Lent 5 – John 8 and Genesis 22 – March 17th and 18th, 2018
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The world today tends to treat Jesus as though He were just some kind teacher, almost like a 1st century hippy telling everyone to chill and be cool to each other. And because of that, most folks don't understand why Jesus gets killed, why He was so hated and despised. You might brush Him off, but hate Him? Why would you want to kill Jesus? Do you wish to know why Jesus is put to death – why people are set against Him? John records for us the heart of the matter. What does our Lord say to these folks in our Gospel lesson today? “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word.” Plain and simple – the only reason anyone has a problem with Christ, with Christianity, when it all boils down to it – they cannot bear to hear the Word of God. The Word of God is distasteful, it is unpleasing, it doesn’t tell folks what they want to hear.
I think sometimes we can forget just how distasteful the unbridled law of God is. See, people in general like watered down law – they like law that says, “Oh, just play nice.” Be kind – oh, that’s sweet. But that isn’t God’s law, not in its fullness. God’s law is firm and direct. Love your neighbor – not just give him polite indifference. Love him – actively serve him. Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect – not just try hard and we’ll give you a ribbon for participation. The simple fact is we as sinful human beings do not keep the law like we ought – we are sinful. That’s just how it goes – and we need to admit that and recognize that – and that is hard for our pride, that is hard for our ego to accept. Some things we will confess easily, but other sins, we like to downplay, brush off. And when we slough off our sin, when we minimize it, when we pretend that it, all of it, isn’t that big of a deal, that is a horrible thing. Jesus’ Word describes what that minimizing of our sin actually is, what we are doing when we attempt to justify our own sin. He says, “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. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”
When you deny the Word of God – when you hear the Scriptures speak of your sin, and you want to brush it aside, blow it off – that is your sinful nature kicking in – that is you sounding like Satan. Harsh words, aren’t they – but Jesus calls a spade a spade – and sin, your sin, whatever it is, however little and small you like to pretend it is, is truly nasty and vile. Sin murders. When you do not show the love to your neighbor that God has called you to show them – that kills them, little by little. It harms them, it robs them of the blessings and joy God intended them to receive through you – and that is huge. Sin lies and has nothing to do with the truth. When you dither, when you make excuses – that’s the same stuff that Satan does. When you do not believe what the Word of God says about you and your sin – about your failings and your weakness, you are as bad as Satan, no ifs, ands, or buts – no excuses.
God’s Word of law is blunt and shows us the full depth, the full impact of our sin – the stuff we like to brush over, ignore, sweep under the rug. God’s Word of Law calls us to repent – to confess our sins, all our sins. The Word “confess” literally means to speak with, to speak together. We are called to speak with Christ His Word declaring our sins, every last one, to be horrid and vile. That is part of God’s Word.
Now, there is more to God’s Word – Christ Jesus also speaks Words that are lovely beyond all measure, beyond all beauty. He tells us of a truth that is profound, that is the mystery of the ages – and indeed, for our benefit. At the end of our text for this day, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” These are some profound words. In the Old Testament, when Moses asks God how He should be called, God tells Moses to call Him – I AM. God – the One who *is*, who exists in and of Himself – the God who creates us, and without Whom we would not exist – the Maker of Heaven and Earth. This truth of God, that He IS, was so profound to the Jews that in the Hebrew language, you never said, “I am” – you would never say I am a Jew – you would simply say, “I Jew.” You would never say “I am a guy” – you would say “I a guy”. God is the One who IS. And what does our Lord Jesus say – I AM. Here Jesus states and says that He is God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, comes into this world to deal with, to address and handle our sin. To do what is necessary to fight it, to destroy it, to forgive it. And this too, dear friends, can be distasteful. Christ coming to help and save us from our sins means that we need help, that we need saving. Let me ask you the question – how many of you recently have spurned help, gotten annoyed when someone offers help? “I can do it myself” – those words familiar? Again, words of pride, words of denial. And when it comes to handling our sin, removing its taint, being restored to life – we are helpless, we need a Savior. If you are lying upon the hospital bed with your heart stopped, you can’t go get the paddles yourself – the doctors and nurses must tend to that. Likewise – people who are dead in their trespasses – for that is what Scripture says we were, dead in trespasses – must be restored to life by the Good Physician, Christ Jesus. And the sinful nature rebels against this, fights this tooth and nail – and so many do not believe.
