The First Sunday after Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Romans 12:1-5
In Christ Jesus, who by His suffering, death, and resurrection redeemed the world of sinners, so that they might have purpose, contentment, and hope, dear fellow redeemed:
Nobody expected the twelve-year-old Jesus to do what He did. He and His parents had gone to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When the massive crowd began to fan out and start their journey home, Joseph and Mary assumed Jesus was with relatives or friends. When He did not turn up, they went looking for Him and found Him three days letter in the temple. He was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luk. 2:46). All on His own, Jesus went to the temple, His “Father’s house” (v. 49), so He could hear and learn the Scriptures. That was not typical twelve-year-old behavior. But then Jesus was not the typical twelve-year-old.
What are the kinds of things we expect from twelve-year-olds today? This is a time when major changes are happening in their lives. There are huge physical, cognitive, and emotional changes going on. There are signs of maturity and maybe more mood swings. The twelve-year-old is in the process of transforming from a child to an adult. But he or she is not an adult yet. Twelve-year-olds need love, guidance, discipline, and clear expectations, just as all young people do. They need to be molded into God-fearing members of the church and responsible members of society.
It always makes me cringe when parents say that they will wait to let their children choose their own religious path when they are older. This is another way of saying that there is no clear teaching about God, that there is no such thing as objective truth, that one religion is no better than another. What foolishness! We have our kids listen to our favorite music, watch our favorite movies, cheer for the right sports teams, and follow our lead in so many other areas. But we’re not going to teach them anything about God?!
Whatever we do not actively teach our children, they will learn from someone else. Everything we know was learned. Think about yourself: how much of your personality and preferences have formed with no outside influence from others? I’m not sure it is even possible. We are products of the place where we are and the people we are around. On a spiritual level, we are influenced by the living God through His Word, or by the tugging and tempting of our own sinful nature, the devil, and the world.
In his letter to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul urged them not to “be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” To “be conformed to this world” is to be shaped and molded by the unbelieving world rather than by the divine Word. We feel this pressure to conform in so many ways, and we can think of many times that we have given in to this pressure.
Maybe we have softened our stance on sexual morality and say with the world that as long as a sexual relationship is consensual, there is no problem with it. Or we have changed our views on marriage and divorce, and we support the breaking apart of what God has joined together if husband and wife don’t love each other like they used to. Or we adopt the world’s thinking that nothing is more important than self-fulfillment, recognition for one’s work, and financial security.
Every single one of us is influenced by the unbelieving culture we live in. The devil is eager to see that this happens, and our sinful nature is happy to cooperate. We have “conformed to this world” in ways we are not even aware of. We begin to recognize this conformity when we ask ourselves how much our thoughts are directed toward doing God’s will in a given day or week and how much we are focused on doing our own will.
“Do not be conformed to this world,” says Paul. But going against the world is not easy. It is much easier to swim with the cultural current. Every young person who has faced peer pressure knows this is the case. It is hard to say no. It is hard to be singled out when we want so much to fit in. It is hard to be laughed at and attacked. It is hard to be alone.
Going against the world and living by the Word is not comfortable. It requires sacrifice. Jesus knows this. He lived that life. His own people wanted Him to be their earthly king. They wanted Him to lead them, feed them, and heal them. The religious leaders wanted His endorsement, His stamp of approval. Nobody got what they wanted.
What Jesus got for denying their expectations was hatred, rejection, ridicule, and pain—immeasurable pain. Crowds of people had flocked to Him, even up to the Sunday before His death. But then He was sentenced and nailed to a cross, all alone, forsaken even by His own Father in heaven. Jesus had not “conformed to this world,” and it ended with a lonely death.
He knows it is no easy charge when He says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luk. 9:23). He knows what will happen to those who refuse the world and their own desires and follow His Word. They will carry a cross like He did, and they will suffer. But they will not have to suffer like He suffered. He suffered alone, bearing the sins of the whole world. He suffered the eternal punishment of hell in the place of all sinners.
When you suffer, you do not suffer alone. You join Jesus in His suffering; or rather He joins you. And He also connects you with other godly sufferers, with others who reject the false promises of the world. The believers around you have been “transformed” like you have “by the renewal of your mind.” You see things differently now. You have changed. The Greek word for “transformed” is where we get our word “metamorphosis.” It is the same word used for Jesus’ transformation on the mountain when “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Mat. 17:2).
