Sexagesima Sunday – February 15, 2004

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank


February 15, 2004

Text: John 12:35-43

Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. 36 “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them. 37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him. 42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.


Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

Our text this morning took place after Palm Sunday, that is, just a few days before Jesus’ crucifixion and death. He knows that the hour of His great suffering is near. The Light of the world, Jesus Christ, is soon to be extinguished by the death on the cross – or at least that is what will appear to happen. So Jesus tells the crowd about the “little while” that He will be with them. He desires that they believe Him now, “now is the time of their salvation.” They should not presume to think that it doesn’t matter if they put off following Jesus. No, rather they must understand: “while you have the light, believe in the light.”

However, John records for us that many did not believe Jesus. This reminds us of the result in John 6, after Jesus fed the 5,000 and taught that He is the Bread of Life. He taught the crowd: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” What happened to so many who followed Jesus? They left Him and followed Him no more. They did not believe Him.

Now we see much the same thing happening. Yet, there is the interesting comment from St. John that many of the rulers believed in Jesus. But what did they do? They did not confess Him because they were unwilling to go against the Pharisees. The Pharisees would excommunicate anyone who confessed Jesus, just as they had done to the blind man Jesus healed, recorded in John’s ninth chapter. At that time Jesus had told the Pharisees: “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.” The light had come into the world, but the darkness refused to acknowledge it. And the rulers in our text decide it is better to remain in the darkness than to confess the light. Of them John states: “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” These are sad words, sadder still because they apply to us all so often.

There is a penalty to pay when we stand up for the truth of God’s Word. The penalty varies according to the society. In China, the penalty may be prison. In various Muslim countries the penalty may be death. In our own community the penalty may be that you will be shunned, avoided, called names, perhaps it will mean that people you thought were friends will no longer treat you the same way. What are we willing to endure? It is so tempting to “love the praise of men more than the praise of God.”

In the Gospel for today we heard Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Seed. The seed was thrown around all over the place. There was no attempt to stay just on the good soil. It was thrown on the path, on the rocks, among the weeds. Why? Because God is not stingy with His Word. He spreads His Word so that all will hear. But not all believe. Satan, world, and sinful flesh all work to kill the seed. The seed is eaten by the birds, scorched by the sun, and choked by the weeds. That is why Jesus says to us: “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you….”

It is easy to take God’s Word for granted. After all, there are Bibles all over the place. Every Sunday we have services here. Why should we worry about losing God’s Word? Such thoughts ignore what Jesus says here. Our Lord teaches us: Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” Isaiah was writing about the people of his day, 700 years before Christ. These were the children of Israel, a nation for whom God had done wonderful things, a nation with such leaders as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and others who confessed and taught and prophesied about the true God and the coming Messiah. Yet the people had given up the true faith. Many had turned to the false gods that surrounded them. And so Isaiah brought God’s Word: their eyes were blinded and their hearts hardened. What does this mean? We must remember how our Lutheran confession explains this: “For through the word and sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel” (AC V).

There is a great mystery here that is ignored by those who seek the praise of men by seeking numbers and the glory of this world for the church. Large crowds are not the goal of preaching and teaching God’s Word. Rather, the goal is to proclaim that word faithfully. The results of the preaching and teaching are not ours to control or manipulate. The results are given by God the Holy Spirit. Some will hear and believe. But others will not. They will be blind and their hearts hardened to the truth of God’s Word. We cannot understand this. It is a mystery of God that we dare not try to unravel. What we are called to do is bring the Word to people, to scatter it as liberally and generously as the Sower in Jesus’ parable. How that Word is received is not our work. “The Holy Spirit works faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel.”

What we learn is that it is only by God’s grace that His Word continues in any place. Should we abuse that grace and charity of God? Should we ignore Him and be blind and hard-hearted? Should we love the praise of men more than the praise of God? No, this is not what we desire. Yet we know that we are surrounded by sin, infected with it. We are unable to stand on our own. We are sinful. We find that we do not love God’s Word as we should, that our trust is too often mis-directed, that our confidence is placed not in the Gospel, the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ. But that is why we keep praying:

Hallowed be Thy name. What does this mean? God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be holy among us also. How is God’s name hallowed? God’s name is hallowed when His Word is taught in its truth and purity, and we as the children of God live holy lives according to it. This grant us, dear Father in heaven! But he who teaches and lives otherwise than the Word of God teaches dishonors God’s name among us. From this preserve us, heavenly Father!

Our text does not lead us to despair or apathy. Rather, it points us to Christ. He is the Light. He has not left us. He was not extinguished by the darkness of death. He rose again the third day, proclaiming His victory over our enemies of sin, death, and devil. He continues to shine with the brilliance of the Son of God, who shines in our hearts, giving us forgiveness for all our wandering away from Him, patiently waiting for us like the father of the prodigal son. When the father saw his ungrateful son returning from his sin the father did not stomp away in a huff, but ran to the son, hugged him, and rejoiced, giving him a great and wonderful banquet. That is God’s love for you, a love that forgives, a love that prepares a table for us, a table with the great banquet of the Lord’s Supper, the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for the remission of sins.

God help us all to remain with the Light, to seek and love the praise of God, faithfully following our Lord, trusting in His Word alone, the Word of free forgiveness, for our salvation. Amen.

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