"Here's a New, Lasting Identity"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 22, 2016
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:The Church Full of Hypocrites?)
Copyright 2016 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: John 8:48-58

"Very truly I tell you," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!"

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia.

Everyone has an identity. But often times our real identity; who we are, what we feel, it doesn't often match our names, does it? For many today, names are arbitrary. The day you were born someone gave you a name. That name may identify you when you meet a new person, it may be necessary when trying to secure a new job, But the real you; it's only a name, right?

In Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is forbidden to marry Juliet because they are doomed from the start as members of two warring families. Romeo thought if he would just change his name it would make a difference. Juliet responds "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." To change the name of the rose wouldn't affect what it is or how it smells. In the same way, changing your name won't change your character or change who you are.

But things are different with God. He gives us His Name so that we might really, really know Him. Our Scripture today is about the identity of Jesus Christ. But Jesus' Name wasn't merely the favorite of some adoring parents at a moment in time. No, it was a name that had been promised all the way back in Genesis to Adam and Eve. It was a name that had been prophesied about for 1000s of years. It was a name from God in the Old Testament who identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To each of these patriarchs He made a covenant specifying He would be their God, and their people would be His people. When God spoke to Moses to tell him that he had been chosen to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, Moses asked God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say, 'What is His name?' What shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM who I AM." Then God said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent you.'"

Here God shares not only His identity but also His character when He identifies Himself not as I was, or I will be, or I can be, but as I AM. I exist now, at this time and regardless of when or where you are or when or where you call upon Me or look for Me, I Am. However you want to pronounce that Name; Jehovah, Yahweh, Lord, God, I AM, I Am here at this time and this place. I Am present wherever you are at any time. You will never be without Me. That's God's Name.

The Jewish leaders in our text, though, they are missing the point. They are more concerned with their lineage and their heritage than with the Name above all Names that is to come into the world to redeem and save it.

In John 8, the Jews are struggling with Who Jesus really is. In a few verses before our text, they straight out ask Jesus, "Who are you?"

But, here's a real irony for you. When you struggle with Who Jesus is, you eventually must struggle with who you are too. That's what happened to these religious leaders. In their conversation with Jesus, they are trying to avoid Jesus by identifying themselves to be the children of Abraham. Jesus responds, "Wait a minute, if you are the children of Abraham, then why are you trying to kill me? This is not the way Abraham acted. You are doing the works of Satan." They wanted to claim God as their Father but they certainly weren't acting like it. Jesus said their actions were identifying them as children of Satan, not children of God. They then claimed, "We have one Father even God" Jesus answered, "If God were your Father then, you would love Me because I came from the Father and I am here because the Father sent Me."

On October 15, 2002, the Associated Press carried a story about Billy Graham. It reported that the Dallas Cowboys honored the distinguished life and ministry of Dr. Graham by presenting him with a Cowboy jersey that had the name of Graham on the back and the number 1 in large print on the front and the back. Billy Graham responded to this gift in a way that demonstrated his unique sense of humor.

He said, "This shirt has my name on the back and indicates I'm No. 1. I may show up at the next game and see where they put me though." He knew that wearing the shirt shared his name but not his character. He was a preacher not a football player

When it comes to the real game that matters, there is only One Who can wear the jersey and win the game. And it wasn't a Cowboy uniform, it was a crown of thorns, it was a cross and a robe, it was a shroud that Jesus wore to face the judgment of God the Father for this world's sin and rebellion. Only He could accomplish that kind of salvation, that kind of mercy, that kind of reconciliation.

When you think you can wear that uniform on your own, that's a real problem. That's an eternal problem, a satanic ego problem. In this text, Jesus made that clear to these religious leaders that their father was neither Abraham nor God. Instead they had a devil of a problem. He then explains, "If you were of God, you would have heard My words. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not of God." Their lack of faith in Him exposed their real identity.

