By Paul Koch –
I’m not sure about you but sometimes I get the feeling that we live in a time and age where we are rarely if ever really surprised. Not that we are not moved by things that happen but we seem to have very few true moments of shock and wonder. I mean when was the last time that you saw a movie and left saying, “Man, I never saw that coming.” No, usually we have things pretty much figured out; we are seldom surprised by an ending. In fact last Monday my wife and I went to see the new Noah movie and as we left, Cindy said, “Well what did you think?” And I jokingly said, “I don’t know but that whole flood thing, really took me by surprise.”
Perhaps it is just the fact that we have heard so many stories so often in our day that we rarely find one that shocks us. How surprised are we anymore when hear of government corruption? Do you stop what you’re doing when you read about unrest in the middle-east? Are you surprised when another Hollywood marriage ends in divorce? Our lives are so saturated with the immediacy of the media that we’ve heard all these stories hundreds if not thousands of times before so we just take it all in stride.
My fear is that this attitude of being unimpressed onlookers has crept into the church. Just think, how often is it that you are really taken by surprise in church? Talk about stories we’ve heard again and again, the central story of the Church of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection was at one time the most shocking of all stories but now – well now we’ve heard it so much and so often it’s become normal and even bland. When we read the Gospel lesson no one suddenly gasps out of shock and disbelief, no one turns to their neighbor and whispers, “That’s insane, did he really say that?” No, we just take it all and stride and move along without making a fuss.
We have grown accustomed to seeing our Lord in a certain way, seeing him as gentle Jesus meek and mild gathering the sheep tenderly into his arms. We tend to think of him as a kind friend who is there for us when we really need him. But in John 8:46-59 we hear our Lord as he really is; not as some caricature that we like and we are greeted with his shocking and unyielding words. He doesn’t pull any punches, he doesn’t hold back and he shatters the preconceived notions of all those who gathered around him. Now we aren’t used to being shocked by him anymore so we might have just skimmed over what he said. We aren’t surprised that much, especially in church so we might not have been paying all that close attention as we read this text. So let’s take a closer look.
Jesus has been having a lengthy exchange with the Jewish leaders and he’s hammered away at being the light of the world, about where true freedom is located and how all who sin are slaves to sin. When they claimed that they had Abraham as their father and so were free he told them that the devil was their father and they do his will. And when, in our text this morning, they claim that he has a demon and is a Samaritan he flat out calls them liars. It is fascinating, don’t you think that so often in the church today we can get so upset at moral failings, at sinful actions and yet tolerate false teachings without giving it a second thought.
And yet here our Lord demonstrates that there can be no compromise with those who would lead his sheep astray, he doesn’t attack their sinful actions but their unfaithful teachings. He calls them liars and children of the devil.
Now throughout this exchange what our Lord is doing is laying out the reality of who he is and where his authority comes from. He doesn’t allow his detractors any wiggle room. He claims that his Words are so powerful that they have the ability to protect those who keep them from the death itself. And so they think they have him, for if his Words are life itself, if death is kept at bay because of his Word then that means he of more importance than Abraham and the prophets. After all, Abraham died; he lies in a grave, so is this Jesus of Nazareth claiming to be greater than father Abraham? And this is the moment of shock and wonder, this is the place where Jesus seems to cross the line and claim things far beyond what anyone would have imagined. He says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and way glad.” He saw it and was glad! Now they are not stupid, Jesus couldn’t possibly be old enough to have been around when Abraham was alive, but still he doesn’t back down, he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Now if they weren’t mad at him before they certainly are now. They get what he’s saying; they understand, I think, the ramification of such a bold statement. He is making himself the center of the whole story. He was there before Abraham he was the joy Abraham longed for. So they pick up stones to silence this Jesus once and for all. Their rage is kindled by such shocking words and he must be silenced, permanently.
But what do you suppose he meant by, “my day?” That Abraham rejoiced to see my day? Well I think, in part at least, the day that Abraham rejoiced to see more than any other is found in Genesis 22:1-14. In that incredible and powerful text Abraham faithfully heeds the commands of God heading off to sacrifice his only son, the son he loves. Imagine the tension and fear that roared through Abraham’s heart as he hiked up the mountain and his son said, “Father, we have the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Imagine how his hands trembled as he bound up his own son and laid him on the altar. Imagine how his mind must have screamed for some other word of God as he took ahold of the knife and to slaughter his own child. And imagine the joy, the bliss, the wonder when the angel of the Lord cried out for him to stop!
What an incredible day when God provides a substitute for Abraham’s son. For there, caught in the thicket before Abraham was a ram that was caught by his horns. There was the sacrifice provided by God in place of Isaac. There is the foreshadowing of Christ himself who would take the place of not just the children of Abraham but of all sinful mankind. Abraham rejoiced in seeing my day, says our Lord. For he saw it and was glad. And that the same Lord who provided a substitute for Abraham on the mountain provided his own dear son at Calvary and provides for you even now.
For even now, even this very day when our hearts race and tremble, when we come face to face with our won failures, with our own brokenness and tears. Even now we find joy in the day of the Lord. For you today is that day, it is a day where he stops your terror and confusion and points you to his own death and resurrection and says, “See I have forgiven you, I have died for you – you are free.”
Soli Deo Gloria