When The Devil Throws Rocks

Text:  John 8:46-59 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

What were the religious leaders to do with Jesus?  They had had a sharp disagreement between themselves and Jesus and Jesus was not willing to back down at all.  You see, Jesus had confronted them and was holding them accountable for being enemies of the truth.  As you can about imagine, they did not like this too much. 

Now, like a Mexican standoff, Jesus and the religious leaders came into irreconcilable tension.  They locked horns; they collided.  They could neither proceed nor retreat without there being a conflict and without there being blood on the streets. 

But what was the reason for this great tension and standoff?  The reason for the disagreement was simply this: Jesus proclaimed to the people that His doctrine – His teaching – was from God and that He was the Light of the world.  Christ also went on to say that only through Him people were forgiven of sin and kept from death.  He had been preaching this message for a number of days and many people began to follow Him. 

However, as you can about imagine, the religious leaders could not agree with Jesus, because ‘they’ claimed to represent the truth, not Christ.  They said that Jesus’ doctrines came from the Devil.  They believed that ‘they’ were in the right and that Jesus was in the wrong.  Simply stated, the town wasn’t big enough for both of them, for the religious leaders wanted to be the top dog.

While it would be convenient for us to attempt to smooth this whole conflict over by saying, “Jesus and the religious leaders are both right and we should all just get along and love each other…” I am afraid that this does not do justice to this morning’s Gospel reading from John.  Furthermore, why does this surprise us that there is a conflict between the religious leaders and Jesus?  My friends, we should not be surprised when the teachings of Jesus, the Son of God, conflict with the teachings of mankind.  Yes, whenever we humans base our understanding of the Christian faith off of something that is not Christ’s Holy Word, well then… we are going to be in conflict with Jesus, as we should. 

Whether we realize it or not, we all have opinions that are shaped and formed from various persons, books, ideas, and institutions.  Some of these ideas are true and good, while others are false and bad.  However, we typically do not realize our false and bad ideas; that is to say, we do not realize our errors until we come into a sharp disagreement with an opposing point of view. 

As in the case of the religious leaders, when they were confronted by Jesus’ teaching they were challenged in a way that unsettled the very foundation of their lives.  It rocked their world.  It knocked them off of their center of gravity.  Indeed, there are few greater fears in life than a loss of sense and order and meaning in our lives.[1]

Dear friends, when we are confronted by Jesus’ Word – whether we are simply reading the scriptures or in a Bible study or here in church – we should learn and expect to be unsettled and challenged.  That is natural and good.  With that said though, we are more comfortable getting defensive like the religious leaders in our Gospel reading.  Like them, we resist Jesus’ teaching when Jesus’ Word attempts to undo us.  Therefore, we are easily tempted into arguing and rationalizing Jesus’ teachings away or we try to compartmentalize them by putting them in our religious box off to the side, where they do not interfere with our incorrect beliefs. 

There is more though.  If we cannot keep Jesus’ teaching from interrogating and exposing our false and misguided beliefs, well then... we will lash out in anger by avoiding the Bible, avoiding church, and avoiding that preacher-man.  On the other hand, if we cannot avoid Jesus’ teaching and we wish to maintain our false beliefs, there is another option though; we will go to the nuclear option.  We will attack Jesus’ teaching – Jesus’ Word – as well as Jesus’ messengers.  Like the religious leaders who picked up rocks to stone Jesus in order to eliminate the uncomfortable tension and eliminate the uncomfortable notion that they might be wrong, we do the same when our anger lashes out and tries to eliminate the Word of God that so often confronts us. 

Why did the religious leaders want to stone Jesus?  Why do we get defensive with the Word of God?  The answer: we want to be free from being challenged and free to believe what we want.  We do not like conflict and we do not like disapproval, especially from God.  We want God to be on our side, while simultaneously having our incorrect opinions affirmed and celebrated.    