Satan, the rebellious one, was their real father and their desire was to do his desires. Jesus is saying that they may wear the "children of Abraham" on their jerseys or on their clerical garments, but by their actions and lack of faith, they are really "children of Satan" following him as their coach and leader. For them and also for all of us, Jesus is pointing out that there are only two fathers with whom we can identify and that identity has eternal consequences: God the Father, Creator of the Universe, or Satan, the father of lies.

Jesus isn't pulling any punches either. This is serious. These words strike an important meaning for all of us. In this matter, Jesus is saying there are only two choices. We can either hear His Words, God's Words, or we can tune Him out. We can have God as our Father who sent His Son to pay for our sins, to win our salvation, and lead us to eternal life, or we can place our lives in the hands of father Satan who loves to blind us with pleasures and things of this world striving to lead us to eternal death and destruction. One, a way of grace and life; the other a way of rebellious works and death.

Back to John 8. At this point in the conversation, the Jewish leaders were now at their wits' end (I think that we would have been at our wit's end too). They had been exposed as needing Jesus and they couldn't have that! They were now forced to try anything they could to save their reputation. They used a tactic that is still used today. When you have no answer, insult the character and reputation of the one challenging you. With fervor the Jewish leaders quickly responded, "Are we not right in calling you a Samaritan and that you have a demon?" The first insult is to say that He is a Samaritan. They were insinuating that Jesus was not a real Jew, because He did not follow all the rules and traditions of the Jewish faith. The Samaritans were also considered second class citizens then at best. It would have been a tremendous insult to call a Jewish person a Samaritan. But they go further. They accuse Jesus of having a demon. Notice, they did not call Him a child of Satan as Jesus had identified them. Rather, they said He "has a demon" which really meant in those days He was crazy, He's a lunatic.

But Jesus, He stays on point! He does not even respond to the accusation that He was a Samaritan (He came for them too). He simply moves on to clarify His true identity. He said, "I do not have a demon. I am not crazy." Then He says, "The reality is that I honor my Father and you dishonor Me." He lets them know that He is not in any way seeking glory or fame for Himself. He was sent by His Father, and it is His Father, the ultimate Judge, who gives glory to His Son. Then Jesus says something that really upsets the Jewish leaders even more. He says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death." He was really saying to them, "If you want real life, then it is vitally important for you to listen to My words."

Whoa! Think about this for a minute. Wait a minute. They said, "Now we know you are crazy. Now we know you have a demon. Are you claiming to be greater than Abraham? He died and so did all the prophets. Who are you making yourself out to be, Jesus?" Jesus humbly answers, "This isn't Me speaking. I am not here seeking My glory or a name for Myself. I am just doing My Father's will." True then, true today. People like Jesus until He calls them to faith in Him alone. People like Jesus when they can pick and choose His Words, but they get angry when He says things like, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one gets to the Father except through Me!"

At this point Jesus reminds these religious leaders that if they really knew God, they would know all this! He chides them saying, "But you have not known God." The word He uses in the Greek is genosco that means to learn about a person reading about them or hearing someone tell you about Him. Jesus then says, "I know Him." He uses a different Greek word oida, which means I know Him by physically seeing Him with My own eyes and experiencing Him by being with Him. Do you know what Jesus is saying? It's incredible. He said, "I didn't learn all this stuff by reading and studying, I know the Father because I have seen Him Myself." He is claiming a oneness, a unity with God the Father! He knows the Father as we know our human fathers--in a personal way through experience. Wow! That's why Jesus is the only One that can wear the jersey that counts.

But Jesus doesn't stop there. He says, "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad." If you remember the story, it was Abraham who God asked to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, to test his faith and to give him a glimpse into God's future plan. But, in the end, God provided a ram for the sacrifice. Jesus was saying, "Here I am. I am the Lamb of God. I am the Son of God sent by the Father to redeem the world. Truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." Jesus is now putting it all on the line. He is identifying who He really is for them but also for you.

