I AM Preaches to You. Judica Sermon 2013. John 8:46-59
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 8:42-59
March 17, 2013
“I AM preaches here”
Who do you think you are?
Who do you make yourself out to be?
Joseph, Jacob’s son, made his 11 brothers angry, telling them about his dream: Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me. But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?’ And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. Genesis 37:9-11
David had a similar experience with his brothers. He volunteered to fight the giant Goliath, even though he was just a youth. His brothers, like Joseph’s brothers, said, Who do you think you are? Who do you make yourself out to be?
David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”…Now Eliab [David’s] eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your [arrogance] and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” 1 Samuel 17:26-28
David’s brother said, “Who do you think you are? You are arrogant!” David’s brothers hated him because God chose him by grace; David was the youngest, not the tallest or the most aristocratic in appearance. He did the job no one wanted—keeping sheep. But God anointed him king of Israel. And Joseph was the second youngest of the sons of Israel, yet God made it so that all of his brothers had to bow down to him. And they hated him.
They accused Joseph and David of arrogance. “Who do you make yourself out to be?” This story repeats itself again and again in the Bible. Cain, the firstborn, kills Abel because God is pleased with Abel apart from His works, by grace. Ishmael mocks and persecutes Isaac, the second-born son of Abraham, whom God has chosen as the heir of the promise.
And then Jesus. “You aren’t claiming to be greater than Abraham, are you? Who are you making yourself out to be?” That’s what Jesus’ countrymen ask Him.
Is it a fair question?
Let me ask you: how would you react to a person who did not appear to be crazy, but claimed to be the Son of God?
How would you react even to someone who claimed to be a prophet and to speak for God?
The likelihood is that you would say, “Who do you think you are? Who are you trying to make yourself into?” Isn’t that true? Self-absorbed people irritate you, don’t they? That’s because there isn’t room at the top for everyone. But everyone wants to be there, or at least they want to be a little higher than they are right now.
So most people learn to rein in their ambition, or to conceal it, because it’s not polite and nobody likes little Napoleons. If you’re going to be Napoleon, you have to conquer. Otherwise you’ll just be a joke. So if you can’t be Napoleon, you learn to be someone else who helps you climb a little higher.
So, forgetting for a moment Abel, Isaac, Joseph, and Jesus, and forgetting also all the arrogant people you know who you’d like to ask Who do you think you are?—forgetting them for a moment, let’s turn the question around on ourselves. You. Who do you think you are? Who do you make yourself out to be?
What are the qualities about yourself that you like? Are you intelligent, dependable, dutiful, compassionate, creative, driven? You may not like to blow your own trumpet in public, but within the privacy of your own heart there are at least a few qualities in you that you like and are proud of.
And now, how do you try to present yourself to the world? Don’t you want to be seen in a favorable light, probably in line with your good qualities?
But these good qualities, and the face that we try to show the world is not all there is to us. There are also the negative qualities of which we are ashamed. They are the dandelions that grow in the yard of our self which we are trying to keep manicured and emerald green in front of the neighbors. Maybe you’re lazy, or hotheaded, or cowardly, or uptight, or controlling. A lot of times, though, our negative qualities are painful to look at directly, so we play them down. Otherwise it’s difficult to live.
This is more than just a struggle for self-esteem. There is far more at stake. It is a struggle of life and death, heaven and hell. We are trying not only to have people like us and be able to like ourselves. We are struggling to make a case that we may have a right to exist.
But the whole project is sin. We don’t exist because we earn it. We exist only if God wants us to exist and says we exist. We live by God’s word, which is reality, which is the truth.
Our entire lives as sinners is a fight against the truth. We try to take one part of the truth that we like and make it the whole. But when you accept one aspect of what is true and suppress other aspects, you are lying. And that is what you do. You tell yourself and insist to the world, “I am a nice person. I am a good person.” But when your conscience or your neighbors point out the ways that you are not nice, or not good, you become angry, and your face falls, like Cain.
There is no life apart from the truth. Human beings were created because God spoke them into existence. His Word gives us our lives and our identities and our work as a gift. “I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, my eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have…” as the Small Catechism explains the first article of the Apostles’ Creed.
But we don’t believe that wholeheartedly. You fight against it. Even if you are a Christian, your old nature fights God’s word. You try to define and support your own life. You try to make yourself before God and the world, and that always means that you are unable to love and trust God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. You try to speak your own word instead of living from God’s word. This is the poison injected in you through Adam by the devil, that you believe, your flesh believes that if you depart from God’s Word “You will be like God”. You will be your own I AM and not depend on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
When the devil speaks the untruth, the unreality, the lie, he speaks out of the thing that belongs to him, because he is a liar and a murderer from the beginning, who did not abide in the truth. He is a liar and the father of lies. And human beings who are born according to the flesh and not the Spirit are children of the devil. We are by nature liars who can’t stand the truth and can’t abide with it. It has no place in us because it cannot exist together with the heroic story we try to fabricate for ouselves.
