Luke 11:27&27 “As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’”
As our Lord came to the end of this sermon there was ‘audience participation.’ A woman who had been moved by all she had heard and the blessing she had received burst out quite spontaneously, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Those words were absolutely true. We see it at a natural level, mothers looking at their sons who have just won a gold medal for being the Cardiff Singer of the Year, or they’re receiving a Victoria Cross from the Queen for extraordinary bravery, or they’ve just delivered an inspirational message so that many people have been moved. There are tears in the eyes of their mothers. They feel greatly blessed to have been given such a child. So would Jesus’ mother have been blessed to see all that he was doing, hear what he was saying, and notice the growing numbers transformed by his power and pity. By the time of his resurrection it had become 500 people who trusted in Christ and followed him. What a blessed mother – compared to the mother of Judas, or the mothers of the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus. Not a foolish woman like the mother of James and John. What honour and blessedness would be Mary’s for having the sort of son she had. He had gone down to Nazareth and been subject to her and her husband. As he’d grown up he increased in wisdom, and stature, and in favour with God and man. His whole life had an integrity and kindness and gentleness about it. Mary had seen him grow with the favour of God resting upon him. She was present at his first miracle in the wedding of Cana of Galilee where he’d saved the embarrassment of her friend by turning water into wine. What a blessed woman to have given birth to Jesus of Nazareth.
I believe that the words shouted out were quite commonplace, not unusual at all; maybe Jesus had heard that sort of comment before, but on this occasion he didn’t ignore them. He used them, clarifying and correcting them to drive home a great truth. He didn’t put the woman down, but he pointed to greater blessedness than that which his mother alone had known, more glorious blessedness which millions of men and women would experience all the world over until the end of time. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (v.27). There is a greater blessing than being Mary the mother of Jesus.
THE BLESSEDNESS OF HAVING THE WORD OF GOD.
Here is the Bible; it comes to us from God, the whole process of supervising its writing was divine, to its jots and tittles. It took God almost 5,000 years to complete what he began. He planned it all in eternity. Its origin was in the secret counsels of God, so it’s a timeless Book. Consider the effort God put into its composition. Jesus refers to it here as ‘the Word of God’ because it was God who inspired the whole writing of this book so that finally it is exactly as God wanted it to be. In the beginning this God spoke and his Word called this whole cosmos into being, the heavens and the earth, and every living creature. That whole story is told in the Bible.
When man, the highest of God’s creatures, plunged the universe into sin, so that death came by sin on all mankind, God came again speaking kindly and firmly. He didn’t step outside the cosmos but he came and spoke to the sinner, not just once inside the Garden as he expelled them (though promising that the Seed of the woman would come), but east of Eden, and then in Ur, in Sodom, in Egypt, in the wilderness, from the top of a mountain, in the cave of Adullam, in a lion’s den, in Babylon, in a carpenter’s shop, in a graveyard among the tombs, in parties, in Pilate’s palace, in a Philippian jail, in a Roman prison, on an island, God speaking in this groaning world repeatedly and everywhere, and not speaking in a sacred language like Hebrew but in common Greek. And all of this is recorded in the Bible – the words of God have been written down by prophets and apostles, and preserved.
This is the God who also guided those he spoke to, by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, for forty years through a wilderness. The entrance to the wilderness was the Red Sea where he parted the waters of the sea. The exit from the wilderness was the river Jordan where he parted the waters of the river. God gave them the promised land, in spite of their inferior military might which would have made them the easy victims of their enemies. He supported his words by extraordinary miracles; he fed them with manna from heaven and water from rocks; the walls of Jericho came tumbling down without a battering ram. And all this he put in his Word. He told them about their sins, and chastised them often. He called them to repentance, and he forgave them instantly when they put their trust in his saving mercy. He sent them prophets to teach them the way of faith, priests to bring their sacrifices of faith, and kings to govern them in the service of faith. And all this became material for his Word.
But, then the moment he was leading up to finally arrived. In the opening words of the letter to the Hebrews: “God, who at sundry times and divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” At long last, the promised Seed of the woman had come! The Word of God which had been revealed in so many ways for centuries, now “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” God, who had spoken to men, now came right alongside us in the person of his Son to be one of them. The Word had been written in part, but it had to become flesh before it could be written in full. First, the fullness of time, and then, the fullness of Scripture. Before the Word of God could be finished, Christ must come.
