Sunday, March 21, 2021

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent - Judica - Jn 8:46-59


                                                                                    Lent 5

                                                                                    Jn 8:46-59



            The decision to become a Lutheran pastor was not exactly an unusual one for someone in my family.  My uncle was a Lutheran pastor and missionary.  Both of my grandfathers were Lutheran pastors and then seminary professors.  My great grandfather was a Lutheran pastor.  My great great grandfather and great great great grandfather were Lutheran pastors and seminary professors – in fact half of the quad at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis is named after them.  My other great great great grandfather was a Lutheran pastor who was sent from Germany to minister in the United States.

            This is certainly a rich heritage for which I am thankful.  At the same time, I have seen during my life in the Church that this kind of heritage can be a bad thing.  When everyone in the family has always been Lutheran, it can give rise to a kind of “cultural Lutheranism” – the comforting assumption that your history gives you a connection with the Church no matter whether you are really all that serious about practicing the faith. So if you show up to church at Christmas and Easter - and perhaps when there is a family baptism or confirmation – then you have everything covered.

            Worse yet, when tied to one particular congregation the fact that everyone in my family has always been a member of this congregation can turn the congregation into an idol.  The congregation can become a kind of club which exists to continue the existence of the club just as it is, instead of being about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And so when there is the possibility of people of a different background coming to church, this is viewed as a threat to the status quo, instead of a wonderful opportunity to bring more people to Christ’s Means of Grace. 

            In the Gospel lesson this morning, we hear the end of a confrontation between Jesus and some fellow Jews.  They are living in the heritage of being Abraham’s descendants.  Yet they are allowing this heritage to be an idol that prevents them from seeing what God is doing in his Son, Jesus Christ.

            Throughout this chapter, the topic of “father” continues to appear as source of debate.  Earlier, Jesus had said, “I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”  This led the Jews to ask, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

            The Jews were not listening to Jesus, and in our text the Lord explains that there is a very simple explanation for this.  He 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.”  The Jews were not of God.  Instead, they had their own ideas about how God worked, and these were all based in their heritage as the descendants of Abraham.

            Because of who Jesus is, he was the presence of the One who fulfilled God’s promises to Abraham, and yet was far greater than the patriarch.  Jesus said, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

            The problem that confronts every person is sin. Even if we only recognize it in part, we know that we do not love God as we should.  We know that we love ourselves more than our neighbor.   Jesus announced that he was the answer to sin.  He said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 

and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The Jews objected, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

            Our Lord announced that apart from him, every person is a slave because every person commits sin.  Yet he added, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The Son of God – the Word – became flesh in order to free us from sin.  Yet in order to receive this forgiveness, two things must happen. First, we must admit that we are sinners. We must confess the sin that is present in our lives. And second, we can only receive this forgiveness in the way that God has chosen to give it to us.  We must believe in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.

            The Jews who confronted Jesus were unwilling to believe in him.  They were secure in their own heritage. It had become an idol to them and so they rejected what God was doing in Christ. Jesus said, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

            The Jews replied to Jesus: “Abraham is our father.”  But Jesus pointed out that if they were really Abraham’s children, they would not be trying to kill Jesus, a man who had told them the truth that he had heard from God.  Instead, by their actions, they were showing who their true father was.  Jesus said, “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. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires.”

            There was a time when the devil was your father.  As descendants of Adam, you were conceived and born as sinful, fallen people. Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  The flesh, fallen sinful nature, gives birth to more flesh – more fallen sinful nature. Left to ourselves, we were trapped in a cycle of sinfulness that we were powerless to break.

            But God broke through this by sending his Son into the world to die on the cross and rise from the dead.  He is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sins of the world.  As the risen and ascended Lord, he has sent forth the Spirit.  Now, you have been born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. You are a forgiven child of God who believes in Jesus Christ.

            In our text, the Jews are certainly not children of God.  Jesus says, “If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 

Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”  Their response was, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”  First, they accused Jesus of not being part of God’s people. Then, they said he was demon possessed!

            Jesus replied, “Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”  To keep Jesus’ word is first, to believe in Jesus.  Our Lord said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” 

            Second, to keep Jesus’ word is to live in ways that has taught us by his words and deeds.  Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.” The sacrifice of Christ for us becomes the model and pattern for the way we live in relation to others. 

            Because Jesus is the risen Lord, we know that his words in our text are true: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” When Jesus said this his opponents responded, “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?”

            Jesus knew exactly who he was and what he had come to do.  He answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’ 

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.”

            During the season of Lent we are preparing to remember that Jesus kept the Father’s word all the way to the cross.  He did this to take away the sin of the world – to take away your sin. And then on the third day he rose from the dead.  He has defeated death and reigns forever as the exalted Lord.

            Jesus did this as the fulfillment of all of God’s promises that he had spoken in the Old Testament.  In our text Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” This prompted the Jews to object, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus replied to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

            This last statement affirms what John has said in the prologue of the Gospel about the Son of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  As true God, Jesus is “I am”, he is Yahweh.  But he is God who become flesh in the incarnation in order free us from sin and death through his cross and resurrection.  He is the Son who carried out the will of the Father, and has now called you to faith through the work of the Spirit so that you will never see death.  Your life with God will continue even if you die, and our risen Lord will raise your body from the dead on the Last Day.






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