Sunday, July 5, 2020 ()

Bible Text: John 12:23-33 |

[The text of the sermon for Sunday, July 5, 2020, is published below.  A video of this sermon will be available on Monday on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/4409sspotswoodrdgordonsvilleva.] 


Some of you may remember that old TV commercial back in the early 80’s for the stock brokerage firm of E. F. Hutton. There’d be two businessmen sitting at a table in a restaurant talking about how they’d like to invest their money. One of them would lean over to the other and say: “Well, E. F. Hutton says . . .” The camera would pull back, and all the customers in the restaurant, and even the waiters, would be leaning over, cupping their ears just to hear the scoop on what the E. F. Hutton firm had to say. Then you’d hear this authoritative voice saying approvingly: “When E. F. Hutton Talks, People Listen.” This commercial crossed my mind as I was reading something from the 12th chapter of the Gospel of John.

This passage of Scripture is one of the most fascinating examples of God talking and how people tend to listen—or not listen to Him, as the case may be. Here, Jesus is apparently in the presence of his disciples and a surrounding crowd of people. And Jesus comments on the great turmoil that was stirring in His mind as He contemplated the unimaginable burden of the Most Holy and Pure Son of God having to take on the filth and weight of all the sins of the world. For in the coming days, that was exactly what He would do there on the Cross. This is what Jesus said in John 12:23-33 to his disciples and the crowd standing nearby:

23   “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24  “I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop. 25  The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me. Where I am, there My servant also will be. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. 27  Now My soul is troubled. What should I say—Father, save Me from this hour? But that is why I came to this hour. 28  Father, glorify Your name!” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again!” 29  The crowd standing there heard it and said it was thunder. Others said that an angel had spoken to Him. 30  Jesus responded, “This voice came, not for Me, but for you. 31  Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32  As for Me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to Myself.” 33  He said this to signify what kind of death He was about to die. John 12:23-33 (HCSB)

These few verses tell us quite a bit about the human condition. Here we have the Son of God speaking to a crowd of people about their opportunity for salvation—something that their ears definitely needed to hear. And yet, for many of them standing in that crowd, their worldly brains failed to process this most important message. And even more amazing is the fact that these words of Christ are followed by quite audible words from God the Father. God’s voice basically confirms that everything Jesus had said was absolutely true. Both Jesus the Son and God the Father told these people in no uncertain terms that if they wanted to enjoy eternal life with God in Heaven, then they must do several things:

  1. They must stop loving the wicked ways of their worldly life;
  2. They must repent and, in effect, come to hate their sinful ways; and
  3. Then, finally, they must surrender themselves to Jesus as their soon-to-be risen Savior by both serving Him and following His teachings.

That, in a nutshell, is what Jesus said to this worldly crowd. And the very voice of God the Father confirmed what Jesus said was true. Now these people, like many today, may well have listened more intently if one of the “E. F. Hutton’s” of their day had spoken. But, apparently they didn’t listen very well to these words that came directly from God—because what does it tell us that many of them apparently heard? Well, some of them heard a little thunder—just some distant rumblings, nothing more. Others apparently had ears with a bit more spiritual acuity, and yet they concluded that it was nothing more than a mere angel whispering something or another, but nothing too authoritative—certainly nothing to worry about.

Wow!—can you imagine that! Jesus spoke. God the Father spoke. And, they vaguely heard something and yet absolutely failed to get the message. Unbelievable! How could they be so deaf? . . . But are we really much different from the people in that crowd. Jesus speaks to us. God speaks to us. The Holy Spirit whispers things into our ears. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit do this every day. But do we listen? Or do we make the same mistake, as this crowd did of passing it off as nothing more than a little coincidental thunder? “Now, preacher—God might speak to you every day, but I can tell you that isn’t the case for me!”—you might claim.   But, let me tell you—you would be wrong if you were to say that. God does speak to us—daily in fact. And, if we don’t learn to hear and then respond appropriately, we will be in for some very rough times in this life, and some much hotter ones in the life to come. Let me give you a couple of examples of how God speaks to us. These two happen to emerge from something that many of us do most every day—we drive a car.

