This is the audio recording of our Sunday School Teachers meeting on 4/12/18.
The Lord Is Our Shield
I‘ll wait. One of the scary parts about being a human is how patient Satan is. Last week, on Easter Sunday, we feasted in the Lord’s Supper without fear and sang alleluias with such strength. But then what happened? Time traveled on. And throughout the week the confidence we should have had in the Lord we gave up on. If we trusted in the Lord—if he was our source of strength and hope, then there would have been no need to curse, swear, lie, lust, or be lazy. And this is a powerful reminder to us that Satan is both sneaky and strong. And if there is a day or an area that we are strong in, so very often, he just waits until we are week. That is the context we find here in these words in Genesis 15. In Genesis 14 there was a battle. The kings from far away came and fought with the kings in Abram’s land. The kings in Abram’s land lost. And normally that wouldn’t have been too huge of a concern. But when they lost they carried away the people living in Sodom and Gomorrah. Who was living in Sodom at that time? Abram’s nephew, Lot, was living there. So Abram got his trained men and traveled way up north. He beat up the kings and took back Lot and his family. And, as we read those words in the previous chapter, we do not find a hint that his faith faltered or collapsed. But you turn the page to chapter 15, and this is what you read: “1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. ” 2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”” (Genesis 15:1–3 NIV11-GKE)
When Abram was busy in battle, he was fearless. But when he was alone, by himself, at night, with too much time on his hands, his fears rose and threatened to destroy him. So, in response to this, what does the Lord do? He speaks to Abram. He appears to Abram when he is in his home in a vision. And he gives him two beautiful picture-promises. First, he tells Abram that he is Abram’s shield. A shield is what you need in battle. It keeps both the piercing arrows and the slashing swords away. And notice how the Lord speaks. He says that Abram’s courage and creativity was not his shield and protection. No, instead, the Lord was the one who protected him. Second, he tells Abram that he was Abram’s reward. If the shield is what you need in battle, the reward is what you look forward to after the battle. He lets Abram know that far better than diamonds and rubies, silver and gold, was his great God.
Ahh, but the context has shifted, hasn’t it? It’s not the battlefield anymore. It’s the middle of the long, cold night. And a different fear rises in Abram’s heart. He is childless. Abram has been waiting for almost 20 years. And even though the Lord promised to give him a son, he still remains without a son. And this is no small concern. There are consequences if the Lord does not deliver. And the consequences are far worse than being denied the the joy of having a son. If there is no son, then there is no Easter. You won’t need to worry about Jesus rising from the dead because there will never ever be a Jesus born at all. The stakes are high because the world will remain in its sin if Abram doesn’t have a son. Listen then to how the Lord responds to Abram’s very real objection: “4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”” (Genesis 15:4–5 NIV11-GKE)
The Lord took Abram outside and showed him the stars. Then he told Abram to count them. How long do you think it took before Abram gave up counting? Then the Lord piles another promise on top of all the other promises: So shall your offspring be. What an amazing statement to make. But, by dear friends in Christ, words mean nothing unless they contain power. It was not the number of stars in the sky that calmed Abram’s fears. Instead, it was the power of God’s word.
The same was happening to the disciples in the upper room. Their way of guiding their own faith and getting through this world was now shaken and shattered. Jesus rose. And he promised to go to his Father and no longer be with them face to face. Instead, he promised to be with him through his word. And his word contained power.
How easily we forget this. When the context and circumstances in our lives changes, how easily it is to forget the power contained in the promises of God’s word. We are someone else loses a job, gets sick or even dies, and what do we say to those who are grieving? We share statistics. We say, “These problems tend to work out on their own.” Or even worse, we change the subject. We could be sharing God’s powerful word, like the Lord did with Abram, like Jesus did with his disciples. But we don’t. And the reason we act like this is either because we forget that God’s word is that powerful or we don’t believe that it is that powerful. But look how our gracious Lord responds to our selfish sins: He sends his word not just to fearful Abram, but also to us. And God’s word carefully and powerfully calms the fears in our heart and crushes the lies in our heads.
And so, the Lord is our shield. And he shows this by sending his word that contains power. But there’s one more detail to look at in these words: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6 NIV11-GKE)
At first, when we read these words, it is ever-so-tempting to conclude that these words are not that important. Abram believed God. So what? But these words are some of the most important words in the entire bible. After the Lord came and spoke to Abram, he could go to bed at peace. But, my dear friends in Christ, know where that peace came from. That peace that Abram had and Jesus gave to his disciples in the upper room did not come from them. It came from the power of God’s word. And from God’s word, the Lord created faith. You see, one of the traps we can fall into is that when we are confronted with the amazing news, we can then conclude that it’s our job to earn the good instead of simply receiving it. On facebook people shared a bunch of beautiful pictures with trees and lakes in the background and word in the foreground last week. And in more than one there was this main point and message: Jesus has risen: what are you going to do about it? Notice the very blatant and blunt point it was making. Jesus has risen. So you have to earn that fact with your hands—good works done for others around you. Or you have to respond and earn Jesus with your heart—a good work done deep down in our hearts where we somehow get ourselves to feel the right and perfect way about Jesus’ resurrection and decide that we believe it. It is ever-so-tempting, but ever-so-unbiblical. Jesus did not put the burden on them to do a good work for him either with their hands or with their hearts to earn his favor. And we see the same here in Genesis on this dark, starry night. Abram was filled with doubt and was on the verge of despair. And the Lord did not appear to him and push him in his weakness of faith over the edge by making him earn the Lord’s favor with a decision made in his heart or effort shown by his hands. Instead he shared his powerful word with Abram and strengthened his faith. For faith is not an act of the will where we decide to earn the Lord and follow him, nor is it a driving force of emotion. Instead, it is confidence and trust. And this trust does not come from us. It comes from the Lord, created by his word.
