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Holy Trinity Sunday Sermon — John 8:48-59 (LSB Holy Trinity C)

May 30, 2010

May 30, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA



The Jews said to [Jesus]: “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste death.’ Are You greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do You make Yourself out to be?”



The Jews were in the Temple to remember how the Lord God brought them out of Egypt, how they dwelled in tents on their pilgrimage to the Promised Land. But now this Galilean carpenter’s son is ruining the whole event. They once had believed Him. But now, His statements rankled them in the worst way. Their question is pointed, rooted in their disbelief at what Jesus said: “Who do You make Yourself out to be?”



To claim to be a prophet is one thing. Jesus seemed to speak well. His comments on Moses’ Law were worth consideration. But His claims about Himself are ludicrous: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” And when Jesus is asked if He’s greater than Abraham, what does He say? “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. It is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known Him. I know Him. If I were to say that I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and I keep His word.” Jesus calls the Jewish pilgrims unbelievers, that they really don’t know the God who led their ancestors out of Egypt. He is calling their celebration of the Festival of Tabernacles a fraud.



But Jesus goes even further: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad.” Jesus claims to be the One Abraham was looking toward, the One whom Abraham believed in. This receives the final question: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus has gone off the deep end! This could never be! And yet, Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” That sets off the charge of blasphemy in the crowd: “So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the Temple.”



How had this interaction in the Temple reached the level of stone-throwing? In today’s Gospel Reading, you heard a portion of Jesus’ teaching about Himself. You heard Jesus reveal His nature and identity to the festival crowds. Jesus speaks about who He is and He speaks about the nature of the Godhead. Jesus’ statements are meant to show that He is the Incarnate Son of God. He claims to be God come down from heaven to earth, being made man, to bring salvation. That is why Jesus’ words are read on this Holy Trinity Sunday. But His teaching confounds the people. Why? It is impossible to receive, to accept, to comprehend. The people hear a Galilean saying all sorts of things that run contrary to human observation. There is only one way that what Jesus said is true—that it actually is God standing there in the Temple.



This is what Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” But Jesus’ words do not meet the crowds’ observations. They see a thirty-something man with their eyes. How could Jesus have lived before Abraham? He isn’t yet fifty; Abraham lived over 1500 years before Jesus’ birth. Yet when asked, Jesus’ reply isn’t just that He existed before Abraham did—as impossible as that may seem. Jesus is claiming the Divine Name as His own. He says that He is the One who spoke to Moses in the wilderness from the Burning Bush. He claims to be the One who set off the whole Exodus in the first place.



Jesus’ statements are His response to the Jews’ questions: “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste death.’ Are You greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do You make Yourself out to be?” Jesus is saying: “Yes, I am greater than Abraham and the prophets. The only One who is greater than Abraham and the prophets is God Himself. But I don’t make Myself out to be the Son of God; that’s what I’ve always been.” So He says: “It is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known Him. I know Him. If I were to say that I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and I keep His word.” It is why He says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”



This true nature of Christ is the reason why the Western Church has a Holy Trinity Sunday. That is what this festival that closes the first semester of the Church Year is meant to teach again. After hearing the Scripture readings from Advent through Pentecost, the Church makes the great confession that Jesus is true God and true Man. This is what Jesus’ words and works have shown, what they reveal as the source of your salvation. If the Scriptures are true, then the conclusion must be that Jesus is “I AM.”



Not everyone in the Temple rejected Jesus’ statements. For some, Jesus’ words and works became the object of their faith, what they trusted. What they trusted, they also proclaimed. Peter’s Pentecost proclamation makes the same claims that Jesus did in the Temple: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Peter’s declaration is based upon the Psalter’s description of the Christ—the description that Jesus fulfilled. It is based upon the resurrection of Christ: “Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, [David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.” Just as Abraham looked forward to Jesus’ day and saw it, so David also looked forward to Jesus, the Lord and Christ.



How did these Old Testament figures look forward to Jesus’ day? Because the Word of the Lord came to them, speaking about the Christ. The Scriptures are all about Jesus. Their story is His story. He is their content. He is the main character. The Scriptures reveal the Wisdom of God. And Jesus is that Wisdom. Listen to what Wisdom says about Himself: “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His work, the first of His acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. . . . When He established the heavens, I was there; . . . when He marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside Him, like a master workman, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always, rejoicing in His inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” That Wisdom is the Word that created life, the same Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.



Many of you know well what the Prologue of John’s Gospel and its testimony about Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that has been made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” That description of Jesus shows how He is greater than Abraham, why “Abraham rejoiced that he would see [Jesus’] day.” For what did Abraham believe? He believed “God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.The Lord’s Word gives life to the dead and brings things into existence. His Word makes one wise to salvation. And that Word and Wisdom is none other than Christ Jesus our Lord. That is why Jesus can rightly say: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.”



Only God Himself could make such a claim. The Jews in the Temple knew that, but they would not accept that Jesus could actually be that God-in-the-flesh. So the Evangelist says: He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” But that Word and Wisdom has come to you. His claims have been believed by you. And so the promises made to Abraham and David who looked forward to Jesus’ day are extended to you: “But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”



What have you come to believe? “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.” That is what the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost have brought to your knowledge. You have heard the accounts of Jesus. You have learned Jesus’ identity, just as Peter proclaimed: “Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.”



You have learned through Jesus’ words and works that what His claim is true: “I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge.” Through Jesus’ words and works, you have learned that the Son of Mary and the Most High God was born to fulfill His Father’s will. His Father’s will demanded His humiliation and death, and yet Jesus gave it. His Father’s will brought Him into the resurrection. And His Father’s will is that you would believe it all this was for you and your benefit. That is the confession of the Christian Church, the catholic faith in which the Holy Spirit keeps you, so that you may have life in Christ’s name. So you believe “that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” So you believe: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” And so you believe that His promise is true: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.”



T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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