Jesus addresses this Word, in the first place, to those Jews who believed in Him. They had that much right, superficially at least, though they did not yet realize what it really means or requires.
What Jesus here declares and promises, not only then, but also here and now to you, pertains to Himself and His Word. That is, and was, and always will be the decisive matter. He and what He says are what it’s all about. Everything depends on Him, and therefore on His Word.
Would you be a Christian and share His Life and Salvation? Well that you should. Here, then, is how: You have Jesus as your Lord, you abide in Him and He abides in you, by remaining in His Word; by hearing it, believing it, confessing it and praying it, and living by faith according to it.
By this way and means of His Word, you follow Him as a disciple to the Cross, to be crucified and die with Him, and so also to rise and live with Him, both here in time and hereafter in eternity.
Thus, by His Word, by faith in His Word, you are given to know the Truth, which is Jesus Christ Himself, His Father and His Spirit, in whom alone there is true freedom and eternal life.
So, again, everything, everything, everything — including the sixteenth-century Reformation and the life of the Church in our own day and always — everything depends upon Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. There is salvation in no one other than Him, nor at all apart from Him. Apart from Christ Jesus, there is only sin, death, and damnation.
Consequently, what Jesus proclaims in this Gospel strikes your old Adam with the judgment of the Law, because He leaves no room for any other way of life or salvation than Himself and His Word. He takes away all of your self-righteousness, so that you might receive, by grace alone, through faith alone, that righteousness which is in Christ alone, prior to any and all good works of yours.
You cannot rely upon yourself, nor upon anything else but Jesus, who is with you by and with and through His Word. And that is the case, not only once upon a time, not just to begin with, nor only for a little while, but forever and ever, Amen.
His Word not only calls you in repentance to the waters of Holy Baptism; it brings you through those waters, and it leads you from those waters throughout your life in the daily dying and rising of contrition, repentance, and faith in the forgiveness of sins. It lays the Cross of Christ upon you unto newness of life; unto the death and resurrection of your body; unto the life everlasting.
The Life that you live by faith in His Word is not completed with the rite of Confirmation. Far less is it sufficient to be listed on the membership roles of the congregation, which means nothing apart from an actual participation in the Liturgy of preaching and the Sacrament.
Genuine Life with God in Christ is not a matter of genealogy, pedigree, or holding a leadership office. It is not measured or determined by niceness or piety or sincerity or effort.
Your only true and lasting Life — the Life for which you have been created by God — is in Christ Jesus. And that Lord Jesus Christ is with you, and He is for you, in and with His Word. Which is to say that He is with you, not simply in the Holy Scriptures, but in the Word that He speaks to you and for you in your Holy Baptism, in the Holy Absolution of your sins, and in the Holy Communion. He abides with you in the daily catechesis of His Word and prayer, and especially in the preaching of His Gospel.
Faith comes by hearing, as the Apostle has said, because hearing and believing are by the Word of Christ which is preached to you in His Name and stead.
The simple fact of the matter is that you cannot live without these means of grace and forgiveness and salvation, because you cannot live without Jesus, and these are His ways and means. Not as works of men, though He administers His gifts through men whom He has called and sent with His authority; nor as works of the Church, though the Lord gives them to you within the fellowship of His Church; but as God’s Service, the Ministry of Christ for the rescue and salvation of sinners.
That is why the protest of the people in this Holy Gospel, that they are Abraham’s children, falls flat and does not cut it. First of all, because Christ Jesus is the Seed of Abraham by whom all the nations of the earth are blessed and are called to bless the Lord and one another with His Word.
And then, also, because the true children of Abraham are those who share Abraham’s faith in the one true God. It is not a matter of human genealogy, but of faith and trust in the God of Abraham, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That point likewise rules out modern appeals to the so-called “Abrahamic faith,” as if Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were all religions of one and the same God. For Abraham’s faith is fulfilled only in Christ Jesus. There is no other God than Him, and no one knows the Father or receives the Holy Spirit except by Christ and by His Word.
Similarly, it does you no good to appeal to your Lutheran pedigree, if you do not share the faith and confession of Martin Luther, which is the faith and confession of Christ Jesus, crucified for your transgressions, raised for your justification, given and poured out for you in the Sacrament.