And just look at what this faith did for Abram: He believed the Lord. He received this status of forgiven and perfect in God’s sight because of the sacrifice one of his male descendents would offer up. The shifting situations where Satan says, “I’ll just wait’” are dealt with as this faith that Abram had washed away all his fear and replaced it with peace. This faith so much cal amidst so much stress. And all of this is true for us today. The Lord is our Shield. He is our great joy and our very great reward. For his word contains power. And our faith gives us peace. Amen.
Have Hope Forever
It’s hard to not be short-sighted. Those of you out here this morning who have children, how do you teach your children what money is and how best to use it? I ask this because one of the challenges we all had when we were children is that we are unable to not be short-sighted. I remember when I was a tiny child I got some money as a gift from one of my relatives. We went to the store. And I had the option to spend none of that money, some of that money or all of it. So, naturally, what did I do? I spent all of that money. And, by the end of that day my stomach was happy and filled with candy. But then the next day came. My brother had not eaten all of his candy. And he taunted me the entire rest of the day with the knowledge that he could eat his candy any time he wanted. It’s hard to not be short-sighted. It’s a challenge we face when we are young. And it’s a challenge we face when we are all grown-up. That is the thought that God’s word brings to our attention this morning: Where is your hope? And how long will that hope last? In 1 Corinthians 15, we read: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19 NIV11-GKE)
Where is your hope and how long does it last? Paul makes this ever-so-important statement, that if we have hope for now alone, we are to be pitied more than all the humans on the face of the planet. And that’s an important point to ponder. If this bible is just a giant book full of fictitious fun stories whose only purpose is to give us good feelings, then how sad is our life here right now. No, this book if full of promises. This collection of books that we call the bible is full of so very many promises that there would be a Savior who would die and then on the third day after he died, his body and soul would be raised back to life. And because of this we can have hope—hope now and hope forever. And what follows after this is a number of answers to the question, why? Paul writes: “20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–22 NIV11-GKE)
Through one man death came into existence. So very long ago Adam sinned at the same time Eve did. And through his act of unbelief and rebellion every human being after him was born into unbelief and rebellion. And because each one of us are sinners, each one of us dies. But, just as death came into existence through one man, so also, through one man, Jesus, resurrection from death came to all of us who belong to Christ. This bible is not full of flattering lies and empty promises. Jesus in his body and soul rose from the dead, proving that Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection. But, even as we say this, God knows that we have difficulties with this fact. For Paul writes: “23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” (1 Corinthians 15:23–24 NIV11-GKE)
Because Jesus rose we have hope for now and forever. But what’s the problem? We mess up and we sin. We are used to speaking about the fact that Adam and Eve rebelled in the garden and because of that each of us has a sinful nature that entices and seduces us to think about and carry out sin. That is true. But look at what the Holy Spirit brings to our attention: Dominion, Authority and Power also lead us to sin. What is “Dominion, Authority, and Power?” It’s Paul’s way of speaking about demons. It’s like the deck is stacked against us. It’s bad enough that we have a sinful nature that attacks us and entices us to sin. But it gets even worse: God’s word tells us that there are evil angels out there that we cannot see. And they too entice us to sin. How then can we have hope—any hope at all for now or forever if these two powerful allies are stacked against us? Paul answers that question with these words: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:25 NIV11-GKE)
Our sinful nature and demons entice us. That is true. But what also is true? Jesus rules over them. And there’s a beautiful picture. It’s the preaching and picture of an orderly progression of events. Years ago, when I was a child, I watched a show about a chicken inspector. One person would put one little chick onto a table after another. And then the inspector of the chicks would pick them up, look them over, and make sure that they were healthy. But that wasn’t the interesting part. What was interesting was that he did that at the same time he kept the other little chicks from falling off the table. When you looked at the table at first, it seemed like there was chaos and no control. But then, when you looked a little longer, you realized that that inspector was in complete control. That’s the picture that Paul gives us here. There are all these enemies that Jesus has. And he deal with them one after another, each in their proper time. The first enemy he deals with is demons. And he gives to us this amazing promise: We have hope for now, but also forever. Because Jesus rules over the demons. And as we walk through our lives, wrestle against our sins and repent of our sins, Jesus promises to us that our hope is not in vain. So the first enemy that Jesus rules over is demons. But what is the final enemy that Jesus rules over? “26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.”” (1 Corinthians 15:26–27 NIV11-GKE)
We have hope for now and forever. But what about death? The biggest and hugest problem we face is death. It is a huge problem because, first of all, it was never meant to be at all. God did not create and intend for us to die. He created us to be with him and live with him forever in joyful perfection. But through sin death came. And so, now there is this unnatural end to our lives. That’s the first frustration we have. But there’s a second. Because death is unnatural, we fear it. But the other extreme is that we envy it. As a pastor who has had his fair share of funerals over the years, one of the strange temptations that happens to us who remain after a funeral is missing not just our loved one who died, but also the joy, bliss and perfection that that loved one is enjoying now. And when those thoughts—whether thoughts of fear or thoughts of envy, come into our minds and hearts, we cling to these words. For the first enemy deals with in our lives is the demons that affect and afflict us. But then, at the end of our lives here, the final enemy is death. But, Jesus rules over death itself too, so that whether you die soon or decades down the road, we can have hope because Jesus rose from the dead. And since he rose from the dead all his enemies are under his feet. And he can deal and dispose of them whenever he wants.
And so, my dear friends in Christ, the joy of having ham, bacon and donuts from our Easter breakfast is already fading, isn’t it? And all the possessions we have in this life we will someday have to say ‘good bye’ to. But on this day we celebrate the fact that Jesus in his body and in his soul rose from the dead. And day by day, he is putting all his enemies under his feet, first the demons who affect and afflict us, and finally death itself. With that fact have hope for now, and forever. Amen.
