“Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God” (Psalm 84:3).
Martin Luther reminds us in his explanation to the Third Commandment, “We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it.”
When was the last time you despised preaching and his Word? Most Christians might be tempted to answer that question with an emphatic “Never!”
But despising our Savior’s Word actually comes very naturally to sinners like you and me. By nature, we are, in fact, hostile to what God says about us and to us (Romans 8:7). Sinners can’t help themselves. Even the most faithful Christians among us so easily nod with rapid agreement to what God says yet fail constantly to put his Word into practice. That’s despising his Word. With the apostle Paul we are forced to confess, “What a wretched man I am!” and to ask, “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:24).
Learning from the birds
If only we could be like the birds! Apparently, Jesus has a special place in his heart for birds. In the gospels he referred to them more than once to illustrate his point. In reminding us how valuable we are to our heavenly Father, he compared us to two sparrows purchased for a penny (see Matthew 10:29-31). If the Father cares for them—and he does—won’t he also care for us? At another time, Jesus urged us to be like the birds; they don’t worry about their next meal. “They do not sow or reap or store away in barns,” he observed, “and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26).
The psalmist wished he could be like the birds. Why? Because they got to make the Jerusalem temple their home.
Luther was a bird lover too. As far as he could see, they were the world’s greatest preachers, so filled with faith and joyful singing. “It is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the Gospel a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest of men,” he once wrote. “We have as many teachers and preachers as there are little birds in the air. Their living example is an embarrassment to us. Whenever we hear a bird singing toward heaven and proclaiming God’s praises and our disgrace, we should feel ashamed and not even dare to lift up our eyes. But we are as hard as stone, and we pay no attention even though we hear the great multitude preaching and singing every day” (Luther’s Works 21:197).
Following the birds’ example
The psalmist wished he could be like the birds. Why? Because they got to make the Jerusalem temple their home. What a privilege it would be to build a nest and have your young in “a place near [the Lord’s] altar”! Like the prophetess Anna who would do the same, the birds “never left the temple but worshiped night and day” (Luke 2:37).
What love and mercy and forgiveness and peace our heavenly Father showers on us through his Word! We can’t live without it, either now or forever. So, with what attitude should we hear it and with what spirit should we proclaim it? Gladly, with joy! Just like the birds.
Because, as silly as this may seem, Jesus truly is for the birds.
Author: Peter M. Prange
Volume 107, Number 05
Issue: May 2020