You and I were transformed from darkness to light, from death to life, from unbelief to belief when the Holy Spirit brought us to faith in Jesus through His Gospel. We were changed “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” in holy Baptism (Ti. 3:5). Like a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon a butterfly, we were “born again” (Joh. 3:3). In the waters of baptism, we were wrapped in the cocoon of Christ’s death, and we emerged with Him in His resurrection (Rom. 6:4).
We have “newness of life” now that we have been joined to Christ. By faith in Him we have gained all the benefits of His perfect life and atoning death. His perfect keeping of the law covers over our less-than-holy record. His cleansing blood washes away all our sins of choosing the world over the Word, from the sins of our youth to the present day. Jesus has freed us from the hopeless expectations and empty promises of the world. He has freed us to live—truly live—to live with purpose in this life and to die with the joy-filled expectation of the life to come.
It may feel lonely to go against what the world wants you to do, but you are not alone. You Are Part of Something Big—much bigger than the world. You are part of the body of Christ. You are joined to Him “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Out of love for you and on your behalf, He conquered the devil, destroyed death, and overcame the world. In Jesus, you are no loser, even if the world calls you one for following Him.
As a Christian, you may feel alone in your classroom, at your job, in your community. This is why God called you to be part of a congregation, to be connected with fellow Christians who are dealing with the same things you are. They are here to encourage, help, and support you on your journey through life. They are here to walk with you through good and bad times. They are here to comfort you in your pain and grief and to warn you if you start to separate from the body. You are not alone. As Paul writes, “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
That is something big—bigger than this world and bigger than this life. We are just one link in a long chain of believers that stretches back to Adam and Eve. The temptations and challenges we face today are nothing new. We are not the first to struggle. We are not the first to fail. But we have a Savior who loves us, and who sacrificed Himself to save us. He is the Head of His body the Church. He is the One who works for us and in us, so that “by the mercies of God,” we might “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”
By faith in Jesus, we are acceptable in God’s sight. Our sacrifices for Him are acceptable because of Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing more that we could be or do or accomplish that Jesus has not already completed. So whether you are twelve or twenty or sixty or whatever age, in Christ you have everything that you need. There is nothing you lack before God. You Are Part of Something Big!
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
+ + +
The Sunday after The Ascension – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 15:26-16:4
In Christ Jesus, who never made a promise He didn’t keep, dear fellow redeemed:
The disciples had gone through the anguish of Good Friday and Holy Saturday when Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. They had experienced the euphoria of Easter Sunday when Jesus appeared to them alive again. And now after forty days, they watched Him rise up in the sky until a cloud hid Him from their sight. What would you be thinking in that moment?
The disciples looked intently skyward hoping that Jesus might perhaps come right back again. Instead two men appeared by them in white robes and told them there was no need to stare toward the clouds. Jesus had been “taken up” into heaven, they said, but He would come back again (Act. 1:11).
So it was true. The visible presence of Jesus, which had brought the disciples such comfort, was no longer. They must go forward alone. And yet they wouldn’t be alone. Jesus had promised them, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20). Jesus would be invisibly present with them and work among them through His Word and Sacraments. “For where two or three are gathered in my name,” He said, “there am I among them” (18:20).
He also promised that when He went away to His Father, He would send them the Helper, the Spirit of truth. When would the Holy Spirit come? Jesus told them: “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Act. 1:5). He told them to return to Jerusalem and wait for this to happen. They did not know how long to wait or what to look for, but they did what Jesus said.
How do you suppose they passed the time? They didn’t have smartphones or Facebook, no TV to watch, no podcasts or music to listen to. The Book of Acts tells us that “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Act. 1:14). This is what they did when Jesus left them. They prayed in His name to the Father.
Their actions in this difficult time are instructive. This was a time that they had many more questions than answers. They still feared what the Jewish or Roman leaders might do to them. They felt utterly outnumbered and weak. They did not know what to do next. All they could do was wait and pray.
I’m sure you can relate. You have faced situations like this, times when you had more questions than answers. You have felt afraid and weak. You have been unsure how to move forward. All you could do was wait and pray. But that is not a bad position to be in! It is in such times that we realize we are not in control, that we cannot fix everything. There is nothing we can do but commend our life and our future into the hands of the merciful Lord and pray that His will be done.
One of those times that we come before God in prayer is when we are criticized or attacked for believing and doing what the Bible says. This sort of opposition can come at us in school, in the workplace, in the public square of our local or online community, or even in our own homes. We can also face this trouble from within the church, from those who do not want to hear the truth of God’s Word.
Jesus told the disciples that this would happen. He said, “They will put you out of the synagogues,” the Jewish places of worship. Because they preached the truth about Jesus, that He is the true Son of God who came to save the world through His death and resurrection, they would be excommunicated by the Jewish leaders. They would be kicked out of the synagogues. They would be told that their doctrine has no place in the holy church.
The persecution of the truth would not stop there. Jesus said, “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” This is what Saul did. He approved of the execution of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Act. 8:1). Then he continued to ravage the church by dragging Christian men and women off to prison and death (v. 3). Jesus said that some like Saul would do this, “because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”
But didn’t Saul worship the Lord? He described himself as “a Hebrew of Hebrews,” “a Pharisee,” and “under the law, blameless” (Phi. 3:5,6). He may have been a devout follower of Old Testament law, but he denied the promises of God. By rejecting God’s Son in the flesh, he showed that he had no love for the Father. Jesus stated it clearly, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Joh. 14:6).
So there are some who think they are acting in line with the Father but are actually opposed to Him. This includes those who change what the Bible says or ignore certain parts of it because it does not fit the thinking of society. A large section of the visible church today has compromised the Bible in order to fit in with the world. We see this in the way many church bodies, congregations, and individual Christians deny what the Bible says about creation, the sanctity of human life, and the restricting of sexual activity between one man and one woman in marriage.
We can understand why so many have caved in these areas. It is difficult to swim against the current, to push back against popular trends in society. Contending against the world has consequences. It often means the loss of respect and honor. It means trouble and pain. A few verses before today’s text, Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Joh. 15:19).
How are we to respond? Should we hate others as much as they hate us? No, Jesus tells us to love them (Mat. 5:44). And how should we love them? We love them by praying for them and by speaking the truth. Telling the truth of God’s Word is always loving, even if it is not always welcome. Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us to lie. To lie is to join the devil, “for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Joh. 8:44).
Believers in Jesus tell the truth about Him, and the Holy Spirit empowers them to do this. In today’s text, Jesus says the Holy Spirit “will bear witness about Me”—He will testify about what Jesus did and remind us what Jesus said (Joh. 14:26). In this way, the Holy Spirit equips us to bear witness, to testify in the world. We may feel as though we stand alone, but we do not.
Jesus told His disciples that they would be delivered up to the synagogues and prisons and brought before kings and governors for His name’s sake. “This will be your opportunity to bear witness,” He said. “Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luk. 21:14-16).
The Lord promises to guide us in speaking His Word, because He wants more to have the hope that we have. The message of salvation in Christ is not just for us, it is for everybody. All sinners need this equally. There is no reason why we should have this salvation while others do not. We are not better than they are. We don’t deserve it more.
But just as God has granted us forgiveness by His grace, by His undeserved love, so we pray that He grants it to all others. We want them to have the peace we have when we hear how Jesus purchased and won us lost and condemned sinners through His innocent suffering and death. We want them to experience the joy of knowing our death is only temporary because of the resurrection of Christ. And we want them to taste the holy food and drink we do when we join together at the Communion rail and consume Jesus’ own body and blood.
Holding to what the Bible teaches can make us feel like a target is on our backs, that we are alone in the world. But of all the things that may be said about believers in Christ, they are most certainly not alone. Jesus gives us brothers and sisters in the faith to encourage us by pointing us to the promises of God. These promises are sure and powerful. Through these promises, Jesus Himself comes to us and sends the Holy Spirit to comfort and keep us in the faith and to strengthen us as we contend for the truth.
There is no more beautiful and edifying thing we can possess than the truth of God’s Word. It is a bright light shining in a dark world. It is a solid rock to stand on. It is our very life. We would rather lose everything else that we currently have than to lose the saving Word of Christ. This is what Saul concluded after he was converted and became a great testifier of the truth. “But whatever gain I had,” he said, “I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phi. 3:7-8).