When Jesus says things like "I Am," He is clearly identifying Himself as the God of the Scriptures now come to save the very world He created. Remember God calling Himself "Yahweh" or "I Am who I Am" in the Old Testament Scriptures? Well, throughout Jesus' ministry, He says things like "I AM....the Bread of Life; I AM...the Living Water; I AM...the Good Shepherd; I AM...the Resurrection and the Life; I AM...the Door to Eternal Life; I AM...the One Who is sent to save you. Jesus leaves no doubt as to Who He is for them and for you.

But that was then and this is now, right? Well, no, this dialog may have happened 2000 years ago, but the identity of Jesus is still an issue that we face today. Who is this Jesus? Many people today agree that He was a good Teacher. There are those who will say that His teachings were revolutionary. Some say that He was a Holy Man who was unique and different from many others who are considered by some to be holy men. The question that faces us today is, "Who do you say Jesus is?" Are you struggling with these Jewish leaders trying to put Jesus into your own mold, one that you can understand on your own terms, or are you willing to step out with Peter, who, when Jesus asked them, "Who do you say that I am?" answers with assurance, "You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God."

Christians close to Jesus' time kept this question at the forefront of life. The teachings in the Didache, a Christian Catechism of the early church, said it this way, "There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways." Jesus said it clearly with that other I Am statement when He said "I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life." (John 14:6).

So the question for us today is who do we identity with and what is our true identity? Jesus says all that depends on receiving the truth of Who He is when He says "Who am I for you?"

Studies of gang members reveal that when a person chooses to join a gang, he or she often receives a tattoo to identify him or her as a member of that gang. This signifies that the gang's claim on that person's life is permanent. It is a mark of ownership as much as identity. The process of tattoo removal is extremely painful. Patients describe the laser procedure as feeling like hot grease on their skin. Yet the waiting list grows of those who will put up with whatever pain it takes to be transformed, to receive a new identity.

When you were born, Satan put his identity on you with the tattoo of sin. He claimed us for life. The only way our identity could be changed was to have that tattoo removed. This was the work of Jesus. It was a painful suffering that Jesus went through to remove that tattoo of sin to give us His new identity. His suffering and death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and His resurrection from the dead was the only way the tattoo of sin could be removed. In our baptism, Jesus gave us that new identity. He removed our tattoo of sin by taking the pain of removal upon Himself. I love how the Apostle Paul says it in Corinthians, "For He made Him (Jesus) to be sin for us, Jesus who knew no sin; that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

But it's not just the removal of things that matter. This is the life that God calls us to in His Son Jesus as well. It's a way of life that matters now, a way of life that will last forever! Those who have faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, who were baptized as children of God, we may not have been able to do what only Jesus can do, but by grace He puts His uniform on us and calls us into the game of life to share the victory that He has won, not just for us but for all. Jesus might say, "If you call yourselves Christians, Children of God, then you would love Me and you would believe that I was sent by the Father." Christian is not just a name, it is an identity rooted in faith in Jesus, it is a life style. It means that Jesus is the Lord of our lives and that He has formed our character. It is in Him that we know who we are. To be Christian is not merely to say," I believe that Jesus lived and died and rose again." It is to say, "Jesus lives in Me. He leads and guides my life." "He lived and died and rose again for me."

Jesus' identity on His terms matters! His name describes His mission. It tells of His connection to the Father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Only He, the Son of God, our Savior, can give us an identity that will last. There is a jersey of grace with your name on it and only Jesus can offer it to you and me. Put it on, by faith in Him. Be part of His team in this world. His is a Name you can count on, One you can trust in all things. But don't just take my word for it, listen to the Jesus of John 8 who says, "Be who I call you to be now and forever in My Name." Amen.

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for May 22, 2016
Topic: The Church Full of Hypocrites?

ANNOUNCER: And we are back once again with Pastor Gregory Seltz responding to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, how would you answer someone who says he doesn't need to go to church because that's where all the hypocrites are?

