Lent 5 + John 8:42-59; Genesis 22:1-14
The time of Jesus’ holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death is upon us. Today is Passion Sunday, it is on this day that we hear the people reject Jesus as the promised Messiah, and how they sought to kill Him. Today, we veil all the crosses and statues and pictures in the church, so that we cannot see their image. And by not seeing the cross, just like we don’t see a loved one who is not with us, we begin to see their image in our mind’s eye, we begin to see with the eyes of faith, and the cross and the events that our Lord accomplished for us and for our salvation becomes more clear. And when we next view these images, on Good Friday, it will be with new eyes. We will see God with eyes of faith, looking with fear, love, and trust upon the God who comes to save us from sin, death and hell. We will truly love God above all things.
Jesus points out, if we truly are people of God, we would love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus and the Father are one, their whole purpose, desire and will is to save sinners, of who we are chief of sinners. Jesus does not come from the Father to condemn us sinners but to save us sinners. Jesus tells us, in our sin we are not of our heavenly Father, but of the devil, who is the father of lies. In sin, we are enemies of God, we are separated from God, we want nothing to do with God. If we remain in our sin, Jesus will say to us when He comes again to judge the quick and the dead, “I do not know you.” By not repenting and turning away from evil, we belong to the devil, and his desire is for us to turn away from God and endure temporal death and eternal damnation.
In times of great evil and distress in the world, it is common to ask the question “why?” Why is there so much hatred and violence in the world? But if you dig even deeper, the question should be asked of ourselves: why do I do these things? Why do I allow these things to rule in my body and soul? Why do I allow sin to have such power over me? Saint Paul struggled with this very same question when he wrote: “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
This is the slavery to sin which we all are bound under and which we all struggle with every day or our lives. If we do not struggle and fight against sin, it is not a sign that we don’t sin, it is a sign that we are blind to sin and do not realize it’s stranglehold on us. If we do not struggle with sin we will surely die, we will not receive the Father’s promised inheritance. We must repent. We must turn from our sinful ways. Daily we must die, putting to death all evil, drowning and killing the old adam in us. We must return to the Lord our God. This is why we have focused so intently upon the Ten Commandments, during this Lenten season, that we would realize that we have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and the perfection which He demands of us.
Jesus is talking about our desire to cling to our “pet sins”. He is talking about our wanting to always hold back on God, not give Him alone all glory and honor. You know what I mean. We say to ourselves, “I’ll be a Christian, but there are just some things that are too good to give up. There are certain sins which are mine, and I’m not going to let anything or anyone get in the way of doing what I want to do.” What we are saying, when we think and talk like this, is that we want God and sin at the same time, we want to worship God and the devil at the same time. And we know that thinking and acting like that is a sin in itself.
This is the trial Abraham faced in the sacrifice of his son. God had given him a son in his old age, and now God asked him to go and sacrifice his son, to prove his great love for the Lord. It didn’t make sense, and Abraham was sorely tempted to simply refuse. After all, this was his only son, no one could take him away. He loved Isaac like no one else in the world. And yet it is precisely that love for his son which God tested. What are you willing to give up for me, the Lord asked of Abraham, your livelihood, your friends, your life, or even your son’s life? Abraham walked by faith not by sight. He passed the test, because God gave him the faith to pass the test.
But Abraham is not the only one God ever tested. Every day or our life our faith is tried and tested in the furnace of the cross. There are constantly temptations for us to overcome, trials to face, and crosses to bear. But we know the dilemma: we fail at these tests every day. Like the people of Jesus’ day, we just can’t see past our own selfish nature and self-righteous judgment about the rest of the world. We are unwilling to see the log in our own eye because we keep looking at the speck in our neighbor’s eye.
As sinners, we cannot look inside ourselves to find comfort and strength, for there is nothing good in us – only sin, death and evil. Rather, we look outside of ourselves, we look to the cross and the holy, innocent, bitter suffering and death which Jesus accomplished there for us. We look to the cross and see the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We look to the cross and see the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. We do not look at ourselves for help and comfort and strength, but to Jesus. He leads us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” We know that Jesus’ love and mercy will not fail us. We walk by faith not by sight. God gives us the faith to see that He is faithful, and He will accomplish for us everything that He promised.
As long as we look at sin as something we can conquer or avoid, we will fail; we will remain dead in our sin. We have a hard enough time conquering bad habits. Sin goes much, much deeper than avoiding a bad habit. Being a Christian is not like a diet program to get rid of sin, we can’t just stop sinning. Sin is a part of our very nature, it is who we are. We are poor miserable sinners. We cannot simply change our way of life. That is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. We must be reborn. We must be changed. We must be made anew. We must be washed clean in the waters of Holy Baptism. No set of laws or regulations or steps for living will cure this disease. It must come from outside of you. It must come from Jesus.
God knew that Adam and Eve would fail and drag all of creation into sin. But His love for us is so great, so perfect, that He sent His only-begotten Son to come into flesh and die so that the price owed for our sins would be paid for. God the Father so loves us, that He sent His Son to die on the cross for the sins of the world, that whoever fears, loves and trusts in Him would not perish but have everlasting life. Jesus paid the price, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood. Jesus paid the price, the ultimate price. He gave His life for your life. It is Jesus’ body and blood which we eat and drink this day. It is His body and blood which will cleanse us and recreate in the image of God. It is Jesus’ life that gives us life.
What I have spoken is offensive. It forces us to put aside all the lies the devil speaks to us about ourselves and how good we are. We are not good, there is no good in us. And in place of those lies, we must place the very image of God, the image put upon us when we were baptized. It is only in Christ, given to us and placed upon us when we were baptized that there is any value in us. In baptism, we are joined to Jesus’ death. In baptism, daily we die with Jesus. In baptism, our sin and all the evil we do is done away with. This is the message that brings hope and peace to us this day, on this Passion Sunday. This is the message of the cross that we see and believe, even when it is veiled from our eyes. All of heaven rejoice when one sinner comes to realize their sinfulness and turns in faith to the only One who can save them, Jesus Christ. This is the message of the cross that we see and believe. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. Amen.