The Finger of God Pricks our Ears
The Scriptures tell us that the finger of God inscribed the Commandments on tablets of stone. So far we have seen how the finger of God by the 1st Commandment pierces our hearts and by the 2nd Commandment purses our lips. This evening we see how the finger of God by the 3rd Commandment pricks our ears.
Our ears need to be pricked by the Law of God as stated in the 3rd Commandment because we think not hearing the Word of God is no big deal. We tolerate in this commandment what we won't in any of the others. People are always asking for understanding, agreement, acceptance for their not hearing the Word of God. We, by common agreement, set aside from 9:15 till at the latest 12:45 once a week for the hearing of the Word. Yet family, friends, activities, sleep are accepted as reasons for not hearing the Word. We don't accept any of these as reasons for not honoring authorities, for hurting our harming our neighbor, or for committing adultery.
Jesus warned us about this. He told the parable of the Great Banquet where people were invited to a feast, accepted the invitation, and then gave excuses for not coming. They start out like many of you do; they ask to be excused. "Please excuse me; I have brought a field and I must go and see it; please excuse me; I have brought new oxen." What do you think I should say to the person who tried to excuse other sins? "Please excuse me; my spouse and I haven't been getting along and I must commit adultery." "Please excuse me; money is a little tight and I must steal to make it." You would be horrified if I accepted such excuses, yet you expect me to accept excuses for not hearing the Word. And I warn you; as in the parable so it is in life. People go from being bothered enough to ask to be excused to believing they need none. "I just can't come. I won't be there."
If this is you, if you believe you can pick and choose when you hear the Word of God, know this; you aren't a member. You're a visitor. Visitors are people who come when they feel like it. People not on my rolls owe me no explanation for not hearing the Word. Members are different. As I am required to tell them each and every Sunday I won't be here, so they are required to tell me, but of course most don't.
You hear God' Word when and where you feel like it. God would by the 3rd Commandment stick His finger into your ear because not hearing the Word, not learning the Word, not holding preaching and God's Word scared is the most serious sin of all. It's a sin against the cure for all sins, but you don't think so. That's how it is when people lose their hearing; they lose it gradually. People go from every Sunday service, a weekly Bible class and midweek service, to Sunday service, to every other week, to when they feel like it. They go from letting me know when they miss; to making excuses; to not attending and feeling no need even to excuse themselves.
I know what you're thinking. "We're one of the few at a midweek service. We don't need to hear this." I'm telling you because it's not to late for you. By preaching and His Word whether oral, written, with Water, or in Bread and Wine is the only way God wills to deal with sinners. When you start cutting yourself off from the Word, you start to go deaf. Most people think they'd rather be deaf than blind, but going deaf is worse; it cuts you off from your surroundings. When you start finding reasons, excuses for not hearing the Word, calluses are already growing in your ears. When you hear what and when you feel like it, you're almost stone deaf, and cut off from God.
Now I've gone and made you mad. This is how it should be. The Law of God works wrath if it's listened to. The person who isn't pricked by the 3rd Commandment is a long way to being lost. You are pricked, and you're mad. What's the big deal? You're not hurting your neighbor; you're not guilty of sexual sins; you don't steal or tell lies about your neighbor. You just have trouble making it to church sometimes; you're just not use to using an extra hour each week to hear the Word in Bible class.
You're going to "just" your way to deafness, to cutting yourself off from God. You need to go back to the Sabbath Day to see the wickedness of sins against God's Word. The Sabbath Day was the 7th day in the week set aside by God for His OT Church. He commanded they do no work on that day. Anyone who did was to be put to death. In Numbers 15 a man was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. "The Lord said to Moses, "The man shall surely be put to death, and they stoned him with stones, and he died."
What's the big deal with picking up sticks? What's the big deal with picking and choosing when, where, if you hear God's Word? God provided a day of physical rest for the Old Testament Church. What a glorious gift this was. They didn't have to work 7 days a week to provide for their families. They could have a whole day of physical rest without fear they would be harmed by it. The physical rest of the Old Testament points to the spiritual rest Jesus would bring for sinners. As the OT Church rested in God providing, so we can rest in God in Christ providing for us. The man who picked up sticks was saying either he didn't trust God to provide or he was free to ignore God's command. That's what the person does who doesn't gladly hear and learn God's Word. He doesn't regard God's Word in a man's mouth as God' way of providing for his spiritual needs or he believes he's free to ignore God's command to hear. Either way he's calling for God to judge him.
