Lent 5 – March 25th, 2012 – John 8:42-59
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Oh, that Jesus – He was such a sweet, quiet boy. You are of your father the Devil, and your will is to do you father’s desires. That Jesus, He’s just as nice as can be. Whoever is of God hears the Words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. That Jesus, He is as kind and gentle as a lamb. If I were to say that I did not know Him [that is, the Father], I would be a liar like you. I think that sometimes, when we think about Jesus, we can almost have this watered down, sugary sweet image of Him. We treat Christ like He is a 98 pound weakling who keeps quiet, or maybe like a sitcom dad from the 50s where the sternest He’ll get is a raising of His eyebrow. Jesus is God Almighty. And yes indeed, Jesus is very kind, very loving, indeed the very definition of love itself – but there are some things that Jesus does not put up with. Jesus doesn’t mollycoddle sin. Jesus doesn’t ignore sin. He doesn’t behold wickedness and shrug – instead He says, “Go and sin no more.”
That is what He is doing in our Gospel lesson for today. Throughout lent, we’ve seen Jesus go on the offensive. He’s attacked Satan at His temptation – He’s cast out demons, and He’s broken hunger down. Those are all things that are outside of us, are other. Today, though, Jesus goes after something else. What gets Jesus all riled up? Unbelief. If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but He sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word.” Jesus here is speaking to, as verse 31 says, “Jews who had believed.” Many heard Jesus with joy at first, and they fell away. Jesus here spells out why. You cannot bear to hear my Word.
It’s easy to like Jesus if you simply watch what He does. Heals people. Great! Feeds them. Wonderful! This is good stuff. We can even add teaching people to the list. Folks from other faiths, even the most crass modern atheist who despises Jesus, will call Jesus a nice, moral teacher. You cannot bear to hear my Word. Well, what “Word” is that?
If we were to think about what Word people can’t bear to hear – at first we might think it is God’s Law that they cannot bear. And if you catch someone redhanded, if you confront them about something that they are doing that they shouldn’t be – they probably won’t be happy, but that’s not what Jesus is talking about here. You know, by in large – we like the Law – or at least the idea of the law. The Law says, “You should be nice.” I doubt many people are going to say, “No, I should be mean and nasty and hurt people.” People like the law. They like it watered down, they like ignoring the parts of the law they have a hard time with – but by in large, people like the idea of the law – just give me some rules to follow and let me be. No, the problem here, the Word that people cannot bear to hear, is the Gospel. The Gospel offends. Remember what Paul says. But we preach Christ Crucified – a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” A stumbling block – something people can’t get around. Folly – something that is foolish and unwise. Now, the Law – that makes sense to people. Pretty much everyone except the most extreme nut job, will if pressed, admit that there are things that they do that are wrong. Okay – I messed up. People will admit that. The question is, how does one fix that – how does one handle sin. In the Gospel – Christ Jesus says, “I will save you – I will win you forgiveness, and you will have life in my name.” And that upsets people. Well, wait, how could that upset people, Pastor?
Think for a moment, about a little child tying his shoe. And he is struggling with it. And her mom stoops down to help him, and what does the kid say? “No. I can do it myself!” We’ve all seen a kid do that. I’m already fearing how often I’m going to end up hearing it in not too long. And not just kids. If you are married, I bet that you’ve said, “I can do it myself” to your spouse. If you are up there in years, you’ve probably said “I can do it myself” quite stubbornly to someone who wanted to help you out with something. We like being independent. We like being able to stand on our own two feet.
The Gospel says, “Yes, although you have sinned, you have life and salvation in Christ Jesus. He is the one who has done it.” The problem is, all too often we want to do it ourselves. That is why the Gospel offends. “Okay, so I’ve messed up, I’ll just get myself out of this hole! Wait, what? Jesus is my Savior – how dare you imply that I’m not good enough on my own.” By nature we want to take pride in who we are, in what we do. We want to make things all about us – we are from the right family, we do the right things, we are nice people and that’s why we’ll get to heaven. Think of most funerals – there will be eulogies. Oh, so and so was such a nice person, surely God will want a nice guy like him in heaven. Bleeck! Makes me want to vomit, and I mean that literally. Even when confronted with the death, we still want to pretend that we are strong enough to stand on our own.
We want to do things ourselves, and that can apply to our salvation as well. In fact, that’s what unbelief is – it’s hearing that Christ is our Savior and saying, “No thank you, I’ll do it myself.” It is not believing in Christ, not trusting in Him to be our Salvation. That’s the heart of unbelief. And why is there unbelief? Because we don’t want to be “of God” – to be dependant upon Him; we want to do it ourselves. The problem comes in in the fact that. . . we can’t do it ourselves. We know this, we teach this, we learn this anew all the time. We look at not just part of the Law, but at its consequences. The wages of sin is death. I’m sure that is a familiar verse to all of you here. And we know what it means. The wages of sin is death, and I’ve already earned my plot in the ground – I earned it before I even drew breath, for in sin my mother bore me. Death is what I deserve, and I can’t change that. Period. No mere human, born in sin can do that. Doesn’t matter how much good I do, doesn’t matter how nice I am – I cannot atone, I cannot make up for my sin. But God can – in fact, if my sin is to be covered, it must be God who covers it.
This is what Jesus teaches us today. “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 seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” I AM. Now, remember back to Exodus. How does God identify Himself to Moses? “I AM”. God – the One who exists, who is, who was, is, and will be forever more. The Jewish people took this idea very seriously. In fact, when I learned modern Hebrew – I didn’t learn the present tense of is – I didn’t learn how to say, “I am” – because it isn’t used. Doing a literal translation, you just say, “I a man. I going to the store.” You never say the word for I Am. The word is never used – because that’s God’s Name, that’s who God is. And there is Jesus – and not only does He use the Word I AM – but He says, “I AM” and means, “I AM I AM.” I Am God.
Jesus has to be God to win us salvation, because only God can save us from our sin. It is something we can’t make up for, we can’t atone for – we can’t cover it. Even all the sacrifices of the old testament, they merely pointed forward to the true sacrifice that would cover our sin. Or, if you prefer, hear how Scripture puts it – But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. That is such a rich passage, and we can shoot right by it. Christ appears – how? God comes as a Man – God comes and dwells, tabernacles, tents among us “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” – not in sinful flesh, but in His perfect, sinless Body. And what does He do? He sheds His perfect, sinless blood to secure an eternal redemption – one that doesn’t wear out, one that covers all, one that endures. Christ became what we are – a human. Christ suffered what we deserve – suffering and death. Why? So that we might be like what He is – holy and righteous. So that we might spend eternity with Him in the New Heavens and New Earth. This is what Christ does, and this is what Christ alone could do. Upon the Cross Christ Jesus won forgiveness, earned us life to fill up and cover the death our sin had earned.
Not only your sin in general – but your unbelief as well – the fact that by your nature you struggle against God – God has handled that. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Christ Jesus my Lord, or come to Him. The struggle with unbelief is no stranger to us. We know pride – that would lead us to trust in ourselves. We know selfishness – that would cause us to look away from God and only at ourselves. We know hatred – that would make us feel justified in whatever sinful action we take. But what has God done? But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
This is what God has done. By His Word, be it preached, be it tied to water in Baptism, be it tied to His Supper – God has called us to faith. He has given us belief. And we still struggle. We say, “I belief, help my unbelief.” And God continues His work – just as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith – in this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. He continues to apply His Word – His Word of the Gospel to you, and you gladly hear it, for you are of God – you are Baptized. He continues to come to you in His Supper, to give you the very Body that was crucified, the very Blood that was shed for you – so that you might be and remain in Him. We hear God’s Word, we receive His working in the Sacraments – and therefore we know that we shall never taste eternal death – for we are Christ’s – we are of God, and we rest secure in His love. But we preach Christ Crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power and the wisdom of God.” Christ is Crucified, and you have life in His name. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.