Hearers and Doers
Passage: Luke 8:16–8:21
Hearers and Doers
As you heard in our reading, today’s passage is closely related to our text from last week. If you remember, Jesus told the Parable of the Soils, in part, to call people to be careful how they hear the Word of God. There are different kinds of soil, Jesus said, but only the good soil holds fast to the Word and bears fruit in the end, so be careful how you hear. And in today’s passage, that same theme carries forward. In fact, you can see this straightaway in v18, where Jesus very plainly, “Take care then how you hear.” The burden of last week’s parable has carried forward. The urgency of God’s Word remains foremost in Jesus’ mind. Be careful how you hear.
But at the same time, Jesus is also pressing this theme a bit deeper. You can also see this in the text, particularly at the end of the passage. In a rather stunning display of authority, Jesus redefines his family as those who hear the Word of God and do it. Again, notice the theme – be careful how you hear – but notice also the progression. The one who hears the Word of God and does – that is the person that draws Jesus’ attention.
And so, I point this out so that you will see how today’s text really does flow out of the Parable of the Soils. These two passages are working in concert with one another. The imagery has changed, as we’ll see, but the theme carries forward. Jesus continues to explain his ministry, apply God’s Word, and exhort people to hear that Word with faith.
In terms of an outline, the focus today will be much the same as last week – on God’s Word in the ministry of Jesus. But the unique aspect of today’s text is that Jesus presents the Word of God as active in people’s lives. The Word is doing something, and that action is why we ought to be careful how we hear. In fact, that might be a good summary for today’s message. Since the Word is always active – always accomplishing God’s purpose in Jesus – then we certainly ought to be careful how we hear God’s Word. There is no neutrality before the Word of God.
With that in mind, then, let’s consider three ways Jesus presents God’s Word at work in people’s lives. The first comes in vv16-17 and has to do with the human heart before God. The second is found in v18 and focuses on a person’s future with God. And the final point is vv19-21, which highlights our need for allegiance to God.
The Word Exposes Our Hearts before God
We begin in vv16-17 with the first way the Word is active – the Word exposes our hearts before God. Jesus continues to teach in v16, but now the imagery shifts from a Sower among the soils to a lamp in the darkness. Notice again the image of a lamp, v16 – “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.” Now, you’ve got to remember that Jesus is speaking to people who cannot even fathom the amazing reality of electricity. There were no light switches in Jerusalem for you to simply flip on. If you wanted to light up a room, you had to rely on lamps or candles. And if you did light such a lamp, you certainly wouldn’t then hide it under something. That would defeat the entire purpose! The whole reason for the lamp is to help you see. Light exposes, you might say.
And in fact, that is precisely where Jesus goes in v17. He emphasizes the inescapable reality of revelation. Look again, v17 – “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Jesus is saying that just like a light reveals what is in a room, so also there is a kind of light that exposes what is hidden or secret in this life.
Now, at this point, there are two questions we have to answer in order to understand Jesus’ teaching. What is this light Jesus refers to, and what are the secret or hidden things that will be revealed? Clearly, Jesus is not giving a lecture on how to properly use a lamp, so what is he getting at? What is this light, and what are the secret things the light reveals?
The context of Luke 8 makes it clear that the light or lamp is the Word of God, specifically the Word of God that Jesus proclaims in his ministry. Think back to v11, where Jesus says the seed in his parable is the Word. That sets the theme for the rest of his teaching. Remember, there is no break from the parable of the soils to the story of the lamp. Those images are closely connected, which tells us that the lamp represents God’s Word, specifically the Word that Jesus proclaims.
And this fits with the overall teaching of Scripture doesn’t it? Think of how often God’s Word is connected with light. It actually starts in the very first chapter of Scripture, Genesis 1, where God says, “Let there be light.” God’s Word is what brings light. Or think of Psalm 119.105 – “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Or even consider 2 Peter 1, where the Scriptures are presented as a “lamp shining in a dark place,” calling us to pay attention to what God has said. What Jesus teaches here in v16 fits with the parable of the soils, and it fits with the overall teaching of Scripture. The lamp Jesus has in view is the Word of God that he preaches.
But what about the secret or hidden things that are revealed? What is that about? The context of Luke 8 helps us again. Think about the parable of the soils. What did those soils represent? They represented the heart’s response to the Word of God. According to God’s sovereign purpose, his Word reveals the soil of each person’s heart.
