Sermon for Judica, 2021

Text: John 8:46-59

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death,” Jesus said. These words infuriated the scribes and Pharisees. They couldn’t believe that Jesus would say such a thing. After all, everybody dies. This is a classic example of missing the point. Adam and Eve didn’t drop dead on the spot when they ate from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil even though God said that they would die on the day they ate of it. But Adam and Eve really did die. They died spiritually. They were separated from God in their act of disobedience. By the same token, when Jesus says that those who have faith in him will never die, what he means is that they have eternal life even now. Physical death will come, but even though they die, those who have faith in him will live for eternity.

The truth is that the scribes and Pharisees weren’t so dumb that they didn’t know what Jesus meant. When they point out the fact that Abraham and the prophets died, they’re mocking Jesus. They have no faith in him at all and don’t believe that he is who he says he is. Never mind the fact that they have no evidence to refute any of Jesus’ claims. They never have been able to refute anything that Jesus says. Time and time again they try to trap him in his words and silence him, but each time they try, they are the ones who are silenced because they can’t come up with a concrete refutation of anything that he says. Jesus speaks the truth. They know he speaks the truth. But they don’t like what he says, therefore they declare that he has a demon simply because they can’t come up with anything better.

The scribes and Pharisees are false teachers. They are false because they promote a doctrine of works-righteousness that pins the hope of salvation on the works of man. They believe they are saved because they are the children of Abraham and, as they say, have never been slaves of anyone. They believe that God actually smiles upon them because of their good works. Jesus comes preaching a different doctrine. He comes preaching the truth. Salvation does not come through works or through blood relationships. It comes through him. Salvation is through Jesus and his blood and righteousness alone. The scribes and Pharisees refuse to believe Jesus. Jesus does not mince his words when he refutes the false teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. They are of the devil, he says. Jesus generally speaks with meekness and compassion. Think about how he deals with prostitutes and tax collectors, patiently exposing their sin to them in such a way that they may repent and receive the good news of salvation. Not when it comes to false teaching, though. The Pharisees and scribes were angered by Jesus’ directness.

Not much has changed in the world. Many still bristle at the idea of attacking false teaching head-on. Instead, the spirit of ecumenism dominates. Rather than tackle theology and search for truth in the Word of God, so many instead either decide to agree to disagree or compromise truth just for the sake of getting along. Churches will sign agreements that state that there is agreement where there is no agreement. They will go out of their way to avoid saying that anyone is wrong. The concept of absolute truth is completely lost.

Two things that are opposites of each other can’t both be true. Either Jesus death is the only acceptable sacrifice for sin or it isn’t. Either Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, or he’s not. You can say the same thing about the sacraments. Either baptism saves or it doesn’t. The Lord’s Supper either is Jesus’ body and blood, or it’s not. You can’t have it both ways. And that scares us. It scares us because we know and love people who hold to unscriptural positions when it comes to the things of God and it makes us really uncomfortable to say that anyone is wrong. We so easily cave to the pressure to simply get along rather than speak the truth.

Jesus challenges the scribes and the Pharisees to prove him wrong. “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe me?” Jesus says. The truth both unites and divides. The truth unites in that it provides a common ground for each of us to point to and say that we hold it to be true. It divides in that is separates truth from error. May we be bold in standing on the truth of God’s Word. May we, like Jesus, challenge those who challenge us to find in the Word of God where we have erred.

Jesus claims to be the Son of God. Jesus claims to be able to grant salvation to all who believe in him. There are both comforting and terrifying at the same time. They are comforting to all who have faith in the words that Jesus speaks. Anyone who keeps his word will never taste death. To keep his word is to have faith in him. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” St. John writes that “whoever has the Son has life.” Those words bring great comfort. But for those who have not faith, they are terrifying. Jesus says that he is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by him. St. John adds that whoever does not have the Son does not have life. Peter preaches that there is salvation in no one else besides Jesus. These words of the scriptures offend many just as Jesus’ claims offended the Pharisees and scribes. It offended them so much that they picked up stones to stone him.

Jesus would not die in the temple that day, yet. His hour had not yet come. Today begins the period of Lent that we refer to as Passiontide. Passiontide will culminate on Good Friday where we will remember the death of Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus is the only one who ever kept the Law of God perfectly. Where we shied away from speaking the truth, Jesus proclaimed it boldly. He is the only one who can truly cry out the words of our Introit for today. “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!” The ungodly are those who put Jesus to death on the cross. They were deceitful and unjust. They knew Jesus was telling the truth and they killed him anyway. In his resurrection, Jesus was vindicated, though. Because we have been baptized into the death of Jesus, we have been united with him. Just as Jesus was vindicated by the Father, we too will be vindicated on the Last Day.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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