Judica, the Fifth Sunday in Lent April 9, 2000
“Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” Then the Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’ Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Whom do You make Yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
In the name of Christ Jesus, who continues to be our Prophet, Priest, and King, dear fellow believers in Him, dear fellow redeemed.
What do you think it was like to hear Jesus out loud in person, to actually be there and listen to the conversations and the lessons that He shared with His disciples and the crowds of Jewish people? No doubt, He was a great teacher, a captivating speaker. The apostle Matthew, one of the original twelve, had this to say on the communication ability of our Lord: “So it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matt. 7:28-29) A person could tell by listening. Jesus made His points with conviction, sincerity, with uncanny accuracy. There was something about His message that no one else could duplicate. It wasn’t charisma or polished rhetoric. It was the authority. It was like God was talking.
Well, He was. The Lord spoke on this earth 2000 years ago. You would think that people would drop what they were doing and come running to hear what He had to say. But upon closer inspection, we see examples in the Bible where the Lord was treated with a bad reaction: doubt, disrespect, rejection. The Jews in our text did exactly that. And Jesus had to point out that their criticism and rejection were symptoms of an unbelieving heart. It’s our hope and prayer that we can avoid the bad example of the Jews and treat our Lord with the respect and attention He deserves. After all, it’s the basic characteristic of our faith.
Listen in on the conversation between Jesus and the Jews. You’ll see quite a contrast. It’s the contrast between the lie of Satan and the truth of God and the contrast between the rejection of unbelief and the acceptance of faith. Our faith will tune into the voice of our Savior. When Jesus speaks, the ears of the Christian perk up. We recognize the voice of our God talking.
Our text begins with words of disappointment. Jesus has to say, “Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?” It must have been so frustrating—to be the Creator God, the Lord of heaven and earth, and not have your creatures accept what you tell them. Part of the problem was appearances. When Christ was on this earth, He kept His glory out of sight. You could not tell that He was God by looking at the man. His appearance was very normal, very natural, which isn’t a problem for Christian faith. Like the book of Hebrews says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith looks past the outward appearance and recognizes Jesus on the basis of His actions, His words, and the promises of Scripture. Unbelief, on the other hand, will focus only on the outward appearance and demand visible proof over and over and over again. No amount of signs and miracles will ever be enough to satisfy the unbelieving heart.
Because of unbelief, these men rejected Christ. They rejected the proposition that He was God. Listen to the end of the conversation. “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by. When Jesus called Himself the “I AM,” He was using the name Jehovah. He was claiming to be the everlasting, unchanging God. And the Jewish audience had a big problem with that. They were ready to stone the blasphemer right there in the temple… which, of course, required that Jesus do a miracle to remove Himself from danger. Now was not the time to die.
Here’s the big question. What do you see when you look at Christ? Everything hangs on the answer. If people see a man and nothing more, they lose! They lose the comfort of knowing that He takes away their sin. They lose the benefit of His death. They’re going to lose everything if they cling to the idea that Jesus is not God. You see, that’s the only kind of Savior who works. If Jesus were just a man, He could not help you with the trouble of sin. Only God can do that. Therefore if people reject Jesus as God, they reject what they really need the most.
That’s where you and I would be—in the bad habit of rejecting Christ—if God had not given us the faith to recognize Jesus for the powerful Lord and Savior that He is. Even though we don’t hear Him in person, His voice comes to us in the pages of Holy Scripture. In the Bible we see Jesus in charge. We recognize all His qualifications as the Leader. We welcome His leadership and authority in our lives. We know the score between us and Him. He’s the King; we’re His subjects. He’s the Shepherd; we get to follow as the sheep.
When Jesus speaks, the Christian listens. We listen for guidance, wisdom, direction, and the betterment of our lives. That’s because His words have such wonderful content. They convey to us love from God, power working in our behalf, blessing for each and every day. By faith we accept His words as divine, absolute truth.
Truth is a wavering thing in the hands of humans. Even so-called experts make mistakes. Human memory fails. Human judgment doesn’t always get it right. So the truth is lost in the shuffle. It’s watered down with half-truths, mistakes, and outright lies. That’s why it’s so good to know that when the Lord speaks, it’s pure, unadulterated truth all the time. When He speaks to us in Scripture, we don’t need to sort out the errors or double check the accuracy. We take all of His words as the whole truth and nothing but the truth
People like to say there are no absolutes; everything is relative, subject to change. But God never said that. God gives you absolutes in His Word. He spells out what is morally right and morally wrong. He lays down the rules of life. And those rules never change. He explains how we got here, what our purpose is, and where He wants to take us. Everything He says passes the inspection of credibility. God does not lie to us.
So what are we supposed to do with all the conflicting ideas? Creation vs. evolution. Anti-abortion vs. pro-abortion. Salvation by grace vs. salvation by works. Since God is always right, His word must prevail. His truth must overrule every conflicting opinion. The Bible teaching of creation in six 24-hour days must overrule the theory of evolution. Darwin is wrong, God is right. The Bible teaching that human life begins at conception must overrule the arguments defending the practice of abortion. The Bible teaching that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ—no works involved—that must overrule salvation through human efforts. These are the absolutes God has given. Every conflicting idea is false; it has to be replaced with the truth.
The two greatest truths that God has passed on are the Law and Gospel. First He comes and points out a problem. He points to all our sins and says, “Look what you’ve done.” He shows you the truth that we have brought death and judgment on ourselves. He makes us realize that we are lost and condemned. And then He bails us out. He points to Himself as the Savior. He points to the cross as the necessary payment, the place where all of our sins were dealt with. He points to the empty grave as proof that Jesus works. In the Bible we get the truth that all our sins are wiped away and we are free from the curse. By faith we grab onto that truth. We cling to His words as the hope of eternal life.
What a great promise that we hear from the mouth of our Savior: “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” What Jesus said to the Jews applies to anyone who fits the description. If we keep His Word, we too shall escape the judgment of death. Obviously, we need to be clear on what it means to “keep” the Word of Jesus.
Initially, we might think “obey.” But that’s not what He said. He intentionally uses the word “keep,” which has the basic idea of preserve something, guard something, store it away. We “keep” our money in a bank. We “keep” perishable food in the freezer. We keep His word in our hearts and minds. We keep it as our spiritual possession.
“Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it,” Jesus said. Hearing the Gospel is certainly part of the keeping/storing process. We can’t keep what we don’t know. So we learn and review and grow in our knowledge of what the Bible says. We learn to apply the truths to our personal life. We come to Jesus again and again for more comfort, more guidance, more promises. We come especially to seek and possess the forgiveness of sins that He won for us.
Forgiveness is the key to everything else that we have as believers. It’s the key to a clean conscience, the key to a growing faith, and the key to life everlasting. If you’re clean of all your sin, you get to live in God’s house. Well, what does Jesus show you in the Gospel? He says and repeats and reinforces the truth that all your sins are paid for, which in turn has to mean that all your sins are forgiven. It’s a guaranteed fact, because He rose from the dead. It’s a free gift from God to us. By faith we take that gift and put it away inside, where it’s going to help us down the road. When storms of conscience rise up, it’s there to calm us down. When the day comes to meet the Judge, we have His word that we are not guilty, that we are “grade A approved,” and therefore qualified to spend the rest of eternity with Him. As Jesus said, “If anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”
By that He meant eternal death. That’s the scary part—being separated from God in the prison of hell. By taking His promise, that consequence of eternal death is no longer a problem. His Word will get us through the judgment. His Word will get us out of hell. His Word will bring us through death into life. His Word is the one sure life-preserver that we grab onto by faith.
They say that sheep will recognize the voice of their shepherd and only respond to him. When the shepherd calls, the sheep come running. That’s an observation from shepherd cultures all over the world. It’s an earthly picture that Jesus used to illustrate a prime characteristic of Christian faith. When Jesus speaks, Christians listen. When the Good Shepherd calls, the sheep run to His side. All because God is working the good reaction within us. The Lord has caused you to recognize the Savior as your God. The Lord has caused you to accept His words as the truth. The Lord has caused you and me to hang onto His words as our hope of eternal life. Therefore we take heart in the promise of our Good Shepherd: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.