"Pay Attention to What You Hear "#85-25
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 18, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: James 1:12-18
I thank you for sharing your precious time with us. Have you ever heard someone talk about a "come to Jesus meeting"? A come to Jesus meeting is a time of honest talk about some problem. Lent is a season of repentance, and so I pray that our next minutes together will truly be a come to Jesus time.
O Lord Jesus, help each of us understand in our mind and believe in our heart that You died for me. Too often my pride keeps me from admitting how truly sinful I am. As I ponder Your cross this Lenten season, may I die to myself so that You will live in me. Give me Your Spirit that I may understand myself as St. Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me." Amen.
We do come to You, Lord Jesus. We want to hear what You have to say. From Mark chapter four, beginning at the 21st verse:
"And He said to them, 'Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.' And He said to them, "Pay attention to what you hear; with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be give, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."
Let's get into this by thinking about all the mass shootings that have happened in recent years. Think about all the terrorist attacks. Do you turn to religion for some kind of explanation about what's going on? Late seminary professor Martin Scharlemann once said a pastor's job is to interpret reality theologically, to interpret reality theologically. So what do we say, for example, about the gunman in Las Vegas or in the Texas church shooting? That those men were demented? Yes. That guns can be a problem? Yes. But those aren't theological explanations. Jesus' words in Mark 4 give us some understanding. To be sure, we cannot explain those heinous acts away. We cannot change the terrible consequences for the victims and their families, but we can at least try to understand theologically. Jesus says, "Nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light." What was deep down in those gunmen came out in most terrible ways. They were fundamentally flawed men. I can't imagine that you would disagree with me when I say those men were fundamentally flawed, but you might disagree with what I'm going to say next.
I am fundamentally flawed. You are fundamentally flawed. Think about the thoughts and feelings that are deep, deep down in your being. What are your secret thoughts about other people? What are your true feelings toward other people? Deep down do you have anger, lust, greed, resentment? Imagine if your deepest thoughts and feelings were revealed for all the world to know! How ashamed you and I would be! If my family and friends knew some of the things deep down in my being, I would be so ashamed. I would hightail it out of town never to be seen again. Wouldn't you? In Mark 7:21-22, Jesus says, "Out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." Sooner or later everything that is deep down within you will be revealed. Jesus promises, "Nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light."
To make this even more ominous, you and I who are spiritual people and try to lead moral lives are in greater jeopardy here than most people. Because we are spiritual and try to do what is right, we are prone to think that there is something-even just a little something-that makes us merit the grace of God. When we think that, we are not realizing the depth of our sin. In April of 1518 Martin Luther wrote the Heidelberg Theses. This is what he wrote in thesis 16: "The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him, adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty." Scholar John Barclay describes this as a super-sized sin-that you and I imagine there's something in us that merits the grace of God. There is not. Paul says, "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh" (Romans 7:18). What is hidden and secret within you and me, will certainly be revealed when we come before God in judgment. Hebrews 4:13 says, "No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." So, in Mark chapter 4, Jesus first gives us a warning: what's deep down in you is going to be revealed.
Second, Jesus gives us a command. "Pay attention to what you hear." Jesus wants His word to purify your heart; His is the only word that can. Let's reflect on the impact of other words and images that come at you every day. We have television, radio, newspapers, magazines, computers, and hand-held devices. We have people all around us who have their opinions, and many of them are not shy about telling you what they think and what you should do. You and I are surrounded by media, conventional wisdom, and peer pressure, and they can stir up the sinful stuff deep down within us. For example, take the commandment that says, "Thou shalt not kill." Do you think you've kept that because you haven't murdered anyone? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes you down into the darkness of your heart. "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and who whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire" (Matthew 5:21-22). In light of that, what happens when you see violence on TV, when you see crowds of angry and violent protesters, and when you see and hear people shouting their anger? Can't it stir up feelings of anger that are deep in your being? Or take the commandment that says, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." To quote again from the Sermon on the Mount, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). Can't so much in the media arouse sinful, sexual feelings deep in your being? The next commandment says, "Thou shalt not steal." The Bible tells us that we should work, but also that we should be content with what we have. After all, in the Lord's Prayer we humbly ask, "Give us this day our daily bread." But what's all around us? Commercials and consumerism. You just have to buy this to be happy in life! Can't that stir up dissatisfaction deep in your being? The commandments not only forbid outward actions, they also expose the depth of sin in our hearts. None of us escapes. "Scripture imprisoned everything under sin." That's understanding reality theologically, or at least beginning to understand. Galatians 3:22 says, "Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise of faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."
That's why Jesus tells us, "Pay attention to what you hear." He wants you to set aside so much that comes at you day-in and day-out and, instead, take His word deep into your being. His word forgives you. Psalm 19:12 says, "Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults." The word of Jesus does that. Over and over again, His word assures you that you are forgiven down to the very depths of your being. His purifying word will lead you to heaven. There everything and everyone will be pure. Revelation 21:27 says, "Nothing unclean will ever enter it (heaven), nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life." But on this side of heaven, in our here-and-now reality, we followers of Jesus still have these impure hearts, forgiven but still not wholly pure. St. Paul described his life as a forgiven believer. "I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. ... I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members" (Romans 7:19, 23). Jesus wants us to pay attention to His word so that it can get down with power to struggle against the sin that still lurks within us.
Charles Wesley described the power of Jesus' words in our struggles against sin: "He breaks the pow'r of cancelled sin; / He sets the pris'ner free. His blood can make the foulest clean; / His blood avails for me."
Martin Luther described it this way: "What is meant by a 'pure heart' is this: one that is watching and pondering what God says and replacing its own ideas with the Word of God. This alone is pure before God, yes, purity itself, which purifies everything that it includes and touches. Therefore, though a common laborer, a shoemaker, or a blacksmith may be dirty and sooty or may smell because he is covered with dirt and pitch, still he may sit at home and think: 'My God has made me a man. He has given me my house, wife, and child and has commanded me to love them and to support them with my work.' Note that he is pondering the Word of God in his heart; and though he stinks outwardly, inwardly he is pure incense before God. But if he attains the highest purity so that he also takes hold of the Gospel and believes in Christ-without this, that purity is impossible-then he is pure completely, inwardly in his heart toward God and outwardly toward everything under him on earth."
So in today's passage from Mark chapter 4, first Jesus gives us a warning: "Nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light." Second, Jesus directs us to His word, "Pay attention to what you hear." And third, Jesus gives us a promise. "Pay attention to what you hear; with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be give, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away." When the thoughts and feelings and conduct that come out of your sinful heart and are stirred up by so much around us in today's society are replaced with the word of Jesus, then your faith will grow exponentially. On the other hand, if you just let Jesus and His word be only one of many voices in your life ... if you let Jesus and His word be compartmentalized into spiritual times while most of the week you let the media and popular opinion seep down into your being, then whatever you have of faith will be lost.
I conclude today's message by putting an image in your mind, an image that captures reality perfectly. The image is the cross. The only escape from our fundamentally flawed being is death. The suffering that our sins have brought upon us is real. Death is terrible, but it is the only way out. Out of the nothingness of death, God creates a new creature by His Word. God does this when we give ourselves to believe the Good Word about His crucified and risen Son, Jesus Christ. Acknowledging our deep sinfulness, faith trusts that Jesus died for you. My faith trusts Jesus died for me. What else do I have, what else do you have in the last analysis but faith in God who recreates life through the death and resurrection of His Son? Faith, this precious gift from the God's Holy Spirit, unites you and me with Jesus in His death, unites us with Jesus in new life here and now, and the Word to which we pay attention promises that one day we will be united with Him in His resurrection. That's how to interpret all reality theologically. The holy cross is the only way to resurrection and new life. St. Paul says, "You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you" (Colossians 3:3-5). And so, our "come to Jesus" message concludes with the words of a dear hymn:
"I heard the voice of Jesus say, / 'Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down / Thy head upon My breast.'
I came to Jesus as I was, / Weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting place, /And He has made me glad.
"I heard the voice of Jesus say, / 'I am this dark world's Light.
Look unto Me; thy morn shall rise / And all the day be bright."
I looked to Jesus, and I found / In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that Light of Life I'll walk / Till trav'ling days are done."
"If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:23). Amen.
Reflections for February 18, 2018
Title: Pay attention to What You Hear
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. That was Dr. Dale Meyer and joining us now with some reflections on what we've just heard, here's Pastor Ken Klaus.
Ken Klaus: Thanks, Mark. Early on, Dr. Meyer mentioned the horrendous mass murders that
occurred last year in Las Vegas and Texas. He said the men who did this were "fundamentally flawed." Then Dr. Meyer said he too was fundamentally flawed, and so are we.
Mark Eischer: And if our secret sins were ever to become public knowledge, we'd have to leave town out of shame.
Ken Klaus: I think he's right on the money, and I could mention another example from history.
Mark Eischer: Okay.
