READ : Luke 9:35
And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
Luke 9:35 RSV
Have you ever wished that you could be certain about matters of faith? You know, that all your questions could be cleared up, all your doubts dispelled? Wouldn’t it be something if God gave to us a sure sign that we could depend on? What if He should speak from the heavens in a voice we understand, telling us what we need to believe and how we ought to live? That would settle everything, wouldn’t it?
Did you know that the Bible tells us of that actually happening? That’s right – God speaking from the heavens so that we can know the heart of what we are to believe and the essence of what we are to do. Now that is worth hearing about! The following words come from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 9, beginning at verse 28:
Now about eight days after these sayings he [that is, Jesus] took with him Peter and John and James [the inner circle of His disciples], and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep but kept awake, and they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” – not knowing what he said. As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
That was it, friends. That’s what the disciples heard on the mountaintop. They had already seen wonderful things. There was that radiance about Jesus when the glory of God seemed to be shining from His face and raiment. They had seen heavenly visitors with Him, Moses the revered law giver, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets. Then when that unforgettable experience was drawing to its close, they heard God’s voice from an enveloping cloud: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
This was the second time, according to the gospels, that God had spoken from the opened heavens. The first was by the river Jordan when Jesus was being baptized. Remember how the Spirit of God descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove? When Jesus looked up, He saw the heavens opening and heard the voice of God saying to Him, “You are my beloved Son. In you I have been well pleased.” That was a message meant for Jesus Himself, to confirm His convictions on the threshold of His ministry. This message on the mountain top, on the other hand, was for the ears of the disciples. Again, God’s theme was the identity of Jesus as His beloved Son, His chosen One. But now was added the word of command, “Listen to him.”
LISTEN TO HIM ABOVE ALL OTHERS
As I reflect on that in the light of this passage, I hear several things. For one, I hear God saying to Jesus’ followers: “Listen to Him above all others.” It’s striking that the two persons with whom Jesus is seen to be meeting on the mountain that day are Moses and Elijah. Moses is the person most associated with the giving of God’s law. He’s the one who received the commandments on Mount Sinai. This law of God was regarded with the utmost reverence as a disclosure of God’s will for His people. The ideal for godly Jewish folk was to love God’s law and meditate in it day and night. Moses represents this precious God-given law.
The second figure on the mountainside, Elijah, was regarded in Israel as the greatest of the prophets. The prophets were those who came from God’s presence with timely messages for His people. They were the inspired interpreters of the law, applying its provisions to the changing circumstances of the people, challenging disobedience, and bringing God’s promises to the faithful. The writings of the prophets, together with Moses’ law, formed the heart of the Old Testament revelation.
Now on the mountaintop, after Jesus has conferred with these great leaders of the past, they recede from view. Only Jesus remains with His disciples. When the heavenly message comes in that setting, saying, “Listen to Him,” Jesus is being lifted up as the full and final revelation of God, His last, best word.
This didn’t mean, of course, that the Law given through Moses and the writings of the prophets were now without authority. These continued to be the word of God, revealing His character, showing His will. But now they were to be understood in the fuller light that had come in Jesus. Here’s how the writer to the Hebrews put it, “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).
In Jesus, His life and ministry, His death and resurrection, the Old Testament finds fulfillment. It is never to be read as something complete in itself, but always as a preparation for Christ the living Word. So when you read the law and the prophets, God is saying to His people there, “Realize that they speak of Jesus and that He proclaims and embodies the fullness of the truth.”
LISTEN TO HIM ABOUT HIS EXODUS
But there’s more. The call to listen to Jesus means not only listening to Him above all others, but listening to Him primarily about the climax of His life and ministry. Did you notice in Luke 9 what Moses and Elijah had been conversing with Jesus about? Listen. They spoke of His departure which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Do you know what that word translated departure is in the Greek language? Exodus. That’s right. What we call the second book of the Old Testament.
The first exodus was the departure of the people of God from their misery and bondage in Egypt. God brought about a miraculous deliverance for His people. There were the signs and wonders in which He challenged and finally humbled the proud Pharaoh. There was the opening of the Red Sea for His beleaguered people so that they could cross through it dryshod and see its waters return upon the pursuing armies of Egypt. The exodus became the theme for Israel’s songs of praise. What great things God did for His people when He freed them from their enemies and gave them a new beginning!
