St. John 8:42-49
"Um, Dad?" "Yes, Isaac?" "Well, we've got wood here. And we've got some fire. But, um, where's the lamb for the burnt offering?" And what do you suppose Isaac was thinking as Dad tied him up and laid him upon the altar and raised the knife? Do you think Isaac at that moment remembered Abraham's words, "God will see to the Lamb for Himself!"
Abraham kept God's Word. And "keeping God's Word" doesn't mean what we probably think it means. When we hear that Abraham kept God's word we usually think it means he "obeyed" God's Word. True, he did; he was ready to sacrifice his son at God's command. But why could Abraham do that? What was there that could let him go through with such an awful request? Simply this: Abraham was keeping the Word of God. Holding on to it. Trusting it. Believing it. But trusting what?
Keeping God's Word is about far more than mechanically doing what it says. Keeping God's Word means having a lively faith and trust and confidence in God's promises. The Book of Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed that even if he went ahead and killed Isaac, God would have raised Isaac from the dead in order to keep His promise to Abraham to have a Descendant. In other words, Abraham kept God's Word not simply by obeying its outward command, but by holding fast to the Word and promises of God. It is why he could drag his own son to an altar on a mountain and still confidently proclaim, "God will take care of the lamb for Himself." And Isaac did not die that day. But the promise of God was fulfilled: Abraham had offspring. All the way down the ages to Jesus, the Lamb that God provided for Himself for an offering.
Now fast forward to Jesus' day. We catch up to Him in a heated argument with the scribes and Pharisees. They're the experts in the Bible. They know all about the Scriptures. But they don't keep God's Word. What drives them is not a sure confidence in the promises of God but a boastful attitude that they know the Bible and most other people don't. What runs their thinking is not the joyous Good News that their sins are forgiven in Christ but that they are special to God because they are so holy and can keep the Law and Commandments. This is how Jesus knows they don't know the Father.
But Jesus knows the Father. He keeps the Father's Word. Jesus has a sure and certain and perfect trust in His Father's Word and Promises. So much so that He can be the Lamb that Abraham spoke of. If Abraham believed God could give him his son back, how much more so the Son of God believed that He could give His life for sinners and not be destroyed. So much so that the Son came down from heaven and was born of the Virgin's womb. So much faith and hope did Jesus have in His Father's word that He could be baptized with sinners. So much trust in His Father's Word Jesus had that He could battle the devil after even more than a month's fasting. So much did Jesus keep His Father's Word, that is, trust in His Father, that He could resolve even while covered in bloody sweat to go ahead and be that Lamb. Far more than Abraham who raised the knife but was kept from killing Isaac, Jesus goes the way of the cross knowing full well the Father is NOT going to spare Him but will instead lay upon Him the sins of the world and forsake Him. All done on behalf of sinners. But Jesus keeps the Father's Word. He holds fast to it. He prays, "Into you hands, I commit my spirit" trusting that the Father will raise Him up on the Third Day. Christ, with perfect fear, love and trust in God the Father has kept God's Word, held on to it, held fast to it, kept it as His comfort and hope even amidst the darkness of His death to save sinners. Above all, Jesus keeps the Father's Word, by being the Lamb that Abraham promised Isaac God would provide for Himself.
But these Jews, these Pharisees and scribes and other religious folk, they don't keep God's Word. What runs them is not a happy and glad trust in their Savior but a small and shallow trust in their own goodness and ability to please God. And when Jesus dares to threaten their religion by calling them to trust in Him instead of themselves, they mock Him, call Him names, and say He has a devil. Rather than hear and learn what Jesus is actually teaching, what the Scriptures actually say, and how the Lord would rescue them from trusting in themselves, they circle the wagons and pick up the stones and are ready to throw!
This because they don't KEEP God's Word. They know the words of God's word. They may even look like they outwardly OBEY most of it. But they don't KEEP it. Treasure it. Live by it. Trust in it. This is our repentance, brothers and sisters in Christ. That we hear God's Word. That we may even try to obey God's Word once in a while. But that we don't KEEP His Word. That we don't hold fast to it as our greatest treasure. That the promises of God go in one ear and out the other. That there is so much more exciting and interesting stuff in our lives besides God's Word. That there are so many more pressing problems in our lives to worry about that learning and believing God's Word. And so what runs us is not the lively hope and confidence and trust in a Father who loves us by sending His Son to be the sacrificial lamb for our sins. No, what runs us is our own notions and ideas and fears and worries. And if anyone questions that or calls us to repent, then we pick up stones to throw at them! Repent, brothers and sisters, of not keeping, holding fast, cherishing, living by the Words and promises of Jesus.
Jesus says "Whoever is God's hears God's Word. If anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death." These words of Jesus are not a whip-up-some-religion-in-yourself command. They are words that rescue us by calling us away from trusting in anything else in this world than Christ and His Word. To KEEP Christ's Word means to live like Abraham: no matter what you see with your eyes, you know by faith what God has in store for you. No matter what you suffer, you live with the glad confidence that you can truly suffer no evil in Christ. To KEEP God's Word means to cling to HIS Word and promises which rescue you from having to save yourself! And what promises are those? Everything that the Lamb has accomplished for you on the cross of Calvary delivered in His holy gifts. To KEEP Christ's Word is to live from the waters of your Baptism, believing that you are a child of God and your sins have been washed away. To KEEP Christ's Word means to live in the sure and certain knowledge that because you pastor has forgiven your sins, they are forgiven before God in heaven. To KEEP Christ's Word is to run to His Supper to receive Jesus' own body and blood, your certain promise that your sins are forgiven and that you will rise on the Last Day. In short, to KEEP God's Word means far more than just obeying it. We do try to live according to God's Word. But to KEEP God's Word as Jesus is talking about is to live from Him and His forgiveness, not trying to save ourselves, not trusting in our own efforts, but believing that He has saved us.
And what is the good of keeping Christ's Word in this way? Simply this: those who didn't keep Christ's Word got so worked up when they were threatened that they picked up rocks to kill Jesus! How's THAT for obeying God's Word! So you and I, unless we KEEP God's Word, unless we live by faith and trust in God's promises to us in Christ, will be only to ready at the drop of a hat to have to defend ourselves and our religion and our way of thinking by picking up stones to kill our neighbor! And that does no one else any good! But the person who lives by God's Word, who KEEPS Christ's promises held fast, doesn't worry about what others think. The Christian who KEEPS Christ's Word and lives by this confidence of eternal life can do good deeds and kind works for their neighbors and even the people they DON'T like, whether they get any thanks or recognition or just spit in the face.
Think what joy you would bring to your husband or wife or kids or parents or family or friends or anyone around you if you had such a trust in Christ and what your Baptism and Absolution and the Supper give you! Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day and saw it by faith! So you have seen Jesus by faith. He comes to you in His holy Word and Sacraments. He gives you His Word and by His Holy Spirit keeps that Word in you. God has provided Christ the Lamb for Himself as the sacrifice. And Christ has given us His Word to forgive and save us. God grant that we hear and believe His holy Word and KEEP it that we never see Death forever! Amen.
The Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, IL, and the Internet Services Executive for Higher Things. He edits the Daily Reflections. He is married and father of three.
Created: March 9th, 2008