March 18, 2018
The Jews proudly claimed to be children of Abraham. In verse 33 of this same chapter they answered Jesus, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone." It was to Abraham that God promised to give the land of Canaan and that his descendants should be as numerous as the dust of the ground. Abraham was the grandfather of Jacob, later named Israel from whom the twelve tribes of Israel descended. To be a child of Abraham is a great distinction. It means that you are a child of promise, a member of a holy people. It means that God is your Father, as the Jews themselves said to Jesus in this same discourse, "We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father- even God." (vs. 41) But these Jews, although physically were descendants of Abraham, were not children of Abraham nor could they claim God as their Father.
Jesus said to the Jews, "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." (vss. 39-40) They aren't the children of Abraham, because they do not do the works Abraham did. What were the works Abraham did? Jesus tells us, "Your Father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." (vs. 56.) How did Abraham, who lived eighteen centuries before Jesus see Jesus' day? He saw it through faith. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1) The work of Abraham is to hear and believe the word of God. Abraham is the man of faith. His children are his children through faith, as St. Paul writes in Galatians chapter 3, "Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.' So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." (vss. 7-9)
Just because a person is a physical descendant of Abraham, does not make him a child of Abraham. And even those who are not physical descendants of Abraham can still be his children through faith, as God himself promised to Abraham just a few verses after our Old Testament lesson, "And in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." (Genesis 22:18)
Young Jarrett's father has been a member of Trinity Lutheran Church his entire life. His grandfather is a lifelong member of this congregation. Even his great-grandfather was a long-time member of Trinity Lutheran Church. While that is truly wonderful, that does not make Jarrett a member of this congregation nor a child of God. All of us are born in sin and must confess with King David, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Psalm 51:5) And St. Paul tells us, "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." (1 Corinthians 15:50) We inherit only sin and death from our fathers. And that is why Jarret was brought here to be baptized today.
Jesus says, "Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."(vs. 47) Those who are of God listen to God's Word. Those who are not of God cannot listen to God's Word. You must be of God in order to listen and believe in God's Word. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (vss. 12-14)
Unless the Holy Spirit intercede, we are incapable of believing in Christ and becoming children of God. Yet, the Holy Spirit does work through God's Word and Baptism. This is why Jarrett's parents brought him to be baptized today. They want him to be God's child, so that he can continue to cherish God's Word and have eternal life. Through this second birth of water and the Spirit, Jarrett has received a pedigree far more excellent than the name Klyn or any other name under heaven can give him. Through this second birth in Baptism, the Holy Spirit has made Jarrett a child of Abraham, the man of faith. God is now Jarrett's Father and his earthly father and mother will teach him to call God, Father with confidence when they teach him to pray the Lord's Prayer. And he will be brought up to hear and believe the Word of God, just as his father Abraham believed God.
"Whoever is of God hears the words of God." That is why you all come here, isn't it? To hear the Word of God. That means that you are of God. That is truly a great honor. Yet, the benefits of hearing God's Word only begin there. Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death." (vs. 51)
What a fantastic promise this is! If we truly believed this promise from Jesus, we would cling to his words for dear life and desire constantly to learn from Jesus. All other things in life would be of lesser importance, if we truly believed that the one who keeps Jesus' word will never see death!
But what does it mean to keep Jesus' word? It means to hear and read it as often as you can, so that the promises and wisdom of God are always on your heart and tongue. Jesus says, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciple, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32) Those who are of God abide in Jesus' word. They make Jesus' word their dwelling place. God's word transforms them, so that their whole life revolves around it, not just on Sunday morning. How you raise your children depends on God's Word. How you speak to your parents hangs on God's Word. How you behave at work and at school and with your friends is ruled by what you learn and believe from your Savior Jesus.
And when God's word so permeates your life, you are able to have peace within, even as the world rages around you. Because as the world around you changes, God's promises stay the same as does his love and forgiveness. You can follow the example of your father in the faith Abraham, who did not regard his perishing body when he heard God's promise, but believed that God would make a great nation from him. And even more than that, he was able to look beyond his own grave and see the day of Christ and rejoice in it. And so, you too, having trusted in Jesus' word can with confidence face death, knowing that you belong to God and God is the God of the living, not of the dead.
