Judica – Historic Lectionary – John 8:46-59 – April 2, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Just as the body of Jesus is flogged, beaten, stripped and abused under the judgment of Pilate and the mockery of the crowds, so is the Name of the Lord is flogged, beaten, stripped and abused among us.
We think little and sometimes nothing of God’s Name, we abuse it and toss it around as if it is simply filler language or a meaningless sound.
It is found on our lips not as praise and thanks, but as nothing more than mundane surprise, as swearing and cursing.
We witness the Holy Name of Baptism to our neighbor not in proclaiming His glory, but as casually confirming to them that we think God’s Name to be as worthless and powerless as they do.
We have misused and abused the greatest and strongest of all things.
This is no meaningless word, it is in fact the most meaningful of all Words, for it is the Word which brings life out of death, and deliverance out of slavery, it is holiest of all holy things.
The Jews of Jesus’ day knew this well. And unlike us, who toss around God’s name without a second thought, they sought a perfect obedience to not misusing the Divine Name.
And therefore, they simply stripped it away from the people, they cut it out of the mouths of the Israelites, scratched it out of the pages of Holy Scripture, and prohibited anyone from speaking it out loud for any reason whatsoever.
To us, there may be something pragmatic or attractive about this.
In it we can almost hear the very words of Jesus concerning our temptation to sin, when He says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away, or if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.”
And so also here, “If your lips cause you to flog the name of God, then cut them out, staple them shut and be silent.”
To us, this may seem like a good idea, a radical change, a step in the right direction.
But in truth, it actually misses the point, for the Lord’s Name is not sin.
The Second Commandment does not say, You shall not use the Name of the Lord your God, but You shall not misuse His Name.
So it is that the great tragedy of the Jews as they gather around Jesus in the Temple, is that they have neglected forgotten and become strangers to the Lord’s Name.
And in that, they have actually caused just as much abuse and misuse, just as much damage and unbelief, as if they were to be like us and use it without a second thought.
For they have forgotten His Name and they have refused in this way, “to call upon it in every trouble, to pray, praise and give thanks.” (Small Catechism: 2nd Commandment)
What they have forgotten is the Name which was given to Moses in the Exodus, and that which was believed in faith by Abraham and Isaac as they climbed the mountain of sacrifice.
It is not just Word, indeed it is not just a Holy Word. It is faith, it is mercy, it is how the Lord provides.
It is to Moses that the Name of the Lord is actually spoken, out loud, from the lips of the Lord Himself.
And what is most important about this is not simply that happens, that is that Moses learns the Lords Name, but when it happens, when the Lord reveals Himself and gives His name to His people…that is what matters, and indeed matters here in John chapter 8.
For the Lord gives Moses His name on the threshold of the Exodus, the beginning of His redemption, His deliverance of Israel from slavery and death. It comes to redeem and to announce that the day of the Lord is now at hand.
To Moses, the Lord proclaims His Name three times saying, “I AM, Who I AM” and “Tell them, I AM has sent you.”
The Word that the Lord uses in Hebrew is Ahweh, and it translates to ‘I AM’
This is spoken and so written three times and three times only in the entirety of the Old Testament, all in this very chapter and conversation. (Exodus 3)
For when Moses goes to Pharaoh and the people of Israel, he will not say, Ahweh, as if he himself is the Lord speaking this Name, but rather, Yahweh, or literally, “‘He who is’, has sent me.” This is how the Lord’s Name will be written down and spoken forever after.
Which means that when Jesus, in the temple, surrounded by the people, proclaims to them, “Before Abraham was” He does not then say, ‘Yahweh’, ‘He is’, but rather, and most profoundly, most significantly, He will utter for the first time since the Lord spoke, ‘Before Abraham was, Ahweh” ‘I AM’.
If the Jews had known the name of God, if they had kept it, and heard it spoken to Moses, if they had understood its mercy on Mount Moria and its will to deliver in the Exodus, then perhaps they wouldn’t have picked up the stones to kill Jesus.
If they heard him in faith, they would have fallen on their faces and worshipped Him.
For this Jesus is the God of their Fathers, the one who spared Isaac on the altar, the one who comes to Moses in the burning bush, who hears the cries of His people Israel in Egypt and moves to deliver them by blood of the lamb and the Word of the Lord.
When Jesus speaks the Name, I AM, it announces that the Lord Himself has come to finish it, that He comes for the true and final Exodus, the last and only sacrifice.
And whether they would have Him or not, whether they believe His Word or wish to kill Him, still He will go to the cross, still the Exodus will move to its end, and He will be judged in our place.
