The Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 2, 2017
“Why Only Jesus Can Give Us Eternal Life”
St. John 8:46-59
"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. Who 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.
Today’s Gospel Lesson features our Lord Jesus doing battle against false teaching. False teaching is the devil’s most deadly weapon. This is why the Lord Jesus repeatedly condemns it. Jesus showed compassion to thieves, prostitutes, and every kind of sinner you can imagine. He reserved his harshest judgment for those who promoted false and soul destroying doctrine.
Perhaps at no point in his recorded ministry does Jesus speak as strongly against false teaching and false teachers as he does in the portion of St. John’s Gospel we are considering this morning. The two verses right before our text for today read:
He goes on, in the words of our text, to tell them that they are not of God and that they are liars. Jesus’s manner of speaking is out of style. To speak dogmatically on any topic is considered to be rude, if not fanatical.
Jesus spoke dogmatically. He suffered abuse and mockery in patient silence. When insulted, he did not reply. They called him a Samaritan. He ignored it. Jesus lived a life of deep humility. His humble obedience led him to his death on the cross. He did what he did in obedience to his Father. This is why he suffered what he suffered and he did so in humility.
But when they questioned his doctrine, his teaching, his claims about the truth, he set aside the spirit of meekness and spoke out with the full assurance and conviction that he was telling the truth! Jesus was dogmatic!
How different Jesus is from so many popular preachers of our day. The ecumenical movement, with its endless dialogues, joint statements on this and that, all designed to paper over doctrinal differences with theological doublespeak, where nobody ever says that anybody is actually wrong, has done its damage. Contending for the truth is regarded as a sign of fanaticism. After all, can we really know what is true?
Jesus says we can. He speaks the truth without compromise. In this debate between Jesus and the Jews, Jesus makes claims about himself that no one has ever been able to refute. He makes claims about who he is. He makes claims about what he can give.
Who is he? He asks:
He claims to be sinless. He claims to speak the truth. He challenges anyone to find sin in him. No one can. There is no sin to be found. He is unique. He is unlike any other preacher who has ever preached. Compare Jesus to leaders of other religions. Could the Buddha, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and many lesser known religious leaders challenge the world to find any fault with them or their teaching? Their sins and errors are clear to everyone with eyes to see. But nobody can find fault in Jesus. Even those who reject his teaching have to admit to his holy life.
He is of God. He is eternally begotten of the Father. He doesn’t glorify himself. His glory is the Father’s glory for he is from the Father. He is not from the Father as the creation is from the Creator. He is of the same substance as the Father. He is the only begotten of the Father. He shares the same nature as the Father. This is the same nature that the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, has.
He is God in the flesh. He is before Abraham. Abraham saw him. He saw the Holy Trinity by the appearance of three men as recorded by Moses in Genesis chapter eighteen. He saw Christ on Mount Moriah when his son, his only son, Isaac, was spared, and God promised the Lamb who took Isaac’s place on the altar. Abraham trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior from sin two thousand years before he was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. He rejoiced to see Christ.
Truly, truly, I say to you, Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” “I am” is the name of the God who met Moses at the burning bush. Before he gave himself the name “I am,” he called himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham’s God is “I am.” Jesus said to the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I am.” They knew what he was claiming. He was claiming to be God. That’s why they picked up stones to stone him.
Twice in our text for today, Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you.” He does so when he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” And he does so when he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
“Truly, truly, I say to you.” Listen to him. The prophets said, “Thus says the Lord.” They knew that the truth of God came to them from outside of them, from the Lord. It didn’t originate within them. But Jesus says, “I say to you.” “Truly, truly, I say to you.” Literally, “Amen, amen, I say to you.” The truth lies within Jesus. He knows the Father. All that the Father has is his. He is one with the Father. He is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity.
He claims to be able to give eternal life. God in the flesh gives eternal life. Jesus Christ gives eternal life. He gives it because it is his to give.
The claims of Jesus are at the same time the most comforting and the most antagonistic words ever spoken. The comfort is for those who keep his words, that is, those who believe what he says and rely on the truth of his promises. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” To keep his word is to believe it. Jesus teaches that eternal life is received through faith in his word. It is his word that gives it. He speaks. His words give what is his to give.
And there is no other way to receive eternal life; there is no other way to have eternal life; there is no other way to heaven, to God, to the Father, than through faith in Jesus Christ. The most comforting claims are at the same time the most antagonistic.
Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) He said to the crowd of people who followed him after the feeding of the five thousand, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) He said, concerning himself, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) His Apostle John, wrote, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:12) His Apostle Peter, preached, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Words of the greatest comfort are words that cause the greatest offense. When he claimed that whoever kept his word would never see death, and when the Jews who claimed Abraham as their father challenged his claim, he proceeded to claim to be the God of Abraham, the very God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. They were so enraged by his doctrine that they tried to stone him right there in the temple – which, according to their own standards, would be a sacrilege.
What was it that so angered them? His claims offended their pride. Jesus still offends the proud and he always will. One must be “of God” to believe Jesus’ words. One must be born from above, born again, by the Holy Spirit, to keep, that is, to believe Jesus’ words. The Spirit who opens to us the kingdom of God by the new birth that he brings about in Holy Baptism is the Spirit who testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. He does so through the word that Jesus speaks. It is the word that we keep through faith. It is the word that gives us eternal life.
The word that gives us eternal life is from God. God had already revealed himself to Moses at the burnish bush. He had already revealed himself through Moses at Sinai. His holy law revealed him in his holiness. But nobody had ever kept the law God revealed to Moses on Sinai. Jesus is the only One who ever did. Jesus, who humbly submitted himself to its demands, went to the cross to bear the sin of the world. The whole world was condemned by the judgment of God’s law. God in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, bore that judgment in his own body.
Nobody else obeyed. Nobody else suffered for the world’s disobedience. Only Jesus, our God and our brother, obeyed and suffered. Only he can give eternal life. He gives it in his word. This is why he promises, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever keeps my word shall never see death.”
It is the word of our baptism where we died and rose again, being joined to Christ’s death and resurrection. It is the word of the Lord’s Supper, where Christ’s words make ordinary bread and wine to be his sacred body and blood by which our sins are forgiven. It is the word we hear in the absolution, in the sermon, in the Holy Scriptures, the word that tells us that God, for Christ’s sake, is gracious to us and forgives us.
You don’t get to heaven by dying. People die and go to hell every day. Jesus is the only One who gives eternal life and he gives it to us in his word. If Jesus hasn’t given you eternal life, you don’t have it. If he has given it to you, you have it and can die in peace. The words that anger the proud are the words of eternal life to those whom God has graciously humbled. May our gracious God humble us so that we toss aside all confidence in our flesh and entrust ourselves solely to Christ whose word gives us eternal life.
Rolf D. Preus