Why, Oh, Why
You're wrong. You thought: "Here we go again; another sermon laced with 60's and 70's song references." True, I am referencing the Chi-Lites' 1971 hit "Have You Seen Her." The title is a line from the song, but what I want you to hear is the emotion of "Why, Oh, why" because that's the emotion that goes with 2 of our most persistent why questions which our text answers.
Why, Oh, why doesn't Jesus just show Himself? This is what Judas, not the betrayer, wants to know in the upper room. That's the question that leads to Jesus' answer in our text. "Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?'" You've asked that question too maybe out of curiosity, maybe out of angst. Why, Oh, why doesn't Jesus appear in a form and fashion that no one could deny? Why, Oh, why does He remain hidden in Baptismal Water, clothed in the Word of forgiveness, giving His Body as Bread and His Blood as Wine? Tell me, Have you seen Him? Of course you have, as every single other believer has, but to the eyes of unbelief Jesus walks on by, hidden in plain sight.
Why, Oh, why are you showing yourself only to us Jesus and not to the world? The word here is more than a mere showing' as "he made a showing." This is the word manifest.' If something is manifest it's obvious, it's undeniable; it can't be missed. And Judas wonders why Jesus will do this for us and, emphatically not to the world. Jesus' reply, however, doesn't accept the implied accusation. He is manifest to anyone and everyone. We have the construction we had last week which shows Jesus expects something will happen. He says, "If ever at any time anyone should love Me, the words of mine He will observe." These words are reminiscent of the last Words Jesus says to His apostles in Matthew 28. After the command to go make disciples of all nations, He gives the 2 ways to do so: Baptizing them and teaching them to observe all things He has commanded. In His visible word, Baptism and Communion as well as His invisible ones like Absolution, sermons, and Scripture, He manifests Himself for all nations to observe.
So our anguished why, oh, why' is misplaced. It's not that Jesus only manifests Himself to us but the way He has chosen to manifest Himself to all is by means. This is the only way God Almighty has dealt with His fallen children. Even to Abraham who is called friend of God', He manifested Himself as a smoking fire and a flaming torch. Moses, whom Scripture says God talked to as a man talks to his friend, only saw the back of God and even that set his face aglow. And to mighty Elijah, God clothes Himself in a gentle whisper. And for us men and our salvation, He in a virgin's womb incarnates Himself in flesh that bleeds blood. So, the fact that today God Almighty manifests Himself to all in Water, in Words, in Bread and Wine is totally consistent with how He has always dealt with sinners.
There will come a time when He won't use these means, says Scripture. When God in flesh and blood returns visibly it will be with great power. At that time every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord; that includes every knee in heaven, on earth, and even in hell itself (Philp. 2: 10-11). When God appears without means, He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29), an unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16), that even believers can't stand. Read Revelation 1when the disciple whom Jesus loved sees His unveiled glory in heaven he "fell at His feet as dead." Trying not to be to indelicate, when you have the stomach flu, your body is overcome with convulsions that make you do what you don't want when and where you don't want to. This is but a taste of what it's like to be overcome by God's unveiled majesty.
Why, Oh, why would anyone want that? Instead observing His Word to baptize all nations into the Triune God, observing His Word to forgive the sins of confessed sinners, observing His Word to do Holy Communion often, we find that the ascended Jesus has not left us as orphans in a fallen, dark, dying world. Here's where it gets really good. This chapter opens with Jesus saying in King James, "In My Father's house are many mansions." "Mansions" is now translated rooms, dwelling places, abodes; that's what mansions in Elizabethan King James really referred to. The neat part is the Greek word here, mone, is only found twice in the New Testament. In the many mansions' passage and our text. "My Father will love him, and We will come to him and a mone with him will make." By means of His Word and Sacraments, Father and Son are willing to be roomies with anyone. No sinner too dirty, too fallen, too foul, smelly, unkempt, or uncool for them to move in with.