This not at all unlike that first Exodus…and certainly in the ways of men, the sin of the Jews, the hardness of their hearts, their unbelief and hatred is not surprising. Indeed it is why he must go to the cross.
After Moses is given the Lord’s Name, he will go to the wilderness and first meet the elders of the people of Israel. He will tell them why he has come, and by what name they will be saved.
In the wilderness, the elders believe in Moses’ Word and go gladly with him to Egypt.
But that’s not the end of this story.
A few chapters later, Moses will meet all of Israel, and speak to them the same Word, why he has come, and by what name they will be saved.
But the people do not believe, they reject Moses and they reject the Lord’s Name. They want nothing to do with it.
In panic, Moses cries out to God and asks how all of this Exodus will even happen, for how will the Lord save His people when they themselves don’t want to be saved?
But, and most profoundly, he Lord does not answer Moses.
He simply commands Moses to return to Egypt and speak His Word to Pharoah.
For He is not moved or swayed by the faithfulness of His people, He is not moved or stopped by their piety or their devotion, or even how much they want to be saved.
He will redeem His people, and He will do it gladly, with eagerness and even joy, for this is His love, and it is what His Name means.
So it is with Christ now in the temple, that though he is pained by the rejection of His own people, still He goes to the cross gladly, He knows what He is doing and He wants to do it.
He does not need their faith, in fact, their doubt and rejection is precisely why He has come, it is exactly why He must go.
For here He will take up and fulfill the prayers of Psalmist, that for us he goes gladly to the cross, to the Lord’s Holy Hill, the altar of God, His own exceeding joy.
The crucifixion is joy itself, it is joy perfected.
Within our own history, as Lutherans, there has been, until perhaps recently, an avoidance of use among us of the crucifix, the body of Jesus found in His passion upon the cross.
We have tended to avoid this, for such reasons as it being ‘too Roman Catholic’ or even the charge that it might be considered idolatry, a graven image of God, or that it leads us only to sorrow and grief, and not the joy of the empty cross on Easter Sunday.
We have thought in this way, that we might avoid sin, or avoid false teaching, by simply avoiding our Lord’s passion and death. By not thinking on it too much, and certainly not placing it before our faces.
In some ways though, this is not unlike the practice of the Jews to neglect and not speak the name of the Lord.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we should raise a crucifix on every pew, or that we should force every Christian to have one or stare at one.
But our avoidance of this, of the passion of Christ, and the image of God remade on the cross, our neglect and our avoidance of it is unfounded.
For the Holy Name of God is fulfilled at the crucifixion.
In this, the innocent ram is slain instead of Isaac.
In this, the blood of the Passover Lamb is painted upon the doorposts of humanity.
In this, the Lord provides.
In this, the Holy Hill and the Altar of God are truly made into our exceeding joy.
In this, the Son cries out for us, “Judge me, O God”, and receives for us the judgement.
We should not avoid our Lord’s Passion.
We need not fear the sorrow of Good Friday.
For it does lead us ultimately to sorrow, but to peace.
It is the very glory of God, that He should enter into the flogging and abuse of His own people, and by their overcoming him, by their rejection and hatred, He would overcome death and judgment, and give to us the very fruit of His Passion.
All so that we too, may chant with Psalmist, without flinching, without fear, without trembling, “Judge me, O God.”
To us that sounds like a frightening thing to say.
But despite our abuse, despite our mocking and misuse, despite our hatred and unbelief, still the Name of Christ the crucified has been given to us.
And in that, is a real righteousness, it is not make believe, it is not a thought, not an idea, but a real blood which covers real sin and as the Scriptures testify, this blood speaks a better Word.
A better Word by which you might pray with Jesus and with psalmist and with the whole body of Christ, and so cry out “Judge me, O God.”
Indeed, Truer than your sins, is the Blood of Christ.
It is louder, it is more clear, it is more certain than anything that has come out of your mouth, it is louder than your abuse of the Divine Name, it is speaks a better Word than all of your guilt, it drowns the noise of your hidden sins, it raises its voice over the pain and turmoil of your troubled hearts.
For it is the Word that has not come out of your mouths, but rather come down into them, it has been washed over the doorposts of your hearts, and by it, the Lord has judged you innocent, righteous and indeed as His beloved Son
Judge me, O God.
In Christ, you too go to the Holy Hill, to the dwelling place of God found in the Holy Communion.
And from Him, He speaks and places into your mouths, the better Word.
He loosens the cords of your guilt that have strapped you down to death, He removes the knife from the Father’s wrath, and He takes His place at the altar for you.
So with all joy, and in all confidence, come, take and eat, and drink the judgment of Christ, He speaks you righteous, He delivers His name.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.