That meant that the Son of God was adored by shepherds in a manger, the Son of God was surrounded by his young brothers and sisters in a carpenter’s shop, the Son of God was sleeping in a fisherman’s boat, the Son of God was touching the lepers, the Son of God was healing the sick, the Son of God was halting a funeral procession, the Son of God was eating with sinners, the Son of God was allowing a woman to wash his feet with her tears and anointed him with perfume and all the time speaking to men and women. Here is God in person, without a pillow for his head, or coins in his pocket, or clothes for his back – except those that were gifts of charity; he was a teacher and a preacher to stubborn men who would take his bread and fish but reject his word; they even took up stones to kill him, and they threw him out of the synagogue and would have thrown him off a precipice. Because of his word it meant that he had to be mocked and beaten up by a gang of squaddies, condemned to death by the professing O.T. church, and sentenced by the world’s mega-dictator. Jesus never retaliated; he silently bore it all. He was scourged and cursed, spit upon and buffeted, attached to an un-sandpapered cross with real spikes through his hands and feet, the target of hateful blasphemy, with murderers hanging on either side of him, while the sun hid its face at high noon and the earth shook with convulsions, and so he was plunged into the destruction of death and the grief of the grave. And even in this, all this, the shame and sorrow of suffering for the sins of the world, God did not shrink from writing accurately in his Word the seven words his Son spoke on the cross.
But that isn’t the end of the story. Thank God, there is more. Up from the grave he arose, and then he continued to speak for forty days about the kingdom of God. He opened up in all the Scriptures that he had already given the things concerning himself and he opened their minds to understand the Word of God. He showed that they were about himself, but he had more to teach them. The resurrected Christ gave more of the Word of God to his people. Then ascending up to heaven, to the throne he’d left behind, he returned, wearing the crown of conquest, and from that highest place of authority in the universe God sent his Spirit, the third person of the trinity, to lead his apostles into all truth, to bring to their remembrance all that he had said, to help them write four gospels full of his words, and many letters establishing that impregnable foundation on which churches like our own, 2000 years later, would be built.
Everything necessary for us to know him as the Saviour of the world has been recorded. Everything necessary to fill the world with the knowledge of sins forgiven and peace with God has been written in the Word so that people blinded by sin are made to see and believe that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God, so that they may have life eternal through faith in his name. Everything necessary for us to cope with life in all its demands is here in this Word. So this Word of God is declared to the nations today.
That is the Word of God that is before us. It is an almost incredible story; in fact, you would never believe it if you didn’t know that God the Father is the real author of it, Jesus Christ the Son is its theme and the Holy Spirit guided and directed the human authors so that they would write nothing but the Word of God. Indeed, this is one of the most amazing things about the Bible. The writers themselves were aware of the fact that they were writing under divine inspiration. The apostle Paul, for example, told the church in Corinth, “‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no-one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (I Corinthians 2:9-13)
Now that is a most remarkable statement. Here is a man who is claiming that the Spirit of God is the authority for what he has put into writing and what he teaches. Let me underline this; if it were the most noble and the most brilliant man at the university in Aberystwyth who was telling me that what the Bible says about the way of salvation were true, I wouldn’t believe him. If he was saying that almighty God sent his pure and perfect Son in this world to pay for my sin on a cross and to conquer death for me by his resurrection, I wouldn’t believe it. I simply could not accept the word of a man, however brilliant and good that man might be, on a subject like that. I couldn’t accept the message on the basis of my own mother’s words to me. In fact I could not accept the word of an angel who suddenly appeared out of the blue on the beach 100 yards away from us and spoke the gospel. I could not believe it based on the fact that an angel had said it, for it is a gospel which I find altogether preposterous, and therefore incredible. Even the Bible says that it is foolishness to the sinful mind of man. However, God himself tells me to believe it. He says that it is true. I have his Word on that, and that is why I believe it. That is the only reason I have for believing it.
