The Blessing of the Word
Francis Bourdillon, 1881
"And when He returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And He was preaching the Word to them." Mark 2:1-2
"He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying: We have never seen anything like this!" Mark 2:12
Our Savior was almost always followed by a crowd. Wherever He went, a multitude of people generally went with Him — to see and to hear. It would probably be so in any case in which one went about doing wonderful things which no one else could do — especially if they were such things as miraculously healing the sick, and making the blind to see, and the lame to walk. If anyone could do such things now — he would have a crowd about him wherever he went. And all the more, if he were a poor and humble man.
Anything new and strange is sure to draw people together. So there is nothing to be surprised at, in a great many people coming to the house where Jesus was, as soon as it was known that He had entered into Capernaum.
But some of them came-not so much to see, as to hear. While many were bringing their sick to be made well, and many more were crowding to the place full of desire to see some wonderful work done — others came to listen to what He would say. "He was preaching the Word to them," and they loved to hear it. They were not used to such teaching as His. "No one ever spoke like this man!" There was a power and authority in His words, such as cannot be described. The kindness and love with which He spoke, melted the hearts of those who heard Him. The subjects too on which He spoke were new and interesting. The teaching of the scribes was chiefly about forms and ceremonies and traditions, with little or nothing either to interest the mind or to touch the heart. Not so with the teaching of Jesus.
We are not told what "the Word" was which He preached to them on this occasion, but perhaps we may gather it from what followed immediately afterwards. While He is yet speaking, four men come, bearing a sick man on his bed; and not being able to get at Him for the crowd, they uncover the roof and let down the sick man and his bed.
What are the first words which Jesus says to him? Not, as we might have expected, "Son, your sickness is cured," but "Son, your sins are forgiven." Is it not likely that this was the very subject on which Jesus was speaking, when the sick man was brought? We know what things He spoke about at other times: the redemptive love of God, the way of salvation, rest for the weary, comfort, mercy, pardon, and peace. Probably He was preaching forgiveness of sins at that very time. However this may be — we know that He was preaching some words of truth and love.
We are struck with the happiness of those who were His hearers. Think of the state of all the rest of the world at that time. The Jews, it is true, had some light — but they did not in general receive Christ. The rest of mankind were in pagan darkness — either sunk in ignorance, idolatry, and superstition, or with no better light than that of their own philosophy. In all the world we can find no spot of true spiritual light — except just there, in that town of Capernaum, where a crowd of eager listeners is gathered round that open door. How different are they from all mankind besides! There they stand, drinking in the words of life from the lips of the blessed Son of God Himself. Even those on the outskirts of the crowd, who can but catch a word now and then, are happy indeed; for every word is a word of life — good and true and gracious and saving.
We are struck with their happiness — do we think enough of our own? What is the difference between those hearers and us, and between their blessing and ours? There is a difference certainly. But more in the circumstances, than in the blessing itself. The chief difference is that we see no miracles and that the Word is not spoken to us by the lips of Christ Himself. But that is all.
The same word is preached to us, though not by His lips. The same word, and even more fully. He Himself said to His disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:12-13). The Spirit of truth has come now, and the things which the disciples could not bear then — have been made known to us in the Bible and by the Holy Spirit.
Besides, Jesus was not then crucified or risen again. He had not then finished His work or ascended again into Heaven. But all this has happened now, and we know it. A crucified and risen Savior is preached to us continually. We have the full word of God, the plain and clear gospel of salvation. Every Lord's Day the gospel is preached from thousands of pulpits in our land. Every day the scriptures are read aloud in many a Christian family, and in private by millions of readers. The gospel of salvation, the Word of life, unchanged and unchangeable — goes down from father to son; and never, in all the history of the world, were the scriptures so plentifully dispersed or so much read. The Book of books, is the cheapest of all books. No book of man's writing is so easy to get, as the Book of God. Every household, nay every person, may have it. It is within the reach of all. Are we not happy?
I spoke of the dark state of the rest of the world, at the very time when the crowd thronged round the door at Capernaum to hear our Lord's words. That pagan darkness that was everywhere else seems to make us think all the more of the happiness of those who heard the Word of life. The case is the same with us. At this very time, while we can hear and read the Bible so freely — by far the greater part of mankind are still without it. There are millions to whom the gospel has never yet been preached. How great are our privileges — compared with theirs! How rich the blessings we enjoy! What manner of people ought we to be, in all holy conduct and godliness?
Let us learn two things from the text:
1. To prize the Word. This is the greatest blessing we have. Put in the one scale all temporal blessings — and in the other the Word of God; and it outweighs them all. In every age since the gospel was first preached, there have been some highly civilized nations, among whom art and science have flourished in various degrees. Greece and Rome of old were learned and polished nations. And the Chinese of our own time are not without learning and art. Yet ancient Greece and Rome, with all their learning, had not the gospel — and therefore were dark and miserable. And China, with its 360 millions, comprising nearly one-third of the human race — is dark and miserable too, because it is without the gospel. The wisest philosopher of Greece or Rome had less truth, than the simple reader of the Bible in our time. The richest mandarin or nobleman in heathen China — is poorer by far than any poor cottager of England who works hard and fares ill, but who knows the precious word of God. Prize the Bible. Thank God for His Word. Of all your blessings, count this the chief!
2. Let us see to it that we turn this blessing to the best account. Use it diligently, both in hearing and in reading it. Be not content with hearing it or reading it — only when it is quite convenient. Take trouble about it. Be diligent and self-denying. Think what the Word of God is — and for what purpose it is given. Let not a trifle keep you from the house of God, and let nothing short of necessity be allowed to interfere with the daily reading of the Bible in private. "Long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow" (1 Peter 2:2). Let not an unread Bible, or preaching that you would not go to hear — condemn you hereafter.
Yet do not be content with merely hearing and reading. These are not the end — but only the means. Be not hearers only — or readers only. Receive the Word into the heart. Drink in the spirit of it. The Word of God is not merely a sound to listen to — or so many sentences to read. It is a message from God. It is His will made known to man — the gospel of salvation. It tells us what we are in His sight — and how we may be saved. It warns us of danger — and points out the way of escape. It shows us whom to go to — and what to ask for. It tells us of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. It makes known to us Christ — and by Him pardon, life, salvation, Heaven. The very words which Jesus spoke, are written there. The very things which He did, are there related.
The Word of God is meant to lead sinners to Christ the Savior. If it does not lead you to Him — then it does not do its proper work in you — and you receive it in vain. Oh, do not receive it in vain. Pray for the Holy Spirit to teach you and to impress the Word on your heart. How sad it would be to have the Bible all your life — and yet to be found at last with no part in Christ and no share in His salvation.