This is why we contend, albeit inconsistently and weakly and timidly. We still have fears and doubts because of our sin. But we cling to Jesus by faith, knowing that “there is salvation in no one else” (Act. 4:12). This salvation must be proclaimed “to the whole creation” (Mar. 16:15), so that more sinners like the disciples and you and me will learn that no amount of trouble in this world could “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
+ + +
(portion of painting by John Singleton Copley, 1775)
The Festival of the Reformation | St. Simon & St. Jude, Apostles – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 15:17-21
In Christ Jesus, who perfectly spoke the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), so that sinners might repent and believe in Him, dear fellow redeemed:
For most of the apostles, we know something about their personal lives. We know their occupation before they were apostles. We know some of the questions they asked Jesus, and the statements they made. We can also read Gospels and Epistles recorded by apostles such as Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul. But we know very little about Simon and Jude, whose saint day has been established on October 28.
Simon is referred to in the New Testament as “the zealot” (Lk. 6:15; Ac. 1:13). This may mean that he belonged to a Jewish revolutionary force called the “Zealots” before he became an apostle. This group opposed Roman rule over Israel and was willing to use force to advance Israel’s independence. There is no other mention of this apostle Simon beyond his name and title.
Simon’s fellow apostle, Jude, is listed either before (“Thaddaeus”—Mt. 10:3; Mk. 3:18) or after him (Lk. 6:16; Ac. 1:13) when the twelve apostles are named together. Jude, or Judas, was a common name at this time, just as the names Simon and James were. There were two apostles named Simon, two named James, and two named Jude, or Judas. The only time the apostle Jude is quoted in the New Testament, he is clearly identified as “Judas (not Iscariot)” (Jn. 14:22). While it is possible that the apostle Jude wrote the second to last book of the Bible, it is generally thought that a different Jude is the author.
Historical tradition indicates that Simon and Jude worked as missionaries in Persia following Pentecost, and that they were martyred there at the same time (Lindemann, The Sermon and the Propers, Vol. IV, pp. 119-120). This may explain why their lives are commemorated on the same day. But it could also be because little more can be said about one than the other.
The apostles Simon and Jude are not important to us because of their personal lives. There are no lessons to be learned from their weak or courageous statements of faith, because none of those statements are recorded. They were two men chosen by Jesus to witness His wonderful words and actions over three years, and then to Speak the Truth about His death and resurrection “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Ac. 1:8).
We do not have personal accounts of their missionary activity. But Jesus’ words to the disciples the night before His death give us an idea what they faced. Jesus warned them that the world would hate them just as it hated Him. They would be persecuted on account of His name. And so it happened. The apostle James was killed by government officials (Ac. 12:2). The apostle Peter was arrested shortly afterward and would have been killed also, but he was freed from jail by an angel (vv. 3-11). The apostle Paul details many abuses and troubles he endured simply because of what he preached (2Co. 11:23-27).
What is it that makes the world react in this way? What is so scary about the Christian message? Paul explained that “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1Co. 1:22-23). The Gospel stands in the way of human thinking, and therefore it is opposed.
The Jews expected a Messiah who would come with great power and wow the world with His mighty works. Instead Jesus came in humility and suffered a wretched death on the cross. This is not what they were looking for in the Messiah. The Gentiles on the other hand seek wisdom. Their god is the human mind. If something does not match their natural sentiments, they reject it. In this thinking, there is no place for an incarnate God and a victorious resurrection.
This is why Jesus is rejected. The world’s unbelievers are not convinced they need a Savior, and they are offended by the Christians’ insistence that they do. They want to believe that they are basically good, and that they are in firm control of their own destiny. But the Bible teaches the opposite. It teaches that all people by nature are dead in sin and are on the road to eternal punishment in hell. Unless the Holy Spirit works faith in human hearts, they cannot be saved.
So every Christian should expect this hatred and persecution in the world, just as the apostles did. Christianity is a religion of self-denial in a world that preaches self-indulgence. It is a religion of humble faith in a world that preaches pride and self-determinism. It is a religion of love for others in a world that preaches hatred and revenge toward one’s enemies. Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
But the primary problem we face as Christians is not the wrath of the world. It is the weakness of our own flesh and our constant failings. Jesus chose us “out of the world,” and yet we so often speak and think and act no different than those who still are “of the world.” We take the Lord’s name in vain just like unbelievers do. We exhibit anger and hatred like they do. We deny our sins like they do. We gossip like they do. We live selfishly like they do. We buy into the lie that the way to be happy and successful and to get the most out of life is to put ourselves first.
Suppose Simon and Jude and the other apostles had done this. If they did what was beneficial for themselves, they would have quietly left Jerusalem after Jesus’ death and gone back to their previous occupations. Or they might have preached while times were good and then stopped preaching at the first sign of opposition. But the Holy Spirit compelled them to Speak the Truth, no matter the consequences.
After Pentecost, Peter and John were hauled before the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders “charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” But the apostles replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Ac. 4:18-20). How could they deny the One who had died and risen again? How could they fail to tell people what this meant—that sin is forgiven and death defeated? No better news than this had ever been spoken or heard. God had visited His people! The world’s Savior had come!
The apostles preached this message boldly and courageously, and their preaching turned the world upside down. The message of Christ crucified brought Jews and Gentiles, rich people and poor people, outwardly good people and outwardly bad people to faith in Jesus. They realized that all their attempts at self-justification were pointless; they could not save themselves. But Jesus had saved them. He had satisfied the righteous requirement of the law on their behalf and died in payment for their sin.
This is the saving truth that has been passed along from generation to generation until it has come to you. You also are a sinner whom Jesus redeemed with His own blood, and whom He has clothed in His righteousness. You may have failed again and again and joined in the sins of the world again and again, but Jesus grants you forgiveness again and again through His Word and Sacraments.
You would not know the good news of your salvation except for the work of the apostles and all the faithful confessors who followed them. Besides remembering the apostles Simon and Jude today, we also remember the work of Martin Luther and his fellow reformers. We know far more about Luther than we know about Simon and Jude. But Luther from 500 years ago and Simon and Jude from 2,000 years ago are significant for the same reason: They proclaimed the pure Gospel message. They counted “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Ph. 3:8).
We honor the memory of these faithful confessors by doing the same thing. We fix our eyes on Jesus. We hear and learn His Word. We Speak the Truth. We take up our cross and follow after Him. We servants are not greater than our Master. If He, the Perfect One, was persecuted, then we should expect no better treatment. If the God of perfect love was hated, then we should welcome the world’s disdain.
We have a remarkable illustration of this when the Christian church was beginning to grow in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had given power to the apostles to preach and to heal the sick. More and more were coming to faith through the Gospel. The Jewish authorities wanted to put a stop to the apostles’ work before the movement grew any more. So the authorities “beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Ac. 5:40).
But instead of complaining about their injuries or shying away from their work, the apostles rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (vv. 41-42). This courage and strength did not come from inside them. It came from God.
That is where our courage comes from as well. Through the powerful Word, the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith, so that we are prepared to Speak the Truth in every situation. Like the Apostles, We Speak the Truth about Jesus. We proclaim everything He has done to save us and the whole world of sinners.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
+ + +
(“Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 8:46-59
In Christ Jesus, through whom alone is salvation and eternal life, dear fellow redeemed:
“Who Is Jesus?” It is an important question, and anyone you ask will have an answer for it. But the answers will not all agree. Some think of Jesus as an excellent teacher who shows us how to live a life of love. Some think of Him as a buddy or a sort of life coach, who just wants them to be happy. Some don’t think much of Him at all, because they don’t like what Jesus said, or they doubt that He even existed. And then a good many believe that Jesus is the true God and the Savior of the world.
C. S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, weighed in on the same question. His contention was that Jesus could be only one of three things: a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord. He wrote: “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.”
Lewis argues that with Jesus, there is no middle ground. “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God” (Mere Christianity, “The Shocking Alternative” chapter). Others have said there is a fourth option: that Jesus is only a legend. But the testimony of the Bible along with testimony from ancient non-Christian sources make this a difficult argument to make. Even going by the Bible alone, what human could or would make up the things Jesus said and did?
The people who consider Jesus to be no more than a moral teacher have not actually read what the Bible says. They have some vague notion of Jesus’ words about “turning the other cheek” and “not judging.” But they investigate no further. What about Jesus’ claim that after He is killed, He will rise again (Mt. 16:21)? Or what about His statement in today’s text that “before Abraham was, I AM.” No matter what others might say about Him, He certainly claimed to be more than a Man.
The Jews who saw the miracles He did and listened to His words were divided in their opinion about Him. Some argued that His miracles proved He was the Christ (Jn. 7:31). Others said Jesus could not be the Christ because He was from Galilee, and the Christ was to come from Bethlehem (7:41-42). Jesus declared in no uncertain terms, “I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me” (8:42).
