The Lenten season has traditionally been a time for Christians to focus on spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting and reading God’s word and the goal is make our faith stronger. One of the reasons the church chose to make this season 40 days was because Jesus himself spent 40 days fasting and praying to make his own faith and life stronger. Right after Jesus was baptized it says he was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness where he fasted and prayed for 40 days. It was right after this time that Satan showed up to tempt Jesus and what we learn by looking at these 3 temptations is that while Jesus was in the wilderness, he spent a lot of that time listening.
We know this is because every time Satan tempted Jesus to do something, Jesus responded not with his words but with God’s words. It’s as if Jesus had just been listening to the word of God and reflecting on how to use that word in his own life. But Jesus wasn’t just listening to God’s word, we can see by some of his responses that he was also listening to the desires of his own heart and thinking and praying about who he wanted to be as the Son of God. But it wasn’t just God and his own heart that Jesus was listening to; he also listened to the cries of the people, not the cries he might have heard as he walked through a village, but the cries of our collective heart and soul. Jesus listened to our needs during his time in the wilderness and he made choices that helped us.
So this temptation story of Jesus shows us that for 40 days Jesus spent time listening to God, listening to his own heart and life and listening to the cries and the needs of the people around him and this year I want to invite us to do the very same thing. This year during the 40 days of Lent I want us to both listen to Jesus and listen like Jesus. Like Jesus I want us to listen to God and I want us to listen to our own hearts and lives and clarify what it means for us to follow Jesus all the way to the cross and I want us to listen to the cries and the needs of the people around us and the people around the world. I really hope that this Lent will be a season of listening.
Now specifically the words I want us to listen to clearly are the final words of Jesus as he hung on the cross. In the 4 gospels we find 7 final words or statements that Jesus made while he was dying and each week are going to listen to one of these words and hear what God is saying. How do these final words shape our understanding of God? How do they shape our faith, and how do they shape our relationships. But first we have to understand what does it mean to really listen?
Think about what it would have been like to listen to Jesus as he spoke from the cross. We learned last year from the 24 hours that changed the world study that the cross of Jesus was not on a hill far away, but right along the side of the road with Jesus only a few feet off the ground, which means that no matter how difficult it was for Jesus to speak, people actually did hear him and people remembered what he said and eventually wrote those words down. But because crucifixion made it so difficult for people to speak, Jesus wasn’t yelling these words out at the top of his lungs, they weren’t even spoken in a loud and clear voice for the crowds to hear, the reality of crucifixion meant that Jesus most likely whispered or cried out these words in pain which meant that if you were going to hear what he was saying you were going to have to get close to him – very close. So if we are going to listen to God during this season of Lent then we need to get close to God, we need to get very close.
For Jesus, getting close to God meant going off to be alone in the wilderness. For 40 days Jesus physically removed himself from the distractions and the noise of the world around him. He left his family, friends and all of his regular routines in order to be able to silence his heart, mind and life enough to be able to hear the word of God. While we may want God to shout above all the noise of this world to make his word and will known to us, most of the time god isn’t going to work that way. God doesn’t shout and raise his voice to get our attention, in fact the Bible says that God is heard in a still small voice or as some Bibles say, he is heard in the sheer silence. So if want to listen to God during this season of lent then we need to find a time and a place to get away from the noise around us and get close to God. This doesn’t mean we leave our families, jobs and communities for 40 days, but can we find 40 minutes each day or 40 minutes each week to get close to god and listen for his voice? Can we leave the world around us behind enough to really be able to hear God as we read his word and listen to him in times of prayer?
For people to listen to Jesus’ final words from the cross they didn’t just need to get close to Jesus, they also had to take some risks. To be with Jesus at the foot of the cross meant you were willing to associate with him and at that moment it could be costly. In fact, most of the disciples weren’t there when Jesus died. They weren’t willing to be at the foot of the cross to hear Jesus final words because they were afraid of being arrested and crucified with Jesus. In fear they stayed away, far away. It was only the disciple John and the 2 women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus, who were willing to risk it all to stay close to Jesus.
