Sermon for Judica, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, AD 2021

John 8.46-59

The great blessing of having the Bible, the Word of God, so accessible to us is that we can come back to it again and again to re-orient ourselves in the midst of life. To be ‘oriented’ is to be faced east, the way that our churches face, even if they face north like ours. It is to be set in the direction of Jesus Christ, our Sun of Righteousness who rises with healing in his wings. In his life, death, and resurrection He is primarily our gift, but also our example, for He lived a perfect human life. So as we read and hear the scriptures preach, we are both “transformed by the renewing of our minds” by the Holy Spirit, an act of God upon us, and we are shown how to live in response to this. This is nothing less than keeping Christ’s word.
           
It is not a new observation at all to say that Christ’s word is counter-cultural. What Jesus proclaims about himself, what he has done for us, does not fit our culture. The one who had no place to lay His head and said it is hard for the rich man to get into heaven has no interest in our culture of acquiring more and more stuff. The one who said not to perform your righteousness before men, who did not seek his own glory, has no interest in our social media culture of showing only our best side or how kind and noble we are we support various social causes. The one who always submitted to His Father’s will has no interest in our declarations of personal freedom from any obligation to anyone else. This is not to drive you to despair, but to realize the constant influences throughout our week that cause you to lose sight of Christ, and therefore the necessity of keeping His Word.
           
It’s easy to say that Jesus is counter-cultural toward American culture, though. We live lives which are much different than when He walked the earth in His ministry. Some would even say, we are so far away from his context, we can’t really understand Him very well at all. They would say, we must learn the culture of His time, understand Old Testament Israelite or New Testament Jewish culture to really keep His word. Right? No! By no means! Jesus does not say “keep the culture of first-century AD Palestine,” but “keep my word.” He isn’t just counter to our culture, but to the culture of His day as well. In fact, God’s Word has always been working to overcome the sinful culture of God’s people.
           
They may have had different weaknesses than us, but the people of Israel often still followed their own inclinations instead of the Word of God. Being freed from Egypt, all they wanted was to go back to that way of life. In the wilderness they built a golden calf so they could worship in the way the culture around them did. In the promised land they wanted a king like everybody else around them instead of being ruled directly by God. The prophets continually preached against their idolatry, their worship of all the pagan gods, throughout their history. Israelite culture outside the Word of God was nothing to be proud of, nothing righteous.
           
For their disobedience and idolatry, the ancient Israelites were exiled to Babylon for seventy years. Upon their return, they resolved not to let this happen again. So many of them fought hard to block out any foreign culture. They stopped idolatry. They studied the Scripture. But in the Scripture, they only focused on the Law of God, not on the promise of the Messiah to come. Some still believed, but as they focused more on the law and keeping their culture they hardened toward God. This is what we see in our gospel reading – the hardness of the Jews against Jesus.
           
Christ’s words in this confrontation are blunt and straightforward. We have an example of godly manhood from Jesus in that he knows exactly what He means to say and does not waver, nor does he say more or less than is necessary. What He proclaims is the truth about Himself, and He does not soften it for the sake of these attackers. Certainly Jesus is more gentle with others in the gospels, more fatherly with the disciples, but those are not appropriate when it comes to opposition and confrontation. May we also be bold in this way, keeping God’s word by declaring it boldly to those who oppose it.
           
Jesus lays out the challenge after a long argument with these Jews – “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” If they oppose Jesus, then where has He sinned? Can they bring anything against him? Of course, the answer is no. There is no sin they can accuse him of. They have no basis in saying he does not keep God’s word. So they simply attack him. Why? They are not of God. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” IF they were of God they would keep His word, they would know He is the Christ and worship him. Instead they accuse Him – He is a Samaritan! He has a demon! They are saying, you are not part of our culture. We are descendants of Abraham, we are the chosen ones, you convict us, so it is you who are wrong!
           
How often this happens with us. We hear and read the Word and think, no, no, that’s not for me. Or more often, no, Jesus means something else. That does not apply to me. If this has never happened to you, that’s probably worse. It means you haven’t read the scripture enough. For the law is there to convict us, to show us in the mirror that we do not meet the standard of God’s righteousness. We can’t just be a good citizen and assume we meet the standard for God’s righteousness. We cannot write this off, we cannot say, that’s just for you, Jesus. We have no excuse.
           
But see how Jesus is tenderly inviting to believe as he rebukes these Jews. “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 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.” Jesus is saying, you dishonor my Word, but my Word is life. My Word is the only way to overcome death. Trust in me.
           
Yet they say, No! Your Word does nothing! Abraham is our hero, and he died. You are not greater than he is. And Jesus does not puff himself up, but simply states that it is His Father who glorifies him. If you want to know about Jesus, look at what the Father says. Look at what God’s Word says. What does the Word of God say about Abraham? He believed God. He believed that the world would be saved by His offspring. He believed God even when God tested Him by telling Him to sacrifice His only son. He kept God’s Word, and so He never tasted death, counter what the Jews said. For Abraham lives, He lives even now with Christ, as do all who trust in Him.
           
For as Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus is the I AM. He is the one who brought the world into being in six days, who formed man from the dust and woman from man’s rib. He is the one in whom Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob believed. He is the one who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. He is the one who was with the three in the fiery furnace. And this claim enraged the Jews. They were ready to kill him, but it was not his time.
           
Why did the Jews oppose Him? Was Jesus ineffective in teaching? No, these things needed to be so in order that Jesus would be opposed, be arrested, beaten, and crucified. He would not die in this encounter, but when His time came His opponents would have their chance. Jesus, God and Man, the Son of God and great I AM, would die on a cross. Our God died. Yet this was the day Abraham rejoiced to see. For this was the promised day, the day when God’s Word would be fulfilled. For Jesus, the one who perfectly kept God’s Word, was able to bear the weight of sin for all of us. He took our punishment and made peace with God. And He rose from the dead, the ultimate sign of God’s approval, Jesus’ glorification by the Father.
           
We have been redeemed – paid for, bought from sin and death by His precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. So we trust in Him, we hear and keep His Word. He has not left us alone, but has given His Holy Spirit, in the word and sacraments to strengthen and keep us, to give us new hearts and minds. Without Him, we cannot leave our sin, our idolatry, our own culture. But Christ redeems us, and sends us to proclaim His work to our culture. We bring our lives, our interactions with others, into His Kingdom as we keep in His Word. This work of the Holy Spirit is blessed in the great promise of the end of the age. For at the end, every culture shall be redeemed. Every tribe, nation, culture, and language – every believer from every time and place, each unique and valuable – will be gathered together around God’s throne worshiping the Lamb of God, the one sacrificed for us, unto eternity. Amen.

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