Fifth Sunday in Lent – Judica
“Defend My Cause”
St. John 8.46-59
07 April 2019
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
On this Passiontide Sunday we mark the final two weeks until the Paschal Feast. For a time we sing only the hymns and canticles, the Gloria Patri has been taken away from completing the psalms and canticles of the liturgy, the crosses are veiled in mourning to teach us that Christ humbly veiled Himself in our flesh and blood. We pause to think upon the price of our sins, the shedding of Christ’s innocent and precious blood. These next weeks are the time to hear the Word of God, think upon it, believe, and give thanks for the pardon we are given in the blood of Christ, the pardon we see ultimately guaranteed by His resurrection from the dead.
Today, we hear our Lord suffering the insults and hatred of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, through being confronted by the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. They are saying, essentially, what every man’s sinful flesh wants to shout at God – that He is not our true father. “Abraham is our father,” they say. (John 8.39) They accuse Jesus of being an illegitimate child – “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father – even God.” (John 8.41) “You are a Samaritan and have a demon…” (John 8.48)
The Introit antiphon from Psalm 43 for today says,
Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me! For you are the God in whom I take refuge. (Psalm 43.1-2)
Defend my cause against deceitful and unjust, ungodly people. Jesus points out that these so-called “children of Abraham” do not do the works of Abraham. They do not trust God’s Word that the Savior would come to redeem them from sin, as Abraham so clearly did. So neither are they the sons of the Heavenly Father, but they seek to lie about, demean, and ultimately kill God’s Son. They are of their father, the devil, they cannot bear to hear or keep Jesus’ words.
Now Jesus comforts us in two ways as He “defends our cause” with these sons of the devil.
First, He shows us how to handle the darkness around us. We struggle with the vicious attacks of the devil in this life. Satan tempts us to do harm to ourselves and to our neighbor. He tempts us to give in to our lusts and evil desires, and he roots around in the dead works of our past to bother our conscience. This is exactly what the devil is trying to do to Jesus through these Jews confronting Him in the Gospel of John. They accuse Jesus of immorality, they seek Jesus’ harm, they seek to stir Jesus into argument, discord, and strife – to hate His enemies.
Today, we see the same thing from unbelievers. I read a fine article by a newspaper columnist this week reviewing the movie, “Unplanned”. This movie is the true story of a worker for the Planned Parenthood abortion mills in Texas whose conscience is shaken by the horrible death and destruction wrought in the abortion clinic which she witnesses, and by the prayers of her righteous parents, she becomes a pro-life Christian. She now works actively to shut down abortion clinics and to prevent this horror.
The newspaper columnist wrote a very favorable review of the movie. My mistake was reading the over 200 comments left online after the review. There, you see the battle against the devil. The author of the review, and the woman who is the subject of the movie, were attacked viciously for their Christian faith. In those comments, you could see and feel the cosmic forces of darkness over the present evil age. It was sad to see so much hatred on display. But you also see just how hard the devil fights to tempt people into advocating for the harm and destruction of others.
But you too may be hated for your faith, and I for mine. Our western culture becomes colder to God’s Word by the day. Employers may not want Christians to work for them. Governments may start disapproving of speaking the truth of God’s Word concerning the social issues of the day, even from the pulpit. They may show that disapproval in ways very costly to Christians in both resources and bodily danger. It’s happened before and happens today in many places.
But in the face of such hatred, Jesus speaks the truth – even at the threat of stoning him, even at the eventual cost of His life on the cross, a life He wanted to give, even for the life of those who hate Him. “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus claims to be the eternal God. Jesus says it is His Father in heaven who glorifies Him, and not Himself, and not any men. Jesus honors His Father in heaven. He knows it is not popular, it is dangerous to say out loud, but it is the truth. “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
This is what you see in Jesus, how He doesn’t avenge Himself, doesn’t seek His own honor, but His Father’s. The cursing of sinners is turned into a blessing, even as Christ’s holy innocence is blasphemed, for the Lord answers graciously even while asserting the truth in strong terms. This proves that Jesus is who He says He is. The innocent Son of God loves even those who persecute Him, loves them enough to keep trying, and will love them to the point of forgiving them from His cross.
An ancient church father (Tertullian) once wrote: “If you place the insult with which you are insulted with God, He will avenge you; If you give Him the loss that you suffer, He will restore what you have lost; if you long for Him in your pains, He will be your true doctor, He will soften the pains; if you cling to Him in sorrow, He is your comforter, He will still all your anxiety and remove it from your heart; if you trust in Him in death, He is the one who wakes you – He will not leave you in death, but will wake you up from it and make you alive again.” This is the faith of Abraham. This is the faith of our Lord Jesus. This is the faith all Christians share in their Baptism into Christ.
Which brings us to the second comfort of our Lord’s argument with His enemies. We put all of our faith and trust in the Words of eternal life that come from Jesus. For He alone is righteous and holy.
Jesus says, “Who among you can convict me of sin?” (John 8.46a) The answer is “no one can.” This is a glorious comfort, that Christ our Lord is holy and righteous not only for Himself, but also makes us holy and righteous through His all-holy innocence, for He himself is ours, along with everything that is His, as St. Paul says, “He was made by God to be for us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30)
Now, when your sins oppress you, and when you consider who you are in yourself and according to your impure nature, in light of His holy Law, then the devil and the world and your own conscience see that there is nothing more impure than you are in the eyes of God.
But when you look at yourself in Christ, and better, when the Father in heaven sees you in His Son, then you are so pure, so holy before God, so righteous, that your righteousness also goes far above all the angels. For it is Christ’s righteousness, which is reckoned to you through faith, the same righteousness reckoned to Abraham.
Outside of Christ, each man is the most impure, most unholy creature, but in Christ you are the most beautiful, most holy, and most blessed. As the epistle to the Hebrews tells us, Jesus’ holy, precious blood avails for you. It washes you clean and makes you whiter than snow, and when you now pray, the Father hears your prayers on Jesus’ account, for you are in the garment of His holiness.
And Christ’s righteousness and innocence avails for you when you must die, for there in that hour, the Holy Spirit will turn and firmly clothe you into the innocence, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, and you will pray, “Ah, dear Lord Christ, clothe my soul, which is naked and bare of all righteousness, with your innocence and all-holy obedience, so that I am not discovered naked and bare, but bring me with You to Your heavenly and eternal wedding in the true wedding dress,” which is Christ Himself, the garment of salvation, “and do not leave me in eternal shame. The high priests of the Old Testament had to sanctify the people with the blood of the sacrifice of goats and bulls, and dip a bunch of hyssop into the blood, and sprinkle it on the people. But come, O dear Lord and plunge into Your blood the sweet little hyssop branch of Your holy Gospel and of my faith, and sprinkle it over me, so that I become pure and holy in You.” “Sprinkle me with hyssop,” says the Psalmist, “and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Ps. 51:9)
The Lord promises in His Word you have everything needed for faith and a holy life, for here in this time on earth, and for there with Him in eternity. “Truly, truly, I say unto you, if anyone keeps my Word, he will never see death.” Cling to His Word, given you in your baptism, with His Name placed upon you. Cling to it as it delivers to you Jesus’ blood that purifies your conscience to serve Him. Cling to it as it guarantees your eternal salvation in the Means of Grace. Cling to it as you confess it before men. And cling to it even when assaulted by evil and death itself. For you know with Abraham and Isaac and all the saints, that in Christ and His word, you will never see death.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +