Picking Up Stones
Trinity Sunday – C LSB #’s 905, 543, 507
Text – John 8:59
So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself & went out of the temple.
PICKING UP STONES
My sister & brother-in-law, along with Jan & I, spent some time last week walking the beaches along Lake Michigan, & because the summer weather hasn’t really arrived, the crowds have been light. That means there’s still a fresh crop of stones, left from the winter, scattered all along the beach. Many of them are perfect for skipping across the water.
At 1 Samuel 17:40, the prophet tells us, “Then he took his staff in his hand & chose five smooth stones from the brook & put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, & he approached the Philistine.” (ESV) Hopefully you recognize that as part of the story of David & Goliath. God’s chosen shepherd boy needed only one of those stones to fell the giant.
Picking up stones is something you can do simply for fun, like skipping them at the beach. Picking up stones is something you can do in service to the heavenly Father, even if it is to kill a wicked person. Picking up stones is something you can do while following the lead of Satan even if God prevents you from killing another person.
That’s what the Jewish people were doing, picking up stones to kill Jesus, but He disappeared before any of the stones could do harm. Earlier in chapter 8 the Pharisees had been after Jesus, but now it’s the common people, & they went hard. According to verse 31 they used to believe in Jesus, & by verse 44 He’s calling them the children of the devil.
When Jesus claims to be the eternal God in human flesh they can’t stand it any longer: “So they picked up stones to throw at Him...” Death by stoning was the legitimate penalty for blasphemy. The Book of Leviticus describes how that came about:
“One day a man who had an Israelite mother & an Egyptian father came out of his tent &
got into a fight with one of the Israelite men. During the fight, this son of an Israelite woman blasphemed the Name of the Lord with a curse. So the man was brought to Moses for judgment. …They kept the man in custody until the Lord’s will in the matter should become clear to them. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take the blasphemer outside the camp, & tell all those who heard the curse to lay their hands on his head. Then let the entire community stone him to death. Say to the people of Israel: Those who curse their God will be punished for their sin. Anyone who blasphemes the Name of the Lord must be stoned to death by the whole community of Israel. (Leviticus 24:10-16a NLT)
So if you aren’t God, & you claim to be, you are blaspheming the name of the Lord. When Jesus said, “…before Abraham was, I am,” the people lost it. Most people today would have no clue what Jesus meant by that statement, but the Jewish people of His day certainly did. It goes back to the very beginning of Israel’s formative event – the Exodus.
That monumental episode of Israel’s rescue from slavery began when Moses was called to lead them. He said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel & say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ & they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14 ESV)
When Jesus replied to the Jews, “…before Abraham was, I am,” they knew who this flesh & blood human being was claiming to be. “I am” is an English translation of the Hebrew name Yahweh. Do you remember how John began his Gospel? “In the beginning was the Word, & the Word was with God, & the Word was God.” (John 1:1 ESV)
Right up front John is explaining what Jesus will tell the Jews by saying, “…before Abraham was, I am.” So John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, & the Word was with God, & the Word was God.” (John 1:1 ESV) Jesus did not say, “I was,” which would imply He was of the past. Jesus did not say, “I will be,” which would imply He is of the future.
Jesus simply said, “I am,” meaning He has always been, He is, & He will always continue to be. That can be only one of two things. Either this man Jesus is the height of arrogance & insanity, or He truly is the eternal & almighty God. There is no in between. So what on earth does that have to do with picking up stones? What does the Sunday of Holy Trinity have to do with our daily struggles, & with picking up stones? To answer, we know that when God finished His creation, He saw that it was very good. Nothing in all of His creation was picking up stones to kill something else. Today, we know that is no longer true.
Today, it is clear that this world, this creation is broken. It is broken in ways that tear our very heart & soul into pieces. We now live in a country where its people are all too ready to pick up stones for purpose of hurting others.
Politicians on the left & right, reporters that are progressive & others that are conservative, are out there trying to make the loudest possible noise for the sole purpose of harming those with whom they do not agree. Yes, they are using words & images, but they might as well be casting stones. Their anger has possessed them with such livid rage.
In their hearts the answer is clear – fight fire with fire! And we understand that attitude well, for it also lives in your heart & in mine. We have been right there picking up stones to make someone else pay for what they have said or done. And we know, or we have seen, where it leads – destruction & death. Kill it before it grows. Get them before they get you!
It’s the cycle of revenge, & of it there can be no end. The Devil & humankind have sinned against their Creator – Father, Son & Holy Spirit. And the wages of sin is death. The penalty must be paid if the Holy Trinity is righteous & just. In their wisdom they decided that the Son would enter their creation, to become one with it, to suffer & die for it.
Only that sacrifice can break the cycle of revenge. Only that sacrifice can give hope to creation of a new life unmarred & uncorrupted by any of the effects of sin. Still, it’s not an easy path, for those who reject God’s sacrifice continue to want revenge. Goliath wanted to destroy God’s people, & though David killed the giant, he later turned against the Lord in adultery & murder. Through His prophet, God called David back into His kingdom & also by God’s grace, David responded & returned to the Lord.
As the Jews confronted Jesus everyone knew that He was only in His 4th decade of life on earth. It seemed highly improbable to them that this was Yahweh Himself. He had been born in Bethlehem & raised in Nazareth. That He is Yahweh is the mystery of the incarnation. If we were designing things, would we choose so costly a way to save the world?
It’s much easier to just throw stones. But Jesus allowed human beings to reject Him & to kill Him so that the cycle of revenge would be brought to an end. As we live in Christ, we find that we already have everything God can give, so we give freely & do not seek revenge any longer. Instead, we grieve for those who harm us, as Jesus grieved for those who crucified Him.
Jesus is LIFE overriding death & making all things new. In heaven, the child snatched by violence or disease will run into your arms. The health that eludes you in the winter of life will return a thousand fold. The friends & family members who died in the faith will sit next to you, singing in the heavenly choir. We long for that time.
Jesus is the I AM who is bringing the new creation into being. Amen.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, to bear the dreadful curse for my soul! When I was sinking down, sinking down, when I was sinking down, sinking down, when I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul. Amen. LSB 543:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet