Bible Text: John 8:42-59 | Preacher: Pastor Andrew Richard | Series: Lent 2020 | This Sunday begins Passiontide, that is, the last two weeks of Lent. The hostility that Jesus faces in today’s reading stands in stark contrast to the feeding of the five thousand from last Sunday. Jesus now prepares to be crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. The world should be preparing to celebrate the anniversary of its redemption: the Friday when Christ shed his blood to rescue us from our sins, the Sunday when he rose from the dead and restored to us the hope of eternal life. And instead the world is burying Christ under COVID-19 headlines and statistics, worry and fear. The devil is dishonoring our Lord and seeking to distract us from our salvation. And what does Jesus do? Jesus bears it. He doesn’t smite those who ignore the call to repentance he is making through this pandemic. He doesn’t publish proclamations from heaven to dwarf the headlines of men. Jesus bears it.
Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus bearing personal offenses against himself. In Matthew 13 we hear the inhabitants of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth scorning him, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And Jesus bears with their scorn.
In Luke 4 Jesus preaches in the synagogue in Nazareth, and the people don’t like what he has to say, even though it’s the plain truth. “They rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.” And Jesus doesn’t retaliate. Jesus doesn’t rain down fire and sulfur on their town like on Sodom and Gomorrah. It simply says, “But passing through their midst, he went away.” Jesus bears it.
And what more shall I say? In Mark 3 people accused Jesus of being insane. In today’s Gospel reading the Jews spoke wicked words against Jesus and slandered him and blasphemed him. On at least two occasions the Jews tried to stone Jesus. And time would fail me to tell of all his sufferings the night of Holy Thursday into Good Friday. Jesus bore mocking, spitting, striking, and lashing. He bore crucifixion and death. The devil and the world treated Jesus like the dirt under their feet instead of the God that he is. And Jesus took the slander and the attacks and he simply suffered it all.
Now the sufferings of Christ that atoned for our sins are complete, as we heard in the Epistle, “he entered once for all into the holy places… by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Jesus has been raised from the dead in glory, and no more sufferings are necessary to secure our redemption. But though our Lord has secured our redemption, that does not mean that he no longer suffers slander and attack. The devil and the world continue to belittle Jesus and mock him and treat him with scorn and make him a laughingstock. And Jesus continues to bear it. He suffers false teachers to pervert his Word. He suffers the devil to tell lies about him. He suffers the world to let the anniversary of its redemption pass by unheeded and to talk about nothing but “the novel coronavirus” instead.
Jesus’ words in the Gospel explain why he continues to forbear and suffer: “I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it and who judges.” Jesus knew that his glory and reputation were secure. His Father would raise him from the dead. His Father would show the world that he was in the right. And therefore Jesus didn’t contend for himself or uphold his own reputation, but was willing to be thought low, because he knew he would be vindicated in the end. As it says in 1 Peter 2, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
Now the worst thing we could do is suppose that because Jesus doesn’t seek his own glory, therefore he is not almighty and his Word is not important. That’s what the world thinks, that because Jesus bears with so much, Jesus must be low and despicable and of no account. Our sinful flesh thinks along these lines. Jesus seems so weak in this world and his Church so impotent, what good could Jesus and his Word possibly be? And so the sinful flesh finds it easy to trust other things: money and health and the work of its own hands. And when these false gods fail, then the sinful flesh despairs. Money dwindles and health is fleeting and the work of your hands is taken away, and then what? As Christians we know to trust Jesus, but we wish he would show himself as the almighty God that he is. We wish he would transfigure himself before us, that we might see his glory and take heart. Why should false gods get the glory from the world, yes, God help us, even from our own flesh? Why must Jesus bear with so much?
But wait. Would we really want Jesus to be something other than the Father’s suffering servant? Would we want him to set aside his forbearance or stop dealing with mankind patiently? The suffering and forbearance and patience of Jesus have been our salvation. And so he will continue to suffer and forbear. He will still turn the other cheek. That means in this age we must see our dear Lord despised and listen to men tell lies about him. In this age we must be poor and lowly like our Lord and watch grocery stores be treated with more honor than Christ’s Church. But in this age we have our sins forgiven. In this age we receive grace by the blood of Christ, who did not shut up his precious veins and demand justice, but let them flow freely out of love for us. Jesus bears with man and appears weak―and saves us, thanks be to God.