Why, Oh, Why doesn't Jesus just manifest Himself to the world? He does; just not the way my sinful little heart thinks He should. The next why question is even more anguished: Why, Oh, why don't I have peace? I was going to have a bulletin cover with that play on k-n-o-w' and n-o' as in Know Jesus; know peace, and no Jesus, no peace. But you know Jesus, I know Jesus. We know He fulfilled God's laws in our place and paid the penalties suffering, damning, and dying the law requires. I know this Jesus; He's on me in Baptism, in my ears in Absolution, and He nourishes me with His Body and Blood, then why don't I know peace?
It could be as Luther says: "We who bear God's Word should take heart, expecting no peace here, but rather remembering that we are soldiers who must be on the battlefield. Indeed, we must always stand armed for battle, since when one stops, another one immediately begins" (LW, 58, 180). Luther is echoing our Lord's words in John 16:33: "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." That's a very heartening passage: In Christ we have peace even though in the world we will, not may, not might, but will have trouble, but we are to take heart because Jesus has conquered the world.
But you see I know all this: so, why, oh, why don't I have a peaceful easy feeling? Why am I Martha cumbered with a load of care that leads me to think the Lord should do something more, better, different for me, and I mean right now, to make things better? Why, oh, why do the curses the Lord pronounces against His unbelieving people seem true in my case? Why am I so unpeaceful that the sound of a windblown leaf terrifies me? Why do I always feel like I'm running as if death is on my heals, and fall even though no one is after me (Lev. 26:36)? The answer isn't: God is letting me down', or, Jesus needs to do more.' The answer according to Luther: "It is only because our flesh and blood dominate us with such power that we are in constant fear of being devoured" (LW, 24, 185).
This is a very thorny problem. When we have no peace, when we're shaking like a leaf, when we're in fear where no fear is (Ps. 53:5), when we're running with no one pursuing, we think we need Gospel. But if indeed our sinful nature is dominating us, we need Law. You can see that the first why question calls us to repent of thinking God should reveal Himself how we think He should. Can you see that this second one calls us to repent of thinking our lack of peace is due to a shortfall on God's part? He says both that He leaves us His peace and He gives us His peace. That means His peace is both our legacy and our treasuer. But, note well, He says emphatically that is His peace that He leaves and gives: First Jesus says, "Peace I leave you". Peace not war, peace not conflict, peace not doubt, peace not unease, peace not trouble. Then He says, "My (see this bolded thick and black) peace I give to you."
There's the rub and Jesus makes it plain as day: "My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives peace." But that's the only kind of peace sinful men want, understand, or value. Each Sunday after the sermon I give you the peace of God that passes all human understanding, and because you can't understand it, you don't think you have it. Wait a minute. That's me; maybe it's not you. But why do I trip here? I don't understand how the forgiveness Jesus won on Good Friday can be poured over me in Baptism. I don't see how the Lamb of God who carried away the sins of the world can send my sins away by a word of forgiveness, and I sure don't understand how that Bread can be His true Body and that Wine be His true Blood. Yet I shout in triumph, "God own child I gladly say it; I am baptized into Christ." Yet, I rest in the pastor's absolution like clean sheets. Yet in the strength of the food of His Body and Blood I expect to travel all the way to heaven itself, so why do I get hung up on not understanding His peace?
Jesus knows we get hung up here, so He concludes by forbidding us to continue to be either troubled or literally, cowardly. Sometimes a firm, "knock it off" is like a slap on a hysterical cheek. It brings us back to our senses; no, it brings us back to His Word and out of the realm of our senses what we feel, think, reason. The word cowardly' is only found here in the New Testament, but when Jesus confronts the apostles after He stills the storm, He uses a form of this word asking, "Why are you such cowards" (Mk. 4:40)? And Paul tells Pastor Timothy, again using a form related to our word here says, "God didn't give us a cowardly spirit but a Spirit of power, love, and a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7).
In our text Jesus absolutely forbids us from continuing to be troubled or cowardly, and that takes us back to the beginning of the chapter, right where the mansions' took us. Jesus says, "Stop letting your hearts be troubled; you believe in God believe also in Me." My, Oh, My we are to believe that the God we can't see deals with us no differently, thinks of us no differently, loves, forgives, protects, and gives to us no differently than the God we see, hear, touch, feel, and taste in Jesus. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixth Sunday of Easter (20190526); John 14: 22-29