So when Jesus speaks the truth most who hear Him have no room for it. In the days after His birth from the virgin Mary, before His resurrection and ascension, most reacted with anger at Jesus’ claims to be God. They called him an arrogant liar. Today people don’t say that so much. They usually say he was an honorable, good man. It is to Christians that people say, “Who do you think you are?” “Who are you to say that you have the only path to heaven? Who do you make yourself out to be, claiming that other religions lead to hell, claiming that you are certain that you have everlasting life?”
It is not who we are, but who Jesus is. He is I AM. YHWH or Jehovah—the God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. And Jesus did not make Himself into YHWH, or make Himself out to be the I AM. He is and was. Jesus did not need to make Himself into anything. He is who He is, He will be who He will be. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end,” Jesus says [Revelation 22:13].
He did not make Himself into God; He is and was. Yet He didn’t claim it for Himself. He depended on the Father’s word and let the Father give Him the glory that belonged to Him.
He did that for you. He did it because all our efforts to speak our own word, to be our own I AM, end in certain death, in everlasting judgment and torment. Our word is not the truth. We are always pretending, trying to make ourselves into something other than we are, which is condemned sinners from the moment we are conceived. We are children of wrath, but we tell ourselves that we are like Odysseus, the heroic king who has been kept from his kingdom by the plotting of other enemies, but who at last overcomes all the obstacles to reclaim his rightful place with his wife, on his throne. But that is all a lie. There is nothing good in us, nothing at all, from our conception. There is no glory in the story of our lives, only wretchedness and death.
What is true of us, Jesus, according to the Father’s gracious will, made true of Himself. He bore the reality of our sin and warfare against God. He submitted Himself to this reality that is too horrible to look at. Instead of claiming His rights as the eternal Son of God, He claimed our rights as enemies of God. The horrible truth of our sin Jesus bore for us on the cross, where He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, where the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him—even God’s anger and wrath against our sin.
Who do you make yourself out to be? That’s what they asked Jesus. He makes Himself nothing. He is what He is—He is the Lord Almighty through Whom and for Whom all things were created. But He comes in the world as a nothing. He is born with no silver spoon and no honor or recognition. Yet He is God’s Son from eternity.
And He is man, of our own flesh and blood, bearing the reality of our attempts to replace Him as God. He bears the punishment that belongs to us, drinks the cup of death and God’s wrath that belongs to human beings.
Jesus doesn’t lie or pretend and fool Himself that we are righteous or that He bore our sin. His Word is the truth. He made Himself responsible for the guilt of our sin in reality and truth. His payment for sin given to us in His Word is not a fiction, but reality.
He says, “Amen, Amen, I say to you,” or “Truly, truly I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
That is the word that He preaches among us.
Our word and our works cannot save us from death and destruction. But whoever keeps His word is rescued from lies and becomes alive in the truth.
Whoever keeps His word keeps what is so solid that when this world is destroyed, it will endure. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
Things in time do not appear the way they will in eternity. A rotten apple, for instance, does not look like an apple tree full of sweet fruit. But if you could watch over the period of years you would see that the rotten apple and the healthy tree laden with sweet fruit are one.
Things that look good in time often taste like ashes and cinders in eternity. The lies of the devil made Eve notice that the forbidden fruit was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable to make one wise. How could such a fruit ever hurt anyone? Why wouldn’t God want us to have it? But the result was death, corruption, decay.
Human schemes to save ourselves and to build churches are the same. They may seem to succeed for awhile. But from the perspective of eternity, where the seed and the tree are one and the same—human words and schemes are death.
But the word Jesus proclaimed to the Jews and that He proclaims here at St. Peter is no vain hope; it saves from death. It looks like it brings death. Look what happened to Jesus. Look what happened to the apostles. Those who keep Jesus’ word will experience the same. It must surely come to those who keep His Word. And we have experienced it, and our flesh does not believe that the suffering that comes with the Word of the Cross can really be a sign of God’s favor instead of His wrath.
But the truth is not what it appears to sinful eyes. Jesus is I AM, even as He is nailed naked, cursed, shamed, and mocked to the cross. Jesus is I AM as comes now into His church through His preaching, through His body and blood, through the life-giving water of Baptism.
His word does not bring death, but tears the power from death, so that we die only to the sinful flesh, which is for us to enter life. It gives us everlasting life, which is not destroyed by suffering and shame and crossbearing, but flourishes and grows there under the contradiction of the cross.
Vindicate me, O God. That is the name of this Sunday, from the Psalm. The Lord vindicates and justifies and establishes us by raising us up in His Son. His Word, His promise of everlasting life through His blood, in Your baptism, is God vindicating you, justifying you, and establishing you. I Am vindicates you. He stands at your side as an advocate; not to validate your life, which is deserving of wrath. He vindicates You by raising Jesus from the dead,. He makes Jesus sin for you and you the righteousness of God in Him.
Who do you make yourself to be? You make yourself nothing. You are nothing. We are all beggars. That is true.
But God’s word, the Gospel, makes you to be a son and heir of God who will never see death. A splendid, glorious, radiant bride, with no spot or blemish. He makes you in the image of Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.
- Satan has lost everything. Oculi Sermon 2013. St. Luke 11.14-28 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)