Judica – The Fifth Sunday in Lent
“Christ’s Word is Our Armor”
Paul Norris, Seminarian
St. John 8.42-59
03 April 2022
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus said, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.”
In psychology, there is a phenomenon known as “Cognitive Dissonance.” A prime example of cognitive dissonance in our world is the “Flat Earthers.” Despite being presented with observable facts that the earth is a globe, they persist in their false belief that the earth is flat. They are presented with indisputable facts, but they will not believe them because it would mean that they have to literally change their worldview, and admit they were wrong.
Cognitive dissonance happens in the human mind when two actions or ideas are not psychologically consistent with each other. People will do everything in their power to change them until they become consistent. The mental discomfort of cognitive dissonance is triggered by a person’s belief clashing with new information perceived, wherein the individual tries to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort.
We all experience cognitive dissonance at many points in our lives and we deal with it in two ways. We will either accept the new factual information presented to us and change our belief about something, or we will rationalize away the factual information and continue in our disbelief and rely on our false perception of an idea, belief, or situation. Sometimes pride, covetousness, or self-importance get in the way of our believing that something is not as we want it to be and we are unwilling to accept it.
In our Gospel reading, it appears that the Pharisees are experiencing cognitive dissonance about who Jesus is. In the preceding verses to this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus has been preaching and ministering to many people. Jesus has told them the truth about who he is and what he is going to do on the cross. St. John writes that “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” (John 8:30)
But the Pharisees do not believe, and this is more than just cognitive dissonance. What Jesus is preaching about himself and God our Father does not fit what the Pharisees want to believe. They have persisted in their cognitive dissonance and now their hearts have been hardened like Pharaoh. They refuse to believe despite being presented with the truth. More than that, they do not believe because God is not their father, the Devil is their father. Jesus says to them, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” (John 8:44-45) This is a severe judgment that is beyond the pale for a Jew. There is nothing as severe as saying that one is not of God. To have someone call you a criminal and a villain, or even to cut your throat, is nothing compared to the horrible and terrible verdict of having God say to you, “You are not of God.”
Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, we will find those who do not want to hear the word of God. Those who do not want to even hear the Word of God follow the Devil so persistently that he will overtake them and take total possession of them. The longer they persist in their unbelief, the tighter the grip of the Devil becomes on them. And as the Devil tightens his grip, they become even more wicked and evil. This is exactly what we see happening in the Gospel reading. At first, they are annoyed at Jesus’ preaching, and they berate him by calling him a Samaritan who is demon-possessed. They end their encounter with Jesus with murderous thoughts as they pick up stones to kill him. In their contempt for God and his Word, they become more and more depraved and they fall from just cognitive dissonance to the sin against the Holy Spirit of blaspheming God and his Word. They belong to the Devil.
It is clear what it means to be of the Devil; not wanting to hear God’s Word, reviling it, blaspheming, and cursing God. Whoever will not hear God’s Word, or after hearing it will not listen and keep it becomes a liar, blasphemer, and persecutor. He is just like the Devil, the father of lies. The longer one persists in unbelief, the more their heart is hardened toward God and they blaspheme and persecute even more, eventually resorting to violence and becoming murderers.
Perhaps this is the worst fate for an unbeliever. If one is willing to hear the Word of God the Holy Spirit can convince him of his sin and lead him to repentance. But one who does not even want to hear the Word of God and persists in blasphemy cannot be led to repentance. It is none other than the Devil himself at work when a person despises God’s Word. There is no neutral ground. Either one hears the Word of God, repents, and believes, or he plugs his ears and refuses to hear the Word of God, becoming one with the Devil.
It should not be understood that it is the Devil that creates blasphemers and persecutors. All people are God’s creation and it is God who has given them their minds, ears, eyes, and tongues. God’s good creation of mankind is perverted and distorted when one sins and uses it in the service of the Devil. When people close their ears to the Word of God and use their tongue to blaspheme God, they are misusing God’s good creation to do acts of evil, and these are of the Devil.
