The Fifth Sunday in Lent (Judica)–3 April 2022
46 [Jesus said to them,] Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 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. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (ESV)
There is a kind of unbelief of which you and I are guilty—
the doubting of God’s ability to keep all His promises to us,
especially when we are discouraged
and struggling with our fears and afflictions.
And yet, by God’s grace, we are ever fighting against our unbelief
by putting our whole trust in God’s Word.
But there is another kind of unbelief,
which Psalm 1 mentions when it says: Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night (vv.1-2).
Here we have three categories of persistent unbelief.
The first category, “wicked”, refers to those people
who may not be militantly hostile toward God—
as some vocal atheists are today—
and they most likely are nice people.
Nonetheless, they have no use, no time, for God.
They exclude themselves
from the assembly of saints gathered around God’s Word
and they content themselves to live according to their own whims.
The second category, “sinners”, as understood in Psalm 1, refers to those who habitually and willfully sin with no intention of repenting.
And finally, scoffers are those who openly reject, mock, and scorn
God and His Word.
Psalm 1 describes persistent unbelief as a progression, a downward spiral
from neglecting God and His assembly of saints
to sinning presumptuously
to showing outright contempt and ridicule of God and His Word.
Those who refuse to tread the path
of this downward spiral of persistent unbelief—
those who, even in their troubles,
take delight in and meditate upon God’s Word,
they—you—are truly blessed.
Today’s Gospel presents us with a crowd
that started out claiming to believe in Jesus
but who end up showing themselves to be scoffers
who are adamant in their open rejection of Jesus.
They call Jesus a demon-possessed foreigner
and then they pick up stones to throw at Him, intending to kill Him.
But do you see what Jesus does in the face of such fierce hostility?
He speaks up and defends the truth.
Now, the prophet Isaiah had described Jesus as a Man who held His tongue:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth (53:7).
On Good Friday, when Jesus stood before His accusers
in the presence of Pontius Pilate and King Herod,
He gave no answer, not even to a single charge
(see Matthew 27:11-14 and Luke 23:6-9).
Before His accusers, Jesus allows His life to be covered with shame,
and He endures their accusations in silence.
In today’s Gospel, however, Jesus speaks up.
But do you see? Jesus is not defending His reputation
but rather the honour of God’s Word.
He is not seeking His own glory,
but He is adamantly defending and honouring God’s truth.
And the truth is that whoever keeps the Word of Jesus will never see death.
The truth is that Jesus is God the Father’s true Son,
who existed before Abraham.
The truth is that Jesus can rightfully claim
the ancient Name of God—“I Am”,
for, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
Jesus is Yawheh, the LORD God,
the eternal, almighty Maker of heaven and earth.
There is a lesson for us here, a lesson that is increasingly important
for us to learn as the world grows more and more hostile
to the Gospel and the Church of Christ.
We must learn to be willing to be despised for being Christians
and to have our reputations covered with shame
and to endure such opposition in silence.
But we must also learn to speak up and defend the teaching of the Word,
for the teaching is not ours but God’s.
We must be patient when the world covers our reputations with shame,
but our patience must cease
when God and His Word are being dishonoured.
Then, the time to be silent is over.
Then, as Martin Luther says: [we] must venture… all that we have
and suffer all that they inflict upon [us],
in order that the honour of God and God’s Word shall not suffer.
It matters little if I perish,
but if I let God’s Word perish and remain silent,
I do harm to God and all the world.
(Sermons from the year 1525. WA 17/2:233 Day by Day We Magnify You: Daily Readings for the Entire Year (Revised Edition, p. 378)
The expression “pushing the envelope”
gets its very literal meaning from stuffing a mail envelope so full
that it pushes and stretches outwards.
Nowadays, “pushing the envelope”
means testing the boundaries of a situation.
In today’s Gospel, you could say that Jesus is pushing the envelope.
In the face of hostility to God’s truth,
Jesus is testing the boundaries of God’s truth concerning Himself,
In essence, Jesus is showing the crowd and us that there are no boundaries
as to how highly we can honour Jesus.
Oh, there are certainly boundaries about what you can say about Jesus.
You cannot say that Jesus is only a man.
You cannot say that there was a time when Jesus did not exist.
You cannot say that
Jesus is greater or less than the Father and the Holy Spirit.
These statements are out-of-bounds because they are simply not true.
However, there are no limits as to how highly you can honour Jesus
as He is revealed in Scripture,
as God’s Son, who has existed for all eternity,
and who is God-in-the-flesh, come to save sinners.