But to you, dear friends, it has been given to hear and know and understand these Words that Christ speaks – He has opened your ears to hear, He has opened your eyes to see. He has given you life and set you free so that you can know the beauty of these words. God Almighty does not abandon you to a dying life of sin, He does not abandon you to the grave and destruction – but rather, Christ Jesus, the great I AM, enters into this world, and He saves you. That’s what our Lord’s Word proclaims, and that gives joy to those who have been made children of the Heavenly Father by the wondrous gift of Baptism – we hear and rejoice at God’s salvation – we even hear and rejoice when He breaks our sinful hearts, because we know that He will create in us new and clean hearts.
Our Lord speaks to this wonder in this text – He says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day – he saw it and was glad.” Abraham was a man of faith – and as such, he knew that he was sinful, and that sin had consequences. In our Old Testament lesson, the Lord laid out for Abraham the consequences of sin: sin means there must be death. Sin means you must die that even your son, Isaac, he too must die. And yet, even as Abraham takes Isaac and binds him, ties him to the wood, raises the knife to sacrifice him, knowing that death is what both he and Isaac deserve – what does he hear, what does he see? The Angel of the Lord – Christ Jesus Himself before His incarnation steps in, stops Abraham – Jesus keeps Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. Jesus says to Abraham – let us find a replacement – and then there, in the thicket – a ram caught by its horns. Today Abraham, your son lives this day because of this ram. Abraham saw this was glad. But there was more to it, it is as though Christ said to Abraham – “This Ram is for today, but the day will come Abraham, when I Myself will be the One who is sacrificed, not only for Isaac, but for all, for you, and not only to give life for a day, but to give everlasting life, to defeat and conquer death.” That is the day that Abraham rejoiced that He would see – that He longed for above all others.
Now, the Jews had pointed out that Abraham had died – treated him as though he were gone. Our Lord’s Words show us the mystery, the wonder of the ages. No, Abraham was not gone – he doesn’t see death – rather He beholds Christ and so He sees life – He from the presence of God beholds with utter joy what Christ does as He strides to earth and takes on Human Flesh, and goes to the Cross and dies to atone for sin, rises to defeat death and ensure our resurrection. There is no final death for Abraham, for Christ won Him salvation by His own death and resurrection – and likewise, Christ Jesus has won this salvation, this promise of resurrection for you. And this is given to you, this is provided to you by His Word. Our Lord says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.” The word here for “keep” means to hold onto to, to observe, to cling to, to cherish. In Christ’s Word, there is life and salvation – His Words are indeed the Words of eternal life – and when you receive this Word – when you hear it, when you are baptized into it, when that Word of God is placed upon Your tongue in our Lord’s most Holy Supper, it brings life everlasting – life beyond death and the grave. It means you will not see death – that even death becomes merely the doorway to life everlasting, that the separation of body and spirit at death will be not be permanent, for our Lord will raise you on the last day and make you perfect and truly living in Him. This is what God’s Word gives you, this is what the Word accomplishes and brings about in you. This is the effect of the preaching of the Word, this is the effect of Baptism, this is the effect of the Supper – that you receive from Christ life. And we live now in Christ's life, with His love, His righteousness, His holiness flowing forth from us into our neighbor's lives, and come the day when we have fully and finally died to sin and risen to Christ - come the Last Day – Christ Jesus will truly be our all in all, and we will show forth nothing but Christ and His love.
In this way, Christ ultimately defeats Satan. With His death and resurrection, our Lord defeats Satan, and with His Word and Sacraments, Christ pulls you out of Satan’s kingdom of death and restores you unto life. This is what He accomplishes, this is what Abraham sees and rejoices, this is why all the hosts of heaven give thanks and praise to God. Let us with prayer then prepare to join them in their songs of celebration, and let us then join in the heavenly feast in our Lord’s Supper. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +