Third Sunday in Lent
Blessed Are Those Who Hear the Word of God and Keep It
[Luke 11:27-28] As Jesus said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
“Blessèd rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” The woman, of course, was not wrong to exclaim to Jesus that His mother is blessed – she certainly is blessed. But Jesus quickly redirects – or, more-correctly-directs – this woman’s attention – “Yes, definitely, my mother is blessèd, but more than that, blessèd are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”
Jesus, elsewhere, redirected attention in a similar way. While He was teaching in a crowded house, His mother and brothers were outside seeking to speak with Him. When someone said, “Jesus, your mother and brothers are outside wanting to talk with you”, Jesus responded, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And, then, pointing at those crowded around listening to Him, He said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” [Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21]
“Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.” This certainly includes Mary and I’m sure one or more of Jesus’ siblings, but Jesus redirects your attention back on you – “Blessed rather are you when you hear the Word of God and keep it.”
Jesus says that a man or woman who hears His word and does it is like a wise man who has built His house on bedrock. Like the woman in the Gospel, we can make great praise of Christ, we can bless Him and the womb which mothered Him, we can identify with His name, and in all this we could still be hearers of His Word only – it is those who HEAR the Word of God and DO IT whose houses will stand; it is those who HEAR the Word of GOD and KEEP IT who will be called blessèd. “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” [James 1:22]. Those who implement God’s Word in their life are those who will stand.
What prompted this woman in the Gospel to raise her voice and bless Christ in such a way? Jesus had just declared Himself to be the stronger man who plunders the devil’s goods. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil (takes his goods).”
The devil is a strong man. The devil’s goods are men and women whom the devil has trapped as loot in his household. Jesus declares Himself to be that Stronger Man who is able to rob the devil of his goods – Jesus robs you out of the devil’s house and makes you His own possession instead. Jesus is that Stronger Man who can deliver each person.
Next, however, Christ warns that after a person is delivered from the devil’s dominion, that person can indeed fall again. When a person is swept clean, the devil comes back with seven more unclean spirits, “And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
As a hearer of God’s Word, you have been swept clean. Yet if you are a hearer only and not a doer of the Word, your last state is worse than if you had never heard the Word at all. To hear the Word of God, but then to set that Word aside as something useless or undesirable is more dangerous than never having heard it. But to hear and keep is always safe.
All do sin and fall short of the glory of God and are saved only by faith in Christ. All Christians still sin. All are saved only by the death of Jesus who died on the Cross for your sin. You receive this salvation only by faith in Christ and not by any works of righteousness or goodness in you at all.
But it would be a strange faith in Jesus to only believe that He is your Savior and not to believe that He is your Lord to be listened to. It would be a strange, false faith in Jesus to only hear and believe His promises but not to also hear and believe His commands. And it would be a very strange faith to be willing to receive the love and forgiveness of Christ but not to, in turn, desire to give that love and forgiveness of Christ. It would be stranger still to claim to love God but to not love God’s commands.
The Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake is the power of God for salvation for all who believe. This Gospel forgives the sinner who believes and puts into that sinner a new heart – a heart which is the heart of a child of God. Along with forgiveness, this new heart is a gift from God – His work totally – and this heart from God dwells in you desiring to both hear and do God’s word – it is a heart which loves to meditate upon and keep God’s commands. It is a heart which prays, “God, please help me do better.”
We do not believe in a strange faith that only wants Jesus as a Savior and not as a Lord or King. Jesus has saved us for His kingdom. He has saved us unto a better life – a life pleasing to God. That new heart and better life and that keeping of God’s commands, these are part of the fulness of that salvation that Jesus has won for us on the cross and which we receive by faith alone.
The Apostle Paul, in today’s Epistle lesson, likewise says that you have been made light and are now children of the light. Therefore, do not walk again in darkness or as children of disobedience.
To be hearers and doers of the Word of God means we must be hearers of His actual commands instead of mere listeners to our own ideas. In our short Epistle reading today we are told we must not walk in sexual immorality or impurity, nor in covetousness (jealousy; or the need for more and more), nor in foolish, crude talk or unclean jokes. We must hear God’s Word to know the Commands to keep.
And, brothers and sisters, you have at your disposal absolutely one of the best summaries of Gods’ commands – the Ten Commandments as explained in your Small Catechism. In just two pages in your Small Catechism you have a full summary of God’s Law written is such a simple way that it very naturally applies itself to your daily life. As you read it, you see in it clearly how to be a keeper and doer.
To be a hearer only and not a doer is not the true faith. But does this mean that the man or woman who is still a sinner cannot be saved? Does it mean you must improve by a certain measured amount to be saved? No, not at all. That is not at all the case.
In fact, it is the case that only Jesus, God’s Son, has both heard and kept the Word of the Father without sin. Only Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, has heard and kept the Word of God without sin. In fact, it is by His own perfect hearing and keeping of the Word of the Father that Jesus has saved you.
We are saved by what we call Jesus' "Active and Passive Obedience".
Jesus actively obeyed the Word of God perfectly for you. That is, having become Man, Jesus has kept the Law of God perfectly and fully in the place of all men. So, by Jesus, all God’s Law has been fulfilled, satisfied, for all. His hearing and keeping of God’s Law is for you.
Jesus also passively obeyed God’s Law for your sake. This means that on the Cross Jesus willingly suffered and fulfilled, satisfied, the full consequence and punishment required by God’s Law for man’s sin. By this passive, willing submission to the cross in your place, Jesus fulfilled God’s Word for you. Jesus heard and obeyed God His Father and, in doing so, Jesus accomplished God’s will of saving you.
“Blessèd are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Blessèd be Jesus who has done it for you and for me. May Jesus keep us always as His mothers and brothers and sisters and, every day anew, may He set our hearts always to hear His Word and to obey His commands. Amen.