Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 – John 8:42-59 – April 10th, 2011

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
This Lent we have seen our Lord confront many dangers that we can end up facing out there in the world. And each time the problem, the sin that our Lord has to face ends up hitting closer and closer to home. First we saw Jesus fend off Satan and his temptations. Then, a little bit more personal, as our Lord cuts through the disciple’s prejudices and self-righteousness when He healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter. Then a bit more personal, as two weeks ago Jesus cuts through the silly excuses people make. Even last week – our self-reliance and pride was overcome as Christ Jesus fed the 5000 and showed how we rely on Him. Each week just a bit closer and closer to home. And then we have our Gospel lesson today. Here Jesus takes on the perhaps the closest, most dangerous problem we face – the times when we simply don’t like what God’s Word says, when we don’t like the Truth.

To set the stage for our Gospel text – by John chapter 8, Jesus had done many signs and wonders which showed Him to be the promised Messiah – but there was a problem. Many of the Jews, especially of the Pharisees, didn’t like what Jesus was preaching. Jesus preached about our sinfulness and our need for Jesus, and ultimately the people who cherished pride, the ones content in their own so-called righteousness began to reject Jesus, and even argue with Him. Our text jumps into the middle of one of those arguments, and there we hear our Lord say, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.” That’s rather blunt, isn’t it? Jesus absolutely throws down the gauntlet – He has done miracles, He has explained the Scriptures, the Old Testament to them – He has preached about how He, the Messiah, will come and bring forgiveness and salvation. And these people arguing with Him will have none of it. They refuse, they reject. And why? Because, when it boils down to it, they reject the Word of God – they would rather listen to the lies of Satan, lies that tickles their ears. And because they stop up their ears and reject God’s Word – they cut themselves off from God – “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” They cut themselves off from God’s Word, and they are cut off from God.

Now, let’s consider ourselves here. We are the Baptized, we are those who have been joined to Christ in Baptism, born again of Water and the Spirit – born of God. We have been given the gift of faith by which we are able to hear and understand the Word of God. But the danger is this – we can choose to end up stopping up our ears, we can choose to stop listening to God and His Word – we can choose to elevate our wants and desires above what God reveals, we can choose to follow the lies of the world. We can try to think that we know better than God, and that is when we get into all sorts of spiritual trouble, and can even fall away. This is why Jesus is so adamant here that Christians *hear* the Word of God. God’s Word is our connection to Him – whether it is the Word proclaimed, the Word studied, the Word tied to water in Baptism, the Word tied to the Lord’s Supper. God’s Word is how God comes to us, gives Himself to us. We don’t wander around in the dark searching for God in dreams or speaking in tongues – He comes to us through His Word – and if we cut ourselves off from the Word, if we decide that we know better than God, that we don’t want or like what God is offering – we in reality cut ourselves off from God.

And our Lord explains to us very simply why cutting ourselves off from God is such a bad thing. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.” Now, this is a profound statement, and we can miss the depth of it. First, that word “keep” – again – that doesn’t mean “do”. That doesn’t mean that if you treat God’s Word like the divine checklist of what you need to do that you can earn your ticket to heaven. “Keep” there means to cling to, to hold fast to, to treasure and protect. When we cling to God’s Word instead of rejecting and ignoring it – we receive Christ Jesus, and as such we will never see death. This here is referring to eternal death – to being dead, dead, dead, that’s it, end of story. Because we are attached to God by His Word, because we receive the salvation that Christ Jesus wins for us, we have life everlasting, we have the promise of resurrection. If any of us die this afternoon, we’re not going to stay dead forever. No, we will rise unto life everlasting because Christ Jesus is our Lord, and He has won forgiveness and life. The Word of God is our connection to Christ Jesus’ salvation and life and forgiveness – and so once again He teaches us to hold fast in faith to the Word, to trust in Him, not in our own works.

And this, dear friends, is why false doctrine, false teaching, is so, so dangerous. Because what happens with false doctrine, with false teaching? People see something that they don’t like in God’s Word – something that goes against what they like, what they want – something they don’t understand, so then, bah, it gets tossed aside – even if it’s just a little thing. But here’s the problem – that starts loosening our grip, our hold onto the Word of God. Once we place ourselves above the Word of God, once we start picking and choosing what Truth we like and what Truth we don’t like, we teach and train ourselves to ignore the Truth… and that can keep spiraling and growing until we star ignoring the Word altogether and cut ourselves off from Jesus, to where we keep and hold fast to nothing in the Word but rather just our own made up dreams. And this still happens today – every false doctrine is a matter of us weakening our grip, weakening our hold upon Christ. Damaging our faith. Let me give an example. There are Churches that deny the Scriptural teaching that Baptism is a gift from God, they deny that it is God actually forgiving our sins and adopting us, claiming us as His children. Instead, they view Baptism as something they must do for God. Do you see how much harder that would make life and your faith? Because we listen to the Word, because we believe it when it says, “Baptism now saves you,” we have such wonderful comfort. Whenever we are left to wonder, “Does God actually love me?” – we know the answer – yes, for He has baptized me. If we think, “Am I good enough for God,” we can say, “That’s not the point – the point is I have been washed cleaned and forgiven by Christ Jesus.” Because we hold fast to the Word, we are comforted. But if we ignore that Word, if we cast it aside… we are left with doubt. Does God love me? Eh, things are rough, maybe I should rededicate myself to Him – as though God is some sort of lousy, abusive boyfriend whom you have to jump through hoops to make love you! Am I good enough for Him, or is He going to leave me? All these doubts – and why – because the Word of God about His gift of Baptism gets ignored. False doctrine is always a burden, it always makes faith harder and harder, and even eventually can lead to the destruction of faith.

And false doctrine can seem nice. There’s a new book making the Christian rounds where the new hip pastor, Rob Bell, basically says that in the end, love wins, and everyone goes to heaven. I’ll admit, I’d love it if that were true, I’d love it if there were no hell. I’ve got friends and family who don’t have faith – I don’t like the idea of hell. So it could be very appealing to reject hell, to deny it. But what does the Word of God say – how often does Christ teach and warn us about hell? And ultimately, if you teach that everyone just gets to heaven, when it boils down to it, you’re saying that people don’t need Jesus, don’t need to keep His Word, to have faith in Him… and that sort of teaching will just lead people to the very hell you’re so eager to deny. Satan was a liar and a murderer from the beginning, and through false doctrine he still is today. We must beware of false doctrine.

But our Lord does not simply abandon us to a world of false doctrine. Even as the Pharisees here fight, deny, reject truth, Christ Jesus, He who is Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, continues to preach and proclaim Life in His Word. We hear this. Jesus says to the Pharisees, “’Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet 50 years old, and have you see Abraham?’” So Jesus makes an appeal to these Jewish folks – be like Abraham, Abraham who looked forward to My coming, in fact, He saw it and was glad. The truth of this statement is shown in our Old Testament lesson – by rights Isaac should have died – as we all should, for we are sinful beings. Wages of sin is death. There’s another one of those unpopular truths. But what does Abraham see – God provides a Ram, a substitute, and Isaac lives. Abraham sees a precursor of Jesus – who is the ultimate, the final and full substitute for our sin, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And even as Jesus speaks these words, Abraham rejoices in the Lord’s salvation. But the folks here – they just don’t get it. They just think Abraham is moldering in the ground somewhere – so how can Abraham who died almost 2000 years before have ever seen Christ? To which Jesus responds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus here lays it out – He says, “I AM” – He says that He is God, for that is how God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush – I AM. Jesus says, “Abraham saw Me and My salvation in My Word, and He rejoiced over it, and because of Me He shall live forever, for I am his God and His Savior.”

Dear friends, in His Word, Christ Jesus, True God, speaks to you, tells you how He has won your salvation. In His Word, He brings this salvation and forgiveness to you, works it in you, builds up your faith. By His Word, Christ Jesus shows you your sin, so that you might repent and not fall further away from Him, and He gives you Himself and His salvation, so that with confidence in Christ you might endure in these trials of life. He is the Lamb of God who has taken away our sin. He is God almighty who by His death and resurrection has won us life everlasting. His Word is Truth, and it is blessing and good for us. All of it. Beware of any lie of Satan that would tell you otherwise, and instead delight in the forgiveness that Christ Jesus wins for you with His most Holy Passion. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

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