Matthew 7:24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Today we take the opportunity to hear God’s word for granted. A European friend who had been to the United States once commented on how many churches there are here. It seemed to him that there were church buildings all over the place. He is right. But it’s not just the churches. There are entire television networks devoted to making God’s word available. Not only are Bibles and Christian literature available from Christian bookstores, but you can also pick them up at any Barnes and Noble, or even Sams, Walmart, or Target. Many churches just give them away.
It hasn’t always been like that. When I was attending a Lutheran elementary school, I remember studying the Reformation and seeing pictures of a Bible chained to a stand in a Medieval library. No one could check the Bible out. In 1229 the Council of Toulouse put the Bible on the list of banned books. Lay people were not allowed to read it. That decision was reconfirmed by the Council of Trent some 300 years later. As late as the 1890’s Pope Leo XII allowed the lay people to read the Bible only if they read it in Latin, and only if they got personal permission from their priest first.
After Martin Luther learned from Scripture that Jesus had paid the full penalty for his sins, that forgiveness of sins is something God gives to his people for free, and that we receive this gift by faith, not because of our good works, he knew that the Bible had to be made available to everyone. In 1521 he began translating the New Testament into German. By 1522 it was done. By 1533 the entire Bible was available. Hundreds of thousands of copies were printed. During this period William Tyndale was emboldened to translate the Bible into English. Others translated it into the native language of their own countries. God’s word was available to God’s people once again. Today we take the opportunity to hear and read it for granted.
And maybe that is just our problem: we take it for granted. It’s not just that so few people actually read one of the Bibles sitting on their shelves at home. Fewer and fewer come to hear it. For all our churches, attendance on Sundays hovers around 20%. I realize Jesus is emphasizing hearing the word and putting it into practice in these words from the end of the Sermon on the Mount. But how can we put a word into practice we don’t even hear or read?
In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, putting this word in to practice means that we don’t rationalize our sins. When his word corrects some unbiblical idea we have, we don’t go looking for reasons why I am right and the Bible is wrong. We don’t chalk it up to a difference in interpretation. Jesus’ words are as plain and easy to understand as a Dick and Jane book from 1st or 2nd grade. So the child of God lays aside his or her false sense of sophistication and prideful skepticism and repents. He doesn’t let there be a wide gap between the word he hears at church or reads at home, and the life he lives in public.
Even more, hearing Jesus’ words and putting them into practice means living life like you believe his promises. Those promises give us the courage to live life fearlessly. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son , but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him graciously give us all things?” That kind of faith gave Luther the confidence to stand up to the pope, the emperor, and all his critics. Convinced by the word that Jesus was on his side, forgiveness and grace were his constant possessions, and heaven was his certain destination, he was not afraid to proclaim his faith even under the threat of death.
When we take our stand on a word we practice because we believe its promises, we find our courage, too.