Sermon for Judica, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, AD 2022

John 8:46-59; Genesis 22:1-14

It’s hard to consider that people may not like us. We generally want to be liked. We assume that if someone doesn’t like us it’s a misunderstanding on their part, or maybe a bad impression. If they really knew me, they would like me. Well, this was not the case with Jesus. The more the Jews knew him, the less they liked him. Once he fully told him who he was, they wanted to kill him. Sometimes in the gospels, Jesus speaks in a hidden way so the people will not understand what he is saying. Not in our gospel reading today. Here, Jesus speaks in a very direct way. Without faith, Jews who hear Jesus’ words find them very disturbing. The words of Jesus divide, they force people to make a choice, and that can make things very uncomfortable.

C.S. Lewis wrote of the trilemma of Jesus in his book Mere Christianity. Lewis writes that given what Jesus says about himself, he must be either a lunatic, a liar, or who he says he is – the Son of God. The one thing Jesus does not allow us to do is to just think he is a good teacher. No, the claims Jesus makes about himself are definite and extreme. He is the Son of God. He is the one who knew Abraham, before Abraham was, I AM. Through him were all things made. We say that every week in the Creed, but do we think about what we are saying? We are not saying Jesus is just a good teacher, that we really like him, that we think he’s pretty swell. No, we say he is the creator of the universe, us and all things! He is the same substance as the Father – the one who is eternal, over all creation, this man Jesus is fully divine!

See, the Jews really act quite rationally here. They take Jesus at his word. Sometimes unbelievers can be more honest than Christians in this way. Christians will say they believe the Bible. Unlike the unbeliever, they will say everything in it is true. Yet when something comes up which is uncomfortable, the Bible becomes obscure to them, and they’re not sure if that’s what it really says. When we show from scripture that homosexuality is a sin, or women should not be pastors, or even that God commands us to gather to worship, all of a sudden the “well actuallys” come out. The unbeliever sees the Bible as clear, he just thinks it’s wrong. Can the Christian be so honest?

Maybe that’s what Abraham was tempted to do when God told him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Abraham believed God. God had taken him from a pagan life and given him faith. Abraham was a Christian who believed in the promise of God that his family would be a great nation, that one of his offspring would bless the whole earth. Even in his and his wife Sarah’s old age, he believed that God would give him a son when God promised it. And God did.

Abraham knew and believed God. He believed God for a son. He and Sarah received a son. Imagine the joy that son was to them, the promised son given by God. In their 90s, after decades of marriage they finally have their own little boy. Even more, the future promises of God are all resting on this boy, Isaac. Yet the more Abraham believed God, the more he is tested. The closer he is to God, the more crosses he bears.

Abraham is told by God to sacrifice his only son, his beloved son.  How can he understand this? Abraham has followed God for years. He has heard the promises of God, promises which come through this very son. Abraham has no idea he is being tested. He cannot see behind the words of God to know God’s hidden will. None of us can. We can only trust the words which God gives us. And that’s what Abraham does. He knows on one hand, that God has promised to make Abraham a great nation and bless the whole world through this son. He also knows that God has told him to sacrifice his son.

Is Abraham able to love God more than his son? Will he trust God with the joy of his life, his one and only son? God is testing Abraham to see what he fears, loves and trusts in the most. Abraham goes and takes his son to sacrifice him. What is he thinking? Maybe he is thinking, “Even if I sacrifice my son, God will resurrect him.” That would be a Christian thing to think. All we know is when Isaac asks about the sacrificial lamb, Abraham just replies, “God will provide the sacrifice.” He is determined to follow God’s Word. And Isaac too, follows his father and willingly is bound on the altar as a sacrifice. And then the angel stopped him. God provided the sacrifice, a ram in the thicket.

What Abraham and Isaac experienced was a specific test. You are not commanded to sacrifice your children, nor should you! Yet the test brings out where the word of God can divide. The world will bring things before you which demand your loyalty over God, even good things like children and friends. Sometimes Christians think we can love God and our beloved neighbors equally. If they also trust in God, it is not an issue, it usually works together well. Yet if the ones we love do not follow God, they will at some point make us make choices.

If following God’s Word or speaking to your loved one about Christ threatened your relationship with them, would you do it? Are you able to love God more than your children, more than other relationships? If Abraham in faith can bring his son to be sacrificed for God, can you sacrifice your relationship with others to declare to them in love the truth of Christ? Jesus’ words do not bring peace in the way the world wants peace. Too often Christians prefer to cover everything up, to try to save by being nice.
We do not have the responsibility to save everyone by being nice. We think that if we sugar coat and lighten the Word of God for people, it will bring them into the kingdom. This is wishful thinking. It’s a type of universalism, bringing people into heaven just because we think it was right. Yet no number of wishful thoughts saves anyone. Only faith in Christ saves. If people do not know that Christ is our salvation, and the only way of salvation, how can they be saved? If those who were Christians continually keep themselves away from the word and God’s gifts, how will they return unless someone tells them they should?

Your job as a Christian is not to bring people into the kingdom by wishful thoughts. It is to speak the truth. Exclusive truths, truths which can be hard to hear. Truths which can make you unpopular and disliked. No one wants to be “that kind of Christian.” No one wants to be a “Bible nut,” a “fundamentalist,” or a “Christian fanatic.” Certainly there is a difference between speaking offensively or speaking words which cause offense. But the world does not see it that say. For them, to say “If anyone keeps the word of Jesus, he will not see death” and that Jesus is the only way to God is completely offensive in its content no matter how nicely you say it. For it makes claims and demands that people in their sinful flesh do not want to deal with.

For Jesus’ claims do not allow him to be just a good teacher, on equal footing with other religious leaders, or a nice memory from childhood. Jesus claims to be the Son of God. And this, while maddening to the world, is the very basis for our hope. When we are attacked for these things, we are in Christ. When we hope for change, we are in Christ. When we hope for the future, we are in Christ.

For God did not test Abraham by making him do something God himself would not do. God sent His only beloved Son to take on human flesh so he could be sacrificed. There was no replacement for that sacrifice. Jesus instead became the replacement for all of us, bearing the guilt of all our sins and the punishment of God on the cross. He would bear insults and bear the hate of His people for the claims he made: claims that qualified Him to be their eternal savior. The one who saw Isaac bound and the faith of Abraham was crucified by Abraham’s children. But it was not their will, but his father’s will that Christ followed, like Isaac, a willing sacrifice.

The Father would not allow his Son to remain dead. He would provide a resurrection. What Jesus Christ said is true. He is not just a good teacher. He is not a liar. He is no lunatic. He is I AM. He is the LORD of the Old Testament and the New. And in his resurrection he proves it.

The more we know Jesus, maybe for some the less we like him. That is, if we are looking for ease in this world. If we are looking for life, if we are looking for something real to hold on to which will sustain us through suffering and arguments and the hate of the world, for our only hope for our loved ones who have fallen away, then Jesus becomes more precious. If Jesus is a just a good teacher, then throw this all out. If Jesus is the I AM, then everything is life rests on that. Amen.

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