Have you been confirmed? Good for you! But do you pray and confess your Catechism every day, as Dr. Luther did, and as he taught and urged others to do for themselves and for their families?
And do you actually practice and live, as well as believe and confess, the Six Chief Parts of the Christian faith and life? Are you doing as you promised at your Confirmation? More important and to the point, are you living by faith in the Word of Christ in the Communion of His Church?
If you are doing well, praise God for that, and continue by His grace to abide in His Word.
And if you recognize that in so many ways you have failed to remain steadfast in the Word of the Lord, then repent, and put your trust in Christ Jesus, your Savior. Which is not simply a matter of the feelings in your heart or the thoughts in your head, but of where your body is, and of what you do with your body; that you are in the Lord’s Church and at the Lord’s Altar, with the preaching of Christ in your ears, and with His Body and His Blood in your mouth and in your stomach.
It is to this Life in Christ that repentance brings you. For the Lord does not expose your sins and bring them to your attention in order to crush and destroy you forever. He crucifies your old Adam with all your sinful lusts and desires, in order to raise you up again, body and soul, through His free and full forgiveness of your sins, so that you might live by faith in His Word as a new man or woman, abiding by His grace in the presence of God in the righteousness and purity of Christ.
It’s not a matter of trying harder, as though you could justify yourself and set things right with God by your own best efforts. Apart from faith in Christ, apart from His Word and Holy Spirit, your self-righteous striving only adds to your sin and makes things that much worse instead of better.
By the same token, the point is not that you should give up or quit the work that God has given you to do. There is no virtue or benefit to be found in your laziness, negligence, selfishness, or greed. Refusing to do your duty and giving yourself over to sin will not help at all, but further hardens your heart, separates you from God, and drives you that much closer to death and damnation.
No, to live by the righteousness of God is a matter of trusting Christ in His Word and the preaching of it, in those ways and means of His grace where He has promised to be with you and for you with His forgiveness and salvation. It is to seek and receive Him there, to cling to Him there, and to find Him there, where He comes to you and finds you and binds you to Himself (and you to Him).
Truth be told, apart from Christ Jesus you are a slave to sin, and you are bound for death and damnation. Your case is utterly hopeless without your dear Savior. You will not make it, and you will not last without Him. Besides all that, heaven itself would be void and bare without Christ Jesus, anyway; so there would be no point in making it without Him, even if you could.
By contrast, the Life of the Church on earth in the Liturgy of her Lord is not simply a means to some other end, but is already the Life and Salvation with God to which He calls you by His Gospel. Pursuing other ways and means of life is nothing but a perverse path of self-destruction.
But, that you not die as you deserve, all of your sin, your idolatry and unbelief are remedied and overcome by the Son who sets you free indeed. For He is the Son of God, who out of love for you has become your Brother in the flesh, the Seed of Abraham who has fulfilled all the Words and promises of God in His own Body. He has set you free from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy and precious Blood and His innocent suffering and death.
So it is that, by His grace, you are now His very own, and by faith in His Word you now live with Him in His Kingdom. Even in great frailty and weakness under the Cross, you love and serve Him in the righteousness, innocence, and blessedness of His Resurrection, because He has first loved you, and His love for you never ends. He ever lives to make intercession for you before the Throne of God in heaven, even as He serves you in His House and at His Table here on earth.
All that He has done for you and won for you by His Cross and in His Resurrection, He gives to you, freely and generously, by His grace alone, by the way and means of His Gospel. These fruits of His Cross, the Tree of Life, are distributed and set before you, not as a burden or a work for you to do, but as the most precious gifts of Christ Jesus.
Thus does He give Himself to you, and with His Body and His Blood and His forgiveness of your sins, He gives you all the righteousness and life of His Resurrection from the dead.
It is in this way, also, that is to say, in His giving of Himself to you in Word and Sacrament, that your dear Lord Jesus daily returns you to the life-giving waters of your Holy Baptism; that He pours out the Holy Spirit generously upon you; that He daily and richly forgives all of your sins, and strengthens your faith, and keeps you steadfast in the one true faith, unto the Life everlasting
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.