09. April 2011
Beloved of Christ, this Sunday is Judica, the Sunday of the Passion. We begin our annual remembrance of Christ’s passionate death for the sins of the whole world, known as Passiontide. The veils cover his cross. Jesus has hidden his from the world. He is no longer debating in the temple. His face is towards Jerusalem and Calvary. Death comes quickly. His glory will be hidden in the stone tomb, until we see him again in glory with the wounds that save us.
The meditation for today will consider the Gospel text just read from John 8, especially these words: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.”
The art of hearing is a tricky business. Its not enough to simply have the words go in one ear. To often they just go out the other. Back in grade school, the standardized testing called this “listening comprehension.”
Comprehension is not a matter of simply hearing the words correctly. It is about understanding, attained through knowledge and grammar. If I say, “let’s hang out,” you know I don’t mean to grow a gut that hangs over my belt buckle. Your knowledge of the idioms of English helps you interpret the words properly.
If I say: “We might have ice cream for dinner,” you know perfectly well that “might” indicates possibility and not the future tense. Children have a lack of grammatical understanding. They hear “might” and wishfully think “will.” Thus, we say “we might have ice cream” and they hear “we will have ice cream.” We call that selective hearing. I call it grammatical manipulation.
Both knowledge and grammar are essential to understanding the words of Jesus. You can’t read the Gospels without the knowledge of the Old Testament. The opposite is also true, the Old Testament is properly understood in light of the fulfillment in the New. The two serve as the foundation of our faith together. Without the knowledge of our problem and God’s promise in the Old Testament, we can’t understand its fulfillment in Jesus and consummation in heaven.
Grammar is also necessary. Christ said to his apostles, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all things I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always even unto the ages.” First, grammar tells us this is a command. The apostolic mission to go to all nations is not optional or superfluous. It is constitutive mandate that Holy Spirit uses to create and sustain the church. Go and make.
Some people still get grammatically confused. Christ commanded us to go and make, true. But how? Some say discipleship. Others say though recovery programs. Yet others say through charismatic worship.
Grammatically, though, the language is clear. Go and make disciples by baptizing and teaching. Baptism isn’t optional or secondary. You want disciples, you baptize in the Holy Trinity. You want the baptized to remain in their baptism? Teach them all things I have commanded you. Not just the nice things. Not just the laws. Everything. All things. Old and New. Law and Gospel. Bondage and freedom.
Today is the last time Jesus will discourse with the Jews. It was far from a reasonable conversation. This hostile crowd has grown to resent Jesus. He dared to confess they were not owed anything by God, despite being sons of Abraham. He has the boldness to call them offspring of Satan. They respond with hatred and anger, seeking to trap him in his own words.
Jesus says to them: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews talk back saying, “Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.”
These Jews would have not scored in the upper percentile in listening comprehension. Jesus said “never see death” and they repeat “never taste death.” Get it? He says see and they say taste. One might think that they didn’t hear him correctly. Not at all! They knew perfectly well what they heard. They know their grammar. They have the Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms. They know that both to “see” and to “taste” death is to experience it. But they also know that to “see” death is more than bodily experience but spiritual death. To “see” is a euphemism to experience both in the flesh and in the spirit. Jesus is saying we won’t see death to our spirit and they misquote to say that our bodies won’t see the grave. They have mastered the art of selective hearing. See and taste are similar but not synonyms.
Do you need another example? “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad,” Jesus said. So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus didn’t say that: he said Abraham saw his day not that he saw Abraham. In other words, Abraham saw Christ and the promise fulfilled in faith. That incident with his son told Abraham that God would provide the lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. Did he saw Jesus literally standing before him? No, he saw him in faith when the ram was provided for him. The Pharisees little word game has manipulated Jesus’ words to suit their own purposes.
When we harden our hearts to God’s Word, playing word games with the Scriptures, we are not committing a minor sin. Its not just that silly slip to manipulate the grammar. It’s not minor to disagree with the history of man as told by God. When we abscond with even a part of God’s testimony, locking it away from sight, we have already begun to kill of our trust.
Are you good at not listening to Jesus? When he upholds the Law, do you chafe and squirm or do you ignore it as a flight of God’s fancy? Repent! Turn from your sin and live in Christ.
For example, our Lord says that murder is inflicted even by unrighteous anger in your heart. Hatred of your neighbor is murder already. Ouch.
How about when you see the partially undressed on the billboard, in the advertisement, or even as the waiter in your eating establishment, do you hide for fear of adultery? Probably not. You might think Jesus was being a prude when he said adultery is even looking at with lust, even if you never act on it.
Coveting it such a nasty habit that Jesus gives us three commandments against it. Looking with greed is already stealing, but even if you missed that, don’t covet makes it in as nine and ten.
Repent! We are all really good at this selective hearing, failing to comprehend our Lord’s word.
You probably don’t think you’re in any danger. You don’t think a slip-up here or there will be noticed. Ironically, all Adam and Eve did was eat a piece of fruit and look what came of that! All because they ignored a simple command. Repent, turn away from sin and instead turn to Christ and live.
Its not just about hearing the Word. It’s not just about the grammar and the knowledge of the Scriptures. Its about trust and belief, that is, about faith. Faith believes there is but one truth, one who speaks the truth, and one source of truth. All else are lies, spoken by wicked tongues, and given by Satan himself. Or as Jesus says, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
That is the harsh word of the Law declared against the ungodly. Its his Word of life or it is lies of death. You are either born of God or of Satan. Being born of Abraham is immaterial. Being called a Christian in name isn’t enough. Even having pure-blooded Lutheran lineage doesn’t get one to heaven. If Abraham was your father, then you would rejoice to see our Lord, to hear his word, and to be blessed by his holy presence. But many want neither to hear, to taste, nor to see me. He who will not receive me, will not receive the one who sent me. Thus, to deny Jesus even in part always leads to deny the adoption of sons won in Jesus.
The verdict at resurrection of all the dead will depend on “who’s your daddy?” Jesus said to them, “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. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 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. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”
We are convicted. We have neglected to obey our Lord’s commands. We do not hold his Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. We love to selectively hear, obeying what we like and ignoring what we hate. Dear Christian, this is a dangerous game, with no winners. Selective hearing excuses sin. Sin without contrition is rebellion against God and all the good he desires to accomplish in you.
Thanks be to God that our Lord has crushed our hard hearts, tearing down our defenses, and bringing us here to repent and be forgiven. You know that you need this holy and terrifying Word crashing down on you, crucifying in your flesh every sinful desire, every intentional ignorance, and every willful disobedience. You know that the sins of the flesh name you as a child of the Devil. Offspring of Satan have not place in the heavenly mansions. You are here because you know the truth. You know our Father in heaven.
Rejoice, for you have seen the day of Jesus Christ. Rejoice for he has redeemed you from your transgressions. Rejoice, see, and be glad! You will never see death. The taste will last only until you enjoy the marriage feast of the lamb that never ends. Beloved of God, hear the Lord, comprehend his words in faith, and believe the truth.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church