Lent 5 – Judica
7 April 2019
St. John 8:42-59
If a prophet claimed that Abraham rejoiced to see his day, a pious Jew would not have been bothered. The Old Testament knows the faithful dead retain some sense of awareness of our world and that the prophecies are progressing over time toward the Messiah. If a prophet said that no one who kept his word would die this would not be scandalous either. There is a sense in which the prophet’s words are not his own .They are God’s words.
But the claim “Before Abraham was, I am,” could not be said by a mere prophet.Here Christ does more than claim to be without beginning, which is true of no mere man, but more bold is that He takes up the Name of God from the burning bush as His own. He says that He is I AM.
Thus the leaders of the Jews pick up stones to kill Him. Stoning is the punishment for blasphemy. And if Jesus had been only a Man born not of a virgin but of Mary and the will of Joseph or some human father, than His words would have been blasphemy, but He was not, as was foretold and as He demonstrated in Word and Deed.
Ten chapters later in John, Our Lord will again make this claim for Himself as He is arrested in the garden. He asks the soldiers, “Whom do you seek.” They reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.” He then says “I AM” and the Name knocks the soldiers to the ground. They were not knocked about by blasphemy, to that, they were well accustomed. Rather it was the truth and power of God’s glory in His Name that knocked them down.
In Luke’s Gospel, we hear Him say this to Caiaphas at the illegal, pre-dawn trial before the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas asks Jesus to tell them directly if He is the Messiah or not and then if He is the Son of God. Our Lord says “You say that I AM.” In response, Caiaphas will rend his garments as though there has been terrible blasphemy and then say, “What further testimony do we need?” Caiaphas means that Jesus deserves death for this. If so, then Jesus should be stoned. But if they stone Him the people will be angry.
Caiaphas and his friends don’t care about the Law or blasphemy. They care only about their positions and power. So they manipulate Pilate to do their dirty work. Pilate doesn’t care about blasphemy so they have to make up a different accusation in front of him. They come up with sedition and claim that Christ has set Himself up as a King against Caesar. Pilate, to his shame, has the wisdom to see through the charge but lacks the moral strength to do the right thing.
When Our Lord says this to Caiaphas, “You say I AM,” He is saying more than “Yes, I Am Yahweh, the God Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the One who led the people out of Egypt and wrote the Law with His finger on the tables of stone. I am the Messiah, the Son of God.” He is also saying that Caiaphas says this. He says that Jesus is Yahweh when he leads worship in the Temple. It is Jesus’ Temple and they are the priests of Jesus. The Liturgy and sacrifices, Psalms and hymns all confess Him. Thus they are the blasphemers, for their daily work says that He is Yahweh and yet their for the sake of their bellies they lie against what they know and mock His Word and Truth.
In John 8 it is much the same. Let him who is without sin pick up the first stone. Who do these men think that they are? They pick up stones to kill Him even though they are the blasphemers not HIm. In some ways they are enacting the Baptist’s hyperbolic prediction. On the banks of the Jordan he called this same group a brood of vipers. Then he said that God could raise up children of Abraham from stones. They raise stones up for what purpose? Again on Palm Sunday, this group will complain that the people are praising Our Lord as the Son of God come in the Flesh, the Blessed One of Psalm 118, asking Him to save them and they ask Him to stop them. He responds by saying that if they did stop, the very stones would cry out praising Him.
Do these men pick up stones to make children or Abraham or to praise Him? ARe they without sin? No. Sinful men pick up stones to Sacrifice the Messiah for the sins of the world without knowing what they attempt. There are children and praise in those stones that they are too blind to see. But it is not His time nor is it their Office. He must be condemned by the Law and lawfully put to death. No one takes His life from Him. He lays it down of His own accord.
Those stones are ready but it is not their place. That honor goes to the instruments of crucifixion and the Roman soldiers. Some of them too will mean it for evil, but God will use it for good and one of them, at the least, is converted and believes along with the repentant thief.
All this is what Abraham longed to see and did see from his place in glory and rejoiced. He did not love and rejoice in the hatred of the Jews or the cowardice of Pilate or the indifference of the soldiers. He did not love and rejoice in the lust for power and expedience of the leaders that sought nothing but to keep their jobs. He did not love the sorrows of Our Lord, the insults, betrayal, and shame, nor the pain and agony in His body, nor even the death of being forsaken by His Father. But He did love and rejoice in the good and faithful, willing Obedience of the Son who made Himself a sacrifice for the sins of the world and reconciled even those who hated Him to His Father. Abraham beheld our Lord’s day and hour of glory and rejoiced in it. Let us do the same.
We mourn, of course, for our part in it. We are not yet perfected. We are blasphemers who have not lived up to the Name placed on us in Holy Baptism. Yet we are sorry for our sins. We want to do better, to live up to Our Father’s Name and to honor Him. We had hearts made of stone but God has raised up the hearts of sons in us by His grace. We rejoice in that grace, in the glory of the cross, in the love of God that has loved us to the end. To some degree we are the stones, the instrument of His death, for our sins required it of Him. Yet we sing the praise of His death and are the lively stones been made into His Temple. Let His Holy Blood be upon us and our children.