“Learning To Hear Jesus”
Easter 4A – May 7, 2017
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
How do you follow someone if you don’t recognize his voice, or respect his authority, or you’re too afraid to act? That’s a question many are asking themselves today in our country and in France. Part of the point of today’s Gospel lesson is that we follow Jesus because we recognize his voice and authority in our lives; and conversely, we would not follow someone else as our Savior because that voice would be as a stranger to us.
St. Peter becomes a case study in his struggle to follow Jesus. During the Last Supper both Matthew and Mark record Peter’s response to Jesus’ quoting the prophet Zechariah about ‘striking the shepherd and the sheep scattering’ (Zeph.13:7). Peter said,” Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” To that, Jesus responded that before the night was over Peter would disown Him three times (Mt.26:34). Then Peter declared: “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” Though meaning well, before the rooster crowed that night Peter denied three times even knowing Jesus; and of course, Jesus – full of grace and mercy – forgave Peter his sin and restored him to the position intended for him as “the rock upon which the church would be built” (Matthew 16:18). It took Peter awhile, and much hardship, to learn to cultivate hearing Jesus’ voice fully and clearly in his life.
Therefore, I think it wise that we listen when Peter talks to us about following Jesus. After the humiliation of his denials and restoration, Peter was a different man. His character had been changed by God’s action in his life to the point that he too was crucified for his faith in Jesus Christ – only upside down, because he did not consider himself worthy even of dying in the same position as his Lord.
My Dad used to quote his mother: “A leopard can’t change his spots”. The intent of the quote was to teach that people can’t change their basic personality: Bad tempered people tend to remain bad tempered; habitual liars tend to remain habitual liars, etc. But, Peter’s experience teaches that, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). God can change a person’s character, or old ingrained habits, or heal people of deep psychological wounds that have crippled their behavior in life.
Therefore, when Peter writes this morning about suffering for doing “good” and enduring it, I listen. In verse 21, he wrote: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” I think the whole idea of walking in Christ’s steps implies that we have cultivated the ability to listen to His voice in our lives. We’ve moved from casual disciple to one intent on hearing and doing the will of God in our lives. Author Priscilla Shirer wrote, “Recognizing God’s voice is not just a privilege given to a select few. It is the right of every believer.”
In Hebrews 12:2, it says that Jesus is the pioneer of our faith. Do you remember the old western movies that involved families riding in their Conestoga wagons from St. Louis to Oregon or California?
Leading the wagon train was the Trail Boss. He was a man who had already pioneered the trail across the Badlands and over the mountains, and now earned his living guiding wagon trains. Even as the early settlers had to listen to the Trail Boss if they wanted to avoid dying, so we need to listen to Jesus’ voice if we want a safe journey to heaven. Jesus loves us and wants to take care of us.
In verse 25, Peter says that
Jesus is “the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.”
Jesus has a vested interest in us. Peter put it this way in verse 24: Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.”
Our Gospel lesson contains a parable from Jesus in which He compares Heaven to a sheepfold. There is only one way in and God is the gatekeeper who opens the gate for the legitimate shepherd of the sheep – Jesus Christ. Jesus said the sheep – those that trust Him with their souls – listen to his voice and follow Him.
Then Jesus stated that He was the “gate for the sheep” (:7), and that “whoever enters through Him will be saved” (:9). Jesus is clear on this. It is a declaration that salvation is through Him. All others who claim to be able to save us are “thieves and robbers” (:8). Compared to Himself, Jesus makes clear that Satan’s agenda is to “steal, kill, and destroy”. Compared to one who wants to kill us, rob us of our heavenly heritage, and destroy our lives, Jesus says He “has come that we may have life, and have it abundantly” (:10). Acquiring abundant life requires that we cultivate the ability to listen to Jesus’ voice in our lives.
The 23rd Psalm says, The Lord Is Our Shepherd. David’s psalm comes from his experience as a shepherd. It is the imagery of sheep listening to, depending upon, being protected by their shepherd. It is vital for their survival that sheep learn to recognize the voice of their shepherd. Therefore, in the analogy that Jesus is our shepherd it is, likewise, vital that we learn to recognize his voice; and that requires a cultivating process in our lives. Our lesson from Acts gives us insight how St. Luke viewed cultivating the voice of Jesus. Luke offers a four-part
Guide To Devotion.
Luke wrote in verse 42: That the first Christians “… devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, and to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” These are the ways Luke offers us for cultivating the voice of Jesus in our own lives. The first part is
Apostolic Teaching. What do you think the original apostles taught about Jesus Messiah? The Nicene Creed teaches the apostolic faith. As we recite it each week, we should be learning what the historic Christian faith is about. Here are seven items I think the New Testament and the Nicene Creed clearly witnesses to:
- There is One God. There is only one creator and Jesus is the way to that God.
- All humans have sinned (Romans 3:9) We are on a level playing field – all have disobeyed God who is holy and without sin.
- God has a plan to redeem us. 2 Corinthians 5:19, says that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting [our] trespasses against [us], and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” Jesus is God’s plan! You may not like that – I didn’t at one point in my searching for God – but it is the truth.
- Jesus is God in human flesh (John 1:14). From the Nicene Creed: “…by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” Christianity makes claims about Jesus unlike the claims of any other religion. We are either bodacious liars or proclaimers of absolute truth.
- Jesus died for our sins, was resurrected, and ascended to heaven. From the Nicene Creed: “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” This is also bodacious, isn’t it?
- As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:3). Even as a baby has to leave the womb in order to be born into this world, If we aren’t born again we won’t be able to enter heaven.
- We are to be Jesus’ witnesses – learning from Him through the Holy Spirit and Scripture we then share our testimony of what He has done in our lives. We are Jesus’ witnesses that He is real (1:8).Today’s lesson from Acts, verse 44, reads: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”. Sharing our lives together; our joys and concerns, our trials and tribulations, our material wealth and needs is part of the goal of Koinonia. Through each other’s encouragement, testimonies, prayers, and the sharing of our lives with each other, we learn more about cultivating the voice of our Shepherd in our lives. The fourth devotional action we should undertake is Prayer. Prayer is defined many ways, but simply it is the action of talking and listening to God; and it is essential for cultivating the voice of Jesus in our own lives. Our model was Jesus Himself. His prayer life was rich, and ours needs to be also. Committing ourselves to studying the teaching of the church, participating in rich fellowship, regular spiritual feeding through the sacrament of Holy Communion, and Prayer are all ways of cultivating the voice of Christ in our daily lives.
We are sheep, and the world is full of dangers. To safely navigate our way through life; and to be the most healthy part of Christ’s body, the church, we can be requires that we cultivate the ability to hear the voice of Jesus, and the discipline and courage to obey it. How are you doing with Hearing Jesus?