He Shall Never See Death
St. John 8:42-49 (3/22/15)
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. John 8:51 [Jesus said] “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word she shall never see death.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… “Uh, Dad?” “Yes, Isaac?” “Well, we’ve got wood here. And we’ve got some fire. But, um, where’s the lamb for the burnt offering?” And what do you suppose Isaac was thinking as his father tied him up and laid him on the altar and raised the knife? Do you think Isaac at that moment remembered Abraham’s words, “My son, God will provide for Himself the Lamb for a burnt offering!”
Abraham kept God’s Word. And “keeping God’s Word” doesn’t necessarily mean what a lot of people think it means. When you hear that Abraham kept God’s word you usually think it means he “obeyed” God’s Word. And yes, he did; he was ready to sacrifice his son at God’s command. But why could Abraham do that? What was it that could let him go through with such an awful request? Simply this: Abraham was keeping the Word of God. He was holding on to it. He was trusting it. He was believing it. And he did so no matter how crazy, irrational, or impossible God’s Word sounded to him.
Keeping God’s Word is about far more than mechanically doing what it says. Keeping God’s Word means having a lively faith and trust and confidence in God’s promises. Hebrews 11:17-18 says, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ’In Isaac your seed shall be called.’” This tells us that Abraham believed that even if he went ahead and killed Isaac, God would have raised Isaac from the dead in order to keep His promise to Abraham to have a Descendant. In other words, Abraham kept God’s Word not simply by obeying its outward command, but by holding fast to the Word and promises of God. That is why he could drag his own son to an altar on a mountain and still confidently proclaim, “God will provide for Himself the Lamb.”
And Isaac did not die that day; the promise of God was indeed fulfilled. Abraham had offspring, all the way down the ages to Jesus, the Lamb that God provided for Himself for an offering.
Alright, fast-forward now to Jesus’ day. We find Him in a heated argument with the scribes and Pharisees. They’re the experts in the Bible. They know all about the Scriptures. But they don’t keep God’s Word. What drives them is not a sure confidence in the promises of God, but a boastful attitude that they know the Bible and most other people don’t. What runs their thinking is not the joyous Good News that their sins are forgiven in Christ, but that they are special to God because they are so holy and can keep the Law and Commandments. They are their own god; that’s why they don’t know the Father.
But Jesus knows the Father. He keeps the Father’s Word. Jesus has a sure and certain and perfect trust in His Father’s Word and Promises, so much so that He can be the Lamb that Abraham spoke of. If Abraham believed that God could give him his son back, how much more so the Son of God believe that He could give His life for sinners and not be destroyed. So much so that the Son came down from heaven and was born of the Virgin’s womb. So much faith and hope did Jesus have in His Father’s word that He could be baptized with sinners. Jesus had so much trust in His Father’s Word that He could battle the devil after even more than a month of fasting.
So much did Jesus keep His Father’s Word – that is, trust in His Father – that He could resolve even while covered in bloody sweat to go ahead and be that Lamb. Far more than Abraham who raised the knife but was kept from killing Isaac, Jesus goes the way of the cross knowing full well the Father is NOT going to spare Him but will instead lay upon Him the sins of the world and utterly forsake Him. All done on your behalf, dear sinner.
Jesus keeps the Father’s Word. He holds fast to it. He prays, “Into you hands, I commit my spirit,” trusting that the Father will raise Him up on the Third Day. Christ, with perfect fear, love and trust in God the Father has kept God’s Word, He has held on to it, He has held fast to it, He has kept it as His comfort and hope even amidst the darkness of His own excruciating death to save sinners. Above all, Jesus keeps the Father’s Word by being the perfect, final offering for all sin. Jesus is the very Lamb that Abraham promised Isaac God would provide for Himself.
But these Jews, these Pharisees and scribes and other religious folk, they don’t keep God’s Word. What runs them is not a happy and glad trust in their Savior but a small and shallow trust in their own goodness and ability to please God. And when Jesus dares to threaten their religion by calling them to trust in Him instead of themselves, they mock Him, call Him names, and say He has a devil.
