A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2016
The Epistle, Hebrews 9:11-15 – The Gospel, St. John 8:46-59
The Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett
A. Intro to Passiontide
1. The final two weeks of Lent are called “Passiontide” because we focus on the Passion or suffering of Jesus. Statues and pictures are veiled. We do not say “Glory be to the Father…” after the Psalms and canticles. These changes give the last two weeks of Lent a unique, penitential feel.
2. The Passion Sunday lessons set the table for our meditation on the Passion by reminding us who Jesus is and what his suffering accomplishes. In the gospel Jesus tells us “Before Abraham was, I am.” The epistle tells us, “By his own blood he entered in once into the Holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”
B. The Gospel and Jesus as God
1. “I am” is the name God gave to himself when he met Moses on Mt. Sinai (3:14). By saying, “Before Abraham was I am,” Jesus identifies himself as God. The reaction of his opponents in the gospel make it clear that they understood it this way. The claim of Jesus to be God is the central bone of contention in debates about the truth of the Gospel. If Jesus is really and truly God we must repent, believe and obey—not debate. To avoid the call to repentance and faith, we must deny that Jesus is the Son of God. If we can reduce Jesus to a prophet or wise man, then we can manage him and his message. We can bargain about the extent to which his teachings apply to us.
2. People rejected Jesus claim to be God because his divinity was veiled beneath his humanity, and his glory was revealed through the cross. People wanted a display of power, and they did not recognize the power of God exhibited through a holy life and a holy death that restored humanity to union with God.
3. It is the same today. People reject Jesus’ claim to be God because he doesn’t seem to be exercising his authority over evil in the world. They do not recognize the power of his conquest of sin in human hearts. They do not realize that God cannot make a new world until he first makes new people. The power of the gospel works from the bottom up, not the top down. It begins in the hearts of sinful humans, but it will end with new bodies and new creation.
C. The vision of Jesus and its effect on us
The New Testament does give us a more visibly glorious vision of Jesus. In Revelation 1, St. John saw Jesus the Son of God in the full glory of his Resurrection and Ascension. He writes:
I saw One like the Son of Man…His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. (1:13-18).
2. St. John saw the risen and glorified Christ. In Passiontide, we see the glory of the crucified Jesus. But