Blogtext: "With hearing ears they hear not"

With hearing ears they hear not”

On of the most perplexing mysteries of this ministry of the word is the frequent reality of “word upon word and precept upon precept” with little to show for it other than more words about words.
Although the promise is made by God in the prophetic writings that “His word never returns void” so much preaching is done which appears to be far from fruitful. See for instance Isaiah 55:11
“So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.“ What conclusions must we come to if we find that after having said everything that we thought was ‘sound doctrine’ we still see nothing of what we have said actually take form?

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. Matthew 6:7 is well known in it’s outspoken critique of long-winded praying, but is it not also true about other vocal expressions? What is Paul on about here: “But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness? “ 1 Cor 4:20 Or what is in his sight here: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” 1Cor 2:3-5

As soon as we discover that our words have no power what should we do? What do we mean by them having no power? That they do not produce what they contain in their linguistic meaning! And if the deeper and further meaning is not even understood by the speaker then it surely will not land in the listeners. The words in themselves can be 100% true year in and year out but still produce nothing like what they contain. Is this not the night mare of every orator? Is not this the frustration of Jeremiah?
Jer 20:7-9
“O Lord, You have deceived me and I was deceived;
You have overcome me and prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all day long;
Everyone mocks me.
For each time I speak, I cry aloud;
I proclaim violence and destruction,
Because for me the word of the Lord has resulted
In reproach and derision all day long.
But if I say, “I will not remember Him
Or speak any more in His name,”
Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
And I am weary of holding it in,
And I cannot endure it.”

They like my tune, but wont dance to it.” Echoed in the NT also. Not an unfamiliar problem then as far as the word goes. That hearing even of the finest truth does not guarantee the suitable result is the burden of all who labour in the transmission of the word of the Lord. How can this be? The highest level of oratorial skill crashes harmlessly against the rocks of the human hearts.

A considerable clue is found in a sermon summary from Acts ch 13:27. The enormity of what is here quickly established as a fact of history will become apparent when you understand the full meaning of the text.
Here is my paraphrase of
verse 27 and 28: For those that live in Jerusalem, and all their chiefs, failed to understand and recognize or discern the voice of the prophets, although they had heard the texts of the prophets read every sabbath all their lives. Had they heard the voice of the prophets in the texts they would not have fulfilled what the prophets spoke of by denouncing Jesus and handing him over to be killed by the Roman authority under Pilate.”

They had heard every text read a hundred times in their life time. But they had never heard the Voice of the Prophets! What is the true voice of the Prophets? Peter knows and tells us:  As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories  to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. “ 1 Pet 1:10-12

You may ascertain the veracity of my paraphrase by comparing a number of English versions of the original text:

NASB  For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him.

The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.

ISV For the people who live in Jerusalem and their leaders, not knowing who Jesus was, condemned him and so fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.

GNB For the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the words of the Prophets, which are read every Sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.

Darby For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, not having known him, have fulfilled also the voices of the prophets which are read on every sabbath, [by] judging [him].

ASV For they that dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him.

AMP  For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, who failed to recognize or understand both Jesus and the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled these [very prophecies] by condemning Him.

DRA For they that inhabited Jerusalem, and the rulers thereof, not knowing him, nor the voices of the prophets, which are read every sabbath, judging him have fulfilled them.

CJB  For the people living in Yerushalayim and their leaders did not recognize who Yeshua was or understand the message of the Prophets read every Shabbat, so they fulfilled that message by condemning him.

ESV For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him.

EXB  Those who live in Jerusalem and their leaders ·did not realize that Jesus was the Savior [L were ignorant of this; or did not recognize him]. They did not understand the ·words that the prophets wrote [L voices of the prophets], which are read every Sabbath day. But they ·made them come true [L fulfilled them] when they ·said Jesus was guilty [L condemned him].
MEV 27 Because those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, did not know Him, in condemning Him they have fulfilled the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath.

LEB 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize this one, and the voices of the prophets that are read on every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him.

A note or two on the actual text: the word translated “voices of or utterances” is the Greek word “Phone” and is virtually always translated by “voice”. Many of the versions make no distinction between the voice of the prophets and their texts. Paul did. And therefore the Spirit inspiring the writer did also.

It is the more important to note that since so many hold that knowing the text and or knowing the doctrine is enough to be in possession of the truth of it. They had heard the TEXT but had no understanding of it’s MEANING. And that is the dilemma that throughout the history of the Church has proved a most common ‘lockdown’ of the life of the Spirit in the Churches.

