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The Eternal Word
Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 2, 2017
Is it a contradiction Jesus presents in the Gospel reading today? Or is there something more to it? Jesus says, “If anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” The people He said this to picked up on this. How can You say that one will never taste death? Even Abraham died. All the prophets died. Death is the lot of every person. Who do you make Yourself out to be?
I find it ironic that Jesus said this knowing that even He was going to die. He, the one who is eternal, the one who is God. And that was exactly what He was saying to those people. They knew it, and when the conversation ended they picked up stones to put Him to death. Blasphemy, a human being claiming to be divine, was no joking matter. God set in the Old Testament death as the punishment.
Jesus came right out and said it. “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Abraham had lived a long time ago. But Jesus was before him. Jesus had been around before the great patriarch, who, yes, eventually had died. But Jesus didn’t say, “I was before Abraham.” He said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
If we saw in the First Sunday in Lent that the written Word of God is utterly reliable because it is God’s Word, and therefore eternal, then we see today that the Word in the flesh also is eternal, because the Word in the flesh is God Himself. Jesus was indeed claiming divinity and those people knew it. He knew He was setting Himself up for a death sentence and that is why He slipped out of their grasp at the end of the Gospel reading. His hour had not yet come. His time to die was not yet.
But His claim of divinity, of being God, eternal, without beginning or end, was what gave Him the authority to say that anyone who kept His Word would never die. It’s not a contradiction. There’s something more to it. Just as Jesus died and still remained eternal, so when you die you will live forever. You keep His Word and therefore will never see death.
All this talk of eternal life, though, may seem out of reach. How does this apply to you now? How does it make a difference in your daily life? What actually does it mean that you have eternal life even though some day you will die?
It makes a difference in your life, both here in this life and forever in heaven.
In your daily life you are not just living day to day. You are not just living until one day you die and then that’s it. When you wake up you can, as the Catechism says, make the sign of the holy cross and say, In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You were marked with the sign of the cross at your Baptism. You begin your day being reminded that you are Baptized. You are eternally bound up in the life of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the eternal God. Whatever you face each day cannot take away your heavenly place for all eternity.
Evangelism. How hard is evangelism? What do you say? What if you offend the person? What if they ask you a question you can’t answer? Evangelism is hard. Maybe not to everyone, but to many of us it is. Before Abraham was, I am. When you tell others the good news of Jesus you are telling an eternal message. People are looking for something that will help them, something that will speak to them. There is nothing more pertinent than to tell them what speaks to their eternal destination. You don’t need to worry about what to say. Tell them who Jesus is. Tell them what He did for them. Jesus died on the cross for them. He forgives them of all their sins.
Relationships. That you will never taste death makes a difference in your relationships. You are not just hanging around those in your life for a period of time. Your brothers and sisters in Christ share an eternal destination with you. How can you treat them in a way that doesn’t honor them? Christ died for them just as He did for you. He gave His life for them even as He did for you. Keeping His Word means that you place yourself at their feet to serve them in their needs.
Stewardship. Knowing you will live forever puts an eternal perspective on everything you own. It’s great to have material goods. But they will not last. Everything you own can be taken away in a moment. When you die none of it does you any good. You will live forever and it’s not because of what you own in this life or what you need in this life. You will live forever because, as Jesus says, “You keep His Word.” He is eternal and His Word is eternal. That is the possession you have in this life that can never be taken away. That means you can enjoy your material possessions as the gifts they are and you can use them as the blessings they are to help others in their needs.
You will live forever. It’s hard to see the practical value of this when day to day you face temporal matters that press heavily on you. Perhaps you worry, as many in our country do, about healthcare. Perhaps you have fears, as many do, about climate change. Perhaps you have little optimism about the moral direction our country is heading. You will live forever. Your Lord is the Lord who is, who always has been, and who will always be. Before Abraham was, I am. All of these worries and fears are temporary. They will not last. The Word of God will last. Jesus, your Lord, lives forever, He rose from the dead.
The apostle Peter makes an extraordinary claim in his second epistle: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.” Do you think Peter came to understand what Jesus was saying in the Gospel reading about never seeing death? When you become partakers of the divine nature, you become a partaker of the risen and ascended Lord. Therefore, the eternal Lord.
We confess in the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism, “In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” This profound insight shows that what God does for you here makes possible what happens for you eternally in heaven. Daily and richly you are forgiven all your sins. On the Last Day He will raise you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you.
The eternal life Jesus is speaking of isn’t something you have to wait for. In Romans 5 Paul says that “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still sinners! You will never see death because Christ died for you before you ever did anything pleasing for Him. No matter the day, whatever the activities and duties before you, no matter the sins and failures that get the better of you, your Lord has acted for you while you were still a sinner. He acts for you even now in His grace. His love is eternal, which puts eternal perspective on each day. You may go about your daily life with no need to fear or worry.
Today’s Epistle reading says, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Jesus is eternal and therefore gives you eternal life. The Epistle also says of Jesus that “He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”
Before Abraham was, I am. Before you were born, He called you to live forever with Him. Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad.” You will too. Amen.
Pastor Paul L. Willweber
Lutheran Service Book Lectionary: One-Year, Gospel
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, San Diego, California