The Lord's Day Morning
November 15, 2009
“Have You Heard the Word?”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 8. We’re going to be looking at the first few verses of this chapter and you may want to sneak a peek back to the last few verses of chapter 7 because something that happens in verses 2, or 2 and 3, in Luke chapter 8, or something that is described in Luke 8, 2 and 3, relates to the story of the woman, the immoral woman, the prostitute that we met last week that had come to thank Jesus for changing her life and who had been so moved by seeing the Savior of her soul that she had begun to weep.
And then she looked down and noticed that her tears were falling on His feet as He was reclined at the table. And she knelt down and she anointed His feet with expensive perfume and ointment and began to dry His feet with her hair. It's a deeply moving scene as she expressed gratitude to Jesus Christ for His changing of her life and it feeds into what is described in Luke 8, verse 2 and 3.
As we read this passage today I do want you to be on the lookout for two parts in the passage. Verses 1 to 3 describe what Jesus was doing and preaching in His itinerant ministry amongst the cities and towns and verses 2 and 3 in particular in that section describe who was with Him as He was doing this. I want you to notice this because it's important. There's a lesson in it for us. And then the other part of this chapter, or this passage, is from verse 4 down to verse 15. This is a parable that Jesus tells. It's a parable about hearing the Word of God and about responding to the Word of God and about what truly hearing the Word of God means for our response to the Word of God.
Let's pray before we read and hear God's Word read.
Our Heavenly Father, only the Spirit can open our eyes to see our sin and see our need and only the Spirit can enable us to say that Jesus is Lord and Savior. And so as we read Your Word today, as we mark it, as we learn it, as we seek to understand it and inwardly digest it, we come consciously depending upon Your Holy Spirit to open our eyes that we might behold wonderful truth in Your Word. Do this we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Soon afterward He went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to Him, He said in a parable: ‘A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.’ As He said these things, He called out, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’
And when His disciples asked Him what this parable meant, He said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the Word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the Word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the Word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 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.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
I want to ask you two questions this morning. The first is this: How has the Gospel changed the way that you treat people? How has God's undeserved grace and mercy to you changed the way you treat people, especially people who are not like you, people who are different from you, people that don't run in the circles that you run in, people that don't share the normal social commonalities that you possess and share with your friends? How do you treat people and how has the Gospel changed the way that you treat people? I'm going to suggest that one of the things that we learn not only from the story we studied last week at the end of Luke 7, but just from the description that we have in Luke 8, verses 2 and 3, teaches us something about how the Gospel ought to change the way we treat people.
But the second question is this: How do you hear the Word of God? Do you hear the Word of God? If so, how do you hear the Word of God? Do you hear it in such a way that it bears fruit in your life, or are the words of the preacher like the words of Charlie Brown's teacher on your ears — Waa, waa, waa, waa, waa? Does it fall on deaf ears or was there a time where you responded to it with joy, but that was long ago — it was long ago since you knew joy in responding to the Word of God.
Or was there a day that you responded to it, and you embraced it, you thought with all your heart, but now the distractions and cares and frankly the goals and ambitions and desires and pleasures of this life have changed all that and you don't receive it with joy anymore? How do you hear the Word of God? It's those two questions that I want to concentrate on with you today.
1. How has the Gospel changed the way that you treat people?
There's so many other things in this passage that I'm tempted to concentrate on. Just the description alone of Jesus’ explanation to His disciples in verse 9 and 10 about why He taught in parables — doesn't that tempt you? Wouldn't you love to wrestle with that for thirty of so minutes? Or the parable of the sower itself – I'm sure many pastors have preached four sermons looking at each of the kinds of responses to the Word of God told in Jesus’ parable of the sower. But I want to zero in on verses 1 to 3 and then the big picture of verses 4 to 15 with you this morning.
Now Jesus, in verse 1 we're told, is going from village to village and Luke uses a very important phrase. What's He doing? “He is proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.” Now Luke uses that phrase four times — three times in the gospel of Luke, one time in the book of Acts — and he means something very specific by it. Do you remember the passage Jeremy just read in Isaiah chapter 60? Well you rightly understood that the prophecy of Isaiah in Isaiah 60 is not going to be fulfilled completely until the day that we are in the land where there is no sun and moon but the Lord Himself is our sun and our moon and our light. Those words from the end of the book of Revelation come right out of Isaiah 60. But Jesus is telling the people of God, as He proclaims God's kingdom, the good news of God's kingdom, that the King who is going to bring that prophecy to pass is here.
Now this is staggering because the people of Israel are expected a king, a descendant of David, who's going to get rid of the Romans. In their minds, the big problem is Roman occupation and inattentiveness to God's commands in Moses’ ceremonial law. So finally, the king is going to sit on the throne again, he's going to get rid of the Romans, and God's people are going to start obeying Moses’ ceremonial laws again like they’re supposed to.
And Jesus comes and He says, “Good news, God's kingdom has arrived. The King is here but it's not like you were expecting. This King recognizes your real enemy isn't Rome; it's your sin. And this King is going to deal with your sin, not by expelling the Romans, but by dying for you on the cross and being buried and being raised again so that you can have new life and communion with God. And the righteousness that this King is going to give you is not ceremonial righteousness where you’re wearing the right clothes, obeying the right rituals, eating the right foods. The righteousness you’re going to get from this King is going to be total, inside out transformation, so that you are once again the image of God that God intended you to be.”
So He's proclaiming a message that is absolutely breathtaking in its radicalness. And He's saying that “I'm the King that's here to bring about the purposes of God's kingdom and I'm going to establish righteousness among God's people and I'm going to change your lives and it's going to have absolutely nothing to do with running the Romans off. It doesn't matter whether they’re here or not. God's kingdom is going to be established.”
And as He's going around preaching this message, it's so interesting — who's with Him? Well, the Twelve are with Him. You remember Jesus had a larger circle of about seventy two disciples that followed Him and this is the inner circle of Twelve. Within the Twelve there were three that were particularly close to Him. But the Twelve are with Him. They’re going with Him city to city. But along with the Twelve, who else is with Him? “And also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager” – so the Gospel has even gotten into the very courts of the wicked king Herod now — “and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” These women had been so deeply affected by Jesus’ ministry, their lives had been so profoundly transformed by Jesus’ ministry that they were actually supporting Jesus and His disciples out of their own substance and means and they were travelling with Him.
Now you understand how scandalous that would have been. Adult co-education was not the order of the day in Jesus’ time. And to have women following Jesus around with men, no doubt tongues were wagging. But is it surprising to you at all that these women would have had this response to Jesus? Let's go back to Luke 7. Here is a woman who is a prostitute. Everyone in her town knows that she is immoral. And she had come in to express her gratitude to Jesus for changing her life and she weeps on His feet and she anoints Him with perfume and ointment and dries His feet with her hair. Now can you imagine, my friends, the shock if that happened today? Let's say that Derek had led a woman to faith in Christ and one of our deacons had thrown a block party. And Derek was at our deacon's dinner table and suddenly this woman who's known in town as a woman who shares her favors shows up at the dinner table and takes off his shoes – let's hope Rosemary's not around – and begins to weep on his feet and anoint him with oil and dry his feet with her hair. Everyone in the room is going to be shocked. And indeed Simon the host was shocked. And everybody in the room begins to judge Jesus — “If He was really a prophet and knew what kind of a woman this is, He wouldn't let her touch Him.”
Do you see what Jesus is doing? This may well have been the first time ever, or at least the first time in years, that this woman had ever touched a man who respected her and loved her and cared for her and wasn't interested in using her for his own pleasure. And Jesus, with absolute purity of heart, allows it. Even though everyone else in the room is looking at Jesus and saying, “Well You’re no better than she is if You’re going to let her touch You.” Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is treating this woman who is so despised and so spurned and so condescended to and so cast out from and so excluded from her community and her society, this woman who has come to faith in Him, He's treating her with dignity. Maybe for the first time in her adult life she's felt a man treat her with respect and dignity. It is no wonder that that woman did not care with anybody else in that room thought of her because she had finally been treated with dignity, with love, with genuine care and concern. She wasn't being used, she was being cared for.
And look at the other women who are following Him. These are women, one from whom Jesus had cast out demons. What do you think her community thought of her? Some who were infirm — we don't know how. Were they blind? Were they lame? Were they deaf? Were they mute? I don't know, but they were infirm like the other people in the gospel that Jesus healed from their infirmities. These women had been treated with regard and love and kindness and respect. They had been shown dignity by Jesus. No wonder they were following Him around.
I didn't get to read it to you last week, but it's so appropriate for this passage as well. It's a letter from a woman who is part of a mission team working in the Middle East primarily amongst Muslims, but she gets to watch all the religions in all the cultures and how they relate to women. And this is what she says especially about the passage in Luke 7 —
“The point that really struck me about Jesus’ response to the woman was its complete departure from what was socially acceptable. I'm not sure if one can really begin to grasp how shocking it was unless one has spent enough time in the Middle East for its attitudes to start melding with his own. The worst sin a woman can commit here is to lose or to appear to have lost her virginity outside of marriage. The most important asset she has as a woman is her reputation. The whole honor of the family hangs on the reputation of its women. If a woman has nothing but her reputation, as a chaste woman, she always has a chance to succeed. If she has everything but her reputation, she is lost before she begins. And in some parts of the Arab world, all it takes for a woman to lose her reputation is to be seen speaking to a man who is not a relative. If a man, particularly a religious man, is known to have even spoken with such a lost woman, his reputation will follow hers right down the drain. It is a hard system and it crosses religious lines. No consider that same system but take it back 2,000 years to a less forgiving time. Then think about Jesus’ encounter with this sinful woman. Shocking, isn't it?”
Yes it is and here's what's going on — Jesus knows everybody in the room is looking at Him and they are thinking about Him in the same sort of way that they’re thinking of that woman. And you know what? He doesn't care. He cares for her soul and He doesn't care what people think of Him in His caring of her soul. Now understand that Jesus is pristine in His purity in the way He deals with this woman. This is not some sort of sensual thing going on here. But Jesus knows just by letting her touch Him that His reputation is going down the drain with hers and He doesn't care. No wonder she loves Him. No wonder she loves Him. She's never been treated this way by a man. And think of how these other women had been treated and He treats them the same way. No wonder these women were following Jesus. It's not surprising at all.
And I want to ask you this — Has God's gracious dealing with you changed the way you treat people that others look down on and despise? Do you show them the same kind of love that your Savior has shown you? Because you know what, you and I are sinners, and for Jesus to sidle up next to us, well very frankly it costs Him His reputation because we're not good and we're not pure but He does it anyway because He loves us. And shouldn't that make us loving towards those who are despised and looked down upon and cast off? Christianity has always reached out with the Gospel to those that everyone else has discarded. Is that the characteristic of our congregation that we reach out with the Gospel and with love and show dignity to the people that everybody else has discarded? Or is our love shown only to those who are just like us? That's the first question I want to ask you.
II. How do you hear the Word of God?
The second question is this — How do you hear the Word? How do you hear the Word? Jesus makes it clear in this passage that hearing the Word is not just a matter of plopping down in the seat in the sanctuary and listening. Jesus’ point in this passage is that Satan himself has a real interest in your not listening to the Word of God. Jesus is indicating that for you to hear the Word of God, actually is to engage in a spiritual battle because Satan does not want you to hear the Word of God. Satan, if you’ll remember in this parable, Jesus Himself says, is active in trying to keep people from hearing the Word of God. In some people, he distracts them immediately so that the Word never ever takes root. In others, there's an initial response of joy, but then in all too brief a time, it's gone. And still in others there is a response to the truth, but what happens? The cares and the riches and the pleasures of this world choke the Word.
What's happening there? You are caring more about the things of this life than you care about your eternal well-being. Can you imagine that – caring more about the things that will pass away than your eternal well-being? And Jesus is saying Satan is behind that. It happens all the time. It happens all the time. So when you come to hear the Word of God there is a battle going on. Satan is not wanting you to see your sin.
Why did that woman who anointed Jesus’ feet and why did these women in verse 2 and 3 follow Jesus? Because they saw their sin and they saw their need and they saw that Jesus had met it. And so what does Satan want to make sure you don't do so that you don't hear the Word? He doesn't want you to see your sin. He wants you to come in and listen to a sermon and think about everybody else's sins. “Boy, they sure did need to hear that message!”
I can remember it now. It reverberates in my brain with absolute horror. Rodney Stortz had just preached a powerful message to our congregation in St. Louis at the Covenant Presbyterian Church. Liz Stortz was in the choir with me. I said to Liz, “Boy did they need to hear that message!” And she looked at me with terror in her eyes and I realized when I said it, “Opps, can I get that back in?” Have you ever thought it? “Boy did they need to hear that message!” That's what Satan wants us to do. Or he wants us to be so caught up with the burdens and the cares and the distractions of our lives that we don't think about our everlasting wellbeing. He wants us to value stuff that will die, value stuff that we can't take with us, think about things that don't matter more than we think about our eternal wellbeing.
So you understand that every time you sit down in a pew of this sanctuary a spiritual battle is going on. Will you hear the Word of God? That's why you can't just come here and plop down. You've got to come here and you've got to have prepared with prayer — “Lord God, come and speak to me. I need this Word.”
It's not that you’re coming here because we preach better than other folks. I love what Spurgeon said that about. He said, “Mr. Whitfield and Mr. Wesley may preach the Gospel better than I do, but they can't preach a better Gospel.” So you may be able to go other places where they preach the Gospel better than we do, but they can't preach a better Gospel. But do you come here knowing that you need it more than you need food. That it's the thing you need in your life?
How are you hearing the Word of God? Jesus says that those who hear the Word of God right, they are ones who recognize that what is being spoken to them in the Gospel of the kingdom in the Word of God is more precious than anything this world can give them. And it will always transform their lives because they will value it more than they value anything else in this world.
So how are you hearing the Word of God? Is it changing your life? Is it shown in the way you treat others? Is it shown in the fruit that's being born in your experience — you love God more, you trust Him more, you want to tell about Him more, you want to live for Him more? Jesus is reminding us my friends that the hearing of the Word of God is a spiritual battle. Now we're going to sing about this in just a few moments. Pay close attention to what you’re going to sing because it's going to be a prayer to the Lord to help you hear the Word of God as you ought.
Heavenly Father, we need spiritual ears to hear the Gospel. Give them to us we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.