Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Jesus’ words refocus our priorities. The woman who exclaimed Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed is right in her exclamation. All generations still call Christ’s mother blessed. But there is something greater than Mary’s womb and Mary’s breast that ought to be praised: the Word of God.
Christ is our hope for eternal life. His mercy is our greatest desire. That is why we not only hear the Word, but also keep the Word. The verb keep has many nuances. To keep something can mean to observe it as if the Word is your guide to life. There is a proper understanding of keep in that sense. If you use keep to mean you must not eat pork or shellfish or keep a kosher kitchen, then you miss the point of keeping God’s Word. Keeping God’s Word here means to maintain God’s Word, to perform sentry duty over the Word.
There’s a way even to misunderstand that nuance. Some Christians believe that nuance to mean putting Jesus in a box and keeping Him there, lest we misuse Him or become afraid even to open our mouth about what Jesus has done to rescue us from sin and death. We are so preoccupied with keeping the message of Jesus Christ straight that we don’t actually proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We instead proclaim a caricature of Christianity that centers on how hard we try to keep God’s Word pure.
It’s an easy trap. We are afraid to speak to others about what we believe for fear of “not getting it right”. So we drag our friends and neighbors to the pastor and let him tell them what we believe. Worse yet, we never speak about our faith to anyone, anywhere. That’s a poor nuance of keeping God’s Word. We keep it so much that we hide it.
Notice Jesus says those who maintain God’s Word are blessed. This also has a misplaced nuance of guarding it so much that you won’t let even yourself touch it, let alone hear it. Keeping sentry duty over God’s Word means to be ready to give your life for the sake of what the Word proclaims for you.
Recall your confirmation day. You were asked, “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” That’s a solemn promise to make, and one you don’t lightly make. That’s what is behind maintaining, keeping, the Word of God. You live as God’s redeemed, restored, forgiven child, wet in your baptismal robe of righteousness.
You live eager to hear the Word as well. Those two verbs Jesus says in today’s Gospel, hear and keep go together. To hear the Word means to hear with both ears and heart. The Word does not merely enter the ear and make no impression on your life. The Holy Spirit travels with the Word proclaimed to bring you to repentance and forgiveness. To hear the Word also means not to let anything pull you away from it, no matter how many people slander the Word or are indifferent to what it says.
Keeping the Word, maintaining it, defending it, brings a blessing because you are rescued from Satan’s kingdom. Saint Paul writes in Colossians chapter one: [let us give thanks] to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Your heavenly Father has rescued you from great misery and miserable slavery to sin. You are ready to defend the Word that declares you free from death and hell. You are ready to make diligent use of the Gifts given here that deliver what the Word gives you, namely forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.
Keeping the Word means you are preserved from unclean spirits returning to the house of your body, seeking a place of rest. You are ready to fight with Christ, to gather with Christ, and to build the kingdom of God. God’s Word declares you are dead to sin, unable to pull yourself out of your sinful condition. Only Jesus is able to do it. The Word brings you to repentance and declares you forgiven of all sin. In the freedom of Christ you are ready to speak the hope that is in you. You wear the full armor of God to defend yourself from the attacks of the evil one.
When you fall, and you will fall, the Word will be there to show your sin, but also to show your Savior. You rise, put on the whole armor of God again, and, in the blessing of God, hear and defend the Word once again. That’s the baptismal life, yours in Jesus Christ, the Living Word.
“The Father’s hand hath written there/ My title as His child and heir,/ ‘The kingdom’s thine forever.’/ That promise faileth never.” (The Lutheran Hymnal 48:2)