Hearing Light and Seeing Sound
'Do you hear what I'm saying?' This is not simply a rhetorical question, it is a probe to discover the degree to which a person understands and agrees with what the speaker has been saying. More than the audible data of sound waves, this request seeks to validate agreement and approval.
We have all experienced the frustration of communication problems. We say something and, based on their answer or actions, it becomes clear that our audience - whether a person or a group - has not understood us. We have not communicated well.
When it comes to Scripture, God has communicated perfectly. The issue is not with God's communication, it is with our hearing. That's why Jesus emphasizes the importance of hearing three times in Luke chapter 8.
Hear, Oh Israel
The priority of hearing God's word is a central biblical them spanning the Old and New Testaments. Adam heard God, but insufficiently, because he doubted and disobeyed what God said. Abraham heard God's promise (Genesis 12:1-3) and obeyed. The command to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds is preceded by the Shama, the foundational statement of Old Testament theology:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Not only is this the classic affirmation of monotheism (belief in One God), it begins with the command to hear. As in human communication, biblical hearing is not simply processing auditory data; biblical hearing means to receive, believe, and obey God's word. Hearing God's word is the first, foundational step to experiencing all God has for us.
With all this as background, we come to two episodes in Jesus ministry - a teaching and an event - which highlight the importance of hearing.
The Word As Light
The Psalmist uses the metaphor of light to describe God's Word:
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105
Jesus picks up on this theme in Luke 8:16:
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.
For Jesus' audience - 1st century Jews in Galilee - this is a normal, every day event. After the sun goes down, the only way to have light in the house is with the use of an oil lamp. The purpose for lighting the lamp is to let the light fill the house so the house-dwellers can see.
To demonstrate his point, Jesus adds an absurd action that no one does - after lighting a lamp, people don't put it under a bed or under a jar. Why would someone light a lamp and then hide the light from the lamp?
We hide light if we don't want to see what it's supposed to show us. Jesus is describing a person who knows they are supposed to receive (hear) God's word, but they only let it in a little way - they try to control it, to domesticate it, to put in a corner of their lives, rather than letting it touch everything.
This is a different way of describing a 'this far and no more' approach to God's word, already described previously as 'rocky soil' Luke 8:13. The rocky soil had a thin layer of topsoil covering hard limestone. This kind of person has a temporary but superficial response to the Word of God. Jesus requires something deeper.
He connects the lamp and light in the house picture with the previous parable about the seed and soils by explaining the importance of hearing God's word:
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.
If we are faithful to believe and obey God's word, it's impact in our lives will grow. If we disbelieve, don't obey, or try to domesticate God's word, picking and choosing what we will believe and obey, then we'll end up losing even what we think we'll have.
The Word Marks Family
If my extended family showed up unannounced at church, I'd probably instruct an usher to bring them to the front. First, I can always count on the front row being vacant because Christians are generally allergic to sitting on the front row. Second, I'd invite them to the front simply because they're family!
But not Jesus. In Luke 8:19-21, Jesus uses the event of his family's visit to explain who he considers his real family: 'My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it'.
Pulling It All Together
Repetition in the Bible is God's way of saying, 'This is important!'. Notice what we have so far in Luke 8:
Luke 8:15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
Luke 8:18 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."
Luke 8:21 But he answered them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."
In three different ways, Jesus teaches us to hear God's word. What does it mean to hear God's Word?
- Receive the Word - listen to it.
- Believe the Word - trust God has spoken it
- Obey the Word - do it.
Jesus want us us to win - he wants us to flourish, to prosper, to be successful in his kingddom and in following him. Success with God begins by giving his word priority in our lives. Whatever else you do this week, receive, believe, and obey God's Word.