“If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” – John 8:46-59

17. March 2013
John 8:46-59

Even Christians are tempted to think they can hide from God. Some use fig leaves and others use their works. Others cover themselves with excuses like “that’s just how it these days” and “I can’t change how I’m made.” But there is no hiding from God. His holy Law always discovers your hiding places and reveals your secret sins. You are exposed, naked, guilty, and ashamed before your Creator.

This is to God’s glory. You are exposed to be hidden in Him; naked to be clothed in Him; guilty to be forgiven in Him; ashamed to be reconciled in Him. The Father washes you with Christ’s blood, clothes you in Christ’s righteousness, and feeds you with Christ’s body, forgives you in Christ. Your sins are atoned for—forgiven. You are shrouded in His mercy. You are healed with holy medicine. You are fed with food for eternity.

While we cannot hide from God and this is a good thing, sometimes it seems like God is hiding from us. We suffer poverty, sickness, and even death and wonder “where is God to heal?” We are tormented by our stupid mistakes, failures, and neglect of others. “Where is God to rescue?” We are mocked for our faith, criticized for our antiquated views, and crucified in the court of public opinion. “Where is God to vindicate me and to defend my cause?”

Today, Judica and Sunday of the Passion, we begin the ending of our annual exodus through our Lord’s suffering and death unto His resurrection and ascension. The ancient custom on this Sunday is to veil our crosses after the reading of the Holy Gospel. This pious tradition is meant to confess what happens when you refuse Christ in His Word and the means of the Holy Spirit. Christ is hidden from you, the Holy Spirit departs, and the Father’s love is unknown. Hiding from God leaves you in doubt of salvation, without hope for tomorrow, and in fear of death.

So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. The Jews sought to destroy Jesus for three reasons: 1—He is eternal Son of the Father, 2—Those who believe on His Word will never see death, and 3—those who refuse to hear this Word are children of the Devil. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This teaching scandalized them. They could not bear to hear it and sought to kill Jesus. While the true glory of God was revealed in Jesus Christ, they hid from God’s mercy and grace with their unbelief. By their unbelief blinded them to God incarnate and made Him their enemy. They could not see through the veil of His flesh to God in His glory.

Many cannot bear to hear His Word. It’s stark reality shocks and awes. It is not composed of moral platitudes, good advice, or gentle niceties. It challenges our flesh’s preconceptions and expectations. It undermines our will and false hopes. It annihilates the old Adam. Our reason cannot bear it. Our strength is decimated by this Word. It calls us to believe that we are worms, lost sheep, and dust.

The confession of sin, devil, and death is not the only unbearable Word. Many cannot bear that salvation is given by the Father through faith alone in Christ alone through this Word alone. This, too, is a scandal for it requires no effort, no power, no worked up emotions your part. We want to contribute, to assist, and earn forgiveness. We would try to work out our problems apart from Christ, away from His Word, without His forgiveness.

Yet, we hold His Word near. We hear the call to repentance and confess our sins. We, the devastated ones, are raised up by Christ’s blood-bought forgiveness. As forgiven children, we have life and salvation in His name. It is received in faith as a gift. Scandalous to reason and glorious to faith.

It is true that many of those who call themselves Christian cannot bear to look upon Jesus, to hear His Word, and to receive Him in His promised gifts. We, at Grace, know this as well as any congregation. Many on our membership roster rarely or never attend the Divine Service.What would keep a Christian from regularly darkening the doors of this place? What does the Word of God say that offends? Is it fear of judgment? Is it the confession of sins? Is it the scandal of the cross with Christ’s corpse?

The Jews in today’s text help us understand.  This Word of Jesus is so contrary to our natural religion that they assume it comes from the Devil himself. They said to Jesus, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” They could not be more wrong. Christ is from the Father. His Word is truth. They are of their Father the devil. His word is only lies. By listening to their itching ears and corrupt hearts, they no longer heard the Word rightly and were deceived. While they believed their religion true and right, because it was not from the Word of the promise, the Word of Jesus, it was not the truth.

Our fallen flesh resists this Word as God has ordained to give it. When we listen to the whisperings of the Devil, the murmuring of our heart, or the ideas of our mind, our faith falters and even fails. The Christian who does not keep the Word near will soon become confused, conflicted, and in doubt. But Jesus does not hide from you. Our Lord Christ gives us His Word generously and we ought to eagerly receive it and learn it.

For those who hear and are forgiven, there is great benefit. This Word of Jesus is the only source of salvation. Only Jesus can save you from your sin. Where Jesus is forgiving, there you are receiving life and salvation. So today, Jesus wants you know to know that He has not just cleansed you of sin and healed your soul but He has defeated the last enemy—death. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death. 

We cherish hearing of God’s Word and receive it regularly for particular readiness. The Word is the only power to save, thus only by receiving the Word are you prepared to die. If anyone keeps this Word close by, always as the ready, then he will never see death. Instead, he will taste and see that the Lord is good. He will be like his father Abraham who rejoiced that he would see the day of Christ. He saw it and was glad. The Christian can stare death in the face and say, “I am forgiven! You have no power over me!”

St. Stephen said while being martyred, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God! Even in the face of a terrible death, He did not lack hope. He knew the promise of the resurrection and was well-prepared. Like Abraham who saw forgiveness and life in the promised Messiah, so Stephen saw the ascended Christ as victor over death. While the stones were cast, St. Stephen saw the day of the Lord and was glad.