Now think of what that involves in terms of what God had to do in order to get his Word written. Here you have 66 books, written by a wide variety of authors, each with different talents, living at different times over a long span of centuries, most of them having no opportunity to consult with each other and to compare notes; and yet every one of them was enabled to write in harmony with the rest and give the Word of God just as God intended – the very same message, all of them telling the same story of God’s grace to a lost world. There was only one way that that could be done – a supernatural way: the Holy Spirit himself had to be the real author of the Book, guiding and directing those who wrote it, keeping them from error, so that what they wrote would be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
The more you read the Bible, the more you become convinced that the men who wrote it were not writing for themselves. They had no great genius. They were not creative literary masters. If they had used their own poor inventive powers, if they had been children of their time, if they had rationalized and philosophized according to their own limited insights, they’d have spoiled the story. They were just simple men, and, by their own confession, sinful men, too. The greatness of their work lies not in themselves, but rather in the One who moved them to write – the Spirit of God. There is no other way to account for this holy Book.
What would happen if you were to take the Bible out of this world? We would all perish in our sin forever! For the Bible is the only source of spiritual light by which we are saved from our sin. We simply cannot live without it. The man who does not believe the Bible is a lost soul in a lost world – and there is nothing worse than that. Besides, the world itself would have perished long ago if it did not have the Bible, for the Bible is the Word of God which keeps this world going – gives it a reason for its continued existence.
One day, so runs a famous story (retold by Joseph Fort Newton), the UK woke up and found that the Bible was gone. Not only the book itself, but all traces of its influence and every echo of its music, had been erased from life. The result was appalling. A great literature became well-nigh unintelligible. Shakepeare, Milton, Bunyan, Cowper, C.S.Lewis were almost unreadable. The sublime poetry of the Welsh poet Pantycelyn looked like a moth-eaten tapestry. Everyday speech stammered and faltered.
A change passed over the whole temper and tone of the nation. Life became hectic, hurried, and vulgar. Old restraints were thrown off, leaving base instinct to run wild. All values were blurred, and life itself became little and mean, not so much tragic as tedious, trivial, frivolous, or else drab. Something fine, high, and fair had gone out of it.
Well, something like that has actually happened, and it is the greatest calamity of the last hundred years. The Word of God is not actually lost, but it is unknown. The people of our town and principality do not read it, they do not even hear it read. Few have any notion of what it means or how to read it. It fills one with dismay to see a generation growing up who know almost nothing of the Word of God. It is no longer a book either of comfort or command . . . How blessed, I say to have the Word of God.
THE BLESSEDNESS OF HEARING THE WORD OF GOD.
There are gospel preachers appointed and commissioned by Almighty God to declare and explain and apply the Word of God to the world. Such men exist in their millions all over the world today. They speak with the authority of the God who commissioned them. One of the marks of a false prophet is that he’s not been sent. God says to Jeremiah, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied” (23:21). Gospel preachers are sent, as prophets and apostles were sent. Although we no longer have apostles, every preacher who has been called by God is sent by the Lord. Our Lord charges his sent ones, saying: “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38). Without a divine sending, there is no blessing in hearing the Word
The authority they have comes from the message they bring. Paul asks, “How shall they preach?” The word he uses refers to a herald who comes with a message from the King. Imagine a beloved king who never communicated with his subjects. The people of the land would meet and often say to one another, “How is he? What does the king want from us? Is he pleased with how we live? What can we do for him? Why does our king never speak to us?” What blessedness when finally his silence is broken and the doors of the castle open, the drawbridge comes down and the king’s herald comes out and walks to the town square and answers all their questions, speaking in the name of their beloved king. Now that is what happens each Lord’s Day. The king speaks by his anonymous representatives who have been entrusted with a message from the throne, that is the Bible. Gospel preachers bring us God’s Word. God is not silent; we hear from the King of heaven, and we are blessed. Paul says in Romans ten, “How can they believe in one of whom they have not heard?” (v.14). A better translation would be, “How shall they believe in him whom they have not heard?” In true Christian preaching, Christ is the preacher and the speaker, for Jesus says, “He that hears you hears me; and he that despises you despises me; and he that despises me despises him that sent me” (Luke 10:16). That is the blessing of hearing the word of God; the author of Scripture speaks to us by his heralds.
What blessing those heralds bring to us. We don’t welcome every authoritative approach or message. When some children do some mischief their mothers will say to them, “Wait until your father gets home.” Eventually that dread moment arrive. The front door opens and the mother’s voice is heard murmuring to the father, recounting the wrongdoings. Then you hear your father’s footsteps coming along the passage towards you. That would be an authoritative approach from an authoritative messenger, but then you don’t feel, “How beautiful are those feet.” In the approach of that messenger judgment is coming and is unwelcome.
What might messengers from a holy God say to sinful men and women? What could their message be? He might have them declare to us, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” We would have deserved that. Instead, how beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things. Their mouths are full . . . their hearts are full . . . they are bringing good things with them. God’s messengers are asked not only to bring glad tidings but to bring glad tidings of good things. They are to bring outstandingly good news, unimaginably good news; news beyond our hopes and imagination and our deepest longings. That is the blessing that comes from hearing the Word of God.
What is the message they bring? Salvation! Paul tells the Christians in Rome, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Roms. 10:13). This is a message of salvation from sin, from wrath, from death, from the devil, and from hell! What blessedness. The message heard offers salvation for our souls, salvation for our bodies, salvation for joy, salvation for holiness, and salvation for God! It is a message of an endless, abundant, glorious life in heaven. It is good news. It is not good counsel or good advice, but news of something that has been done. It has been done outside of ourselves, and beyond ourselves, and apart from ourselves. It is something that God has done by which we may be saved. It is so wonderful that we cannot name it with an abstract noun, for the gospel is a person. The Lord Jesus is the good news. It is Christ Himself whom the preacher offers. That is the best news ever in this fallen world. Every true preacher is being commissioned by God to speak of the greatest possible blessing and happiness available to human beings.
Blessedness does not come from academics dominating pulpits, or church managers, or social workers, but preachers of the good news of God’s salvation in Christ, men aflame with the everlasting message of salvation in Christ. I wonder how many favoured people today, all over the world, are going to be brought to salvation through the ministry of God’s preachers? This is something momentous, something wonderful, something that will cause joy in heaven and will bring glory to all eternity! Should we not rejoice at the hearing of the Word of God here and all over the world?
Men and women, God forgive us if we ever forget that we’ve been given great, glad, and joyful good news. God forgive us for dull, lifeless preaching. God forgive us for somber, miserable faces. May God help us to keep alive the joyful awareness that we have the best news ever to bring to this tear-stained, groaning world. We are heralds of good news to the world.
It is blessed news because it does not apply only to a few. Paul says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Roms. 10:13). Paul goes on to emphasize this in the clearest way. He uses the Greek word for all four times in Romans 10 in verses 11-13. Sometimes Bible versions translate the word anyone, sometimes everyone, sometimes whosoever, sometimes as all; but it is the same word—“the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Roms. 10:12&13), no matter who they are; what their background is; whether they are high or low, rich or poor, black or white; no matter whether they have lived an outwardly moral life or have wallowed in the gutters of life; whoever they are, no matter whether their heads are full of Bible knowledge or that they know very little; no matter whether their family has been in the church of Christ for generations, or whether they are those who are far off – whosoever believes on him shall be saved. That is the message of the word of God that blesses the world. We offer good news to every single person, and that perfect message is Christ and his gospel. What blessedness!
Let men who have been preaching the gospel for many years take care lest in any way they lose the wonder and the glory of preaching. The Lord calls us to go down on our knees and say with the apostle, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” I must come into this pulpit each Sunday with the zeal of a boy in the glow of first love to set Jesus Christ before men and women. If I become tired or discouraged in preaching, then I must reach out once more to be renewed in the glory of it all. No preacher is another George Whitefield. Your preacher may not be the greatest orator or the most compelling preacher. Like all of us, he has his foibles and his weaknesses, but God has sent him to you to preach the gospel. He is God’s gift to you, and you should honour him, respect him, and pray for him. Close your eyes to his faults and thank God for his virtues. Pray that God will overcome his weaknesses. When he stands in the pulpit on the Lord’s Day, say in your heart, “I am blessed to hear the Word of God.”
THE BLESSEDNES OF OBEYING THE WORD OF GOD.
It is wonderful to have the Word of God; it is more wonderful to hear the Word of God; it is most wonderful to obey the Word of God. Then you will be more blessed than if you’d been the Virgin Mary. Remember in the parable of the sower those men are commended who “with a noble and good heart, hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (Luke 8:15). Paul tells the Thessalonians to “hold fast that which is good” (I Thess. 5:21). To the Corinthians he said, “You are saved if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:2). In the preaching services held in the church pastored by Samuel Annesley (John Wesley’s grandfather), St Giles in the Fields, Cripplegate, London, a minister named Thomas Senior preached a message on this theme, ‘How We May Hear the Word With Profit?’ and he warns of forgetting what we have heard, “Keep therefore the word in your hearts; ‘hold it fast,’ lest the devil snatch it from you. For, look at the fowls of the air following the seedsman to pick up the corn as soon as he has scattered it, so the prince of the air, the devil, is at hand to take the word out of our hearts. ‘But when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts’ (Mark 4:15). As soon as we have heard the word, the devil is at hand to take the word out of our hearts. Matthew says ‘he snatches it’ and if you would know why the devil is so hasty to snatch away the word, Christ tells you, ‘Then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved’ (Luke 7:12)” (Puritan Sermons, Vol. 2. p.56).
Retain the word and obey it. It is the great theme our Lord’s half brother, James. This is the way to the blessed life. In James 1:25 we are told that it is in doing the word – “he will be blessed in what he does.” ‘Doers are the best hearers,’ says Thomas Manton. A student said to me, “I spent fifty minutes this morning reading the Bible – and I can remember what I read. It was a super, uninterrupted time.” “And James would say, ‘Well done! But now, what about obeying the word you read? Have you actually changed your thinking so that now you hold to be true what you learnt in the word? Have you (and are you) redirecting your imagination and your eyes and your thoughts so as to live according to the standards of the Word? Are your relationships different, as the Word has instructed you they should be?’ And so he could go on. We must be doers of the word” (The Message of James, J. Alec Motyer, IVP p.70).
We are blessed in what we do, not we are blessed in what we feel. In every sermon there are truths to be obeyed. The blessing comes in the doing not in the feeling. Don’t wait for the feeling before you obey the word. “This is an important principle of the inner dynamics of Christian motivation. Motivation must come from a basic, underlying gratitude and fundamental desire to please God, not from some specific feeling preceding each individual act of obedience. But you can never experience this blessing ‘in the doing’, apart from the obedience from which it flows. When that Word is obeyed, it produces a joy in us which we do feel; we are blessed. Moreover, we know that God is pleased and that brings joy. In that way the Spirit brings blessing (or happiness) to us” (A Thirst for Wholeness, Jay Adams, p.101). The act of obedience carries blessing. So I am saying that you went to church, and there were several things God told you to do. He spoke during the preaching about absences in your life; unacceptable patterns of behaviour. There were things he told you to do. He spoke about, say, praying, or about giving, or about relationships, meetings, the Bible, a need for more patience, a forgiving spirit, whatever it might be, and then today, and tomorrow, and next week, your responded to him and you did those things. You changed and obeyed, and in doing it you were blessed. If you fail to do it you are not blessed.
How does God want you to change? What must you do to bring about change? What’s the first step? Where will you begin? The blessed life is the life that obeys the word. Who are those who enter heaven ? Those who do the will of our Father in heaven. In other words, there is a serious endeavour to do whatever the Lord says. You know that you are being blessed by God when week by week you do keep doing what the Lord says. That man is a Christian: he shows that he knows and loves Jesus Christ by doing what His Saviour tells him.
Many a minister will look down from his pulpit in the middle of a sermon, and he will look at many, many of the congregation and he will be thinking, ‘What I am preaching he lives, and she does, and so many of them live it out day by day. They do put into practice all I say, and much more consistently than I do. And this church is blessed because of their obedience.’ Many gospel ministers will think like that. They are not preaching theories about religion but the Word of God which has enriched the church abundantly.
4 July 2010 GEOFF THOMAS