Thursday, March 3, 2016

Knowing Scripture (Part II)

As he said these things, 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!” (Luke 11:27-28)

Sometimes we are so moved by Christ, we stand up and cry out our gratitude to him.  Sometimes we stand up and cry out our gratitude with others nearby.  Sometimes we are on fire for God, and we don't care who knows it.  However, if we don't have a deep and working knowledge of scripture, what we shout out could be theologically wrong.  Even saved Christians are still sinners, and without the inward working of the Holy Spirit, whose primary function is to interpret scripture properly for us, even we will gravitate toward falsehood.  So it is with the passage above.  A woman is so moved by Christ's words about spiritual warfare, that she stands up and praises his...mother, his family, his lineage.

At first glance, this seems to not be an error, because Mary herself sings in the Magnificat: "For behold, from now on generations will call me blessed."  But look at Jesus' answer to this other elated woman: "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" It's not that Mary isn't blessed.  She surely is. But when it comes to the Word of God, and we are talking about knowing the Word of God in this sermon series, Jesus' correction makes perfect sense. He is laying down scripture as he speaks.  He is correcting the false teaching of the people who watched him cast out a demon.  He is providing a bedrock of truth for his disciples.  There can be no distractions.  When it comes to Holy Scripture, the attention cannot be suddenly directed towards Christ's mother.  Jesus correctly directs us back to not only God's Word but also the obedient keeping of it.

1. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the Bible to others. The Word of God cannot be kept to oneself. Getting scripture into the ears and hearts of others is very significant.  Even softening the language of the Bible to "make it palatable" to others is watering down the Gospel, where merely reading scripture aloud can soften hearts and regenerate souls. Studying the Bible with others doesn't require a seminary degree. One only needs an inquisitive attitude, a mouth to read, and ears to hear.

2. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God.  The ones on the receiving end of scripture read aloud or a sermon preached benefit from the supernatural Word of God coming into their lives.  So many say that they know what is in the Bible, and yet they cannot remember what the verses say, and if they do, they are unable to interpret them correctly.  Correct interpretation is a gift from the Holy Spirit, and even then, our Lord is not bringing out nuance, he is only stripping away our worldly preconceptions and revealing the plain meaning of what is there.

3. Blessed are they who guard, keep, and obey the word in their hearts.  It's not enough to just hear, but one must incorporate what they hear or read and allow it to change him or her.  Of course, we aren't really allowing anything. God himself removes our hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh, so that we can keep God's law in our hearts as saved Christians of the new covenant.

4. Never add to the Word of God.  From the last verses of Holy Scripture, in Revelation 22, Jesus tells John to write that one must never add to scripture.  The early fathers and the reformers are only revealing their interpretations of what is already there in scripture in the volumes of their writings.  Nothing new is being added, only vivid images to help get scripture into our hearts more easily.  Beware when someone provides new information that is not revealed in scripture, vain speculations that twist and spin the Word of God into something that it wasn't intended to be.

5. Never take away from the Word of God.  Also beware of those who cut from Holy Writ anything that they do not like.  Many a man has decided that he was superior to God and has engaged in removing anything that was personally offensive, for the sake of "saving" scripture.  All of scripture needs to be retained, even the parts that we don't like.  And those parts must be wrestled with and understood in the light of the other scriptures.  Usually the hardest parts of the Bible to understand are the parts that we haven't discovered Christ in yet.  Once we find Christ, the problem of the text vanishes.

Christ's words are important, not his lineage.  At one point in his ministry, Jesus' mother and brothers, by blood, came to him, but could not reach him because of the crowds.  Jesus was told that they were waiting for him, but he did not come out.  He said, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."  Knowing Jesus in the flesh is not important.  In fact, we cannot know him in the flesh, and those who think they know him in the flesh are on a doomed path.  We must know Christ by faith, in our heart, and the sign that we have saving faith is our obedience to Holy Scripture, his words.

Active obedience is proof that we have faith in Christ. If we are not active in our obedience but merely hear the truth, nod our heads, and maybe give it lip-service, we are deceiving ourselves.  James describes being "hearers only" as staring at your own face in a mirror.  When you walk away, you cannot remember the details.  But he who not only knows the word of God but obeys it through action, he will retain the word in his heart, because of a deep muscle-memory that only comes through actively obeying the law of God, as believers in Christ who are within the new covenant of faith.  Remember, God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt BEFORE he gave them the Ten Commandments.  Likewise he delivers us out of the old covenant of works and into the new covenant of faith before asking we keep the law.  Only though faith can we keep the law. 

Blessed are those who keep the law and walk in the ancient paths of the Lord.  Blessed are those who keep the Word in their hearts, and seek the kingdom of God with their entire being.  This is only possible by reading, hearing, and keeping God's Word in your heart.