But what of those, who are not of God; who refuse to listen to God's Word? Jesus said to the Jews, who refused to believe his Word, "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." (vss. 43-44) Jesus is not charitable at all with his words toward those who refuse to hear his word. And for good reason. To refuse to listen to God's Word is the most dangerous sin you can commit. An adulterer can repent. A murderer can hear the absolution as from God himself and die at peace with God. Whatever sin you've committed, God willingly forgives for the sake of Christ's suffering and death. But how can those, who refuse to hear God repent or receive forgiveness from God? They cannot. Their faith dies and they cannot be saved.
The Third Commandment is "Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy." Your Small Catechism explains it thus, "We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching and his Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it." Many don't think that they despise God's preaching and word when they refuse to hear and learn it, but that is exactly what they do. Those, who are of God hear the words of God. Those, who are not of God refuse to listen.
These particular Jews, who were talking with Jesus were not of God. They said to our Lord, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" (vs 48) This is the common progression of those who refuse to hear God's Word. They start out saying, "Well, I don't despise God's Word. I just have other things going on." But then the refusal to listen to God's Word leads to blasphemy and mockery. And we see this often through popular entertainment, the Christian faith and our God are mocked more than any other faith and we are accused of hatred, bigotry, and stupidity for following Christ.
At the end of our lesson these unbelievers picked up stones to throw at Jesus. This again is the natural evolution of those, who hate Jesus' Word. They begin by refusing to hear it. Then they mock it. Then, they become violent towards those who speak it. And we have seen this throughout Church history. While the Christian Church has remained from the time of the Apostles, their persecutors have shifted shape from Roman pagans, to Islamic jihadists, to atheistic Communist regimes. Christians, especially those who confess out-loud the name of Christ are physically abused and killed.
Yet, you don't need to travel to ISIS controlled territory in the Middle East or to North Korea to witness violence against those who speak God's Word. You can find it right here in America, in this town, in your homes, in this congregation, even within your own heart. St. John warns, "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." (1 John 3:15) Okay, perhaps we don't have too many people picking up stones and killing those, who speak God's Word. But Scripture tells us that murder begins in the heart. Has a brother or sister in Christ confronted you with God's Word or spoken a truth from God's Word that has caused you to get angry and to hate? Some will even hate their pastor, because they don't like the Word of God he teaches. This is a call to repentance for all of us. And this warning should urge us not to forsake hearing God's Word. How quickly can our sinful hearts turn us not only to ignore God's Word, but to hate those who speak it.
The Jews wanted to stone Jesus, because he said, "Before Abraham was, I AM." Not, before Abraham was, I was. No, Jesus is. He is always present. He is eternal. Jesus is God. In fact, when Moses asked God in the burning bush, what his name was, God said, "I AM WHO I AM. Say to the people of Israel, I AM has sent you." (Exodus 3:14)
For those, who refused to hear Jesus' Word, this claim to be God infuriated them to the point of murder. But for us, who are of God and who cling to God's promise of eternal life, Jesus' claim to be God gives us great joy and confidence. How can Jesus say that whoever keeps his word will never see death? No one else can say that! Pick your philosopher or guru, find the best life coach or advice-giver. Can any of them promise that if you keep their words, you will never see death? No! Of course not! But Jesus can and does. Because, Jesus is God! His word created life in the first place! And his word will give you eternal life.
Jesus' divinity gives power to his blood. Our Epistle lesson tells us that the blood of Christ purifies our consciences, that is, it forgives our sins. Goats blood can't do that. Ordinary human blood can't do it either. But Jesus is both a human being and God. His death on the cross is more precious than any sacrifice to God. And his blood has the power to wash away your sins.
This is also why we have such confidence in Jarrett's Baptism, that he is a child of God, and our Baptism as well. In Baptism, God is at work. It looks like Jarrett just got his head wet with water, but the holy blood of Christ our God purified him and cleansed him of all sin. How can water do such great things? Because of the Word of God. And whoever abides in this word will live forever. Amen.