Baptized saints in our Lord Jesus Christ:
Abraham is dead. The Prophets also died. And unless Jesus returns before then, your day will come too. Lest you be troubled by this, however, Christ gives you a powerful antidote against the fear of death today, for He says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
This is a sure and certain promise and it means basically this: That if you believe in Christ and are baptized you will have everlasting life. It means that even though you experience physical death, you will truly only be sleeping and Christ will wake you on the last day and give to you and all believers in Christ eternal life.
Jesus said these words to the Jews, but their ears were closed to them. But why did they not believe him? Was it because of his personality? Was it because He was not eloquent enough when he spoke them? If He was speaking the truth, then why did they doubt? Such questions often plague us preachers , who often experience rejection and hostility when we are only trying to help. Why is my church not growing? Is it me? Am I not winsome enough? Maybe it is the service. Perhaps I should look around at other churches that are growing and see what they are doing, and copy it. Perhaps then people would come and listen.
The problem with this line of reasoning, however, is that it puts too much emphasis on the preacher and his personality or speaking ability or on the form or style of the service or music. Jesus puts it into proper perspective when He says: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
Now this is a rather harsh thing to say, especially to the Jews. Such words would be understandable if spoken to a Gentile. But Christ was putting these unbelieving Jews into the same category as the Gentiles. They were not of God. They did not belong to Him. By failing to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, they stood condemned, even though they had a much longer history with God than anyone else. Even though they had the temple and the sacrifices and the priesthood, it mattered not. They rejected the Son and in so doing they forfeited their rights as sons of the kingdom. They had earned themselves a place outside of the house.
This stands for us today as a solemn warning from our Lord, lest we too forfeit our rights as sons by not believing His words. For it is far too easy for us in our fallen condition to make light of God’s Word and to let it go unheeded. And then we are no better off than these miserable Jews, without God, and without the Kingdom. And it happens all the time. Someone starts coming to church, is baptized, takes communion and for a while is involved and active in the Church. But then something changes, something goes wrong. Maybe they fall into a deadly sin and fail to be reconciled once again to the Church. Maybe they get angry with the pastor and stop coming because of that. But who are they really hurting by their actions? Pretty soon one, two, or three years go by before they are seen in Church again. By this time they have become hard in their hearts, and like the Jews, they begin to blaspheme the name of Christ. May God preserve us from this.
Those who do hear His Words and keep them have, as we said before, a wonderful and kind promise: “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” He said basically the same thing to Martha when her brother Lazarus died. Martha was very upset and troubled about his death, and so in order to comfort her Jesus said to her: “(25) I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, (26) and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” He then confirmed this word with an outward sign, raising Lazarus from the dead. He wanted there to be no doubts in the minds of the people that He was the Christ, the Son of God, even as Martha had confessed.
These words and miracles were recorded by the Evangelist for our sake, and for the sake of the whole Church, so that when we are troubled by death, or by anything that is related to death such as illness or suffering, we might have something to hold on to, an anchor to hold ourselves in place. Without this anchor we are like a boat thrown about in a storm, tossed this way and that because there is nothing to hold it in place. Christ wants us to listen to these words and use them for our benefit, because He knows how prone we are to doubt and despair because of the bitter circumstances of life.
Was this not how Abraham comforted himself when the Angel of the Lord told him to take his son’s life? How else could he have obeyed the Lord’s command? How else could he have faced such dire and bitter circumstances? Surely he could not have done it. But since God had told him that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through Isaac, Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead.
So Abraham and Isaac push on toward Mt. Moriah, Abraham with his knife and Isaac with the wood. And isn’t this a marvelous picture? Here we see what it must have been like for God the Father to have to offer up His only begotten Son into death. On the one hand he does it with heavy heart, for he loves the boy and does not want any harm to come to him. Likewise, our Father certainly loved His Son, and it no doubt pained him greatly to have to see Him suffer so terribly. But our heavenly Father knew that although His Son would suffer a bitter and cruel death, He would rise victorious on the third day. So also Abraham believed in the Lord’s promises and was not afraid to carry out this command.
Do we not also see in this story a picture, a divine preview if you will, of the wholehearted obedience of God’s Incarnate Son? We see in Isaac no struggle to get free but only an earnest desire to do his father’s will. Without complaint, without protest, Isaac follows his father up the mountain and even allows himself to be bound hand and foot to the stack of wood.
In the same way Jesus too was led like a sheep to the slaughter, meek and humble, allowing His holy hands and feet to be nailed, not bound, but nailed to the wood of the cross. You see in Jesus no signs of protest or struggle to break free from this impending doom. He wants to carry this thing out, because He wants to set His people free from captivity.
My friends, our greater Isaac has endured the pain of the cross for us and for our salvation. The knife that was intended for Isaac and for you and me has fallen upon another victim. Christ has taken our place in death. And He has risen from the dead, just as He promised. 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.
Through His death, you are redeemed from the sins you have committed against God’s holy Law. What then have we to fear in this life? Death? Sorrow? Pain? Illness? Old Age? Have these any power over us who are in Christ Jesus? Do not be afraid, for our Lord Jesus is with us. Before Abraham was, He is. Christ Jesus is the Lord of Hosts, the Mighty and Eternal God, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.