Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Let the Bible Speak: Being Deaf

Do you remember those hearing tests you took in school? You would sit in a room with headphones on and listen for that “PING” sound. I remember working about as hard as I could to hear that sound. I concentrated. I focused. I sweat. If anyone was ever going to pass that test on sheer effort alone, it was going to be me. I had visions of going down in school history as the most audibly-gifted student to ever walk those hallowed halls of Hiddenite Elementary. Other students would reverently utter my name as legends grew of my amazing hearing ability. I listened “hard.” But is that even possible? Either you hear or you don’t. And that is the point of this post.

Just as the Bible lists several instances of people suffering from an inability to perceive sights, the Word also lists instances of people with a physical inability to hear. On the other hand, just as the Bible also paints the picture of men blind to the spiritual world, we read of men who are deaf to the spiritual world.

It is this understanding that leads to Jesus repeatedly beginning his sayings with this unusual introduction: “He who has ears, let him hear.” This is nonsense if Jesus is talking about physical hearing. Have you ever met someone who had no ears? It may happen to a very few people and I don’t mean to mock these unfortunate souls. I simply have never seen such a person. The presence of an odd-shaped fold of skin-covered cartilage on the side of your noggin is normal. Therefore, Jesus had to have meant something beyond hearing and decoding the sound waves vibrating out of his voice box.

It is in John’s gospel that this aspect of hearing is truly explained. In John 7, Jesus is in Jerusalem during the Feasts of Booths. In the Temple courts, the Jews had elaborate ceremonies to light gigantic menorahs (over 75 feet tall) with other very dramatic water-pouring ceremonies throughout this holy festival. It is during this festival that Jesus very boldly makes two incredible statements. First we read that “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’” (John 7:37). Later, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

The Jewish leaders knew exactly what He was saying because they got into a protracted argument with Jesus. Jesus is not always so meek and mild – He pulled no punches. He told them that they would die in their sins (8:21); that they were slaves (8:32) ' that they were liars (8:55); and that their father was the devil (8:44)! WOW!

Jesus then lowers the boom and tells them the very reason why they are so dense and unable to understand His simple words in 8:43-47:

43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. . . . 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 . . . If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
AMAZING! Did you get it? If not, Jesus repeats the lesson just two chapters later.

In John 9, Jesus gives a man his physical sight. The Jewish leaders did not like this because Jesus dared to heal on the Sabbath (9:14-16). They threatened this man and his parents with excommunication (9:22). They eventually carried through with their threat (9:34).

Jesus heard of their act and told the Pharisees that they were the blind ones. They disagreed and Jesus began another long discourse – this time on shepherds and sheep. Jesus claimed to be the shepherd (10:11) and said that “the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:3). Of course, everyone acknowledges that these “sheep” are true believers – Christians. John tells us in verse six that : “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

Jesus goes on to explain that it is for these sheep that He came to die, saying, “I know my own and my own know me. . . . . I lay down my life for the sheep” (10:14-15). This is a topic for another time but please let that statement sink in!

Then Jesus says some words that are very pleasing to all us Gentiles: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (10:16). This must have infuriated these ethno-centric Jewish leaders.

In verse 24, we read that “the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’” This prompted Jesus to basically repeat what He had said in chapter eight.

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Just as before, Jesus told them that the reason they fail to understand Him is because they were not believers (sheep). To hear and understand the things of the Spirit, you must be a believer. That does not seem to make much sense but it comes from the mouth of ouromniscient perfect Savior.

Somehow, in the modern church, we have rejected Jesus’ words and replaced them with our own understanding. In our arrogance, we have “improved” on Jesus’ understanding of our state. If a modern-day preacher would have the same conversation today, several things would change.

First of all, I don’t think we would say such harsh things to the people to whome we are trying to witness. For some reason, calling someone a liar and telling them they are a “child of the devil” doesn’t get you far in a conversation. I guess Jesus can get away with it – he knew their hearts. We don’t.

Second, and more importantly, the modern evangelist would take Jesus’ words in verse 8:47 and 10:26 and change them to this: “The reason you are not of God is because you have not yet understood. The reason you are not a “sheep” is because you do not believe.”

I can not say this strongly enough: That is NOT what Jesus said.

Read it again. The reason some in Jesus' audience did not believe is because they were not of God. The reason some in Jesus' audience did not believe is because they were not sheep. This is hard to understand in our modern way of thinking but you have to be “of God/a sheep” before you can “hear/understand/believe.” Of these sheep, Jesus says “I know them” (10:27). Of everyone else, Jesus says “I never knew you” (Matt 7:23).

What about in the early church? In Acts, Paul and Barnabas preach and “the whole city gathered to hear them” (Acts 13:44). However, we read later that “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (13:48). No more, no less. All heard, some believed.

In Acts 28, Paul was in Rome. He preached, some believed, some didn’t. Why? Paul gives the same reason Jesus did by quoting (once again) Isaiah 6:10.

You might say, “What about Romans 10:17?” Good question. That verse says “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” But this verse and those around it really says the same thing when you break it down. Just go backwards through it. The Word is preached and people “hear” and believe or they don’t “hear” and don’t believe. Nothing has changed.


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