Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one.
A tall handsome stranger walked up to an attractive young lady and began making belittling remarks about the men she had been chatting with off and on throughout the party. She laughed and said, “Ya, when I don’t want a man’s attentions and he asks me where I live, I just say, “I’m visiting here.” He laughed, appreciating her humor. “Where do you really live? He said. “Oh, I’m just visiting here.”
No one enjoys rejection. We’ve all dealt with it at one time or another. Maybe you were the last one picked for a pick-up basketball game. Maybe you found out that girl or guy you always wanted to date didn’t have the same feelings about you. Or, maybe that job or promotion you were hoping for never worked out. We’ve all had to deal with it from time to time and its rarely pleasant.
In our Gospel lesson, we hear again the familiar story of Jesus making His way to Jerusalem for the last time. Along the way, people are amazed at His teachings, they marvel at His miracles. Yet, even with all this, rejection is a major part of His story.
At the end of His journey, what once were the shouts of Hosanna would turn to shouts to crucify Him. What once were eager glances will turn to glances of disdain and ridicule. What once were waving palm branches would become the waving of a whip.
Christ’s story has everything to do with both rejection and acceptance and we ponder on the decisions, for or against, that we will be willing to make in that process. Will we accept Christ for who He is and show it in our thoughts, words and deeds? Or will we play the part of the rejecter once more, putting off our Hosanna’s for another time. Jesus demands that we respond. Our eternal lives depend on it.
So, if we choose Jesus, just what are we getting? Well, we know He is the very Son of God coequal with the Father and Holy Spirit. We know that He is our salvation and our champion who overcame sin and death for us.
Historian Philip Schaff described the overwhelming influence that Jesus has had on the history of mankind and the culture of the world: “This Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed and Napoleon combined.
Without science, He shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined. Without the eloquence of schools, He spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet. Without writing a single line, He set more pens in motion and furnished more themes for more sermons, discussions, learned volumes, works of art and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times.”
Jesus has proven over time to be just who He said He was. He is “I Am.” He is God in the flesh, the Savior of mankind, Equal in majesty with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Lord of lords and King of kings. And all of this came even though we rejected Him then and reject Him still.
We open the scene in our Gospel with Jesus in an all-too-familiar situation. He is debating with the Jewish leaders and this time they are understandably upset because up until now in the discourse Jesus has called them children of the devil, would be killers and ignorers of truth. And now He is clearly calling Himself God by giving Himself the title “I AM.”
Much like we do today, when the scribes and Pharisees found they were losing the battle they would resort to insults. They accused Jesus of being a half-breed Samaritan and a demon. The conversation is not going as they wish so they resort to name calling. Sound familiar? We see it every day. Yet no cameras are rolling, only a tense debate in front of witnesses. Instead of communication we have attacks. Since Jesus didn’t agree with them, they think He must be from the devil.
Yet Jesus takes this rejection upon Himself as only He can and continues to proclaim the truth, even though His accusers are deaf to it. He is not seeking fame or glory and He doesn’t resort to untruths, as before His biting remarks are only biting because they ring of certainty. He quietly dismisses their accusations.
The second claim Jesus makes comes in the following verses, 51-53. Here He makes claim to eternity. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”
His claim is a bold one. If we believe in Him we shall never die. When the Word of Jesus meets with our hearts, Jesus says we will not even notice death. Literally, we will never taste death.
These are beautiful words of truth but words that the Scribes and Pharisees have become deaf to because their interest is only in the destruction of Jesus and His teachings. They can’t open their heart to the truth because it has become calloused with the devil’s deception.
Jesus wants to direct their attention to His timelessness, but they can only conceive the counter argument. They cannot fathom how Jesus could have gotten to this point. He is implying He has the power over death, but they can’t believe because hearing they do not hear and perceiving they cannot perceive. What is truly difficult for them is that Jesus is aware of the implications of what He is saying, yet He still says it. He is claiming to be the greater one, bigger than the church fathers before Him, superior even to death itself. Eternal and everlasting.
And then He makes His third claim, this time in regard to expectation:
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
Jesus continues to boast of His relationship with the Father, once again claiming the glory put on Him by the Father Himself. If He claimed it for Himself it would mean nothing, Yet He can lay claim to it because the source is from above.
The Leaders problem here, as Jesus explains, is that they don’t truly know God. They don’t know how He works or what He is offering them. They have not known Him in the past and they do not know Him now. Though He is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, their minds and ears are shut to Him, and they reject His claims even more.
Abraham knew that God would provide the sacrificial lamb. What He was asked to do, God has now done with His only Son.
Finally Jesus claims his Essence:
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.”
The boldest statement of them all. Before time “I AM.” Before Abraham, “I AM.” Unto everlasting, “I AM.” They know exactly what He’s implying, and they reject Him greater still to the point of picking up rocks to stone Him. They finally had the charge they were looking for to condemn Him. They had heard Jesus declare in clear terms that He was equal with the Father. They were so angry, in fact, that they were ready to take the law into their own hands. Blasphemy would be the charge, the height of impiety.
Yet even at this, Jesus holds His tongue. He knows already it would do little good. If they didn’t hear Him yet, they surely wouldn’t listen now. He doesn’t look to convince them or compromise to get their agreement. He makes no attempt to calm them down. If the truth is not good enough, than nothing can be done. He is rejected yet again, but His resolve has not been shaken.
Today, we are given the same choice. Do we believe in the Savior of the world, or will we hold our Hosanna’s for another day. Will we hold to His promise of everlasting life, or will we risk it for a few more days of worldliness.
Jesus was made to suffer through it on our behalf. Even His disciples ran when He needed them most. Yet His love for you has not been tarnished and His plans for you have not been lessened. He still sees you as the miracles that you are. Though we reject Him daily in our own little ways, His faithfulness never falters.
Everything we are comes under His Lordship. Every action is under His watchful eye. If we recognize Him for who He is then it is time to rejoice and worship Him because all credit is due Him. If we are willing to sacrifice every part of ourselves to Him, then it is time to set about doing the work He has called us to do.
Our Lord deserves more praise than we could ever offer Him because, the truth is, He is indeed the Savior of all mankind. By His unselfish sacrifice we have all been set free from sin and death. By His blessed resurrection, He proved that He was who He said He was, and, because of that, we can be certain of His promises.
I urge you to accept the claims of Jesus. He is God with us, God in the flesh; Father, Son and Spirit equal in glory and majesty. And so, when we keep His Word as he has asked us to do, we will not even notice death as we are ushered into glory. Amen.