“God Bearers” — Sermon by Pastor Rolf Preus

And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 11:27-28

During Lent we watch our Lord Jesus do battle against the devil.   It can feature the devil tempting Jesus to sin, or Jesus casting out a demon. The most common form of the battle, however, is an argument.   Christ’s battle against the devil is a theological argument about Christian doctrine.

People argue against arguing about Christian teaching. Those who will not contend for the true doctrine refuse to do battle against the devil. But the devil does not refuse to do battle against them. They lose by default. There is no such thing as spiritual neutrality. The church on earth is the church militant. She fights or she dies. Just as Jesus fought against the devil and his lies, so must his church.

Doctrinal indifference concedes to Satan his victory over souls. The devil isn’t a cartoonish character with a pointed tail and a pitchfork in his hand.   He’s not a scary looking monster who growls at you when you are walking by. He’s a liar and the father of lies. His chief weapon is false teaching. By teaching lies about Jesus he destroys true faith in Jesus.

The truth about Jesus is also the truth about his mother, Mary.   In Mary’s Magnificat, we sing Mary’s words, “For behold, from this day all generations will call me blessed.”   The woman from the crowd called her blessed. She cried out to Jesus, “Blessed be the womb that bore you and the breasts which nursed you.” Blessed be Mary, the mother of God.

Here we need to avoid two extremes. On the one hand, we do not pray to Mary, seek her guidance or help, or rely on her to obtain grace for us from God. Our Lord Jesus tells us to pray to our Father in heaven and he promises that our heavenly Father hears our prayers. He does not tell us to pray to his mother and he does not promise that she can hear or answer our prayers. To elevate Mary to the position of Co-Redemptrix is to dishonor Christ.

On the other hand, we do not take issue with what the pious woman cried out in her spontaneous confession of faith, for when she blessed Mary she was blessing Jesus. St. Luke doesn’t tell us how much this woman knew about Jesus, but when she blessed Mary for being the mother of Jesus, she was blessing her for being the mother of God.

This is a vital truth that Satan would love to overthrow, but cannot.   In the early church there were persistent attacks from heretics who would not acknowledge the truth that Jesus is true God and true man at the same time. The teaching of God’s word is clear. Jesus is true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary.

He is one person. There is only one Lord Jesus Christ. There is not the human Jesus here on earth and the divine Jesus up in heaven. He is one Lord Jesus and he fills all things in heaven and on earth. He is one, yet he has two natures: divine and human. Whatever he does, God does, because he is God. Whatever he does, a man does, because he is a man. St. Paul writes of Jesus, “In him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9) There is a union – we call it the personal union – between the two natures in Christ so that whatever he does God does and a man does. Whatever is done to him is done to God and to a man. This is because he is true God and true man.   Therefore, when Mary gave birth to Jesus, she gave birth to God because Jesus is God.

During the fifth century, there was an archbishop of Constantinople by the name of Nestorius. He denied that Mary was the mother of God. He denied, in effect, the personal union of the two natures in Christ.   His teaching was condemned at the Council of Ephesus where the title, “God-bearer” was given to Mary. She is indeed the God-bearer, the mother of God.   The child she bore and nursed at her breasts was, is, and will always be the almighty God. We join this unnamed woman in crying out to the Lord Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts which nursed you.”

I hope you don’t find this ancient history lesson boring. It is a very timely lesson for us, because here in America, the ancient Nestorian heresy is alive and well. His doctrine was condemned by the Council of Ephesus and again at the Council of Chalcedon, but his error is commonly taught throughout American Protestantism. Just refer to Mary as the mother of God sometime and see what kind of reaction you get from your Protestant friends. I’ve even heard Lutherans object to this title. If Mary is not the mother of God then God didn’t really become a man. If God didn’t really become a man, then we don’t really have a Savior, for only God can save us from our sins. Only the sacrifice of God in the flesh can satisfy the justice of God. To challenge the personal union – the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ – is to attack the Christian faith.

As blessed as Mary was to give birth to God in the flesh, there is something more blessed than that. Jesus said in response to the woman from the crowd, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” You who bear God in your heart, are even more blessed than she who bore God in her womb.

These are wonderful words! To hear God’s word and to keep it is to have God within us, even as God was within Mary. Some argue that Mary had to be sinless to be the God-bearer. That doesn’t follow. It’s like arguing that we must be sinless in order for God to dwell within our hearts. But if we hear God’s word and keep it, God lives within us. God cannot be separated from his word. When we lay hold of God’s word, trust in it, put our confidence in it, God himself lives within us. Where his word is, there God is.