If we are going to get close to God and listen to his voice it will call for us to take some risks. We have to risk looking foolish to those around us as we set aside time to listen to God in worship, study and prayer, and then we have to risk looking foolish to people around us as we actually live out the words we hear. You see, listening to God can’t just be an exercise of the ears; it has to be an exercise of the heart. To listen to these final words of Jesus and do nothing with them doesn’t take any courage, but to listen and then apply them to our lives takes risk and courage. For example, the first word we will hear this Sunday is Father forgive them. It is risky to forgive people. It takes courage to forgive people, so to really hear these words from the cross means we are willing to live them out and that takes risk and courage and commitment.
But Lent isn’t just a time to listen to God, it is also needs to be a time to listen to our own hearts. When Jesus was in the wilderness, he spent time listening to the desires of his own heart and he made some decisions about the kind of leader and teacher and Messiah he was wanted to be. Jesus decided that he wasn’t going to focus on things that were spectacular like throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple so that angels would catch him, and he wasn’t going to just focus on just the basic human physical needs that people have, like the need we all have for bread and water. Those would be important to Jesus, but that was not going to be the foundation of his life and work, instead Jesus was going to focus on being a Messiah who through his words and actions would bring forth the kingdom of God.
My hope is that during the next 6 weeks as we won’t just listen to God but that we will take some to reflect on who we want to be as children of God. What kind of disciple do we want to be? What kind of leader do we want to be? This first step in this kind of self reflection and self examination is to confess our sin to God. Unconfessed sin does 2 things, it blinds us to who we really are and it keeps us from being able to hear God’s voice. Unconfessed sin keeps us from being able to listen. Think about the story of King David when he was caught up in the sin of adultery and then conspiracy to murder. David wasn’t confessing his sin to God, he didn’t even confess it to himself, he simply wanted to cover it all up. As long as David wasn’t honest about himself – he couldn’t hear God’s voice clearly, but once he confessed his sin he was able to hear God and God as able to work in his life. Humility and confession of sin are important if we are to become the people God desires us to be and if we going to become the people most of us want to be.
Tonight is a night to do this. Tonight is a night to humble ourselves and confess our sin. On Ash Wednesday, the traditional words spoken as the ashes are placed on a person’s forehead are these, remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. These words are to remind us that we are weak and sinful and that all of us are in need of God’s forgiveness and grace. Without God’s mercy we are simply dust and without the work of God’s love in our lives, we would return to dust and so what makes all the difference in our lives is God.
When we humble ourselves and admit this, when we confess our pride and the desire we have to do things our way we begin to hear more fully God’s voice and see more clearly who God wants us to be and who we want to be.
Like Jesus, I also hope we will take some time during the next 4 days to listen to the voice of those in need around us. I am convinced that while Jesus was being tempted by Satan one of the things that kept him faithful was that he heard our cry for help. Jesus heard us cry out for salvation and so he remained strong and faithful in order to meet that need. I am also convinced that from the cross Jesus could hear the cries of his family and friends and all those who are lost in the world and so he hung there and died in order to meet our spiritual needs. He knew we couldn’t overcome sin and death on our own, he knew that we needed his help, so he listened that then he helped us. He heard our cry and came to our rescue. I hope that during this season of lent we will hear the cries of those in need around us and then go to their rescue.
Can we take some time during these next 6 weeks to reach out to someone in need and offer them love, support or even physical care and resources to meet their needs? Can we not only hear the cries of those in need around us but those in need around the world as well? Can we take this season of Lent to learn about one of the missionaries we support or about a nation in need, or maybe commit to going on the mission trip to help those ravaged by tornadoes just a year ago. There are so many needs and so many people crying in the world today and part of listening to God means listening to them and reaching out to help them.
It’s risky and humbling to listen to the cries of those in need because they will shape our hearts and actions – but we need to listen and we need those cries to guide us because they did for Jesus. Jesus uttered final words from the cross because he heard our cries of need and was willing to go to the cross and die our death so that we wouldn’t just be dust and ashes. He listened not just to God and the desires of his own and life but he listened to our cries for help – and we need to listen to others. .
More than anything, I want this season of Lent to be a season of listening. May we listen carefully to the final words of Jesus and hear God’s message for our lives. May we listen to our own hearts and lives as we seek to live out that message and may we always be listening to the cries of those in need around us, those in need of love and grace and salvation, and may their cries move us like they did Jesus, to a place of sacrifice and service, to a place where we are willing to take up our own cross and live for God.