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.