Now because Jesus appears weak as he bears with mankind, we cannot base our opinion of him on our perception. We must base our opinion of Jesus on his Word. We must learn to see with our ears. His Word will tell us the fact of the matter: “my power is made perfect in weakness,” as Jesus says in 2 Corinthians 12. The crucifixion of Jesus is the mightiest deed that has ever been done on the face of the earth. That’s a fact. And we don’t know it from appearances, but from the Word of God.
Jesus’ Word continues to tell us the fact of the matter about everything, in spite of all appearances. When we look with our eyes, we see empty streets and empty shelves, cases of a virus and mortality rates, lost jobs and cutbacks. Is this the reality that defines our life? No. Consider what is written in Romans 8, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” And a little later it says, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our eyes and our flesh and the devil and the world lie and tell us that we must despair, that God has failed, that we’re in the midst of a crisis. And the Word teaches us to shrug at it all and say, “No. I have the love of God in Jesus Christ, from which nothing can separate me. I’m set for life.”
This Word of God is a priceless treasure, far more valuable than anything the world touts and raves about. As we hold fast to this Word, we have Jesus’ promise in the Gospel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” What a precious saying! People are holding fast to many things in these days, spending money and stockpiling, not realizing that their hoards will fail them. And meanwhile Jesus offers, free of charge to us, a simple Word that not only sees us through these days, but will see us through death and the Last Day and on into eternal life with him. This Word matters more than everything else on earth. The world treats this Word with contempt, just as it treats Jesus. But we love this Word more than we love our own lives.
This Sunday is called Judica, named after the first word in the Introit, “Vindicate.” “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people.” We can picture Jesus praying this psalm as the Jews attack him without cause in the Gospel reading. “Vindicate me.” Now we don’t often use the word “vindicate.” What does it mean? The word “vindicate” means to show that someone is in the right in the eyes of all people, to declare publicly that he is innocent and his adversary guilty. When Jesus prays, “Vindicate me,” this is him “entrusting himself to him who judges justly,” as we heard from 1 Peter. “I do not seek my own glory,” Jesus says. But he adds, “There is One who seeks it and who judges.” From these words we learn that, though Jesus is willing to bear a great deal from the devil and the world, he is not willing to let wickedness and lies prevail. In the end he knows that his Father will make the whole world see that he was and is and will always be in the right.
This is a comfort to us as we see our Lord and his Word belittled. It’s not right that grocery stores should be treated with more honor than churches. It’s not right that people should be zealous for toilet paper and not zealous for the Gospel. It’s not right that shelves are empty of dog food while Bibles sit on shelves collecting dust. It’s not right that false teachers have more praise and attention than those who teach sound doctrine. It’s not right that the world gets to slander and persecute the Church. It’s not right that people mock you and make fun of you for believing the truth. And so we join Jesus in his prayer, “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people.”
And God will. He raised Jesus from the dead and showed that his Son was in the right and all his enemies were in the wrong. On the Last Day, as it says in Philippians 2, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” We long for this moment, not because we delight in the sufferings of those who realize the truth of this too late, but we delight in this just because it’s right. Jesus is Lord, and it’s right that the whole world should acknowledge it.
Our coming vindication is a great comfort to us, especially during this time as the whole world prepares to ignore the death and resurrection of Jesus in favor of obsessing about its own mortality. Our coming vindication gives us patience as we wait, just as Jesus showed forbearance and suffered because he knew that his Father would vindicate him no matter what. So we likewise do not seek our own glory, and we don’t think ill of Christ if our reputation in the world is no better than his. But we cling to his Word in Psalm 135, “Your name, O Lord, endures forever, your renown, O Lord, throughout all ages. For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.” Amen.