Lent5 (Judica) - St. John 8:46-59 - March 22, 2015
The Service of Holy Communion (Pg.15)
Opening Hymn - 140 "Jesus I will Ponder Now"
Sermon Hymn - 146 "Lamb of God Pure and Holy"
Closing Hymn - 165 "Behold the Lamb of God"
1) The Jews will not accept Jesus’ Word. They reject His teaching even though they can find no sin in Him. Jesus is morally perfect. There is no defect or deformity in His character for which they can reject Him and His Word. So they have to resort to name calling. He is a Samaritan. He has a demon. Being called a Samaritan is to be called a half breed. The Samaritans were the people who lived in the land north of Judea. Genetically they were a mix of ancient Israelites and other nations whom the Assyrians had relocated to the district of Samaria. To be called a Samaritan would be an insult to someone who held lineage from Abraham in high esteem. Samarians had their own temple on Mt. Gerizim, having forsaken the Jerusalem Temple. They also had their own version of the Pentetuch, the five books of Moses. So they are half-breeds genetically and theologically speak. But Jesus does not defend Himself against this accusation not because it is true but because it doesn’t matter. As John the Baptist reminds us in Luke 3:8, “God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” The evangelist says the same thing in John 1:12-13, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” It matters not what your lineage is. This is a ridiculous accusation. Everyone knew Jesus’ genealogy. The early church fathers point out rightly that of all the early Jewish arguments against Jesus, no one ever attacked His lineage from David and the tribe of Judah. Nor did Jesus ever worship at Mt. Gerizim as Samaritans did, nor did He quote their version of the Scriptures. So Christ does not respond to the ridiculous accusation that He is a Samaritan.
2) But the other accusation is far more serious. They accuse Him of having a demon. This accusation shows the depth of their unbelief. To accuse God of being the Devil is the pinnacle of stubbornness. Jesus drives out demons. He answered this accusation two weeks ago when we heard Jesus say, “If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub.” (Luke 11:18) In response to this accusation, that He has a demon, Jesus answers, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” (John 8:49-51) Jesus seeks the glory of God the Father who sent Him to redeem the world from the power of sin and Satan. Where Satan brings only death through sin, Jesus comes to bring life to those who are dead through sin. Keeping the word of the Devil will bring only death. But Jesus’ word, keeping it, brings life. This causes the Jews to go ballistic. Abraham and the prophets after him have all died in faith, holding onto the promises that God made to them for everlasting life. But Jesus says that the one keeping His word will never see death.
3) What these Jews fail to understand is that Jesus is not speaking here of physical death. Christ, the life of the world, the one by whom all things were made, He Himself goes to His death on the cross. Jesus does not speak about avoiding physical death because Jesus Himself will die very shortly. Consider what Jesus tells Martha, grieving at the tomb of her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26) Jesus seems to say two contradictory things in this passage. But if we look closely we can see that Jesus’ word is not broken. He says that He who believes in Me, though he may die, shall live. Here Jesus speaks of the first death, physical death. "Even though a man die, if He believe in Me, that I am the Christ, the Son of God who has redeemed Him, a poor, miserable sinner, that person shall yet, in spite of their physical death, live." When Jesus says, “He who lives and believes in shall never die,” He speaks of eternal death. So all who hold fast to Christ’s words about Himself and Christ’s words about sinners has everlasting life that will not be interrupted by death. This is why the Christian has no fear of eternal death and can approach his physical death in peace. The Christian knows that Christ has died and risen from the dead and even though the Christian die, he believes that his sins are forgiven so that his soul will not perish in everlasting punishment and that his will live fully again at the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. Keeping the words of Jesus bring life.
