Sermon audio here.
Our power went out today as I was sitting down to write this sermon. And I couldn’t help but notice the irony of the fact that here I was, in the dark, writing about Christ, who is the Light of the World. Not even a power outage can keep the light of Christ from shining.
Darkness is all around us. The darkness of our hearts is the reason we worry and get angry. It’s the reason we gossip and lack chastity.
Thanks be to God that Christ has shone the light of His Word into our darkness! His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Christ alone brings comfort and peace; He restrains our sinful tongues and sexual impurity. As deep as the darkness can be at times, without God’s Word, we would be entirely overwhelmed by it.
Our Lord also compares His Word to Daily Bread. It’s how our Lord chased away the devil when he tempted Him in the wilderness. Without this Daily Bread, your soul would starve to death. Spiritual anorexia is no less deadly than the physical kind. The only way to nurture your faith is to feed on God’s Word.
There’s nothing spectacular about this. Going to revivals or packed stadiums to hear the latest charlatan preach doesn’t nourish the soul, it harms it. Our Lord chose one of the most mundane and ordinary of days to illustrate just how unspectacular the life of faith can be.
He did this in the home of Martha. Martha was anxious and troubled about many things, while her sister Mary sat at the feet of our Lord, listening to His teaching.
Jesus goes on to warn about the dangers of not keeping His Word. If a Christian is supposed to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, not keeping His Word is the quickest way to become like a haunted house. Our Lord describes Christians as those from whom an evil spirit has been exorcised. All Christians are conceived and born into sin and under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own.
So Christ baptizes the evil spirit right out of us, but the house cannot remain empty. If the rightful owner doesn’t come in and take its place, the evil spirit will return with seven other spirits even more evil than itself. That’s how it is with us and God’s Word. Unless the Word remains in our hearts, unspeakable evil will come in and take its place.
No sooner does Jesus finish teaching about the power of His Word to exorcise demons than does a woman from the crowd come up to Him and say, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” To this, Christ responds, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
Now this is worth thinking about for just a minute. The woman from the crowd praised the womb and breasts of Mary. And certainly the mother of God is blessed among women. But as the Blessed Virgin herself says, her blessedness isn’t because of anything great she did, but because He Who is Mighty has done great things to her.
So naturally, Christ puts the focus back where it belongs. Not on Mary’s womb or breasts, but on God’s Word. “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”
Faith doesn’t come by nursing at the breasts of Mary, but by nursing on the pure, spiritual milk of God’s Word. In keeping with this understanding of faith, medieval artists were known to paint stylized breasts on Scripture and depict people breast-feeding on it. While that’s rather grotesque, it nevertheless contains profound theological truth.
Incidentally, that’s why you’ll never want to buy screens for our sanctuary. Not only is that the first step in transforming the church into a movie theater, those are the sorts of pictures I’d be putting up there. So you’ve been warned.
The apostle Peter picks right up where Christ leaves off, telling us, like newborn babes, to long for the nourishment that only God’s Word can provide. To shift images, you’re like a dehydrated person in the hospital, and God’s Word is your IV. Sin is an even greater malady than dehydration, and staying away from God’s Word is worse than refusing the IV.
Or, to use a Sacramental image, we might say Christ’s blood is the lifeblood of our faith. Apart from Me, He says, you can do nothing. So it goes without saying that you don’t want to stray too far from Christ. The way to stay close to Him is to abide in His Word. Again, He says, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
This is why we sing, “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word.” Unlike an infant, you never get to the point where you’re weaned from Christ’s Word. It is your life support.
This is one of the things that distinguishes Christians from unbelievers. Christians are those who love God’s Word. This is an essential quality of Christ’s disciples. Disciples in the ancient world were more or less live-in apprentices. They got to know their Master by following him around and imitating everything he did. The way you get to know Christ is through His Word, which encourages you to imitate Him.
One reason Christ gives His Church pastors is so that you might have an example to imitate (Heb. 13:7; 2 Thess. 3:7–9; 1 Thess. 1:6; Phil. 3:7; 1 Cor. 11:1 and 4:16). Pastors should have the boldness to say with St. Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” The qualifications which scripture establishes for those who would be pastors include both theological and moral qualities (1 Timothy 3). Teaching pure doctrine isn’t enough. Christ wants His pastors to be an example of what it looks like to live the Christian life.
Now this doesn’t mean you need to be like me and eat pizza 7 days a week or have enough kids to start your own nationality. Congregations should imitate their pastor in his devotion to God’s Word, struggle against sin, and desire to live a godly life. But above all, congregations should imitate their pastors in living a life of repentance, since pastors are some of the greatest sinners you’ll ever meet.
Any pastor who doesn’t care about God’s Word will be a haunted house himself. And by his bad example, he’ll be making those he serves twice as much a child of hell as he is (Matthew 23:15).
Christians are not haunted houses, but temples of the Holy Spirit. To this end, our Lord describes God’s Word as our house, our home, our shelter. In the words of John Kleinig:
“The basic picture [of John 8] is Christ’s Word as our home, the place where we reside with Him, our fixed location in a changing world. If we “abide” in His Word, it does not just go in one ear and out the other; we memorize, retain, and keep paying attention to it. By “abiding” in Christ’s Word, we abide in Him, [stay] in touch with Him, [are] attached to Him, and [receive] life from Him. He, in turn, abides in us, staying with us and making Himself at home with us. By “abiding” in Him, His life-giving words “abide” in us, making us spiritually fruitful, like healthy branches on a good vine stock. We then abide in Christ’s Word by meditating on it in such a way that it keeps on speaking to us and doing its work in us.
The teaching of Jesus on meditation does not concentrate on what we do but on what He does as we meditate on His Word; the emphasis is on what we receive from Him and His heavenly Father as we let Him and His Word occupy our hearts. By meditating on His Word we receive what He has to give us through it,” (Grace upon Grace, 107).
What Christ gives by His Word is forgiveness of sins, peace, a good conscience, comfort, and life. By abiding in Christ’s Word, goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, and you shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Soli Deo Gloria