And so it is here in v17. What the lamp of v16 reveals is the condition of each person’s heart before God. This is God’s purpose for his Word. Whether in grace or in judgment, the Word exposes on the hidden reality of the human heart. By grace, God’s Word reveals a heart that believes the gospel, and in judgment, God’s Word reveals a heart that rejects the gospel. But both purposes – both grace and judgment – flow from God’s purpose for his Word.
And this point is essential for us to understand, brothers and sisters. Through his Word, God reveals every person’s heart, so that God’s purpose is accomplished. Whether in grace or in judgment, the Word of God does not return void. This is so very important for us to understand. For one, this helps us understand Jesus’ ministry. This is easy to overlook as you read the Gospels, but most people in Jesus’ day did not believe his preaching. The Jewish religious leaders certainly did not believe Jesus. They outright opposed him, and it will be the leaders of Israel who conspire with the Romans to put Jesus to death. Most people did not believe Jesus’ message.
Is Jesus’ ministry a failure? Is his preaching of God’s Word ineffective? Those are serious questions as you read the Gospels. Remember, Jesus announces that the kingdom of God is at hand, that the redemptive reign of God is breaking-in to this age with his ministry. But then, most people reject his message. Is Jesus’ ministry a failure? Has the Word of God failed?
No – absolutely not. The Word of God that Jesus proclaims is like the lamp of v16 – it shines light on the human heart – and in doing so, like v17, the light of the Word reveals God’s purpose in each person’s life. Whether in grace or in judgment, God’s Word through Jesus accomplishes God’s will. The kingdom of God is coming in Christ, but the kingdom’s arrival does not match what we might assume. The gospel of the kingdom is like the light of the lamp – it exposes all things in the human heart, both faith and unbelief.
The Word Reveals Our Future with God
And this leads us into v18, where we see a second way the Word of God is active – the Word reveals our future with God. V18 is Jesus’ practical takeaway from his image of the lamp. Here, the Lord tells us how we ought to respond to the heart-revealing work of God’s Word. Look again, first part of v18 – “Take care then how you hear.” Catch the connection between v18 and last week’s parable of the soils. If the Word of God reveals the state of your heart, then each one of us ought to be careful how we hear the Word.
I want you to feel the earnestness of that statement. No one can remain neutral before God’s Word. The Word is active, exposing and revealing the nature of our hearts. And therefore, when we hear God’s Word, we ought to humble ourselves with a ready, willing spirit to respond. Remember, the Bible is not merely a source of truth. It is not simply a collection of facts and history about God. No, the Word of God is active, brothers and sisters. It is the lamp of God’s revealing work, confronting and exposing our lives before the face of God himself. To hear the Word is to encounter the Living God who Speaks. Listen, there should be an element of trembling when you consider that reality. Is that how you respond? Is that how you view each moment of hearing God’s Word – as an encounter before the face of the Living God who Speaks?
And before we go any further with v18, brothers and sisters, I do want to pause here and remind us of what it means to respond to God’s Word. Any time we read the Scriptures, the Living God is calling us to one of two foundational responses – repentance and faith. To repent and believe are not one-time actions in the Christian life. They encapsulate the entirety of the Christian life. Which means, every time I read the Word, I’m asking – How is God’s Word calling me to repent, and in what ways in God’s Word calling me to faith?
For example, let’s say you’re reading Scripture, and the Word of God shines the light of conviction in your heart. You read about the kind of holiness that honors God, or perhaps you read about the sinful attitudes and actions that don’t honor him, and in that moment, you are convicted. You know that feeling, right? Sometimes, it’s almost tangible, and you know, “The Word is talking about me here.” What do you do in that moment of conviction?
Brothers and sisters, you repent. You confess the way you have not lived in step with God’s Word, you turn from that sinful way, and then with renewed faith, you set out to run hard after the holiness that pleases the Lord. That’s an example of taking care how you hear the Word. When Scriptures shines the light of conviction, you repent in faith.
Or, for another example, let’s say you’re reading Scripture, and the Word of God shines the light of glory in your heart. You read something that is gloriously true about God – how he sustains the universe with his Word; or how, before the foundation of the earth, he determined to save a people through the blood of his Son; or how he is working all things together for the good of his people that will culminate one day in a new creation. Those are glorious truths, and God reveals them to us in his Word. What do you do in that moment of glory?