SELTZ: Wow, Mark. It must be admitted that there are hypocrites in the church. In fact, there are hypocrites everywhere. A hypocrite is an actor, one who puts on a false face. He says one thing but does another. But, here's the point, just because there are hypocrites in the church does not mean that all Christians are hypocrites. It is important that we do not confuse the issue of hypocrisy with the ultimate issue of sin.

ANNOUNCER: I believe this often results from the misconception that Christians are people who claim they never sin and are, therefore, better people overall than others.

SELTZ: Right, that's a caricature of Christianity, that's for sure. Think about it this way, if you are a Christian, your first admission is that you are 100% a sinner like everybody else in need of God's grace! All believers even as believers, including pastors and church leaders, are fallible human beings who are prone to all types of sin. Just because a person is not perfect does not mean that they're also a phony.

ANNOUNCER: That means it is important to know the difference between what it means to be a Christian and this charge of being a hypocrite.

SELTZ: Right; and I think that this will help answer our listener's question. A Christian admits to being a sinner and, at the same time, believes that when he or she fails and confess their sins, they are assured of forgiveness and reconciliation with their Heavenly Father because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A hypocrite might talk that talk but not always walk that walk. He might pretend to be a Christian with acts of piety; however, in his heart he has no conviction of being a sinner in need of Christ's forgiveness.

ANNOUNCER: Jesus had very harsh words for people who were hypocrites, thinking here of the religious leaders of His time.

SELTZ: He sure did. In fact, Jesus certainly condemned the hypocritical ways of the religious leaders. He said this in Matthew 23:25-27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, (now, of course, He meant them) but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence."

ANNOUNCER: Nowadays the social trend kind of works against church participations and memberships. Would you say there are still hypocrites in the church?

SELTZ: Of course, there are people who are in the church for the wrong reasons. They play church for their own selfish motives but still have no convictions that they are sinners in need of Christ's forgiveness. I have to tell you, it's pretty hard to see the value of coming to church and hearing that we are all sinners in need of salvation and then trying to play the part of a "holier than thou" hypocrite.

ANNOUNCER: Now it's important to say that Christianity does not stand or fall on the way Christians themselves have behaved either now or throughout history. It stands and falls on the person and work of Jesus Christ for us.

SELTZ: He was no hypocrite. That's right on! He lived consistent with what He taught. He lived and died for those of us who are confessed sinners. In fact, in our baptism, what we're confessing is that He's giving us His perfect life, the life that He earned on the cross and the open tomb, He's giving all that to us as a gift; that's incredible.

ANNOUNCER: So Christians are sinners who acknowledge that they are sinners. They repent of their sins, and they seek that forgiveness only Jesus can give. Hypocrites, on the other hand, try to look like Christians on the outside but inwardly they don't have this sense of sin, and see no need to seek Christ's forgiveness and perhaps have no faith in Him to give it.

SELTZ: It is important to understand the difference between those two. But, even to the non-believer, I just want to say this, where should a person who has the sin of hypocrisy go? I think the best place you can go...there's no better place than the church where they are called to repent and believe in the only Person who is truly authentic, Jesus Christ Who is their Savior and He's our Savior.

ANNOUNCER: As God's people, then, we need to be showing that the most important thing about the Church is faith in Jesus and then following Him in love toward others!

SELTZ: Right, and Luther tells us that even for Christians there is going to be a daily struggle with this; we struggle with all of this, though, in Christ! Luther says it this way, "The Old Adam (that's us) should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die so that a new man in Christ should daily arise to live before God in Christ's righteousness and purity forever."

ANNOUNCER: Having Christ as Friend and Savior, that's what makes Christianity unique.
SELTZ: And even hypocrites need to hear that!

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Action in Ministry for May 22, 2016
Guest: Pastor Wayne Palmer

ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action in Ministry. Today we're talking about identity.

SELTZ: That's right and there are two basic identities that we need to be concerned about: Who is Jesus according to the Bible and then also who are we in relationship to Jesus.

