The Blessings that Really Count
There are many good things for us to enjoy in life and we are meant to do so. After all, the Bible tells us that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father". So here in Sunnyhill we are happy to sing songs like "All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above" and "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" because we know that God is the One who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
I guess if we were to draw up a shortlist of some of the most important blessings we want to enjoy we would probably want to include at least some of the following:
The peace and security that comes from living in a law-abiding society
More income than expenditure
Do you remember how Charles Dickens in his novel David Copperfield had his character Mr Micawber speak about such things?
"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."
Well the overdraft facilities at the local bank may help cushion the blow for a while but we understand the fundamental value of Micawber’s words, don’t we?
In drawing up a list of blessings to be enjoyed I doubt very much that any of us would want to add interruptions. Interruptions, I know, can sometimes be welcome, for example, the phone rings and on the other end of the line is a friend we haven’t heard from for a long time – that is probably a welcome interruption. But the type of call that happens more often than that is the recorded message telling us it’s winter and time to change our windows – that kind of interruption is much more of a distraction than anything else.
Well the verses we want to consider this morning as we pursue our studies in Luke’s gospel are introduced by an interruption that leads to talk about blessings. It is an interruption that doesn’t throw Jesus off balance but rather is one that gives him the opportunity of telling his hearers not to get their focus wrong as they think about blessings.
Luke is the only gospel writer who records this little incident and it is typical of his interests. Again and again Luke is concerned to show us how Jesus took women seriously and treated them with due respect – you see, the world of his day generally didn’t do that.
This unnamed woman, who appears only here in the gospel record, has been standing with the crowds as Jesus healed the mute man. She has heard the accusations laid against him by the religious leaders and she has listened carefully as Jesus responded to them. And the more she watched and listened the more impressed she was with Jesus!
Suddenly she can’t hold back any longer and she blurts out the thoughts that have been forming within her. This man is special, oh so special! I wonder: Do you agree with her? This is what she called out:
Lk.11:27 "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!"
Usually when Jesus was interrupted it was because the person or people doing the interrupting wanted him to do something for them. Jesus’ disciples often found this very frustrating. They reacted:
by trying to stop mothers bringing their babies,
by trying to stop a blind beggar from crying out
by asking Jesus to send away the Samaritan woman whose daughter was so unwell.
But this particular woman here in Luke 11 doesn’t appear to be asking for anything at all. She just cries out expressing her appreciation of the Lord Jesus; it’s her way of honouring him when so many others were not.
Lk.11:27 "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!"
Not quite the language we might use today but her meaning is clear. In her mind Jesus is such a wonderful person that it must have been marvellous to have been his mother! What a blessing! What an honour and a privilege to serve such a great person! How fantastic to have always had him around!
And what is more what she said was true! True, yes... but misleading!! And I want you to see why.
Jesus Speaks about Blessing
The interruption could have come as an unwelcome distraction – after all Jesus was involved in a discussion following on from the exorcism he had recently carried out. Some in the crowd were still wanting more signs from heaven to prove one way or another whether he was trustworthy or not. That this lady’s intervention was an interruption becomes clearer when we realise that Jesus returns to the matter of ‘seeking signs’ when he finished speaking to her.
But there is no hint of frustration or tension in Jesus as he responds to her outcry. Some of our translations make it look as though Jesus is putting the lady down with a simple correction. One translation suggests Jesus responded curtly with a reply beginning with "On the contrary..." However what Jesus actually said is more accurately rendered:
"Yes, but better still..."
Jesus began his answer with an affirmation: yes, his mother was blessed!
The NT makes it very clear that his mother, Mary, occupied a special place in God’s plan of salvation. But by the very nature of things aspects of her blessedness were unique to her – no-one else could ever be his mother as she was.
Mary’s cousin Elizabeth recognised something of the favour that had been bestowed on Mary. When Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist Mary came to visit. Elizabeth was intensely moved by the visit and declared:
Lk.1:42 "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!"
Mary herself under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit expressed her awareness of the blessing being granted to her in the song we call the Magnificat:
Lk.1:48 "For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;"
Yes, Mary was blessed to have been entrusted with the responsibility of being Jesus’ mother – it was a task that none could ever share with her and it came with all the privileges that close relationships bring. Just think of the wonder of bringing up a sinless, child who would grow up into a sinless youth and then a sinless man! What access Mary had to his wisdom and understanding! What a position she was in to observe the way in which he managed his unique relationship with his Heavenly Father!
Yes, his mother was blessed – Jesus in no way wanted to deny that Mary had received a unique blessing – what the woman had spoken was true as far as it went.
But, and the caveat is important, that was only the beginning of his answer – yes, his mother was blessed but we mustn’t focus upon special relationships as the high road to blessing. Mary was just one individual and Jesus wanted to speak about how the multitudes could be blessed. Indeed there was a way that they (and we) could follow that would bring blessing!
You see if the woman in the crowd focused on extraordinary and special relationships as the way to blessedness she might spend her entire life admiring others and dreaming impossible dreams of what it must have been like to have been them.
With a misplaced focus this woman might have forever remained an admirer, a dreamer, all the while overlooking and ignoring the way of blessedness that stood wide open before her.
And you could be in danger of exactly the same thing.
Do you ever think wistfully that you’d be a believer, or a stronger believer, or a better believer, if only, if only your circumstances and experience had been different.
If only you had seen Jesus in the flesh
If only you had heard him speak
If only you had a Damascus Road conversion experience
If only you had experienced a miracle
If only yo u had been born into a Christian family
If only you had a Christian marriage partner
If only you had heard about him when you were younger
If only your church experience in the past had been better
If only your church experience now was better
If only you were in a bigger, livelier, more exciting church
If only you were living in revival times
I guess we could multiply the list. We can imagine all kinds of scenarios in which we can convince ourselves that given them we would believe and enjoy the accompanying blessedness. But the problem with such "if only’s" is that they don’t belong to the real world but to the realm of fantasy. And you have to live in the here and now of the real world.
However much the woman in this incident might have admired Jesus’ mother (or envied her) she could never ever make herself a member of Jesus’ earthly blood family – to dream and dream would only distract her from what she could do and do with profit. These "if only" arguments and dreams become all too readily an excuse for spiritual inertia and spiritual inactivity – in short to barrenness and not blessedness.
Jesus seized the opportunity that this woman’s intervention gave him to point out the way to true blessing. He was very practical as he told her – and us – how we might come into genuine blessing.
The Way of Blessing
Jesus completed his answer to the woman with the following words:
Lk.11:28 "Yes, but better still, blessed are those who listen to the word of God and observe it."
Better blessings and for more people!
I wonder whether you feel that is something of an anti-climax. After all Jesus is not pointing to anything extraordinary or outwardly exciting. Although he’s just performed a miracle he doesn’t here appeal to that instead he points to the patient and unspectacular religious practice of hearing and doing the word of God.
You don’t have to see or receive a miracle. You don’t have to meet Jesus in the flesh nor do you need the excitement of an ecstatic vision but what you do need is to hear and to obey the word of God.
You don’t need to find the perfect church, you don’t need to wait for perfect understanding or for tingles down the spine but what you do need is to hear and obey the word of God.
You don’t need to go to a special place on pilgrimage, you don’t need to become some kind of religious extremist but you do need to hear and to obey the word of God.
It is that simple!
God wants to bless you and has provided blessing for you – he has not made it difficult for you to find and he has told you exactly what you must do: you must hear and obey the word of God. Day after day, week after week, year after year, for that is the way of blessing for this is how we meet with God.
Earlier in Luke’s gospel Jesus had already described the type of person who did just that:
Lk.6:47-48 "Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built."
It is through the imperishable seed of the living and abiding word of God that are brought to spiritual life (1Pet.1:23). The word of God when it dwells richly within us it teaches us truth, shows us the way we should take and fills us with joy as we take it (Col.3:16).
Had Jesus’ mother and brothers relied on their human ties then their privileges of close relationship with Jesus would have been very short-lived. Jesus’ own brothers lived with him for many years but were slow in coming to put their faith in him. Mary was different. She made mistakes but she did hear the word of God and respond to it as she was enabled:
Lk.1:38 "And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."
Elizabeth too testified to Mary’s obedience:
Lk.2:45 "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."
Had Mary not heard and obeyed the word of God it is indeed highly questionable that she would have had any blessing at all in her life. But she did hear and she did obey and that is the detail which is important for us to notice, understand and seek to copy.
Do you realise just how good this is? Wherever the Bible is readily available the door stands wide open for blessings to flow into a person’s life. As we sing "Blessings abound where Jesus reigns..."
No extraordinary feats are required of us, no sterling exploits, no long journeys to undertake, no hair-shirts. All we need is to heed Jesus’ words:
Lk.11:28 "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"
We need to hear it, not as background noise but attentively as we listen to what it says, allowing its teachings to form our thinking and to direct our decisions, determining our choices.
But do I do that? Do you?
We probably all have copies of the Bible in our homes but do we make the time to open them and read them? We tend to find time for the things we really want to do and the way we spend our time indicates what is important to us – do we consider knowing God important enough to find time for him in our lives?
When I was a teenager and a young Christian it was common practice among my fellow believers to have a daily quiet time – a regularly allocated slot of time for prayer and Bible reading. I fear that for many Christians is today the quiet time is not the priority it once was and ought to be.
But careful Bible reading is not something for the Christian only – it is not a fad of the religious fanatic – if you want to know and understand the truth of the Christian faith and not in some dry dusty impersonal manner then you too must hear the word of God and be ready to obey when God speaks.
Practically you can hear/listen to the word of God in many ways. You can of course listen carefully while it is being read aloud in church meetings. But there is so much more you can do. If you like listening then you can listen to the Bible being read on CDs, mp3s or online with an internet connection. But you can "hear" by getting a Bible for yourself and by reading it. Perhaps you have a Bible at home but the print has shrunk over the years and it’s no longer comfortable to read – well why not treat yourself to a Bible that you can actually see!
On any or all of these matters don’t be afraid to ask for advice, for help etc. The help you need is there – just ask.
Some of you may be finding that you’ve got somewhat stuck in a rut with reading the Bible – if that is the case then get on and do something about it – again if you need ideas talk to someone about it.
The important thing though for all of us is to hear and to obey the word of God.
May he help us to do so!