21 March, 2021
Lent 5, Judica
Forgive, we beseech Thee, O Lord, our enemies and them that despitefully use us, and so change their hearts that they may walk with us in meekness and peace; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen. [TLL #26]
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
This Gospel in the Church Year is most appropriate for our circumstances in the story of the world. It’s about people who have made themselves into enemies of Christ. They do not understand Him. They will not listen to Him. They insist on their own way of looking at things and protect their own power above all. Though they have the witness of God’s Son Himself and the evidence of His works and perfect life, they will not consider it.
This Gospel begins in the middle of a heated conversation. Jesus has just revealed the most beautiful and comforting wisdom to be uttered in all time. Many were converted and began to trust in Him. But those who continued speaking here resisted with a vehement resistance. The conversation intensified until they began throwing not words, but stones.
46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
This is God’s Word. Heavenly Father, your Word is truth. Sanctify us through the truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Victor,
For most of us, the defense of our faith here has not yet come to violence. Some of us experienced 9/11. Muslims have a religious opposition to Christ, and some have been violent. Those wielding power in places like China might call their opposition to Jesus “non-religious,” though they still pursue an anti-Christian ideology by force.
We have been blessed to live where there’s appreciation of religious freedom. It’s worth defending for our families and our community, even worth defending at great cost.
That climate of freedom may be changing around us today. Some give lip service at best to the name “Christian,” and are actually working vigorously against Christ. Many consider themselves to be in something like a state of war against the Christian Church. This has been true in a low-key way for years, but now their work is being done more openly. They’re transitioning from throwing words to throwing stones, or worse. It’s happened before. There are living eyewitnesses of this shift as it appeared in places like East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and others. Some details are different, but the progression is similar. Should it be a concern for Christians? Of course. Should we do something about it? It begins with repentance and prayer. Do we need to worry? Absolutely not.
What we need is to be faithful. When we fail in that, we need to repent with confidence in the mercy of Christ.
We can be confident on the basis of today’s Gospel. Did you see what Jesus was driving at in this heated conversation with His adversaries? He wanted them to recognize their sin, their opposition not to some random teacher, but opposition to God!
Jesus could see what they could not: their opposition to God would eventually deprive them of salvation. The same is true in every age and place. We also pray and conduct ourselves so that the adversaries of our Lord might come to understand their true predicament and repent. Jesus wants to show mercy: to them, and also to us for when we have crossed the line ourselves.
But we can let there be no doubt, either in our own minds or in our testimony before the world. Opposition to the teaching of Christ is opposition to God.
Now, opposition to Christ’s teachings is different from a variety of other errors. Misspeaking, being ignorant or confused, or just not caring enough to pay attention: these kinds of errors happen every day and don’t involve malice or deceit. These are more easily corrected.
Opposition to Christ’s teachings and to our Lord Himself shows as a contradiction of what He says, like when the tempter spoke to Eve. It can happen in any area of the faith. We think of the faith in three categories that correspond to the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed: God’s Creation, Redemption, and Faith.
In the area of Creation, Jesus taught that God Himself created the family and marriage in the Beginning. He assigned roles and bound its members in love. As Jesus said, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mat. 19:5). This basic truth was opposed after several generations by the actions of Lamech. He married not one but two wives, named Adah and Zillah. Lamech also boasted of killing a man, but having two wives was equally opposed to the order of God’s Creation. This practice was revived after Noah, even among the Patriarchs who knew about Creation. Sin disorders Creation.
Jesus also quoted Genesis concerning the design of human beings, “He made them male and female” (Mat. 19:4). This is the situation God created for all time, since Jesus refers to it many thousands of years after it happened. Only in heaven will something change. But if you’ve paid attention, you know already about examples where people have opposed themselves to this created order, or have attempted to place themselves beyond it. It’s no wonder that these movements against our Creation are associated with illnesses of all kinds: mental, emotional, and physical. Any time I oppose God, He will not lose. His will cannot break. Man may accuse Him of unfairness or injustice, but He will remain God.
And now those waging war against Christ and His Church think they are at the brink of a victory. Once a believer is not allowed to follow God’s Word in everyday public speech and action, these adversaries think the Church will be beaten into a corner where it may be ignored until it dies quietly. They are wrong about this, too.
Jesus still reigns at the right hand of the Father, and watches over His Church. As in ages past, there will be Christians who refuse to deny their faith. Many of them will suffer. Some may receive their eternal reward as martyrs. As St. Paul wrote in Romans 8:36, “For Your sake we are killed all day long.” But suffering for the sake of Christ is not evil in God’s sight, for Paul continued, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Sadly, some in Christian churches will find themselves not so committed to Jesus and the truth. The battle goes hard, and the enemy does his best to confuse and compromise us. For the sake of the weak in the Church, we must not change our confession of the truth. We must watch out for each other in love: watch and pray, as Jesus told His disciples in the garden where He overcame the tempter as the new Adam of our race. When you fall to temptations or become confused about how to speak or act, remember His victory on your behalf, and how He addressed the adversaries in this Gospel.
Jesus wanted them to repent, to see their sin for what it was. He worked toward that in so many ways, though they resisted every time. When you fall or fail, remember how He reaches out to you, desiring your repentance, ready to bestow His forgiveness upon you, washing you clean and restoring you to the baptismal purity that is His gift.
He may speak to you through a brother in the faith. He may speak through a pastor or another teacher. It may be a parent, or even a child. When you recognize the truth by the word of Christ, and see your sin for what it is, put down the stones. Put away the words of rebellion. Express your repentance, and know that Jesus suffered and died for this, too.
If you’ve never actually fought against Christ and His Church, well, thanks be to God. But nobody gets to be neutral here. There are no sidelines. If you’ve been lukewarm toward Jesus, knowing the right words but not quite fully believing them, then you also must repent. Jesus said in Revelation, “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” As Jesus said two weeks ago, you either gather with Him or you scatter.
Yet we might also sin in our exuberance for Jesus, as Peter learned. When our Lord described His coming suffering and death, Peter tried to prevent it. “Get thee behind me, Satan!” answered Jesus, and so we should answer all who would have us avoid the cross at the expense of the Gospel. And when Jesus was received coldly by a Samaritan village, James and John asked, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Jesus rebuked them, too.
We must repent where our sins are shown to us. Repentance is worked by the Holy Spirit through the Word. It’s hard, like the cross itself. Our crosses help us to repent daily.
Our sins are a grievous foe which we should hate in every way as long as we live. We should likewise hate other corruptions of God’s Creation. But the solution is only found in the cross of Jesus. He walked away in today’s Gospel in order later to shed His blood in payment for all of the corruptions of sin, including yours.
Therefore, take heart, my friends. We gather with Jesus, and though the war rages around us, it is already won…
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!