Let us pray:
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
46 “Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?
47 “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”
48 Then the Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.
50 “And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges.
51 “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”
52 Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say,`If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’
53 “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Whom do You make Yourself out to be?”
54 Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.
55 “Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say,`I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.
56 “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
57 Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?”
58 Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
59 Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed,
An editor of prominent journal that discusses topics of religion and public life was arguing that churches should not cancel services. In a time of isolation, loneliness, financial hardship, and fear, church is the one thing that should remain open. I wish it were that easy. Surely, the Word of God is always essential to our lives, but it is especially needed during times of trial. For that is God’s desire for us in trial to draw us closer to Himself, by turning us to His Word.
Yet out of love we wish to prevent an exponential spread of this disease out of love for our neighbor. And so, we are able to adapt; we are still able to get the Word of God out through internet, phone, or letter. We are still able to have the word of God at home, but we’re missing out on corporate worship, which is a hardship. It’s difficult to know which is the right way to proceed. Should we continue to gather? Is it enough of a precaution to come in smaller groups, or does that bring too much risk? I think we’re taking the right approach with the suspension of services for a time, and the offering of communion to each one to decide for themselves weighing their need for their Supper, their risk level for yourself and others you are in contact with, and with what exposure they are comfortable with. So, in regards to what the editor wrote, I don’t agree with him about the cancelation of services, but he does make a very good point in the article. He writes, “the massive shutdown of just about everything reflects the spirit of our age, which regards the prospect of death as the supreme evil to be avoided at all costs.”
There is something worse than death. And this is something the world needs to know, and what we need to be reminded of. For our current events have turned us to our earthly needs, the needs I mentioned above such as loneliness, financial hardship, sickness and death. And rightly we have been taking these needs to God in prayer, but we must also remember that there is something worse than death. That something is spiritual death and eternal death. That is separation from God through unbelief now in life, and for eternity in hell. But then at the same time, greater than any of our earthly gifts is Christ and His Word from which we have eternal life.
But this separation from God is a threat to take seriously. This was the dreadful condition of the Pharisees.
They did not understand Jesus words. Jesus spoke the truth about Himself. He preached and fulfilled the Old Testament, for the entire Old Testament was about Jesus. And the Pharisees who knew the Old Testament didn’t see it. Abraham saw Jesus, that is, Abraham believed the promise of Christ. But the Pharisees didn’t see Jesus. They didn’t understand the promises of the Old Testament, and they did not understand Jesus’ words. Do we have a different nature than they? No, this is the common condition of our fallen nature. And so because of our sinful flesh, we are susceptible to unbelief, not to mention that the devil continuously tries to blind us and shroud us in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief.
The Pharisees also differed with Jesus in regards to their doctrine. The doctrine of the Jews placed their hope on two things, their ancestry and their works. They believed that being a physical descendant of Abraham made them God’s people. However, Jesus stated the fact that they do not belong to God, for they do not share the faith of Abraham.
But then the Jews also believed that their justification before God was through the Law. And so they saw no need for a Savior. They saw no need for repentance, for they weren’t looking for forgiveness and salvation. It was an offense for them to hear that keeping Jesus Word gives eternal life. They belong to the devil, for they are liars and they teach falsely, like the liar and deceiver, the devil.
This is the worse thing possible. To be separated from their Creator, to reject the One who would save them. They deny the Word that gives them eternal life, instead they remain in their sins, subject to death, under God’s judgment, and death shall be for them the entrance to torments that never end with the one to whom they belong, the devil.
If you want to talk about a threat, a pandemic, this is it. Yet do we take it as seriously as the coronavirus? We should take it more seriously. Do we recoil at false doctrine as we should? Do we shelter ourselves in God’s Word, when the devil and his lies are everywhere around us leading us to misbelief, despair and other shameful sin and vice. Do we take such extensive measures against secularism that tells us that this on earth is the only life there is and that we’re good, and that we ought to believe in ourselves and that we don’t need a God or a Savior. Do we daily sanitize ourselves of our filthy sins each and every day through repentance? Or do we think that our sins pose little threat to us?
We need to keep this perspective.
But, with such a great danger as being separated from God is and how dreadful such a thing is, we need not fear. For God has not given us a spirit of fear.
For Jesus is true God and our Savior. And His Word gives us eternal life. He promises, “If anyone keeps My Word he shall never see death.” This Word that Jesus is speaking is not the Law, but the gospel. Moses came with the Law, Jesus comes with grace and truth. His Word is the good news of what He accomplishes by His coming into the world. It is filled with promises of forgiveness won by His shed blood. It is a message of the demolishing of the separation between us and God by His atonement for our sins. His Word speaks of eternal life. And so the keeping of this Word is not our doing the Law. Rather, it means keeping in our hearts through faith, this gospel word for you.
See how precious this word is to us. Jesus has the “words of eternal life”, as Peter confessed. Jesus said, “My words are spirit and life.” In them is life for us. This is life connected to God, as His people, now and forever. And see how Jesus so closely ties the Word to Himself. Christ is the content of the word. In the word are the gifts of His righteous life and innocent suffering and death. To keep the word is to keep Christ. To consume the Word is to consume the Bread of Life. To drink of the Word of God, is to drink of Christ, the Water of Life, who refreshes us in this valley of the shadow of death.
Through this Word, we are saved from spiritual death, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. And through faith in this Word, we become united with Christ and He lives in us. This spiritual life is what Jesus talks about earlier in John’s gospel, “He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24). This joining to Christ through faith in His Word is the first resurrection. And thus the second death, or eternal death has no power over us (Rev 20:6).
And thus through this Word, we are also saved from eternal death, eternal separation from God’s love. Abraham believed in the word of the Lord, and is now in eternal life. So also, you through faith in Christ’s Word have eternal life. And so the bite of bodily death is also gone! This death that the world so fears! Certainly for the unbelieving, death should bring much terror, for through it they enter into eternal torment. But for us who keep the Word of Christ through faith, death nothing more than a nap. Death is the passing from this land of the dying to the land of the living, our Promised Land, where the Church triumphant gathers with her Lord in glory.
We wonder what the worst that might from this coronavirus pandemic. Maybe it’s death, maybe it’s a collapse of the economy, or the beginning of an increase of restrictions or our freedoms after all this passes.
We will continue to serve and love our neighbor. We will continue to serve in our vocations, for as long as God chooses to keep us here on this earth. But we need not fear any of the evil we encounter on this earth, not even death. For we have Christ’s Word that gives us eternal life. Even to die is gain!
Thanks be to God, who has granted you faith in Christ, that you now have life with God through Him. His Word is the cure and protection from the worst things: death, spiritual, bodily, and eternal death. The world so desperately is seeking a vaccine and cure to the coronavirus. If only they would see their greatest threat, and also the cure, which is Christ in His Word.
May God grant many to know Christ. And may God keep us steadfast in His eternal-life-giving word. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.