Sermon for Judica – Lent 5
Hebrews 9:11-15 + John 8:46-59
In the beginning, after Adam and Eve sinned against God, the Lord God cursed that ancient serpent, the devil, and then, in His grace, drew a dividing line between him and Eve, between the devil’s seed and the seed of the woman. You remember the verse: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.
There has been a great, ongoing battle between these two sides ever since, the devil’s side and the side of those whom God has graciously brought onto His side. Today’s Gospel highlights the dividing line between those two sides. On the one side of it, on the devil’s side, are the Jews, specifically the Jewish leaders who had heard the word of Jesus and didn’t believe it, who rejected Him as the Christ, sent from God to save sinners from sin, death, and the devil.
On the other side of the line stands Jesus, the true Seed of the woman, the Son of God and Son of Man. And there with Him, on His side—there in Him, really—are all those who are joined to Him by Holy Baptism, linked to Him by faith. We could never stand against the devil or his seed. But in Christ Jesus, we will be victorious over them all.
We witness—we take part in—Jesus victory against the devil and his seed in today’s Gospel. There was a great back and forth, wasn’t there? The Jews hurling their accusations against Jesus, Jesus with His own charges against them, His own claims about Himself and about those who believe in Him. It’s a beautiful sight to behold, our Champion standing against the forces of evil and defeating them with the Word of God.
Jesus had been speaking nothing but the truth, in agreement with all the Old Testament Scriptures, since He began His ministry, proclaiming it before the whole world: All men are sinners. No sinner can keep God’s holy law in such a way as to be justified by it or to earn God’s favor by his works. But God is gracious. He sent His Son, the promised Messiah, into the world, into human flesh, to save sinful human beings, by keeping God’s holy law for them, by laying down His life for them (though the details of His suffering He only revealed ahead of time to His own disciples). The one and only way for anyone to be justified before God and saved from sin, from death, and from the devil, was by trusting in Jesus the Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
The Jews—most of them—despised Jesus for saying such things. “We don’t believe You are who You say You are. We don’t agree with Your teaching. You must be a sinner!” But Jesus struck back at them in today’s text: Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? It’s one thing to claim that Jesus is a sinner. It’s another thing to demonstrate it, to show from the Scriptures where He has said or done something against God’s holy Law. Of course, they couldn’t do that. Which meant that Jesus was speaking the truth. But if He was speaking the truth, why didn’t they believe Him?
As Jesus explains, He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God. What does it mean to be “of God”? It means to be on the side of God. Here again is the dividing line between the seed of the serpent and those who are “of God.” To be “of God” means to be “born of God,” either eternally begotten of the Father, as Jesus was, or reborn of Him by water and the Spirit. It means that, if you hear the Word of Jesus and believe in Him as God’s Son and trust in Him alone for the forgiveness of sins, it is because God has begotten you; God the Father has drawn you to Christ by His Holy Spirit, working through the preaching of the Gospel. He has brought you to repentance and faith and has thus given you new birth.
But if you hear the Word of Jesus and don’t believe in Him as God’s Son, don’t trust in Him as the one Mediator between God and Man, it is because you have rejected the Holy Spirit’s working; you’ve rejected the truth and chosen to believe a lie. In that case, as Jesus told the Jews in the verses before, you still have the devil for a father, not God.
There’s the dividing line, and Jesus was not afraid to point it out. Those who are not on His side, which is God’s side, are on the devil’s side. Those who do not believe in Him are under God’s condemnation.
That angered the Jews. Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?
The Samaritans, remember, lived a bit north of Judea. They followed a mixture of the Jewish faith and pagan religion. It was a religious slur for a Jew to call another Jew a Samaritan. And accusing someone of having a demon—that was a big deal, of course. “We are the owners of the Jewish faith, Jesus, not you. You disagree with us; therefore, You must be wrong. You must be on the devil’s side.” This is what practically every religion does, isn’t it?, claims to be the true religion, while the others are false. (Although, in the depraved times in which we live, a lot of supposedly religious people are happy to believe that all paths are equally good and eventually lead to heaven—a truly demonic teaching.) Well, again, it’s one thing to claim something. It’s another thing to back up your claim with proof, and here the only proof that will do is the unchangeable, always-dependable truth of God’s Holy Word. The Jews couldn’t even begin to back up their accusations against Jesus from Scripture.
I do not have a demon, Jesus replied, but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. You see, God the Father expects mankind to honor Jesus, to give Him the glory He deserves, the glory of the Son of God who became Man to be the Savior of mankind. The Father seeks glory for His Son and will most certainly judge all who refuse to give it. The dividing line is real. To oppose Jesus is to dishonor the true God. That’s why every religion that does not recognize Jesus Christ as true God and true Man, sent by God to be the only Savior of the world, is a godless, worthless, demonic religion. The Christian faith claims to be the only-saving faith, with everyone else lined up on the side of the devil. That’s a rather unpopular claim, isn’t it?
We make it, not with pride, but with joy, because in Christ we have a Savior who can actually save. Jesus promises in the Gospel, If anyone keeps My word, he shall never see death! Now, the Jews recognized what a bold claim that was. They knew that death was God’s curse upon mankind for sinning against Him. The only one who can undo death is the Lord God Himself who first imposed it. If Jesus is claiming to be able to undo death, then He must be claiming to be God.
And, of course, He was. Before Abraham was, I AM. The name that God claimed for Himself at the time of Moses: I AM WHO I AM. The Jews were right, Jesus wasn’t yet fifty years old, not according to His humanity. But according to His divinity, He is the Word who was with God in the beginning, and who was God. That’s why He can claim to undo death, to have the authority to bring sinners onto His side, to protect them against sin, and death, and the devil.
But He couldn’t just snap His fingers and make death go away. Our sins demanded our death. Justice demanded our death. He Himself had to taste death for us all. Christ came to shed His blood—the priceless blood of God, as the writer to the Hebrews told us this morning. Christ came to suffer what we deserved, so that we might inherit what He deserves. To those whom He graciously brings onto His side by Baptism, by faith, He offers eternal life. He offers forgiveness. He offers salvation. And He seals it to us here in the Sacrament of the Altar, where He gives us His true body and blood, once given into death, but now made alive again forever and ever, and with the power to make us live forever, too.
Yes, those are bold claims, unpopular claims. Yes, they fly in the face of human reason. But they are God’s words, and we Christians believe them. That’s why we’re not afraid to call Jesus our Lord, even though it pits us against the majority of mankind who are still on the devil’s side, even though it paints a big target on our back, even as Jesus had one painted on His. That’s also why we continue to invite all people to repent and to believe in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, while there’s still time for them to cross over from death to life, from the devil’s side to the side of God.
Two precious children will be baptized here today, marking them as God’s own children, putting them on the side of the saints, and at enmity with the devil. Their parents will openly confess their faith in Jesus Christ and their oneness with us in the confession of that faith. For this, let us give thanks to God, who continues to preserve for Himself a little flock on earth to stand together, with Christ, in Christ, against the devil and his seed. And let us give thanks to the Lord Christ, who continues to build His Church on the rock of St. Peter’s confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. The gates of hell will continue to rattle in rage, but they will not prevail against the Church of Christ. He is our Life. He is our Defender. He is our Salvation. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him! Amen.