But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said,
“This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.”
When I was a child we used to play a game called ‘Simon Says’. To play the game, one person, who played the role of ‘Simon’, would call out instructions beginning with ‘Simon says’ and everyone else would need to do what ‘Simon’ told them to do. Occasionally, the caller would give an instruction without saying ‘Simon says’ and if a participant did the action, that person was out of the game.
I know that there are dangers with using a game like ‘Simon Says’ as an illustration of being followers of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t just give us instructions in life, and then exclude us if we get it wrong. My reason for using Simon Says as an example of being Jesus’ disciple is that it highlights the importance of listening to the person who is leading us.
When Jesus led Peter, James and John up the mountain to witness his transfiguration, God’s voice identified Jesus as his Son whom he loved and with whom he was pleased (v5 NIV). We have already heard these words in Matthew’s gospel at Jesus’ baptism. However, Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us that the voice from heaven added the words, ‘Listen to him.’ The Transfiguration of Jesus gives us insight into one of the most important aspects of being a disciple of Jesus – listening to him.
Listening to Jesus is essential if we are to listen to him. How can we follow someone if we are not listening to where that person is leading us? In the example of the game of Simon Says, how can we follow what the leader’s instructions if we are not paying attention to that person is saying? If we are to be faithful followers of Jesus, we need to be listening to his voice so we can follow him and learn from him.
While there are some different ideas about how to hear God’s voice, in the end we hear the voice of Jesus most clearly when we listen to what he has said to us in Scripture. The Bible is the most reliable source of Jesus’ teachings that we have. As Hebrews 1:1,2a says,
Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.
These words point to Jesus being the living Word of God, as John does at the start of his gospel, and the voice of God in the world. If we are going to follow Jesus, we need to be listening to him, and the clearest place we find what Jesus says is in the words of the Bible.
However, it is easy to misunderstand what another person is saying to us, as most of us would probably know. The same happens with listening to Jesus in the Bible. That is why the Bible itself teaches us how to listen for Jesus’ voice. For example, John 1:17 says, ‘the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (NIV). John is telling us that if we are to hear Jesus’ voice, we need to be listening not only for what he is telling us to do, but for what Jesus has done, is doing and will do for us. If he is just telling us what to do, his teachings are law, and that was Moses’ job. However, John tells us that Jesus came to bring us grace and truth. The art of listening to Jesus’ voice, then is to listen to his words for the truth of his grace. In other words, listening to Jesus as his disciples means learning to listen for what he wants to do for us.
When we do that, we can hear Jesus say words such as:
‘The Kingdom of Heaven is near.’ (Matthew 4:17)
‘You will be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matt 5:48)
‘Take heart … your sins are forgiven.’ (Matt 9:2)
‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ (Matt 9:13)
‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ (Matt 11:28)
‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matt 28:20b)
Jesus’ disciples knew that he has ‘the words that give eternal life’ (John 6:68) and so they listened to him as they followed him and learned from him. As Jesus’ disciples we also need to listen to him so we can follow him and grow in the life he gives us as we learn from him. So today, I’m thinking that,
Discipleship is… listening to Jesus and learning to live in his way.
To help us learn the art of listening to Jesus, during the season of Lent I would like to challenge us all to read through the gospel of Matthew, one chapter a day. As we do, I am offering this booklet (exploring-discipleship-in-matthew) with some guiding questions to help us hear what Jesus teaches us about being his disciples. This booklet can be used by individuals or small groups, and will be the basis of our congregation’s Lent devotions as we journey towards Easter.
Like playing a game of Simon Says, we need to be listening to Jesus if we are going to live as his disciples. Unlike a game of Simon Says, however, Jesus doesn’t just give us instructions or tell us what to do. Through the Spirit of the Living God, Jesus’ words breathe grace and truth into our lives. Through them he gives us a new life to live as his disciples, and the grace of God to be his salt and light in the world.
Are you listening to Jesus?
More to think about:
- Do you think it is important for Jesus’ followers to listen to him? Why?
- How often do you read your Bible?
- Do you find it easy or difficult to read your Bible? Explain why.
- Would it be easier for you to read your Bible on your own or with others? Can you explain why?
- How might it help you read your Bible if you thought of it as an important way for Jesus to speak life-giving grace and truth to you? How can we help you to learn the art of hearing God’s grace in the words of the Bible?