Sermon, Lent 5, Judica, Gospel, John 8:42-59
There was a movie a few years ago called “Lincoln.” Maybe you saw it. Well, picture that you were discussing the movie with somebody you just met, say a stranger in a waiting room of a car service department, or a doctor’s waiting room. Somehow you start talking about recent movies and you mention that you have seen “Lincoln.” You say you thought it was good but not too historically accurate. The stranger disagrees with you and says, no, it’s very accurate. You go back and forth arguing. Finally your friend says, “Well, you know what? I know the movie is accurate because I happened to know Lincoln personally.” What would your reaction be to that? Or better yet, what if he said this, “You want to know who I really am? I’ll give you a clue. I wrote, ‘Four score and seven years ago.’”? You might start looking around to see where the exits were, thinking to yourself, “Okay, I’ve got a real live wire here.” And you would be right to be a little worried. Unless the person you were talking to looked about 190 years old, you would be correct to think he had some sort of problem with reality, was mentally off. In today’s Gospel text the Jews confronting Jesus insult Him and accuse Him of something even worse than being delusional, they say He has a demon.
By the time we get to the scene of today’s text the Pharisees and the Jews have been arguing with Jesus for some time. Now things are really getting heated up. Jesus has told the group of Jews gathered in the Temple grounds around Him that He is going to leave them, and where He is going they cannot go, because unless they believe that Jesus is “He” they will die in their sins. They start asking themselves, “Is he going to kill himself? What does he mean by saying ‘I am He’?” So they ask Him, “Who are you?” Jesus tells them that when they have lifted up the Son of Man they would know who “He” is, and that He has done everything by the authority of the Father who has sent Him.
Some of Jesus’ listeners, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are moved by Jesus’ words to believe His words. So Jesus speaks to these new believers, these new disciples. He says, “If you live in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But no sooner has He said this then the other Jews, Pharisees, scribes, and so-called experts in the law jump back in again and interrupt, exclaiming, “We have never been slaves.”, as bald-faced a lie as any in the Bible, for the two central events of the Old Testament are the delivery of Israel from 400 years of slavery in Egypt and the return of Israel from slavery and exile in Babylon.Their fathers had most certainly been slaves, in the past to foreigners, and in the present to the Romans, under whose iron thumb they lived. And if their pride would allow them to admit the painful truth, they would have to confess also their present slavery to sin, the very slavery about which Jesus was talking.
They continue to badger Jesus, hoping to get Him to say something that they can nail him with, literally. But Jesus has His own timeline, and this is not the hour for Him to be lifted up. But He’s not backing down, either, to avoid conflict. He tells the Jews that they proudly call their father Abraham, because they are descended from him in the flesh, by blood, but their true spiritual father is the father of all lies, the devil. This really gets under their skin, their flesh. But unable to refute Him they start hurling insults around like kids on a playground. “You’re a Samaritan.” “You must have a demon.” “Nah, nah, nah!”
Jesus calmly answers them, “I do not have a demon.” “You think you have insulted me but you have insulted not me, but my Father, who is the judge.” In insulting Jesus they are insulting the One who sent Him and who is the One God with the Son. This is blasphemy ad the penalty is death. They are the blasphemers. But Jesus says anyone who keeps His word, that is, believes His word, will not see death, and will escape the judgment on sin.
“Okay, you really do have a demon.”, they yell. “Abraham and the prophets all saw death, they all died. Are you better than they?” Jesus again directs the conversation back to His Father. He says “I know my Father. You say you know Him, but you don’t. You can’t see that I am sent by the one you call your God.” Then Jesus says that Abraham rejoiced to see the promise God made to him, that through his offspring all the nations of the world would be blessed.
“So you’ve seen Abraham, have you?”, they taunt. Jesus says, “Truly. Truly.”And He says, “I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” That’s the last straw. For the Jews arguing with Him know that Jesus is claiming to have existence before Abraham, in fact before everything in creation, and only One has existed before everything, and that’s God, Yahweh. Jesus even had the gall to use the same words “I AM” that God spoke from the burning bush. (Exodus 3;14) This is the last straw for the unbelieving Jews. They start looking around for some stones with which to stone Him. While they are looking around, Jesus leaves. It is not His time, nor the manner of His death.
Remember that man in the waiting room, claiming to have known Abraha Lincoln? Jesus, in stating that He was before Abraham, made an even harder claim to believe, of course, than that man on the bus claiming to be Abraham Lincoln if looked at with the eyes of reason. But some who heard Jesus that day did believe, and that’s the miracle of it all.. Some did believe. And this is not the only claim that Jesus made that is unbelievable by reason, and can only be accepted by faith.
Jesus also claimed to be one with the Father, to be eternal, to be able to grant eternal life to all who believed in His word. He claimed that He was true God with the Father. Not two gods. Jesus asserted many times that there is only one God. But He says here that He is one with the Father. Only one God, but two persons, Father and Son. It is impossible to understand this through the power of reason. It goes beyond reason. Yet Jesus and Scripture speak not of two persons of the deity, but three, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Human reason cannot comprehend how the three persons of the Holy Trinity can be one God, yet there it is, in Scripture. As Martin Luther said, “The question here is not whether this doctrine (of the Holy Trinity) is true, but whether it is found in the Word of God. If it is found there, then be assured that it is true, for God’s Word is truth.”
