When I sought the Lord for His message this week, I got a simple one:
Don’t stop listening.
We seem to be in a pregnant pause. A sort of holding pattern. World events have been barreling along, fulfilling prophecy after prophecy. But since the ceasefire in Gaza, a kind of hush seems to have fallen. (From what I understand, I’m not the only follower of Bible prophecy saying this.)
If you come here to Five Stones and Sling often, you know I tend to blog around themes pulled from the Hebrew Calendar and the Feasts of the Lord. Well, guess what? With the four Spring feasts behind us and the Fall Feasts months away, we’re in a pregnant pause there too.
One way you can look at the Feasts is as a picture of the betrothal and marriage of our Heavenly Bridegroom and His bride. (If you’re not familiar with that beautiful picture, I put together a cheat sheet that lays it out here):
With the Spring feasts behind us, our Heavenly Betrothed has “gone to prepare a place for us” (John 14:2). So what should the Bride of Christ be doing?
Preparing. Consecrating ourselves. Putting together our wedding attire. “And it was given her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Rev 19:8) Not drifting off, like those infamous virgins of Matthew 25! All ten of them, both wise and foolish, slept! Or like the disciples at the Garden of Gethsemane. (Luke 22:39-46)
So don’t stop watching. Don’t stop preparing your soul. Don’t stop listening.
But here’s something I find interesting. It’s clear from scripture that, when it comes to God’s voice, not everyone has the same capacity to hear.
“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.” (John 12:27-29)
Have you ever wondered why some in the crowd heard a voice while others could only make out the sound of thunder?
Here’s something Yeshua said a lot. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” We see Him use the phrase sixteen times! (Three in Matthew, three in Mark, twice in Luke, and eight times in Revelation.) Both Mark and Luke indicate it was something He said regularly. (Luke 8:8 “As He said these things [parables], He would call out…”)
Maybe it’s important?
Luke gives us a glimmer of behind-the-scenes insight as to why Yeshua stressed this so much.
His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” (Luke 8:9-10)
Why was it “granted to” the disciples? Because they were with Jesus.
How do we partake of the same benefit?
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:14-16)
By partaking of the mind of Christ, which we get through the Holy Spirit who “teaches us all things” (John 14:26).
The passage in John 12 I started with makes me think about the way the voice of the Lord is often likened to something loud and inarticulate—thunder and/or a trumpet. For example, at the Rapture:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air… (1 Thess 4:15-17)
Here’s another example.
Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder [NOTE: בְקֽוֹל Lit, “a sound,” translated sound, cry, bleating, voice, etc.]. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. (Ex 19:18-20)
Then the Lord spoke the entirety of the Ten Commandments. But check out the people’s reaction:
All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” (Ex 20:18-19)
So as in the John passage, it seems at least one person (Moses) was able to hear the Lord’s entire message, while “all the people” were able to perceive only the inarticulate sound of the trumpet (shofar, in this case). Perhaps because they were afraid to hear directly from the Lord and stood at a distance. They preferred to get God’s word filtered through someone else.
Here’s another example, again related to the Rapture:
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet…. After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. (Rev 1:10, 4:1-2)
Both the Exodus 19-20 and Revelation 4 passages can be seen as depictions of the Rapture, with the Lord descending and/or calling the faithful one up to meet Him. When that trumpet-like voice calls me up, I want to be able to distinguish it, like John or like Moses, don’t you? Not just hear it as an inarticulate noise.
For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? (1 Cor 14:8)
You want to be part of Yeshua’s awesome army when He returns (Rev 19:14)? You’d better be able to discern the tone of His shofar!
Here’s what tweaks my heart. I look around and God’s message to this generation seems so very, very clear.
God is telling us: “Straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28) (My personal list of top four signs we’re in the last of the last days is here.)
I know that many of you hear Him, too, “like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me”! But to so many around us is it’s all just so much noise. Let’s not be dull of hearing, brothers and sisters!
In the passage from Luke 8 I quoted above, Yeshua referenced Isaiah 6, which is the passage in which Isaiah got his commission.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.’
“Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8-10)
How would you like that job description? Isaiah, you’ll bring My word to them, but they’ll ignore you and persist in their sin. They’ll fall under judgment in spite of everything you do or say.
Come to think of it, it sounds a bit like our Lord’s ministry, doesn’t it? Yeshua’s gracious invitation into the New Covenant would ultimately bring light and truth to billions, but it would also be rejected by the religious leaders of His day. The tragic result? Exactly what Yeshua told them would happen in Luke 21.
There will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:23-24)
This was perfectly fulfilled, starting within the lifetime of many who heard it. So the consequence of not having “ears to hear” can be grave. Let’s avoid it at all cost!
Ephesians 4:30 tells us that we should not grieve the Spirit. We grieve the Spirit by living like the pagans (4:17-19), by lying (4:25), by being angry (4:26-27), by stealing (4:28), by cursing (4:29), by being bitter (4:31), by being unforgiving (4:32), and by being sexually immoral (5:3-5).
Examining passages where “ears to hear” occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures adds a few more places where a casual attitude can put us at risk of becoming hard of hearing.
To whom shall I speak and give warning
That they may hear?
Behold, their ears are closed
And they cannot listen.
Behold, the word of the Lord has become a reproach to them;
They have no delight in it. (Jer 6:10)
Neglecting God’s word is certainly one way to ensure we miss the signs of the times! Here’s what the first-century church looked like shortly after experiencing the full power of the Holy Spirit:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. (Acts 2:42-43)
How do we hear the apostles’ teaching today? In our Bible. It’s been the experience of countless Christians that studying God’s word is the primary vehicle by which the Holy Spirit speaks to them.
Yet a recent LifeWay Research study found that only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending are reading their Bibles occasionally—maybe once or twice a month, if at all. In fact, 18 percent of attenders say they never read the Bible. – Ed Stetzer, Dumb and Dumber: How Biblical Illiteracy Is Killing Our Nation
Such Christians aren’t looking for the Holy Spirit to “teach them all things.” They’re looking for the guy at the podium up front to teach them all things. Like the crowd at Sinai, who preferred to hear God’s word filtered through someone else. And given that retention from lectures is typically low, many of the people in the pews are probably learning most of their doctrine from the worship pastor.
I’m going to guess that if you’ve read this far, you’re not in that crowd who’s not in the Word. But if you know someone who needs to be challenged in this area, or you want to spend more meaningful time in God’s word yourself, Ed Stetzer’s article has some suggestions pulled from his research. Three that resonated for me:
I know from my own experience that having a reading plan to keep up with is a big incentive to stay in the word. But don’t set yourself up to fail! Pick one you have a shot at staying with so you don’t get behind and discouraged and quit. If you’re not reading the Bible now, a “through the Bible in a year” plan might well be too much to embark on. (I follow the Torah portions at Hebrew4Christians.com, which include weekly readings from the prophets and the New Testament as well. I’m also reading through the New Testament chronologically, following a plan I access at Biblegateway.com. That site offers about twenty different plans you can follow.)
And as for a small group, doesn’t that look a lot more like the Acts 2 experience than a typical Sunday morning service does? It also offers us chances to teach each other, thereby hitting another item on Ed Stetzer’s list.
Looking at Isaiah 6 again (which has always been a favorite passage of mine), notice that Isaiah couldn’t even hear the voice of the Lord until he recognized his sin and it was dealt with:
Then I said,
“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send…” (Is 6:5-8)
Brothers and sisters, that trumpet-like voice will call us up! Soon and very soon. Don’t stop listening!
Don’t get caught in the dark, with your sin on your lips, without your bridal attire, with a lamp with no oil (always a symbol of the Holy Spirit).
If you’ve never opened God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus (Rom 3:23, 6:23), that’s the first step. Please please please be persuaded to do it now. It’s simple. Just tell God from your heart that you admit you’re a sinner that needs a Savior (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23) that you’re done running your own life, and that you’re ready to make Jesus Lord of your life.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom 10:9-11)
The decision that saves you is that simple!
Simple… But no one said living it out will be easy. Especially now.