John 8:42-59; Hebrews 9:11-15; Genesis 22:1-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It has become most difficult to communicate today, hasn’t it? It seems, no matter what you say, someone will misunderstand. They take your words out of their context. They will misinterpret your tone or inflection. They will broaden the definition of a clear and precisely defined word, and they will narrow the definition of a broadly defined word. And, when you argue your case, they will say it all comes down to semantics, “That’s your interpretation”. Then, when it comes to an established text, each and every interpretation is considered to be equally valid, regardless of what the author meant or intended.
Foolishness! Mindless rubbish and foolishness! Words mean things. Languages were developed to help us to organize our thoughts, to facilitate functional communication, and to establish names and categories for the things that exist in this world in which we live. Thanks to European Continental philosophies, however, and the rise of Post-Modernism, it is widely believed that words no longer mean anything in particular, or rather, words can have a multitude of meanings both to the hearer as well as to the speaker. But, if a word can mean anything, then it effectively means nothing. And, as go words, so goes what words refer to, truth.
Is it any wonder that so few truly believe in God today? Even amongst the great religions of our world, many practitioners proclaim themselves spiritual or religious, but they do not truly believe that a deity exists. While they may embrace some moralistic doctrine, they do not believe in a Creating, Redeeming, and Sanctifying God who is before all things and the source of all things. After all, the God confessed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, even if not in the fullness of His Trinity, is a God who reveals Himself by speaking words, and words can mean anything, or nothing, right?
Make no mistake about, dear Christian, you worship a God of Word. That He is a creator and that He is powerful you may well observe from nature, but, that He is good, that He is love, that He is a Trinity consisting of Fatherhood, Sonship, and the Spirit of love and sacrifice, you will know this only by trusting in His Word. The Word God speaks is a powerful, creative, and life-giving Word. It is a performative Word which brings into being what it says: “Let there be light”, and there was light. “Little girl, get up”, and the little girl got up. “I forgive you your sins”, and they are forgiven. “This is my body; this is my blood”, and it is. God’s Word is powerful and creative, not because of what God says, but because of who God is. When Moses asked God His Name as He spoke to Him from the burning bush, God answered, “I AM”. I AM – I exist. I AM EXISTENCE. When it comes to God, His Word is powerful and creative, His Word means something, because He IS SOMETHING, because HE IS.
Before Abram was to hear God’s Word, God IS. And, before God’s Word was spoken, God IS. And, when God’s Word was spoken, what He spoke came to be. This is what St. John means when he writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” All things that are are because of the Word of God. And the Word of God became flesh in Jesus and made His dwelling amongst us. When men reject Jesus, they reject the Word of God. But the Word of God has always been rejected by men, ever since the First Man Adam rejected God’s Word in favor of man’s word, inspired by the Enemy.
Our Gospel lesson today contains a portion of Jesus’ teaching concerning the Word of God. In the verses just before today’s reading Jesus had said to the Pharisees and to other Jews who had previously believed in Him “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” They responded in outrage saying “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” It seems that the Jews of Jesus’ day had short, or at least, selective memories. Indeed, the people of Israel had been enslaved to no less than the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and, presently, the Romans. Jesus then went on to teach them saying that they received neither Abraham nor God as their father, for, if they did, then they would listen to Jesus’ Word and believe in Him. Jesus said to them, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. […] Whoever is of God hears the Words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
Strong words, aren’t they? Surprising, perhaps? Jesus had drawn a line in the sand, that was certain. The unbelieving Jews continued to attack Jesus verbally, accusing Him of being a demon-possessed Samaritan and blaspheming God. Yet, still Jesus appealed to them saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my Word, he will never see death.” But, that only enraged them all the more. “Now we know that you have a demon!” they shouted, “Abraham died, as did the prophets, but you say, ‘If anyone keeps my Word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Their hearts were so hard, their eyes so blind, their ears so closed that they would not, they could not see, hear, or believe Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, dwelling amongst them.
Jesus is the Word of God made man. He is the Word of creation, the powerful and performative Word of God that never returns to Him void, but always and necessarily accomplishes the purpose for which He was sent. He is the two-edged sword that proceeds from the mouth of the Father, that cuts both ways, but always cuts. The question is not, “Is He telling the truth?” but the question is, “Do you believe the truth or do you believe the lie?” The Pharisees and the Scribes claimed to know God, but they rejected His Word and they rejected Jesus, the Word of God made flesh. They chose to believe the lies of their father the devil and to set themselves against God and His Word, Jesus.
Likewise, though they may have been sons of Abraham according to the flesh, they were not sons according to the spirit and faith of Abraham. “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day,” Jesus told them, “He saw it and was glad.” Then the unbelievers chided Jesus saying, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Then Jesus answered them saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” And, because He used God’s Divine Name in reference to Himself they picked up stones to throw at Him believing that He had blasphemed the Name of the God they did not know.
If Father Abraham is to be remembered for anything it is for his faith, that He believed God’s Word and promise, and that God counted his faith to Him as righteousness. That is to say that there was nothing special about Abram. Abram was an idolator like his father Terah. God called Abram out of idolatry and promised Him a land and descendants as numerous as the stars of the heavens and, particularly, an heir through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. Abram believed God and, in His grace and mercy, God counted Abram’s faith for righteousness. Abram was not without sin. Indeed, the deeds and events of his life vacillated from incredible faith to moments of extreme weakness, doubt, and unbelief. Nevertheless, Abram repented of his sins and God absolved him, always counting his faith, even very small and very weak faith, to him as righteousness. Then, when God commanded Abram to sacrifice his son Isaac, the son of promise, Abram continued to believe in God’s Word and promise. He confessed his faith even as he and the boy approached the mountain that God had showed him saying to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Though he was prepared to sacrifice his son at God’s command, still he believed that, somehow, God would keep His Word and promise to bless him with an heir from his own flesh who would bless all nations, even if that meant God would have to raise Isaac from the dead.
When Jesus told the Pharisees and the Scribes that Abraham rejoiced that he would see His day, He was referring to that day God spared Abram’s son Isaac on the mountaintop, providing a ram as a substitute that the boy could live. What Abram saw that day was that God would indeed provide for Himself the lamb of sacrifice. God’s own Son, Jesus, is that Lamb who takes away the sin of the world and, thus, who has blessed the world with forgiveness and life. Abram believed God’s Word, and God sent His Word, God sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of Abram and Isaac and Jacob and of all who believe and trust in the Word of God promised and the Word of God, Jesus, God’s promise kept and fulfilled. When Jesus died on Mount Calvary, as the only-begotten Son of God, the Lamb of God caught in the thicket of man’s sin, there was no substitutionary ram, but God’s only Son died that all you Isaacs might live. God’s Word spoke, “It is finished,” and it is. That is the truth; believe it, for Jesus’ sake.
Because He has died in your place for your sins and the sins of all humanity, Jesus says to you, “If anyone keeps my Word, he will never see death.” There is life for you, there is life for all, but that life is in the Word of God, that life is in Jesus Christ, God’s Word made flesh, crucified, died, and raised for you. You keep Jesus’ Word by believing in it, by trusting in it. You keep Jesus’ Word by gathering in and around His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. You keep Jesus’ Word by reflecting His life and light and mercy and compassion to your neighbors in word and deed. Clinging to Jesus’ life-giving Words, you are delivered from death’s sting and its eternal judgment.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.