Now Moses and Elijah are seen conversing with Jesus about a second exodus, a second departure. God will once again act in sovereign grace on behalf of His people. He will deliver them now, not from physical bondage in Egypt but from spiritual enslavement to sin and death. Deliverance will come now not by the blood of the passover lamb but by the sacrifice of Christ Himself for the sins of His people. And just as Israel came up from the depths of the sea to freedom, so believers will rise with Christ to newness of life.
It’s interesting to notice that when Jesus taught His disciples from the Old Testament scriptures after the Resurrection, these were the great themes of His instruction: how the Christ must suffer and be raised from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures, and how repentance and forgiveness of sins must be preached in His name to all the nations. Jesus showed His awestruck followers how these things had been foretold in the law of Moses, in the prophets, and in the Psalms about Him and had been fulfilled in His suffering and triumph.
The disciples were therefore to listen to Jesus as the One who could open up to them the riches of God’s saving purpose, who could interpret for them the meaning of His death and resurrection and pass that on to them as the message they were to proclaim to the world.
So the word from heaven is: listen to Jesus about His exodus, about God’s mighty deliverance in giving Jesus to bear our sins and in raising Him to endless life. Listen to Him about redeeming love and about recreated lives. Listen to Him about the good news that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
So we have a clue here that Jesus is the full and final revelation of God and that the heart of His message has to do with His death and resurrection. But we haven’t yet penetrated to the core of what God was saying to the world when He said of Jesus, “Listen to him!” Now we need to think about what it means to listen.
LISTEN TO HIM OBEDIENTLY
Have you ever thought of how it’s possible to hear something without really listening to it? We do that frequently, don’t we? I heard a story recently about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president of the United States during World War II. It seems that FDR, as he was called, in one of his many social engagements, wearied of the trite conversation that went on in the receiving line. He decided that he would say something shocking to everyone who passed by him, just to see if they really listened. To one guest after another, the president said that day in a normal conversational tone, “I killed my grandmother this morning.” The greeters heard him say that but didn’t really take it in. To his matter-of-fact announcement, “I killed my grandmother this morning,” one said, “You’re doing a good job; keep it up.” Another smiled, “Your country is proud of you.” Still another responded, “Thank you very much, Mr. President.” All of us can sometimes hear without listening.
It’s also possible to listen without any purpose to respond. I was speaking to a church group recently about evangelism and about why it is that people who have listened to hundreds of sermons and Bible studies, still have such great difficulty in expressing for themselves what the faith is all about.
I have a hunch about why that happens. I think we tend while in church to listen passively. We listen without the slightest intention to pass on what we have heard. If we listened actively, as though we were going to answer questions about it on a test, or as though we were then going to teach it to someone else, it would be all together different. We would become conscientious and creative about it, thinking through how we would articulate the message, how we would communicate it to others. Then we would be really listening.
The word translated listen here means “to hear” or better, “to hearken.” Hearing in the Bible never means merely having sound impinge upon our ear drums. Nor does it mean simply attending out of curiosity, passive and idle. The word hear is very closely linked with the word obey. Just as unbelief and disobedience are two sides of the same coin (that is, we won’t carry out God’s will for us because we do not trust His promises). So too, believing and obeying belong together.
Remember how Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it in his little book The Cost of Discipleship? He said, on the one hand, “Only he who believes obeys.” That is, you aren’t truly obedient to God unless you believe in the great things He has done for you in the gift of His Son, unless you take Him at His Word and rely upon His promises. There’s no obedience that doesn’t spring from that kind of grateful trust.
But, Bonhoeffer continues, it’s also true the other way around, “Only he who obeys, believes.” The German martyr is almost echoing Jesus here. The Lord said, “Why do you call me `Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” In other words, “Why do you profess to believe in Me when you refuse to obey Me?”
The sign that we have truly heard, genuinely listened, wholeheartedly believed, is that we then translate the word of the Lord into life.
Today I simply want to be an echo of that voice from heaven. I want to point to Jesus, the living Savior, and say of Him, “He is the Son of God. He is the chosen One. He is the Savior of the world. Behold Him, suffering, dying, rising, reigning, offering forgiveness and new life to all who will believe in Him.” I want to say to you, “Believe in Jesus. Commit your life to Him.” And then, friends, spend the rest of your life as His grateful, devoted follower. Make it the main business of your days to listen to what He’s saying to you through His word, by His Spirit, amid all the circumstances of your life. And when you’ve listened, when you’ve grasped what He wants for your life, then just do it!
Prayer: Father, help us all to listen to Jesus supremely, to listen to Him about the heart of the gospel, and when we’ve listened then, to live it out. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.