The perfect October draws to a close this weekend with incredible colors and bright sun after the rains. Fall field trips and festivals have dotted our classroom calendars, and now we make the turn to the coming holidays with a pair of three-week stretches of school, punctuated by breaks on both sides. Our first quarter wraps up in two weeks, so it’s a great time to check in with your kids and help them towards a strong finish.
We get to celebrate Reformation Day this Sunday, and when we come back to school on Monday, it will be All Saints Day, a time the Christian Church traditionally remembers and honors all God’s people, many of whom around the world we may never meet in our lifetime, as well as those faithful brothers and sisters who have passed into glory to be with our Lord. In other words, we get to step beyond the limits of time and space and recognize that God’s Church includes saints (or holy ones, which the New Testament designates as all those set apart in Christ), from all ages and places. After all, our God is the God of the living, not the dead (Mark 12:27). In Him, we have true life, indeed.
This week in Convocation, we took a couple of lessons from the Gospel of Luke. An important theme emerges early in his book: that of hearing and our responses to God’s words to us. Luke sets the stage for the miraculous and long-expected birth of Jesus in the first chapter, giving us details that only appear in this account. Two key figures receive prophetic visits from God’s angel Gabriel, and their responses teach us much regarding how we hear and receive God’s promises.
First, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, hears Gabriel announce that his hitherto barren wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son, who will fulfill the Old Testament prophecies by preparing the way for God’s Messiah to appear. So awesome is Gabriel’s appearance that he must exhort Zacharias to not fear (1:13). Yet even in the presence of such a divine messenger, Zacharias wants more proof, more of a sign. The message seems so improbable to him that Zacharias asks, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years” (1:18). Gabriel’s answer echoes the profound and repeated logic of God that we see often in the Old Testament: “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings” (1:19). In other words, because God is who He says He is, and because He trusts me to stand in His presence and deliver His word to you, that is reason enough to believe and trust. Now, Zacharias was a righteous and faithful man whom Luke calls blameless (1:6), yet his response to the message was one that sought to know too far into the ways of God in a way that made Zacharias’s certainty the confirmation of the work. To teach him a lesson, God made Zacharias mute for nine months until these things could come to pass, until the first words out of his own mouth would follow the naming of his son to the praise and glory of God. He would have nine months to prepare his answer to the world, and what an answer it would be! “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, ‘What kind of child will this be?’ And the hand of the Lord was with him” (1:64-66).
The second figure in Luke’s gospel to receive a visit from God’s messenger is none other than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Like Zacharias, Mary must be exhorted to put fear aside, “for you have found favor with God” (1:30). This announcement, of course, seems even more impossible than the first, for Mary has not yet even known a man (1:34b). And like Zacharias, she has a question for Gabriel about his message: “How can this be?” (1:34a). But the difference, though subtle, is more important than the similarity, for Mary did not seek a sign or doubt God’s ability to perform His promise. Her question was one of wonder, not skepticism. She does not doubt that this will or can be, she only wonders how God will perform this miraculous feat. Gabriel’s answer about both Mary and Elizabeth comes down to us as one of the great truths about God’s power and person: “For with God nothing will be impossible” (1:37). Mary concludes with an affirmation of trust that gives glory to God immediately: “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (1:38). Amen. When Mary and Elizabeth meet, Elizabeth declares to her, “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (1:45).
A few chapters later in Luke, the grown Jesus has begun preaching His message of repentance and belief around Judea. As the crowds gather, he begins teaching in parables, including the familiar lesson of the sower whose seed falls on four different types of ground with four different results. He closes the parable with an admonition: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (8:8). We can be thankful that the disciples ask the question we too would naturally need answered: “What does this parable mean?” (1:9). When Jesus explains the parable and His purpose for teaching this way, He quotes Isaiah, saying, “Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand” (1:10b). He then goes on to describe the four types of soil, all related to how different listeners receive and hear the word of God (1:12, 13, 14, and 15). A form of “hear” or “heard” appears in each of the four verses. And then our editors do us the disservice of breaking up the text with a subtitle (“The Parable of the Revealed Light”) that makes it seem like we have shifted topics. But we haven’t, and Jesus ties the discourse together in verse 18: “Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.”
If you’ve ever read the Parable of the Sower, as I have, with the sobering fear that you might not be the good soil, the words of Jesus should give you comfort. As He indicates, we have the ability to “take heed” and pay attention to how we hear the word of God. Will we carelessly let our guard down and let the devil snatch the word out of our hearts (v.12)? Will we respond with shallow enthusiasm but never take care to water and root ourselves with its meaning (v. 13)? Will we receive God’s word but in such a way that we allow other cares and concerns to overpower its authority and truth to us (v. 14)? Or will we receive God’s word with noble hearts, keeping it and bearing fruit with patience (v. 15)? The encouraging admonition here is that we can take heed, God helping us. We can pray to the Lord as we hear and receive His word. We can ask Him to make us good soil. We can respond with Mary, wondering at God’s work and word. And we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can be transformed by His word in the renewing of our minds in Christ Jesus (Rom. 12:1-2). But the warning is there as well, for we find ourselves in a context and community that has the privilege of hearing God’s word often. May the Lord grant that our education at CCA be fruitful, good soil, and may we humbly take heed of His word. What a powerful gift! This is true education from the True Teacher.
For us, it is not to know the when and why and how of God’s work. For us, it is to trust, to believe, to obey, and to follow Jesus, who is faithful to fulfill every good promise from His word. Thanks be to God. He loves His people at CCA, and we are grateful to be growing in grace with you, one school day at a time. May He continue to bless your families as we enter a new month!