Give Us Time
It is permissible to be beaten, but not surprised. Many years ago the French emperor, Napoleon, said that. You see, if your army is about to be beaten on the field of battle, you can withdraw a large chunk of your troops. And they can fight on another day. But if you are surprised, those are the times when you can lose your entire army. When you read any of the gospels, you very quickly realize that Jesus knows that he will die. But everyone else does not. So he goes out of his way to prepare them and teach them. And the women we meet here in the darkness of Easter morning were some of the few who had a decent grasp on the fact that Jesus would die and that he did die. In Mark 16, we read: “1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”” (Mark 16:1–3 NIV11-GKE)
It is permissible to be beaten, but not surprised. These women had more than two years of teaching to be prepared for the fact that Jesus would die. But when the time came for Jesus to die, how could they really ever be fully prepared? And, in the midst of dealing with Jesus’ death, they aren’t even able to focus on it as much as they would like because they have to deal with a funeral. They buy spices to prepare Jesus body in his tomb on Friday and then now, on Sunday they can finally use them. One of the shocking and frustrating situations I’ve had to deal with is funerals. A person loses their loved one through death. And more than anything the family members just simply want time to deal with the death. But instead, they have to prepare and attend a funeral service. It doesn’t seem fair. But these women went through the same situation as we do today. But if they had a problem dealing with Jesus’ shocking and surprising death, they were even more unprepared for what followed: “4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”” (Mark 16:4–7 NIV11-GKE)
If they were shocked and surprised at having to deal with Jesus’ death then they were even more shocked and surprised in having to deal with Jesus’ life. The angel in the tomb tells them simple, plain and eloquent words. Jesus is raised. He is not here. This would be the part where they’re supposed to take out their “alleluia” banners and wave them around while they sing, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” But they don’t. Instead, this is what happens: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8 NIV11-GKE)
They were not ready. They were not really ready to deal with Jesus’ death. And even more so, they were not ready to deal with Jesus’ life. And so their minds collapsed and their hearts gave way and they ran away in fear. And so, what is their Savior’s solution to their inability to deal with his death and with his life? He gives them time. Over the next 40 days he appears to many people revealing that he had risen from the dead.
He gave them time—both to deal with his death and with his life. And today he does the same for us. Every year our Savior gives us this 40 days of lent to prepare for his death, so that by the time Good Friday arrives, we’re ready. But what he also does is that he gives us time to prepare for his life. In the first congregation I served in we had an Easter Sunrise service like this one. And after it was done there was a lady who came and spoke with me. She told me that she was frustrated and angry with me because she expected to come to church and sing “alleluia” instead of diving back into darkness. And she said, “You took Easter away from me.” I was really shocked by what she had said. But what it showed me is that she had never really grappled with the words we have in front of us today. These poor women were not ready. They were not ready for Jesus’ death and they were not ready for his life. What they needed was time. And that’s what our Lord and Savior gave them. And that’s what the Easter vigil gives us—time.
For many centuries what would happen is that Christians would gather around midnight on Saturday night and then read God’s word, hear sermons, have bible studies and sing hymns to prepare themselves not as much for Jesus’ death, but instead, for Jesus life. And then, when the sun came up in the morning they rejoiced in their Savior’s resurrection and then went home and got some sleep. They needed time to adjust to Jesus’ life. And so they set aside the time. Do realize that if Christians saw what we do on Easter Sunday they would think that it’s strange. Where’s the time to adjust from Jesus’ death to his life? We slowly walk through lent and slowly work through Jesus’ death on Good Friday, and then what do we do? With no time for transition we suddenly show up and shout “alleluia” at each other. That would have been weird for the ancient Christians.
And that then is what this order of service is: time to deal with Jesus’ life’. The light outside that slowly fades away on Good Friday we slowly allow to come back. The candles that we put out on Good Friday, we slowly light back up on Easter morning to give us time to deal with Jesus’ death and his life.
And so, out of love for us, Jesus gives us time—time to deal with his death and time to deal with his life. And this is not just important to speak about on Easter. It’s also important to speak about on our last day. Sunday after Sunday, year after year, y0u have the great privilege to hear, study and grow in God’s word. And through this what does Jesus do? He makes us ready for our own death. Because Jesus died, we are able to look at our own death with faith and confidence even amidst our own fear. But Jesus also gives us time to deal with our life. They had the privilege to see a resurrected Savior. And that showed them a glimpse of what their resurrected life would be. And through God’s word we have the same privilige.
And so, my dear friends in Christ, I encourage you to look at this hour of worship this morning as a great gift of time. Here in these words this morning we have one last time to deal with Jesus’ death. And we have time to deal with Jesus’ life. And that gives us every reason to be ready for our own future death and our own future life. Amen.
Who Will Take Jesus Down?
Who gets to set the agenda? I never was one to watch presidential debates. But, years ago, I watched a presidential debate because, I was told, that was the responsible, grown-up course to follow. And what surprised me right away is how the course of the entire conversation could be guided if not even dominated by the person who got to ask the questions. The one who asked the questions was the one who got to set the agenda. Tonight, on this night of darkness we spend more time in Mark’s gospel. And so we ask the question: who will set the agenda? In Mark 15, we read: “29 Those who passed by were yelling insults at him, shaking their heads, and saying, “Ha! The one who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself by coming down from the cross!” 31 In the same way, the chief priests with the scribes were mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with him taunted him.” (Mark 15:29–32 CSB17)
Notice how these words start out. People pass by and say, “come down from the cross.” Then the Jewish leaders follow up and with scorn and derision, say, “come down from the cross.” And with those questions, they set the agenda for all the words which follow. Who will take Jesus down from the cross? And if the Jewish leaders ask the question, what follows after this makes the question all that much more important. We read: “33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lemá sabachtháni?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”” (Mark 15:33–34 CSB17)
Who will take Jesus down? Who will rescue him from this torment and torture there on the cross? With such clear please and cries of pain, Jesus lets us know that his Father abandoned him. So, if the question is “who will take Jesus down,” the answer is definitely not God above. So if Jesus cannot seem to take himself down as the Jewish leaders invite, and if God above cannot take him down, who will take him down? Let us read some more: “35 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “See, he’s calling for Elijah.” 36 Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, fixed it on a stick, offered him a drink, and said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.”” (Mark 15:35–36 CSB17)
If Jesus cannot take himself down and God will not take Jesus down, then who will take him down? The crowd concludes that maybe Elijah will. These words here that the crowds speaks are probably the most incomprehensible and non-sensical words in the entire bible. They make no sense. Earlier Jesus had made the point that John the Baptizer was the Elijah that was to come.1 They were all there waiting for Elijah to come. But Elijah already came. And they missed it.
