John 8:43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word.
Jesus was continuing to teach in the Temple and the Jewish leaders had a hard time with what he was saying. Jesus knew that they were struggling but they did not want to admit that he just might be right. In their stubbornness and pride they refused to truly listen to what Jesus had to say. Their hearing needed to be healed by the great Physician who could open them to understanding, if only they were willing to listen. However, they knew if they were to listen, they would need to receive his words and obey.
Calvin paraphrases Jesus’ words like this, “What is the reason why my speech appears to you barbarous and unknown, so that I gain nothing by speaking to you, and so that you do not even deign to open your ears to receive what I say?” (Calvin’s Commentaries) The question was an important one to pose for the religious leaders were proud of their intellectual practices. They had been using their own reason and judgment to oppose him and he was condemning them for refusing to listen. They were unwilling to listen because his words were convicting and his truth could revealed their hypocrisy. They intentionally refused to listen to what he had to say and as a result, were lost.
Jesus continues to challenge the Jewish leaders, and us, to consider whether we find listening to him a bit inconvenient. Selective hearing becomes destructive to the Christian life. Jesus is telling them the truth but this is far too uncomfortable.
The truth is uncomfortable and force us to examine our behaviors and responses. The only way that we can follow Jesus is to be willing to listen to what he has to say. It is our stubbornness and pride that gets in the way of Jesus’ words cutting through the static of our self-centeredness so that we can hear. It’s not that Jesus hasn’t pointed out the way for us, it’s that we refuse to listen to the directions. It’s as if we have turned on the GPS on our phone and while Siri tells us which way to go to find our destination, we simply tune out and fail to take the right exit. Let’s admit it — it happens from time to time. But when this happens on a regular basis spiritually, we end up in the wrong destination.
Just as we must pay attention to the voices leading us to our destination, so we must listen to the voice of Christ who shines the light of truth into our lives. To follow his directions means we must be willing to listen and bring down the barriers of pride and arrogance. It means admitting we may be wrong before we can regroup and follow Jesus. The longer we refuse to listen the further we will be from our destination.
Dr. Ralph Earle, New Testament Professor Emeritus at Nazarene Theological Seminary used to challenge his students by encouraging them to pray to be willing to be willing. If we’re refusing to listen, let’s just begin by praying to be willing. Jesus will bring down the barriers and suddenly we will have perfect hearing and discernment as we follow him.
Lord, may I listen intently to your voice and leading. Amen.
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