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Jesus Speaks: Learning to Recognize and Respond to the Lord's Voice

Jesus Speaks: Learning to Recognize and Respond to the Lord's Voice

by Leonard Sweet, Frank Viola
Jesus Speaks: Learning to Recognize and Respond to the Lord's Voice

Jesus Speaks: Learning to Recognize and Respond to the Lord's Voice

by Leonard Sweet, Frank Viola

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Are you hungry to hear God’s voice, but don’t know how? Jesus Speaks teaches readers how to listen for the voice of Jesus and how you can grow in your ability to recognize and respond to his voice daily.

While the Lord frequently speaks to us, we don’t really hear his voice until we recognize it. In Jesus Speaks, Sweet and Viola unpack the many ways the Lord speaks to his people today by exploring how the disciples interacted with the risen Jesus—from the Gospels to Revelation. They demystify the process in a warm, practical way, providing insights on how you can recognize the voice of Jesus in your own life.

Separated into two sections, the first provides a big-picture look at how the resurrected Jesus spoke in the New Testament, while the second contains short, actionable chapters filled with scriptural quotes and references. Both sections work together to help you recognize and respond to the voice of Jesus in your everyday life.

Readers will be able to:

  • Gain a firm foundation in the scriptures, learning how Jesus spoke to his disciples
  • Dispel myths and misinformation surrounding what it means to hear the voice of Jesus today
  • Grow the ability to recognize God’s voice and learn how to respond

Essential for Christians seeking to improve their relationship with Jesus, Jesus Speaks is the long-awaited third volume in the JESUS trilogy: Jesus Manifesto; Jesus: A Theography; and Jesus Speaks.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718038281
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 08/09/2016
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 968,304
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Leonard Sweet is an author of many books, professor (Drew University, George Fox University, Tabor College), creator of, and a popular speaker throughout North America and the world. His “Napkin Scribbles” podcasts are available on  


Frank Viola has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. His mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply so they can experience real transformation and make a lasting impact. Viola has written many books on these themes, including God's Favorite Place on EarthFrom Eternity to Here, and Jesus Manifesto (with Leonard Sweet). His blog,, is rated as one of the most popular in Christian circles today.

Read an Excerpt

Jesus Speaks

Learning to Recognize and Respond to the Lord's Voice


Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2016 Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-3828-1


The Unexpected Voice of Jesus

Jesus' First Appearance: Jesus Speaks to Mary in the Garden

It was daybreak and the sun arose, Together with him some stars, When the Divine Love First moved its beautiful works.

Dante, Inferno

"What gave rise to Christianity? The belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Can you hear Him rising in you every day? The risen Christ gives rise to a life of surprise and enterprise. Rise up! Hear the unexpected voice of the risen Christ!

The first rise up was at sunrise. In all of the Gospels, the first resurrection experiences happen "early and dark." God's favorite time to walk and talk with us is early and dark or in the fade of light. The old saying "The early bird catches the worm" is actually a loose translation of the old German saying "Morgenstunde hat Gold im Mund" or "The morning hours have gold in their mouth." In the morning hours, God magically spins the garbage of our lives into pure gold.

The gold-mine times of day are dawn and dusk. Ask any gardener, and he will tell you that the best time to walk a garden is when "the dew drops from heaven" — early and dark, late and light. Dawn and dusk are when God walked and talked in the garden with the First Adam. Dawn and dusk are when the Last Adam walked and talked with His Father. Early and dark was Jesus' favorite time of day. Maybe prayer is nothing more nor less than walking and talking with God. Maybe prayer is simply a conversation with God about "How does your garden grow?" Maybe prayer is simply a panning for gold, as God strains our lives of dust and dirt. Maybe prayer is simply a song sung at dawn (aubade) or dusk (serenade) by your lover under your bedroom window.

The Daybreak Voice

God's voice may often be heard most clearly at daybreak, in the in-between hour when it's darkest and creation is dawning. But you have to be awake — awake to life, aware of Jesus' presence, alert to His voice — to hear Jesus speak in His daybreak voice. God's "loving heart," God's heart of gold, "visits us like the dawn from on high" (Luke 1:78, author's paraphrase). The dawn reveals secrets that the day conceals. When the day dawns, does the morning star rise in your heart?

Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20 each open with the arrival of the women (including Mary Magdalene) at the tomb.

They found it empty with the stone rolled away. Mary Magdalene separated from the other women to find Peter and John, while the rest of them went to find the other nine disciples to inform them of the empty tomb.

Peter and John ran to the tomb, and after they found the body missing, the limestone slab bookended by a stack of grave clothes and the folded shroud, they ran back to join the other nine. Mary Magdalene remained behind and through the prism of her tears saw two angels. Mary heard the angels' voices, where John and Peter had only seen dirty laundry.

