Sunday, March 13, 2016

Judica - The Fifth Sunday In Lent (Lent 5) / The First Sunday In Passiontide

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.
Though we may not like to admit it, the LORD had every right to demand Isaac’s life. He had every right to demand Abraham’s life, the life of our First Parents, the lives of Peter and Paul and of all the Apostles, your life and my life as well. For, hey, and you, and I are sinners – conceived and born in sin, and committing sins of thought, word, and deed daily, even this morning. And, the LORD explicitly warned Adam, “In the day that you eat of [the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil] you shall surely die.” And, St. Paul confirms, “The wages of sin is death.”
Thus, the philosophical conundrum called the Problem of Evil or something similar, typically expressed, “How can an all-powerful, all-knowing, and good God permit, or even demand, evil?” is truly no conundrum at all, if one only takes seriously God’s righteousness and holiness and the seriousness of our sin. After all, we’re not talking about human laws here, which are by nature imperfect and corrupt, able to be bent, annulled, circumvented, and enforced with inequity and injustice, but we’re talking about the divine, holy, righteous, and just Law of God which is of God before the giving of the Ten Commandments, before the creation of man, and before the creation and foundation of the universe. To put it plainly: God is good, and whatever is not of God or in alignment with God is, by definition and necessity, not good. Likewise, God is righteous, just, and holy, and whatever is not of God or in alignment with God is, by definition and necessity, unrighteous, unjust, and unholy.
However, coupled with God’s eternal, righteous, just, and unchangeable Law is His abounding patience, mercy, love, and grace. Though He had every right to demand Isaac’s life, the life of our First Parents, the lives of Peter and Paul and all of the Apostles, your life and my life, from the Fall of Man onward, God promised to redeem and to provide a substitute to fulfill the Law for us and to suffer its consequences in our place: “I will put enmity between you and the Woman, and between your offspring and Her Offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
Abraham knew of this first covenant promise and He trusted the Word of the LORD, and the LORD counted Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness. Thus, when the LORD demanded the life of Abraham’s son of promise, Isaac, Abraham trusted that the LORD would still keep His promise to provide him an heir from his own flesh whose descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and the grains of sand upon the seashore, through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Therefore, as he and his son of promise journeyed to the mountain of sacrifice, Abraham confessed his faith in the LORD once again in answer to Isaac’s worried concern about the absence of a sacrificial lamb saying, “God will provide for Himself the Lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” And, the LORD did provide, not a lamb, but a ram, for the sacrifice so that Isaac’s life was spared. Then, over centuries and millennia, to and through His faithful people who, despite their personal sin, trusted in Him, the LORD reiterated His covenant promise until He provided His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The faith of Abraham was a gift given and created by God. There was nothing special about Abraham. He was a sinner just like everyone else. He was a pagan and an idolater, worshipping the household gods of his father and countrymen. But, when the LORD called to him, Abraham listened and believed, he trusted in the Word of the LORD. Even when the path was uncertain and unclear, Abraham trusted and believed. “We walk by faith and not by sight.” The faith of Abraham was in the Word of the LORD, and through it the LORD promised Abraham a Son who would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. This Son was actually not Isaac, however, but He was the very same Son and Seed that was promised to our First Parents, and to Satan, by the way, Jesus. However, Isaac was a necessary link in the covenantal chain, as was Jacob and Judah and Ruth and David and Joseph and Mary and every descendent in between. Abraham believed the covenant promise made to our First Parents, as do all true children of Abraham henceforth. All who share the faith of Abraham, who trust in the Word of the LORD fulfilled in Jesus, the Seed Son of promise, are the true children of Abraham, the true Israel, sons and daughters of God, and the Bride of Christ, the Church.
Jesus came preaching the faith of Abraham, calling Abraham’s children to faith in the fulfillment of God’s Word of Promise and to repentance with the proclamation, “The Kingdom of God is near.” Very quickly, however, He met opposition from the Pharisees and scribes, the priests, and the religious leadership of Israel who had come to believe and trust, not in the Word of the LORD, but in their blood descent from Abraham. By the time of the accounts recorded in our Gospel reading today from St. John, Jesus had already had many confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders. In today’s reading, Jesus gets right to the point with them saying, essentially, “Who’s your daddy?” “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but He sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. 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. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”
Jesus laid it out straight for them: Either your Father is God, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, or your father is Satan, the father of lies, the antithesis of all that is righteous, good, and holy. Jesus said the same two weeks ago in St. Luke’s Gospel, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Then, they accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Here, in today’s Gospel, they accuse Him of this once again. This is nothing other than the sin against the Holy Spirit, for it is calling the LORD’s good and holy work evil and sinful. If a person so blasphemes the Holy Spirit of God, there is no hope for him and he cannot be saved, not because God is unmerciful and unforgiving, but because it is by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God that faith is created. If the means of faith is rejected, then there can, and never will be, faith.
Jesus spoke the Truth, and He was rejected because of it. However, the Jewish religious leaders were not merely rejecting Jesus and His teachings, but they were rejecting the Truth of God, they were rejecting God Himself, and they were teaching others to do the same. That is why Jesus rebukes them so very harshly. They couldn’t convict Him of sin, of breaking God’s Law, but they could only accuse Him of breaking their laws, man’s laws. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God,” Jesus answered them, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” “Now we know that you have a demon!” they shouted. “Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet 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?”
It is interesting that the demons know whose Son Jesus is, and they reject Him, while the religious leaders of Israel do not, and yet, they reject Him because they reject the Word of God. They claim to be children of Abraham, and yet they reject their father Abraham’s faith in the Word of the LORD and His promise. That is why, at another time, Jesus told them that He could raise up children for Abraham from the stones on the ground. On the one hand, blood descent has nothing to do with being a son or daughter of Abraham. And, on the other, the Jews often referred to Gentiles as “stones.” This points to the greater sin of the religious leaders of Israel: Not only did they reject the Word of the LORD for themselves, but as the teachers of Israel they failed to teach it faithfully to the people they were called to care for and to protect. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing, devouring the sheep of the LORD’s flock. Whereas Abraham taught the faithful to trust in the Lamb that the LORD would provide, the Pharisees, scribes, priests, and religious leaders of the Jews rejected Him and sent the Lamb of God to the cross to die.
“You are not yet fifty years old, and have you see Abraham?” they protested. “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’.” “So they picked up stones to throw at Him.” But, Jesus was before Abraham, before our First Parents, and before creation itself. For, Jesus is the Word of God, who was with God in the beginning, and who was God. All things were made through Him, and apart from Him was not anything made that has been made. And, Jesus is the great “I AM,” the Name of God revealed to Moses in the burning bush. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, the Son of God, and God Himself. He is the one that was promised to our First Parents after their Fall. He was the one promised to crush Satan’s head. He was the one promised to Abraham, in whom Abraham put his faith and trust. And, He is the one whom all children of Abraham confess still as both God and Lord.
And, Jesus is our Great High Priest who has “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” “He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” And, though He had every right to demand your life, your LORD gave the life of His son for you that you may live. And, He is here for you now as both Priest and Sacrifice, Host and Meal, to forgive yours sins anew, to strengthen your faith, and to preserve you in everlasting life in Him in the body of Christ, the Church. On the Mount of the LORD it is still provided for you. Believe, trust, and receive.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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