Concerning this world’s scoffers, Jesus speaks this word of judgment:
whoever denies Me before men,
I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven…
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
(Matthew 10:33: Mark 8:38).
But blessed are you and me and all who honour Jesus aright.
Blessed are all who confess Jesus as God’s Son,
who has existed for all eternity,
and who is God-in-the-flesh, come to save sinners.
Yes, blessed are we, for our Saviour gives us this great and precious promise:
everyone who acknowledges me before men,
I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven
As long as we remain steadfast in honouring Jesus aright,
it matters little if we perish at the hands of scoffers
persecuting the Church.
For we who honour the Son
honour the Father who sent Him (see John 5:21-24),
and Christ Himself remains with us as our mighty fortress.
Yes, in this hostile world, Christ is by our side
with His good gifts and Spirit.
And though scoffers take our life, /Goods, fame, child and wife
Though these all be gone, / Our vict’ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth (see LSB 656).
Shortly after the Day of Pentecost,
Saints Peter and John were arrested by the authorities,
who ordered them
not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18).
Upon their release, Peter and John sought out their fellow believers.
And they lifted their voices together to God and said,
Lord, look upon [the] threats [of the authorities]
and grant to your servants
to continue to speak your word with all boldness…
And when they had prayed,
the place in which they were gathered together was shaken,
and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Act 4:29, 31).
May God fill us afresh with the Holy Spirit
and grant us the strength and the faithfulness
to speak His Word with all boldness
and to honour Jesus aright.
The devil and the world do not mind
if we call Jesus a prophet, or a teacher, or a good man.
But when it comes to boldly confessing Jesus aright,
our calling is to push the envelope to the highest limits,
to show the world that there are no boundaries
as to how highly Jesus is to be honoured.
Here are some biblical statements about Jesus
that the devil and world do not want you to proclaim:
God will judge your secrets by Christ Jesus (see Romans 2:16).
Jesus is Lord both of the dead and of the living (Romans 14:9).
We must all appear
before the judgment seat of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:10).
Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—
all things were created through Him and for Him.
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together…
He upholds the universe by the word of His power.
(see Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:3).
The crowd did not like what Jesus had to say
about His being the sinless, life-giving, eternal Son of God.
And the world today certainly does not like our bold confession of Jesus.
But we must go on confessing Jesus as the Name that is above every name,
[and] that at the name of Jesus every knee [shall] bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (see Philippians 2:9-11).
As we live in an unbelieving, even hostile world,
we honour Jesus and His Word,
knowing that whoever hears His word
and believes in the Father who sent Jesus
has eternal life.
We who keep the word of Jesus will never see death.
Yes, we who honour Jesus do not come into judgment,
but have passed from death to life (see John 5:24).
When the world despises us for being Christians
and covers our reputations with shame,
let us endure such opposition in silence.
But when God and His Word are being dishonoured,
let us venture all that we have, even our lives,
to honour God and His Word.
Let us honour Jesus with the highest praise,
exalting Him as the Lord of lords and King of kings
who is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and above every name that is named,
not only in this age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:21).
This side of heaven,
we all struggle to stand firm in the faith
against the scorn of the scoffing world.
But thanks be to God
that Jesus did not shrink from the mockery and scorn
hurled against Him when He was hanging on the cross,
dying in our place, bearing our sins.
Jesus endured the world’s scorn bravely.
As bravely as He took the physical abuse,
so did He take this emotional and spiritual abuse.
And do not underestimate how hard that must have been.
The mocks and jeers and scorn hurled at Jesus must have been like a sword, piercing His heart—His heart that so loved the world
as He was hanging there for the life of the world.
An ungrateful world. A hateful world.
But hang there on the cross and take it He did.
That shows us the measure of God’s love for you and me, for one and all.
No matter who we are or what we have done,
no matter how often we have given up and given in
or even joined the crowd of scoffers at times,
Jesus stayed there, hung there, and endured the cross, despising its shame,
all for the joy that was set before Him (see Hebrews 12:2)—
the joy of paying for our sins
and winning for us our forgiveness, life and salvation.
And now, in this world of scoffers, we forgiven sinners
live in the joy of honouring Jesus
by confessing with our mouths that Jesus is Lord
and believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead.
We live in the joy of knowing that no one who believes in Jesus
will be put to shame
and that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved
(see Romans 10:9-13).
Blessed are you, then,
who take great delight in honouring Jesus and His Word. Amen.