In these words, by God’s Holy Spirit, Mark shows us the depth of their sin. God’s word never reached their heads. And since the meaning and understanding of God’s word never reached their heads, it never reached their hearts. They did not know what God’s word said. And they should have. The the result was that they cared about the wrong concerns. The question they needed to ask themselves was not whether Elijah would take Jesus down. No, instead, the question they needed to ask was who would save them from sin, death and hell?
And we find the same pattern among us today. Years ago, I used to belong to a gym. And there were two elderly gentlemen on the other side of the lockers. And they were talking about about lazy kids were now-days. And one of them said, “It’s like it says in the good book, God helps them who help themselves.’” Now, I wasn’t exactly dressed at that moment. So I didn’t address the situation. But I wanted to. I wanted to go around the corner and ask the guy, “So, just where does it say that in the bible?” God’s word never reached his head, so it never really reached his heart.
We too face this same temptation and trap. It is ever-so-tempting to not study God’s word. And there are consequences that follow and flow into our lives when we do not set aside time to study God’s word. First, we don’t care. Years ago I visited with a man who didn’t read God’s word when he was a younger man. But, when he retired and especially when he got sick and became a shut-in, he read God’s word. And he said to me, “Pastor, I hurt a whole lot more now then I used to.” That is what happens when we read and study God’s word. The Holy Spirit makes us care. He shapes our consciences so that we hurt, we mourn, we grieve over our sins. But the second consequence is just as bad. If God’s word does not reach our heads and then reach our hearts we end up caring about the wrong concerns. It is important to talk about children stealing their parents fire arms and then shooting people. It is important for us to talk about North Korea using nuclear arms against Japan. But neither of those is that important compared to what the crowds were forced to face there on the cross. For what good would it be to get rid of all fire ams and all nuclear arms and then, one by one, have each person die without a knowledge of the gravity of their sin and the sincerity flowing from their Savior? If God’s word does not reach our heads, it does not reach our hearts. Who will take Jesus down? In their stupidity, the people ask, “maybe Elijah.” But what happens next? We read: “37 Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 Then the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 When the centurion, who was standing opposite him, saw the way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”” (Mark 15:37–39 CSB17)
Who will take Jesus down? Not Jesus; not God above; not even Elijah. Who would take Jesus down? No one will take Jesus down. But when Jesus dies, because no one took Jesus down, the temple curtain was torn down. At the temple there was this massive curtain that divided the Jewish men from all the Gentiles. In fact, the Jewish Historian Josephus tells us that there were signs up that said that if you crossed over you took your life in your own hands. Imagine the sermon that preached: you cannot get to God if you are a Gentile. But then what happens? Jesus dies and the temple curtain is torn down. And this centurion is able to look up and over at the temple and conclude, “Now I can get to God. Now heaven is open to me.”
And the same is true for us. When we do not allow God’s word to reach our heads and then its meaning never gets to our hearts we show and prove that we do not belong with God. Instead, we belong separated from God in hell. But no one took Jesus down. He was tortured and in torment for me. My sins of caring more about studying hobbies and habits is put to death there on the cross. My sin of not caring or just as bad, caring about the wrong concerns—those sins are dealt with by Jesus’ death. And as a result, each of us can conclude right along with the centurion: “I now have open access to God and the heaven he has prepared for me.”
Who will take Jesus down? The crowd wonders whether Elijah will take Jesus down. Jesus dies and the temple curtain is torn down. But there’s one final detail to take care of in thes words: “40 There were also women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women followed him and took care of him. Many other women had come up with him to Jerusalem. 42 When it was already evening, because it was the day of preparation (that is, the day before the Sabbath), 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, came and boldly went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body. 44 Pilate was surprised that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had already died. 45 When he found out from the centurion, he gave the corpse to Joseph. 46 After he bought some linen cloth, Joseph took him down and wrapped him in the linen. Then he laid him in a tomb cut out of the rock and rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb.” (Mark 15:40–46 CSB17)
The women watch at a distance because they cannot take Jesus’ down. But then, amidst all the fear and cowardice of this day we read that word, “boldly.” With such boldness Joseph of Arimathea dares to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. There is such urgency in these words. But there is also such confidence. For Joseph carefully cares for Jesus’ body knowing that his sins are paid for and that there will be proof that his sins are paid for when Jesus rises from the dead. And with such amazement and joy we find the answer to the question: who will take Jesus down? Not Jesus; not God above; not Elijah. No one takes him down. He dies there. And then after he dies, with boldness Joseph takes his body down to fulfill scripture and show his faith. Amen.
