Lent 5 (Viral Week 2) – John 8 – March 29th, 2020
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
And here it is. This is the text, the conversation that gets Jesus killed. If you read John's Gospel (which is my favorite, by the by), you'll see that John 8 is basically the point where the scales are fully and finally tipped against Jesus, the writing is on the wall, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will see Him dead, one way or another. And to set up what we hear in our text, I want to back up just a bit earlier in John 8 – back to verse 31, where we hear: So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” A familiar passage – the truth will set you free is one of the lines from the bible that even non-believers are familiar with, even though they might not know it's a Jesus quote. And this doesn't shock us, it doesn't seem to be anything all that upsetting.
But here is the reaction in verse 33: They answered Him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free.'” Do you hear the pride, the indignation? But what we also ought to hear is fear and denial. At that moment, Jerusalem was a conquered city – Romans ran the place. When they do finally Crucify Jesus, they have to get Pilate's permission precisely because they are not free. And moreover, the whole story of salvation for the Jewish people is based, is set upon the idea of the children of Abraham having been stuck in slavery in Egypt. In Exodus 20 the Ten Commandments begin – I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You cannot tell the story of the children of Israel without it being the story of being enslaved and then freed by God. This is the whole theme of deliverance that permeates the Old Testament – everyone is constantly needing deliverance.
And yet, they don't want to hear any talk of deliverance. So, that is why Jesus is blunt with them. 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. Wow, that seems harsh – but in reality it is just cutting straight to the point. The LORD God is the God who delivers His people. If you are saying that you don't need to be delivered, to be rescued – you're really saying that you're not of the people of God. You're saying that you are perfectly fine and happy in Satan's kingdom of pride and sin and power and anger.
Pride and our love of sin is a strong, powerful thing. Sin is no trifle, even though we today try to laugh it off, excuse it, justify it. Of course, that's what sinful man has done in every generation – we have cultural pet sins that we excuse and revel in. And Jesus here speaks to what this attitude toward sin is – it is bondage. It is slavery. We are stuck – sinful people with sinful hearts in a sinful world. And yes, as those who have heard the Word and believed, we fight against our sin... but it's still a fight. And it shouldn't surprise us when we see people we know and love don't fight against sin and instead just ride with it – because that's what sinners want to do. We want to humor our fears, our lusts, our idols we call out to in anger and rage. I'm guessing you've seen and felt fear and desire and frustration in a strangely clear and new way this past week. This is what bondage to sin looks like – and it is a struggle we face until we reach the wages of sin – until we die.
It's a lousy situation, and so often we'd rather live in denial. Jesus' Word brooks no denial – it speaks blunt reality. Verse 34: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” And yet, Jesus tells us precisely what He is here to do. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Or here: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.” This is what Jesus has come to do, to destroy sin and death. To rip apart the power of Satan and his kingdom by going to the Cross and dying and rising. Jesus solves the problem of sin. Sin is to be punished – Jesus takes that up upon Himself, freeing us from it. Now there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Jesus dies and rises, bursting apart death – you don't see death. If the LORD tarries, you will die, but you won't see death, because Jesus died and rose and that's what you see. When you die, you don't see death, you see your resurrection because of Jesus. This is what His Word proclaims, the great rescue that He has come to win for you.
And how do you participate in this rescue? What's your role, your job? If anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death. If I might give my own translation here: - Whenever anyone clings to My Word, he will not, no how, see death. We simply hear the Word, receive it, cling to it, pay attention to it. That word “keep” is the word that is describing what a guard does, or someone paying attention to something. Keep in the Word, and you have everything that it brings, you are rescued from death.
And you don't receive this salvation, you aren't a part of this rescue because of what you do – it's a pretty lousy rescue if you have to pull it off yourself, and God isn't in the habit of doing lousy rescues. Rather by the power of His Word and the Holy Spirit, everything that Christ Jesus has done is given and applied to you. And the Power of the Word and Spirit is not merely a Sunday morning thing – it is an every moment of your life sort of thing, for you are Baptized. You are washed in Water and the Word. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Wherever you go, the Word of God and the Spirit with you go with you – wherever you stay, the Word and Spirit stay with you. Because Christ has begun your rescue, He has accomplished it already – we are merely waiting to see it in full, see it face to face.
It's ironic. The world is always full of sin and death. Some sins we love, some little forms and strains of death we even long for – like that person over there getting it. That's just longing for a little death. But with all this Coronavirus stuff going on, we actually are seeing death and this reality of sin in the world a bit more clearly. But death alone is not Christ's goal, it's not the only, the final thing He wants you to see. If anyone keeps My word, He will never see death.” In the Word, you see Christ Jesus take the fight against sin and death for you, and in Him you see forgiveness and life. And see this all the time, my friends, day in and day out, for you are people of the Word, Baptized, forgiven, children of the Father and heirs of all that is His. Do not let anything distract you from the Word of God that proclaims your forgiveness and life. Read it, learn it, speak it to each other – and when we can, we will speak it together with each other face to face again.
But if you were wondering why this all works – well, towards the end of our text Jesus spells it out – Truly, Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus is the LORD, God Almighty. Jesus is the One who spoke the promises to Abraham. Jesus is the One who rescued the people of Israel out of Bondage in Egypt. Jesus is the Word who spoke the Ten Commandments. Jesus is the great I AM. Of Sabaoth Lord, and there's none other God – Jesus holds the field forever.
Do not forget that this Jesus who loves you, who acts for you, who wins you forgiveness is God, is the Word by Whom all things were made. He doesn't come up short. Jesus doesn't swing and miss. And you are in Christ, you are in His Word, Baptized and forgiven, dead to sin and alive to Christ. And all the raging of the world and sin and satan and death can in truth do nothing to you, for the Son sets you free, and you will never see death, and you will see the Day of Christ when He comes again and you will be with Him and rejoicing with Him and with all the saints of God from every age and from every land and every tongue.
So enjoy your redemption. Revel in it, for it is as true today as it has ever been. And when perhaps the trials of this day and age loom heavy, and they are heavy, remember the Word of Promise that Christ has made to you, remember your Baptism whereby Jesus Himself said that you were part of His salvation. Remember that you are a royal priest in Christ, part of the chosen nation, and as such read the Word and pray. God's Word in, God's Word breathed out in prayer. It is who you are in Christ, and Satan is powerless to change that, and the World cannot stop that, and even sin and death do not stand a chance against Christ Jesus – and He is for you, now and always.
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +