From All Sides
Our Gospel reading recently brought us into the middle of Luke 11. This part of Luke 11 covers the same moment in the life of Jesus which Matthew 12 and 13 cover. It is the moment when Jesus is attacked from two sides. The religious leaders of His day (the Pharisees) attack from one side, accusing Him of casting out demons by the power of demons. They also demand He give them a sign to prove He is the Messiah. His physical family (His mother and brothers) attack from another side, accusing Him of losing His mind and attempting to make Him quit His ministry. All of a sudden Jesus has His hands full with at least three issues or objections, each of which is a severe threat to Him and to what He is trying to accomplish.
A Cry From the Heart
Now Matthew’s account shows us that Jesus worked through each of these accusations or demands in turn and then concluded the day with His Sermon in Parable. But Luke adds an incident which Matthew does not mention. Luke says that as Jesus was working through these accusations, a woman in the crowd that was watching cried out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you” (Luke 11:27). I don’t know why this woman cried out like that. I’ve always thought she was simply overcome with emotion and being so overcome just said the first thing that came to her mind. I also don’t know what she meant by this. She seems to be saying not just that Mary is blessed (which is technically true; Mary said she would be called blessed in Luke 1:48) but that Mary is the only one who is blessed. That is, Mary has something special which other people don’t and can’t have.
Obedience = Blessing
And even as Jesus is dealing with all these other accusations, He takes a moment to answer this woman’s cry. He replies to her, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” He says that in front of all the others, in front of the crowd and the religious leaders and His family and His disciples. Jesus says that the ones who are really blessed are the ones who hear the word of God and obey it.
Now this is not the first time Jesus has said something like this. In Luke 6, Jesus gives us the Parable of the Wise Builder (which we also find at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7). There He says everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice is like the wise builder while the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like the foolish builder. The second term is different there; obey is changed to put into practice. But it is the same idea.
Again, in Luke 8:21, Jesus says My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice. Pretty much the exact same thing. Not only so, but James, Jesus’ half-brother, says something very similar in James 1:25: whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. Again, slightly different terms but the same pattern. We even find this in Philippians 4:9, where Paul says Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.
There’s A Pattern Here
So this pattern of hearing and obeying or hearing and putting into practice or hearing and doing is a pattern we find repeatedly in the Bible, a pattern given to us by both our Lord Jesus and our Apostles. I believe it is the pattern of discipleship (or, as we like to say at The Church Next Door, internship). I believe being a growing disciple or intern or learner is a matter of hearing God tell you to do something and then doing it, a simple but profound matter of receiving input from God and then acting upon that input.
Discipleship, Not Duty
That is why we do our daily reading. We do not churn out the chapters of our daily reading just to tick off a box on our “religious duties” list (God wouldn’t want us doing our daily reading for this reason or in this way, in fact; He tells us repeatedly that He doesn’t appreciate rote religious activity, and that is what “churning out chapters” would be). We do not go through these chapters to get knowledge (getting knowledge is useful to discipleship, but it isn’t the end goal). No, we follow this reading plan because we are hoping to hear from God as we do so; we are hoping God will speak to us as we read.
This is also one reason we come to church and receive the pastor’s message (it is not the only reason; fellowship and worship are also reasons for church; but it is a reason). This is the reason we listen to worship music or do devotions or study nature or sit in silence or discuss ideas with other believers. All of these are our opportunities to hear God. All of these are God’s opportunities to speak to us which are in turn our opportunities to obey Him and grow as disciples. They are all opportunities to come closer to Jesus and become more like Jesus.
And this is clearly what Jesus wants from us and for us. This is clearly why Jesus not only answered this woman but answered her in this way. This is clearly what Jesus is inviting us to do here. He is inviting us to be blessed ones who grow as disciples, blessed ones who come ever closer to Him and to God through this simple pattern. He is inviting us to be those who hear and obey.
A Picture Worth A Thousand Words
My mentor gave me a picture of this hearing and obeying pattern when he first taught it to me (that’s right; I didn’t figure this out on my own; I was taught it). For a long time this picture was the basis of the times we spent together. I share it with you now in hopes it can help you hear and obey.