John 8:48-59 (The Holy Trinity—Series C)
“Keeping His Word”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 16, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 8:
48The Jews answered and said to Him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and you have a demon?” 49Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50But I do not seek my glory; He who seeks it is also He who judges. 51Truly, truly I say to you, I anyone keeps my word, he shall surely not see death ever.” 52Therefore, the Jews said, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word he shall surely not taste death—ever.’ 53You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died, are you?” 54Jesus answered, “If I should glorify myself, my glory is nothing. My Father is the One who glorified me, who you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55Yet you do not know Him, but I know Him. If I should say that I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you. But I know Him and I keep His word. 56Abraham your father rejoiced that he should see my day, and he saw it and rejoiced.” 57Therefore, the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old. And you have seen Abraham?” 58Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am.” 59Therefore, they took up stones in order that they might throw them at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out from the temple.
Probably one of the most important characteristics that we want to see in a friend or in the people we work with or work for is that they keep their word. It’s about being able to trust someone, isn’t it? Promises are easy to make and often easier to break. Robert Frost poetically captured that truth in his poem, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. He talks about how sometimes we wish we could be free, for just a little bit at least, of all life’s obligations that we are required to meet. That type of freedom is represented in Frost’s poem about a traveler who stops on his journey beside a quiet wood one wintery evening. For just a moment, he is able to enjoy the quiet and solitude as he watches the snowflakes fall and gently blanket the woods with snow. Frost’s traveler wishes he could stay and continue to enjoy the stillness. But, as the poem says, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
In our Gospel lesson today, we hear about keeping a word. It’s not about keeping our word or our promises, but rather about keeping the Word of God. Keeping the Word here takes on a whole new meaning because it’s not about putting our trust in ourselves or in other people, but about putting our trust in the Word of Him who is completely trustworthy, Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us that there are great benefits for those who keep His Word, “He shall surely not see death—ever!” So, let us keep the Word of Christ.
Let us keep the Word of Christ because He is the Son of God. The Jews in their spiritual blindness could not understand who Jesus was. “The Jews answered and said to Him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and you have a demon?” (John 8:48). The Jews were aware of Jesus’ earthly ancestry but could not comprehend His divinity. “Therefore, the Jews said, ‘Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word he shall surely not taste death—ever.’ You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died, are you?’” (John 8:52-53). The Jews had insulted Jesus. They had accused Him of being a Samaritan and having a demon. Soon their hostility would escalate, and they would be ready to stone Jesus to death because they would not keep His Word
In our day, the question “Who is Jesus?” also attracts people’s attention and spills a lot of ink on paper. Some see Jesus as merely a great teacher or prophet. Others are very hostile, seeing Jesus as a fraud or a cause of violence in the world today. For some people, religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is seen to be one of the great problems of humanity. More and more folks are becoming anti-Christian and anti-religion. A December 2017, Pew Research Center poll conducted among U.S. adults had 80% of them respond “Yes” to the question, “Do you believe in God or not?” Those 80% were then asked whether they believed in “God as described in the Bible.” Just over half of them said “Yes,” that they believed in God as described in His Word. The rest said they believed in some version of God or a “higher power,” but not the God of Scripture. Even you and I have to confess that we sometimes fail to remember who God is according to His Word. We fail to always remember His love for us. We sometimes doubt His goodness. We often struggle inwardly with His authority over us when faced with the choices of what we want as opposed to what His Word commands.
But Jesus makes His eternal nature as true God clear in our text when He says, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” This is the same name that God applied to Himself in the presence of Moses at the burning bush, “God said to Moses, ‘I Am Who I Am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I Am’ has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14 ESV). Jesus is both true God and true Man. By ourselves, we cannot fathom this mystery. How could this be? This is a mystery grasped only by the power of God the Holy Spirit. And thus we see the Holy Trinity at work: the way to the Father is through faith in the Son, which is possible only by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian Church confesses in the Athanasian Creed, as we will this morning, that Jesus “is God, begotten before the ages of the substance of the Father, and He is man, born in the world of the substance of His mother, perfect God and perfect man, with reasonable soul and human flesh, equal to the Father with respect to His Godhead and inferior to the Father with respect to His manhood. Although He is God and man, He is not two Christs but one Christ.” Let us, therefore, keep the Word of Christ because He is the Son of God.
Let us also keep the Word of Christ because He has made precious promises through His Word. In the Scriptures we get to know God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The one, true God reveals to us who He is as well as His great love for sinners. We read in Romans 6, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6, 8 ESV). God didn’t wait until we loved Him, which in our sinfulness we never could and never would. He took the gracious initiative to save people from sin, death, and hell. He promises in His Word that Christ has overcome the devil and hell and that sin cannot harm us because Jesus gave up His life into death for us. We read in Acts 2 that Christ “was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. . . . Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:31-36). God’s Word, therefore, promises eternal life through the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our Lord guarantees, “Truly, truly I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he shall surely not see death—ever.”
Let us also then keep the Word of Christ because it brings us the joy and gladness of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life here and now. Jesus said that Abraham saw the day of Christ, and it brought him joy and gladness. He knew by faith that God would someday send the Messiah. Even though Abraham lived some 2000 years before Christ, he trusted in the promises of God that the Savior would come. For Abraham, the promise of God was as sure as having seen it himself. Abraham rejoiced in the knowledge of the Savior because he knew it would bring great blessings to the world. You and I also can rejoice in the knowledge of the Savior and be glad this day. We know that Jesus has honored and glorified the Father perfectly with His obedience in our place, proving God’s great love for us. God’s Word assures us that He has made provision for our eternal welfare, no matter what happens in this life. This Word brings us comfort, joy, and gladness, even in the midst of earthly sorrow and sadness.
Keeping the Word of Christ brings blessings far beyond what we could ever expect to receive from any other human being. To keep the Word of Christ means that we can have faith in who Jesus is the Son of God. It means that we can always trust in His promises because He has overcome death and sin for us, and we will not see death, “for whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11). Finally, to keep the Word of Christ means that we can be encouraged and have joy and gladness in this life, knowing that no matter what, God’s love for us in Christ is an eternal reality. Amen.