Our culture has a hard time with the truth of Jesus’ words, the words of His apostles, the Spirit-breathed words of the prophets, and all the words of Scripture. For they interfere with our pleasures, our autonomy, our self-fulfillment. The Word of God makes claims on us. It shows us God’s plan for living a godly life, which isn’t the same as what our culture calls living “the good life.” God’s ways are not our ways, His plan is not our plan, and almost never our culture’s idea of a plan for life. So the advocates of self-absorption, self-actualization, self-realization, self-fulfillment, with a life without constricting moral demands have come up with all kinds of workarounds for God’s Word, the Word which makes demands and turns our focus outward to God and our neighbor, and away from ourself.
One of the most common workarounds to God’s Word is the claim that the authors of Scripture were bound to a particular time and place, within a particular cultural and social setting, therefore their words and pronouncements no longer apply in the enlightened age in which we live. It is true that many of the laws concerning worship have been superseded by Christ’s atoning sacrifice for all. Animal sacrifices, for instance, are no longer necessary because Jesus made them obsolete with His all atoning sacrifice on the cross, to which all the sacrifices of the Old Testament point. Now we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1), along with our prayers and thanksgiving, our gifts of tithes and offerings. But the sacrificial system of the Old Testament is not obsolete because of changing social and cultural conditions, but because Christ came and fulfilled it.
Another workaround to God’s Word is to ignore anything not spoken by Jesus Himself. Therefore we can freely disregard the apostolic teachings of Paul, Peter, John, Jude, and James because they were just humans after all, bound, again, to the culture in which they lived, and also by their own prejudices and bigotry. But Jesus said about these apostles, ““The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”” (Luke 10:16 ESV).
Which brings us back to our sermon text. Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”, not “I was.” The Son of God is not bound by time or place. He is eternal. Not just eternal past, but eternal present and eternal future. Jesus can say, “After the 18th century enlightenment I AM. After modernism, I AM. After post-modernism, I AM.”, for He has always been, and will always be and is now. He knows the society of Abraham’s time, of the first century AD, and of the 21st century AD. Nothing is hidden from Him or from His Father, or from His Holy Spirit. His teachings about marriage, adultery, and sexuality, where He quotes Genesis, are not culturally or historically bound, for He is not bound by time or space. The ten commandments which He spoke to Moses from Mount Sinai are not culturally or historically bound, either. They are certainly not the result of prejudice or bigotry. They are eternal. They are the truth. They remain forever.
The words of Saint Paul, the last Apostle, are not the result of cultural conditioning, either. They are the words of the Son of God, spoken through and written by His servant, Paul of Tarsus. As Saint Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16). Holy Scripture is, not was, truth.
But it is the our nature to bristle at truth. It is our way. The words spoken in Scripture, in the liturgy, in the hymns, in the preaching of the sermon change us, and we resist change, especially inner change, change that threatens to drown the Old Adam in us. We like Old Adam. He is a friendly fellow. He massages our ego. He indulges our preferences. He flatters us. He tells us pleasant lies that puff us up and affirm us. He makes no demands on us except one that we die eternally.
The new Adam, Jesus Christ and His Spirit living within us, however, offers us true identity, true self, true freedom, freedom from slavery to lusts, freedom from constantly feeding ego, freedom to serve God and our neighbor in our vocations, freedom to lead a Godly life, not just the “good life.” The new Adam shows us the way to live as children of God, created to serve, obey, and enjoy His creation and the fruits of His salvation, now and forever. God’s Word, His Logos, His Christ, His Way, is now, as believers, our way,and His truth is now our truth. We affirm that is the way, the truth, the life, the only life. (John 14:6).
Therefore let us come back to hear “I AM”s Word week after week, to receive the gift of His forgiveness of sins, which is life, and salvation. Let us come here to strengthen our faith in the inspired word of God which is eternal, then, now, and always; to put on the armor of God that we may resist the many temptations of Satan which surround and entice us, so that by God’s grace we may resist that inner voice that tell us that God’s word is longer relevant. Let us pray together, “Thy will be done.” Let us submit our wills to the will of God.
Jesus, the greatest preacher and the greatest teacher who ever lived or who will ever live, always preached the truth, the truth that kills and makes alive, the truth that convicts hearts and forgives sin, then and now. After one of Jesus’ sermons, many people, many of those who had been following Him, left when He said something that they could not square with their reason, when He told them they must drink the blood of the Son of Man and eat His body. After they left, Jesus asked the twelve remaining, “Do you want to go away, too?” Simon Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
We, too, have believed with Peter and the other apostles, and have come to know, that Jesus is, not was…, is the Holy One of God. He is the great “I AM”, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Amen.