1 Mark 9:13
You Have A New Covenant
This is my blankie. As you can see, it has seen lots of loving throughout the years. It served its purpose. And then it was set aside. But I have to tell you that when it was time to set it aside, I was not happy about it. And my mom asked and even begged me to let her throw it away. I couldn’t let it go. So, even though I’ve thrown many things away over the many years we have moved, I keep moving my blankie with me. It’s hard to let go, isn’t it? That’s the situation and context we find ourselves in as we begin to work through these words in Hebrews 8. We read: “But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6 NIV11-GKE)
The new covenant was better. But the Jewish people that God’s word is speaking to this evening didn’t want to set the old covenant aside. They had had this covenant for about 1400 years. And it was hard to let it go. So notice what the writer to the Hebrews does. He lets them know that hundreds of years before Jesus was born God’s word, in the book of Jeremiah, already let them know that the old covenant and the laws in it were “flawed.”1 He writes: “7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.” (Hebrews 8:7–9 NIV11-GKE)
About 1400 B.C. the Lord met with the Hebrew people at Mt. Sinai. And he made an agreement with them. No, it was even more official than that. He made a covenant with them. It was a two-sided covenant. He would be their God if and only if they would be his people. He kept up his part of the agreement. But they did not keep up theirs. Even though he “took them by the hand” to lead them out of Egypt, they rejected him. This old, two-sided was flawed because the people were flawed. They could not keep the promises they made. So the Old Covenant served two purposes: First, it showed them their sin. For they could not keep the promises they made. Second, it connected them to the Savior and Sacrifice that would come later on. It served its purpose. And when Jesus came, it was set aside.
But my dear friends, what happens when, like me with my blankie, we don’t want to set the old aside? Then a tendency can turn into the temptation to sin. When I was growing up dad had a chair. It was old and vinyl and orange. It had a handle that didn’t work right. You would pull on the handle and it either would not go back at all or it would fly back. It had a seat that was all worn out enough to have the thick springs poking through. Dad “repaired” it with duct tape. But eventually that made it worse because not only would your back side get poked by the exposed spring but your back side was stuck to the seat. But the chair was not thrown away because it was easier and more comfortable to keep the old than get the new.
That is our temptation today. We have the new covenant. The old has given way to Jesus and the new covenant. But there is this tug on us to forget the benefits and blessings of the new. Tonight ask yourself one simple question: If my friend or coworker asked me what benefit or blessing there is in the Lord’s Supper, what would you say to that person? If you have to think hard about an answer, doesn’t that show the real and true fact that there are these blessings in the new covenant in the Lord’s Supper. But we sin by forgetting them.
But the situation gets worse. If we forget the benefits and blessings we have in the Lord’s Supper—in this new covenant, then it’s ever-so-easy to be led away, back to the old covenant, by churches that deny the blessings that are there in the new covenant. When we were in PA, there was a small country church that would pull out all the stops for Maundy Thursday. They would put on an elaborate Tableau. They would dress up thirteen men and station them around a big table to recreate the mood and feel of the Lord’s Supper. They would put on elaborate recreations of the passover to get back to our Hebrew roots. And theologically speaking, they had to. There’s the old saying, “nature abhors a vacuum.” When you deny the benefits and blessings that Jesus gives to us in this new covenant in the Lord’s Supper, all you have left is a need to cling to the old—like me clinging onto a blanket that was worn out and ready to be set aside.
You have the new covenant. Jesus says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” (Mark 14:24 NIV11-GKE) Well if we have the new covenant here this evening the Lord’s Supper, wouldn’t it be good to talk about the benefits and blessings that are there for us in the Lord’s Supper? The writer to the Hebrews tells us what blessings this new covenant gives to us: “10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”” (Hebrews 8:10–12 NIV11-GKE)
What benefit and blessing does the new covenant give to us? First, it forges a family with the Triune God. In the Lord’s Supper we get to use some precious pronouns. God calls us “his” people. We get to call him “our” God. And not only do we get to use these precious pronouns, we are treated like family. When there are special occasions family gets together and feasts. That’s what is going on in the Lord’s Supper. We are feasting with our Triune God, proving we are part of his family. And feasting doesn’t stop here. For Jesus gives us this promise: “Truly I tell you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”” (Mark 14:25 CSB17) We get to have the perfect version of this feast finally in heaven.
So the first blessing we receive in the Lord’s Supper is that through it God forges a family with us. But the second blessing is just as important. The second blessing is forgiveness. Notice what God’s word says here. In this new covenant God forgives our wickedness. In this new covenant he remembers our sin no more. This too is what the Lord’s Supper delivers to us. Jesus wins forgiveness there on the cross and then delivers it to us here in the Lord’s Supper. And that’s exactly what we need. We need forgiveness for the times we have forgotten the very blessings he promises to give to us in the Lord’s Supper. We need forgiveness for the times we have looked over the fence at other churches, envying what they do on Maundy Thursday nights—all the while forgetting that the reason they have fancy tableaus and Seder meals is that, long ago, they denied the blessings that you receive every month in the Lord’s Supper. Those sins, those acts of wickedness are forgiven here in Jesus’ body and blood given to you in the Lord’s Supper.
So where does that leave us this evening? The writer to the Hebrews concludes with these words: “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13 NIV11-GKE)
You have the new covenant. So it’s ok to let the old go. We are thankful for those Old Testament laws and ceremonies. They showed the Old Testament believers their sins. They connected them to the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But they disappeared. Let us then cling and hold onto the covenant we have. The Lord’s Supper forges a family between us and God. The Lord’s Supper delivers forgiveness. Amen.
