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April 2, 2017 A+D
St. John 8: 42-59
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Abraham believed and it was counted to him as righteousness. He wasn’t righteous in himself. He was a sinner, like us, but he believed God’s promises and he waited for God’s mercy to be fully revealed and realized. That faith was counted to him as righteousness.
He had been told by God that Isaac would be his legacy. He had been told that the Messiah would come through Isaac. When God told him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, it must have seemed to Abraham as the greatest evil that could be imagined, but Abraham believed God’s Word. He trusted it. So he obeyed.
What he believed was that God was good despite appearances. He believed that God’s Word was trustworthy even when it seemed out of sync with his own reason and experience. He believed so he obeyed, and by faith he offered up Isaac, he bound him to the wood and the kindling, he readied his only son to be set on fire after he slit his throat.
Abraham believed that God was able to demand the sacrifice of Isaac and also to raise him from the dead. He believed that God was good, that He would keep His promises. So he told the servant, as he departed with the wood and the fire but without a lamb, “We will come back to you.”
Abraham did not hedge his bets. He did not try to tame God or bend His Word to make it nicer. He did not invent a philosophy to take the blood and guts and violence out of God. Instead he placed all his hope, all his trust, all he had in this single thing: God is good and God will provide. The Messiah will come.
God kept His promises. He provided a lamb in the thicket, a victim for whom there was no substitute. In that thicket, Abraham saw the Day of Jesus Christ. He saw and he rejoiced. The lamb in the thicket redeemed Isaac. The lamb, though innocent, took Isaac’s place. It lamb died for him. Isaac was not innocent, but the lamb died and Isaac went free and Abraham was spared.
When the descendants of Isaac were slaves in Egypt, they were likewise spared by the blood of a lamb, an innocent who died in their place and gave His body as meat for their journey to freedom, and the angel of death passed over them. From that time forward, until John came in his camel’s hair, the children of Abraham and Isaac saw the day of Jesus in the slaughter of lambs in the Temple. The lambs and bulls and goats were types. Finally, John revealed the fullness of God’s plan when he pointed to the Lamb out of Mary’s womb, who was only figuratively a lamb, but was in reality a Man. He takes away the sin of the world.
This is what Abraham saw and in what he rejoiced – not simply the teaching of Jesus and the miracles of Jesus, but the death of Jesus and the resurrection. This is the truth that is revealed throughout Holy Scripture. We were conceived in sin. None of us is innocent. The wages of sin is death and none of us can stand on his own works before the judgment of God and survive. But God has provided a Lamb out of His mercy. He is caught in the thicket of His promises. He is a Man and He is God to be a Sacrifice of Grace, an Atonement of Blood, and the salvation of the world.
This is the truth that Jesus tells to the Jews in John 8. He is not a liar. He tells the truth, but that truth is uncomfortable to those who think they are righteous in themselves or for those who think themselves clever. For in that truth Jesus makes exclusive claims for Himself.
“No one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”
“No one comes to the Father except by Me.”
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”
“No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”
These claims were out of place in the religion of wayward Israel. They caused the leaders to accuse Jesus of being a Samaritan and having a demon and ultimately to pick up stones in an attempt to kill Him. They could take Jesus as a prophet, a wise man, a religious leader, but they would not accept that He alone was God or that He alone was the path to the Father. If they needed cleansing, it was mild because no one was perfect, but they didn’t need much and they didn’t need it from Him. They wouldn’t suffer forgiveness for their sins for to do so was to admit guilt and they wouldn’t take it from Him for to do so was to confess His superiority.
The majority opinion in America today is not much different. It is generally held that all paths lead to God. If you speak contrary to that in the American marketplace or at your grandmother’s Thanksgiving table or at a university, if you make exclusive claims about Jesus and Christianity, like the Bible does, saying that He is the only way to the Father and the only Name under heaven by which men are saved, there will likely be consequences.
They probably won’t pick up stones to kill you and they probably won’t say that you have a demon, since they don’t believe in demons, but they will demonize you. They will compare you to Hitler. They will say that you are a bigot, a racist, and the like. They might call you a terrorist and a fundamentalist. They might as well call you a Samaritan.
Nonetheless, despite these risks, you must make these claims. Whoever confesses Christ before men, will be confessed by Christ before the Father, but whoever denies Him will be denied. You must do this because you are of your Father, the God of Abraham, who has sent His Son into the world. You are not of the devil for you have been baptized into Christ and given His Spirit. You are not a liar when you confess the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ and offer His Word to the world. He is life, the living God, and He is the Giver of life. His Word is truth and life. You are of Him, washed in His Blood, named with His Name, and therefore you must speak the truth even if it isn’t joyfully received, even if it is misunderstood and hated.
There is only one way to be prepared for this. It is to be in Word and Sacrament. Faith is fed and nourished by God’s absolving Word and His gracious presence in the Holy Communion. Faith is not only created but also informed and prepared for trials by hearing God’s Word and preaching. The Sacraments not only forgive our sins, they also strengthen our faith. By justifying us they increase our sanctification. They bestow anew the Holy Spirit.
Even if your confession causes you sorrow and ruins friendships, it will bring you joy and freedom. For the truth shall set you free. And by your witness God will extend His Kingdom. Even as the world closes in around you, the harvest is white and the laborers few. The Lamb has not broken free from the thicket. He has not cringed from His punishment. The Lord not only has provided, but He still does. Isaac lives. So does Abraham. So do you – and in Jesus – you will forever.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.