Episode 41: Hear | 10 MGJ Devotional Podcast
John the Evangelist, 10 Minutes with the Gospel of John, StanHarstine.com

10 Minutes with the Gospel of John

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Episode 41: Hear


     “Don't waste time with explanations: people only hear what they want to hear.” – Paulo Coehlo. Perhaps this explanation of the atmosphere that seems to dominate our current social world is not such a new thing after all; perhaps it is a long-standing human trait. Over time some of us have grown accustomed to a hearing loss whereby certain tonal frequencies are not transmitted to our brain with the same amplification as others. We have become unable to actually hear. Yet when we do hear a particular sound, like an emergency vehicle siren, we often act more from instinct than from conscious decision. In John 5:24-30 Jesus speaks about those who hear and the actions that accompanies true hearing. What should we hear? Do we actually want to hear his voice?

In the Old Testament

     Hearing requires prior communication from another party. In the Old Testament that other party is typically represented by God the Creator. In Genesis 1, God speaks on 11 occasions (1:1, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29), most frequently when only nature can hear. In Genesis 2, God speaks to the first human, issuing a command about the menu options in the garden. For a time, Adam heard this word from God, but as the story goes he eventually stopped hearing. How do we know? Well, his actions showed what he actually heard!

     Later in the story another command is issued, this time from Moses. Often known as the Shema, the word for “Hear!” in Hebrew, the message is simple, “Listen up, Israel! Our God is the LORD, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) This teaching is reminiscent of the first commandment, “I am the Lord your God, … you will have no other gods besides me.” (Exodus 20:2-3) For a time they heard what God said, but quite soon they chose not to hear. How do we know? Well, their actions showed what they actually heard!

     Even later in the story, God tries again through the prophet Jeremiah to get the people’s attention. God reminds them that he said, “Listen to my voice!” but they did not listen. (Jeremiah 7:23-24) From these three examples we can see that hearing is defined as carrying out what we heard spoken by another party.

Elsewhere in John

One key topic individuals hear in John’s Gospel is the testimony of others. Andrew heard John the Baptizer identify Jesus as the Lamb of God, so he followed Jesus. He is then identified as one of the two who had heard John and followed Jesus (1:37, 40). In the city of Sychar in the region of Samaria the city inhabitants heard the socially outcast woman who came telling of the one she met outside of town. They then left to city to investigate. They initially believed in Jesus because of her testimony (4:30, 39). When Jesus returns to Galilee, the royal official hears that Jesus has returned to the area. He leaves Capernaum and travels by foot for about 8 hours to try to fetch Jesus back to his home.

     When Jesus goes to see Lazarus, Martha hears the report that Jesus is coming. She leaves their home and walks out to meet Jesus (11:20). During the week before Passover, a large crowd hears that Jesus is coming into the city. They left the city and went outside the walls to meet him and they sing songs of rejoicing. Hosanna! (12:12-13). The final example for us recorded in this Gospel concerns Peter. Out on the boat with six others, Peter hears the word of recognition from the unnamed disciple that the person who commanded them to throw their nets again is Jesus. He jumps into the water in order to go to Jesus! (21:7).

However, some individuals listening to testimony choose not to hear (and to act accordingly). Jesus alludes to the indecisive nature of some who hear in his discussion with Nicodemus. Speaking on two levels of the wind and the Spirit, Jesus notes, “The wind/Spirit blows about wherever it desires and while you hear its noise, you don’t know whence it cometh or whither it goeth; everyone born of the spirit is likewise.” (3:8) Some individuals will hear someone’s testimony of God at work, but not understand what they are experiencing with their auditory nerves.

Toward the end of John 5, Jesus indicates that some individuals in the group have received testimony but have not heard it.

“Now, the Father who sent me, that one has testified
concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen
his image, nor do you have his word resting within you,
because you do not trust the one he sent.” (John 5:37–38)

When Jesus returns to Jerusalem for the fall festival, the crowd is still discussing the healing of the man by the pool of Bethesda. Some who heard Jesus speak about the spirit recognize him as one sent from God, yet others reject what he said. The crowd was divided after hearing Jesus (7:40–44).

After the born-blind-man receives his sight, he is called before Jewish leaders. He gives them his testimony of what had happened to him. The leaders are divided among themselves about the truthfulness of the man’s testimony, so they call his parents to provide them clarity. After the parents decline to give any testimony except that the man was their son and was indeed born blind, the leaders again turn their attention to this now-seeing-man. The man is curious as to why they didn’t accept his first words to them, so he asks the leaders a question. “I already told you and you did not hear what I said. Why do you want to hear it again? I’m certain it is not because you want to become his disciples.” (9:13–37)

Our last example comes as Jesus speaks to his disciples on the night he is betrayed and makes a reference to the Deuteronomy passage mentioned earlier.

“Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father
will love him and we will both come to him and make a
dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me will not
keep my word; and this word which you hear is not
mine but comes from my Father who sent me.” (John 14:23–24)

The whole sentence from the Deuteronomy passage states the following,

“Listen up, Israel! Our God is the LORD, the LORD is
one; you are to love the LORD your God from your
whole heart and from your whole self-hood, and from
all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5)

Just as hearing is connected with an appropriate response of action throughout the Scripture, so too, hearing and loving the LORD God are connected. While we might say or think today that “seeing is believing” in the biblical text it would appear that “hearing is believing!”

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Updated August 4, 2022