The crux of the matter.
Here is the obvious core issue. They would have known the prophetic texts down to a T, many could recite them chapter and verse. They knew on a purely intellectual level every jot and tittle of the text. But none of that knowledge was of any use in either understanding what the words meant or serve as guides to recognizing the Messiah himself. Their doctrine of the coming Messiah was bereft of the Spirit of Christ, and without the revelation of the Holy Spirit no gospel preaching is ever going to open hearts and minds to the truth. If all they knew was the factual truth, they as yet did not know the actual truth. The actual truth is that character transforming truth which the Spirit uses to affect the change in man that is the preparation for receiving the Kingdom.
Another echo of this difficult insight is found in the teaching of our Lord in John chapter 5.

A quick look at this will reinforce what the issue is.
The relationship between the written Word and the living Word is here in sharp focus.
John writes:
“ And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form.  You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him.  How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope.” John 5:37-45
First note that the only access to the truth about Christ is faith in the Father sending His Son. The understanding of their inner relationship is important since to be unsure of that is the main gate into the heresy of Antichrist according to the same author John in his first letter.

Secondly note that the Word cannot abide in them without that faith. They may hear it many times but nothing stays in them from one hearing to the next. It is not then, merely, the hearing with the ear that is the aim of reading the scriptures, but the hearing with the heart that abides and remains and bears fruit.

Thirdly note that they were eager to study the scriptures with the view to being able to show that they knew them and that they were sincerely hoping that the scriptures would open up the life eternal. But the testimony to that life is not in itself the Life. The vitally needed relationship between the readers and the Word behind the written words could not be more clearly defined. “They speak of me when they speak of eternal life, but you think that knowing that they do so is to have it! You are off by a thousand miles!” “You know not enough if the time spent reading the words does not lead you to Me who am the Life and the Truth.”

What a tremendous verdict on their Bible study method: “ you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” When that study is later turned into a series of sermons we will find faithful preaching that for years leads people into the Word but never beyond it’s letters. If the Word does not become flesh the words remain words. And it is in this context that Paul lights up the issue by showing that the kingdom of God is not in meat or drink but in power and righteousness and that the letters without that power are dead. The one thing the kingdom is never is merely a set of correct doctrines on their own.
“ Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. “
“Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,
 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
“How shall they...Indeed they wont..
 “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!
However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?”
If all they hear are people talking about Christ then a vital element of “sound doctrine” is lost.
Sound doctrine has the power to accomplish that whereof it speaks, because only that teaching can accomplish anything which is born of the Spirit. The Spirit of Christ commits only to glorifying Christ, it never satisfies itself by correct and ever so factually right doctrine alone.

If the proper understanding alone was needed then neither Christ nor Paul would have drawn up such clear distinctions. Understanding the truth is an intellectual exercise. Living the truth is a spiritually acquired change of life in and through the radical work of the Spirit. Bible study would have guaranteed true faith if that was all that was needed. I t does not.
The very core of preaching is to let Christ speak, since no words of any man or woman boy or girl can be a substitute for the people to hear Christ. The obvious question is: how can we hear Him speak? To answer that we need to be on the right side of “sound doctrine”.

Whereas preaching is done to the outer man until he is converted and born again into newness of life the teaching of the Holy Spirit is an inward revelation that is brought about by the words of Christ dwelling in the believer and activated by the Spirit in response to the reception by faith. The born again come into the life of the Spirit. A life that is within the believer.

The crucial role of the cross
The cross of Christ is central to every aspect of being a Christian at all. It is the essence of what must be proclaimed because without the cross we would only have seen a suffering servant but not understood what he was suffering for. He suffered death on the cross to give access to the cross to all those who believe in Him. The cross of Christ must needs lead to the crucifixion of the Christian with Christ. If it does not then the cross is emptied of it’s power.

You have read it, heard it, but is that all that is needed? I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” Gal 2:20-21
The matter of hearing is the beginning, not the end.
Romans 6:3-11 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Dead men do not eat

Preaching the words of life is without any success if the people who hear are dead in sin. “Dead men do not eat”. The faith in the death of Christ is without any result unless His death on Calvary is extended to ourselves and that we have died with him. Because the words that Spirit and truth are directed to, are those who are born again in the Spirit. It follows naturally that the purely natural man never understands the words of the Spirit. The Spirit of God speaks to the spiritual man. It has nothing to say to the unburied flesh. The natural man will be able to appreciate the sermon as to it’s natural content, but it will leave the real purpose for those words without a hold in the inner man. If the audience is still dead then no amount of Spiritual food will have the slightest effect on them who listen. It runs off as water runs off the back of a goose. The word spoken cannot become flesh until the flesh, the old nature of the fallen creation, has died with Christ. While the old flesh is in the driving seat then life of the new man is left kerbside.

