To be “blessed” is to receive a good thing from God. How wonderfully blessed is the mother of Jesus! Elizabeth, encountering the Christ in utero, was inspired to declare to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42) The humble virgin was then moved by the Spirit to powerfully predict, “…from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48). Mary is truly the “blessed virgin.” Thus, as recorded in Sunday’s Gospel, a woman from the crowd appropriately exclaimed to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” (11:27).
In response one would have expected Jesus to nod or to make a verifying statement agreeing with the blessedness of His mother. Instead Jesus responds, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Wow! Someone who hears the word of God and keeps it is at least as blessed as the mother of Jesus! How can this be?
The Apostle Peter seems to have this account of Jesus in mind as the Spirit inspired him to write, “…you have been born again…through the living and abiding word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23). Jesus was conceived by the Spirit and born of the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Appropriately in a similar line of thinking, every Christian has been born again by the Spirit from the womb of the Church by the living word of God. As we compare Scripture with Scripture we realize that Baptism is ascribed to be that which bestows new birth (John 3:4ff; Titus 3:5ff). In line with St. Peter’s remark about being reborn through the Word, Luther’s Small Catechism reminds us that it is the word of God that gives Baptism its power, and thus St. Paul would appropriately call Baptism “the washing of water with the word.” (Eph. 5:26). Thus, as word and water [and Christ’s blood!] are united, we can rightly say that from this we are born again. From the Word of God we are conceived in the womb of Christ’s bride, the Church, given new birth through the watery word of Holy Baptism.
But the Apostle Peter is not done. Even as the woman in the crowd exclaimed, “Blessed…[are] the breasts at which you nursed,” so too St. Peter lovingly invites those born from the word: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word.” (1 Peter 2:2, NASB). Having been born again by the word of God, His newborn babies now appropriately desire the nourishing milk from Christ’s bride, and indeed Christ’s bride now nourishes her children by the pure milk of God’s word.
What is this word of God that both creates new birth and gives pure milky nourishment? It is foundationally the word of Jesus’ bloody cross and glorious resurrection. St. Peter has prefaced his discussion of word-related new birth and nourishing milk by speaking alternately of Christ’s crucifixion and his resurrection. He thus begins his epistle with the Baptism language: “…to those…who are chosen by the sanctifying work of the Spirit…sprinkled with His blood [blood of the cross]…born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1:2,3).
We are born again as we are baptized into the Word of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are then lovingly lactated in Christ’s church, as we like newborn babies suckle on the saving proclamation of Christ’s cross and empty tomb. Indeed, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”