To keep God’s word is to keep God. God makes himself known by his word. God’s word is written. It is written in the Holy Scriptures, the prophetic and apostolic writings gathered together in the book we call the Bible. God’s word is preached. It sounds forth from pulpits all over the world as ministers sent by God preach out loud in words God’s people can hear the same word that is written down in the Bible. God’s word is incarnate. The Word became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was made man. The word of God brings God. God comes to us in his word.

Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. The word keep means obey when it refers to keeping God’s law. We keep the law by doing what the law requires. God doesn’t give us his law to disobey but to obey. To keep God’s law is to delight in doing it because this is what God wants us to do. It is to ponder his holy will for our behavior as he teaches it to us in his word and to conform our lives to it.

The word keep means believe when it refers to keeping the gospel.   To believe the gospel is to receive the benefits the gospel bestows: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.   The Bible often uses the word keep as another word for faith. In St. John’s Gospel Jesus says, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”   It is as if he said, “If anyone believes the gospel, he will never see death.”

The word keep literally means to hold onto, to guard, to hold fast to. To keep isn’t to let God’s word go in one ear and out the other. Our generation is quite spoiled when it comes to the art of listening, of paying attention. It’s like a mass epidemic of attention deficit disorder. You cannot open a magazine or watch a news story on television without seeing all sorts of graphics designed to grab your attention. Even preachers resort to power point demonstrations in their sermons! I’ve heard pastors say that there’s no point in preaching for more than ten minutes because nobody can pay attention any longer than that. It’s as if we need to be entertained while being taught or we’ll zone out into lala land.

“We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.” This is the explanation to the Third Commandment that we learn in Luther’s Small Catechism. This is the source of tremendous blessing. I’ve been reading, listening to, and studying theology for many years, and I am constantly learning and relearning – not sterile and irrelevant facts that I can do without – but the wisdom that comes from God himself and that imparts true and eternal life.

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”   So says Jesus, the Word made flesh, who for our sakes fulfilled every word written of him in the books of the prophets. God’s word had to be kept. The promise of forgiveness had to be fulfilled. Jesus alone could keep it. Jesus kept it. It sent him to the cross. On the cross he suffered for the sins of those who despised his word, neglected it, disregarded it, disobeyed it, and denied it. He took away the sins for which he suffered. He destroyed the power of the devil. No longer can the devil claim us by luring us into sin, trapping us in confusion and unbelief, and ruling over our souls. We have in God’s written word and in God’s preached word the Word made flesh who by keeping God’s word faithfully all the way to his death on the cross, has delivered us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

“The kingdom of God has come upon you, Jesus says.” It has already arrived. Here is how the Catechism puts it:

How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

The Holy Spirit comes to us and lives within us. He comes to us by the word that we read, the word that we hear, the word that we keep. God’s word is a living word, a word imbued with the power of Christ’s obedience and suffering. The word we keep is what keeps us. When our strength is failing, our health is deteriorating, and our faith is flickering, the word of God sustains us in the true faith.

There is nothing we own in this world that is as precious as God’s word. Keeping God’s word is keeping God. Where his word lives he lives. Mary became the God-bearer by conceiving in her womb and giving birth to him who is the eternal God. We, too, bear God within us. Amen

About Pastor Rolf Preus

Pastor Rolf David Preus grew up on the campus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, the fourth of ten children, where his father, Dr. Robert David Preus, taught for many years. Pastor Preus graduated from high school in 1971, from Concordia College, St. Paul, Minnesota in 1975 and from Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 1979. He was ordained on July 1, 1979, at Trinity Lutheran Church, in Clear Lake, Minnesota. He served Trinity Lutheran Church in Clear Lake (1979-1982), First Lutheran Church in East Grand Forks, Minnesota (1982-1989), St. John’s Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin (1989-1997), River Heights Lutheran Church in East Grand Forks, Minnesota (1997-2006), and First American Lutheran Church in Mayville, North Dakota and Grace Lutheran Church in Crookston, Minnesota from (2006-2015). On February 15, 2015 he was installed as Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Sidney, Montana and St. John Lutheran Church, Fairview, Montana. Pastor Preus received his Master of Sacred Theology degree from Concordia Theological Seminary in 1987. His thesis topic was, “An Evaluation of Lutheran/Roman Catholic Conversations on Justification.” Pastor Preus has taught courses in theology for Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Concordia University Wisconsin, and St. Sophia Lutheran Theological Seminary in Ternopil, Ukraine. Pastor Preus married Dorothy Jean Felts on May 27, 1975, in Coldwater, Michigan. God has blessed Pastor and Dort with twelve children: Daniel, David, Paul, John, Mark, Stephen, Christian, Andrew, James, Mary, Samuel, and Peter. David, Paul, John, Mark, Stephen, Christian, Andrew, and James are pastors in the LCMS. God has blessed Pastor and Mrs. Preus with forty-three grandchildren so far. Pastor Preus’ mother is living in Minneapolis. Three of his brothers and two of his brothers-in-law have served as pastors in the LCMS.


Comments

“God Bearers” — Sermon by Pastor Rolf Preus — 9 Comments

  1. Pastor Preus: When I read these sentences from your sermon, I could not help but think they teach synergism:
    “To hear God’s word and to keep it is to have God within us, even as God was within Mary.
    But if we hear God’s word and keep it, God lives within us.
    When we lay hold of God’s word, trust in it, put our confidence in it, God himself lives within us.
    The Holy Spirit comes to us and lives within us. He comes to us by the word that we read, the word that we hear, the word that we keep.”
    We Lutherans have disposed the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, and replaced Him with “The Word.” Nowhere is this clearer than in the last sentence quoted. Ephesians 6:17 reads, ”Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The Spirit does not come through the Word, but the Spirit uses the Word as His Sword to accomplish His will.
    Why is it that a Lutheran pastor can write about receiving the Holy Spirit without mentioning Baptism, which is, as the Word teaches, the only way we receive the Holy Spirit? Acts 2: 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
    There is not a single passage in the Word that teaches that we receive the Holy Spirit through the Word, that we receive Him more than once, or that we receive Him other than through Baptism. If there is, please let me know where, but please do not respond with allegorical rhetoric. I know that there are several instances in Scripture that show people received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized, but these happened during the special, Apostolic times. There is nothing written that says we should rely on these special situations as a general rule. (John 3:8)
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  2. “The Spirit does not come through the Word, but the Spirit uses the Word as His Sword to accomplish His will.” George A. Marquart

    These two propositions should not be set in opposition to each other. They entail each other. The reason the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit is because it is the Word of the Spirit. Where the Word is there is the Spirit. Jesus says that his words are spirit and life.

    When you say that we receive the Holy Spirit through baptism you speak the truth. When you set this in opposition to receiving the Holy Spirit through the Word you err. Baptism is the washing of water with the Word. How can water do such great things? It is not the water indeed that does them, but the Word of God that is in and with the water.

    Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He then gave them the authority to speak ~words~ that impart the forgiveness of sins. Luther points out that everyone who has the Spirit has this authority. The Scriptures are God-breathed. The Holy Spirit is the Author.

    I am trying to understand how anyone could think that the words in my sermon teach synergism. One could read synergism into them, I suppose, but that would be imposing an alien meaning on them. You cannot find synergism in them for they do not teach it.

  3. @George A. Marquart #3

    The reason a sermon, any sermon by any preacher, mentions some things and not others about a subject is that it is a sermon, not a systematic theology, and because the sermon exposes the text.

    On another day, when exposing a different text, more points will be preached.

    And in another year, when exposing the same text, more points from that same text will be preached.

    As to Spirit and Word in this sermon, those statement do not deny the Spirit or Baptism. They expose the text, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

    This sermon protects us from Enthusiasm that expects the Spirit to normally move us apart from the Word. That expectation can lead to despair when we do not see the Spirit in us. It provides the comfort of faith, that if we do see that we, as the text says, “hear the word of God and keep it,” that means the Spirit is living within us. This sermon, hence, gives direct effect to the word in the text, “blessed,” because it shows a hearer and holder of the Word that he is blessed with the Spirit, ending the impossible quest to see without means the Spirit within. It is ironic to question the Lutheran-ness of a sermon that uses the Lutheran teaching of the means of grace to bring blessing and peace, the means that the Word, heard and held, reveal the Spirit indwelling. Rob me of this sermon, and rob me of the blessing Jesus pronounced in this text. Rob me of assurance that the Spirit indeed is indwelling in me.

    So, taking a sermon for what a sermon is, and taking this one for what it actually says, I don’t find synergism in it. I didn’t when I heard it and I don’t when I read it. Nor do I know anyone else who got synergism from it. But I know people who got the blessing from it that Jesus gave us when He said the text for our hearing and holding.

  4. “The Holy Spirit comes to us and lives within us. He comes to us by the word that we read, the word that we hear, the word that we keep.” Synergism, as opposed to monergism, teaches that we contribute to our own salvation. Monergism teaches that God comes to dwell in us without any effort on our part. Synergism teaches that we are able to compel God to live in us by reading, hearing, and keeping the word. How we can keep the word without God dwelling in us to begin with, is a mystery to me. But if we bring Him to dwell in us through what we do, that is synergism. Does the Holy Spirit come to anyone outside of the Kingdom who reads, or hears the word?
    But the whole question is moot, because, as I wrote above, “There is not a single passage in the Word that teaches that we receive the Holy Spirit through the Word, that we receive Him more than once, or that we receive Him other than through Baptism.” Lest you think I despise the word, the Holy Spirit obviously comes to us in a Sacrament, for which the word is indispensable. I asked for Scripture that shows this not to be true, but I have not received any. This business about receiving the Holy Spirit from reading the word is pure pious nonsense.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  5. Mr. Marquart, I said in my sermon: “The Holy Spirit comes to us and lives within us. He comes to us by the word that we read, the word that we hear, the word that we keep.” You falsely accuse me of teaching synergism by twisting my words to say that “we are able to compel God to live in us by reading, hearing, and keeping the word.” I teach that the Holy Spirit comes to us and lives within us by the word. You say I teach that we are able to compel God to live in us. I said no such thing. I implied no such thing. I have never taught this. To attribute to my words the meaning that we compel God to do anything at all is not only contrary to their plain sense, but it is assigning to me a position I have preached against for many years. Why would you do such a thing?

    You denied that the Bible teaches that we receive the Holy Spirit through the word. I showed you from the Bible that you are wrong. You claim I have not shown you what I showed you. Unless you are willing to assign to baptism power apart from the power of the word itself, your own position that we receive the Holy Spirit through baptism is an affirmation that we receive him through the word. That the Bible is the word of God and that the Holy Spirit is the Author of the Bible proves that the Bible is a means of grace by which the Holy Spirit creates faith. As St. John wrote, “But these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing might have life in his name.” The inherent efficacy of the word is taught in Isaiah 55:10-11, Romans 10:17, 1 Peter 1:23, etc.

    To deny that the Holy Spirit comes to us through the word written down in the Bible is a serious error that overthrows the Lutheran doctrine of the means of grace.

  6. Sorry, I must have missed the part where you showed me through the Bible that I was wrong. The only Scripture you mentioned was where our Lord breathed on His Disciples and said,”Receive the Holy Spirit.” First of all, were it those words that conveyed the Holy Spirit, or was it His will, expressed in His words, that conveyed the Holy Spirit? Actually, it is clear that “He breathed on them”. That is what conveyed the Holy Spirit. Secondly, this was a unique occasion, that has never been repeated in Scripture. You and I received the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Not because the words caused it, but because God’s will and command were fulfilled. Not only through the word, otherwise we could just forget about the water part. Originally, our Lord told Nicodemus, “by water and the Spirit.” Whenever the word is made to have a power of its own, apart from expressing the will of God, we teach error. Indeed, the word is the tool, the sword of the Spirit. When I say that you compel God to act in a certain way, I mean that simply by reading the word we cause God to come dwell in us. Therefore, it is not by God’s will, but by our will, because we have decided to read the word. Obviously you do not believe that, but that is what your words teach when you say we receive the Holy Spirit through reading or hearing the word.
    No, you have proven nothing by the Bible, because it is not in the Bible.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  7. Mr. Marquart, you write: “Sorry, I must have missed the part where you showed me through the Bible that I was wrong. The only Scripture you mentioned was where our Lord breathed on His Disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

    How many times does God have to say something before you believe it? Jesus said to the disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He went on to say, “Whosever sins you forgive are forgiven.” Luther points out in a sermon on this text that whoever has the Holy Spirit has the authority to forgive sins. This is done by speaking the words of God that convey it. This is Jesus speaking. It is the Holy Spirit speaking.

    But this wasn’t the only Scripture I mentioned. I also mentioned John 3, John 6, Ephesians 6, and 2 Timothy 3. And then, in the last response to you I mentioned Isaiah 55, Romans 10, and 1 Peter 1, all of which refer to the inherent power of the word, which of course is the power of the Holy Spirit in and through the word because it is his word.

    Could it be that this is where your problem lies? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible? If you don’t, that would certainly explain why you are confused about the relationship between the word and the Spirit.

    You write, “Whenever the word is made to have a power of its own, apart from expressing the will of God, we teach error.” How could the word possibly have a power that is apart from the will of God? The word is God’s! How could it not be an expression of his will? How could it not have God’s power when it is God’s word and God is almighty?

    When we Lutherans talk about the means of grace, we talk about the word and we talk about the Holy Spirit. They go together. Whether we are talking about the oral word, the written word, or the sacramental word, we are talking about the word by which the Holy Spirit calls us to faith and keeps us in the faith.

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