It was one thing for Jesus to compare Himself to Abraham. That really irked His opponents in today’s Holy Gospel. But then Jesus did the unthinkable: He identified Himself with the Great “I AM”, God Almighty Himself, which absolutely sent them through the roof.
This is an important point that sometimes Christians forget. Not that Jesus is God. Christians generally don’t question that, but what they do sometimes forget is that Jesus is eternal. Jesus wasn’t always Man. He assumed human flesh in the womb of the Virgin. But Scripture frequently speaks of the pre-Incarnate Christ, for example when Jesus spoke to Moses through the burning bush. He is the One through Whom all things were made. Since Jesus is God, this means that Jesus is eternal. As He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” But all too often His divinity is denied in the Old Testament (as if He didn’t exist before Christmas). And then in the New Testament, His humanity of all things is denied, as if He were up there floating around in heaven as a disembodied spirit, never coming to us in flesh and blood, something disembodied spirits don’t have.
Jesus’ self-identification with God was something His opponents simply couldn’t stand for. They regarded Jesus as a blasphemer, yes; but what’s more, they couldn’t stand for anybody to have a higher status than them. No doubt they saw Jesus as a ladder climber, and if anybody was going to claim to have an “in” with God, it was them.
They couldn’t stand being in the presence someone they regarded as being more important than them. We see this resentment of Jesus again and again in the Gospels. It’s jealousy. Of the scribes and Pharisees Jesus says,
They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others (Matt 23:5–7).
The scribes and Pharisees were interested in self-promotion and hated anything that threatened that. They wanted seniority, to be the ones calling the shots. Sound familiar? We don’t like not being in charge of our lives. In fact, we resent it. Psalm 130 may be one of the hardest prayers in the Bible to pray. It’s all about patient waiting. In his comments on this Psalm, Luther says:
“Now there are some who want to set the goal, appoint the hour and measure, and prescribe to God how they are to be helped. And if they do not experience this, they despair; or, if possible, they seek help elsewhere. These do not tarry and wait for the Lord. God is supposed to wait for them, be ready at once, and help exactly as they themselves have designed. Those who wait for the Lord, however, ask for mercy, but they leave it to God’s gracious will when, how, where, and by what means He helps them. They have no doubt about His aid, but they do not give it a name. They let God christen and name it, even if it is delayed immeasurably long,” (AE 14:192).
We don’t want to wait! We want what we want, and we want it now! put another way, we want to be God. We say “Thy will be done”, but how often have you been discontent with the way God has let things happen? We often abuse prayer, thinking it’s a way to manipulate God into doing what we want. We don’t really want God’s will to be done, we Him to do our will! We want a god who will do our bidding. It sounds really bad when you put it like that, but it’s true. Your idolatry runs deep. Repent.
It’s interesting also to stop and consider that when we do have power, we use it for our own benefit. But not Jesus. He has all the authority in the world, and look how He chose to use it. At first Peter refused to let Jesus wash his feet. Such a menial task was surely beneath Him! But Jesus insists. And in this, our Lord shows us how authority is meant to be used. As our Lord said,
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you (John 13:14–15).
Here we see that we are to love and serve one another, not to be self-promoters or to use each other to get our way. In our Gradual we sang, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!” This is something we need to be taught because doing God’s will doesn’t comes naturally. We are by nature selfish. The only love that comes naturally to the sinful flesh is the love of self. To those who would strive to gain everything, hear our Lord’s warning:
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:35–36)
This is the opposite of the way we usually think. We want to be strong and powerful. In worldly things yes, but even when it comes to spiritual things. This couldn’t be any more backward. I suspect if I handed out a survey and asked everyone here how strong their faith is on a scale of 1–10, I’d probably see a lot of “6’s” and “7’s”, maybe even a few “8’s”. If you filled it out honestly you might even put a “9” or “10”, but usually we try to be at least a little modest, even if it’s false modesty.
But if you think your faith is strong, take heed lest you fall. If Jesus is to be trusted, your faith is at best pathetic. If you’re honest with yourself, most days it’s probably even hard to tell it’s there at all. You worry, you doubt, you treat others not the way you’d want to be treated. You don’t pray or spend time in God’s Word like you should. Doing God’s will goes against every fiber of the old Adam’s being.
An honest confession sounds like what the father of the boy with the evil spirit said: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). It’s to say, “I live my life as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. Whatever miniscule faith I have is so sick it’s on life support.” This sort of prayer is incredibly liberating because thinking we’re better than we are is not only exhausting, it’s to be self-righteous. The healthy have no need of a doctor.
Still aren’t convinced? Our Lord says quite plainly that if you have faith the size of a tiny little mustard seed, you could say to a mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it would do it (Matthew 17:20).
Ever try that? I’ll even make it easy for you. Go ahead and try to move this altar. That’s tiny compared to a mountain. To move something that small would probably only require faith the size of a singled-celled amoeba. And yet, there the altar sits.
But don’t panic. God doesn’t exalt those who think they are strong in the faith. If you think you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go. God exalts the nobodies, the losers: the Israels, the Davids, and the Marys of the world. In other words, you. He is, as the famous hymn puts it, the “help of the helpless.”
It’s okay for God to have the kingdom and the power and the glory and for you to possess none of those things. Because unlike us, God is good at sharing. All He has, He gives for you. He withheld nothing, not even His Only Begotten Son.
The Pharisees were jealous of Jesus’ importance, but the irony is they—and you—are the most precious and important thing in the world to Him, so much so that He regarded you as worth dying for. He even promises to let His children sit on thrones and reign with Him in glory. In Revelation 3 our Lord says,
The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne (Rev 3:21).
In the New Creation, God’s servants will reign with Him forever and ever (Rev. 22:5), and you are already His new creation by virtue of your baptism .
It’s even okay that your faith is on life support, because there’s no better life support than the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for you. There is life in His blood. Sometimes things need to get a little worse before they get better. He chastens in order to bring healing. Don’t worry; God knows what He’s doing, even if you don’t. You are His, and all is well in the Lord’s hands.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. John 8:42–59
Judica, 2015: Faith Smaller than a Single Celled Amoeba
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