O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Thems Fightin' Words
Thems Fightin' Words
Based on John 8:48-59
Preached on May 26, 2013
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Fellow baptized saints, you who will never see death, have you ever entered a room and realized you had walked right into the middle of a conversation? It is always confusing, and sometimes it is a little shocking. Like when your friends are talking about something you weren't supposed to hear. You walk in with a big smile… "And that was the second time that black wart appeared on my body." Uhhh, Hi. Other times it can be rather intense. Like when you walk into the middle of a fight. Have you ever done that? You come in from outside and there are two people fighting. Voices are raised. Accusations are flying across the room. The tension is tangible. The tone of the voices alone makes you stiffen up, let alone the posturing and the gestures. Part of you wants to turn and run away, but you realize that you had better listen carefully in order to understand what this is all about.
That is what is happening in our Gospel reading this morning. We have walked right into the middle of a conversation, a fight. In fact, we have walked in on the climax of the fight, the boiling point of this two chapter long showdown between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. They have been at it for a while. And so before we turn and run away, we had better listen carefully in order to understand what this is all about.
Now the leadup to this fight is extremely important, because it sets the stage (or what we might call the ring) for this boxing match. All of this takes places in the Temple. God's holy Temple. That's right, here we see Jesus fighting in the Temple. And the best part is He started it. He is the one who disrupts the apple cart.
You see, this whole showdown happens in the middle of an important festival called the Feast of Booths. Or the Feast of Tents. During this seven day feast, all Hebrew men would travel to Jerusalem where they would live in tents. Like tenting in your backyard for a week. Sounds kinda fun right. Well it was. It was a party. A celebration to remember how God protected them in the wilderness when they lived in tents, how the great "I AM," who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, lead them through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. It was a special time for them, and Jesus knew this.
So on the last day of the Feast, the big day, the climax of the celebration at which there is a huge washing ceremony with all sorts of water, Jesus stood up and cried out "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." Kind of an inflammatory thing to do, no? You can picture Him yelling at the crowd, "Hey everyone, this whole feast, this whole celebration - it is really about me! Focus on me." What a way to ruin the party! Especially because when He said this it caused great division among those celebrating the feast. Some thought He was the Christ and others wanted to arrest Him. The leaders even sent officers to round Him up but they returned without Him, saying "No one ever spoke like this man!"
But Jesus didn't stop there. He continued to pick a fight. You see, every night during this festival the whole city of Jerusalem was filled with lights. The streets, the courtyards, the market - filled with lights as a reminder of how God led His people through the wilderness as a pillar of fire by night. This fire, this light had been their guide, particularly in the dark. It had kept them alive, and brought them to the Promised Land. Even while the crowds were still abuzz about His living water declaration, Jesus spoke to them again saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." It is as if He were saying, "That pillar of fire, that light you're your fathers followed - that was me." This whole feast is about me. And I call you all to follow me.
Now this is more or less where we walked in on the fight. There had been some more civilized arguing initially but it only escalated to this climactic moment we find in our text. This moment when the Jewish leaders' arguments have failed and they have resorted to mere name calling. They said, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" It is like that moment on the playground when the talk turns into Nanananana - you're a smelly face. The moment right before things get violent. It is like they wanted to make Jesus angry so that He would take the first swing.
But they were dealing with the Son of God here. Jesus calmly responded, "I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father. I lift Him up. And you dishonor me. You put me down, yet I do not seek my own glory. There is One who seeks it, and he is the judge." My Father. He seeks glory. He makes glory. And He will judge what is glory. I am just here to do His bidding. Which by the way is to let you kill me. But I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, receives my word, guards my word, holds onto my word, cherishes my word - has faith in my word - he will never see death. Death he will by no means theorasai - a Greek word meaning "be a spectator of." He will not observe death. His eyes will never perceive death - that is, he will never experience eternal death.
If anyone keeps my word. What word? - I am the light of the world - If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. I am the Son of God - Me, the One this feast is all about - Jesus - the Christ.
Oh, this got the Jews going. They 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.' Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be Jesus?" You probably noticed that they changed Jesus' words. They were not listening. They still were not getting what He was saying. Jesus was talking about eternal death, and they began talking about physical death. It was like they were running a smear campaign on His ministry, flagrantly misquoting Him in front of the crowds. But Jesus was here to fight remember. And He responded in kind.
He said, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, 'He is our God.' 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."
Here Jesus offends everyone, not just the leaders and the crowds in the Temple, but you and me as well. He picks a fight with your old Adam. Whatever you think you are, He says, you are a liar, for you do not know the Father. You may be physically alive, but you are spiritually and eternally dead, born under of the power of darkness, because of original sin. And you need to be rescued before you physically die. You cannot make it back to the Father, just as God's people would not have survived in tents on their own. That is why He sent Me - the pillar of fire - the light of the world - His only Son. I have come to rescue you. To shed my blood for liars. To put your darkness to death in my body on the cross, and rise and return to My Father for you. I do know Him and I keep His Word - I believe, teach, and confess it - even though I must die for it.
"Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."
This statement is what the whole fight had been leading up to. Here they were on the highest day of the feast, celebrating the God who said to Moses, "I Am That I Am" -when you go to lead the people out into the wilderness in tents - tell them "I AM" sent you - And Jesus plainly said, "That was me. I was the One who spoke to Moses in the burning bush. I was the One who led you into of the Promised Land as a pillar of fire. I AM That I AM. Abraham looked to me and saw me because I am God. I and the Father are One. I am part of the Trinity. One God yet Three Persons. And I am the Son.
Finally they knew exactly what He was saying - finally they understood His words - for immediately they picked up stones to kill Him - for His words would be blasphemy unless He were speaking the truth. Now they had Him. Right in front of the crowd. They had their stones in hand. They drew back their arms to throw. Jesus was going to pay for His Word. But He hid Himself from them and just walked away. Like something malfunctioned. Like the throwers got confused as He calmly walked by. He was here and then he was here and then he was gone.
His time had not yet come. Yes, He would give Himself into their hands to be killed for blasphemy. But it would be at the time appointed by the Father, for though these Jewish leaders seemed nasty, there were bigger enemies to fight. Even Sin, Death and the Devil. Jesus, the great "I AM," came to fight these enemies for you. This is why He fights. This is why He goes looking for a scrap. Because you need Him to. He has come to rescue you from the dark things that have enslaved you. Even from your lies. I know this world often feels like a wilderness, and the fighting that surrounds you makes you want to run away, but there is One who fights for you, One who dies for you, One who rises for you and promises you the same. Trust His Word. Cherish His Word. Guard His Word. And you will never see death. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr