We live in a world that tells us that it does not matter what we believe—so long as we believe something. They say that what we Christians really ought to be about as the people of God are: “deeds not creeds”. Parts of the church have bought into it. An old slogan for the World Council of Churches is: “Doctrine Divides, Service Unites.” And yet…
Before the sermon we confessed our Christian faith in the words of the Nicene Creed. With doctrinal precision we confessed our faith in the Triune God as the one true God- and we confessed our faith in Jesus Christ as the God/Man Savior of the world—and we confessed that who Jesus is and what he has done is for our salvation.
Can there be a greater divide between those who call for “deeds not creeds” and those Christians who confess their faith this way? And so who is right? Which of these two parties can claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Who is closer to the Spirit of Christ?
In our Gospel lesson we will see that Jesus was a staunch contender for the Faith because it is ONLY those who know the truth about God and Jesus who can be saved. The Bible says:
The Jews answered Jesus, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
The events of our text take place in the midst of a lengthy conversation—really a confrontation—that Jesus is having with the Pharisees about his identity and their claims to know the truth about God. During this confrontation…
Jesus proclaimed himself to be the light of the world. He said that those who do not believe in him will die in their sins and the only way to be free is to be set free by the Son. He said that he is the one who speaks for the Father and that anyone who claims God as their Father must love the Son and that those who do not love the Son do not know God and are not of God.
This is why the church contends for the faith that is confessed in the creeds—because Jesus contended for that faith—vigorously and without compromise!
The only hope that man has for salvation is found in knowing the truth about God and the truth about Jesus. That is not what we believe because we are rigid and hard-headed—it is what we believe because that is what Jesus believed- and taught- and showed-- in his life.
The response of the world to our contending for the faith is exactly the same as it was in Jesus’ day: opposition, name-calling, and the questioning of motives.
The Pharisees said that Jesus was a Samaritan (the worst insult they could think of) and that he was speaking for the devil. The world around us (and sadly even parts of the visible church) claim that Christians like us who contend for the faith expressed in the creeds are rigid, unloving, and judgmental when we say that what is actually believed and confessed--matters.
And so why don’t we just go along to get along? Why do we let ourselves be criticized and castigated by the world around us when we refuse to compromise on our confession of faith? It’s because what is confessed by the church-- is a matter of life and death for the world.
Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
This is what’s at stake when it comes to our confession—life and death—because the words of Jesus tell us the truth about God and the truth about salvation and to know and believe what Jesus says is to have eternal life.
Now, because it’s going to come up in just a few moments, I will point out that Jesus is obviously not talking about physical death—Jesus knew that people died, he encountered death throughout his ministry—he knew that he would die—it’s why he came. But what Jesus is talking about is eternal death—separation from God for eternity. That fact of the matter is…
This is what death really is—to be separated from God forever—and no one who puts their faith and trust in the promises of Jesus ever has to fear death for we will never be apart from God: not in the dark times of life—not when we draw our last earthly breath—not in eternity. That is what Jesus promises-- and we hold fast to his words.
That is where our confidence and life is found—in the words of Jesus—and that is why contending for the faith is so important—because it is the ONLY place where life is found!
Just a few days before these events many of those who had followed Jesus were turning away and he asked his disciples: Will you leave me too? And Peter answered for all of them: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!
Jesus was sent by his heavenly Father to save the world. The words he spoke and the works that he did where not his own—but what he was sent into the world to do—and to reject his words and to reject his saving works is finally to reject God because Jesus is God’s Son.
The Jews said to Jesus, “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?”
This the question that all of us must answer: Who is Jesus? Is he a created being like the Jehovah’s Witnesses tell us? Is he a great prophet as the Muslims want us to believe? Is he a wise teacher and moral example as so many in our world believe him to be?
Everyone has an opinion about Jesus—who he is and what he has done. But it is eternally important to our salvation that we do not have merely a personal opinion: but that we confess the objective truth about the person and work of Jesus and then contend for that faith.
We have creeds and confessions because over time this question has been asked and answered in ways that deny the real divinity and humanity of Jesus and his saving work.
Far, far from abandoning the creeds of the church and the Faith that is confessed in those creeds it is imperative that the church of Jesus Christ be a confessing church which is willing to contend for the truth that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to have a life with the Father.
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.
The one thing that our religiously pluralistic culture cannot tolerate is for Christians to make absolute truth claims not only for themselves but for everyone else in the world besides. To say with the apostles that “salvation is found in no one but Jesus for there is no other name given to men by which they can be saved” is considered to be intolerable hate speech.
And so it has become fashionable for Christians who do not want to offend to adopt the language of the culture and say, “Well, this is what’s true for me” as if the person they are speaking to could also have some truth that stands opposed to what they believe and confess. Even pastors who ought to know better go on TV and cannot bring themselves to say that Jesus is the Son of God and the way of salvation and those who do not know him are lost eternally.
Jesus NEVER suffered from that kind of spiritual cowardice because he knew that eternal souls were at the risk of being lost forever. Jesus NEVER hesitated to tell the truth about the spiritual condition of those around him because he knew that unless they came to grips with the fact that they were lost without him-- they would be lost forever.
There are countless people around us who do not share our faith in Jesus and yet claim to know God and love God and have a life with God. Just like the Pharisees, they say: He is our God. Is this possible? Jesus says: No! The judgment of JESUS is that they are liars and do not know God BECAUSE they will not glorify the Son he has sent who has always been the only way to the Father.
Jesus said: Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” It’s not as if Jesus were telling the Pharisees something new about the way to have a life with God. God promised Abraham that through his offspring all the world would be blessed and when he held little Isaac in his arms he knew that the LORD was the God of kept promises and that he could be trusted for salvation.
That is the content of saving faith: the promises of God fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ and there is no other way to salvation. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in HIM should not perish but have eternal life.
These words of John 3:16 are the content of the creeds: This is the God who loves the world. This is the Son is who has saved the world. When we confess our faith in the words of the creeds, we simply say what Jesus has said about himself and about God: that he is the Son of God and that to know him is to know the Father.
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.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
You will note that Jesus did not say: Before Abraham was—I was—as if Jesus had a beginning before Abraham (as remarkable as that would be!). No! He says: Before Abraham was: I am. Just exactly what God said of himself when Moses asked about his identity at the burning bush is what Jesus says of himself right here: I am! I simply exist without beginning and end because I am God. The Pharisees understood Jesus’ claim and they tried to stone him.
That scene takes us back to the beginning of the sermon and the opposition of the world to the confession of the church. Contending for the Faith takes courage to face the opposition of the world. It takes clarity about what we believe. And it takes the conviction that what we confess in the creeds about who God is and what Jesus has done is true: true for us and true for the world. Courage. Clarity. And conviction. That is what it means to contend for the faith. May God grant it for Jesus’ sake! Amen.