Signed, Sealed, Delivered
"Signed, Sealed, Delivered" was a 1970 hit for Stevie Wonder. In the song the singer is returning to a girl he left and putting himself at her mercy. In our text, people come to Jesus who they think has left them and who is now at their mercy. They're wrong on both counts.
Jesus gave several signs. Though they act as if He gave none saying, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?" They ask this in the face of Jesus having fed the 5,000 before their eyes and with Jesus standing before them on the other side of the sea knowing He couldn't have come there by boat. They ask for a sign when Jesus 4 verses earlier referred to the miraculous signs, plural, He had done.
These people did what the Egyptians did in the face of the 10 plagues or what the Israelites did in the face of miraculous deliverances. They looked past the miraculous feeding of thousands and Jesus having gotten across a sea without a boat. They looked past the signs the way we do a screen. Unless we focus our eyes on the screen we naturally look past the wire mesh to whatever is on the outside. "'Instead of seeing in the bread the sign, they had seen in the sign only the bread'" (Morris, 358).
What signs are we ignoring? We don't think any. We're like King Herod. We don't think Jesus has done any miraculous signs for us to ignore. Like him we're longing for Jesus to do a miracle. In Matthew 16:3 Jesus castigates the Pharisees for knowing how to read the weather signs but not the signs of the time. That's the signs we're ignoring.
We ignore the signs that sin has got us in its grip. We ignore the sign of our first thoughts being evil; we ignore the sign of no good thing dwelling within our fallen natures; we ignore the sign of the whole world being under the power of the Evil One. We ignore what all things dying and decaying from our bodies to the earth to the universe are pointing to: that we have no place permanent to stand.
The signs are there. The signs pointing you away from self, away from what men can do, away from this world are all there. The Lord has left us an abundance of signage, and He has sealed the Son as the answer to our certain doom. The answer is not more bread, more earthly food, not even an endless supply as the crowd wanted. And the answer is not endless physical health, an endless retirement account, endless food or drink, or even endless happiness. For what happens when this world that we are so healthy, happy, and content in ends?
God the Father has sealed His Son as the answer. Sacrifices in the Old Testament Church had to be sealed as blemish free before they could be sacrificed. You know that all those animals, all that blood of goats and bulls, didn't pay for any sins, didn't wash away any sins, but was a sign pointing to the Blood of God in the veins of Jesus that could, would, and did. The Father set His seal of approval on Jesus that He was the only sacrifice that could take away His wrath against the world's sins.
The early church referred to Baptism as a seal. At Jesus' Baptism, the Father sealed Jesus as the Man who was God. "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," boomed the Father from heaven. John the Baptist got the message of the sealing loud and clear because right after that he pointed to Jesus and said, "There, right there, is the Lamb of God who is carrying away the sins of the world."
The Father sealed the Son as the one place in the world He was not raging mad at the world for its sins. He said, "In Him I am well pleased." That means outside of Jesus, He is not well pleased at all. The Father is not pleased by all your promises to do better or be different. The Father is not pleased by your repeated groaning of, "I'm sorry; I'm sorry." The Father is not pleased by a lifetime of going to church, a lifetime of reading your Bible, a lifetime of being a "good" person. No, outside of Jesus God is a consuming fire, a blinding light, a hanging Judge, a by the book Judge who will throw the book of your sins at you and knock you straight to hell.
But that's not where you're pointed by this text. The signs are not pointing outside of Jesus but to Jesus. The Father has put His seal of approval not on you and your efforts, not on your and your promises, not on you and your faith, but on Jesus. Here is One not being swept away in the flood of sin. Here is One not being swept away by the decay of death. Here is One who when the ruler of this world, Satan, comes Scripture says he finds nothing in Him (John 14:30).
O but Satan finds plenty in me. He finds all sorts of pride, greed, lust, and unbelief to work with. He and his minions have known me all my life and my parents and grandparents before me. Talk about pushing buttons! He knows buttons I don't even know. He who made perfect Adam and Eve fall, he who led righteous Job to self-righteousness, he who led bold Peter to denial, and was a constant thorn in Paul's side, has no problem maneuvering me to look past the signs pointing to the sealed Jesus. But you know signed is one thing; sealed is more, and delivered? Well that's a whole nother level.