Jesus said, “ Amen, Amen, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” We discussed a few weeks ago what was meant by the word “keep” in the passage from Luke. In this passage, the Greek word τηρέω is yet another military word that means to guard, watch over, or retain custody of. To be of God is to use the ears that God created for you to be willing to hear the preaching of the Word, to accept reproof when a wrong has been committed, and to pray, preach, instruct, comfort, reprimand, and comfort with your tongue. Ears that hear and listen to the Word of God by faith, and tongues that speak the truth of God’s Word are of God and are good in their use. They are engaged in doing that which is pleasing to God. If we cherish and retain custody of God’s Word in our minds, ears, and tongues, we are guided by God’s Word and Spirit, and we do not wish to see, hear, speak, or think anything contrary to God.
From time to time the Old Adam will still seize the better part of our judgment and we sin and say things that profane God instead of praying. We are irritable when we should instead be thankful and cheerful for what God has given to us. Often we are unhappy that God has only given us what we need, but not what we want. However, what makes you different from those who serve the Devil is that God’s children do not despise his Word. Rather, you hear it, receive it by faith, confess your sins, and ask for God’s mercy. And our gracious God is merciful and forgives you in Christ Jesus.
Perhaps you have heard it said by someone who is part of another religion or an atheist that Jesus never “said” he was God. This is a common statement by those who blaspheme against God. This in particular is a favorite lie of Muslims, Mormons, Unitarians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But in verse 58 of our Gospel reading, our Lord Jesus drops an atomic bomb on the Jews who are blaspheming and mocking him. Jesus says to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Perhaps the significance of this statement is lost in modern English. But any Jew who heard these words “I am” would have clearly understood exactly what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not being snarky or merely just stating that he existed before Abraham. By saying “I am”, Jesus is invoking the tetragrammaton, the Hebrew name of God, YHWH. Look there at the top of the reredos. There you see it written in Hebrew, YHWH. Jesus is claiming the Word that YHWH spoke to Moses from the burning bush, “I am who I am.” (Ex 3:14) We worship the triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; YHWH.
If we are to keep God’s Word so that we will never see death as Jesus promises, what does this mean? Keeping God’s Word is to cherish and guard God’s Word. It is not only obeying God’s Holy Commands, but it is also believing what He promises you in the Gospel concerning Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. This is the one true faith – the Word we should hold fast to. It is Christ Jesus, the very one who proclaimed, “I Am”, the only begotten Son of the Father, true God and true man, who died on the cross for you. Jesus carries our sins of pride, disobedience, arrogance, covetousness, and unwillingness to hear his Word to the cross. Christ Jesus, the Crucified One, is the once for all atoning sacrifice for all your sins. God’s Word comes to you today in the reading of His Word, the preaching of His Gospel, and in the Sacraments. In Confession and Absolution, you heard the very Word of Christ when the pastor, in the stead and by the command of Jesus said, “I, therefore, forgive you all your sins.” In the Sacrament of the Altar, “I Am”, Jesus, says to you; “This is my body, which is given for you – This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
You will suffer in this world, especially at the hands of those who are the Devil’s children. Bear this with patience by holding steadfastly to the Word of God. And though the sleep of death will come to all, take comfort that you possess the power of the Word God. For those who hear the word of God and keep it, the Word of God produces gentle and quiet people, who have joyful hearts as they pass through the tribulations of this world. Those who keep God’s Word can take comfort that through Christ, they have a gracious Heavenly Father that adopted you as his own. You were buried and raised with Christ in the water and Word of Holy Baptism.
As the Children of God, the Word of God which you keep in faith, is the Word that will keep and sustain you. “Even though death consume us, we yet will not feel its sharp fangs, for Christ’s Word is our armor that supplies us with a confident life and a quiet, peaceful death and eternal life.” (CSoML V5, pg 361).
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.