4) Jesus then confessed that Abraham, the one who they think is dead, is truly alive to God and has seen the day of Christ. At this these Jews respond, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” (John 8:57) Then Jesus drops the conversation stopper. “Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58) He does not say, before Abraham was made I was made, for Christ is uncreated, begotten of the Father before all worlds from eternity in a mysterious way that human reason cannot penetrate. He says, ‘Before Abraham was, I AM.” He is saying, I existed long before Abraham. I continue to exist even now and will forevermore. Jesus identifies Himself as the Yahweh, the name which He gave to Moses in the burning bush. When Moses asks for God’s name, so that he can prove His divine office to the Israelites in Egypt, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14) The antitrinitarians and the modern scholars who maintain that Jesus never said, “I am God,” are caught in the ropes. Here, Jesus’ own enemies, hear Jesus attributing the Divine Name to Himself. They do not believe Christ is of God so they pick stones up with which to murder Jesus there on the spot. These men, with lifeless hearts of stone pick up stones by kill the God they claim to worship. Unbelief in who Jesus is (God in human flesh) and what He does (give everlasting life through faith in His Word), puts man at enmity with God and leads to rejection of Christ, His Word, and brings eternal death.
5) Dear children of God, this is given to us as a warning, lest we fall into unbelief through the subtleties of the Devil. The old evil foe would drag each of us, if he had his way, into stubborn, recalcitrant, obdurate unbelief so that we reject Christ’s person and work as these Jews did. You may be tempted to say, “I will never deny my Lord Jesus Christ.” But before you say that remember dear Peter who said the same thing and was proven false in the hour of temptation. Man cannot stand in faith by His own powers and the moment we try to just that, we often fall. Jesus’ words to theses Jews today remind us of our own frailty. These men would not hear Jesus’ words. They would not accept them as the Word of God Himself because they would not believe that Jesus was God Himself. Jesus was sinless, without spot, blemish, or defect in His character or life. Jesus taught the doctrine of God and upheld the Sacred Scriptures in ever point. Yet these men would not believe and so they would not keep Jesus’ Word, because they would rather keep their own Word and call it God’s Word. Therefore we must ever vigilant about how we are hearing Christ’s Word. Unbelief seldom happens overnight but it happens incrementally, over time, through the subtle neglect of hearing God’s Word and meditating upon it. Thus the Lord commands to “Sanctify the Holy Day” by hearing God’s Word gladly and receiving the Sacrament as often as we are able. Since these are the means by which He sanctifies us and keeps us in the true faith. So we must not neglect or despise these means.
6) But Jesus’ words to you are also encouragement. He speaks stern law and sweet Gospel to His baptized faithful. Jesus’ words today remind us of the great blessing that He bestows on us through the Word, that is, everlasting life. “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” (John 8:51) We strive to keep Christ’s Word, to gladly hear and learn it whenever we have opportunity, because through that Word Christ gives you faith, and faith justifies so that you have everlasting life. Jesus is not laying a condition upon us, more law which we must perform. This is not X for X. He does not tell you, “If you keep my word then I will give you everlasting life.” He does not law more law upon your shoulders. This is Gospel. We keep Christ’s Word because His Word is the instrument through which life is given. His Word is efficacious to give that which is promises. He does not say, “Keep my word to the best of your ability, doing all the things I have commanded, and then you will earn life.” He says, “Keep my word, treasure it, and hear what I give you in my Word, because through this Word I give you all the things promised therein.” We have mentioned before, but it bears repeating, that the Greek word Jesus used is thre,w, which means to guard, or treasure something. It is the same word Jesus uses in the baptismal mandate at the end of St. Matthew’s gospel, “teaching them to keep, treasure, guard all things which I have commanded you.” It is not a law word of “thou shalt obey and if you obey you shall be given life.” It is a Gospel word of “Cling to the words I give you, for they are promise and they deliver to you the very things they say.”
7) Faith in promises of Jesus is how we keep His Word. Confidence in Who Jesus is, the great I AM, God Himself in human flesh, is how we keep the Word of Jesus. Trust in Christ’s work on the cross, by which He merits for you the forgiveness of all your sins, that is how we keep Christ’s Word. Faith alone justifies before God and receives the forgiveness of all of your sins. By faith you possess the forgiveness of sins earned at Calvary’s cross. If you have the forgiveness of all of your sins by faith then you have life and you have salvation. We keep Jesus’ word because it belongs to Him and because through it He gives us all the blessings the Word brings. Amen.