The Lutheran Church has several prayer services, mostly meant for us to use during the week. We have a morning-prayer service, Matins, which begins with these words from Psalm 51. The pastor chants, “O Lord, open my lips.” In response, the congregation chants back, “And my mouth will declare Your praise.”
With those words, God teaches us that we cannot praise Him unless He first opens our lips and gives us such praise to offer back to Him. God teaches us that we cannot worship Him unless He breaks into Satan’s house. He needs to bind the strong man to set us free. Only then can we give proper glory to God.
Psalm 51 points us to today’s gospel, which announces that God will overthrow Satan’s kingdom though His Son, Jesus Christ. We even learn what our Lord’s work is. He comes to save those under the power of the devil, bringing them into God’s kingdom of grace.
That’s why Jesus commanded the Eleven, the Church’s first pastors, to disciple others by baptizing and teaching them all the truths that they had received from Him. Since we’re born in sin and allied with Satan from birth, the first act of the Christian Church is to baptize. That’s why Titus 3 calls baptism a “washing of new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
In baptism, Jesus arrives and shows Satan the door. It’s no accident that our baptismal liturgy has the pastor first speak these words: “Depart unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit!” For that’s what baptism does: It drives out the devil!
And in His Church, Jesus continues to do His work. Through the preached Word, Christ continues to release the captive from sin’s enslaving chains, keeping us in His kingdom of grace. Through His forgiveness, Christ continues to open our lips, creating praise from those whom the Gospel brings into His kingdom.
That’s why those brought into the Church continue to gather around Christ’s Word and Sacraments. For through those channels of grace, Christ continues to defend His flock so we may sing His praise eternally.
The Word and Sacraments are the weapons that Christ gave to His Church. Through those, we can fight against the devil and those who work to deceive us, robbing us of our comfort in Christ, who loved us and gave Himself up for us to be a sacrifice pleasing to God.
But oh how we often despise such gifts from God! When we come to hear the Word and its preaching, we feel no significant power or persuasion. And so we consider it nothing significant. We can take it; we can leave it. We treat it like all the other information in our lives–instead of the Word of God coming to me here and now. In fact, we often find the preached Word boring.
That’s why we want our pastors to spice it up with entertaining stories and anecdotes. For the Word of sin and grace, and the call to repent and be brought into the forgiveness of sins, often bores us. And so our sinful nature clamors for something that will satisfy our itching ears.
And if our faith is but a veneer, but a calling card to get into heaven, we then continue to live our lives seeking material goals and happiness. We can even, in the secret places of our heart, consider God to be an obstacle to our happiness. We think He takes up too much of our time. He asks for too much money. He takes too much fun away from our lives.
We even resent God. After all, He commands us to love Him more than anything else–even more than ourselves. He teaches us to pray, “Not my will, Lord, but Thy will be done,” when you and I honestly want to pray, “My will be done.”
So, we must learn how Christ works. He breaks into Satan’s domain, binds him by His power, robs him of his prey, and releases the sinner from his power to serve God in freedom and joy.
When Christ comes in, people react in two different ways. For Jesus warned that Satan does not give up easily; once driven out, he constantly seeks to repossess what was taken from him. It’s torturous for an unclean spirit not to be inside a human host. Jesus spoke of them seeking a place of rest.
For those like the Pharisees in our Gospel reading, they do not want to be released. They may not realize it, but they want to serve the devil, seeking their own choices and selfish interests. Wearing the devil’s own glasses, they see Jesus as the demon. And so they resist God’s Word and Sacraments, continuing in their darkness. They are the ones Jesus is speaking about when He says that once they are set free, seven more demons come to repossess them, who make their condition worse than it was at the first.
But there are also those who hear the word of God and keep it. They marvel at Christ’s work that frees the sinner, opening their lips to sing praise to God.
For Jesus gave the Church more than baptism to drive out Satan. He also gave absolution, the preached Word, and His Supper. The Church has no other weapons against Satan than those means of grace. Through those, Jesus continues, even to this day, the work that He began when He walked the earth. He frees our hearts from Satan’s slavery, returning them for their intended purpose–to be a home for the Triune God.
In our Gospel for today, a woman cried out after hearing Jesus teach. She said, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and the breasts that nursed you!” Jesus corrected her: “Even more, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Jesus wasn’t putting His mother down. For Scripture tells us that all generations are to call Mary “blessed.” So, this wasn’t a put down of His mother. Instead, Jesus is letting us know the value of His Word.
When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it,” He isn’t giving you more instructions. Jesus isn’t telling you what to do, turning His Gospel into another Law.
We often naturally do that, don’t we? We turn the Gospel into Law. We’ll say, “Jesus died on the cross to save you. Now all you have to do is…” And with words like that, we’ve just yanked the guts out of the Gospel and turned it back into Law, into something you have to do.
So then, what is Jesus doing when He said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it”? It’s this: He’s pointing you to the source of eternal safety, protection, and salvation. For in hearing the Word of God, God keeps you safely in His kingdom. In hearing the Gospel that God forgives you because of Jesus, God keeps you safely in His kingdom.
What keeps you safe against the devil and his minions is the life-creating and sustaining Word of the Gospel. His Word is the truth about who you are. His Word lets you know why you face these battles. But even more, His Word protects you in those battles against Satan, even letting you know what awaits you as you trust in God’s mercy because of Christ Jesus.
Indeed, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Indeed, they are blessed! They are blessed because that Word of God that Christ speaks is a word, not about what you are to do or not to do, but who you are in Christ!
That’s why we aren’t to despise the Word of God and its preaching, or the Sacraments, which are but God’s Word coming to us through material means that Christ has chosen to use. Those who do not despise the Word are those whom Jesus calls “blessed.” If they don’t abandon the grace that God gives to us in His Word and Sacraments, they will indeed inherit the kingdom of His glory. That’s what keeping the Word of God means. His Word is such a treasure that we hold on to it as the most precious gift in life, which is what it is.
So, dear Christians, rejoice! Although you are weak, rejoice! For One fights for you who is stronger than the one who seeks your destruction. Rejoice in your assurance of eternal life, for it is not some deception. God assures you that His Kingdom has come to you in Christ Jesus, who gave His life for your sins and rose again in victory for your salvation.
Rejoice that He comes here, today, to open your lips, so your mouth may also declare His praise. He comes to forgive your sins, so you may go in peace to serve God and live in His love. He comes to feed you His body and blood, so you may be one with Him, overcoming sin, death, and the devil.
On the cross, Jesus destroyed Satan’s power to harm you. There, Jesus freed you, although you were a lost and condemned creature. There, He rescued you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil–not with silver or gold, but with His holy and precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.
Why would Jesus do that? All so you may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. Amen.