20. WE MUST LISTEN
We must listen to be able to hear. Scripture says: "If anyone hears my voice..." (Rev 3:20) It is possible that we are hearing without listening. Isaiah and Jesus are saying that some are hearing without understanding, seeing without perceiving. (Isa 6:9,10; Matt 13:14,15)
I shall never forget how a candidate for confirmation, to whom I had personally explained the way to salvation and had assisted to confirm her faith, responded to an altar call. At a gospel series six months later, she stayed behind with fellow students so that I could explain the way of salvation to them. I noticed her in the group and assumed that she had stayed behind out of interest, or perhaps, with a friend. I was astounded when, after the gathering, she thanked me with tears of gratitude because she had found her Saviour then. Six months earlier she had heard without understanding.
How will we know that we are truly hearing? Scripture says: "When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path... But what was sown on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." (Matt 13:19,23) Therefore, to hear, means to understand.
Philip asked the Ethiopian: "Do you understand what you are reading?" (Acts 8:30) The Ethiopian answered: "How can I, unless someone explains it to me?" Philip then explained it to him. Here it is written: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth." (Acts 8:32,33) The Ethiopian asked Philip: "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" (Acts 8:34) And then we read: "Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus." (Acts 8:35)
Led by the Spirit, Philip taught him that the one mentioned by Isaiah is not the prophet himself or anyone else, but Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. (Cp. John 12:37-41)
In the same chapter, from which the Ethiopian was reading, it is written: "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isa 53:6) Peter applies these words to Jesus (cp. 1 Pet 2:21-25) where he writes: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1 Pet 2:24,25) This means that Christ Jesus has died for our sins and has paid our debts to God. God has laid the sins of us all on Him.(Cp. 1 John 2:1,2) "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor 5:21) Jesus was nailed to the cross that had been prepared for Barabbas. (Cp. Luke 23:13-25) Barabbas could have said: "There He is hanging on the cross in my place!"
How can we understand this? Imagine being your own left hand and the Lord Jesus being your right hand. Use a book to represent your sins. Place the book in your left hand, that is to say, on yourself. This is how we stand before God. Our iniquities and our sins have become a dividing wall, separating us from God. (Isa 59:2) Now, take the book from your hand and place it in your right hand, or on Christ Jesus, so to speak. This is what God did on Golgotha with our sins; He laid them on Christ Jesus who carried them for us. You must understand this, and you must accept it. (2 Cor 5:18-20)
It is like a pair of identical twins in London, John and Peter, who were like two peas in a pod. John was a God-fearing man but Peter served the World. One day Peter killed a man on the street. He was caught red-handed by the police, but managed to escape into the crowd, and to flee to the house of his brother John. John took the bloodstained clothes of his brother Peter, put them on and waited for the police. They arrested John. In the trial that followed John was sentenced to death. His last wish was that a sealed envelope be handed to his brother, the day after his death.
Peter, who was under the influence of alcohol most of the time, was unaware of what had happened to John. A day after John's death the messenger of the court handed Peter John's letter. This is what John had written to his brother: "I died in your clothes, in your place. Now you must continue to live my life, in my clothes and in my place." Peter was shocked out of his drunken stupor and realised what he had done to his brother. He hurried to the police and confessed everything.
There was a new trial. The verdict of the judge was as follows: "The court acknowledges that the wrong person has been sentenced to death. The murderer is now before this court. But he is acquitted, because somebody else has already paid with his life for this murder."
This is what happened to all of us. We deserve to be punished with eternal death (Eph 2:3), but Somebody has already paid for our sins on Golgotha. (1 Pet 2:24) We must accept this (2 Cor 5:20) which we do by saying that we accept it; by declaring our firm belief that Christ Jesus has died in our place; that He was handed over to die, and was raised to life for our justification. (Rom 4:25) But have we done that yet? Have we made that statement? What prevents you from doing it now? Accept it now. The absolution that you accept is yours. If you have that, you will have life, eternal life. (Rom 6:23) Scripture says: "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." (1 John 5:12)
But how do we receive the Son of God? Scripture teaches that God gave his Son to the world. (John 3:16) And what do we do to receive a gift that has already been given to us? We do not work for it, pay for it, beg for it, try to earn it or make promises to get it; we merely receive it. If somebody should give you a watch, you accept it with your hand. But we can not accept Christ Jesus like that. To accept Jesus (cp. John 1:12; Col 2:6 7), means to accept Him for what He is the One who died in our place and was raised to life (Rom 4:25), the One who is our Lord and our God. (John 20:28) It means opening your heart to Him so that He can enter and feast with you. (Rev 3:20) We accept the Lord with our hearts by welcoming Him out aloud. (Cp. Rev 22:17) The door to our hearts only has a handle on the inside. We, ourselves, have to open our hearts to Him.