Ken Klaus: In 2010, the University of Berkley published the autobiography of author Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. This was around a hundred years after he died.
Mark Eischer: Why the delay?
Ken Klaus: That's how Mark Twain wanted it for two reasons: one, Mr. Twain didn't want to scandalize any of his living friends and, two, the delay would enable him to speak honestly about his views on things like religion and politics.
Mark Eischer: Without hurting his posthumous book sales, maybe.
Ken Klaus: Quite possibly. Either way, Twain knew what he had to say was going to be shocking. Actually, Twain wrote he didn't want the book published until the year 2406-five centuries after his departure. You might say Twain knew he was fundamentally flawed. I think if any of us really comes clean we would feel much the same way.
Mark Eischer: And that's what Dr. Meyer was saying, we've all got that problem of being
fundamentally and fatally flawed due to our sinful natures. The Bible says, "Surely, there is not a
righteous man on earth who does good and never sins."
Ken Klaus: And now here's what I've have to do some reflecting. You see, Christians are willing to admit their absolute sinfulness because they've been given to know a God who loves and forgives. The same cannot be said for those who are unbelievers or followers of other religions.
Mark Eischer: Because if they admit to sin, they're also recognizing that there is such a standard as right and wrong, and it's left up to them to try to fix things.
Ken Klaus: Exactly. As 1 John 1:8 says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." The great difficulty is when the people of other faiths try to pay the debt for their sins, they find they're unable to balance the scales or even know how close they are to doing it.
Mark Eischer: So they can't make any progress at all, and there's no peace of mind or of conscience.
Ken Klaus: That's true. But there's another very logical reason for unbelievers not able to deal with being fundamentally flawed.
Mark Eischer: Why is that?
Ken Klaus: Because in this world we don't have anything that is absolutely perfect.
Mark Eischer: Does close enough count?
Ken Klaus: Now, we're changing the definition of "perfect," and that happens a lot. Let's talk
about diamonds for a minute. Mark, have you ever seen a perfect diamond? By that, I mean a
diamond that is perfect in clarity and color.
Mark Eischer: I really don't know.
Ken Klaus: Well, the answer is "probably not." A flawless diamond is a diamond which has no
visible impurities when magnified ten times. The American Gem Society says less than one-
quarter of one percent of their graded diamonds are "flawless" or "internally flawless." Those
incredibly rare diamonds are highly valued and are sold for tons of money to those people who
are willing to spend big bucks to get the very best.
Mark Eischer: Now you said those diamonds are considered perfect when they're magnified ten
times. What if they were magnified a hundred times or a thousand times?
Ken Klaus: You've identified the problem. We establish random criteria standards we know
some diamonds will pass, and we say, "From now on, this kind of diamond is deemed to be
Mark Eischer: But it isn't actually perfect.
Ken Klaus: That's right. In reality, no diamond will ever be absolutely perfect in cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. Something in that diamond will be flawed. It may not be a big flaw, but it will be enough to make the perfect diamond an impossible dream.
Mark Eischer: Okay. I understand.
Ken Klaus: Okay. Now let's take that same logic and apply it to people. What level of magnification can they withstand?
Mark Eischer: Some more than others.
Ken Klaus: So, what do we do? How do we measure up if we've never personally met a perfect person?
Mark Eischer: We might also go the other direction and compare ourselves to a known
Ken Klaus: In other words, "I'm not so bad." I'm not a drunk like so-and-so next door. I don't beat my spouse. I don't steal from the boss. I haven't murdered anyone. Hey! I'm just not that bad a guy!
Mark Eischer: Which could lead us to feeling pretty smug and secure about themselves.
Ken Klaus: Yeah, of course, there is one very small little problem with that: the Lord doesn't want us to compare ourselves with each other; He wants us to compare ourselves to Him. Matthew 5:48 says, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect." We are to be holy like God is holy.
Mark Eischer: And when I judge myself according to God's perfect standards, I find myself
falling far short.
Ken Klaus: Fundamentally flawed sinners need a Savior, and that's exactly who Jesus is. He is the perfect Person-the One who took our sins upon Himself and paid the price those sins
demanded so that we-fundamentally flawed sinners-can appear before the Lord on Judgment
Day, without any sins besmirching our souls. Isaiah said it, "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."
Mark Eischer: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. And looking ahead to next week, what will your sermon be about?
Ken Klaus: Next week, Mark, the text comes from Romans 5, and we are going to talk about the living and dying.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Lord, Throughout These Forty Days" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)