March 6, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: John 8:46-59
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
There’s a comedy that came out a few years ago about a Nascar driver named Rickey Bobby, perhaps you’re familiar with it. In it there’s a scene where the family is gathered for dinner and saying grace. Rickey Bobby is praying to baby Jesus. As he goes on his father-in-law finally gets infuriated and says “he was a man! He had a beard!” the driver responds “well, I like to think of Jesus as a baby!” His best friend chimes in, “I like to think of him as a rocker, and we’re partying out.”
It is a comical scene, that is ultimately a little heartbreaking, if we’re honest. We like to create a God in our own image, or a god in an image that we like, but we must be careful of this attitude because a god in our image, or a god that we can control is not the God of the Bible. Instead, as Christians we are called to seek to know the God who is revealed in scripture.
We are probably all aware that we live in a time that says everyone can have their own truth. As orthodox or conservative evangelical Christians we reject this notion. We recognize beliefs and respect them for it, but we take Christ’s claim that he is “the way, the truth, and the life,” seriously, and we believe his claim that “none can come to the Father except through Him seriously.” So when we come to know Christ our hearts are pinged that we might seek to know God.
This morning, as we read the Gospel, Jesus lays down the gauntlet to the religious of his time, and asks the question – do you know the Father? Do you know God? It would be easy for us to get judgmental of the religious of his time – but this is a good question for us to ask ourselves – do we know the Father? Do we know God? Or are we creating for ourselves a false idol in our hearts.
First – before we even start to respond to this question – we might want to ask – is God knowable? We would say a resounding yes! He is knowable by seeking the depth of His word. By spending time in scripture, but prayerfully reading His word and letting it not only shape our heart but allowing it to give us wisdom and knowledge. So we plumb the depths and the breadth and this vastness of scripture and look to what it says – we do not try to dismiss the parts we dislike in favor of the parts that we do like, but let it mold our minds that we might know Him more intimately, our searching of scripture is not an exercise of intellectual pride but an exercise of seeking to know better the one whom we love.
But why should we bother?
Perhaps the most compelling reason is not because we love truth – though certainly, if we love truth, we will want to pursue the wisdom of God, we will want to seek to know our Lord better – but but also because seeking to know God will bring us to a place of joy, a joy that we know our creator and our redeemer. The one who created us and redeemed us, also wants to know us and for us to know him, how great a joy is that!
St. Peter writes about this joy in his first letter where he goes on to encourage the readers to flee apostasy and love the truth. He reminds the readers that to know God and be known by Him leads us to “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory!” What an exciting prospect this is – to truly know and love God we are called to rejoice!
St. Paul backs this up when he reminds the Philippians that “what gain (he) had, (he) counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, (he) counts everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For (Christ’s) sake (Paul) suffered the loss of all things and counted them rubbish, in order that (he) may gain Christ and be found in him.” What an amazing reminder this is! If we choose to follow and know Christ we may be asked to give up everything – prestige, position, power, wealth – but if we take the saint seriously – knowing Christ – knowing God is exceedingly more valuable than anything we can possess. Knowing Christ and having a relationship with him is more valuable than the most expensive house in Prescott, finer than the nicest car we can by. Let us ponder that incredible statement for a moment.
To know God in Christ is the greatest gift that we can have. So, the challenge that Christ lays down that we hear today is one which we want to take seriously – do we know Him, or are we creating a god in an image in which we can control and manipulate or which we like?
This morning Christ shows us a glimpse of how we know God through Him. As I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon – the best way to know God is to read and hear His word proclaimed. We want to take seriously the whole witness of scripture. Christ reminds those who hear him and these words that they are not merely words. We would argue that scripture is not merely an old book to be studied like any other old book, but the very living word of God.
To know God is to hear His word. If we approach scripture as though it is any old book, if we do not approach our reading of His word as though we are doing a Holy task – we miss out on this blessing. We can read scripture as literature, and we would not be wrong – scripture is literature, there is poetry, there is narrative, there are apocalyptic books, there are pithy proverbial sayings, and this is all very good – but in all these we not only find beauty – but we find truth. We find God. To read scripture is to get to know God. To read scripture is to read the words that He’s breathed out through the ages and presented to mankind through his servants the prophets and the apostles.
One day in our reading we may learn what it means that God is loving, another day we might learn that God is Holy, another day that He is just, another day that he knows all, sees all, or is all powerful. Another day we may see that he has wrath against sin. All of these things are facets of the living Lord who loves us, and who created the world. But to value only one aspect of the nature of God is to deny who God is. Rather – we want to look at him as the complex being.
This also reminds us that – although God is knowable – we won’t know everything about Him. Yes, we can know Him, yes He is imminent, but if you think your husband or wife, your best friend, or even your cat, each of these people and even this creature are profoundly complex, how much more complex is God the creator and redeemer of the universe?
In Psalm 139 – King David expresses the incredible vastness of God by praising Him and saying “such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” The knowledge of God is wonderful beyond words – it is more than we can attain, and yet, through our scripture, God invites us in to know Him, to walk with Him, to pray to Him and this indeed is wonderful.
