Text: John 8:42-59 (Gen 22:1-14, Heb 9:11-15)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
If you ask people to sum up Christianity and the teachings of Jesus in two words, a lot of people would say: “Be nice.” And niceness means non-judgmentalism, tolerance, and acceptance of everyone. It means never saying anything insensitive or making people uncomfortable with their words.
Our Lord Jesus speaks to His audience today, beginning with: “If God were your Father, you would love Me…. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” And things go downhill from there.
And who is our Lord’s audience, dear friends? To whom does He say these really hurtful and judgmental things? Surely, He is speaking to war criminals, dictators, and serial killers. And He is. But He is speaking to more than just the worst and most obvious sinners. Who is our Lord’s audience? You are. I am. We all are.
We do not love our Lord when we break the commandments. We serve the devil when we sin. We do Satan’s work when we fail to keep God’s Word.
This is bitter medicine. Because it is true. This is the cause and source of all human unhappiness, the reason behind aging and sickness and disappointments and death itself.
In our Gospel, the response of the people was not to hang their heads in shame, cry out for mercy, and seek the Lord’s help to repent. Instead, they accused the Son of God of being possessed by a demon, and they tried to stone Him to death.
They wanted a nice Jesus who would tell them what they wanted to hear. Instead they got truthful Jesus who told them what they needed to hear. And we need to hear this today, dear friends.
We also need to hear the Word of the Lord from Hebrews, in which God again tells us something shocking. For thousands of years, the people of God have sacrificed animals in a bloody ritual. They would bring lambs and goats and bulls to the Temple where the priests would shed their blood by the hundreds, thousands, and perhaps millions over the centuries. And this was done at God’s command. But we are told today that, “not by means of the blood of goats and calves” are we redeemed. All of that slaughter, and those sacrifices did not forgive sins.
Nor did the rituals and the priests, who, for generation after generation, lived without property, without the ability to become wealthy, subsisting only on the offerings of the faithful; their lives of sacrifice did not forgive sins. Nor did the sacrifices of the people, who gave ten percent of their possessions for the priests and the Temple: a huge sacrifice, but one that did not redeem a single soul.
Our Old Testament reading from Genesis is also disconcerting. For God instructed Abraham to slay his one and only miraculous son as a sacrifice. How long and torturous that walk up the mountain must have been, with wood on the son’s back, with the father knowing what would happen at the peak. How horrific must it have been for Abraham to obediently raise the knife over his son, who was bound by ropes, waiting for the blow, anticipating the blood, the screams, and the onset of death. And yet even Abraham’s willingness to end the life of his beloved son did not earn redemption, not for himself, his son, or anyone.
Indeed, to unbelievers, the Christian faith is either a fairy tale, or the story of a sadistic God who takes pleasure in making his creatures suffer for nothing, and who ultimately abuses His own Son. It is the story of a God who watches innocent animals slaughtered, and who picks fights with people by calling them sons of the devil. And for what?
But, dear friends, what makes all the difference is knowing what is really happening here.
For when God tested Abraham’s faith, God had no intention of allowing the child-sacrifice of Isaac to happen. This is why the angel of the Lord stayed the hand of Abraham, and provided a substitute in the form of the ram caught by his horns in the thicket – a preview of the Son of God, the Lamb, caught by His head in the crown of thorns.
What we are seeing here is not a picture of a God who delights in suffering, but rather a God who is willing to suffer out of love to save and redeem sinners – even those like us who do not love our Lord when we break the commandments, who serve the devil when we sin, and who do Satan’s work when we fail to keep God’s Word.
Yes, indeed, Jesus is that Lamb provided by the Father, our Father who is merciful. And that Lamb is the Son who loves us so as to die for us. And this gift of forgiveness, life, salvation, victory, and redemption is given to us by the Holy Spirit.
For the work of the priests who sacrificed animals and offered their own life’s work as sacrificial labor for the Lord and the people, was not in vain. For although the blood of those sacrificial beasts did not save any of us, their sacrifice pointed to a greater reality: the atoning death of our Lord on the cross – and this has atoned for the sins of the whole world. The animals did not die in vain, for their sacrifice pointed us to Christ, who has come to renew the world, and undo the very deaths that we have brought into the world by our sin. Nor do the people of God sacrifice in vain, whose gifts and offerings support the Temple and the priests, the congregations and the pastors. For though you cannot buy salvation, your sacrifice does make the ministry of Word and Sacrament possible, as you place money in the plate with grateful hearts, not begrudging what you could have done for yourself instead.
We all sacrifice according to our vocation, not to earn salvation, but again, to point to Jesus, who is our salvation, and who has indeed earned our salvation, and who graciously gives us our salvation as a free gift.
And so we are back to our Gospel, as Jesus tells us to repent of our stubbornness regarding our confession of Him. For if we believe Jesus is of God and not of Satan, we will serve Him, gladly and willingly, hearing His Word, receiving His body and blood, seeking absolution for our sins, and listening eagerly to the preaching of the Gospel. Instead of accusing our Lord of having a demon, we will hearken back to our baptisms to distance ourselves from Satan and his works and his ways. We will hear the Law and not be angered, but grieved. We will confess. We will ask for forgiveness. We will repent. We will gladly hear the Gospel. We will repudiate the devil. We will keep God’s Word, and will never see death.
For all of these images in the Holy Scriptures: the provision of the sacrificial Lamb in the stead of Isaac, the priests obediently sacrificing the animals of the faithful given as offerings to the Lord, and the preaching of both Law and Gospel by our Lord Jesus Christ, all point us to where our hope and our help are to be found, in Him and in none other than Jesus Christ, the crucified, the Lamb, the Priest, and the Word.
The two words that sum up our faith are not “Be nice,” but rather: “Receive Christ.” Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.