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A Paper written in partial fulfillment of NE500 New Testament Gospels
Fuller Theological Seminary
March 11, 2009
Let Anyone With Ears To Hear Listen
The challenge for Youth With A Mission (YWAM), a twenty-first century international missionary community, is to examine what Jesus said and did in Palestine two thousand years ago, compare that to our contemporary picture of Jesus, and then to assess how the Jesus of history informs how we understand him here and now. Chaim Potok’s novel, The Promise, presents the comparable struggle of a Jewish Talmudic student who faces critical questions regarding the ancient texts relating to faith in the Orthodox and Hasidic communities Kelly Brown Douglas’s The Black Christ similarly describes the struggle of understanding a contemporary Jesus within the African-American community. In his book, The Challenge of Jesus, Bishop N.T. Wright offers a portrait of our struggle to know the Jesus of history, his life in first-century Palestine, in order that we may more faithfully follow the resurrected Christ of faith today.
Could the YWAM community misunderstand the biblical testimony and historical context of the Jesus of history? It is very possible. This study is an attempt to reconstruct the original historical setting of a selection of key passages that relate to YWAM’s understanding of Jesus’ practice and teaching of hearing his Father’s voice. Recognizing our personal knowledge of Jesus is not the same as a scientific certitude; we must avoid the extremes of the liberal quest for the historical Jesus and the conservative reaction against it. YWAM, an international mission committed to know God and to make Him known, follows the Christ of faith to the best of our understanding in our present day reality in every nation.
YWAM leaders periodically gather from across the globe to listen to God’s voice for direction by studying the Scriptures, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and through our communal sharing. The doctrine of hearing God’s voice is our understanding of the practice of listening to God, which takes place in virtually every YWAM community. Why do we have the expectation that Jesus will speak? Have the Scriptures informed us or have we created some other Jesus through the influence of our cultural context? I will argue here that Jesus speaks to anyone who will listen and obey. I will show that Jesus modeled the way, taught the importance, and interceded on behalf of all nations to know God through the practice of hearing his voice.
Jesus Modeled the Way for Us to Hear God’s Voice
YWAM is part of a long history of communities seeking to translate the Jesus of history into a contemporary and often changing cultural context. YWAM leaders encourage fearless and courteous conversation among Christian traditions by inviting those from many denominations to teach and participate in its various programs. This continuing conversation, including discussions of the lives and backgrounds of the Gospels’ authors and the literary relationships of the Gospels and other source materials, is appropriate for those seeking to hear God’s voice today. In this section, I will show that the Jesus of history has modeled the way for YWAM’s understanding and practice of hearing God’s voice.
The Gospel writers’ selection, arrangement, and adaptation of their source materials portray Jesus in his own discourse between ancient Hebrew traditions and his contemporary culture. The Gospel writers appear to follow Jesus’ example. Rather than remove themselves from the story as teachers, the Gospel writers have entered the story by interpreting Jesus to their cultural context. All appear to agree that Jesus’ followers were to hear and obey God’s voice, which commands all to make him known among every people. Jesus is portrayed in each Gospel as the fulfillment of all that God said he would do. N.T. Wright argues that Jesus’ announcement of a new kingdom was also a judgment against Israel coupled to his own representative fulfillment of Israel’s purpose to be a light to the Gentiles.
The story of Jesus’ baptism shows how Jesus modeled the way to hear the voice of God. The Gospel writers all agree regarding the historical importance and particulars of the event. In the synoptic Gospels we find the near word-for-word account of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus and “a voice from heaven, saying ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” John’s Gospel adds the Baptist’s narrative, “he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (Jn. 1:33). Matthew’s adaptation, likely on behalf of his primarily Jewish audience, includes the narrative of Jesus modeling the necessity “to fulfill all righteousness” (Jn. 1:15).
Three things should be noted regarding the Gospel writers’ accounts of this historic event. First, all the Gospel accounts agree that this event took place, including a sign of Holy Spirit’s appearance. Second, God’s voice is reportedly heard as an announcement from heaven, as well as privately to John the Baptist. And third, Matthew highlights Jesus’ demonstrated commitment to personally submit to all that is necessary to fulfill the requirements of the ancient Hebrew prophetic tradition. These ancient texts together affirm that God communicates in human history and that Jesus modeled the way for us to hear God’s voice. YWAM’s practice of listening to God’s voice corresponds with the Jesus of history who modeled a commitment to fulfill the purposes of God in his contemporary setting.
Jesus Taught the Importance of Hearing and Obeying God’s Word
Though often misunderstood, parables represent Jesus’ chief teaching method. The Gospels depict Jesus’ penchant for perplexing and mystifying his hearers with simple, ordinary, yet startling messages. Jesus’ parables were stories of fields, vineyards, yeast, houses, and a “high incidence of agrarian motifs.” Jesus parabolic teachings are more than an effective technique to teach the kingdom. In this section, I will show how Jesus taught the importance of hearing God’s voice through the parables, calling the hearers to obedience with resulting changed lives, which are the fruit of the kingdom of God.
Throughout the Mediterranean in the first century C.E., broadcasting seed, some of which would fall on a beaten path, or rocky ground, or among weeds, was common practice. Probably eighty to ninety percent of Jesus’ audience engaged in agricultural work. The people of Jesus’ day knew a good harvest would at best yield ten to fifteen times what was planted. Jesus taught his contemporaries the prominent Parable of the Sower, also found in all three synoptic Gospels , with the surprising conclusion that seed sown upon “good soil” would bring forth a phenomenal harvest of “thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” Certainly Jesus had the attention of his hearers! Jesus concludes this parable with the adage, “He who has ears, let him hear,” which presumes most anyone could and should.
