Gospel: John 8:48-59 (Trinity Sunday: Series C)

Gospel: John 8:48-59 (Trinity Sunday: Series C)

There are several different directions you could go with a sermon on this text. A full consideration of the doctrine of the Trinity is probably not one of them, for the Spirit is never mentioned. If you think your hearers need to learn more about all three members of the Trinity and their imminent relationships, I would suggest you preach a topical sermon or find a different text.

That said, it would still be appropriate to celebrate Trinity Sunday with a sermon on this text, for the key to the Trinity (from our perspective) is Jesus. He is at the center of this text, and so is His relationship with the Father. This is more than enough to occupy one sermon—especially on a day which coincides with Father’s Day.

There are a few key words and ideas which could be highlighted in this sermon. I will reflect on several of them briefly, and then offer a homiletical suggestion for how you might make some connections with your hearers.

Preceding Context

The appointed reading describes the end of an encounter between Jesus and some, “Jews who had believed Him” (τοὺς πεπιστευκότας αὐτῷ Ἰουδαίους, 8:31). What began as teaching about discipleship (8:31-32) digressed as they talked about Abraham, freedom and slavery, sin, and the Father. By the time Jesus calls them children of the Devil (8:44), it is clear their belief about Jesus was not straight and they are, “not of God” (ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἐστέ; 8:47). When they respond with the double insult of calling Jesus both a Samaritan and a demon in verse 48, it is clear they are not turning back to God.

Honor and Dishonor

In verse 48 Jesus contrasts Himself with these detractors in terms of honor. Jesus honors (τιμάω) the Father, but they dishonor (ἀτιμάζω) Jesus. To be Trinitarian in this sense is to honor the Father by believing the Son whom He sent. To dishonor Jesus is to dishonor the Father.

Recently there has been a lot of conversation about the changing nature of our western culture from guilt/innocence to shame/honor.[1] In this light, the Law may be understood and proclaimed in terms of shame and dishonor, while the Gospel may be understood and proclaimed in terms of the restoration of honor.

Keeping

In verse 51 Jesus speaks about those honoring the Father as those who “keep” (τηρέω) His Word. This was a theme a few weeks ago in the Gospel reading from John 14:23, where Jesus speaks in this way about those who love Him. Notably, in this context Jesus says He and the Father will make their home with those who keep His Word (see also John 12:47 and 15:20). This keeping begins with listening (John 8:47) and it continues with believing and obeying (John 14:21 and 15:10). You might say that those who keep Jesus’ Word listen to Him, trust in Him, and cling to Him in heart and deed.[2]

I Am… Hidden

At the end of this reading Jesus describes His relationship with Abraham using the well-known words, “Before Abraham was, I am.” This elicited an attempt to stone Him, which was the usual response to blasphemy. Chuck Gieschen calls this ἐγὼ εἰμί the divine, “self-disclosure formula,” and points to several references from the Old Testament (e.g., Deuteronomy 32:39 in the LXX).[3] When you come to know Jesus, you come to know Yahweh, the Creator, the Almighty. There are only two responses to this claim: obedient trust or outright rejection.

While it is a minor textual point, I also find interesting the way John concludes this encounter. They picked up stones to kill Him, but Jesus hid Himself (or “was hidden”) from them (ἐκρύβη). Herein lies the heart of the doctrine of the Trinity (and the Theology of the Cross). In Christ, God has hidden Himself. Those who believe, who have been given eyes to see and ears to hear, see the unity between the Father and the Son as they see His suffering. Vindicated by His resurrection, they walk by faith and not by sight, trusting in Jesus and His Word.

Toward a Sermon

There is more in the above comments than can be addressed in a single sermon. But if I were preaching on Trinity Sunday from this text on Father’s Day, I would consider highlighting the contrast in these verses.

Who are you going to listen to? Who are you going to honor? Contrary to the people in the text, Christians listen to Jesus. Not perfectly, unfortunately. An orthodox confession of the doctrine of the Trinity does not prevent us from regularly dishonoring God by failing to keep His Word by the way we think, speak and act. And God’s response? He does not return dishonor for dishonor, but rather graciously honors the Father by dealing mercifully with His people. In this light I would proclaim the honor-restoring promise of God in Christ, and I would call my hearers to a life which honors Jesus in both word and deed.

This would have some natural connections to Father’s Day. Instead of singling out dads in the congregation (and thereby rubbing salt in the wounds of men who do not, but long to have a family), you could help them honor the Father who honors us in Christ.

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[1] Concordia Seminary’s Multiethnic Symposium this Spring addressed the topic of “Shame and Honor in the Majority World.” You can get a taste of this concept through this interview with Prof. Kou Seying, the organizer of the symposium (the shame/honor discussion comes at the 26-minute mark) and this interview with Prof. Seying and Dr. Abjar Bahkou.

[2] I am reminded that Justus Jonas, in his translation of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, describes faith as “embrace.” See Kolb/Wengert’s translation of Ap IV.48 (footnote 77) on page 128.

[3] See his translation of the text here.

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Additional Resources:                                         

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 8:48-59.

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 8:48-59.

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