Unfortunately, we see this being played out not only in the North American Church, but in our secular sphere as well.  The religious life of individuals is being suppressed.  Christians are being told that they can worship and read their Bibles in their church and in their homes, but they better not dare bring them out into the public sphere.  Why is this the case?  The world does not want to be confronted; the world does not want to be convicted of sins.  Furthermore, even though the world demands that everyone be tolerant, it really does not want tolerance, but rather it wants everyone to celebrate its ideologies.  Tragically, in our culture, speaking the truth in love will not be met with relief and gratitude, but with anger and rocks in hands. 

Dear friends, this is nothing new.  When Cain was confronted in the book of Genesis about his erring sacrifice, he killed his brother Abel.  When the people of Judah were confronted by the High Priest Zechariah for their sins, the people conspired and stoned him to death.  When Stephen confronted the stiff-necked people who had closed ears in the book of Acts, they became enraged, ground their teeth, and rushed at him with rocks.  And in our text today, when Jesus unsettled the religious leaders, they called Him a demon and then picked up rocks to stone Him.

With all this said, what is really at the heart of today’s Gospel reading is the Third Commandment.  We are being shown that we should not despise the preaching and teaching of the Word with closed ears or rocks in our hands, but rather, we should hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  But what does this mean?  It means that hearing the Word will indeed make us uncomfortable.  It means that Jesus’ Word will challenge our behaviors, feelings, ideas, and values.  The Lord has power in His Word and that Word shapes and forms us – often times different than the going trends of culture.  The Word – the teaching and breath of Jesus - is sometimes painful for us to hear, but make no mistake, it is also good.  You see, we are constantly brought to a conviction of our sin from the Word.  We are shown where we have erred.  We are shown where we have believed the lies of the world, the evil one, and our sinful flesh.  We are shown that “one who refuses to hear God’s Word is not of God but of the devil.”[2] 

You though; you, who have ears, here this.  You are not of the Devil.  Yes, you Baptized Saints belong to the Lord.  The Word of God is for you.  Therefore, repent of your attempts to protect yourself from God’s Word.  Repent of your willingness to trust the messages of the world, the flesh, and the devil, rather than the Word of God.  Repent of your apathy towards the Word. 

You, my friends, are of God, not of the Devil.  You are people of Jesus’ Word, not the vain and empty slogans of the world.  Your hands were not meant for rocks but for receiving the body and the blood of Christ, the body and blood in which you lay upon your tongues. You have been given ears to hear, thus, hear the Word of God; accept the rebukes from Jesus’ Word when sin has been committed and most important of all, hear the Gospel.  Yes, hear the Gospel, which is for you.  Yes, listen to this, “The Word of Christ is a medicine against eternal death, which is hell.  . . . Every soul was conceived and born dead in sin.  But in this Word of the Gospel, Christ is united with you.  So you are no longer dead, but alive.  You are already raised from death in Christ.  This is the first resurrection.”[3]  You have life in Christ; eternal death has no power over you.  You are forgiven.  You are beloved.  You are baptized.    

Yes, receive the Word that is for you!  “You have the Word of Christ, and that cannot fail to overcome death for you.  For it is the Word of the great ‘I Am.’  Death could not conquer Him, so it cannot conquer you.”[4]

Furthermore, if the enemies of Jesus’ Word pick up stones against you, you shall not fear.  The Lord knows how to hide and rescue His own.  He covers you with His protection in evil times.  He hides you secretly in His safety.  Just as no one was able to harm Christ before the designated time of His crucifixion, so also no one is able to harm you in any way, before the appointed time of your departure from this life in the veil of tears.[5]

Blessed Baptized Saints, the Word of God is for you.  You are captive to the Word, the Word that keeps you from eternal death.  You are forgiven; salvation is yours; you have life in Jesus, because He bled, died, rose…because He says it is so.

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2008), 85.

[2] Martin Luther, The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther: Judica Sunday – Fifth Sunday in Lent Sermon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 2000), 357.

[3] Andrew Eckert, “Sermon based of Johann Gerhard thoughts on John 8:46-59,” LCMS Sermons, http://lcmssermons.com/index.php?sn=2679 (accessed March 11, 2016).  

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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