The Gospel writers also select and arrange Jesus’ interpretation of the parable, including a triple-tradition explanation for speaking in parables. It appears the author of Mark’s Gospel had the help of an eyewitness who was one of Jesus’ twelve. All synoptic Gospel writers intentionally invite the reader into a more intimate understanding. Jesus tells the twelve with him, “To you has been given the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables” (Mark 4:11). N.T. Wright explains that, despite their rootedness in the prophetic language of return from exile, Jesus’ message to his contemporaries is that God is “sowing his people again in their own land ” The explanation Jesus offers is like a riddle. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus explains his use of parables, “so that they may indeed…hear but not understand.” (Mark 4:12) Jesus is in fact judging Israel while “simultaneously calling into being a new people, a renewed Israel.” While this background is not obvious to the twenty-first century YWAMer, the Gospel writers all suggest that this parable is to teach the importance of listening with a good heart and obeying by becoming a fruitful participant in God’s continuing story.
Jesus Interceded on Behalf of All to Hear His Father’s Voice
YWAM’s commitment to listen to God’s voice is not merely for the purpose of private guidance and individual fruitfulness. YWAM’s mission is not limited to one nation or group; we are an international family of ministries called to listen to God’s voice together for the purpose of knowing God’s plans and purposes to preach the Gospel to every person and disciple all nations in our generation and in our varied and particular cultural settings. In this section, I will show that YWAM’s practice of listening to God’s voice is congruent with Jesus historical example of interceding on behalf of all nations to communicate with God.
Appealing for every person, from every background, nationality, and economic status, Jesus said, “He who has ears, let him hear.” The political, economic, and religious systems of second-temple Judaism presented an insurmountable obstacle for the ordinary person of Jesus day to approach God freely. Jesus likely knew that religious protest movements of his day sought “to become ‘political’ by contesting elite control of religious institutions.” It is into this larger story that all four Gospel writers portray Jesus driving out all those selling animal sacrifices and moneychangers. Jesus was not merely driving out a few opportunists trying to profit off religious pilgrims, his subversive message and action was to single-handedly confront the Temple’s political establishment and redistributive economic system, which had become an obstacle to God’s plan for Israel to be a light to all nations.
Appealing with the ancient text of his own Jewish tradition, Jesus asks, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be…a house of prayer’? Interestingly, Mark’s Gospel, likely the source for Matthew and Luke, also includes “for all the nations.” The exclusion of this appeal for all nations in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels is a concern, however further examination will show that the act of turning over tables was clearly an appeal for all nations to come to his Father’s house. In John’s Gospel, Jesus told those who sold pigeons, which were offered to restore the “postpartum woman to normal life while acknowledging God’s sole authority to establish pure blood relations,” that they should not “make my Father’s house a house of trade.” This dramatic act overturning tables is coupled with his appeal for his Father’s family, which he indicates should not be a matter of “trade” or limited to an exclusive bloodline. Jesus appeal that day was within view of the inscription in the Court of the Gentiles, which restricted those outside the bloodline of Abraham. Jesus instituted a new Temple (himself), through whom purity and forgiveness is now available to all people everywhere. Jesus has made the way for all nations to pray to and communicate with his Father, fulfilling the covenant given to Abraham. (Gen. 12:1-3)
The calling and the mission of YWAM is to enter this continuing story fulfilling all that is required to reflect the life of Jesus in our multi-cultural and multi-national contexts. Just as Jesus taught the abundant fruitfulness resulting from hearing and obeying God’s voice, Jesus followers may expect the same abundance. And just as Jesus confronted political, economic, and religious systems that hindered people from coming into relationship, including the intimacy of hearing God’s voice, Jesus followers must also appeal for every person and every nation to enjoy the blessedness of intimate relationship with his Father.
The Gospels, especially John, have much more instruction about the importance of hearing God’s voice. This study has been limited to only a few events paralleled in the Gospels. In those events, the historical Jesus demonstrated the attitude and obedience required to hear God, as well as God’s inclination to speak. He modeled the way at his baptism, he taught the importance of hearing God through the bearing of fruit from a heart of faithfulness, and he overturned symbolically every hindrance to hearing God’s voice. Jesus instituted a new Temple worship, constituted in himself and wherever two or more gather in his name, through which all nations are welcomed to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Youth With A Mission practices hearing God’s voice through the Christ of our faith in a multi-national and multi-denominational community. This Christ of faith can be properly understood to be the Jesus of history. Through YWAM communities around the world, Jesus’ words echo today: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Aland, Kurt. 1982. Synopsis of the Four Gospels: Completely Revised on the Basis of the Greek Text of the Nestle-Aland 26th edition and Greek New Testament 3rd edition: The Text is the Second Edition of the Revised Standard Version. English ed. [New York]: United Bible Societies.
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1994. The Black Christ, The Bishop Henry McNeal Turner Studies in North American Black Religion;. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.
Hanson, K. C., and Douglas E. Oakman. 1998. Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Potok, Chaim. 1969. The Promise. 1st ed. New York,: Knopf.
Powell, Mark Allan. 1998. Fortress Introduction to the Gospels. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Wright, N. T. 1999. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.