"Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God."
Sermon for Judica Sunday 03/21/21
What Are You Hearing?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Let me present you with a conundrum, this morning. One truth that we have observed is that your perception determines reality for you. A second truth is that reality shapes your perceptions. The conundrum, or puzzle, is which truth is most persuasive in your life?
First, we observe that who you are and what your prejudices and values are can shape what you perceive. A situation may be seen as a failure, or an opportunity. A helping hand may be perceived as a kind thing, or condescension, a ‘leg-up or an attempt to weaken and disable. How often does it happen that something you think is good is described by someone else as a bad thing? This power of perception to change reality for you is at least partially responsible for the animosity of the radical racists in America. They see the comfort and living as "white privilege," as an evil thing, a fundamentally immoral condition that must be eradicated. Clearly, how you look at things changes the reality of what they are for you, and how they function in your life.
The attitudes of radical Muslims also demonstrate how reality shapes your perceptions. It is his poverty and his commitment to a certain kind of Islamic thought that causes Him to think of liberty as dangerous. Other examples might include how a woman might perceive certain things differently than a man simply because she is a woman, or how the reality that something has never been accomplished before causes people to perceive it to be impossible, or beyond their reach. I point to the example of Roger Bannister, the first man to ever run a mile in less than four minutes. It was May 6th, 1954. He ran the mile in just six-tenths of a second less than four minutes, but he was the first man to accomplish it in well over a century of people trying. His record was broken in less than three months, and the current record is three minutes forty-three point thirteen seconds. Until Roger Bannister did it, everyone thought it was impossible, and once he did it, they all knew they could, and they did.
Our text is another example of the conundrum. It is also a deeper mystery that amazes us, and gives us cause to praise God, and totally disallows decision theology, and finally asks us to ask ourselves a question, the question that is our theme this morning, "What do you hear?"
"He who is of God hears the words of God." Here is the conundrum presented. Who you are, the reality, shapes what you can perceive - the Word of God. Everyone who was listening to Jesus was hearing the same words, weren't they? Yet they were not all believing what Jesus said - in other words, they were not perceiving what they heard to be the Word of God, nor "hearing" it in the sense that they believed it and understood the truth of His words. Jesus said that the reason they could not perceive it was the reality of who they were - or, more precisely, who they were not. They were not "of God."
Before our text, in John, chapter 8, Jesus preached that unless they came to know Him and trust in Him they would die in their sins. He explained that He was the Savior, the Messiah who was prophesied. Then He said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." It was that passage that caused them to rebel. They said [they] were Abraham's children and that they had never been enslaved! How dare He say such a thing!
Jesus explained that He was talking about sin, and being a slave to sin. He told them that He knew the evil in their hearts, their desire to kill Him, and that they were doing the will of their father - meaning Satan. They challenged Jesus and He responded with the truth of who He was and who they were, and finally came to the passage we have chosen as our text. And Jesus explained that because they did not believe in God, or know Him, they could not believe what Jesus said, either. Their reality, as unbelievers, and therefore servants of the devil, made it impossible for them to understand correctly or believe the Word of God. Their reality informed their perception, and their perception changed the nature of the reality of what they were hearing from the precious and life-giving Word of God to something confusing and obnoxious, and unbelievable.
First, let me show you how this answers decision theology so decisively. Since no one who is not "of God" can hear, that is properly understand, or believe the Word of God, so, obviously, no unbeliever can hear, properly understand, nor believe the Word of God, either the law or the Gospel. So how would anyone find the wisdom to choose to be a Christian, and decide for Christ, when they cannot understand the Gospel or believe it because they cannot "hear" the Word of God until they are "of God"? Decision theology calls God a liar, which is kind of what Jesus was talking about when He asked them which of them convicts Him of sin, and why don't they believe His words - which obviously the Arminian (the ones who believe that being and becoming a Christian is accomplished by an exercise of their free wills) is also doing. They deny Christ's honesty and truth by claiming to be able to decide for Christ.
Anyhow, the question the text raises for you is "what are you hearing?"
When God's Word is preached, what do you hear? "He that is of God hears the words of God." As it was back then, so today, it is often difficult to listen to, and sometimes is not inviting to believe.
We are happy to hear good things, which is why every television evangelist rips the promises of God out of their context and waves them about to impress the crowd. They tell the people what they want to hear, instead of telling them the truth. When they hear the truth, they violently reject it. Oddly, they don't mind the law so much as the Gospel. The promises of God are disconnected from the context in which they are spoken, and severed from the context of faith and salvation, and made to sound like God wants everyone to be rich, or God is going to make everyone eternally blessed, without regard to their life, or their relationship to Him.
The people who preach these things do not hear the Word of God, and so they preach the doctrines of demons, designed to lead the flock before them astray. The crowd that listens, and raises their hands in a fit of "spiritual ecstasy" at these distortions of God's Word are denied the truth, and find their satisfaction in the false teachings of their preachers, to their destruction.
You, however, know better. You have heard the truth. Sometimes the Law is hard to listen to - but it is the Word of God. The Jews that Jesus spoke to could not listen to the law either. They wanted a law they could keep. They wanted the honor and respect of being the chosen people and the children of Abraham, and they would reject anything, including the Gospel, that denied them the respect and glory they felt that they deserved. We sometimes find the law too demanding, and discover that it does not fit into our lives here in Bartlett Township. It asks - no, . . . it demands too much from us. It seems to want our time and our money and then, we are supposed to feel all guilty and ashamed - and that is just not comfortable with us.
But the truth is that you spend your money on yourselves far more freely than you spend it on the Word of God. You take your time, and your trips and your family get-togethers and your entertainments far more seriously - and sometimes more frequently, than you take worship, or fellowship with the saints around Word and Sacrament. Your time and your energy are focused on yourselves much more religiously than on your faith, or on the work which God has set before you as an individual member of His body, or before the body of Christ to which you belong, right here. And when I say those sorts of things, it makes you mad - or at least really uncomfortable. So, when that happens, what are you hearing?
Are you hearing the Word of God?
How is your reality shaping your perceptions?
How are your perceptions shaping your reality around you?
You should feel guilty, and ashamed at times. You should be prodded by the Law into self-examination. And you will find sin. I know that you will because when I hear the same words that I preach to you, I am accused, and I must wrestle with my own sins and selfishness, and the coldness of my devotions and prayers.
But I also hear the Gospel. I hear it because I preach it. Jesus knew what a rotter I am, and how I could not turn away from my sins because I am a slave of sin in my flesh. So He redeemed me - and redeemed you. He traded His holiness and righteousness for your sins and mine and took the judgment of God against us on His shoulders, bore the sentence of the wrath of God against us on the cross. "He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The whipping that wins peace for us was laid upon His back, and with His stripes, we are healed." "He was made sin for us, He who knew no sin of His own, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him!"
His death on the cross was ours, taken for us. And we have been given His righteousness and holiness and the love of God which He has merited, and the everlasting life which He has earned is now ours by His gift!
Are you a sinner? Not in Him! Should you feel guilty and ashamed? NO! Not if you believe that in Jesus Christ you are cleansed, redeemed, forgiven, and beloved of God. He has declared you "Not guilty!" "‘Come now, and let us reason together,' Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.'" Those words are the Gospel - God's Word. What are you hearing?
The Gospel is forgiveness and life - but only for sinners. People who cannot hear the Law, that Word of God, cannot hear the Gospel rightly either. They hear the words, they just don't receive them as God's Words. And why is that? "He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them," – if it may be said about you that you cannot find your comfort in Christ – "because you are not of God."
You should never feel really pleased about who you are apart from Christ, or how you handle things on your own wisdom and power. You should find that peace only in Jesus Christ, who has reconciled you with the Father, and redeemed you from your sins, and counts you as perfectly holy, with His own righteousness. The things of daily life, they will always be something short of right and good. Our sinful flesh will see to that. It doesn't mean we don't try to be good, it means we know the truth. We try, and we fall short of perfection. But our hope is built on Jesus Christ, and His perfect righteousness, and His atoning, propitiatory, redemptive death on our behalf. And His resurrection, of course, where the Heavenly Father proclaims that this sacrifice for sin was sufficient and paid the price of our corruption completely by raising Jesus from the dead.
What are you hearing? It is life, and peace, and forgiveness, and joy. It is the Word of God, and it is meant for your ears, and your hearts, and your consciences. To doubt either the law or the gospel is to call Jesus a liar, and I know that none of you would want to do that. Jesus said, in our Gospel this morning, "Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death."
So, what are you hearing?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)