Even when it seems your sin has gotten the best of us, our enemies persecute us, or even death is knocking at our doorstep, you know that Christ is near. He has not hid His face from you but has given you the joy of His salvation. He gives himself freely to you through His Word and holy gifts. His Word is proclaimed and heard. You are the children of the Father who receive it and keep it. God’s salvation is not hidden but seen in faith. The crosses may be veiled but the glory of God is revealed to you. Therefore you will never see death but even now rejoice and see the Lord’s day.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Abide with Me – Advent Midweek 1 2012

05. December 2012
Advent Midweek 1
Psalm 73

This season of Advent we are considering the hymn “Abide With Me” for our midweek meditations. This hymn is a favorite of many and yet also unknown by many. In our hymnal it is prescribed to be sung at close of day. Our agenda also prescribes the hymn’s first and last stanzas to be sung at the committal at every funeral. It is an evening hymn, a funeral hymn, and much more. It resonates with the anxieties and fears of the evening. It speaks with those who are older and face death. It even speaks to the young who yearn to be with Christ.

This hymn was written by Henry Francis Lyte of Brixham, Devonshire, England. As is often the case with our hymns, “Abide With Me” was written in the midst of suffering. Pastor Lyte was frail and dying from tuberculosis. Three weeks before he died, he composed this hymn. His poetry is written to bring comfort to his own fears but also to comfort his beloved people for whom he had provided our Lord’s pastoral care.

The text for Pastor Lyte comes from the Emmaus story of Easter evening. You recall that the same day Jesus rose from the dead, He met two people on the road both grieving and in sorry. Jesus walks with this father and son, possibly his own uncle and cousin. The story of Emmaus is about seeing Christ for the first time. Everything they had come to think of Jesus needed to be seen from a new perspective.

Jesus’ story is a repetition of the whole Gospel journey. He rehearses for them everything happened in Jerusalem. He opens to them the Old Testament to show why He came into this world. This story brings the two great comfort. They plead with Jesus to not go any further. While they don’t recognize Him yet, they yearn and long to be with Christ and dwell with Him.

When we are looking for the presence of Christ? It’s probably when we dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. What are we looking for when the darkness deepens? There is a similar wanting and desire in us. We need to be close to God. This desire is built into us. We desire our Lord to be present, to abide with us, to join us into communion, to remain with us, and to be with us forever.

These desires are especially felt when we’re in darkness. “As for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped.” We only lose our step and stumble when we’re walking in the dark. Asaph, one of David’s tabernacle song leaders, tells us about his darkness. He was envious of the prosperity of the wicked. When he looks at them, he thinks that they have no troubles.

When we consider ourselves according to others we’re in the dark. Our worth and value are not judged based on our prosperity, our pride, our abundance, our ease, or riches. If we judge ourselves by this standard, we are in the dark. These things all wither and fade. They come and they go. Even the rich will ultimately face death. No amount of strength can overcome a life that will pass away.

We need life that will never pass away. No other comfort can do. We are helpless. We need comfort. This is especially true in the evening and when we are dying. All other helpers and comforts flee and fail. Everyone is looking for someone or something to fill the loneliness that we all feel. Our spouses, children, friends sometimes help but ultimately only Christ can do. We are totally broken and in need of Christ. Nothing in this world abides like Christ. Only Christ can abide forever, giving us peace that passes all understanding. He can fill us in a way that only God can fill. The Emmaus disciples knew that Jesus could fill their every longing. As Asaph sang, “Nevertheless, I am continually with You, You hold me by my right hand, You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory.”

We live in a suffering world. The decay of this world is seen in our brokenness of sin, the attacks of the devil, and all the difficulties of this world. When its dark, night, or near death, our defenses are broken down and we get overwhelmed by the darkness. Even earth’s joys grow dim and pass away. Everything is changing and is in flux. This is why we want to abide with the changeless one, Jesus. We look for the one who is faithful.

The truth is that we don’t have the luxury of time anymore. The clock is ticking. Especially as we age, we savor every moment not knowing how many more there are. As you see your children grow and grandchildren born, you see yourself in them both good and bad. We become more conscious of our mortality, our brokenness, and our sin. We live in a fleeting world where our lives are but a blip on the timeline. We sometimes think we’re so important because we are the center of our own existence. When you look in the big picture we are only a small part. We are held to our own sense of brevity, the larger cosmic plan of God.

“Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever… It is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all your works.”

The fact that God doesn’t change is a source of comfort. The Biblical view of Christ acting in mercy comforts us. The mercy of the Lord endures forever. He gives forgiveness. We sheds His blood. He is love. Even before the foundation of the world, the Lamb was slain. The plan has remained unchanged. God’s promised mercy is given. It is for you. Broken people. Lonely. Melancholy. We don’t know what to do when we get this way. Earth’s comforts fail. Our pleasures flee. We need something bigger. Greater.

Jesus works through timeless Word bound to timely means. The Word of God endures forever. Everywhere the Word leaves its mark endures forever. Your baptism endures forever. We long for these sure promises that never change. Jesus, yesterday, the same, and forever. He promised to come. He promised to die. He promised to have His blood cleanse, wash, and forgive us. He feeds you with the Lord’s Supper. This is heavenly food and eternal.

That is why “Abide with Me” is fitting for evening and funerals. It confesses our own want for communion and the longing to dwell with Jesus. It also leads us on a pilgrimage of comfort. We are searching for the holiness only God can give. We find this rest in Jesus.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana