Keep the Word, Keep Jesus, Keep Life.
The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 8:46-59
In Christ Jesus, who is what we are not, and who gives us what we do not have, dear fellow redeemed:
Human beings all start in the same way. They are made of the same stuff. Babies of rich people are not born wearing designer clothes. Still we can’t seem to help elevating some people above others. Simply because of who they are, we listen more carefully to them and afford them greater honor. We dream about being like them and try to mimic what they do. This is true in politics where families like the Kennedys, Bushes, and Clintons have enjoyed long-running prominence. It is also true of icons in the entertainment industry—professional athletes, actors, singers, and musicians. Since these celebrities are so successful, then they must have a lot to offer us.
But richer is not automatically better, talented is not the same as truthful, and popular is not equivalent to noble and good. Job from the Old Testament recognized that his great wealth did not change the human condition. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,” he said, “and naked shall I return” (Job 1:21). We come into the world with nothing, and we take nothing from the world with us when we die. When death comes, we leave behind our friends and family, property, treasured heirlooms, bank accounts, and social status. The only thing anybody can take along into death is faith or unbelief.
Jesus said as much to the Jews, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). They replied, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone” (v. 33). These Jews thought they were in good favor with God simply because of their bloodline. They could trace their descent back to Abraham, which must mean they were heirs of God’s special promises to him. Jesus would not let that illusion stand. He said plainly, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did” (vv. 39-40).
The Lord is not impressed by name-dropping. It does not matter to Him who we know, what family we come from, or what we have made of ourselves. You and I do not have eternal life because our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents were Christians. They had a great influence on us, no doubt, for which we should be grateful. But they cannot believe for us. Faith comes in only one way, and it isn’t genetically. “[F]aith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The Jews refused to hear Christ’s Word, which is why they had no faith. As notable as their connection to Abraham was, this could not save them.
But the Jews did not agree that they were without the Word of God. In fact, they would have known their Old Testament Scriptures very well. They were trained from young on to know the Scriptures in a much more thorough way than we learn it in Catechism Class today. But diligently studying the truth is not the same as believing it. The Jews thought their relationship to Abraham along with their outward keeping of God’s law was sufficient for eternal life. This is why they rejected Jesus, who told them that salvation is gained by neither of these things. He said that those are saved who repent and believe God’s promise of the Messiah.
Jesus wants to teach us the same thing. He wants you to ask yourself if you are confident of salvation simply because you come from a good Christian family or attend a good church or because you live an outwardly good life. You know that these things cannot save you. But they may be bigger factors in your mind than you realize. Ask yourself how far you are willing to go to keep and defend the Word of God. Would you confront and warn a family member—a child, a sibling, a parent, a cousin, etc.—if they were living or acting contrary to the Word? Would you be willing to leave your beloved church if the pastor and congregation members started teaching what is wrong? Would you leave the company of friends who misuse God’s name and make light of His Word?
Following the Word is no cakewalk. Look at what happened to Jesus. He perfectly followed the Word and obeyed the will of His Father. For this, he was accused of being immoral and having a demon, and His own people wanted Him to die a painful death. Even His close family members rejected Him, at least for a time (Jn. 7:5). Jesus knows firsthand how uncomfortable it is for believers in this fallen world. He knows how challenging it is to remain with the truth and reject error. But it is a journey that must be taken, a battle that must be waged. The stakes could not be higher. Keeping and defending the Word of God is nothing less than a matter of life and death.
The world tells you that what matters is prosperity, power, prestige, and let’s not forget, peace with one another at any cost. Jesus tells us that the Gospel divides and brings trouble in the world (Mt. 10:34). It divides because many wish to remain in the darkness of sin and not come into the light of righteousness. They do not want to hear God’s law, but rather desire a life of free license. Jesus says, “For whoever would save his life [by going along with the world] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mk. 8:35-38).
I am sure it is not difficult for you, just as it is not for me, to think of times that you felt or acted ashamed of Jesus and His Word. When love compelled you to warn a brother or sister in Christ about their sin, you told yourself that the loving thing to do was remain silent. When you should have led your family in the Word at home, you found a thousand other things to do first. When you should have regularly examined and tested your own faith (2Cor. 13:5), you contented yourself with a simple knowledge of God’s Word. You and I would never dare to issue the challenge that Jesus did, “Which one of you convicts Me of sin?” Our sin is abundant. Even if others do not know the full extent of it, we do.
But Jesus could ask that question honestly. He had no sin. When the chief priests and Jewish council conducted their sham trial to convict Jesus, they found it impossible to pin any particular sin on Him. “[M]any bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree” (Mk. 14:56). This is because Jesus was perfect. He did not look for help from any influential friend or famous family member. He put His life in God the Father’s hands, knowing that He had kept God’s holy Word. The Apostle Peter writes, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1Pe. 2:22-23). But why?
The next verse explains, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (v. 24). Jesus was crucified for you, so that you might die and live—die to the sin that clings to you in your old Adam, and live to the righteousness that comes by faith. You die and live every day by repenting of your sins and trusting in Jesus’ forgiveness. This is the pattern of the Christian life. This is how you honor and glorify Jesus and His Word. This is how you return to Jesus’ atoning death and to your baptism which united you with Him.
When you come before Jesus in this humble manner, with your heart full of sorrow and remorse for sin, He does not turn you away. He does not tell you that you messed up one time too many, or that your faith is not strong enough for Him. He promises, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (Jn. 6:37). He takes it even further and says that everyone who believes in Him has the full forgiveness of all his sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. This is what Jesus meant when He told the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word—believes My Word—, he will never see death.”
They ridiculed Him for saying that the one who believes the Word will not die. After all, Abraham and the prophets were long dead! But Jesus was talking about spiritual and eternal death. Those who trust in Him may die temporarily in the body, but their soul lives. And even their physical death is no different to God than a sleep, from which He will again wake them. Faith in Jesus lives on because Jesus lives. He is the great “I AM,” the ever-present, ever-living Lord of heaven. As He said, “I AM the way, and the truth, and the life,” and “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn. 14:6, 11:26).
Abraham and all the prophets and saints have nothing more than you have, because there is nothing lasting to be had apart from Jesus. Keep and defend and cling to the Word because then you will have Jesus, and having Jesus, you will also have eternal life.
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.
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