Monday, March 26, 2012

Sermon for 3/25/12--Lent V (LSB 1-year)



Redemption and Opposition

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

John’s Gospel is distinct from the other three. All of them, of course, present the truth. But John's Gospel is not a chronology; it does not give us a blow-by-blow account of the various events in the life of Jesus as the others do. John’s Gospel is a presentation of the person and the saving work of Jesus Christ. John shines his light on those words and works of Jesus which reveal Him to be the eternal Son of the heavenly Father, and our Savior from sin, death, and hell. And he also shows us the opposition that rises against Jesus with its evil, even demonic, roots.

Earlier in this same chapter, Jesus had spared the woman caught in adultery. Her accusers would have stoned her to death had Jesus not intervened. But, He challenged her accusers by saying to them, “He who is without sin among you cast the first stone.” Of course, no one there could lift a stone without proving himself to be a hypocrite. But there was another implication in Jesus’ words. The divine wisdom and insight that enabled Him to say what He did implied that He, in fact, was without sin, and would have had every right to cast a stone at the adulteress. The fact that He did not spoke a message that would not have been missed. Jesus then went on to say, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” The Pharisees who heard Him understood that He was staking out a claim for Himself as the Son of God. The battle lines were drawn. The positions were laid out. And that is what our reading presents to us.

There is tremendous drama in this encounter between Jesus and His opponents. Jesus began with a remarkable question. “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” You know they wanted to; but search as they may, none of them could formulate a charge against Him. When He had given them plenty of opportunity, Jesus spoke again. “I tell the truth; why do you not believe me?” Again, there was probably an uncomfortable silence. How could they answer Him? Then, Jesus answered His own question. “You do not hear, because you are not of God.” What did He mean by this? Think of it this way: a man who is tone deaf cannot experience the thrill of music; all he hears is sound that makes little or no sense to him. A man who is color-blind cannot fully appreciate a picture or painting; the colors that distinguish one thing from another are unknown to Him. Even so, without the Spirit, God’s Word means nothing to the man who hears it.

To be told that they were strangers to God stung the Jews, and they reacted as one would expect. “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan, and that You have a devil?” To be called a Samaritan was to be branded as an eternal enemy of the Jews, a heretic, one whose sole purpose was to lead the people of God away from the truth. This was the state to which they had fallen. The Messiah, the Redeemer of the world, stood before them. But every redeeming word He spoke, every redeeming action He undertook, was met with hateful opposition.

The remarkable thing about this event in the life of Jesus was that He was actually prepared to accept the accusation of sin. That was what His redemptive work was about; bearing the sins of the world upon Himself. As St. Paul said, Jesus was made, literally, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Of course, He had no sin of His own. All that He did and endured, including the abuse heaped on Him on this occasion, was done for sinners; it was in their place. And this is where we enter the story. We may not think that we are opponents of Jesus. We may not be prepared to call Him an enemy of the faith, a deceiver who would lead us astray from the truth of God. And yet, every sin of thought, word, and deed hammers at His redemptive work.

And so, it is only through repentance that we can approach Jesus, our Redeemer. Repentance was the farthest thing from the mind of the Jews. Instead of falling before their Redeemer in sorrow for the way they had abused Him, their opposition grew more fervent and more demonic. They said to Him: “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Whom do You make Yourself out to be?” And when the whole discussion was concluded they even took up stones to throw at Him. They would treat Him as their fathers had treated prophets before them. They were not of God, nor would they hear His Word.

Repentance must be our approach to Jesus. Even as He has honored the Father in all that He has said and done, we dishonor Him with our sin and the opposition we raise against Him. We can only come to Him in repentance. And then He says to us: “Most assuredly I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word he shall never see death.” What does He mean here? What does it mean to “keep” His Word? To be sure, it means more than obedience which, I suspect, is how most would understand it. To keep His Word means to treasure it, to hold on to it for dear life, to place a value on it that sets it above everything in this life. It means to love His Word because His Word is Truth and Life. And especially here, He bids us keep those words that speak of His redemption, that He has come to give His life as the “ransom for many,” that He truly is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And His promise to us as we keep His Word is that we will never see death.

Not too long after this encounter with the Jews, Jesus was called to the graveside of His dear friend, Lazarus. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, were troubled by the fact that Jesus had not arrived in time to spare their brother; they were convinced He would have done that. But as it turned out, there was an even greater and more glorious purpose in allowing Lazarus to die. Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” And then He raised Lazarus from the grave as proof that those who keep His Word will, indeed, never really die. And by raising Lazarus He was also pointing to His own resurrection. He who kept the Word of His Father would live forever. He made you His own and placed His Word in you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in those waters He has raised you with Him to eternal life. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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