ANNOUNCER: And every day Lutheran Hour Ministries sends out tens of thousands of emails in the form of a daily devotion so that you and others can get to know Who Jesus is for you. Now joining us is our colleague, Pastor Wayne Palmer, who is the managing editor for this resource and he believes that this daily exposure to God's Word is really one of the keys to better understanding Who Jesus is.

SELTZ: Wayne, it's great to have you here with us today.

PALMER: It's a joy to be with you.

SELTZ: Okay, now, you play a key role in editing and producing these daily devotions that are sent out from Lutheran Hour Ministries. For those who are not familiar with these free resources, tell us briefly what we're talking about here.

PALMER: Well, each devotion lasts about three minutes long. Most of them tell stories about people's lives; there's a Bible passage then the story, and then it applies where Jesus fits into that story.

ANNOUNCER: What do you and the other contributors see as the purpose for these devotions?

PALMER: Our big purpose is to make sure we don't lose track of who we are as God's children, our identity in Jesus, and also not to lose track of Jesus Himself; Who He is in our day-to-day lives.

SELTZ: Yeah, you can't know who you are if you don't know Who He is; so there is always that tension. Listen, many people they go to church, they hear that good news on a Sunday, but why do they need this daily?

PALMER: Well, I don't know about you, but when I come out of church, I'm fired up. I'm ready. I know who I am. I know Who Jesus is. By about the middle of Sunday afternoon, I kind of get... life sinks back in...

SELTZ: There are days...

PALMER: ...problems come up, frustrations. These daily devotions each day give you the chance to revisit that.

SELTZ: It really does touch your life when you read these devotions. You've got some testimonies, I think, that talk about how these devotions have changed people's lives or how they have blessed them. Tell us a little bit about that.

PALMER: That always amazes me when you have people that are so touched by a devotion that they feel they have to respond to it and write back. We have a couple here. One wrote, "Dear Lutheran Hour Ministries, I would like to thank you for the Advent devotions. It is like God is speaking directly to my family. The lessons continue to remind me that all things happen in God's time. He is in control and He knows what is best for each of us."

SELTZ: Powerful.

PALMER: Yeah. And then there's another one here. "Thank you for these wonderful devotions. These help me see how deep the Lord's love is for us. Maybe I've matured more over the years or something, but these devotions cut me to the core, in a good way. I love my Lord so much. Thank you for bringing Him to me each day."

ANNOUNCER: And how did the writers determine their topics and what they are going to write?

PALMER: Well, every week on Sunday, we get devotions from our International offices all around the world. They'll take a story of somebody impacted by that ministry in that country and then bring that back to us. Monday is Pastor Seltz' devotions. They usually tie in, I guess, to Lutheran Hour; and by the way, if you do miss a Lutheran Hour sermon, you can listen to it sometime else during the week. Just go online.

SELTZ: All this stuff is available, right?

PALMER: Exactly, so you don't have to miss that. Then Tuesday through Saturday, our Emeritus Lutheran Hour Speaker, Ken Klaus, he writes devotions. He always takes a news story and he talks about how you can see Jesus in that story or should have seen Jesus in that story, and then how we can see Jesus and show Him in our lives too.

SELTZ: Yeah, when I write them too, I try to extend a little bit of the thought of the sermon or it might be something that impacts us that day. You begin to see that Christ matters everywhere, but He's there for you everywhere, every time. What a beautiful resource these devotions are. They're uplifting. They're convenient, delivered right to your email each and every day or you can access them through our mobile app. Pastor Wayne Palmer, thank you for sharing this with us today.

PALMER: It's been my job. Thank you.

SELTZ: And that's our Action in Ministry segment today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.

ANNOUNCER: To subscribe to our free daily devotions, go to lutheranhour.org and click on Action in Ministry. For more information, call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316. Our email address is info@lhm.org.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"I Love Your Kingdom, Lord" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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