Sermon for Judica
Genesis 12:1-3 + Hebrews 9:11-15 + John 8:46-59
Today is known historically as “Passion Sunday.” That is, the Sunday on which we start preparing ourselves in earnest to consider Jesus’ suffering and death. We’ll be reading the Passion history from all four Gospels starting next Sunday, and continuing through the week. Today, we focus on one of those events that led to the suffering of Jesus. The Jews were already ready to kill Jesus after He spoke to them in our Gospel. They actually tried to stone Him to death on the spot, but His time had not yet come. Why did they hate Him so much? What did He do to make them so angry? He harmed no one. He broke no law. What they hated Him for, what they eventually crucified Him for, was for telling the truth, without blinking, without wavering or watering anything down, without compromise. Over the past couple of weeks many people in the political sphere have been praising the newly re-elected prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, for being such a bold, uncompromising leader. And politically, he may be an ally. But I tell you, Netanyahu is as much an enemy of Christ as were the Jews who opposed Him in today’s Gospel. And every Christian in this room is more of a son of Abraham and of Israel than 98% of those who live in Israel today.
To be a true son of Israel, or of Abraham, one must believe, not only in the God who made great promises to Abraham about the land that Abraham’s seed would inherit, but also in that same God who fulfilled His promise to Abraham by sending His Son Jesus, the Christ, in whom Abraham believed and rejoiced. You can’t separate this God from His promises about Christ. That’s what the Jews tried to do 2,000 years ago. They thought they could worship the God of Abraham while rejecting the Son of Abraham whom God had sent. It’s what modern followers of the Jewish religion still do, to their own eternal ruin. They pretend to believe in God, even while disbelieving God’s Son Jesus.
Impossible, Jesus says. If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. It’s just that simple. Those who do not love Jesus do not have God for a Father. In fact, Jesus says in the verses before our text that the Jews who didn’t believe in Him as the Christ had the devil for a father! People can list all the good things they have done in their life. But Christianity clearly teaches that all that does not come from faith in Christ is sin. And where there is faith in Christ, sin is not counted against a person at all.
Let’s consider some of the other things Jesus claimed about Himself: I honor My Father…I know Him. And I keep His Word. Jesus doesn’t just say that about Himself. Remember what the Father proclaimed at Jesus’ baptism and again at His transfiguration: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Of all the men born of women, only Jesus in all of history can claim to have perfectly honored God at all times and in all places, with all His heart, soul, mind and strength. Of all the men born of women, only Jesus can claim to perfectly know God the Father, because only Jesus has seen the Father and came from the Father’s bosom. Of all the men born of women, only Jesus can claim to have perfectly kept God’s Word, who became obedient to death, even the death of a cross. So only by faith in Jesus can anyone begin to honor God, know God, and keep God’s Word.
What else does Jesus claim about Himself? He says that God seeks glory for His Son, that the Father expects men to honor and glorify Jesus. And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. The Father commands all men to worship Jesus. But do you know where that worship begins? It begins with repentance and faith. It begins with acknowledging your complete unworthiness before God, confessing your sins against God, including all the idols you have set up in your heart and life that compete with God’s honor and with God’s Word. And then faith in Jesus as the Redeemer, as the One sent by God, not to save good, decent people, but to save sinners, like you and me. This is Jesus’ true glory, to be the Savior of sinners, to suffer for the sins of the world, and to be believed on in the world. This is what the chorus of heaven also praises Jesus for continually: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!
The saints of God, the true children of Abraham, glorify Jesus with that song. But the Jews in our Gospel dishonored Jesus by their unbelief.
But Jesus continues to speak the truth to them: Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death. That’s a terrible warning to the Jews and to all those who refuse to keep Jesus’ word. They shall indeed see death! Because death is the wages of sin, and all have sinned. So the only way to defeat death is by dealing with the sin that causes it. But the only way to deal with sin is for God to forgive us our sins. But the only way for God to forgive us our sins is if there is a human sacrifice for human sin, and not just any human, but the One whom God provides as the sacrifice, His only-begotten Son, the Christ. God forgives us our sins through faith in Him. And so Jesus makes the tremendous promise, If anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.
What does that mean? It means you live forever. It means that, even though your body returns to the dust from whence it was taken, your soul doesn’t lie in the ground with your body, and your soul certainly doesn’t spend even a moment suffering or being tortured by the devil, but goes to rest with God. It means that, just as Christ once died and rose again, so all who die trusting in Him will also be raised again, body and soul, to live with Him forever.
The Jews thought such a promise revealed Jesus as an imposter, or as demon-possessed, because no one had ever conquered death, not Moses, not any of the prophets, not even their father Abraham. How could Jesus claim to conquer death? Was He actually claiming to be greater than their father Abraham?
Oh, yes He was. He was claiming to be the object of Abraham’s faith, the One in whom Abraham rejoiced, the Seed and Offspring of Abraham in whom all nations on earth would be blessed, and at the same time, the God of Abraham, the great I AM, Jehovah, Yahweh, the LORD and Creator of all. The Savior from sin, death, and the devil.
The Jews rejected Jesus’ words and hated Him all the more for these great claims He made for Himself. These same claims of Jesus are still rejected by modern Jews. And by Muslims. And by atheists. And most tragically, by many who still call themselves Christians. Make no mistake: there is only one true God, and He can only be approached through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Those who refuse to repent and believe in Christ will perish eternally. But all who trust in Him will never be put to shame.
This Gospel is a strong and urgent warning to unbelievers, to repent before the day of salvation comes to an end. It’s also a warning to those Christians who have grown secure in their sins, as if they could honor Christ in their hearts while at the same time willfully dishonoring Him and His Word by refusing to come and hear the preaching of His Word or by stubbornly disobeying His other commandments. They, too, should repent before the day of salvation runs out. But this Gospel is pure comfort to the meek and penitent, to those know and believe that Jesus, in our Gospel, is telling the truth! See how He stands up for you! See how He refuses to back down in the face of opposition, but tells the truth boldly, even though He knows it will spur the Jews on to crucify Him. He didn’t tell the truth on that day for His own benefit, but for yours, so that you may know Him for what He truly is, the Son of Abraham, the Son of God, and the Destroyer of death.
A final warning is taken from today’s Gospel, not to be deceived by the plethora of people in the media or in the Evangelical, millenialist churches who claim some sort of spiritual alliance between the nation of Israel and Christians, who imagine some sort of significance for the modern nation of Israel in God’s plan of salvation. As I said at the beginning of the sermon, the true sons of Abraham are not the Jews who reject Christ, but the Christians who believe in Him, even as Abraham believed in Him based on the promise God gave to Abraham and his children forever. Watch out for those who claim that Christians and non-Christians worship the same God or are spiritually united with one another. We do not, and we are not. The truth of Christ, as He spoke it in today’s Gospel, is opposed to every other teaching and every other religion, and every teaching and every religion that opposes the truth of Christ is built on a lie. To say such things openly in today’s world is dangerous, and will often result in suffering for the Christian who says them. But today is Passion Sunday. As Christ was willing to suffer for our salvation, so we must be ready to suffer for His truth. But after suffering here for a little while, we have Christ’s promise of the end of suffering and victory over death, even as He suffered and then entered into glory. Amen.