Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hearing God's Word

For the longest time I have been intrigued by the question, what does it mean to hear from God? God willingly speaks to his children, yet there is no guarantee that I will hear him. If I do hear him, how can I be sure I will hear all he has in mind? How can I be sure I will understand Him? Hearing from God requires humility. When the unfathomable Creator of the universe speaks to a finite creature like me, I should approach his words with reverence.

Take the passage in Matthew 16: 13 – 28, for example. (Go ahead and take a moment to read it) Jesus had taken his disciples beyond the borders of Israel and asked them some penetrating questions. By the end of the conversation, God had spoken, but the effort to understand was just beginning. I’d like to suggest three key verses from this passage if we want to understand how God speaks.

Revelation: “Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (v 17) Some kinds of knowledge come only through revelation. Peter had been on the road with Jesus for some time. He had seen Jesus do incredible things, heard Jesus teach with authority, and even participated with Jesus in miraculous events. Even though Peter had such a wealth of experience, his knowledge of Jesus’ identity was revealed by to him God. I wonder how often I lean on my own understanding: there’s no doubt I can learn from my experiences or grow from the times God has used me in ministry. Some things, however—some very important things—must come from God. Let’s not be tempted by thinking, “well we have the Bible now, that’s how God speaks today.” Be careful! The religious leaders of Jesus’ day thought the same thing. Jesus had strong words for them, and if we have ears to hear, strong words for us as well: “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you'll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me!” (John 5:39 The Message) I’m grateful for the scripture but I need to keep in mind that the scripture points to God. It’s possible to read the Bible for an hour and never hear God’s voice.

Explanation: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (v 21) Revelation is not enough: we need help understanding what we have heard. Can you imagine the response of the disciples after Jesus confirmed he was the Messiah? Their excitement and anticipation must have filled them with expectation. The challenge before Jesus was directing their energy toward God’s intention instead of their own ideas about the coming of the Anointed One. In the century before Jesus several “Messiahs” had put themselves forward to the people of Israel. Even prominent rabbis had endorsed these Deliverers. Both Israel and Rome were on the watch for a new “King of the Jews.” The true King of Kings had a profoundly different sense of divine mission. How many times have I taken the revelation God has given me and run off with my own ideas about what comes next? And “what came next” was shocking to the disciples!

Decision: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” (v 24) Who knew that following the Christ would mean taking up the walk of a condemned man? The phrase “take up your cross” has been softened by the centuries. Many 21st century Christians consider any inconvenience to be “my cross to bear.” The men who heard Jesus that day in Caesarea Philippi knew exactly what “cross-talk” was all about. Our modern-day equivalent might be summed up in the phrase currently used on death row, “Dead man walking.” Jesus was trying to indicate not only the manner of his death, but their destiny as well. Having received revelation from God and explanation from Jesus, the disciples still had a decision to make. God had not spoken to them “FYI,” God had spoken in order to draw them into the action!

I have tried to imagine the roller coaster of emotions the disciples experienced in a matter of minutes: revelation concerning Jesus’ identity, explanation from Jesus himself regarding the true role of the Messiah, and chillingly, the realization that Jesus was calling them to follow him.

Whenever we hear the voice of God there is something more than revelation. He has a purpose when he speaks, and we must choose whether we will fill our ears or let his word fill our lives.

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