Maybe you are driving a little too fast and not really paying attention to what’s going on. And because of that you become involved in a little “fender-bender”. That may not be a random thing. Sometimes God uses something that might appear to you to be bad luck at the time, to speak to you to get your attention. Through the “fender-bender” experience God could be saying to you, “Slow down. Start paying attention to your driving because next week you are going to be headed into a major interstate pile-up. And this little “fender-bender” is My way of getting you to start being alert again and to start driving at a safe speed. Listen to Me and you’ll avoid injury. Otherwise, there is going to be a lot of pain in your future.”[1]

Or, take another example from driving on the road. Let’s say that a young man gets a DUI. At the time, it causes great embarrassment, a huge court fine, and restrictions on his driving license that make it harder to get to work. The DUI creates an unwanted imposition on his time because now he has to go to all of those Alcohol Safety Program meetings the court ordered. And the guy thinks to himself, “I hardly ever drink and drive and really don’t drink that much. I try to be a good person. I even go to church on Sundays. How could God allow this to happen to me?” But the reality is that in this very event, God is speaking to him for his overall benefit.   The message from God could well be, “If you keep on drinking and driving, one day it’s going to kill you or somebody else.” And if the young man is perceptive enough to hear God’s voice in all of this and respond to His voice, he might even save himself from being a future alcoholic or a drug addict.

Now you might think that God is being awfully hard on people by trying to get their attention in this way. But Paul tells us that is not the case. Rather, he says that, “We know that all that happens to us is working for our good IF we love God and are fitting into His plans.” Romans 8:28 (TLB)  And of all people, Paul is probably the one who could best testify about having a hard time hearing God’s voice. For so very long, Paul’s life had been dedicated to stamping out the Good News of Jesus Christ. And so, the resurrected and ascended Jesus spoke to Paul directly and made sure that he understood the pain involved when people fail to hear what God is saying to them. Jesus not only opened Paul’s ears, but opened his eyes as well. This is what Paul reports about the time that Jesus spoke to him on that road to Damascus: 14  “I heard a voice say to me in Hebrew, ‘Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me? You are hurting yourself by hitting back, like an ox kicking against its owner's stick.’ 15  ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. And the Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus, whom you persecute. 16  But get up and stand on your feet . . . 17  I will rescue you from the people of Israel and from the Gentiles to whom I will send you. 18  You are to open their eyes and turn them from the darkness to the light and from the power of Satan to God, so that through their faith in Me they will have their sins forgiven and receive their place among God's chosen people.’” Acts 26:14-18 (TEV) I have to admit—quite often, I am that ox kicking against His Master’s pointed stick. That Master, of course, is God who has had to prod me so many times in my life with that pointed stick—not to simply inflict pain, but to get me back into walking a straight line down the road He has planned for His people. If it weren’t for that pointed stick that God has so skillfully used in my life, I would have walked off a thousand deadly cliffs by now.

Now, someone might say, “Well, God actually spoke words to Paul to get his attention. But God doesn’t actually speak in that way to people today.” But, that’s not really true. God still quite literally speaks to us if we will just take the time to listen. Take the case of R. A. Dickey who was a Cy Young Award winning pitcher in Major League Baseball. The Texas Rangers made him their No. 1 draft pick and offered him an $810,000 contract. But before he could accept this offer and get all that money, he had to take a physical. And during that physical it was discovered that he was missing his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. And the team’s manager immediately called him into his office and said without the least little compassion, “You failed your physical. The team’s contract offer is withdrawn. Clear out your locker and get out of here!” Dickey later recalled: “I tried to take in those words for a second or two. . . [Then] I felt rage. Complete rage. It felt as if it started in my toes and blasted upward through my body like a tsunami. . . [I wanted to tell the manager that he had just] dropped an atomic bomb on my baseball career—on my life. [But then] it was as if a strong hand landed on my shoulder and held me back—it gave me pause. In that instant I had a self-control that hadn’t been there a moment earlier. I heard a voice say: ‘Relax, I've got you. Relax, it’s gonna be okay.’ The voice was that of the Holy Spirit . . . giving me a composure that could not have come from anywhere else.”[2]