Brothers and sisters, you believe what God has said, and you give him the worship that he deserves. You bring your thoughts, your life in line with God’s Word, and you praise him for who he is. I think this is a practice of faith that we have lost sight of in our day – this purposeful expression of praise to God that flows from a heart of faith. I’m afraid that we’ve grown far too accustomed to reading the Bible with our eyes attuned only to the things that seem relevant for my life today. And in doing this we’ve lost sight of the fact that the vast majority of Scripture is about God – his character, his purposes, his glory, his grace. And that means a regular response in my Christian life should be faithful, purposeful praise of God.
In fact, I’ll just ask you – when was the last time you read a portion of Scripture and focused first on what was praiseworthy about God? When was the last time you read Scripture in order to find fuel for worship? We ought to recover that practice, brothers and sisters. That’s part of how we take care how we hear God’s Word – we hear and respond with the worship God deserves.
And let me just remind you that this is the most practical thing you can do as a Christian. Worship reorients the heart. When I praise God for his mercy, I am led to be merciful myself. When I praise God for his sovereignty, I’m encouraged to trust him for today’s trouble. When I praise God for his power, I’m led away from self-reliance and led into humility and faith. Do you see the practical difference praise makes? Worship reorients the heart, so that we live each day as we ought – as people before the face of the Living God.
Now, as we look back to v18, you’ll notice that there is a second part to Jesus’ exhortation. Here, Jesus explains why we ought to be careful how we hear. Notice what the Lord says, v18 – “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” Jesus is reminding his listeners of the spiritual stakes when one encounters God’s Word. In fact, eternity is at stake in a person’s response to the Word. Those who reject the Word will find that the darkness of their unbelief continues and even progresses. That’s what Jesus means when he says those who have not will find even what they do have is taken away. Unbelief produces further unbelief. Darkness gives birth to darkness.
But the one who believes God’s Word by grace, Jesus says, will find the opposite. The believer finds that the illuminating light of truth continues in his heart, leading faith to be strengthened and confirmed. Do you see the spiritual stakes at play when someone encounters the Word of God? It’s no small thing, and that’s why Jesus begins v18 with that exhortation – “Take care then how you hear.”
Now, in the context of Jesus’ ministry, he’s talking here primarily about the Jewish religious leaders. This is a warning to them to be careful how they respond to Jesus’ message. And if you think about those religious leaders, you can see Jesus’ point. The scribes and Pharisees think they understand God’s Word. They believe they have knowledge of God’s purposes, and in fact, that’s why they are rejecting Jesus – because they are smugly confident in what they supposedly already know.
But what will be the consequence of their unbelief? Consider what Luke describes in his second volume – the book of Acts. Where does the gospel spread primarily in Acts? It spreads among the Gentiles, while the Jewish religious leaders – the scribes and Pharisees – are largely left in the darkness of their unbelief. V18 is a warning. The religious leaders think they have the truth on lockdown, but in reality, their rejection of Jesus will lead them further away from the truth they claim to already know.
But of course, the application of v18 extends beyond the Jewish religious leaders as well. What v18 anticipates is the final judgment day all people will face before the Living God. How you respond to Jesus has eternal consequences. Those who believe by grace will receive from God even more grace, leading to eternal life with him. But those who reject the gospel will receive judgment. What they have will be taken away for eternity in separation from God. That divide between faith and unbelief, between salvation and judgment – that is THE divide of humanity. And that divide makes ever moment of hearing God’s Word a moment of eternal significance. Be careful how you hear.
I don’t know who all is listening today, but I am sure there are some who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord. There are some who have not responded to God’s Word with the repentance and faith in Christ that leads to salvation. And if that’s you this morning, friend, I want to plead with you to see the eternal reality that is inescapable for every person. All of us will stand one day before the Living God, and the point of division for each of us will be the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who believe the gospel by grace will enter into the Father’s eternal joy, and those who reject the gospel will enter into God’s eternal judgment.
And that makes this question absolutely crucial – how are you hearing the Word of God that Jesus proclaims? With faith or with unbelief? Oh friend, I pray this morning that God, through his Word, will open your eyes to see the truth of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for sinners. I pray God will shine the light of his Word in your heart so that faith springs up where unbelief held firm. Hear the gospel, friend, and believe what God has done. He has delivered up his own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to pay for the sins of God’s people. At the cross, Jesus shed his blood so that sinners would be cleansed and forgiven, and through his resurrection, Jesus has secured salvation for all who believe by grace. That’s the gospel, friend. And so I’ll urge you once more – Hear that Word this morning, and believe. The Word reveals our future with God, and oh how I pray that we believe this morning.
The Word Demands Our Allegiance to God
That brings us to the end of this passage, vv19-21, where we see a final way the Word is active in our lives. And this final way really sums up much of what we have said over the last two weeks. The Word demands our allegiance to God. Jesus’ family shows up in v19, and v20 tells us they are looking for Jesus. Notice v20 – “And [Jesus] was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.’” Now, Luke doesn’t tell us exactly why Jesus’ family wants to see him, but the Gospel of Mark strongly implies that their intentions are not altogether positive. Perhaps they are less than enthusiastic about Jesus’ teaching, or maybe they’re concerned about the growing opposition to Jesus’ ministry. For whatever reason, they’re now standing outside, and they want Jesus to come out to see them. Of course, to come outside, Jesus will have to stop teaching. He will need to take a break, at least for a moment, from his work of proclaiming God’s Word. It’s an interesting encounter for Jesus.
But as Jesus so often does, he turns this interesting encounter into a teaching moment. Notice Jesus’ response, v21 – “But he answered them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.’” Now, please don’t misunderstand Jesus here. He’s not heartlessly rejecting his family, as though they were unimportant. Remember in his final hour on the cross, Jesus went out of his way to ensure that his mother was cared for by the apostle John. Don’t hear Jesus in v21 as some heartless fanatic who doesn’t care about the people entrusted to him. That’s not at all what the Lord is getting at.
Instead, Jesus is emphasizing, once again, the priority of God’s Word. Yes, family and other things are important, but they are not ultimate. What matters most in this life is how you hear the Word. In fact, those who hear the Word are brother and sister with the Lord himself. That’s a striking picture of how faith unites the believer with Jesus Christ. To hear the Word and hold fast to it by grace is to be counted with Jesus in the family of God. Be careful, then, how you hear the Word.
But Jesus does introduce a new dimension at this point, and it’s one that we must not miss. Notice what it means to hear the Word. Listen again, v21 – “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.” Did you hear the emphasis on obedience – on allegiance to God’s Word? Jesus is saying to us that hearing the Word cannot be merely a mental exercise. It’s not simply the pursuit of knowledge or information or facts. No, hearing the Word ultimately is a matter of allegiance. It’s a matter of action expressed in obedience to what the Word says. It’s very practical, very definite, isn’t it? At the end of the day, how can you tell if you are hearing the Word carefully? Are you obeying it by faith? That’s how you can tell. Is your life marked by an increasing allegiance to what God has said?
Remember that the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were well versed in Scripture. They knew the Law and the Prophets. They prayed the Psalms. They could tell you all the promises of the Messiah from Genesis through to Malachi. They knew the Scriptures. But they didn’t do the Scriptures. That is, they didn’t submit their lives to God’s Word in humble obedience.
And so, here in v21, Jesus is reminding us that he’s not looking for more scribes and Pharisees. He’s looking for disciples and servants. He’s looking for humble followers who submit their lives to God’s Word and who express that submission with obedience.
What about us, brothers and sisters? Are our lives marked by increasing obedience to God’s Word? Where is God’s Word calling you to obey? Where can you, by faith, express your allegiance to Christ more clearly by doing his Word?
Maybe it’s how you use your time – Psalm 90 exhorts us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Perhaps God is calling you to more self-control in how you use your time, focusing more on others than on yourself, looking for ways to serve rather than to be served.
Or maybe it’s how you use your words – Ephesians 4 says let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those hear. Obedience would be cutting out harsh, complaining, cynical, corrupting, gossiping words, and replacing that kind of talk with words that give life, build up, encourage, and tell the truth.
Or maybe it’s how you go about your work. Colossians 3 says whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men. Perhaps the Word is calling you to obey God by working more faithfully, giving your best effort on each task, even the ones you think are silly, and even if your boss doesn’t necessarily deserve your hard work. Even in the workplace, the Word calls you to hear and do what God says.
I could go on, but I trust you see the takeaway here. The Word of God is always calling us to respond, and Jesus himself reminds us in Luke 8 that the right response – the careful response – is faith expressed in obedience. Where is the Lord calling you to renewed obedience this morning?
The Word of God is active, brothers and sisters, always calling us to respond. Faithfulness to Christ means being careful how you hear. The Word exposes our hearts before, God it reveals our future with God, and it demands our allegiance to God. How is the Word calling you to hear this morning?
May each one of us respond with faith and obedience today, to the glory of Christ and for the good of his church. Amen.