Psalm 119:97-104 (Second Sunday after Christmas—Series A)
“Blessed by Being in the Word”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
January 5, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the psalm appointed for the day, Psalm 119:97-104:
97O how I love your instruction. It is my meditation all the day. 98Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies because it is forever mine. 99I have insight greater than all my teachers because your testimonies are my meditation. 100I have more understanding than the elders because I have kept your precepts. 101I have restrained my feet from every evil way for the sake of keeping your word. 102I have not turned aside from your judgments because you have taught me. 103How sweet are your words to my taste; sweeter than honey to my mouth. 104From your precepts I get understanding. Therefore, I hate every false way.
Mary and Joseph had searched everywhere for their son. They had looked among all their relatives and friends as they traveled back to Nazareth from Jerusalem after celebrating the Feast of the Passover. They couldn’t find him anywhere. After three days of searching for the boy in the city, they finally found Jesus “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). These among whom Jesus sat would have been the teachers of the Torah, the Hebrew word meaning, “instruction.” We often find it translated “law,” as in “teachers of the law.” The Torah, however, is not simply what we would call “the Law,” as in just the commandments of God. It is His whole counsel, Law and Gospel, His Instruction to us in His inspired Word.
That is what the psalmist rejoices over in Psalm 119. Luther said that it “is a long psalm, containing prayers, comforts, instructions, and thanks in great number” He’s not wrong. Psalm 119 has 176 verses! It is actually an alphabet acrostic, where the psalmist praises God with everything from A to Z . . . er, I mean, from aleph to taw, all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The whole psalm, exhausting every letter of the alphabet, is about reverence for God’s Torah, His Instruction, showing us the breadth of His Word and the psalmist’s deep devotion to it.
Each line in the acrostic for the section of Psalm 119 that is our consideration today starts with the Hebrew letter “M.” Here the psalmist exclaims, “O how I love your instruction! It is my meditation all the day.” The psalmist here indicates the proper procedure for a person’s response to God’s Word. Because of his love for God’s Instruction, the psalmist was prompted to meditate on it all day long. Due to his practice of meditation, the psalmist received greater insight than all his teachers and more understanding than the elders of the people. The word of the Lord’s instruction gives more insight to us than any teacher can find apart from it. Elders were respected for their wisdom, but the Lord’s wisdom found in Scripture surpasses even that of the wisest elders.
The primary theme here is that we have God’s instruction in its purity so that we might read and hear it gladly for our blessing and benefit. As a true human person, Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, at age twelve, surrounded Himself with the teachers of the Word in God’s house, listening to them, dialoging with them about the Word, studying the Word. He shows us, by way of example, how important it is to be “in His Father’s house,” among the things of the Heavenly Father—His Torah, His Word.
Reading, hearing, meditating, and thinking through the texts of God’s Word produces in us, through the working of the Holy Spirit, “powerful prayers, instructions, thanks, prophecies, worship of God, suffering, and all that pleases God and grieves the devil.” The psalmist says that, “for the sake of keeping [God’s] word,” he has been empowered by the Spirit to restrain his feet from every evil way. He has been empowered by God’s grace not to turn aside from the Lord’s judgments because the Lord has taught him.
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “For the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12 ESV). St. Paul writes in Ephesians 6 that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). The Lord’s Word, His Instruction, is the means that the Holy Spirit uses to reveal to people the Law (what we should and should not do) and the Gospel (what God has done in Jesus Christ to save us from our failures to keep God’s Law as we should.) We shouldn’t get the idea from Psalm 119 that its author was sinless. At times, he was restrained from walking in the paths of evil, but not always. He writes in verse 176, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.” He knew what God desired for his life. He hated every false way. But so do we who have the Spirit dwelling in us. And yet, we, right along with the Psalmist, fail to always keep the Lord’s instruction. We do not always hold God’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Martin Luther explains why this is so in the Large Catechism: “Let me tell you this, even though you know God’s Word perfectly and are already a master in all things: you are daily in the devil’s kingdom [Colossians 1:13–14]. He ceases neither day nor night to sneak up on you and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against these . . . all the commandments. . . . Where the heart is idle and the Word does not make a sound, the devil breaks in and has done the damage before we are aware [Matthew 13:24–30].” The devil, world, and our own corrupt flesh daily seek to distract us from the Word. These enemies do not want us to taste the sweetness of God’s Instruction. They do not wish us to receive insight and understanding from our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Oh there are so many more things we could be doing rather than reading the Bible! There are many things that are so much more appealing to us than gathering in God’s House and being about the things of our heavenly Father. Too often, God’s people are tempted to worship at “St. Mattress of the Pillow” rather than meet with God at His invitation when He comes among us here in His Word. Yes, you can read the Bible at home, but there are at least a half dozen other things that will distract you from doing so on a regular basis—cleaning, cooking, television, YouTube, Xbox, Instagram. You don’t need me to list all the reasons that we come up with to neglect the Word here at God’s House and in our daily lives. The devil and the world and our flesh make it so easy for us to be distracted from what is truly important and needful.
That’s why, on this first Sunday in a new calendar year, the words of the Psalmist hit home for us. You and I, as Christians, DO love the Lord’s Word. We have received the gift of the Holy Spirit in our Baptism. He calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the one, true faith. The Spirit equips us by means of the Word to take a stand against the temptation of the devil and the lures of the world and our own flesh. The Psalmist, as part of the great cloud of witnesses that Hebrews 12 talks about, reveals to us the great blessings of being people of the Word, people in the Word. The Torah—the Instruction of God’s Word—Is eternal-life-changing. Again, Dr. Luther: “The Word is so effective that whenever it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used, it is bound never to be without fruit [Isaiah 55:11; Mark 4:20]. It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness and produces a pure heart and pure thoughts [Philippians 4:8]. For these words are not lazy or dead, but are creative, living words [Hebrews 4:12]. And even though no other interest or necessity moves us, this truth ought to urge everyone to the Word, because thereby the devil is put to flight and driven away [James 4:7].”
“The Word they still shall let remain Nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain With His good gifts and Spirit” (LSB 656:4). The boy Jesus in the Temple—the Word of God made flesh—would return to Jerusalem some 21 years later. The teachers of the law would revile Him, mock Him, and demand His crucifixion. They had other priorities than the Word of truth. And yet, their actions fulfilled that Word of Promise. Jesus, who meditated on God’s Torah, who never departed from God’s perfect Law, who never turned aside from the Father’s judgments, suffered and died on a cross for those of us who have. Jesus, the Word made flesh, true God and true man, died for your sins and mine so that we might have the complete forgiveness for all our sins. He died to bless us with grace and restoration for every time we fail to keep God’s commandments, for every instance where we fail to do the good God desires, for every moment we do not hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it because we have become distracted.
And does not His Word of Absolution taste so sweet each time you receive from Christ what His death and resurrection purchased and won for you? “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Sweeter than honey! Words of forgiveness, words of restoration and new life, words that give eternal life just as He promised. Words that deliver the Holy Spirit to you with grace and power to overcome the temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh. Words that strengthen Baptismal faith and empower the fruits of faith in good works shown in love and mercy toward your neighbors. Words that give you wisdom, insight, and understanding of the grace, mercy, and love of God to you through Jesus Christ.
In this new year of grace, be blessed by being in the Word daily. By the power of the Holy Spirit, increase in the wisdom, insight, and understanding of His Word. Pray the words of the Psalmist, “O how I love your instruction. It is my meditation all the day.” Amen.
 Reading the Psalms with Luther (St. Louis: Concordia, 2007), 284.
 Ibid., 284-5.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 370.