3-7-21 Oculi

Bible Text: Luke 11:14-28 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Lent 2021 | Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. In all the histories of the New Testament where people come to Jesus and are healed or saved from the devil, we rarely get to see what they do with the rest of their lives. Your faith has saved you, Jesus says, but what do they go on to do after that? Does their life actually change? So the Syrophoenician woman from last Sunday – Jesus heals her daughter, praises her faith, but we learn nothing more of the rest of her life, how she taught her daughter about Jesus, how she welcomed the apostles when they came to preach Jesus risen from the dead, we hear none of it. But it’s in the Gospel of Luke that we actually get some glimpse of people hearing the Word of God and keeping it, treasuring it, holding on to it in their daily lives their whole lives through. Look at Zacchaeus, the wee little man. Salvation, Jesus says, came to his house, and it results in a different life for Zacchaeus. He gives away half his wealth and restores fourfold to anyone he’s cheated. Or the prodigal son, his life changes, completely, when he comes back into his father’s house. He’s no longer going out wasting money, getting drunk, chasing after the lust of his heart. But it’s not only these examples; it’s especially this beautiful saying of Jesus that really explains what the Christian life looks like. That it’s not a one and done, I asked Jesus into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior so I’m a Christian for life; no, it’s hearing the Word of God and keeping it. These two go together. Hearing and keeping. How else will I keep God’s Word in my life unless I hear it over and over again, keep coming back to it, as the Word my God speaks to me and to which I respond with my prayers, my actions, my mind, my life.

My wife said I love you to me once on our wedding day and I’ve never had to hear it again. I just know. She wouldn’t have lied to me fourteen years ago. Why would I need to hear her say it again and again and again? Wouldn’t that be repetitive? Of course not! That’s not the way it works. It’s not even the way we would want it to work. Something is wrong if I don’t hear those words from my wife, I love you, if not daily then frequently. I suppose some cynic, some unfeeling stoic, could say that I don’t need to hear it to know it, but that’s quite beside the point. I want to hear it, I want to hear my wife say, I love you, and I want to say it back. And if I don’t hear it, I’m going to begin having some very uncomfortable thoughts.

So it goes with the Word of God. I want to hear Jesus speak to me. And I want to speak back. That’s the Christian desire. And just as it is unthinkable to have a relationship with my wife where she never says I love you and I never say I love you back, so it is unthinkable to say you are a Christian and yet not constantly want to hear Jesus speak to you and you speak back to Him. In all the conversion stories in the New Testament, you can’t imagine they did anything but continue to hear Jesus’ word. In fact, this is the example of Jesus’ own disciples. What do they do? They follow him. They say, Lord where else should we go? You have the words of eternal life!

In fact, look at how the Holy Spirit described the devil in our Gospel lesson. And Jesus was casting out a demon who was deaf and mute. The demon, the personification of evil, is what? Deaf and mute, deaf to God’s Word and unable to speak it. This is the devil’s essence, who he is, and what he inspires in the world and in our flesh if we let him, the stubborn refusal to listen to God or speak to Him. So when pastor tells you to come to church and to read your Bibles and pray at home and live the faith, I am not throwing some religious law at you. I’m not telling you you’ll be a better person if you do, though you will be. I’m telling you this is the essence of what it means to be a human, a Christian, a child of God, delivered from the devil; and its opposite is the very description of the devil himself, the evil one who is deaf and mute and has no interest in hearing God’s Word or speaking it.

And look at Jesus’ work. What does your Lord Jesus do? What is the beautiful result of Him casting the devil out? The man speaks. He hears Jesus and He confesses Jesus. In these few words, “the deaf man spoke,” is the summation of all Christianity, of all Christ came to do, of all God has wanted to accomplish from eternity. The mute man didn’t speak and ask what’s for dinner. He spoke the praises of his God whom he saw standing before him in human flesh. That’s the point. And this is why Jesus ends our lesson with that beautiful saying. Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it. Be that mute man, that man who knew personally, and knew it well, what it meant to be oppressed by the devil, what it meant not to hear Jesus and not to speak to Him, the man who hated the devil not as some abstract evil, but as his torturer who tore him away from his God, the man who found his utmost joy and relief in finally hearing his Lord Jesus speak to him and in finally having the honor to speak back to Him.

And note what the enemies of Jesus do. They ask for something greater. They want a sign from heaven. They’re totally discontent with Jesus’ work, which they see and hear right in front them, that someone hears God and confesses Jesus. They want something more glorious. And Jesus says they will get no sign. No, not this evil generation. And this is a warning to us. It’s Jesus’ enemies who demand a sign, want something more than God’s Word, want to be wowed by some miracle greater than freedom from the devil and the forgiveness of sins and hearing and keeping God’s Word. There is nothing greater. There is nothing more blessed. Jesus doesn’t say, Blessed are they who live long and prosperous lives. He doesn’t say blessed are the popular and the beautiful and the healthy and the fit. He declares with finality what blessedness is, what makes you blessed, what raises you to heaven and crushes the devil under you and makes you a child of God and gives you purpose and integrity and everything in heaven and earth, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.

There are still other enemies of the Lord Jesus. They don’t want a sign. They’re cynics. They don’t believe in signs. They instead say that what Jesus did here, in casting the deaf-mute demon away and making this man hear God’s word and speak it, this is the devil’s work. You see how neatly our modern smug persecutors fit into this history. What do they accuse us of when we speak God’s Word about marriage between one man and one woman, about a man being a man and a woman being a woman? What do they say when we condemn sin as sin, and insist with Jesus that He, by faith in His blood, is the only way to heaven? They say we’re evil, bigoted, haters. The most beautiful thing in the word, Christians confessing Christ and sticking to His Word, hearing it, living it, confessing it, this they rage against with all their might and would, if they got their way, completely shut it up.

And so Jesus’ words must ring again in our ears, Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. No matter how unpopular that word may become. No matter if people demand something else, some greater proof than Jesus’ resurrection; no matter if people accuse the good we speak as evil and curse the word of our God and attack it in their laws. So it happened to Jesus. And as usual, Jesus didn’t back down. Neither do we. Everything rides on God’s Word. In fact, Jesus doubles down. He insists on this very thing, that all depends on His Word, everything.

Before Jesus came, before His words hit the ears of the deaf-mute, the deaf mute was completely under the devil’s power. That’s a picture of humanity. It’s a picture of us. There is a strong man who fights to take your soul. And you stand no chance against this strong man. By yourself, in yourself, you are powerless, impotent. Even now, no matter how far you’ve progressed in Christian faith and virtue. You stand only by God’s Word. You are completely, utterly dependent on it. We sing, Satan hear this proclamation, I am baptized into Christ. That’s to say, I can stand against the devil only because I am baptized into Christ, and I can’t stand, I won’t stand, unless Jesus fights for me, unless it’s God’s name I call on and not mine, God’s strength I depend on not my own, God’s death into which I have died and His resurrection which gives me life, His Spirit who fights for me, His Word by which I live. Satan, you wicked one, own now your Master, we just sang. And I of myself am not master over the devil. It is my Lord Jesus who is. He has conquered the devil and death and my sin by His suffering and His death. It is on Him I depend. And so blessed are those who hear His Word and keep it.

It’s not by accident that right before our Gospel for this morning, we hear Jesus say to his disciples, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” This is a singularly amazing pronouncement. Jesus calls them evil, His own disciples, those who call on His Father, He calls them evil. Now He’s not insulting them. He’s not rubbing their sins in their faces. He’s telling them what they are without Him, without His Word. And we need to take this to heart. By myself, this is what I remain, if God should leave me to myself, I am only a wretch of a sinner, evil, who will make a total mess of things. That’s original sin. Totally turned in on ourselves. What this means is that we are constantly dependent on God’s Word, and if we neglect it, if we refuse to keep it, we will fall. This is why we sing every single Sunday, Cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.

Look at the sainted King David, the one who taught us that song, the one whom the Bible describes as a man after God’s own heart, who is humble and courageous and loves God’s Word and is filled with every Christian virtue, look at how he fell when once he turned his eyes and his life away from God’s Word. He crumbled into a pathetic, filthy mess. Like that. Satan attacked and it was done. Life ruined, faith gone, virtues hollow and useless. And God shows us this to teach us that it is by His grace and His Word that we stand, every second of every day, and that every good habit we’ve built up, praying, courage in the face of death, reading our Bibles, coming to church, being kind to our spouses and friends, keeping our mouths from gossiping and filthy talk, every Christian virtue, they all stand, we ourselves wholly, completely, stand, only by God’s Word, and without God’s Word, it’ll all fall down into one big pathetic mess. So let him who stands take heed lest he fall.

It’s a humbling thought, but it’s not a depressing one. No not at all. Not for the Christian. It’s a beautiful thing to realize our utter dependence on Jesus’ Word, to trust in something beyond this body that I know will fail me, and this soul whose faults I know all too well, to trust instead in a Word that never fails and has defeated the devil for me, and gives me the power to live life as an heir of heaven.

To hear God’s Word and keep it, this is to live the good life. It really is. And it is to live in complete security, not self-security, not depending on our weakness, but on the God who has promised to never leave us or forsake us, who is with us always. So long as you have His Word, you have Him, you have everything. God Himself speaks to you and gives you the ridiculous honor of speaking back to Him, with the promise that He hears you. God Himself visits you and pledges His eternal love to you. Your Lord Jesus puts His body in your mouth and gives you to drink of His blood, the very body He assumed into His eternal Person, the very blood He poured out to drown your sin, He gives it to you. Your Father in heaven adores you and tells you so. He gave His own Son for you. He shares His Spirit with you.

I don’t know my wife loves me because she said it once upon a time. And I don’t live a life of faithfulness to her simply because I remember what I vowed 14 years ago, no, I know it and live it because I hear it and I see it constantly. And you know your God not simply because once upon a time you were baptized and confirmed, once upon a time He cast the devil from you and swept up the house and made it look nice, you know because He hasn’t stopped speaking to you and you haven’t stopped confessing His name. The stronger man still guards your house. And the seven devils are terrified to come near. We live the Christian life, we see that the devil attacks us, and wants to shut our mouths and close our ears to our God’s Word. And we fight him with all the might the Spirit gives us. Because we will not be robbed of our God. We will not go without hearing Him speak to us. We will not live life mute and dumb. We’ll speak and confess and so live God’s Word. And we’ll do it not simply because we need it, but because we want it, more than anything in the world, we want to hear our God’s voice, hear his love in Christ Jesus, what never ceases to be a source of wonder, that the holy and almighty God would join our human race and live and suffer and die for sinners like us, take our punishment on himself, make us children of his Father, feed us with the body and blood that make us partakers of his divine life, so that our mouths can be opened and we can confess with the psalmist, “I will not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” Amen.

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