Fifth Sunday in Lent – Judica
“You Have A Vindicator”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
Psalm 43.105; John 8.42-59
26 March 2023
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
The preparation for the Feast of the Resurrection began with Septuagesima, 70 days before the Paschal Feast. Strictly speaking, this period of fourteen days before the Paschal Feast was the commemoration of our Lord’s Passion. In some older devotional materials the daily readings are from the Passion History. This Fifth Sunday in Lent was once called Passion Sunday; that name has been transferred to Palm Sunday. Next Sunday we shall read the bulk of the Passion narrative in the Divine Service.
Matters had reached a fevered pitch in our Gospel reading. Even though it will be nearly a year and an half before Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the battle lines were drawn. Jesus gave a stinging rebuke to those who accused him of being a Samaritan and demon possessed. The accusations were traded. Jesus upped the ante as he accused his enemies of having Satan for their father. They had already agreed that they would kill him; all they needed was the opportunity to catch him in his words.
Those who are hostile to God will try to kill the one who speaks the truth. Satan will resort to murder to stop the truth about Christ. As our Gospel reading ends, the people are picking up stones to kill Jesus, but it was not his time to die, and Jesus “hid himself and went out of the temple.” He would return in Holy Week and would willingly shoulder the wood of the cross and offer himself as the one perfect sacrifice for the world’s sins. This time he would not seek to escape the hands of his enemies. He would incur God’s righteous judgment for our sins. He would go to the altar of God, as the Introit says. He would be the offering that God himself has provided, of which Abraham saw.
When I was growing up the newspaper I read, and for whom I was a paper boy, was the Youngstown Vindicator. I’m unaware of any other newspaper which adopted that name. Vindicator—the champion who upholds the truth, the One who sets people free. As with many local print media, the Vindicator has succumbed to the electronic media. It is no more.
Jesus is your Vindicator. The words of our Introit speak about Jesus. The words of the Psalmist are every bit as prophetic as is Isaac in our Old Testament reading. Isaac, it seemed, was to be the sacrifice for sin. He carries the wood for the sacrifice on his shoulders, and Abraham, in obedience to God, is ready to sacrifice this child of promise. But it was not to be since Isaac could not be the sacrifice. He, like his father Abraham, was a sinner. A more perfect sacrifice would need to be made, and so, the sacrificial animals of the Old Testament took the place of the coming sacrifice, God’s only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. They were the innocent types pointing to Christ.
In our Lord’s innocent suffering and death he has won vindication for all humanity. You and I are vindicated, that is, we are judged righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice. It is a substitutionary sacrifice—him for us, him for you; him for the whole world. It was the Father’s plan from the foundation of the world. God would not leave this world in sin forever.
Jesus spoke these words to his opponents:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
The hostile retort was immediate. His opponents said that Abraham died and that he was their father. Moreover, they, continued, even the prophets died! How can Jesus make such a statement? Jesus said that those who believe in him will never see death. His opponents replied,
“Who do you make yourself out to be?”
And finally Jesus revealed himself fully.There would be no more veiling. He stated that Abraham saw his day centuries before. With the almost sacrifice of Isaac Abraham had seen it all. He saw Christ! Abraham believed that God would provide the necessary sacrifice for sin in this Promised One.
And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
The Father would provide the one sacrifice for sin which would be eternally effective. The Father would vindicate sinners in that sacrifice. Abraham saw that the Father would offer his only-begotten Son on the wood of the cross for the world’s sins. Abraham was glad to see that centuries before.
These people appealed to Abraham as their father but Jesus responded that if they were Abraham’s sons they would do as Abraham did, that is, believe in Christ. Jesus told them the truth but they would not accept the truth that Jesus was the Vindicator who would set them free from their sins! Abraham had seen Jesus from centuries before, but they were Satan’s children because they refused to believe.
And then came Jesus’s words which rocked the people to the core as they said that Jesus could not possibly have seen Abraham. Jesus responded,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
“I am” is the very covenant name of God, Yahweh. When Moses asked God what to say when the people of Israel asked the name of him who sent him, he was to answer,
“‘I am has sent me to you.’”
In Jesus Christ “I AM” has come to us. The living God himself has come into our world to be our Vindicator, the one who vindicates us from the guilty verdict of our sins because he has paid for them with his innocent life. He has come to open the doors of the prison of eternal death. No one is left to accuse us because we have been vindicated, liberated. We are judged “not guilty” in God’s eyes, not because of anything we are or have done, but by Christ’s innocent life, suffering, and death alone.
The English of our text, “he will never see death,” is inadequate. Something is lost in translation. It seems to say that we will never die. In a sense, that is true that our bodies certainly die. They die because of sin. A more literal translation would be this, “He will not see death forever.” To see death forever is different from tasting death. To be damned is to die eternally, forever. Jesus tasted death for all of us so that we would not experience eternal death. Hebrews 2.9 states:
“ . . . so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
The death of our bodies will be only temporary. Because our Vindicator has freed us from sin and death we sleep in our graves awaiting the resurrection when our Lord returns in glory. We do not die forever in our sins forever. So writes the Apostle Paul:
But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. [Romans 8.10-11]
Our Epistle reading brings us the great good news that Jesus has secured “an eternal redemption” for us by his own blood. He brings us into the glorious presence of the Father from whom we shall never be separated. Eternal redemption means eternal life. Never to die forever! That’s what Jesus says here. He tasted death for us in his death. We escape the punishment of hell because Christ suffered it for us and has redeemed us for eternity. In eternity there is no death—forever! We live in Christ, and better yet, Christ lives in us! On that yellow card in the pew you see those very words. In this Blessed Sacrament our risen Lord comes to you to nourish and sustain the life the Holy Spirit has created in Baptism. He feeds, nourishes, and “keeps us body and soul to life everlasting,” as the post-communion blessing promises.
“You have a Vindicator!” You have One who pleads for you continually before the Father. You have a Vindicator who is your refuge and your joy, the One who gives you his true body and blood for forgiveness and strength. You have a Vindicator who pleads your cause against ungodly people. You have a Vindicator in whom you can always take refuge!
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.