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Hearing the Word

Third Sunday in Lent

March 19, 2017

Luke 11:14–28

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!”

The Holy Spirit is God and yet the Holy Spirit is freely given by the Father. The Holy Spirit delights in being sent to those the Father loves. This is the same thing as the Father’s love in sending His Son. Jesus is God and yet He delights in being sent by the Father. When the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father it is all free, it is all gift, it is all grace.

Today’s Gospel reading comes to us from Luke’s Gospel account in chapter 11. The way this chapter begins is familiar. The disciples ask their Lord to teach them to pray. In response comes the greatest of all prayers, the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus is saying, ask for what you need. Your Father knows what you need, ask Him for it. Since we don’t know what we truly need because of our sinful flesh, our Lord guides us by giving us the petitions to pray.

The Father is the giver of all good gifts. We know what gift-giving is. We know how to give good gifts to others. How much more then, Jesus says in the verse right before our Gospel reading, will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!

How different are the evil spirits. The Holy Spirit is given freely. The demons, the evil spirits, are under the control of Satan. The Holy Spirit, as we confess in the Creed, is the Lord and giver of life. The evil spirits bring about death and destruction. Our Lord would seek to open our mouth to pray, praise, and give thanks, the evil spirits would seek to shut our mouth, as this one did to the man in today’s Gospel reading.

The Holy Spirit opened this man’s ears to hear the words of Jesus and so the evil spirit was driven out. The man could now speak. This is the chief work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, to open our ears. Jesus says in the Gospel reading that those are blessed who hear the word of God and keep it. Hearing the Word is the chief work of the Christian. We can only hear God’s Word if it is granted to us by the Holy Spirt. He gives us ears to hear. He opens our ears so that we may hear the Word and believe and as Jesus said keep the Word.

What happened when Jesus drove out the evil spirit? The crowd was amazed. This is pretty amazing stuff. Not that none of them necessarily had seen an exorcism before. But seeing it in this way, with such authority, with the power of Jesus simply speaking the word and the unclean spirit is driven out. That’s amazing stuff and the crowd reacted accordingly.

There’s always one in the crowd though. Or several as the case may be. “But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,’ while others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven.” Okay, true enough, You cast out that demon, but by what power did You do it? Who’s to say it wasn’t by the power of Satan himself? You cast out demons, but it could be that it is by the very power of the prince of demons himself that You do it.

You see, these people weren’t listening. They weren’t hearing the Word. When you don’t listen to what Jesus says then you believe all sorts of ridiculous things like casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons. Jesus calls them on their obstinate belief. “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” It simply cannot be that Jesus would be driving out demons by Satan’s power because then Satan would be destroying himself. Satan wants to destroy us, not himself.

Those people don’t realize it but by denying the work of Christ they are falling under the power Satan. Jesus says that He does not cast out demons by the prince of demons. He says that it is by the finger of God. And if it is so, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. The natural reaction to a man who was mute now being able to speak is rejoicing. The proper response to a demon being cast out is gladness. That is because the Kingdom of God has come upon people.

Jesus then says, “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.” Satan is strong. He has a lot of power in this world. And he guards his house with all his might. But there is one who is stronger and He has broken in. The Kingdom of God has come into this world in the person of Jesus. Jesus overpowers Satan, takes away his armor, and divides his spoil. Those who stand in the way are siding with Satan. As Jesus says, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”

When the Word of God has broken through it drives out Satan. But what is left? If nothing replaces the void then Satan is free to return. Jesus says, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

Hearing the Word means staying in the Word. Jesus says those are blessed who hear the Word of God and keep it. Those who are not hearing the Word and remaining in the Word are leaving the home of their heart and soul open to Satan coming back in. The Third Commandment exhorts us to Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. We are to hear God’s Word. We are to learn it, that is keep it. We are to hold it as the treasure that it is.

The woman spoke truly. The mother of Jesus was indeed truly blessed. The Scriptures make that abundantly clear, “Blessed are you among women.” No other woman was given the gift of giving birth to the Son of God. And yet, Jesus spoke truly as well. The mother of our Lord knew that she was not blessed beyond anyone else in terms of grace given her. In fact, what Jesus says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” was true of the Virgin Mary. What did she do? She heard the Word and treasured it. She didn’t know how God would bring about her conceiving the Son of God but she trusted in the Word of God that said it would be so.

It is the same for you and me. God says to us things that are equally impossible to believe. In Baptism you are born anew. When the water comes over you and the words of Christ are spoken your very sins are forgiven and you are actually brought into the death and resurrection of Christ. As you are given new life in Baptism you live that new life sustained by the Word of God, the Holy Spirit opening your ears anew every day to hear the gracious statement of your Lord that your sins are forgiven.

Hearing the Word of God is no metaphor. Romans 10 says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. That is why God sends His preachers, as it also says in Romans 10 and Isaiah 52, How beautiful are feet of those who bring Good News. The minister of Christ is given the call to forgive the sins of those who are repentant. We are invited by God to confess our sins to the pastor and then hear from his own lips the words, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Hearing the Word of God is like going to a mountain stream each day and marveling that the water is just as cold, just as refreshing, just as clear, and tasting just as good as it ever did. When you hear the Word of your Lord, it is being refreshed in a way like that. Hear Him and treasure His words to you when He gives you bread and wine in His sacred meal: This is My body, given for you; this is My blood, shed for you for your forgiveness. You see, hearing and keeping God’s Word, as Jesus said in the Gospel reading today is not a drudgery or a burden God places on us. It is joy and refreshment.

His word brings about in you forgiveness and new life which is renewed day by day. Where you see those in need as people for whom Christ died and opportunities to be merciful to them, forgiving of them, encouraging of them. Jesus said that those who hear the Word of God and keep it are blessed. Yes, blessing is the only thing that can come from the great work of the Holy Spirit in opening your ears to hear the good and gracious word of God that you are His eternally. Amen.

SDG

Rev. Paul L. Willweber

Lutheran Service Book Lectionary: One-Year, Gospel

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, San Diego, California