As we continue to work our way through our Gospel lesson we are reminded of Christ’s emptying of Himself that we read about in Philippians two when St. Paul writes of Christ “though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of man.”
From the saint we learn about the theology and humility seen in the incarnation – Christ, the second person of the trinity left His proper place, His heavenly throne, descended to earth, was born of the Virgin Mary, and was fully man, but simultaneously, he was no less God. Yet He descended so that in Him we might have life, so that God would be glorified.
It is to God’s glory that we find life in Christ, not our own, not our churches, but the glory belongs to God and God alone.
And this brings us to our next point – what is this life that Christ talks of? We see here that in reading scripture, marking it, and inwardly digesting it – to not only know God but to follow Him – we find eternal life – we find Christ, and we come to know Him and it is in knowing Him that we find life.
Yet, we know that one day we will die. It has been said that there are only two sure things in life – death and taxes. So do we call Christ a liar? What is it that we are missing?
There are two things we must understand about life in Christ – first that when we come to Christ we are not suddenly given eternal life – but we are given true spiritual life. We are freed from the slavery to sin, freed to truly live after Christ.
Second, we can appeal to St. Ignatius for a deeper understanding. The first century theologian who was said to have been an apostle of St. John the Evangelist wrote as he was being carted off to be executed in Rome several letters. In one of these letters he proclaims his desire to not be saved but to be allowed to die so that he could be made truly alive.
For the Christian our death is not the end of the story but the beginning. For the Christian we enter into the eternal promise that we will share in Christ’s resurrection – spiritually and at the end of time physically to live in the eternal city where God Himself will dwell with us.
We have a poignant reminder of this every time we bury a brother or sister in Christ. We do not start with whaling or mourning but we start with Christ’s words of “I AM the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.”
We are reminded with these poignant words – that though we mourn that our friend has gone, though we will miss them they have gone to something better – they have gone to their eternal rest and true life. They have been made into the truest form of human beings set free from their sin and made alive in Christ.
This is the ultimate benefit of knowing God – that we not only know God but we know life, and a life that will not fade nor end. What good news this is!
But here Christ pushes it further – for the religious of His time are scandalized. Just as all our earthly Christian heroes have died – perhaps Billy Graham, or your favorite Bishop, or your parents, or the man or woman who lead you to Christ or discipled you – the religious of Christ times knew that all the heroes of their faith had died as well. If one came into our midst promising that if we listened to Him we would not taste death – we would be equally scandalized. If all these religious have died, how dare you presume that we will not die if we listen to you!
Surely this is what the religious of Christ’s time would have thought – yet Christ was not merely a man explaining His idea of God, or of Holiness – but Christ is God! And here he again exclaims this – not only that God the Father glorifies Him but that Abraham would have rejoiced to see the day that Christ came to dwell among mankind.
Here we get two truths – one that Christ is eternal, for God is eternal and, Christ is God, but the second truth is this – and on this as Christians we get our reading of the Old Testament – that Christ was promised from the beginning – Christ was promised to us from chapter 3 of Genesis when God promises that an offspring of Eve would come and “he would bruise (the) head (of the serpent), and (the serpent) shall bruise his heal.”
This of course is satan – in Christ’s crucifixion he crushes the head of the serpent and delivers the mortal wound – the wound that will caste satan away forevermore at the last day – but it comes at a great cost – Christ died – Christ died on the cross. But death could not keep him down, Christ has over came death – this is the Easter promise and proclamation that we will celebrate in two weeks – that in Him we would over come death. From chapter 3 of Genesis onward we see hints and types of Christ laced throughout the first testament and from our Gospel reading today we are told that even Abraham was expecting him, and rejoices in His coming.
What a great scandal this is! And those who heard him were scandalized and questioned him, and yet Christ responds with a greater, more scandalous statement:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Here again we have two truths that are amazing and profound. Here – Christ proclaims his eternity – and he proclaims his divinity.
We see his eternity – in that he was before Abraham – we see his eternity in the use of the present tense – I am.
But then He makes a bolder proclamation – he states “I am,” the religious of His time would have immediately understood that he was saying “I am God.” If he is not, then they are right to try to stone him for He was making the most blasphemous statement he could. But we know Him and we know that He is God.
This statement should shock us, should jog us out of the humdrum of our daily lives and bring us to awe. For what a great promise this is! Christ is God – and he has come down, dwelt among us, and died for our sins, that we might be alive – He has invited us to be alive and not only to be alive – but to know Him and through knowing Him know the Father!
This morning’s gospel lesson invites us into something amazing – invites us away from our modern existence of skepticism and pluralism – and into knowing God, knowing God for the sake of His joy and for the sake of eternal life itself. What better news can we get that Christ came into the world – to save sinners, to make us alive and to introduce us to the God who lives and is imminent. So, let us be glad in the opportunity and let us heartily pursue the goodness that is truly knowing God in all His facets.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.