[Read John 8:42-59]
O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken?
Sometimes when a man is put on the spot – cornered – when the rubber hits the road – when the going gets tough – when a person is confronted with a conversation and ends up speaking his mind – or when he or she ends up in dire straits – then you see who they really are. Or, in those situations yourself, sometimes you see who you are.
Today’s Gospel begins, “Jesus said to them…” Who are ‘them’? Further up in the chapter we see the beginning of this part of the conversation – “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him…” [John 8:31]
The ‘them’ are those who had believed in Him. But now, as the rubber hits the road in this conversation they’re having with Jesus, it starts to become clear who they really are – that they really don’t believe in Him.
Sure, they were willing to believe in a version of Jesus, but not the Jesus they find in His Word. We’re all willing to believe in a version of Jesus – maybe one of our own making – but His Word is the critical point where rubber hits road and the going gets tough.
These ones “who had believed in Him” thought they knew who they themselves were. They say, “we are children of Abraham”; then they say, “we are children of God”. But Jesus sees, before they do, who they really are – “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here… Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires… because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? (yet, in a moment, they’ll seek to kill Him) 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.”
As Jesus had told them already, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” [John 8:31]
By all usual appearances, they were Christ’s followers – they are called those “who had believed in Him” – yet at the end of our Gospel, “they picked up stones to throw at Him.” Such stoning was their death penalty for serious crimes.
“Yes, I believe in Jesus, but I won’t believe that” – whatever that piece of His Word is that you are unwilling to believe.
That part of His Word these Jews were unwilling to believe was that part where Jesus declared Himself to be the great “I Am” – Yahweh, their God – the God Abraham knew and trusted – God the Son, the Son of God the Father – “before Abraham was, I am.”
What part of God’s Word will you leave the Lord over? “I would never leave Him!” You can leave Him with your feet and seat still present. Even with your service present. If you won’t believe Him, you’ve left Him. He doesn’t let us keep Him with only a part of His Word.
Jesus says, as He did to the Jews then, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God” – is willing to hear His words and does. “The reason why you do not hear them – why you’re not willing to hear His word; why His words are, to you, a burden or a bore – is that you are not of God.”
“Not of God? Could that be true? Here we are, after all.” Yes, and they were children of Abraham – but only according to the flesh. And here you are, according to the flesh. And me!
Let me ask you this: Our flesh – our human nature as born from our mom and dad’s flesh – our flesh, our human nature that comes from the sin-fallen nature of our first parents, Adam and Eve whose sin caused all human nature, all flesh, from which we come, to fall into sin and death and away from God – is any bit of our flesh a believing flesh?
The answer is, “No”. Our fallen human nature is an unbeliever. By Adam’s fall, our human nature fell into the devil’s grip. Jesus said to them, “You are of your father the devil” – the one who “is a liar and the father of lies” and “a murderer from the beginning.”
We are born dying in sin. Our sin-fallen nature comes from that day when man and woman believed the serpent’s lie instead of God’s words. Our nature is the same today. We’re born with it.
So, is there an unbeliever still clinging in you? Yes. You are born again by God’s Word in Baptism – by that birth of Baptism you are born of God and believe and abide in God’s words. But the old unbeliever is still grabbing on in there, not believing God’s truth but lies.
Be careful not to become those “who had believed in Him” by letting that old unbeliever, that old child of the deceiver, gain the dominance in you. Every time you scoff at that part of God’s Word you scoff at or are offended by – whatever part that is – you strengthen the unbeliever.
Brothers and sisters, let’s not wait until the rubber hits the road and it’s too late. Let’s be careful of our salvation now and be children of God who believe. Let’s know who we are and who our Savior is. Let’s look to that time – up on the cross – when all the rubber hit all the road for our sake.
We talked in the beginning of Lent about looking in the mirror. God’s Law is a mirror that shows me my sin that I may be turned to my Savior and be forgiven. The cross of Jesus – the place where He died – Christ crucified, hanging on that cross – in Jesus Christ crucified I find both a mirror and a window, showing me who I am and who He is.
A mirror – the mirror – which shows me the weight of the evil of my sins. On that cross, He became my sin [2 Corinthians 5:21]. On that cross, in His torn and bloodied flesh, I see my sins hanging on display. I shudder at the sight of my sins and of the magnitude of their evil.
It’s as we sang:
“O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken That such sharp sentence should on Thee be spoken? Of what great crime hast Thou to make confession--What dark transgression? They crown Thy head with thorns, they smite, they scourge Thee; With cruel mockings to the cross they urge Thee; They give Thee gall to drink, they still decry Thee; They crucify Thee. Whence come these sorrows, whence this mortal anguish? It is my sins for which Thou, Lord, must languish; Yea, all the wrath, the woe, Thou dost inherit, This I do merit.”
I see me, my sins, and what I deserve, in that grotesque and terrifying sight. I come to the knowledge of what I really am.
Yet, I see also, more so, as through a window, who God really is. I see God’s love for such a sinner and unbeliever as I – that for me Jesus suffered such anguish. Suffered it in my place, in my stead, that I am set free:
“What punishment so strange is suffered yonder! The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander; The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him, Who would not know Him. The sinless Son of God must die in sadness; The sinful child of man may live in gladness; Man forfeited his life and is acquitted--God is committed.”
When Jesus told the Jews who had believed in Him the truth of who He is, they picked up stones to stone Him. Why? What Law had He broken? He only told them the truth.
God’s Word – the Scriptures, the Bible [2 Timothy 3:16] – is always just telling us the truth. When God’s Word – or the preaching of God’s Word – puts us on the spot, let’s not pick up stones, but let’s thank God that His Word is always telling us the truth. Let’s be shown to be believers by our Baptism, not unbelievers anymore.
Let’s especially gives thanks for the man God is – the Man Jesus Christ. When rubber hit road, this Man-and-God Jesus Christ conquered death and devil, forgave all your sin by His agony and death, and gave new and eternal life to your flesh by His Resurrection. Thanks be to Jesus for being the God and Savior He is. Amen.