O Death, where is your sing? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55) Death, hell, and their master, Satan, have no victory, no power. They thought they did. Jesus died and they rejoiced. For a time, it looked like Death had taken the victory, swallowing up the Author of Life. It stopped His breath, it spilled His precious Blood. Death finally ate its fill on Good Friday as it devoured Christ as He bore the sins of the world.
St. Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote these profound Words: “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks these Words of Himself. Not one of us meets this list of the characteristics of the blessed. That’s the whole point of this day. We have not been pure in heart. We are not peacemakers. We are not meek. Only Jesus is. Only Jesus has the perfect hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” This is how St. John describes Jesus’ last hours before His Crucifixion. Everything Jesus does, He does in love. He does it to show what love truly is, what it does, what it looks like.
Hosanna in the highest! Save now, we pray! The excited Jerusalem crowd knew the One whom they greeted. They knew He was the Messiah. Just yesterday they witnessed Jesus’ raising of Lazarus, Jesus’ dearly beloved friend who was four days into the sleep of death. With that miracle, combined with all the others He had done, combined with the preaching they had heard, they saw all they needed to see. They cut down palm branches, they cast their garments before the Lord of heaven and earth, their promised King, their promised Savior, the only one who could answer their earnest prayer, “Hosanna!” They greeted Him as He entered His city, greeted the One whom the prophets had foretold since the Fall into sin.
As we read the Gospels, we become more and more acquainted with the false piety of the Jews. So often they say and do things that look like they believe. They make us think that maybe we give them too much of a hard time. Today’s Gospel is a perfect example. They come to Jesus and seem to be eagerly in search of the promised Messiah, wrestling with questions if Jesus really is the promised Christ. They seem like they’re looking for a place to put their faith, one in whom they can believe. The problem is that Jesus has given them more than enough proof. He is by no means vague. He does things only God can do: He heals men and women of various diseases and maladies, He preaches with the authority and power of God, and He forgives sins. He performs other miracles. He uses God’s personal Name, I AM, for Himself. Though the Jews beg Jesus, “tell us plainly,” He has confessed quite plainly, by word and deed, who He is and from Whom He comes.
If you back up a few verses from today’s appointed Gospel, you find Jesus saying to the Jews, namely the Pharisees and the chief priests, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (8:39). What Jesus does in this intense confrontation—spanning verses 12 through 59 of John 8—is show the Jews, particularly the religious rulers, who trusted completely in their lineage as Abraham’s children, that what they trusted in was false. Yes, by birth they belong to Abraham’s lineage. But the true children of Abraham are those who have faith. Abraham’s children are those who do what God commands of them, no matter how much it confuses or enrages or grieves them, as seen clearly in today’s Old Testament Reading. Spiritually, these Jews who would not believe in Jesus were children of the devil, the father of lies (8:44). The people who boasted being God’s chosen people were anything but.
There is a common thread in today’s Readings. Each reading highlights a various change wrought in us by the Lord. Ezekiel alluded to Baptism, that by it God separates us from the world, gives us a new heart, and gives us His Holy Spirit. Isaiah called us to a Christian life, to doing good works that are pleasing in God’s eyes. However, he reminded us that when we fail, God forgives us. Finally, in the Gospel Jesus healed the man born blind and was hated for it. But for the man who was healed, the Word of Jesus created faith in him and brought him from spiritual darkness into the light.
Our sinful flesh is never satisfied. The more of anything we get, the more it becomes expected, and the less we appreciate what we have. This is nothing new. Even a quick glance through Holy Scripture shows that this condition has plagued men from the Garden of Eden, Israel in the wilderness, and to this very day.
When God gave His Law, He knew man could not keep it. The Law always condemns. In this world, after the Fall, man cannot keep the Law. It will always and only show where we have stumbled. It tells us what we ought to do, that which pleases God. But the Law is also supposed to drive us to our Savior, our only source of Help and Comfort. Condemned and killed by the Law, we flee to the Gospel, to the Christ revealed in it who "takes away the sin of the world."
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.