Rather than hear and learn what Jesus is actually teaching, what the Scriptures actually say, and how the Lord would rescue them from trusting in themselves, they circle the wagons, pick up the stones, and are ready to kill Him! This is because they don’t KEEP God’s Word. They say they know what God’s word says. They may even look like they outwardly OBEY most of it. But they don’t KEEP it, they don’t treasure it, they don’t live by it, and they don’t trust in it.
Therein is your repentance, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. You hear God’s Word. You may even try to obey God’s Word once in a while. But you don’t KEEP His Word. You don’t hold fast to it as your greatest treasure. The promises of God go in one ear and out the other. There is so much more exciting and interesting stuff in your life besides God’s Word. There are so many more pressing problems in your life to worry about than learning and believing God’s Word.
And so what runs you is not the lively hope and confidence and trust in a Father who loves you by sending His Son to be the sacrificial lamb for your sins. No, what runs you is your own notions, your own ideas, your own fears and worries. And when that is questioned and you are called to repent, then you pick up stones to throw! Repent, brothers and sisters, of not keeping, holding fast, cherishing, living by the Words and promises of Jesus.
Jesus says “Whoever is God’s hears God’s Word. If anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.” These words of Jesus are not a whip-up-some-religion-in-yourself command. They are words that rescue you by calling you away from trusting in anything else in this world than Christ and His Word. To KEEP Christ’s Word means to live like Abraham. No matter what you see with your eyes, you know by faith what God has in store for you. No matter what you suffer, you live with the glad confidence that you can truly suffer no ultimate evil in Christ.
To KEEP God’s Word means to cling to HIS Word and promises which rescue you from having to save yourself! And what are those promises? Everything that the Lamb has accomplished for you on the cross of Calvary delivered in His holy gifts. To KEEP Christ’s Word is to live from the waters of your Baptism, believing that you are a child of God and your sins have been washed away. To KEEP Christ’s Word means to live in the sure and certain knowledge that because you pastor has forgiven your sins, they are forgiven before God in heaven.
To KEEP Christ’s Word is to run to His Supper every time it is offered to receive Jesus’ own body and blood, not just in a spiritual way, but really, truly, physically which is your certain promise that your sins are forgiven and that you will rise on the Last Day. In short, to KEEP God’s Word means far more than just obeying it. To be sure, you do well to try to live according to God’s Word. But to KEEP God’s Word as Jesus is talking about is to live from Him and His forgiveness, not trying to save yourselves, not trusting in your own efforts, but believing that He has saved you.
What is the good of keeping Christ’s Word in this way? Simply this: those who didn’t keep Christ’s Word got so worked up when they were threatened that they picked up rocks to kill Jesus! How’s THAT for obeying God’s Word! And unless you KEEP God’s Word, unless you live by faith and trust in God’s promises to you in Christ, you also will be only too ready at the drop of a hat to defend yourselves and your religion and your way of thinking by picking up stones to kill your neighbor! And that does no one else any good!
But that person who lives by God’s Word, who KEEPS Christ’s promises held fast, doesn’t worry about what others think. The Christian who KEEPS Christ’s Word and lives by this confidence of eternal life can do good deeds and kind works for their neighbors, even for the people they DON’T like, whether they get any thanks or recognition or just get spit in the face.
Think what joy you would bring to your husband or wife or kids or parents or family or friends or anyone around you if you had such a trust in Christ and what your Baptism and Absolution and the Supper give you!
Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day and saw it by faith! So you have seen Jesus by faith. He comes to you in His holy Word and Sacraments. He gives you His Word and by His Holy Spirit keeps that word in you. God has provided Christ the Lamb for Himself as the sacrifice – your sacrifice in your place. And Christ has given you His Word to forgive you and to save you.
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.