1 “ⲁⲙⲉⲙⲡⲧⲟⲥ” (Hebrews 8:7 GNT-ALEX)
Have This Mindset
How do you find the right mindset? When you watch the Olympics it’s good not to just watch the event. Instead, it’s good to also watch the athlete before the event. I like watching the athletes before the luge or bobsled. You can see man or woman sitting there with their eyes closed. And what are they doing? They are picturing every turn and texture of the pipe they are about to slide down. But along with that, they are getting their mind in the right place. What about us? How do we accomplish the same goal? How do we have the right mindset? The apostle Paul answers that question here in Philippians 2: “5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5–8 NIV11-GKE)
Paul says, “Have this mindset.” Then notice where Paul directs our focus. He invites us to look at Jesus. Jesus had all the same divine atributes that his Father had. But how did he treat them? He did not use those attributes for his own advantage.1 And what follows is one staggering, amazing detail showing just how much he did not use his attributes for his own advantage. First, he becomes like a slave. And what does a slave do? He humbles himself and becomes obedient to his master. Jesus did this for his Father. And Jesus did this so perfectly and completely for his Father that when his Father said, “Obey me by putting yourself to death,” Jesus willingly obeyed that command all the way to the cross. And that word, cross, is not a word to read and then forget. It’s hard to consider a person choosing to be a slave and then throwing themselves on a grenade for someone else. But what happened on a cross was not a quick death. It was torture.
Paul says, “have this mindset.” When we look at Jesus, that’s the sort of mindset we see. But what do we see when we look in our own hearts? We see the opposite. We have attributes too. They are not the same as God. But we do have attributes. We have physical attributes, the ability to see, think, ponder, consider and work. But what do we do with these attributes? We use these attributes for ourselves.. And when people acknowledge that we have these attributes, we give credit for these attributes to ourselves. And if there should be a time when God takes some of these gifts, blessings, and benefits away, we blame God and get angry.
Paul says, “have this mindset,” but who actually has it? We don’t see this mindset in ourselves. And we don’t see it out there in the world. Everyone remembers the quarterback who throws the touchdown pass and the receiver who catches it. But who remembers the guy on the scrimmage line who gets hammered, play after play, so that nobody tackles the quarterback? Who remembers the mediocre guy on the bike taking the brunt of all the wind so that his teammate who is a better athlete overall can win for the team? What award is there for the mom who selflessly raises her children and then they grow up in just enough time for her to take care of her parents? What award is there for the guy who stays in the job that doesn’t fit him for one simple reason: He has a family to support? We do not have this mindset because each of us has a sinful nature that serves and worships itself to tell its own story and gain its own glory.
So, my dear friends in Christ, to have the right mindset, do not look at Jesus as your mentor and cheerleader. Look at him as your Savior. Look at the Jesus here we see slowly riding as your humble king up the hill to Jerusalem. See him preaching to people who didn’t understand who he was or even worse, wanted him dead because of who he was. See him humbly preaching to them and just a few days later on Good Friday, dying for them—yes even a torturous death on a cross. See that Jesus. For that humble king pays for our sins of wanting to tell our own story and gain our own glory by following his Father’s will all the way to the cross.
Look at Jesus your Savior. Then you will have the right mindset. Look at Jesus as the only one who was obedient to his Father. But, as Paul invites us to, we can also look to Jesus in another way too. We can look to him as the one who gives us a new mindset. First, he gives us the ability to see that humility is good. Second, he gives us the ability to have the mindset that we see is actually good. He gives us the ability to reach out and humbly serve others in this life even though it might mean that people might take advantage of us. And why is that that we are able to do this? Paul tells us: “9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11 NIV11-GKE)
The Father did not forget his Son. He kept his promise to him that he would not abandon him. He raised him from the dead and then raised him above every place and every name in heaven. And if in a much, much greater way God can lift Jesus up, he can do the same with us. The mom who cares for her children and then her parents until the lines under the eyes come and the hair fades from color to grey can say, “that’s ok.’” She can say this because she knows that her Father in heaven will take care of her. And the guy toiling away at a job where they take advantage of his time and gifts and yet he doesn’t get the bonus or the raise he might deserve—that’s ok. It’s ok because he knows that his Father in heaven will watch over him.
You see, it’s impossible for our old, sinful nature to hear these words of Paul, that we are to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Because we need to tell our story and gain our glory. But with this promise of forgiveness for our sins and protection for our weakness, our sinful self is put to shame and silence. And God then gives to our new nature true humility and true contentment in serving others.
And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, have this mindset. Hold onto it. Do not ever be ashamed of serving others—especially when there is no flashlight or spotlight on your service. When others do not acknowledge your attributes and abilities, be content. For the God who gave you these abilities and attributes acknowledges them. And his opinion is worth far more than the world around you. Have the same mindset as Christ because in obedience to his Father Jesus first showed this mindset toward you. Amen.
1 “ⲟⲩⲭⲁⲣⲡⲁⲅⲙⲟⲛ” (Philippians 2:6 GNT-ALEX)
This is our second lesson on the doctrine of Church Fellowship
What Are You Looking For?
You have to deal with it. One of the challenges in our lives is that it is far, far easier to put off till tomorrow what we could be doing today. But, at some point you have to deal with the situation. It could be your Spring cleaning. It could be your taxes. I hope it’s not your Christmas decorations. It would be past time to deal with those. And these are all small examples. But the larger, more important example of this that Mark brings to our eyes is what we do with or deal with when it comes to Jesus. In Mark 15, we read: “1 As soon as it was morning, having held a meeting with the elders, scribes, and the whole Sanhedrin, the chief priests tied Jesus up, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2 So Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 Pilate questioned him again, “Aren’t you going to answer? Look how many things they are accusing you of!” 5 But Jesus still did not answer, and so Pilate was amazed.” (Mark 15:1–5 CSB17)
As you have grown accustomed to, there is a familiar A….B…A structure in Mark’s gospel. Here the pattern is spacial. People deal with who Jesus is inside, then they deal with Jesus outside, then finally, inside again. And so, the first person to deal with who Jesus is is Pilate. So remember where we were last Wednesday. The Jewish leaders had a secret, illegal trial in the middle of the night. Then, just when the sun comes up, they assemble the entire Sanhedrin and make their illegal verdict official. Then, very quickly, they dish Jesus off to Pilate. And Pilate is just simply not equipped to handle the situation in front of him. He is used to the Jewish leaders being against each other in just about every issue. But here, in front of him, they were united in one issue. They wanted Jesus dead. What we need to picture this evening is the prætorium. The Pætorium is this big courtyard. So you picture steps and a dais on one side with Pilate’s living quarters behind that. In the middle is Jesus. And around him are hundreds of soldiers. Just outside that are the Jews accusing Jesus. But Mark gets to the conclusion of the conversation. Pilate says, “You are the King of the Jews, aren’t you?’”1 It’s a question that expects a “yes” answer. In a very interesting way Jesus responds to him. He says, “That’s what you say.’”2 It reminds me of when I got into stupid arguments with other children when I was growing up. When someone made fun of me, the ‘go-to’ response was “Sez you!” Here Jesus means these words truly and sincerely. Pilate had a warped notion of what a king was and should be. But Pilate wasn’t there to learn from Jesus. Pilate was there to use Jesus. To Pilate Jesus was a convenient King. Pilate’s plan was to use Jesus to hopefully free Jesus. But if that didn’t work, at least he could use Jesus to survive at least one more day. But that’s not the sort of king Pilate had in front of him. Kings make commands. Instead, Pilate wanted to make commands to Jesus.
