Lent is divided into 3 segments of 2 weeks each. Today we enter the most solemn 2-week period of Lent: Passiontide. During this time the hymn we just sang is sung every night at Vespers, and the hymn opposite it in LSB is sung every day at Matins. Images are veiled today in some places because the Gospel ends with Jesus hiding from the Jews. The Church in this most solemn time restores to her liturgy older forms of worship. *Gloria Patri *is not sung with the Introit to remind us of the time before it was composed – in the same way, not singing *Gloria in excelsis *in Lent takes us back to the time when that great hymn was only sung in most parishes on Easter!
The Glory of God went out of the Temple. The priests rejected Him and did not believe in Him. They claimed to offer Him sacrifices, but they did not offer Him their hearts. Their hearts loved the money they got, but they did not love the reality the sacrifices foreshadowed. Everything they did at the Temple was designed to look forward to the coming of The Glory of God in the flesh to be The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.
Instead He came to His own and His own did not receive Him. They hated Him without a cause. They loved their place in the world and their nation instead of Him. They heard His Word and did not believe it. They accused Him of being a devil. After all, He had just told them the devil was their father, not Abraham. So the devil, always wanting to be god and wanting God to be the devil, tried to reverse roles through their words.
They were dishonoring Him Whom The Father honors. They called Him a demon-possessed Samaritan. That Samaritan charge was so minor He brushed it off. Maybe they were accusing Him of introducing Gentile ideas into their religion, for the Samaritans had combined Israelite religion with pagan religion when they got started some 500 years before. But they were now worshiping the devil.
They were dishonoring Him. How does one honor Him? By believing Him! By confessing He is exactly Who He says He is. Many say Jesus never claimed to be God. Do they think He needs to say something like “I am God” to believe He claimed to be God? There are many other ways to say it. He does it all through John’s Gospel. In ch. 11 He says “I and the Father are one.” The Jews already wanted to kill Him back in ch. 5 because He called God His Father – they knew He was claiming to be God. If He did not claim to be God, the Jews would not have wanted to kill Him.
They claimed He is not Who He says He is. They said He was sinning because He was calling Himself God. He was claiming to be the very God Who spoke to Abraham, “Abram’s promised Great Reward.” Then He proclaimed He is God Who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush. How did He do that? He said “I AM.” Just “I AM.” Nothing more or less. Just “I AM Who I AM.” I AM had sent Moses to the Israelites, and now I AM had come to the Israelites. Moses was afraid they’d reject him; his fears were realized when they rejected the one Who sent him to lead them out of Egypt, the one who came to lead us out of sin and death.
Do you honor Jesus? Do you dishonor Him? It’s pretty easy to go on autopilot and think we’re honoring God when we aren’t. Maybe we start to think, “I haven’t done anything wrong in a while, so I must be honoring God.” The counterpoint is this: “Maybe I haven’t done anything against the commandment, but have I done anything for the commandment?” Have I done anything for the commandment? Jesus says those who believe are Abraham’s children, and those people do what Abraham did. What did Abraham do? He believed God’s Word. But that wasn’t the end of it. That trust worked. It HAD to work. Because the word Abraham believed is the word that told him to pack up his bags back in Ur of the Chaldees and head to the promised land, sight unseen. He did it because along with the promise of the land was not just the promise of many descendants, again sight unseen, but because of the promise that in his Seed all the nations of the earth are blessed.
So Abraham did what he was told. He picked up his bags and moved. He did stop in Haran for a while until his father Terah died, and then he continued on with Sarah and their nephew Lot. They detoured to Egypt for a bit to escape a famine and then settled in the land God would give his descendants once they left Egypt some 500 years later. God has not told you to do something like Abraham did. He has not told you to pick up your bags to go to a place you’ve never seen. But He has given you things to do, and if you do them you honor Him. If you do them you are just like a little child hoping to please daddy. What are those things? The Ten Commandments!
The Jews were breaking all of them. By rejecting their God, they broke the First. By trying to stone Him they broke the Second and Fifth. By not believing His Word they broke the Third and Fourth. Their name-calling broke the Eighth and the Sixth because their words were impure. They tried to steal His glory, which means they broke the Seventh. They broke the Ninth and Tenth because, as He says in a parable a few days before He died, they were coveting His inheritance.
We aren’t guilty of the same sins. Our sins tend not to be so blatant or obvious. They’re along the lines of tuning out the Sunday sermon or forgetting the offering! To use some illustrations from family life: We husbands and fathers neglect to think about what our wives or children need from us and withdraw into our own little worlds – we forget we’re supposed to love them with action, just as Christ loved The Church on The Cross. Children pay no attention to their parents. Wives and mothers may get overcome with frustration and take it out on others. Our family lives are full of sins and regrets. No one can convict God of sin. But He can convict us of sin. No one can cast stones at Him, but others can cast stones at us. And if you are convicted of sin, and The Law can convict you, The Law says you deserve to die eternally, not by stones, but in hell.
But Jesus says to you: If you believe in Me, you will never experience death. How can He say this? Some of us have buried parents or grandparents in just the past few months! How can You say that, Jesus! Because the Jews didn’t stone Him; they forced the Romans to crucify Him. That’s how Jesus wanted to die. He didn’t want to be stoned. He wanted to be crucified. He is The Great High Priest Who offered Himself to His Father and died. Every year on the Day of Atonement the high priest offered blood in the Holy of Holies for the cleansing of Israel’s sin. With His Blood Jesus cleanses you from all sin. He washes you clean. He gives you at this Altar The New Testament in His Blood to promise you that though you die, you shall live. You shall rise again on the last day to live forever with Him.
“Before Abraham was, I AM.” This Jesus Who is going to The Cross is The God Who led Israel out of Egypt, The God Who by His Death and Resurrection leads you out of death into everlasting life and out of sin into what is good. He offered Himself up for you to rescue you from all your enemies, namely sin, death, and the devil. Therefore with confidence we can sing (TLH 220):
Jesus, my great High Priest, Offered His Blood and died; My guilty conscience seeks No sacrifice beside. His pow’rful Blood did once atone, And now it pleads before the Throne.
To this dear Surety’s hand Will I commit my cause; He answers and fulfils His Father’s broken laws. Behold my soul at freedom set; My Surety paid the dreadful debt.
My Advocate appears For my defense on high; The Father bows His ears And lays His thunder by. Not all that hell or sin can say Shall turn His heart, His love, away.
Should all the hosts of death And pow’rs of hell unknown Put their most dreadful forms Of rage and mischief on, I shall be safe, for Christ displays Superior pow’r and guardian grace.