Fifth Sunday in Lent (Judica)

Readings: Genesis 22:1–14 | Hebrews 9:11–15 | John 8:42-59

Text: John 8:42-59

Jesus saw through their lip service.  He had been teaching the Jews at the time of the Passover, the same one that was mentioned in last week’s Gospel from John 6.  It all started out with Jesus saying to them, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Right out of the gate, at least some of His hearers were skeptical: “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” (John 8:12-13)  By the point of today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus has touched quite a few nerves.  He called these men out in a way that only God is able to do.  He isn’t limited by secret thoughts, trying to look put together and acceptable.  He sees what is in us better than we can see it ourselves.

The Jews were offering to Jesus what they knew to be true: “Abraham is our father!” (John 8:39)  And it was true, as far as they could see.  Just because we know what transpired after, we dare not become arrogant and say, “How little you know!”  We also make a confession of faith, and that to the best of our ability.

At the end of the day, however, they are just words.  People have a capability of being surprisingly dualistic, able to say something but only selectively mean it.  Sometimes, we would rather perjure ourselves than to face the shame of having our double-speak exposed.

God is well-acquainted with putting our words—our confession—to the test.  Already in the world, before there was sin, the Lord put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the midst of the garden, by which He would test the man and woman’s faithfulness [Gen. 2:9, 16-17].  Those sorts of tests continue, as we read last week in Bible study from Judges, that the Lord did not completely drive out the Canaanite nations “in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” (Judges 2:20-22) There’s a truth about our humanity there: while only God knows the heart, He also tests the heart to see what is in it, and so He can show us what’s in it.  In this way, He exposes any double-mindedness for what it is, and shows us how much we rely on Him—especially to save us.

It’s that double-speak which Jesus presses back on and exposes within His hearers in the Gospel.  You say that you are Abraham’s children, and yet when the one who is testified to be the Seed of Abraham comes, you want nothing to do with Him.  You believe that the Lord freed you with mighty acts from the slavery of Egypt, but you cannot free yourself from bondage to sin and the Ruler of this world—the devil.

The Jews that day couldn’t have dreamed of murdering Jesus, and they went so far as to say He must be demon-possessed.  But He knew what they were capable of, and what they would do when it came down to the moment.  The point wasn’t that they were any more sinister, that they would “crucify the Lord of glory,” (1 Cor. 2:8) but He was pointing out how very strong our sinful nature wants to be left alone to keep a soul in bondage.

The Lord has the power to push back on our double-speak too.  With our lips, we confess that we believe in an Almighty Father, that we have a heavenly Lord whose Name is Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit gives us breath and life.  But in our lives, we confess man and creature comforts to be the source of life.  If you don’t believe me, consider the things you are afraid of; how you tell yourself “I can get by as long as I have…”; and how you can resent the family, property, government, and other gifts He has given you.

We say that we love Jesus, but take stock of how much time you spend with Him during the week—in worship and devotions, in being taught His Word, in prayer.  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21)  You and I treasure and love work and time with our favorite relatives; our favorite diversions; the excitement of the Amazon truck pulling up.  We’re fans of our favorite authors, but could we be called an obsessive fan of the Bible? 

If we all love Jesus, why is only 1/8 of the Sunday attendance regularly in Bible study? [If it needs to be at a different time, let’s make it happen!]  If we love Jesus, what are we doing to teach our children the faith?  There are only two families in Sunday School and that’s only because the moms make it happen.  We say we love Jesus, but our actions often confess at best that other things are more important than Him—be it sleep, or sports, or family visiting from out of town.

In short, we get burned out from the week, and give what’s left to our Lord.

Jesus did not poke the bear just to get a rise out of the Jews, or just to make them feel miserable or angry.  He did it to expose what was bent within them in order to save them.  As St. Paul would later explain to the Corinthian Christians: “I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Cor. 7:9-10)

I don’t point out our deficiencies—yours and mine—to belittle anyone but to expose what is in us that is either the devil’s work or our filthy sin.  Jesus said to the Jews, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires…when he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  The devil’s desire is to keep us in ignorance or with a twisted version of God’s Word, to keep you enslaved to your past sins, to make sure your children know nothing but what the television and their unchurched friends tell them.  That’s the kind of thing that Jesus needs to expose in us so that He can save us from it.

When the Lord sees such a people who are evil in their hearts—the Jews that day who fostered murderous thoughts, or us with all that is in us—the Lord’s reaction is shocking.  Where we might deem it necessary to show “tough love” and put those rebels out on their hind ends, that is not what God is up to.  For all our rebellion, how we speak out of at least two sides of our mouth, our neglect to study and keep the Lord’s Word—He gives His all, His devotion is to even His enemies:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

God sees the ugliness in you and I with full clarity…and He nails it to the cross.  And not just for past sins, but throughout our lives!  Jesus is our ever-serving High Priest, “He entered once for all…thus securing an eternal redemption…how much more will the blood of Christ…purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Heb. 9:12-14, Epistle)  This is what the love of God looks like—“not that we loved Him, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins…and we love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:10, 19)

This is how the Lord changes us: by adopting us as His dear children, saving us from the wretched and cruel devil’s house.  He gives us His Name and His Spirit creates a new heart within.  So, rather than resembling the devil, with his lying and murdering, we day by day resemble our Father in heaven.  We rejoice to have Him as our God, and praise Him for His goodness and mercy toward us.  We delight in His Word, as the Psalmist who says, the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:8-10)  Being with our Savior and in the fellowship of His saints is what we look forward to, and even if His teaching may be hard for us, we know that He gives it to us for our everlasting good.  Like our Father, we see our family, our peers, our spouse and children, as fellow souls dearly purchased by Christ’s blood.  Therefore, we make it our aim to ensure that they know the true God, and that they see in us the life of a forgiven sinner who gladly follows Jesus.  And we can be glad that there are already ways to do this, because we are not the first generation of Christians: for teaching our children, that’s exactly what the Small Catechism is—“As the head of the household should teach it in a simple way.”  As the Church has been witnessing through our vocations, knowing our faith so that when people ask us what we believe or why we believe it, we can answer with the hope that is in us [1 Pet. 3:15].

Hard words from Jesus today, but words which He knows we need.  Especially at this time in Lent, as we will soon hear the passion of our Lord, His death and burial, and His resurrection.  May God forbid that this be merely routine, like we sing, “Do we pass that cross unheeding, Breathing no repentant vow?” (LSB 423:2)  Let the sufferings and death of Jesus be a meditation on God’s dedication to save us, even when we are a hard case, that we may glory in that death and resurrection which delivered us from the devil’s kingdom and tyranny.  In the Name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Judica) (Genesis 22:1-14)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Fifth Sunday in Lent (Judica) + March 18, 2018
Text: Genesis 22:1-14

This past Sunday, we heard how God provides for all our needs.  In the collect we prayed, “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Your mercies are new every morning; and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul. Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience.”
Yes, it is true that God gives daily bread.  But that’s not all.  This is how the teaching goes in John 6. Last Sunday’s Gospel left off with the people wanting to make Jesus their king by force because He filled their bellies (John 6:1-15).  The conversation goes on to reveal the Incarnate God, not just as a miracle-working food bank, but the True Bread which comes down from heaven:
49Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:49–51)
God gives daily bread even to all evil people, but God will not Living Bread to them.  They have no share of the Living Bread and its benefits because they do not belive in the cost of it.   How much does the Living Bread cost?  The flesh of God’s own Son; His very life.
In Genesis 22, God commanded to offer up his son, Isaac.  It begins, “After these things.”  After the strife between Sarah and Hagar after the birth of Isaac, the son of promise.  God tested Abraham.  The truth stands that there is a price for peace with God, for the kind of intimacy that Abraham was able to barter for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:22-33).  Nevertheless, sin is no light matter, and it demands that a just price be paid.
2[The Lord] said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”” (Genesis 22:2)
Surely anything else!  Not the most precious, the beloved, the son of promise!  Abraham’s own flesh and blood!  But Abraham believed God and took Him at His Word.
3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.” (Genesis 22:3)
Then Abraham’s beloved son, the appointed sacrifice, speaks up:
7Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.” (Genesis 22:7–8)
God will provide for himself the Lamb.  At this point, for all Abraham knew, this lamb was still the son God had provided not too many years ago.  Somehow God would keep both His promise and command: that through Isaac, Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens, and that this son should be sacrificed.
9When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”” (Genesis 22:9–14)
God does not deny the necessity of sacrifice, the bloodguilt of what we have done and failed to do.  Our trouble with grace is that we think just because sins are paid for, it’s no big deal.  Just because our sins are covered by no means makes them free.
Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
So our consciences are smitten by sins which we have committed.  It was our hand which reached out to embrace someone who was not our spouse.  It was our careless driving which maimed another person.  It was our lips which spoke hastily and in anger.
But where is the price to be paid for those sins?
If it is left to us, the load is too great to bear.  Soldiers return from combat with shellshock and guilt over what they have done in the name of freedom.  Their conscience screams that it’s all wrong and someone must pay.  Without meaning to, they take it out on their kids and wife, their coworkers, and sometimes even those who are trying to help—as happened just a couple weeks ago at the Veterans Home in California.
Our consciences are well aware of this cost even if we try to suppress it.  If the guilt and the cost is left for us to shoulder, then we are sure to despair.  Not even the death of one’s own beloved child could purchase release from guilt.  But where who can bear that awful load?
Abraham’s son, Isaac was spared.  God provided a ram caught in a thicket and male lamb from God saved Isaac and Abraham.  But not even the blood of bulls, goats, or lambs could take away guilt.  Another Lamb was foreshadowed.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.[1]
If we look at the great cost of sin, it cannot be ignored, especially not by God Himself.  But it cost the Father dearly.  While Abraham was spared from giving up his son, God was not.  It had to be Jesus, the Son of God because no one else was worthy.  No other blood could cancel man’s guilt and purchase release—only Jesus, “Son of Man and Son of God.”
On the mountain of the Lord (on the mountain of Calvary), it was be provided. God did provide the Lamb.  He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all.  With Jesus’ sacrifice complete, the guilt before God is removed, the conscience is cleansed, as Peter writes:
18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3:18–21)
When you are laden with the cost of your sins, go to where God has appointed release from guilt.  But you do not need to go to Mount Moriah, or literally travel to a hill outside Jerusalem.  God has appointed the sacrifice and delivered it to you in the water of your Baptism.  In your Baptism, all your guilt was borne by Christ, the Lamb of God, and you are saved.  The knife of God’s wrath was stayed and put back in its sheath.  As that news reaches your ears, you are also raised with Christ to live a new life!
A life free from guilt before God is a life that is unlike anything found from earthly remedies—filled with joy in the midst of sorrows, peace in the face of death, and strength to make amends with those we’ve hurt.  When God gave up His own Son and spared you, this is what He gave to you.
Rejoice and give thanks for God’s Lamb, because having eaten His flesh and drunk His blood both in faith and in fact (in the Lord’s Supper), you shall live forever. Amen.
[1] “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” (LSB 451, st. 3)