Hearing and Keeping God’s Word

St. Luke 11:14-28 (3/8/15)

In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Luke 11:28 But [Jesus] said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…  In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus had performed a miracle; He had driven out a demon.  And according to verse 14, “…the multitudes marveled.”  Those who witnessed the miracle were absolutely amazed at what Jesus had done.  But to be amazed at what Jesus does is one thing; to have faith in Him is something altogether different.  Even though the crowds were amazed, they still accused Jesus of being in league with Beelzebub – the devil.  Even though they were amazed and “marveled” at what Jesus had done, they continued to test Jesus and ask for a sign from heaven.  They were amazed…but they did not have faith!

In His response to the crowd Jesus speaks about division.  He says in v. 17, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls.”  Jesus leaves no middle ground.  Later in v. 23 He says, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”  Clearly Jesus is not in league with the devil just as the church can never be in league with any part of evil.

In our text Jesus has given the multitudes a wonderful sign of His love for those who have been captured by Satan.  Jesus had shown His gracious love and mercy to this poor demon-possessed man by driving out his evil tenant.  Jesus demonstrates that He is the stronger One who defeats the strong man.  And the conclusion is clear (v. 20): “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come to you.”

In the church today our God has given us sure and certain signs, clear indications that the kingdom of God has indeed come to us.  As Luther teaches us in the meaning to the Second Petition of the Our Father: “How does God’s kingdom come?  God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead Godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

We have the gift of the Holy Gospel, the preaching of God’s Word.  We have the gift of Holy Absolution, the deliverance of forgiveness by those men who are called by God to be pastors of our congregations.  We have the gift of Holy Baptism which is a “washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).  And we have the gift of the Lord’s Holy Supper – the very body and blood of Jesus Christ Himself given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.  These are God’s sure and certain signs of His kingdom among us, and they are more than sufficient.

In our text the crowds looked at Jesus and they saw a man.  The signs which He gave them should have led them to believe that the kingdom of God had indeed come to them.  In the same way, you and I look at the church and we simply see people; God has given us signs so that we might see the kingdom of God in our midst, the one holy Christian church gathered around Jesus Christ and His gifts of Word and Sacrament.  In fact, our own Lutheran Confessions describe the very presence of Christ and His church with these words: The church is those “among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel” (Augsburg Confession: VII).  That is all that is needed.  Period.

In the Gospels whenever the crowds asked for their own self-appointed sign, Jesus told them that none would be given them.  Even though they claimed that they would believe in Him if He simply performed the sign they wanted, Jesus refused to give it to them.

Within Lutheranism today and Christianity in general, there are many people and pastors and churches who have Jesus in their midst and yet they continue to look for other signs of the Lord’s presence outside of and, quite frankly, in spite of the sure and certain signs the Lord of the Church has given and promised.  In many places today Jesus is preached through His pastoral mouthpieces and yet the people still ask for a sign.  And it is painfully clear that many of those pastors have simply and profoundly caved in to the people’s demands, and like Esau have tossed aside their Lutheran birthright for a mess of liberal pottage.

A few years ago I saw where a church in Florida advertised on their church sign, “Exciting Experiences!  Friendly Fellowship!  Contemporary Worship.”  And I don’t need to tell you that you don’t have to go to Florida to see these types of signs on churches not far from home.  But as we look at those types of things we must also say that the presence of something exciting does not necessarily prove that the Lord’s presence is there.  If you want exciting, go watch a hockey game, or “professional” wrestling, or a NASCAR race, or March Madness.

Just because there are friendly people who get together to talk and eat food and play sports, it is not a sign that the kingdom of God has come.  If you want all that, then go to a sports bar.  The supposed “need” to hear words and songs that are as contemporary as our present culture, most of which embrace those things that are fashionable and in style, does not insure the workings of the Holy Spirit.  There is no reason that the church should bow the knee to the Baal of giving in to the whims and desires of the world in order to “make people feel good” or “give them what they want.”

Several years ago I received a brochure in the mail from the Disney World Resort to come to a four-day Lutheran pastors conference called “The Imaginative Church.”  This conference promised to teach us how to unlock our imagination so that our churches would grow.  We would “learn strategies and tactics used at Walt Disney World Resort for ensuring customer loyalty, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and business practices.”  Another part of the brochure said, “The privilege of the church is to invite people to pledge their loyalty to Jesus.  This session will look at how Jesus inspired loyalty and how the church can tap into His approach.”  I scoured this piece of high-gloss propaganda from top to bottom, but there was not one word in this brochure about faith, repentance, true preaching, law, Gospel, or the working of God through His holy Sacraments.

There are no words strong enough to condemn this perverted view of both the church and her ministry.  Our Lord Jesus Christ never invited people to “pledge their loyalty to Jesus.”  The church and her members are never to be regarded as “customers” whom the church has to “satisfy;” the church of Jesus Christ is not a business!  If pastors and churches want to go that way, then they will end up with the very thing they desire: a Mickey Mouse church with Goofy worship.

In the Scriptures Jesus taught the Pharisees that their own self-righteous loyalty was worth nothing before God.  Only one Man was loyal to His heavenly Father, and that was Christ.  Jesus never sought to satisfy the self-centered wants of His followers; He told His people not to look inward and satisfy their own desires but to repent of their sins.  And when Peter had an “imaginative idea” for the church, namely that Jesus should not die for the sins of the world, Jesus roundly rebuked him, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan!  You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men!”  (Luke 4:8)

The result of many of these church growth techniques and leadership seminars and contemporary worship experiences is, in the words of our text, that “…the state of that man is worse than the first.”  At least before, they were sinners and the church was calling them to repentance.  But now, by giving in to man’s sinful desires and a perceived need to be entertained, by giving in to the demand for a sign of God’s working in their lives in addition to or in place of God’s Word and Sacraments, the church has, in effect blessed these urgings and held them up as good and right.

In the Scriptures Jesus never allowed or supported anything which drew attention away from that which is certain and sure.  There is nothing wrong with social gatherings, but in and of themselves they are not signs of God’s presence.  Excitement and entertainment are great if you are at a Disney theme park or a NASCAR race, but they do not and never will create, sustain, or strengthen faith.

We need to repent of our constant perceived need to look for other ways in which we want God to bless us.  We need to heed our Lord’s words when he says, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”  Nothing other than His Word rightly preached and His Sacraments rightly administered will do.

Jesus, our “strong man,” is stronger than the evil strong man, for Christ has defeated him.  And the surest, most obvious, and certain sign of that is the bloodied, horribly battered and beaten body of Jesus Christ on the cross, having taken to Himself all of our sins and having received the full and complete punishment for them.

The surest and most certain signs of God’s love and presence in and with His people are the water and Word of Holy Baptism which forgives, saves and delivers, the “valid-and-certain-even-in-heaven” delivery of absolution spoken to you by your pastor, the strong and devil-defeating preaching of Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead for all people, and the forgiveness-of-sins-life-and-salvation gift of Christ’s own body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

There is nothing else in all creation – no, not even another sign from heaven – that we need to seek after than these most sure and certain signs of God’s love for us sinners.  There is no more eternally exciting place to be – outside of heaven – than God’s house of worship where divine and heavenly things are going on week after week within the framework of the church’s historic, Gospel-delivering liturgy which is the Word of God set to a certain order.  All that we need for life in this world and to prepare for the life of the world to come is here in this place.  God lavishes us with His undeserved gifts of unconditional and unending love and forgiveness.  And there is never a need to seek for anything more.  For in Christ and His gifts, we have everything.

In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.