when they hear “Holiday tree” instead of “Christmas tree”.
              This young Rabbi was being proclaimed as the Messiah and the Jewish worshippers challenge this claim. “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”[1] Modern Christians are not that much different from those who demanded proof from Jesus. Many want the Bible to reaffirmed and support age old beliefs that tie us to a secure foundational history. It is deemed that the word of God is rigid and cannot be amended. Many cling to that bumper sticker mindset which says, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it”.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” [2] To traditionalist this reassured them that Jesus would preserve the ancient laws, or at least the ones they approved of. What Jesus actually meant was the laws would be renewed and applied in a new way. They would be used to further the work of the Holy Spirit in a new age of transformation. Our growth toward sanctification, to be like Christ, is a process and laws are revised and adjusted to accommodate our understanding of God’s purpose. The Bible helps us to grow and mature, not anchor us to inflexible principles and doctrines.
And that is what the word of God is; transformational. Everything He has done is meant to bring the world from darkness to light, from evil to good, from lost to found. Traditionalist feel that it is the world which needs to be transformed in accordance to their interpretation of the Bible. By preserving what was written in the scriptures, the world could be altered to the state of Grace that existed in Eden. People today expect a god who will change the world around them.
It is for us, God’s children, to be transformed, not the world. We can be irrevocable changed by the sound of Jesus’ voice. The followers Jesus spoke about could hear his voice because they had open their minds and hearts to new ideas, new concepts and new hopes. They were being given new life in the world and the world to come. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”[3]  Jesus calls out to his sheep. Those who seek to be changed will hear him and have hope. Those who cling to an entrenched code of belief will misunderstand what he has said and be suspicious.
Others see the Bible as a set of instructions that will lead them to a state of grace or nirvana. Simply follow the directions and the world will be altered according to God’s plans. The acronym B.I.B.L.E. stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Initially this seems a direct and simple explanation of the Bible purpose, a how-to guide for living and managing human society.
The problem with this way of thinking is that the focus is on the medium or symbol that represents God, not on God himself. The Bible, the lamb, the dove, the church each represents God, Christ or the Holy Spirit but they are not the source of grace. Only God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is the source of grace.  When Jesus declared that “The Father and I are one.”[4] He was saying that those who heard his voice were focused on the only source of truth, not on its symbols or icons. This doesn’t imply that the bible isn’t sacred. It is a doorway into the heart of God, a means by which God can transform and sanctify His flock. These symbols of faith bring us closer to God, to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but they are not the triune God.
The Bible is not a set of instructions by which we paint by numbers and create a crude facsimile of a masterwork. It is a narrative telling the story of God and His people. There are lessons to be learned and knowledge that guide us in our journey. But as in life itself we learn from the stories of the Bible. We are tempered and strengthened from the wounds and injuries we receive, from the lingering scars and pains we live with, from the joyous moments and the loving memories they leave in our hearts. We grow because we experience life and that guides us to the next step in our journey. The Bible is a journal that reminds us what we have experienced and prepares us for what lies in the future. It is a great masterpiece which reveals truth, knowledge and hope.
People who listen or hear the word of God experience the word differently. Some are changed by what they hear while others reaffirmed existing ideas. Still other completely misunderstand the message and either reject or contort the meaning. We all hear differently and our response is determined by what we hear. That’s why as a Pastor I wonder what my congregation is hearing and what their response will be. Fortunately the effect of God’s word can be measured. People are either transformed and bear fruit or they experience no change and bear no fruit.
 The words Jesus spoke to that angry crowd on Solomon’s Porch might be better understood by words he spoke to another crowd on the shores of Galilee. He described those who heard him as his sheep who would come to the sound of his voice. He also knew that they would respond not by clinging to him for protection, but by going forth as sowers, spreading the seed of the Father’s love onto fertile soil. “Behold, a sower went out to sow And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”[5]

[1] John 10:24 NKJV
[2] Matthew 5:17 NKJV
[3] John 10:28 NKJV
[4] John 10:30 NKJV
[5] Matthew 13:3-9 NKJV

[1] John 10:24 NKJV

[2] Matthew 5:17 NKJV
[3] John 10:28 NKJV
[4] John 10:30 NKJV
[5] Matthew 13:3-9 NKJV

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