You see, the problem isn’t that God doesn’t speak to us today. Rather, the problem is we don’t listen. Sometimes we don’t listen because we don’t like what God is saying to us. One of the reasons people don’t like what God is telling them is that they are so tuned in to what the world is telling them instead. The world screams its messages at a level that can drown out God’s message IF you let it. The world shouts out:

It’s OK to drink booze or take drugs until you’re in a wasted stupor. It’s fine to shack up with your significant other—who someday will leave you alone to raise those three kids he helped procreate. Go on, march in that gay pride parade—everybody supports gay rights. Go have that abortion—if you have that baby, it’s just going to be an inconvenience to you. Have that sex change—when God said that He created “them male and female”[3]—he wasn’t serious about that.  Do your own thing—for there is no God that you will one day have to give an accounting.[4]

The world shouts these messages at a thousand decibels. It reminds me of a health warning that came out not too long ago indicating that more than 1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss because of the audio devices they use to listen to music. Today people have iPods and smartphones that deliver computer enhanced high-fidelity sound at levels over 120 decibels for hours on end. That’s why doctors are finding that hearing loss among today's teenagers today is about 30 percent higher than back in the 1980’s and 90’s when such piercing audio devices didn’t exist.

The loss of one’s physical hearing is a very serious thing. A person crossing the street wearing their ears buds and listening to music at such loud levels as are possible today might not hear the horn blaring from an oncoming car. Consequently, they are likely to get seriously injured or even lose their earthly life. That is a serious thing indeed. But what is even more serious is one’s loss of their spiritual hearing.[5] The loss of your spiritual hearing will cost you your eternal life. God wasn’t joking when He said: 27  “What is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28  Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:27-28 (NIV) That exact thought is what prompted the famous pastor of yester-year, A. W. Tozer, to say: “The voice of God is a friendly voice. No one need fear to listen to it unless he has already made up his mind to resist it.”[6]

And so, what happens to those who do resist hearing God’s voice for too long? Pastor Erwin McManus, in his book, The Barbarian Way, writes about an experience that he had with his son, Aaron, when the boy was about six years old. Aaron kept asking him “What does God's voice sound like?,” but McManus really had a hard time coming up with an answer a six-year old could understand. A few years went by and his son went on his first junior high camping trip. Later that week McManus received a call that there was a problem with his son.   And the problem was that Aaron had gotten into a fight with another kid. And when McManus visited the camp in the hope of reconciling whatever had caused the fight, he asked his son what happened. And upon receiving his son’s answer, it sounded to him like both boys were to blame. But, his son was completely unrepentant and insisted that he wanted to leave the camp right then and there. And McManus, sensing that this might be a teachable moment, sat down with his son and asked: “Aaron, is there any voice inside you telling you what you should do?” And Aaron nodded, “Yes.” And so he asked his son, “What's the voice telling you?” Aaron responded: “[The Voice is saying] that I should stay [here at camp] and work it out.” “Now we are getting somewhere,” McManus thought. So he followed up with this question: “[Aaron,] can you identify that voice?” And Aaron answered without hesitation, “Yes, It’s God’s Voice.” And McManus was so happy—his son had finally understood what it means to hear the voice of God. And so he told his son, “Aaron, do you realize what just happened? You heard God’s Voice. He spoke to you from within your soul. Forget everything else that’s happened. God spoke to you, and you were able to recognize Him.” He was so proud of his son.

