I look at Twitter because of news and sports. It is usually the most timely source of breaking news, and the people I follow post links to interesting pieces that I would not otherwise see. But let me tell you: Twitter is crazy. The vitriol, snark and condemnations present there are hard to believe.
Now I am not talking about the back and forth between Republicans and Democrats, or liberals and conservatives. Instead, I am talking about how sports fans talk about the coach, management and players of their own team. There is a fine line between passion and crazy, and many people cross over to crazy and then just keep on going. The team they claim to like becomes the object of their anger and derision.
There is certainly harsh language directed at Jesus in our Gospel lesson this morning. The Jews calls Jesus a Samaritan and say he is demon possessed. A little earlier in this same chapter they have called him a bastard. And of course by the end of our text they are ready to move from words to action as they seek to stone Jesus. Yet the thing we have to bear in mind is that these are the same people who earlier in this chapter have been described as believing in Jesus. These are supposed to be Jesus “fans,” and yet this is how they speak to him.
By the time our text begins here in chapter eight, things have gone completely off the rails for the Jews who are talking to Jesus. It didn’t start that way. Jesus was in Jerusalem for one of the visits during his ministry that only the Gospel of John tells us about. The verses that begin this section of the Gospel say: “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.’”
Jesus said that by abiding in his word they would know the truth, and the truth would set them free. To express things in this way indicated that somehow apart from Jesus they were not free. This did not go over well. They responded, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” The Jews bristled at the idea that they weren’t free. After all, they were the offspring of Abraham.
So Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The Jews didn’t want to hear that apart from Jesus they were slaves of sin. But Jesus called it like it was. He said to them, “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.”
Our text this morning is about abiding in Jesus’ word. These Jews had begun in the way of faith. But they had not continued on that course. They had not remained in Jesus’ word. In our text Jesus says, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” They were not from God. In fact, Jesus had just said to them, “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.”
Jesus continues to tell us the truth, and honestly we don’t want to hear it. We don’t want to believe that apart from Christ we are slaves of sin. We want to think that we can use some Jesus as we need him. We can decide how much Jesus we need. We can decide how much of his word we need to hear. We can decide how much we need to receive his Means of Grace. We are free to do this because really, our sin problem is very manageable. And besides, we have other things that require our time and attention.
This is the temptation that the devil uses to draw us away from Christ. After all, he wants us back. We used to belong to him. As sinners, he was our lord. But the Son of God entered into our world in the incarnation in order to change this. In our text the Jews raise the accusation, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus replied that he did not have a demon. Instead he honored the Father and was not seeking his own glory. Indeed, our Lord says in our text, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’”
Because of our sin, the incarnate Son of God came to carry out the Father’s will. In the season of Lent we are preparing for Holy Week and the Passion of our Lord. During Holy Week, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Or as Jesus said when they had left the last supper and were walking to Gethesemane: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.”
Jesus was glorified in death because he was faithful to the Father’s will. Out of love for the Father and love for you he offered himself on the cross. Yet his glorification was not simply in death. Instead this glorification was an upward movement in which he emerged from the tomb on the third day. I was an upward movement that continued in his ascension and return to the Father.
Through this word of God provided by the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus now says to you the same words we find in our text: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” When the Jews heard this, they were incredulous. They said, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”
Who do you make yourself out to be? What was Jesus claiming? He stood there as a man in their midst. Yet Jesus was claiming the very thing that John says at the beginning of his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
Jesus could claim to know the Father, because as the Son he had been with the Father for all eternity. By rejecting Jesus – by refusing to abide in his word – these Jews were showing that they did not know the Father. Jesus says, “But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.”
These Jews showed that they didn’t know the Father. And in truth, they didn’t even know Abraham whom they claimed as a father. Instead Jesus told them, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” When the Jews complained, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Jesus is the Son of God who loved us and gave himself up for us. Though the eternal Son of God, he became flesh and lived among us. He came to serve us. At the Last Supper, Jesus depicted this fact by washing his disciples’ feet. He said, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
Then, our Lord went out and served us by dying on the cross. He gave himself into death in order to deliver us from God’s judgment. And in his resurrection he has provided us with the source of life that has no end.
Jesus says in our text this morning, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” To keep Jesus’ word is to believe he is the Word become flesh. It is to believe that he was before Abraham – that he was “in the beginning.” He became flesh to be nailed to the cross. And in the flesh he was raised on the third day.
Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” By abiding in Jesus word through faith, you have passed from death to life. Already now you have eternal life – the life of fellowship with God that will have no end. Because this is so, you will never see death – not even if you die. And even if you die, the risen Lord will give life to your body on the Last Day. As Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”