Many who heard Jesus rejected this. He was not God, they said. So that must make Him a lunatic or liar: “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” they asked Jesus with not a hint of innocence. Can you imagine that? Accusing the eternal Lord, the One who came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1Jn. 3:8) of being demon-possessed?
Such accusations were not leveled only against Jesus, but also against His followers after Him. It still happens today. I watched a TV show last week that portrayed Christian parents as being stuck-in-the-muds and wrong-headed for trying to stop their son from participating in a school play—a play in which he would act out a homosexual relationship with another boy. The criticism of Christian morals could not be more obvious. There will be no debate and no compromise. The message sent by the show is clear: traditional Christian teaching stretching back thousands of years cannot be tolerated.
Jesus predicted these very things. He said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you…. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:19,20). But why does it have to be this way? Can’t there be some sort of compromise?
Whenever Christians try to work out a compromise with the world, what happens? Christianity always loses. Look at what has taken place in Christian churches across America. As more and more have accommodated and even promoted the errors of evolution, the killing of the most helpless among us, homosexual unions, and gender as a feeling instead of a biological reality, these churches have become almost indistinguishable from the culture around them. No longer are they characterized by the message of sin and grace. Now they embrace the sin, which does away with God’s grace.
They try to say that this is all done in the name of and with the blessing of Jesus. But it is not the Jesus who says, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (Jn. 8:23-24). Or as He said in today’s text, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
The Jews were shocked and offended by these words. “What do you mean we are ‘not of God’? We are descendants of Abraham—God’s chosen people. We follow God’s law. We worship in His temple. Who do You think You are?!” But while they may have followed some of the laws in Scripture, they had stopped paying attention to the promises. Their connection to Abraham was physical—they had descended from his line. But they were not his spiritual descendants. Jesus told them this is because “my word finds no place in you” (Jn. 8:37).
All of us here would say that Jesus’ word has a place in our life. But what place does it have? Does it have a place only when we come to church? Even here, we can easily go through all the motions without really taking the Word to heart. We can walk out the door and cheerfully go back to the same sins we did before. Do we long to hear God’s Word? Do we honestly apply it to our own lives? Do we cling to the promises the Lord makes toward us?
We should be willing to give up all earthly gain, all our plans, all our wealth and possessions, and even our own life for the Word of God. Without the Word, we have nothing that can last. With the Word, we have Jesus and the eternal glories He won for us. But the devil convinces us that the world has more to offer. He says it is not God’s truth that matters, but your truth; what matters is that you stay true to yourself. The devil is a liar (8:44). He would have you make a god of yourself, which is the cause of all the evil and heartache we see in the world today.
We know what a lie it is, and yet we fall for this temptation again and again. We hardly study and meditate on God’s Word, and so we remain spiritually vulnerable and weak. We fail to take the Word to heart, and so we live without the confidence and comfort that only the Holy Spirit can provide.
A vengeful and uncaring God might have already destroyed you. An impatient God might have given up on you long ago. An indifferent God would not give you a second thought. But the true God loves you. And the way He showed His love was to send His only-begotten Son to assume our human flesh. Jesus did not come spouting half-brained theories—He was no lunatic. He did not come making promises He never intended to keep—He was no liar. He came to fulfill what you had not done and would never do. He perfectly kept the holy Word of God.
But if He kept the Word, why did He die? He Himself said, “If anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” He died on the cross because that was the only way to save you and all people. He offered up Himself to atone for all sin. The author of the Book of Hebrews writes that Jesus suffered and died, “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (2:9). The death that He tasted was eternal death in hell, the just punishment for sin. He tasted that death, so you would never have to. He tasted that death, so you could drink deeply of His life by faith in Him.
Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Those men are alive in spirit now, even though their bodies gave out long ago. Jesus “is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Mt. 22:32). Because Jesus lives, His people live also. His people are not the ones with a certain bloodline or lineage. They are the ones who believe His Word. This is what God’s Word is for—it brings Jesus with all His blessings into your mind and heart. The Apostle John said near the end of his Gospel that the signs and sayings of Jesus “are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). Who Is Jesus? He is the Lord and your Savior.
+ + +
(painting is portion of the altarpiece in Weimar by Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1555)