Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sermon -- 5th Sunday in Lent (April 6, 2014)

JOHN 8:46-59

In the name + of Jesus.

     As we advance to the most intense parts of our Lord’s Passion, we notice that the opposition to our Lord was getting more intense too.  The Pharisees never did care for Jesus, but for a while they kept their opinions to themselves.  After all, how can you condemn someone for healing so many people?  But eventually, they decided it was necessary to oppose Jesus, both publicly and viciously.  So the lines were drawn between Jesus and his enemies.  In that respect, the Pharisees had it right.  You are either with Jesus, or you are opposed to him.  There is no in between.  There was never meant to be.
     Jesus responded to their criticisms and accusations.  He cut right to the heart of the matter.  Which one of you convicts me of sin?  If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?  Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:46-47) 
     Of course, they could not convict Jesus of sin.  Nor could the Pharisees not find fault with Jesus’ words.  He spoke the truth, and they could not refute it.  So instead of refute Jesus’ words, they rejected Jesus.  They would not believe that he is the Christ.  They would not believe that he is God in the flesh.  They would not believe it because they were not God’s people.  The Pharisees were intent on establishing and defending their own glory, and Jesus was getting in the way of that.  But there is no glory for those who are not God’s people.
     All sinners want their glory.  Some will threaten or even kill people who do not give them the respect they seem to think they are owed.  Most do not sink to levels of felony.  Yet, divorces happen when husbands and wives do not feel they have been recognized or appreciated enough.  Friendships can fall apart because the gesture of one wasn’t nice enough or the honor didn’t come soon enough.  We regard these as slights that we do not deserve.  We believe we are worthy of greater glory than that.
     But mostly, people want to be praised just for being good people.  Family and friends feed that desire.  They will love you and defend you.  They will take your side even when you are wrong.  But beware.  Do not be deceived.  Your judgment is not based on the opinions of people who like you and agree with you.  The Pharisees could do that much.  The Pharisees all agreed that they were good and right.  They huddled together to vote, and they determined that they were right and that Jesus was dead wrong—in fact, so wrong that he should be dead.
     So if you cannot establish your own glory and if your friends don’t determine your judgment, what is your hope that you are saved?  How do you know you are among God’s people?  Jesus asks two questions, and we ought to ponder the answer to each.  First: Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46)  If you cannot be convicted of sin, then you are truly one of God’s people.  For, God calls us to live a holy and blameless life.  The one who keeps on sinning is of the devil, for he does the devil’s works.  If you can claim that you have been obedient to God’s commandments, then you are truly a child of God.  But no one can boast that.  King Solomon asked: “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9)  And even if others might foolishly claim that being nice and helpful makes them good enough, you know better.  These do not make you blameless.  Do not claim to be a child of God based on your deeds.  There is no glory to be found in our hearts or in our habits. 
     You and I would be foolish to ask what Jesus did: Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46)  But Jesus did ask it.  And Jesus got no response.  They could not convict Jesus of sin.  Not in the temple where he was teaching.  Not on trial before Caiaphas.  Not even when false witnesses were paid off to find fault with him.  Nonetheless, Jesus, in his innocence, was sent to the cross.  He was sent to the cross at the hands of evil men, but he did not go because they demanded it.  He went because your salvation demanded it.  Jesus made himself the perfect sacrifice on your behalf.  He who was holy was slain for you—the righteous on behalf of the unrighteous.  And he who was holy has delivered you from your sins.  You have been cleansed by the holy blood of Jesus.  You have been bathed in your baptism and are clothed in Jesus’ righteousness.  And if you are clothed in Jesus’ righteousness, then no one can convict you of sin.  Jesus covers you.  Jesus forgives you.  Jesus makes you children of God.  He is your glory, and great glory shall come for God’s people.
     So now, we come to the second question Jesus asked the Pharisees.  If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?  Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:46-47)  The Pharisees did not believe Jesus’ words because he made claims that they refused to believe were true.  But for you, Jesus’ words are your salvation.  What else can soothe a troubled conscience?  What else could convince you that you are a child of God and that you are an heir of eternal glory?  It has to rest entirely on Jesus’ words.  Whoever is of God hears God’s words because it is the word of God which has made you God’s people! 
     Jesus’ words admonish you so that you do not cling to your sins, but rather repent of them.  Jesus’ words reveal God’s mercy, love, and peace for sinners.  These put to flight all doubts and fears.  It is Jesus who assures you that you are, indeed, children of God.  Jesus can make such claims because he has paid for your sins; he has removed your curse; he has conquered death; and he lives and reigns in glory now. 
     Jesus promises: Great glory shall come for God’s people.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)  The Pharisees considered these the words of a man possessed by a demon.  Who could say such a thing?  Jesus did not merely say that there would be a resurrection from the dead.  Even the Pharisees believed that.  But Jesus stated that HE is the resurrection.  He delivers from death.  In fact, if you believe in him, you will not even taste death!
     Dear Christians, this is part of the great glory that he has in store for God’s people.  Consider Abraham.  His body has been buried in the cave of Machpelah, and it has turned to dust.  But his soul did not perish.  Abraham to this day dwells in God’s kingdom, awaiting the joyous resurrection of the dead.  And so it is for you.  The day will come when you bid farewell to this world, but you do not bid farewell to life.  Your life is hidden with Jesus, and your soul goes to dwell with him in glory.  With Jesus, there is not death, but life.  In Jesus, there is a resurrection from the grave where body and soul are reunited, where you will be transformed to immortality, and where you will live in glorious peace and joy.  Great glory shall come to God’s people, and that glory will never be marred by sin or shame.  God’s glory is everlasting.
     Until that day, you will strive to live to be what Jesus says you are—God’s people, holy and blameless and set apart for godliness.  And whenever you recognize that you do not match this glorious description, flee to Jesus.  Your glory, your place as God’s child, and your forgiveness come from Jesus.  He has given his body and blood to redeem you, and he gives these to you to keep you as his redeemed.  It is Jesus who soothes your hearts, who covers your sins, and who defeats your death for you.  That is why he who is of God hears God’s words.  It is the word of God which makes you God’s people.  And it is your God who has marked you for great glory.

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