People may have been brought to the cross of Christ ever so often and yet never have been crucified with Christ. Then the preacher has left the work half done and created a half baked loaf. The crucial testing of a living faith is not about what we theoretically believe, but who actually is alive in us. It is either Christ or I myself. The latter is impervious to the Spirit. And will not change however true the preaching and teaching is. You cannot talk wood into becoming a cross. The axt must be laid to the root of the tree. You cannot talk what is dead to life. It must be buried and rise again before it is any use to look for spiritual perception.
I am reminded of a preacher, much appreciated for always bringing “powerful” messages, having been invited back to a large gathering of eager listeners. Getting up to speak the speaker stood still behind the pulpit and only after heart-aching long minutes spoke these words: “I have asked the Lord for the right words to say to you. But all that The Spirit of God indicated to me was this: “ Why should I give this people of my treasure when they have done nothing with what I gave them last time?” The Atmosphere in the hall was tangible. No stronger invitation to repentance can be imagined. Did they repent? Or merely never asked that preacher back?
Casting pearls to swine
The difficult statement made by Christ about the futility of trying to turn swine into saints by giving them God’s best is one of the most chafing challenges to any one who wishes to speak truth. Matt 7:6 pinpoints a difficult issue. Elsewhere Christ also makes a case for not labouring beyond certain points. “If you are not received, shake the dust off your feet and move along.”
Having just spoken of the danger of sitting in judgment over fellow man, Christ Himself identifies some people as veritable pigs. Holiness they understand not and they should not be given pearls of great value. There is worse to come if you do: they will turn against you and and tread your words under foot. How ever true and precious those are they will not change a whisker on either a dog or straighten the tail of a pig. Recall the plight of the as yet unrepentant prodigal son: not even the foods given to pigs were available to him. It was the very poverty of his feed that caused him to consider turning back.

I summarize: your words may be true and right and still they have no effect. Spiritual things cannot be received by unspiritual people. So the position in grace is vital for the words of God to be received as pearls. To the pig pearls are inedible and will be wallowed under in the same mud as the pig itself likes to roll in. Proverbs 26:11  As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.And Simon Peter adds: “
But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

And in the end of times things will not get any better: “ But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, [a]haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of [b]godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who [enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.

But the next twist of the matter turns against the speaker.

Sower, what are you sowing?
The laws governing seeding and harvesting are well established to all. What you sow is what comes up to be harvested in time. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

In the parable of the four kinds of ground that receives the word of God it is the ground that is seen as the conditioning factor of the harvest. But not just the ground as there is always a “second sower” hard on the heels of the first. The element of the wild oats sown alongside by the enemy must not be lost out of sight.
Nevertheless there is the matter of the quality of the seed. Unless it is the true word of God then neither it’s ratio of germination, nor it’s ability to grow, how ever good the soil is, can be appreciated. You may preach your doctrine and never know the truth of it. But doctrine that does not lead to life is dead. And it kills the Spirit.

A dried out church is not fed good food. A Church of people who have no understanding of the difference between the Holy and unholy will not grow because they
can not feed. The repeated lament of Paul and the writer to the Hebrews is unanimous: after years of bible reading many are still unable to eat meat but have remained babes in the Faith. They are still on the ABC and have no eyes to see the “Encyclopedia Biblica” as ever being theirs. What you feed is what you get. What you have got shows up what you have fed the people.

Note: the words are not magic. They are not mantras or charms that immunize a man or woman against sin and falsehood just because they ‘own’ them and chant them. They are both Spirit and truth, never one without the other. If the truth content cannot be found to be along the revelation given then it is neither Spirit nor Truth. The inspirator of the Word will not superceed the given revelation by a new one. But he will take the words and reveal to the living what the dead could never see simply because they did not need to see what we need to see. The element of prophecy in the teaching ministry of the Church of Christ is the application of the word to the needs of today.
The backdrop is this
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. ...Jude 3
The application of the word is not the repetition of how the word was understood in ages past. Each successive generation has found different elements of the common faith being highlighted in practical experience. The Church in Jerusalem would have been utterly lost at sea in a Church of the Reformers or Puritans. And the Puritans would be lost in most Churches of our day. The confusions between “The eternal gospel” and the re-enactment of this or that arbitrarily chosen epoch of the Church in this or that time plagues the gospel to this day. Church History is only the collection of mirror images of how the gospel was applied in various ages and social and political situations. Literally we see them “as through a glass darkly.” Those blurred images are not what they mirror. To repeat them chapter and verse is pure folly and makes form superior to content.

Back to the beginning then. With hearing ears they hear not. Reading the texts every sabbath of a dozen
cycles of Jubilees still left them clueless about what the very text said, until it was revealed to them by the Spirit of Prophecy and Truth. A revelation known to be of God by the way it glorified the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. Ignore this and you will for ever be casting pearls to dogs. Or attempt to turn unregenerate men into saints by the mannerisms of religion.

It has been tried often and long enough. Time to take stock and re-evaluate. “Wise men look in the mirror, and do not forget what they have seen.”

Teddy Donobauer 28
th April 2020


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