And isn’t the same true today. The King of kings says today, “I have mercy on some and send them to heaven” and “I will be fair and just ot others and send them to hell.” And in response, the sin-filled world around us says: “I will not follow a king who allows such evil people into heaven and I will not follow a king who sends people to hell who do so little that’s really wrong.’” Instead of hearing and obeying commands to the King of Kings, they give commands to him or ignore his commands.
And isn’t the same true of us? We can despise Pilate or laugh at the world around us for making Jesus into a convenient King. But we do the same. Our King makes commands. He tells us to worship him with our whole heart, but our focus and attention drifts in and out the entire time we are here this evening. Our king commands us to grow in God’s word by reading our bibles at home and studying them here, but it’s ever-so-tempting to ignore those commands from our King. He commands us to come to him regularly in prayer. But it’s ever-so-tempting to redefine that command into “when I get around to it.” Pilate called Jesus the King of the Jews. But he made him into a convenient king. And all of us do the same today. But then, Mark shifts our away from the inside to the outside: “6 At the festival Pilate used to release for the people a prisoner whom they requested. 7 There was one named Barabbas, who was in prison with rebels who had committed murder during the rebellion. 8 The crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do for them as was his custom. 9 Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release the King of the Jews for you?” 10 For he knew it was because of envy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd so that he would release Barabbas to them instead. 12 Pilate asked them again, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call the King of the Jews?” 13 Again they shouted, “Crucify him!” 14 Pilate said to them, “Why? What has he done wrong?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them; and after having Jesus flogged, he handed him over to be crucified.” (Mark 15:6–15 CSB17)
Here, as the focus shifts to the crowd on the outside we see a fascinating irony: The harder Pilate tries, the worse the situation gets. Pilate pleads for this king’s innocence. Then, when that doesn’t work, he tries to compromise and just have the king beaten. But that just makes the situation worse and they then go for everything they can: they shout, “Crucify him.”
But, as ironic as the situation is, it is also perfectly completely appropriate. For Jesus was the only one there who took that title that Pilate spoke seriously. The King of the Jews must finally take responsibility for the Jews. Who would pay for the piled up generations of rebellions and lies the Jews told? To whom much is given, much is expected. And so, it was appropriate and even perfect that their shout would be Jesus’ will. For the King of the Jews had to take responsibility for the Jews. And even more amazing still, Jesus takes responsibility not only for the rebellions of the Jews, but also for us Gentiles. Pilate looked for a convenient King. And we too have followed in his footsteps. The crowd looked for a crucified king. And, in such a perfect and appropriate way, what they wanted, they got. For this king takes responsibility for their rebellions and ours. But these words end back inside the prætorium again: “16 The soldiers led him away into the palace (that is, the governor’s residence) and called the whole company together. 17 They dressed him in a purple robe, twisted together a crown of thorns, and put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They were hitting him on the head with a stick and spitting on him. Getting down on their knees, they were paying him homage. 20 After they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple robe and put his clothes on him.” (Mark 15:16–20 CSB17)
Pilate looks for a convenient king. The crowd cries out for a crucified king. The soldiers make Jesus into a clown king. They beat him up. They spit on him. They make fun of him. All of my life I’ve had a strange understanding of clowns. For I’ve never known exactly why they exist. When I was a child there were a bunch of clowns who came to our school. And there was this one clown who gave a kid a bat and then made fun of the kid until the kid beat the clown with the bat. Then, when the kid hit the clown the first time, the crowd around looked at the clown in shock. What would the clown do? Would he encourage the violence or stop it? The clown did everything he could to get the kid to beat him more. Why? Maybe he was trying to provide the children with an outlet: beat on me instead of beating on each other. Maybe he just simply thought it was funny and knew others would think it was funny too. But it taught a very real lesson: it was ok to beat on this guy—and it was even fun. That’s what the soldiers learned about Jesus. No one would get in their way. And the abuse they poured out on Jesus was fun.
We too have the same temptation. But our temptation is not to beat Jesus with rods. Instead, it’s with our words. We can cry out and use the name of our King in the wrong way when we are angry because we think it will make us feel better. We can cry out and use the name of our King as a punchline to a joke. And we can conclude that’s “ok” because it makes us feel better. No it isn’t. When we use the name of our King in a sinful way either through anger or laughter, it is wrong. We are making Jesus into a clown king.
But here is were we return back outside again in our own hearts. For Jesus wasn’t just the king of the Jews, he was also the King for the Jews. He paid for that sin along with all the others when he was crucified. For Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. Amen.