The Angelic Voice

Sometimes you hear Jesus smuggle His voice into your life through an encounter with an angel. Whenever an angel shows up in the Bible, something life-changing and earth-shaking is about to happen. Life gets complicated. Angels must know we know this — that the fact you see them means, "This is going to scare the pants off of you, but ..." So that's why the first words out of an angel's mouth are often "Fear not," or in today's lingo, "It's okay! Don't be afraid!"

Just as Mary, mother of Jesus, believed the impossible when an angel appeared to her and she embraced the new life inside her, so now Mary Magdalene, Jesus' friend and follower, believed the impossible when two angels appeared to her, and she embraced the new life in front of her.

Your baptism makes you a candidate for consorting with an angel. Some angels wear wings; some, cuffs. Some angels appear as humans.

When you are baptized, there grows a new life inside you, summoning you to fearlessly embrace the impossible. Of course, you can starve the miracle inside you. That way you'll never be bothered by angels.

There is an old story about when God created human beings. The angels were jealous because God had endowed the humans with divine wisdom that would guide them through life. So the jealous angels conspired to hide a certain gift from the humans.

"Let's take it to the peak of the highest mountain," said one.

"No," said another. "Let's bury it at the bottom of the deepest sea."

But the smartest angel of all said, "Let's hide divine wisdom deep inside each person. It's the last place they'll ever look."

The positive human traits of creativity, imagination, compassion, altruism, conscience, intuition, the "better angels of our nature," often stem from interior voices, not exterior ones. Or in the words of John Wesley, "Sometimes a strong impression, for which we are not able to give any account, is not altogether to be despised."

After her angelic visitation, Mary stumbled out of the tomb, into the light, and almost literally bumped into Jesus. She assumed He was the gardener, a biblical "sign" that Jesus' mission was complete and the Last Adam had restored us to the garden relationship with God for which we were made.

Some bumps in the night belong to both sleeping and waking worlds. Some bumps in the road are actually Jesus interrupting our journey to remind us that the journey is not everything. Those destination moments — and admittedly they're rare — when "the fish grabs the fly," when the divine intersects the human, are why you endure and enjoy the journey to begin with. When these destination moments happen with Jesus, as Mary discovered here, and as the disciples discovered a short time later, what a divine kettle of fish!

The Naming Voice

What's in a name? Ask Mary.

God wants to speak to us by name. Just as in Genesis 3 when God hunted Adam and Eve down and asked, "Adam, Eve, where are you?" Jesus initiated the encounter with Mary by speaking her name.

Once she heard her name, she knew He was not the gardener, but the Master Gardener, her Lord and Messiah. Once Jesus speaks your name, you know who He is, and who you are. But first we have to hear Him speak.

Jesus told Mary to tell others that He is alive, and she became the first evangelist, the "apostle to the apostles." As Mark 16:9-11 explains, Mary Magdalene was the first to whom the Lord appeared, but the disciples did not believe her story.

After appearing to Mary Magdalene, Jesus visited the women who were running to the city, and He reinforced the message that they should go tell His brethren that they would see Him in Galilee.

Perhaps Jesus made this personal appearance to these women because they were so terribly afraid and too fearful to speak to anyone (Mark 16:8). After He met them, they joyfully delivered the message. Luke 24:9-11 summarizes the fact that "the eleven and ... all the rest" (NKJV) ultimately heard about Christ's resurrection from the women, including Mary Magdalene. Yet no one believed them.

Every baptism is an individual cutting of the covenant into the physical body of those "who believe in His name" (John 1:12 NKJV). We are not called to lose our identity in some mystical Borg body, but to find our identity by losing ourselves in Christ and laying down our lives for the sake of others. Pope John Paul II hated the word crowd because of its implications of anonymity. He preferred the word multitudes. "Each person is unique," he said, "and I was anxious to preserve the personal contact of each relationship." Jesus names names. We are not just people in a crowd for Jesus. Jesus knows us by name.

In fact, each one of our names is engraved "on the palms of [God's] hands" (Isa. 49:16). Or since that phrase is better translated "I have carved your name on the face of my cliff," then that means God cannot forget us any more than a nursing mother can forget her suckling child (v. 15) or any more than the citizens of Egypt can forget who is king. Ancient kings carved their names on the cliffs on the borders of their kingdoms to remind anyone entering or leaving the kingdom of who was really in charge. Six thousand years later, we can still see these cartouches carved on the cliff walls in the deserts of Egypt. God honors us by recording our names in a format that cannot ever be erased, even after thousands of years.

And we can never be the same again.

The Transfiguring Voice

When Mary recognized Jesus and tried to ground Him to earth with her grasp (John 20:16-17), Jesus instructed Mary to let go and go tell His disciples what she had seen, that He is risen and among them once again. Mary, the apostle to the apostles, ran to report this amazing, miraculous news.

"Do not cling to Me," Jesus told Mary (v. 17 NKJV). God does not always meet our expectations. Mary didn't want to let Jesus out of her sight again. Mary didn't want to let Him go. Mary didn't want things to change. But everything had changed.

Everything has changed. We listen to Christ not simply to comprehend Him or to communicate with Him but to be changed into His image. The goal of listening to Jesus is not so we can impersonate Him, but so we can personate Him. To hear and heed the risen Lord is to be changed. A theology of change is at the heart of Christianity. But what kind of change is this change? Is it metanoia or metamorphosis? Is it transformation or transfiguration?

If you could reduce the gospel to one word, most scholars would choose metanoia — the Greek word translated "repentance" in the New Testament. Metanoia represents the message of John the Baptist, who proclaimed a "baptism of repentance [metanoia]" in Mark 1:4. Metanoia represents the first preaching of Jesus, when He called on people to "repent [metanoeo], for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Matt. 4:17). Metanoia represents the message of Jesus' disciples when they "preached that people should repent [metanoeo]" (Mark 6:12). Metanoia represents St. Paul's assertion in Acts 17:30 that God commands "all people everywhere to repent [metanoeo]." Jesus even used the noun form of the word once: "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance [metanoia]" (Luke 5:32).

Most of the time we translate both "meta-noeo" and "meta-noia," or literally "change of [meta] mind [noia]," as "repentance." Some have called the translation of metanoia as "repentance" the "worst mistranslation in the New Testament." Some have translated it as a "turnaround," a 180-degree change of direction. That is almost as bad, as if Jesus only takes us on a detour.

The Aramaic of metanoia really means a "returning home." When Jesus restores the original image of God in us, when we become new creatures in Christ, when "old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV), we are learning how to be the original humans God made us to be. We are returning home. "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation," Paul said to the church at Corinth (v. 17 NRSV). To be "in Christ" is to do life in new and exciting ways.

John the Baptist said, "I baptize you with metanoia; the One who comes will baptize you with fire." A baptism of metanoia is not simply a mere turning to God or a life change. A baptism of metanoia is a true metamorphosis, a returning home to the original life God created us for. We are talking about a total metamorphosis — a total change of mind, heart, and body. Before Jesus spoke Mary's name, the dominant language used was metanoia. After Jesus spoke Mary's name, the dominant language used was metamorphosis. Metanoia is more than transformation, which is outside-in change. Metanoia is transfiguration, which is inside-out change.

The question of the rich young ruler showcases the nature of the difference: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18). Our immediate default is to believe and trust in the virtues of doing something over being something. Let's take Micah 6:8 as an example: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Jesus did not become one of us to tell us how to do humility but to be humble; not how to do mercy but to be merciful; not how to do justice but to be just. To live in Christ is to live the life of the One in whom justice was fulfilled, mercy perfected, and humility consummated.

Jesus doesn't need our service, our programs, our gifts. Jesus desires our selves, our hearts, our lives. Here is Jesus' rendition of Micah 6:8:

"Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth....

"Blessed are the merciful For they shall obtain mercy....

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

For they shall be filled." (Matt. 5:5, 7, 6 NKJV)

When Jesus speaks, we are not merely transformed to do humility, to do mercy, to do justice. We are transfigured into the humble, the merciful, the just human beings God made us to be. To hear Jesus' call to be a disciple is more than doing what Jesus did or preserving "the living memory of Jesus." To be a disciple is to be an internal bearer of the risen Christ. If the ultimate in praying is letting Jesus pray in us, the ultimate in listening is letting Jesus live in us.

Jesus' voice does not put our heads in the sand or in the clouds. The voice of Jesus sets our feet on lofty places and lifts our hands to reach and touch the stars.

The Derailing Voice

Matthew 28:11-15 tells us of another important event on that Sunday morning. The guards told the chief priests what had happened. With the help of bribes in the right places, the chief priests hatched and spread the tale that the disciples had stolen the body while the guards slept. In other words, the guards were willing to incriminate themselves with falsehoods because they lacked the guts to tell the truth. In their deceit, the guards confirmed for all of history that the tomb was really empty.

You will need to sort out Jesus' voice from conflicting, contradicting voices. There will always be voices that claim to be Jesus' voice but are really voices that lead us astray and amok, out of earshot of the divine. Some of these are voices of temptation. Some of these are voices of the self. Some of these are voices of pop culture. We live in a culture obsessed with listening to its own voice, unused to listening for God's voice. Some of these voices are the powers and principalities of the world — deceitful, dishonest voices that create such a din of confusion and disinformation that it is hard to hear the truth amid the dissembling. People are eager to pollute the Well of Living Water with all sorts of contaminants and colorings that dilute and substitute the Word of God.

Most of the time, our hearing problem isn't that Jesus is not speaking; it's our inability to hear Jesus speaking because we're listening to voices other than Jesus' voice. Our antennae have been diverted into the realms of lies and untruths. We have "ears to hear" only the politically correct or the party lines of various establishments. Those with true "ears to hear" choose how to hear, rather than be drawn to reflex responses based on one's social condition, political correctitude, and psychological preprogramming. "Ears-to-hear" responsiveness requires the courage of "response-ability" — which the guards at the tomb lacked.

For the practical application of the themes mentioned in this chapter, see chapters 9-15 in volume 2.


The Hidden Voice of Jesus

Jesus' Second Appearance: Jesus Speaks to Two Disciples on the Emmaus Road

Before Jesus appeared to the Eleven as a group, He made two recorded appearances to individuals. One was to Mary Magdalene. The other was to Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus. After the couple discovered that their Bible teacher was Jesus, they retraced their steps — to report to the Eleven. Then they discovered that Jesus had a personal meeting with Simon Peter. That meeting with Peter is reported in Luke 24:34, but we have no other details about it.

Jesus' Voice Hidden by Doubt, Agenda, and Grief

There is almost as much uncertainty about where Emmaus was as there is about who these Emmaus disciples were. The earliest texts give the distance as 60 stadia (7 miles), but enough give the distance as 160 stadia (18 miles) to make Amwas a real contender for the location of the city the Bible calls Emmaus. We know that Emmaus was close enough to Jerusalem that one could walk there and back in one day. But that could apply to either distances of 60 or 160 stadia. If the road to Emmaus was the road to Amwas, Jesus could have almost told the whole story of Israel just by pointing out the geographical sites they passed by on their wilderness walk to Emmaus.


Excerpted from Jesus Speaks by LEONARD SWEET, FRANK VIOLA. Copyright © 2016 Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


How to Read This Book, ix,
Introduction: The Whispers of God's Voice, xiii,
Volume 1: Hearing the Voice of the Resurrected Jesus in the Stories of Scripture, 1,
Chapter 1: The Unexpected Voice of Jesus, 3,
Chapter 2: The Hidden Voice of Jesus, 13,
Chapter 3: The Elusive Voice of Jesus, 27,
Chapter 4: The Challenging Voice of Jesus, 39,
Chapter 5: The Forgiving Voice of Jesus, 45,
Chapter 6: The Blinding Voice of Jesus, 57,
Chapter 7: The Missional Voice of Jesus, 71,
Chapter 8: The Godstruck Voice of Jesus:, 81,
Volume 2: Hearing the Voice That Has No Words, 95,
Part 1: Tuning Your Ears to Hear, 97,
Chapter 9: Become Poor in Spirit, 99,
Chapter 10: Reject Condemnation, 101,
Chapter 11: Always Remain a Child, 105,
Chapter 12: Exercise Faith, 107,
Chapter 13: Increasing Your Faith to Hear, 111,
Chapter 14: Be Willing to Respond, 113,
Chapter 15: Have the Right Motive, 117,
Part 2: Hearing Jesus Today, 119,
Chapter 16: What the Forty Days Teach Us, 121,
Chapter 17: The Lord's Voice in Scripture, 127,
Chapter 18: Spiritual Instincts, 131,
Chapter 19: What Does It Look Like?, 137,
Chapter 20: Wisdom, 139,
Chapter 21: The Body of Christ, 145,
Chapter 22: Visions and Dreams, 149,
Chapter 23: The Audible Voice, 151,
Chapter 24: The Conscience, 153,
Chapter 25: Another Look at Jesus, 155,
Chapter 26: Four Ways to Recognize the Lord's Voice, 161,
Chapter 27: Practical Steps to Receiving a Word from the Lord, 167,
Chapter 28: Take Time for Quiet, 171,
Chapter 29: Hearing the Voice in the Morning, 173,
Chapter 30: Hearing the Voice While Walking, 177,
Chapter 31: Hearing the Voice in Worship, 181,
Chapter 32: Personalizing the Voice in Scripture, 183,
Chapter 33: Sharpening Your Spiritual Instincts, 189,
Part 3: The Challenges of Listening for the Lord's Voice, 191,
Chapter 34: The Price of Following the Lord's Voice, 193,
Chapter 35: The Challenge of Our Expectations, 195,
Chapter 36: The Danger of Arrogance, 199,
Chapter 37: The Danger of Counterfeit Voices, 203,
Chapter 38: The Danger of Forcing a Word from God 209 Chapter 39: The Danger of Misunderstanding, 211,
Chapter 40: The Danger of Misrepresenting God, 215,
Chapter 41: The Danger of Religious Jealousy, 219,
Chapter 42: The Danger of Misinterpreting Dry Spells and Dark Nights, 221,
Chapter 43: The Goal of It All, 225,
Appendix: Jesus Speaks After His Ascension, 231,
Notes, 237,
About the Authors, 247,

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