March 29, 2020
St. John speaks of the Jews as Jesus’ opponents in our Gospel lesson. That doesn’t sit right with our 21st century ears. It’s not politically-correct. St. John makes the Jews sound like bad guys. And, indeed, in recent decades the Gospel of John has been accused of antisemitism. Of course, St. John was not an anti-Semite. St. John himself was a Jew. All of Jesus’ disciples were Jewish. Jesus is a Jew. In fact, everyone in our Gospel lesson, including the author is Jewish. Yet, the author John uses the title “Jews” to refer to those Jews, who followed the Jewish religious leaders. It’s a figure of speech called synecdoche in which a part is referred to as a whole or vice versa. For example, Kansas City won the Super Bowl. Obviously, not everyone who lives in Kansas City won the Super Bowl, but the players for the team, which represents Kansas City won the Super Bowl. So, St. John calls those who follow the Jewish religious elite, Jews, even though he is not speaking of everyone of Jewish descent.
He does this a bit ironically. The term “Jew” refers to those descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel: God’s chosen people! Yet, these Jews are Jews in name only. How can that be? Because not everyone who has Jewish blood is a child of Abraham and son of God. But rather, those who believe the words of God are true children of God and members of the House of Israel, as St. Paul, another Jew wrote in Romans chapter 9, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’” (vss. 6-7) And again this Jewish Apostle wrote to the Galatians in 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)
These Jews, who opposed Jesus, were proud to be Jews. They called themselves sons of Abraham, even sons of God! They thought they were children of Abraham and that God was their Father, because they were born to Jewish parents. Yet, as Jesus pointed out, they did not do the works of Abraham or listen to God’s word. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” Jesus says. Because they did not listen to Jesus’ words, Jesus rightly concluded that these Jews were Jews in name only, and were rightly called children of the devil (John 8:44).
What a contrast. They accuse Jesus of being a Samaritan (meaning a non-Jewish foreigner), who has a demon. Jesus claims rather to be the Son of God. They claim to be true children of Abraham with God as their Father. Yet, Jesus accuses them of being children of the devil, who do his evil will. What Jesus says is true. What these Jews in name only say is false. Jesus is the true Son of God, the promised Seed of Abraham, who is a blessing to all peoples. These Jews, who reject Jesus’ word are children of the devil like the rest of mankind, who reject God’s Word.
Children of God are not born according to the flesh. Children of God are born only according to the Spirit. It does not matter who your parents are. It does not matter what nation you belong to, what color skin you have, what language you speak. Not even your membership at a local congregation determines whether you are a child of God. You are only a child of God when you hear and believe the words of God. Jesus says earlier in this chapter, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” If you do not abide in Jesus’ word, then you are not of God.
There is no neutral ground. You are either of God or you are of the devil. All mankind is born bound to Satan. We were children of wrath. That is why we baptize babies. If you are not with God, you are against God. If you are not a child of God, then you are a slave of Satan.
This isn’t just rhetoric. This is reality. Those who do not believe the words of God work against God. They deny the divinity of Christ. They deny his power to give eternal life to whomever believes in him. They reject the command to repent of sins and trust in God’s mercy.
So, it is important that we examine ourselves and ask, “Am I a Christian in name only.” These Jews were children of Abraham only in name, but not in reality. They did not listen to the God Abraham trusted in, otherwise they would have recognized Jesus as the promised Christ. And many are Christians in name only. They call themselves Christians. They call God their Father. But they do not hear the words of God. They do not abide in the words of Christ.
This certainly is an indictment against Christians who neglect hearing and learning God’s Word. There is a commonly repeated phrase that has caused much harm to the souls of many Christians: You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. Now, at a very shallow level, this statement is true. Many of Satan’s lies have a smattering of truth. You don’t have to go to a church building and worship God there in order to be a Christian. Look at us! Are we taking a break from being Christians, because we are kept from gathering at the church? Certainly not! We still trust in our Savior Jesus and gladly hear and learn his word as we are able. Likewise, our homebound members and those in the hospital or deployed overseas or otherwise unable physically to go to a church building are still Christians, as long as they have faith in Christ and gladly hear his words.
But the statement, “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian” is not used to mean that you don’t need to go to a church building to be a Christian. No one believes that you do. Rather, this statement is used to excuse not hearing and learning God’s Word. Yet, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28) What else is the church other than Jesus’ sheep? What else does it mean to gather as the church other than gathering around the voice of Christ.? If we refuse to hear this voice, we are not of God. Let this be a warning to all, who refuse to hear God’s preaching and word. That is not how Christians behave. If you find yourself behaving this way, repent and believe in the Gospel!
