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LSB Holy Trinity C Sermon – John 8:48-59

May 24, 2016

May 22, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.”

To say that Jesus encountered explosive confrontations with people during His earthly ministry is a bit of an understatement. Perhaps the most-remembered is the way that Jesus dealt with the merchants and money-changers in the Temple courts: braiding together a rope, making a whip, and driving them out of His Father’s house. But just as explosive is the confrontation that Jesus has with the Jews in Jerusalem during the Festival of Booths recorded in John’s Gospel. That confrontation centers on the statements that Jesus made concerning His identity. Those who heard wondered if Jesus might just be the Promised Messiah sent by the LORD, though many did not consider this as a true possibility.

You heard an excerpt from the conclusion of that confrontation in today’s Gospel Reading. If you read through John 7–9, you will see how the confrontation reaches this level. There is a ramping up from the time that Jesus begins to teach in the Temple during the festival. The claims that Jesus makes are rightly seen as audacious: He is teaching what the Father gave Him to speak; He will provide living water; He is the Light of the world; He is the Son of God who sets people free. When Jesus’ words strike the ears of the audience, the people have to respond to the truth claims that He has made. Is Jesus speaking rightly about Himself? Or is Jesus lying?

The Gospel Reading reveals how the crowds responded to Jesus: “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” There isn’t a greater way of rejecting what Jesus has said than that. The people hear Jesus and come to the conclusion that He is a liar, speaking words that are diabolical in origin. But as the crowds refuse to believe what Jesus says, He directly counters their response and raises the stakes: “I do not have a demon, but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. Yet I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, He will never see death.” Again, the response is given: “Now we know that You have a demon!” They reveal their belief that Jesus is a liar: “Who do You make Yourself out to be?”

So Jesus speaks about glory and knowing God: “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’ words accuse the Jews of not actually knowing God. He also indicates that they have missed the point of being the descendants of Abraham, since they are not receiving the One whom Abraham had been promised: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad.”

With those words, Jesus brings the conversation to its intended end. He reveals His divine origin. When the Jews question His statements, Jesus tells why He is so different: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” The crowds’ reaction shows that they understood what Jesus had done: “They picked up stones to throw at Him.” They knew that Jesus had claimed divinity, that He was the LORD whom their forefathers had worshipped. So they took up stones to punish Jesus, to carry out the sentence of death for blasphemy. They understood Jesus’ words, but could not accept them as true. The Jews had figured out what Jesus was saying, but they could not believe it.

This confrontation and divide continues to this day. The confession of Jesus as the Messiah, as the Eternal Son of God, marks the Church as different from all other groups in the world. It is our shibboleth, our belief that distinguishes us from the other peoples. We have heard what Jesus says in the Gospels and have come to accept it as true. We place our entire trust and hope in His being eternal, being the heaven-sent Redeemer, being the victor over sin and death.

That faith which you share is rooted in the testimony that Jesus gives about Himself and that His apostles have proclaimed concerning Him. This is seen in the work that Peter did on Pentecost. As you have done so each year on Trinity Sunday, you have heard Peter’s preaching about Jesus: “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…. Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” That is the content of your faith in Jesus. What Peter has preached, you have believed. Just as what Jesus has testified about Himself, you have received as true.

From these testimonies, the Triune nature of the Godhead begins to be seen. Peter notes this in his preaching: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, [Jesus] has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” All three Persons of the Trinity work in concert to bring you to the true knowledge of who the Godhead is and Their intended goal for you. The purpose is to share in the salvation that has been accomplished for you, in fulfillment of the promises made long ago to Adam, Abraham, David, and all the others in the past. That purpose is achieved, as you receive the testimony given by the Triune God through the prophets, through Jesus’ own teaching, and through the apostolic proclamation. Then what Jesus says is shown to be true: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” That is done, as He has the words of eternal life, which are freely spoken for you to hear and believe.

But that work meets great resistance in the world. The explosive confrontations continue to be seen, just as they happened in Jesus’ day. Jesus’ claims make Christianity exclusive; it becomes an either-or sort of matter. Either Jesus’ statements are true or not. Either His declarations about salvation are true or not. Some who heard Jesus years ago came to the conclusion that He was an impostor or demoniac; that His words were lies. This idea is behind C.S. Lewis’ trilemma about Jesus in his book Mere Christianity: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”

That sort of reaction is still seen today. Even now, Jesus’ claims are considered to be unbelievable. People flock to a different teaching, believing that true enlightenment is found from other sources. Others deny that any such divine truth exists. The two other Abrahamic religions—Judaism and Islam—utterly reject the idea that Jesus is the Incarnate LORD, the Promised Messiah, the Eternal Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of the world, and the way to salvation. And the divide rises to the level of picking up stones or knives or guns to kill those who make the credal statement that you do—that Jesus is Lord.

Despite the explosive confrontations, you continue to make the confession about Jesus. This is the divine work being done in you. It is the Holy Spirit’s act to let you see the wisdom that Jesus brings, the wisdom that leads to eternal life. You have heard Jesus’ teaching and believe it to be true. That includes the statements He makes about being able to overcome death and the grave for you. But you must know that this confession will not bring an easy life. It will not exempt you from any antipathy or antagonism. Just the opposite! It brings conflict with all who will not receive Jesus’ word as true. It becomes the reason why those opposed to the LORD and His will find you to be worthy of enmity.

Yet, even in the midst of such resistance and hostility, the testimony about Jesus brings you great blessing. The psalmist speaks about Him: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” That day will come when Jesus will put down all opposition to Him and deliver all those who put their trust in Him. The time will arrive when all will know that the Triune God exists and reigns supreme. Jesus’ words will be fulfilled: “Yet I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge.” When that Judge renders His verdict about Jesus and His work, you who have come to know and believe Him as Lord will be vindicated. You will share in His resurrection, because death is not able to hold you, even if brought by the enemies of Jesus. For the promise of the Risen and Ascended Jesus in whom you hope will be fulfilled for you: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.”

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

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