March 29, 2020 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus didn’t go up to the Feast of Tabernacles at first, because He knew the Jews were trying to kill Him. His own brothers did not believe in Him and chided Him for not going up publically to the Feast. He finally goes up quietly with His disciples and John chapters 7-9 give us great detail about what happens while He is there. He used the opportunity to address the Jewish leaders’ false belief and idolatry.
As soon as He makes himself known, the Jews flocked to Him to test Him. In these interactions with the Pharisees, we get a most clear and profound confession from Jesus’ own mouth about who He is and what He came to do. The Jews keep attempting to quote Moses against Him and use Abraham as witness against Him. They thought that this proved Him a heretic and false prophet. At this, our Lord preaches to them how He is the fulfillment of what Abraham believed and what Moses wrote. In these discourses, Jesus expounds upon the OT doctrines of worship, the Sabbath, Feasts, the Temple, the God-head, the Messiah, and of course Salvation. Out of testing and trial come clearer expressions of the truth—thanks be to God.
When Moses came upon the burning bush and God called to him to deliver His people out of the hand of the satanic Pharaoh, Moses was extremely reluctant, using every excuse he could think of not to go. One of the excuses was that he didn’t know what name to use if the people asked him who sent him. This is where we get the great revelation of the name by which God, the creator of the heavens and the earth wants to be known—God says: tell them that “I am” sent you. God, from the burning bush, clarifies and expands His name this way: “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” This was the most important title in the OT by which God wished to be known—The Lord, the God of Abraham. This is because the promise was first given to Abraham that he would have heirs, land, and (most importantly) that the Messiah would come from him to bless the whole world. Moses was the author and recorder of all these things in the first five books of the OT. Every Jew knew this, especially those at the Temple at the Feast of Tabernacles.
In our Gospel this morning, we have the NT parallel to the burning bush revelation of God’s name. This is monumental in the history of the world. Twice in the temple, Jesus professes that He is the “I am.” (8:28, 59)—the Lord God of Abraham, creator of the heavens and the earth, the deliver from Egypt. The first time is in relation to His death by being lifted up on a cross. The second time, what we have this morning, combines the themes of the eternity of the Son of God and the resurrection of the flesh (Heb. 11:13ff). This is what our Lord said: “Truly, truly, I say to you before Abraham was, I am.” It was crystal clear to the Jews—He was telling them that He was the God of Abraham and Moses, not in a burning bush, but in the flesh.
This is supposedly what every pious Jew was waiting for, what their entire national history revolved around. God had promised deliverance to them and now it was taking place in front of their eyes. This should have evoked rejoicing and praise to God never-before heard or experienced. But what did they do upon hearing this? The Jews took up stones at once to murder Him. They did not want to believe Him, even though everything Jesus did and said proved His claim true. They would not believe. They rejected Him because of their hard hearts.
After the burning bush, Moses finally went to Egypt to do as God told him, he spoke to the people all the promises of God. He retold them about the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—about the Promised Land, the inheritance, and the Messiah. He showed them miracles and preached to them things they knew to be true. They should have rejoiced and praised God for the deliverance He was about to give them. But how did the children of Israel, slaves in Egypt, receive this word of good news? Exodus chapter 6 says “They did not listen to Moses, because of their anguish spirit and cruel bondage” (Ex. 6:9). They refused to believe. They allowed their earthly suffering to blind their hearts. Yet God gave them deliverance through the man Moses.
The old Adam is astoundingly consistent. He is hopelessly irrational. He refuses to believe the miracles and preaching of Jesus even in the face of undeniable proof. The pride of the old man refuses to soften even in the presence of God Himself. These effects of the old man are not limited to the children of Israel in Egypt or Pharisees in the Temple. That old man is alive and active in us as well.
You are the redeemed, baptized children of God, born anew in the waters of Holy Baptism. You are His chosen people, receiving His very words of Absolution and taking part in His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. You know that the Holy Spirit dwells in you for your salvation, and that God is present with you in all circumstances.
Yet you allow your eyes to wander to things that do not belong to you. You lust after what you do not have. You easily despair of things when bad news or adversity comes. The old man is consistent. The old man runs away from God and His promises, and then mopes around and blames others for the situation.
But even with all of this, the great “I am”, the Lord in the flesh does not abandon you or leave you to languish in your slavery to sin. He comes to you to rescue you. He speaks to you in the timeless, changeless words of Holy Scripture. The old man cannot be converted. He must be crucified, lifted up on a tree, for cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. Our Lord went to the tree and was crucified for us. This is the center of our faith. His sacrifice on the cross was the all-atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. We are not ashamed of this. For this is our salvation. Today we veil the crucifixes in our church not because we are ashamed, but because in a ceremonial act of piety, we confess that we are not worth for our Lord to take up frail flesh and die for us. Notice that we do not remove the crucifixes, for we are not ashamed. We veil them so that our eyes are denied what our minds know to be there. This also is a confession of what we see dimly by faith will be revealed in full when our Lord returns.
All of the abuse that your Lord suffered at the hands of evil men, He did willingly for you. His entire march to the cross was on purpose and done in obedience to His Father. No one took Jesus’ life from Him. He gave it up freely of Himself when it was time. The “I am” sacrificed Himself outside the city gates for Jews and Gentiles, for His accusers, executioners, and for you. Lent gives way to Easter—repentance to forgiveness, sickness to healing, sorrow over sin to rejoicing over salvation, earth to heaven. The next two weeks are most solemn in the Church Year because you get to see just how much your Lord loves you. The God of heaven and earth submitted himself to death so that you might be delivered and go to the Promised Land He prepares for you even now in heaven.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.