Yet, it is not only those who refuse to hear the word of God preached who are Christians in name only. These Jews, who opposed Jesus, in fact did listen to lots of preaching. But they rejected the true preaching and listened to lies. There are many churches that claim the name Christian, but they reject the teachings of Christ. Many say that it doesn’t matter what a church teaches; all that matters is that you love Jesus. Well, that’s not true. It matters what a church teaches, because it matters what Jesus teaches.
Jesus preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47). Yet many churches with the name Christian refuse to teach that people should repent of their sins. Like dogs that refuse to bark when a burglar breaks in at night, so these preachers refuse to warn people of the danger of their sin as Jesus Christ commanded. Many churches with the name Christian deny that Jesus is the only way to heaven. In saying this, they say that Jesus is equal to Satan.
No, we must not just call ourselves Christians. We must do as Christians do. We must hear the words of Christ. Abide in his word and do the works of God. This means that we should also mark and avoid those churches that claim to be Christian while they reject the teachings of Christ Jesus from the Bible.
And what does Jesus teach us? From this Gospel lesson alone, Jesus teaches us the way to everlasting life! These Jews denied a God, who could give eternal life. They confessed Abraham to be dead and the prophets to be dead. But Jesus preaches a God of the living, not of the dead. He preaches a God, who gives eternal life to all who believe in Christ.
Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day; he saw it and was glad. How could Abraham, who lived two thousand years before Jesus have seen Jesus, who was just a thirty-year-old man? Because Jesus is Christ, the Son of God. God promised to send the Christ through Abraham’s lineage. Abraham believed this promise by faith. Abraham saw Jesus through faith, when he according to God’s Word attempted to sacrifice his only son Isaac, whom he loved. Yet, Christ stopped Abraham and instead provided a ram. So, Abraham confessed that God would provide. God would provide a sacrifice, that would make atonement for all our sins. God did not require Abraham to sacrifice his only son, whom he loved. But God would sacrifice His only Son, whom he loved. God would provide!
Jesus Christ is the appointed Sacrifice for our sins. His blood makes satisfaction for our sins. How can this be? How can one man’s death make satisfaction for the sins of the whole world? Again, Jesus tells us, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
Not before Abraham was, I was. He’s not just older than Abraham. Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” God told Moses at the burning bush that his name was, “I AM.” So, the people of God called him, “Yawheh,”, which is translated, “He is.” He is. He always is. He has no beginning or end. Jesus says, “I am.” Jesus is God. He is before Abraham. He is now. He is forever.
The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the sacrifice of the eternal Son of God on the cross. His death fully pays for all our sins. If you believe Jesus is God, then believe that your sins are forgiven! The Jews scoffed that Jesus could give eternal life. He’d have to be eternal to do that. Well, Jesus is eternal. If they listened to him and believed his word, they would know that.
During this global pandemic we hear a lot about how it is important that we listen to the experts, especially the scientists and healthcare professionals. And this, of course, makes sense. They know more about this disease than most of us. And since this virus has the potential to kill many people and has already killed thousands worldwide, it is wise for us to listen to those with the greater knowledge. This is a matter of life and death. We need to be careful that we don’t just listen to people spouting off their own opinions
Your faith in Christ, likewise, is a matter of life and death, except at a much greater magnitude. We are talking of eternal life or eternal damnation. If you shouldn’t just listen to any old Joe’s opinion on matters concerning the coronavirus, then you certainly shouldn’t just follow any old Joe’s opinion on sin, righteousness, faith, and salvation. You should listen to Jesus. When someone spouts off his opinion about something not being a sin or not being important to your faith or what you should believe, you should ask where in the Bible it says that. Jesus says that in the Scriptures we have eternal life, because the Scriptures bear witness about him. That is why we hold the Bible so dearly. That is why we expect our pastors to teach us from the Bible, not their own opinions or according to the desires of itching ears.
When we listen to those, who dismiss what the Bible teaches, we do not follow Jesus. Rather, we follow our own sinful desires and we do the will of the devil. That is a deadly path that leads to being a Christian in name only, but not in reality. Yet, when we listen to Jesus, what do we learn? Yes, we learn of our need to repent of our sins. We learn to be humble before our God and before others. Yet, we also learn of the only God, who saves. We learn that God provided his very own Son to be the sacrifice for all our sins. We learn that his blood forgives us and gives us eternal life. We learn that this God, who provides us with eternal life, also provides for our daily needs as often as we ask him.
When we listen and cherish the words of Christ, we learn that we are God’s children. We learn that as God’s children, who keep his words, we will never see death. Amen.