Jesus gives the signs of problems we can't solve our sins, our mortality, our lack of spirituality; the Father sealed Jesus as the answer, and then He delivered Him up for us all as Romans 8:32 says. But it's also true the Son delivered Himself up. Jesus says pointedly, "No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down [I deliver it] of My own accord."
Psalm 118 says "bind the sacrifice to the altar," and we know in Genesis Abraham bound Isaac before placing him on the altar to sacrifice him. But Jesus laid down His life willingly. In order to redeem this world from the sin, death, and decay sins had to be paid for, the wrath of God had to be satisfied. Your world lies to you when it says your biggest problems are ones connected to this world: what you will eat or wear, how healthy you are, the climate changing or peace in the Middle East. But you like the lies because you can do something about every one of these. You can make a difference. But your guilt has been misdirected away from what you should feel guilty for and can't do anything about.
Your world lies about what your real problems are, and it lies when it assures you God is not really angry at you. O there is a class of people that God surely is angry at say lion killers, say homophobes, say people who fly the Confederate Flag, but as long as you're not any of those things, God's not angry, says the world. You can ignore a day of judgment. Focus on today. Get healthy, limit you carbon footprint, recycle. Do stop thinking about tomorrow. It won't be here anytime soon.
The Father put His seal of approval on Jesus that He was a perfect Man. He was blemish free. Yet this Man was God. When this Man bled it was God's blood that flowed from His veins. When this Man suffered in time the Eternal God suffered too. You and I, nobody anywhere, can satisfy God's eternal wrath against their sins. All our efforts, because they too are sinful, are like pouring gas on a fire.
But not Jesus. As His holy blood drip by drip drops from His open wounds hear the sizzle as God's wrath against another one of your sins is put out. See that all the signs pointed to Jesus as the wrath removing sacrifice. See that the Father sealed Him as such, and see that the Father has delivered Him. He delivered Him to the cross so that all would be drawn to Him and believe their sins were paid for here. This Man hanging from the cross bore the trauma, drama, and judgment against all sins and sinners.
Jesus was delivered to the cross so you might believe that your terrible sin of decades ago and that horrible thought of today are equally forgiven. He was also delivered to the grave. His soul was separated from His body in the same way you fear yours will be and He was buried the same way you fear to be. Why? So that you might believe that Jesus killed death. It's like the 18th century poem about a mad dog. The mad dog bites a man and everyone is sure the man will die. The last line is: "The man recovered of the bite, / The dog it was that died." Jesus was bitten by Death but it is Death that died. Death is no longer the same for those in Jesus. Death is not a wall but a door. Death is not an end but the beginning of the way things were meant to be.
Jesus was not just delivered to the cross as a perfect sacrifice and to the grave as the death of Death. He was delivered out of the grave. Death had to spit Jesus out. It couldn't swallow Deity, and since humanity is joined to Deity forever in Jesus, where God the Son goes the Man Jesus goes too. And wherever Jesus goes those in Jesus go too.
And now we're to the most important delivery of all: the one where Jesus is delivered to you. Jesus does this to the crowd in the last line of the text. He says, "Here I am, the Bread of Life for the eating." He uses their hunger for physical bread and redirects them to the Bread they need to live forever. We too need Jesus delivered to us. No one can climb up to heaven to get Him. By Baptism Jesus physically delivers Himself to us and by trusting in our Baptism we receive the benefit of salvation attached to it. By Communion Jesus physically delivers His Body and Blood to us and by trusting in His promise of forgiveness attached to it, we have forgiveness. In Absolution Jesus physically delivers to our eardrums forgiveness, by trusting in those words it becomes ours.
If you know the song "Sign, Sealed, Delivered", you know the emphasis is not on any one of those words, but on the words "I'm yours!" So too our text. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (20150809); John 6: 24-35