But, then his son said something. It was something that put a sharp pin into McManus’ balloon of joy and quickly popped it, because this is what Aaron defiantly snapped back: “Well, I heard God’s Voice, but I’m still not going to do what God said.” And that’s when McManus had to cut to the chase and give it to his son straight. He explained to his son that he was perfectly free to make that choice, but any choice that rejects God’s will has serious long-term consequences. For anyone who does that, his or her heart will soon become hardened, and then their spiritual ears eventually will grow stone-cold deaf. On the other hand, his son could make a different choice. He could hear God’s voice and then obey it. If he’d just do that then he’d experience something quite the opposite. His heart would softened and be more pliable in God’s Hands. And not only that, his spiritual hearing would become increasingly sharper the more he yielded to God’s will for his life. McManus was happy to report that his son chose to stay on at camp and follow God’s will in trying to work out his differences peacefully with the boy he’d been fighting with. McManus wraps it up this way: “If [my son] had chosen differently, he would have begun the path toward nominal discipleship. Perhaps he never would have rejected the faith overtly. He might have even chosen to be a faithful attender at a church and been by everyone else’s estimation a good man, BUT HE WOULD NO LONGER BE A CLOSE JESUS-FOLLOWER.”[7]

And that’s the problem: Those who are not close followers of Jesus Christ—they don’t get to spend eternity with Him. Why? Well, if they didn’t have spiritual ears that could be attentive to God in this short earthly life, then there is no way they’d fit into a Heaven that constantly listens to God and sings praises to His Name for all eternity. So my best advice is this: START LISTENING FOR GOD’S VOICE. You can hear Him speaking to you through the Words of the Bible. If you will just be still and listen, you can sense His Voice in response to your prayers. He may speak to you through the trials that come your way to make you more dependent on Him and less reliant upon yourself. He may put you through difficult experiences as a wake-up call in your life.

In a society that is so eager to listen to the likes of “E. F. Hutton” or whoever appears to be popular in the eyes of the world, now is the time for you to start listening to the One who really matters. You see E. F. Hutton is no longer around. In fact, it stopped its business operations about a year ago. But, God’s business never fails. He is everlasting to everlasting.[8] And God wants you to listen to Him when driving the car of life. Learn from those fender benders before you become involved in a crash from which you may never spiritually recover. And if it sometimes feels as if God is poking you with a pointed stick—well, it’s only to get you back on the path He has planned for you. It would be truly awful for you to mistake the voice of God for the mere rumbling of the world’s confusing thunder—like those in that crowd standing near Jesus.

Doesn’t it make more sense to simply cup your ear and lean intently toward God and listen to what He is saying to you? You’ll find His voice to be gentle[9] and loving[10], and even sometimes fearsome[11]. But you will never find it lacking in His mercy, grace[12] and forgiveness[13] for those who love Him and live according to His plan for their lives.[14]

Let us pray.


Forest Hill Baptist Church

July 5, 2020

Darvin Satterwhite, Pastor


©2020 All Rights Reserved

[1] Idleman, Kyle. AHA. David C. Cook: Colorado Springs (2014) p. 41.

[2] R. A. Dickey with Wayne Coffey, Wherever I Wind Up (Plume, 2013), pp. 97-99; PreachingToday.com, submitted by Rich Latta, Danuba, California.

[3] Genesis 1:27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (ESV)

[4] 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 9  Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (ESV)

[5] Susan Donaldson James, “Generation deaf: Doctors warn of dangers of ear buds,” Today.com (8-31-15), from PreachingToday.com, sourced by David Finch, Elk Grove, California.

[6] Draper, Edythe. Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

[7]Erwin McManus's Son Learns Value of Listening to God’s Voice,” PreachingToday.com, adapted from Erwin McManus, The Barbarian Way (Thomas Nelson, 2005), pp. 87-89, for the October 30-31 entries of Men of Integrity (September/October 2008)

[8] Psalm 90:2  Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. (NKJV)

[9] Psalm 18:35 You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great. (NKJV)

[10] Psalm 36:7 (NKJV) How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.

[11] Deuteronomy 28:58-59  If you refuse to obey all the words of instruction that are written in this book, and if you do not fear the glorious and awesome name of the LORD your God, 59  then the LORD will overwhelm you and your children with indescribable plagues. These plagues will be intense and without relief, making you miserable and unbearably sick. (NLT2)

[12] Psalm 111:4  Who can forget the wonders he performs—deeds of mercy and of grace? (TLB)

[13] Psalm 130:4  But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared. (NKJV)

[14] Romans 8:28 “We know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans.” (TLB)

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