It is very rare in the New Testament that we are given words directly spoken by God the Father so when this happens it should grab our attention. One of the three occasions this occurs is at the Transfiguration. God the Father identifies who Jesus is and then concludes His message with a powerful exhortation for us: “Listen to Him [Jesus]” (Matthew 17:5).
Listening: A call to discipleship
It is interesting to examine the Greek word akouo (to listen, to hear) which is used in this passage. Many times we find it used in the Gospels connected to discipleship. Jesus identifies His sheep as those who hear (akouo) His voice and follow Him (John 10: 3, 16, 27). Martha’s sister Mary is shown to be a model disciple because her first priority was to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen (akouo) to Him (Luke 10: 39-42). Jesus honors the Blessed Virgin Mary as His mother but gives her even greater praise as a disciple – hearing (akouo) God’s word and keeping it (Luke 11:28). And the Gospel of John demonstrates how the call to discipleship is a free choice: one can truly hear all Jesus says, or walk away. We see this in the Bread of Life Discourse, after Jesus has repeatedly taught how He is the bread of life and we are to eat His flesh and drink His blood. John writes, “Many of His disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying, who can listen (akouo) to it?’” Jesus does not respond by compromising His teachings due to their objections. Rather John tells us, “After this many of His disciples drew back and no longer went about with Him,” and Jesus then turns to His Apostles and asks, “Do you also wish to go away?” (John 6:60, 66-67).
These connections calling us to listen (akouo) to Jesus help us to recognize God the Father is calling us to discipleship. We are to follow Jesus – imitating Him, putting His teachings at the center of our lives and obeying Him. If we find His revelations difficult to understand we are not to outright reject Him but seek to understand, trusting Him always, confident only He has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).
Listening: The Sower and the Seed
Jesus also expounds what it truly means to listen (akouo) to Him in the parable of the Sower and the Seed (Luke 8:4-15; Matthew 13:3-23). Jesus compares people to the path, the rocks, the thorns and fertile soil. All receive the word of God but only those who are like the fertile soil truly hear and are fruitful. The others fall away either because they did not seek to understand, did not obey falling into temptations or allowed the cares and pleasures of the world to influence them more than the word of God. It is only those who not only received the word but also truly heard it – believing, obeying and loving God – who are fruitful.
As Luke writes:
And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing (akouo) the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bring forth fruit with patience (Luke 8:15).
Listening: The Shema Profession
Another significant connection to listening to Jesus can be seen when Jesus tells us the first commandment His disciples are to heed:
Hear (akouo) O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength… (Mark 12:28-31).
Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the passage held by the Jewish people to be their profession of faith. In Hebrew this passage begins, “Shema Yisrael…” and as such is referred to as the Shema profession. This passage calls the Jewish people to monotheism and a God-centered life. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains the liturgical expression of this Shema profession is expanded to consist of three portions: Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Numbers 25:37-41.
By reciting the Shema one acknowledged three core tenets of the faith:
- They believed in one God, were to obey the command to love God with their heart, soul and might, and were to keep all of God’s commandments. They also promised to instruct their children in the faith.
- They recognized God had promised He would reward all those who remained faithful
- They acknowledged they understood the warning that if they followed evil inclinations and turned away from God they would forfeit their blessing and rewards.
The Shema profession was so essential to the Jewish faith that all males over the age of 13 were to wear phylacteries (tefillin) strapped to their head and arm containing this passage as a constant reminder of their commitment.
By reiterating the Shema, Jesus demonstrates He expects this profession to still be the first and greatest commandment for His New Covenant people. Therefore, as we obey the Father and listen to Jesus, this Shema profession is to be upheld. We are to believe and obey (Luke 6:46-49; 11:28), as well as instruct our children in the faith. We are also to acknowledge God has promised to reward those who persevere (Matthew 24:13) but by persisting in unbelief or disobedience one will forfeit our rewards (Hebrews 3:12).
Listening: Truth and Salvation
Scripture tells us God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), and, in this command to us at the Transfiguration, God tells us in three words His plan for making this possible: “Listen to Him.” In obeying the Father we receive Truth itself and the only way to salvation (John 14:6). But we must be alert because there will be many noises in this world trying to drown Jesus out. Our emotions and passions, misleading propaganda and errors of the secular world will try to lure our focus away, only to deceive us further by giving us a sense of pleasure. But any happiness achieved will be either temporary or illusory and, through them, we will never be lead to truth and salvation. It is only by submitting our minds and wills – truly listening to Christ alone – that we can receive the eternal rewards from our heavenly Father.