Both of the following passages were gospel readings in the lectionary this past month. In both of them I noticed a curious element – God’s immediate awareness of who was listening to him and his on-the-fly adjustment of his speech to better communicate to them.
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”
Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.”
Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This He said, signifying by what death He would die.
In the first passage from Mark 8, Peter takes Jesus aside and chastises him. Perhaps Jesus is about to reply to him in a more gentle or private way, but when he looks around and sees the disciples right there listening in, he switches tactics and rebukes Peter openly with the now famous “Get behind me Satan!”. It’s remarkable when Jesus talks like this as its not the usual mode we see in the gospels. But here he decides to make more of a spectacle and we are told why. It was the context of who was listening in. I think we can conclude that if Jesus had been sufficiently alone with Peter, his reply would have been different. Context matters.
In John 12, we find one of only three times instances where God speaks directly and audibly from heaven. Afterwards though, Jesus lets the people know, “Oh, by the way, that voice wasn’t for ME. I didn’t need to be reminded or assured or anything. It was for YOU all standing around listening. So pay attention!” Apparently, Jesus felt the need to clarify things for the people listening, lest they jump to a wrong conclusion (e.g. “angels are speaking to him or something”). It depended on who the audience was.
Jesus’s words are now dry ink on the page and the canon of scripture is etched in stone. Does God then still adapt his words to each of us today? I think so. The Holy Spirit does this when we meditate on his word. He brings certain things to the forefront. He guides us to skip over parts that may distract or confuse us at the moment. We probably don’t even realize when this is happening. I believe this kind of selective awareness when we read the bible does not originate entirely within our own psychology, but is actively directed by a third party – the third person of the Trinity. If Jesus were physically here with us in the same room in a conversation with us, he would do the same thing – adjust his words to best fit the listener and the situation.