Fifth Sunday in Lent

March 17, 2024

John 8:46-59

Some of Jesus’ own people “picked up stones to throw at Him.” What made things escalate so quickly? “He made the lame to run, He gave the blind their sight.” So, why were they filled with such desire to kill Him with rocks?

Jesus made several declarations that countered the beliefs, offended the sacred cows, and challenged the way of thinking of many of His own people, revealing to whom they really belonged.

Jesus declared: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” On paper, those who hated Jesus would have agreed. They claimed the Old Testament to be words of God. Except, the Pharisees didn’t hold the Old Testament to be the only words of God, because they also held to something called the Tradition of the Elders, adding to Scripture. The Sadducees considered only the five books of Moses to be the words of God. Jesus says that the Old Testament is the words of God and His own words are words of God.

Jesus had already told the crowd, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This promise offended them just as it offends many today. They didn’t want to abide in Jesus’ words. They didn’t want to follow Jesus. They didn’t want to know and be set free by the truth. Therefore, even though they claimed to be “of God,” they were not “of God” because they do not hear Jesus’ words. They refuse that God’s Son is God’s Son. And so they refuse to be “of God.”

To this day—many people refuse to hear the words of God, and they take great offense at the Truth that both the Old and New Testament are the only Word of God. Sometimes we in our sinfulness may take offense at the Truth revealed in God’s Old and New Testament Word.

Jesus declared: “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Wow—talk about a pretty big deal and a tremendous promise. His opponents believed Him to be talking about physical death—pointing out that Abraham and all the prophets died. Of course, Jesus was well aware that they died. He was even aware of His impending death. So, rather than physical death, the Lord was speaking of eternal death. But since they refused to acknowledge Jesus’ identity, they also refused to acknowledge any power and authority in Jesus’ Word. They couldn’t bear the thought.

Anyone who keeps His Word will not see eternal death. The Word of Jesus is the Word of God, the life-giving Word. Keeping the Word of Jesus is not about perfect obedience. Certainly, we desire and seek to obey Him, but we don’t—at least not perfectly. His Word is for us so that we may be forgiven of our sin and taught how to live in godliness. Whoever keeps the Word of Jesus cherishes it, hangs onto every word of it, loves it, seeks to follow it, and desires to hear it again and again. The Word of Jesus is Spirit-filled and life-giving. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” The Word of Jesus is a keepsake. Those who don’t gladly hear and learn it also don’t keep and cherish it. Those who gobble it up, are filled with God’s riches in Christ.

Jesus declared: “It is my Father who glorifies me.” Surely this riled His opponents up, for Jesus declares that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is His own Father. Jesus claimed to be the Son of the God of Abraham. The Jews claimed to be followers of the God of Abraham, but they rejected Jesus as God’s Son. If the Jews were right, then Jesus was not God’s Son but possibly some random lunatic. C.S. Lewis said, “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” But if Jesus is God’s Son (and the testimony is rock solid that He is God’s Son), then those who deny that Jesus is God’s Son have found themselves opposing the very God they claim to follow, further showing that they are not “of God”.

As they were on the subject of Abraham, Jesus declared: “Abraham rejoiced that He would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” That’s quite the statement—and it caught His opponents off-guard. “You aren’t even a fifty-year-old and you claim to have seen Abraham who lived thousands of years ago!?!” One can imagine hearing their baffled, mocking voices. They didn’t want to admit the truth of Jesus—that His words are God’s words, that He’s the Father’s Son.

Yes, Abraham saw Jesus, though perhaps Abraham did not know His complete identity. Abraham saw Jesus on several occasions, in fact. Scripture teaches that no one has ever seen God the Father, but that the Son makes Him known. Therefore, the appearances of God in the Old Testament were most likely appearances of God’s Son.

Yet, there’s a much more profound point to be made. When Abraham takes the knife to sacrifice his son as instructed by God, he knows that God will need to raise Isaac from the dead. Why? Isaac is the son whom God promised to Abraham. Abraham willingly prepares to offer Isaac in sacrifice because he holds God to that promise. The call to sacrifice was an opportunity for Abraham to demonstrate his faith. Isaac wasn’t to be sacrificed to God. God had other plans, which Abraham understood in the end. He told Isaac: “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” The Old Testament faithful knew someone would be the sacrifice for sin—your sin, my sin, the world’s sin—and they trusted the coming Savior, rejoicing to see His day.

When John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and announced to his followers “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” he fulfilled Abraham’s prophecy. Jesus says, “Abraham rejoiced in my coming as the sacrifice that God the Father prepares!” Jesus, God’s Lamb, became flesh and dwelt among us—a sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world and blesses all the families of the earth, as promised to Abraham.

Then Jesus drops the mother of all declarations: “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM… Before Abraham even existed… I AM. I AM WHO I AM.” Jesus not only declares Himself to be the Son of God, He flat out says, “I AM the God of the Old Testament. I AM of one divine substance with the heavenly Father. I have no beginning and no end… I AM.” That is why those who rejected Jesus—sadly His own people—did not know God the Father, that is why many today don’t know the Father. To know Jesus is to know the Father; to reject Jesus is to reject the Father. You cannot… cannot… cannot… reject Jesus as God’s Son and very God of very God without also rejecting the Word of God and God the Father Himself.

As soon as Jesus declared Himself to be “I AM”, those who hated Him picked up stones, desiring to kill Him. They showed that they were not of the Father, but they were the ones of the devil. Jesus hid Himself, because His time to die in sacrifice had not yet arrived. That honor would be reserved for the cross on Good Friday.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, take this to heart. Jesus is the Son of God, of the same divine substance with the Father (and the Holy Spirit I might add), who has been sent by God, prepared as an offering to take away the sins of the world, so that through faith in Him and what He has done by means of the cross and resurrection, cherishing the most precious Word as a beautiful keepsake, you will not see death, but you will enjoy eternal life with all of your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ from all times and places, who with you rejoice to see Jesus’ day. “Worthy is the Lamb whose death makes you His own!” Amen.