Don't you hate when your ears are full of fluid? Either from sickness or from swimming, everything sounds muffled. If it's bad enough, you feel off kilter, out of it when around others. So it is when out ears are filled with excuses, reasons, justifications for not hearing God's Word. We feel funny, strange, off balance around God. All the 3rd Commandment can do is show us our deafness, our thick calluses, and the judgment God decrees against those who despise His Word. And a despiser is what you are if you don't hold preaching and His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
What a tall order. To hold sacred means to consider a thing holy, blessed. You probably can think of your Bible that way but my preaching? It will take a miracle for that to happen. A command of the Law is not a miracle. The Gospel is a miracle, and the Gospel is God the Son, the Word of God, taking on flesh and blood. The Law of God was originally written in our hearts, but we became deaf to it. Rather than considering God's Word a blessing, we considered it a burden, an obligation. Hearing His Word was something we did for Him not us. So, we sinners turned a deaf ear to God or only heard as much of it as we wanted.
So, the Word became flesh in Mary's womb. The Word took on all the requirements of God's Law and kept them. He, though holy God, held the Word and even preaching sacred and gladly heard it and learned it. See in the Scriptures all the times the holy Son of God goes to church. He never gave excuses not to; He never thought He could go only when He felt like it. Yet what happened to Him? The Bible says in Proverbs 1 and Zechariah 7 that the person who doesn't hear God's Word will not be heard by God. So, God turned a deaf ear to Jesus on the cross. God forsook Him in His hellish agony. Not because Jesus despised God's Word, but because you and I do.
In Jesus the Word made flesh all the commandments are kept; none of them hang over your heard, and in Him all the punishments required by the commandments have been carried out to God's satisfaction. So now the Word made flesh is on your side, and He's powerful and active. Jesus spoke to the dead and they lived. Though they were stone cold dead, no blood surging through their ear drums to carry the message to the brain, Jesus spoke to them and they lived. Jesus spoke to demons, and they heard and obeyed. Though demons care nothing about hearing the Word let alone learning it, when the Word made flesh spoke, they heard and obeyed.
The same Word made flesh is powerful and active today. He makes water able to regenerate; words able to forgiven, and He makes Bread His Body and Wine His Blood. With these miracles, God the Word is able to prick open our calloused ears. No longer do we hear God's Word as obligation and debt but as gift and grace. Paul in Romans 10 talks about this change. The Word that is near you in your mouth and heart, in sermons and hymns, in the Water and the Blood is the answer to feeling isolated from God. The Word made flesh, the Word made writing, and the Word made Bread is how God bridges the gap between us and Him. God never wills to cut-off communication with us. He always speaks to us in Word and Sacraments.
Here is the point where many stumble. The Holy God wills to keep in contact with sinners through His Son. He speaks to them in Word and Sacraments; they speak to Him in prayer. No sooner does the sinner start listening to God, then the Devil points out what a wretched sinner he still is. "Lot of good hearing the Word does you," the Devil says. "You're worse now than you were when you weren't listening." "Give up and give in; you'll never hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it."
You're at the brink of despair because the Devil is partly right. You remain a sinner; you cannot hear God's Word as you should. But don't give up. Hebrews 4 describes the Word of God as living and active able to divide what you can't. You can't divide your sinful nature from your new sinless, nature created by Jesus. God's Word can and does. In, with, and under God's Word you can too. Your Baptism shows you your deaf sinful nature drowned and your new sinless nature alive and hearing. The Absolving Word separates you from your sins as far as east is from west. The Word made Bread and Wine is odious poison to your sinful nature but life and salvation to your new.
Ever notice how many times Jesus says, "Let him who has ears hear?" That's Gospel; God's Word is for everyone who has ears. That's who the incarnate Word, the inscripturated Word, is for every Sunday, every Bible class, every absolution, every Baptism, every Communion. The Word is here for all who have ears. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Vespers III (20071212); Third Commandment