Have Bigger Hearing (9/24/2017)

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We live in a chaotic world. Our schedules are packed with working, taking care of our homes, family responsibilities and, when we have time, fun activities. On top of this, many of us are addicted to noise. Either the television, radio or smart phone has to be pumping out some type of stimuli at all times. When our lives are so busy, can we recognize and then hear the voice of God when he speaks to us?

Jesus says it’s extremely important for us to be able to do this.

In John 9, Jesus gives sight to a man who had been blind since birth. The Pharisees didn’t like this since Jesus healed him on the Sabbath. According to their understanding of the Old Testament law, Jesus couldn’t have been sent by God because healing someone was considered to be work. God forbad working on the Sabbath.

Later Jesus confronted the Pharisees about their spiritual blindness by referencing the well-known occupation of sheepherding. Sheep farming in 1st Century Palestine was much different than it is today in the United States. A shepherd stayed with his flocks around the clock. In the evening, he led them to the sheep pen. It was typically an enclosure made of stones or thorny branches with an opening in one wall. After the sheep entered the pen, the shepherd slept in the opening to act as a gate. This kept the sheep in and predators out.

When morning arrived, he led the sheep out of the pen so they could get water and graze in the pasture. He stayed with them throughout the day to protect them and to keep them from wandering off. Once one pasture was eaten down, he led them to a greener one.

It was common for several shepherds to meet during the day and allow their flocks to graze together. After all, this could be a lonely job. When it was time to return to the sheep pen, the shepherds would call out to their sheep. The sheep knew the voice of their own shepherd so they would separate and each one went with her own master.

Shepherds had the best interest of their sheep in mind. They were willing to lay down their lives to protect the sheep. Jesus knew the Pharisees understood all of this when he spoke with them.

           In John 10:1-21, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

19 The Jews who heard these words were again divided. 20 Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”

21 But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Jesus tried to get the Pharisees to see his true identity. He wasn’t a thief who came to steal, kill and destroy them. He wasn’t a hired hand who would desert them when danger came along. Jesus was and still is the Good Shepherd who offers life, protection, blessings and guidance to his flock. That’s why he healed the blind man on the Sabbath.

The main problem was the Pharisees couldn’t see who Jesus really was. He didn’t fit their image of the Messiah. Since he wasn’t their shepherd, they wouldn’t listen to his voice.

Is Jesus our shepherd? If he is, are we listening to his voice when he calls us? Before we can answer these questions, we need to make sure we know how Jesus speaks to us.

The most obvious way he speaks to us is through the Bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are full of Jesus’ teachings and commands. Modern Bibles make it very easy to find them. They’ve printed all of Jesus’ words in the color red.

There’s another way Jesus speaks to us. John 14:26-27 says, 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

The Holy Spirit teaches us the things of God and reminds us of the words Jesus spoke while he was on the earth. This is why it’s important we read the Bible. How can the Holy Spirit remind of words that aren’t in us? It’s also vital to listen to the Holy Spirit when he speaks to us. He’s teaching us the things God wants us to learn.

Last week, I shared several passages where Jesus tells us to lose our lives for his sake and to be his disciples. We aren’t automatically disciples just because we attend worship or Bible studies at the congregational facilities.

According to the 1st Century context in which Jesus gave these commands, he expects his disciples to do at least five things:

1) To memorize his words.

2) To learn his traditions and interpretations.

3) To imitate his actions.

4) To raise up other disciples.

5) To submit completely to his will.

I left you with a challenge to not only be regular church goers but to become dedicated disciples. Some of us are wrestling with doing this. As we do, we have to deal with the fear and uncertainty that arises within us as we think about dying to ourselves and living a life completely dedicated to Jesus. We don’t know what Jesus is going to ask us to do. If we’re not careful, our fear of the unknown will become stronger than our faith in Jesus and we’ll talk ourselves out of it.

There’s another thing we need to realize about following Jesus. Being a dedicated disciple isn’t just about giving up the things God calls us to leave behind. It’s also about being blessed beyond our wildest dreams. Right after Jesus said the Holy Spirit would teach us all things and remind us of his teachings, he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

What does this peace look like in real life? Acts 12:1-6 gives us one example. “It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread.

After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.”

Based on what happened to James, the odds are good that without God’s intervention, Peter would have been found guilty and executed with a sword. What was Peter’s reaction the night before his trial? He went to sleep.

If you knew you faced being executed tomorrow, would you sleep tonight? Probably not.

Peter was a committed disciple of Jesus. He gave up a lot to follow Jesus. Jesus blessed him with supernatural peace in the face of one of the greatest trials of his life.

If you’re afraid to commit yourself to Jesus as a disciple, let me ask you a question. Are the things you’re afraid Jesus will ask you to leave behind bringing you true peace right now? Probably not. Our worldly possessions and our sin don’t bring it into our lives.

What would happen if we tried things Jesus’ way instead of hanging on to our own way?

Last week, I didn’t say was no one in this congregation was a disciple. I said that attending church, even for a lifetime, doesn’t automatically make us disciples. If you consider yourself to be a disciple, are you a dedicated disciple of Jesus? Is he really welcome in every area of your heart and life?

I’m inviting every one of us to a gathering at Snake Spring Valley Church on Sunday, October 8, at 7 PM to discuss “What would it look like to be sold out to Jesus and be a dedicated disciple?”

As you pray about this, please know I don’t want to coerce or guilt anyone into coming to this. Going back to Jesus’ teaching about the sheep pen, I’m the hired help. I don’t plan on running away when things get difficult or dangerous but I can’t grant you eternal life, protection, blessings or supernatural guidance and peace. I’m just your pastor. Don’t listen to my voice.

Listen to Jesus’ voice as he speaks to you. What is he telling you to do as you read his words in the Bible and listen to the Holy Spirt? Is there a conviction or a “gut-feeling” that some things aren’t right in your relationship with Jesus?

Block out the noise around you and listen to him.