1 “ⲥⲩⲉⲓⲟⲃⲁⲥⲓⲗⲉⲩⲥⲧⲱⲛⲓ̈ⲟⲩⲇⲁⲓⲱⲛ·” (Mark 15:2 GNT-ALEX)
2 “ⲥⲩⲗⲉⲅⲉⲓⲥ·” (Mark 15:2 GNT-ALEX)
Who Do You Think You Are?
How do you answer someone who disagrees with you? Actually, let’s make the question even more challenging: How do you answer someone when it’s as plain as day that the other person is wrong? In the Old Testament it says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.” (Proverbs 26:4 NIV) And what’s fascinating, is that in the very next verse, God’s word says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:5 NIV) So which do you do? When someone is wrong, and you know it, do you correct that person, or not? Sometimes there is no way out. Sometimes God puts you in the situation where you have to correct that other person. And that’s the situation that we see Jesus in this morning. In John 8, we read: “46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” 48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” 49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”” (John 8:46–51 NIV11-GKE)
In these words Jesus is at the very end of a long conversation with the Jewish Leaders in Jerusalem. And there’s no way around it. He, out of love for them, is going out of his way to correct them. But what is fascinating in these words is how he does this. At the end of the day, he wants them to know that he is their Savior from sin. So, first of all he needs to let them know that they are sinners. And so he tells them that whoever keeps his word will never see death. Now it’s very important for us to see where Jesus starts. Years ago I had a professor who said that when you are speaking to people about their sin and their Savior, what you should not do is tell them that they cannot get into heaven by themselves. No, instead, you should help them discover what it takes to get into heaven if they want to go alone. Let them know, he said, that if they want to get into heaven what they need to do is to never, ever say, think or take any selfish, sinful action towards anyone else. All you have to do is perfectly obey God…always…till your very last breath. For when you do this you let people know that if they want to jump over a bar to get into heaven, the bar is above the skies and way out of their reach. They cannot be perfect. That is what Jesus is doing here. He lets them know that if anyone of them is able to keep Jesus’ words perfectly and completely that person will never ever see death. These are words that are supposed to drive them to give up on their own ability to get to heaven by themselves. But these are also words that are supposed to show Christ’s great love for them.
All this is important for us to see. For when we see Jesus here we see someone who is so very often the opposite of who we are. Jesus reaches out and corrects these Jewish leaders who hated him when it would have been so much easier to simply ignore them. And by reflection and contrast it reminds us of the times we should have corrected those around us who were wrong—especially wrong about their conclusions about the bible. But instead of correcting them, we became embarrassed and ignored the problem. Or, on the opposite extreme, instead of ignoring the problem we corrected them like a hammar corrects a nail. Without love and without compassion we rejoiced at the opportunity to tell them when they were wrong. Well then, when Jesus reaches out to correct them, what is their response to him?: “52 At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” 54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word.” (John 8:52–55 NIV11-GKE)
The Jews in this part of God’s word ask the right question, don’t they? They say, “Who do you think you are?” Jesus is the only one. Jesus is the only one who can keep God’s word. He is the only one who is able to correct with perfect faithfulness and patience. And his faithfulness paves over our cowardice and arrogance all the way to the cross where he pays for these sins. Who do you think you are? Jesus is the only one who can keep God’s word. But as these words travel on we find a different answer to that question: “56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” (John 8:56–59 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus is the only one. He is the only one who can keep God’s word.’ But notice here what Jesus says. Jesus is the only one who can carry God’s name.’ In these words we find two amazing and shocking statements. First, Abraham saw Jesus’ day. In a very wondrous way Jesus lets us know that he was there. He was there at the beginning and creation of the world. And he has been there every day up until he spoke these words. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father. And the Jews pick up on how shocking this statement was. And they ask him in a disgusted and condescending way, “You saw Abraham?”1 From there then, Jesus says a second, even more shocking statement: “Before Abraham existed, I Am.” Now, there’s more going on in these words than we might pick up on at first glance. These words take us back to Exodus 3 where Moses asks God what his name is. And in a shocking and surprising turn of events, God tells him. He says, “I am that which I am.”2(Exodus 3:14 BHS-T)}} Then he tells Moses, “I Am has sent me.”3(Exodus 3:14 BHS-T)}} So when Jesus says, “Before Abraham existed, I Am”, the Jews perfectly understood what he was doing and what he was saying. He was saying that he was a human who could carry God’s true and divine name. And we know this is exactly how they understood this. For they picked up stones to stone him. That was a punishment for blasphemy.
When they asked him the question, “who do you think you are?”, out of love for them, he gave them two answers. Jesus is the only only one who can keep God’s word. And Jesus is the only one who can carry God’s name. And that is a fact that we ponder this morning. For there have been times where we have not corrected people in a patient and caring way. But out of love for us Jesus gives us the opportunity to correct people. And the way we can do that in this context, in these words, is to correct and clarify who Jesus is. When our co-worker stubs his or her toe and says, “Jesus Christ”, with patience and care you can say, “I know those words slipped out because you were in pain, but those are words worthy of divine dignity and worship.” And, even worse, when someone says, “Jesus Christ,” as a punchline to a joke or a curse, even more, with patience and love you can say, “Maybe you think that I will listen to you more when you use the name of God like that. But I am convinced that that is the name of the one true God. And on the last day he will send people to heaven and send others to hell. That is not a name you want to play games with.” And when the person says the same question the Jewish leaders speak here, “who do you think you are?”, you can respond by saying, “That’s not the real issue. The real issue is “who do you think Jesus is.”’” For Jesus is the only one. He is the only one who keeps God’s word. And he is the only one who carries God’s name. With this in mind, let us ever praise him for saving us from our sin. And let us ever worship him for who he is. Amen.
1 “ⲁⲃⲣⲁⲁⲙⲉⲱⲣⲁⲕⲁⲥ” (John 8:57 GNT-ALEX)
2 ”אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה“
3 ”אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי“