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.
This is why they have to kill Jesus. He reveals their sin, especially their sin against the Holy Spirit, the unforgiveable sin. They refuse to believe in Jesus. Time and time again He was shown to be the very Messiah, the One promised from the Fall into sin. If you go through the intervening chapters of John from last week’s Gospel to today’s, you find that Jesus has been in an extended fight with the Jews over who He is. Jesus tells the people time and time again that He is from God. God has sent Him as a revelation of His will and grace. He was born in Bethlehem, as Micah foretold. He was sinless, perfectly obeying the Law of God down to the very last letter. He performs miracles, healing and forgiving, just as Isaiah said He would. His status as the Christ, the promised Messiah, is irrefutable. But the religious leaders of the Jews have hardened their hearts and refused the revelation of God. They commit the unforgiveable sin, not because they don’t know what to look for, but because they know what signs accompany the appearance of the Messiah and they refuse the signs because they aren’t what their sinful flesh wanted. Ultimately it is Jesus’ mentions of Abraham that pushes them over the edge. Jesus says that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, to see the day when God would truly provide the substitutionary Sacrifice, not the ram who took Isaac’s place, but the only perfect Lamb whose sacrifice would be the once-for-all sacrifice for all the world. When He says He is the one who makes Abraham rejoice, and they do not rejoice in Him because they do not belong to Abraham, they hate Him. They shut their ears and hearts to the Holy Spirit’s operation through the Word.
But unbelief will not be the victor, not in today’s Gospel or ever. The Jews attempt to stone Jesus, but He hides himself and passes through their midst unharmed. Jesus’ hour has not yet come. He will only breathe His last and yield up His spirit when He is ready, at the time of His choosing and His allowance. Today’s Gospel is one more proof that Holy Week is not a worst case scenario, a wrong place at the wrong time moment. What we will mark, indeed, what we will celebrate with greatest rejoicing in the next two weeks, is something Jesus will endure willingly for your salvation, for the life of the world. It is as Jesus Himself says: “No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” (Jn. 10:18)
Regardless of what man thinks, God keeps His promises. He spared the life of Isaac by providing a lamb in the thicket, a victim for whom there was no substitute. In that thicket, Abraham saw the day of Jesus Christ, and he rejoiced. The innocent lamb in the thicket redeemed Isaac, taking his place. It died for him. Isaac went free and Abraham was spared.
When the descendants of Isaac were slaves in Egypt, they were spared by a lamb, whose flesh gave them strength for the journey and whose blood marked their door and sent away the angel of death. From that time forward, the children of Abraham and Isaac saw that in every lamb sacrificed in the Temple.
Finally, John the Baptist pointed to the figurative Lamb who would take away the world’s sin, the Man who would stand in my place and yours, and everyone else’s. Jesus goes as a lamb to the slaughter, without complaint, in perfect love, seeing always to the needs of others, speaking Words of compassion, praying for us all when He asks, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He goes as a lamb, but He goes in power. He lays down His own life. He is the Victim, but also the Priest. We may know not what we do, but He is fully conscious and aware. He knows what He is doing. He does it on purpose, willingly, gladly, without regret or grudge, in perfect, self-giving love. And He knows what is coming. He knows He will win. He knows that He enters the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained the eternal redemption with His spotless, perfect Blood, offered to God on your behalf.
This is what Abraham saw and in what he rejoiced. Not simply Jesus’ teaching or miracles, but His death and resurrection. This is the truth revealed throughout Scripture. We were conceived in sin; none of us are innocent. We cannot stand before God and plead our own merits. But God has provided a Lamb in His mercy. He is caught in the thicket of His promises. He is Man and God, a sacrifice of grace, the full atonement, the salvation of the world.
The Lord will provide. That is the promise to Abraham, but also to you. At Golgotha, the place where death ruled, where men were executed for crimes, the Law got what it wanted. Now, everyone who is Baptized into Christ will never see death, will never see hell, will never pay for his sins, will never face the accuser. For the Lord Jesus Christ has come from God to deliver you out of the hands and will of demons, not for His own glory, but for your salvation.
By the Holy Spirit you are gathered into one body, in fellowship with Abraham and Isaac, made his children, not by earthly lineage, but spiritual lineage, heirs of God who inherit heaven by faith. Now, like him and all the prophets, you will not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.
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.