Today is called Judica Sunday. The name comes from the first line in the introit, where we sing, “Judge me O God: and plead my cause against an ungodly nation.” Judica means to judge or vindicate. It’s where we get such words as judge or adjudicate. To adjudicate is to settle a dispute. This is what God does. He settles disputes. He decides who’s right and who’s wrong. He vindicates the one who is right. And condemns the one who is wrong. He pleads the cause of those who confess his word against those who deny his word.
But who likes to dispute? Isn’t it kind of rude to argue? Would we not rather have peace – especially with people with whom we have to spend time and whose company we otherwise enjoy? But Jesus tells us that he did not come to bring such peace. No. He warns against it. He says:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household’” (Matthew 10:34-36).
Now obviously Jesus did come to bring peace on earth – but not the peace that the world gives. That’s his point. His is the peace that his word brings to repentant sinners. It is peace for those who know and feel the warfare of their sinful minds and hearts against God. But while this word brings peace to such troubled consciences, when we confess it and defend it, it also causes divisions. As the Bible says:
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
Now certainly the word that can make such divisions within us is bound also to make divisions among us – between those who believe it and those who don’t care.
No one likes to fight – well, not decent and respectable people at least. We want to be decent and respectable people. So we avoid certain types of behavior and we avoid certain topics of conversation. I remember in college becoming the skunk of many a garden party because I ignored the sign on the door that said: “No religion or politics.” This was meant to keep things civil. They’re there to have a good time, right? Well, if that makes for a civil party, it also makes for pretty limited conversation. It keeps things shallow. It encourages an atmosphere more amenable to licentious drunkenness and fornication than the edifying conversation that Christians ought to pursue. But I wanted to talk about things that mattered more than who could do the longest keg-stand. So my buddies and I would politely engage in the conversation that was forbidden. We would discuss theology. It would always have both joyful and discouraging results.
We don’t want to fight or quarrel. But we must dispute. If we don’t, God will not vindicate us – he will not plead our cause. Our cause must be his cause. This means that his word must be on our lips even as we pray, “Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation.”
Our Gospel lesson begins in the middle of a big dispute. Jesus was arguing. The eternal Word made flesh was speaking the word that his Father had given him to speak. He was arguing. The scene must have gathered a curious crowd just as a heated debate at a college party might bring the music down and kill the buzz. Jesus was down-right arguing. And he was right. And those who were arguing with him were wrong.
But Jesus was not arguing just to be right. He himself says that he does not honor himself. He receives his honor from the Father. Those who argue just to be right are honoring themselves. But Jesus was speaking God’s word. He was not fighting for his own rightness. He was fighting for the rightness of God. And this is important.
When we confess and refuse to budge on the Christian doctrine that God has taught us, we are not defending our pride (even if it’s often hard to dispel those proud thoughts in the heat of a debate – we repent of it – we don’t seek our own honor, but God’s). But Jesus had no such trouble. He teaches us that the word we contend for is God’s. We contend not for pride, but for the truth that sets us free from our pride, as Jesus says, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31). His word is what rescues us from death, as Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death” (8:51). And so, like with the disciples when Jesus asked them whether they would leave him too because of how offensive his preaching was, we respond with St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
So this is why we contend. This is why we bear the burden of having to look like the judgmental jerk who won’t cave in when we confess the word that God has spoken. It sets us free. It gives us life for death. So to whom shall we go?
To whom shall we go when our sin overcomes us, when flesh proves too weak – or too strong, depending on how we look at it? We flee to him who speaks forgiveness even to those who have denied him – like Peter soon-after did. We flee to him who teaches us who God is. He teaches us. He doesn’t quarrel with us. He reasons with us:
“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Jesus teaches God’s word and so reveals the Father. This is not a new god who is less irked than he used to be about our sin. That is not whose glory Jesus seeks. No, he is the ancient God who from eternity sought our redemption and made it known to us through the word that comes down from heaven. This is why he sent his Son to become flesh for us. “Glory be to God on high,” the angels announced at his birth, “and peace, goodwill toward men.”
And look at what he does to bring peace – to bring you the goodwill and eternal favor of God on high. He speaks God’s word. He defends it. He gets himself into trouble for it. He loses the love and admiration of the crowds and makes his enemies hate him more and more, and why? Because he is zealous for a good thing. He is zealous for the truth that we need. By standing firm on his doctrine, Jesus is pleading our cause. He is defending his own right and privilege to have mercy on us and to make our robes white in his blood. He disputed with the rulers of his age and it was this disputing that got him crucified. He defended what he now tells us to defend. And by so doing, he was stricken, smitten, and afflicted. By so doing he was caused to bleed for us.
So, to whom shall we go? To whom shall we go when we have made a stand, and when those with whom we have trusted and grown fond of – or even those whom we have fed and cared for – rise against us and renounce our certainty as though it were arrogance and self-righteousness? To whom shall we go when those who do not regard God’s word treat us like we have a demon simply because we insist that God’s word said it and that settles it? To whom shall we go when indifference all around us makes us wonder whether we are perhaps being a little severe in contending for pure doctrine? To whom shall we go? We go to him who vindicates – to him who adjudicates our cause. He is the Lord who confesses before his Father all who confess him before men. He pleads our cause, because, as we can see in our Gospel lesson, it is his cause too. It is for our sake that he spoke the words of eternal life. And so it is for our own sake that we defend it as well.
Jesus was arguing — for us. Let’s consider the time and place. It was a long argument. It took place in the temple of all places. It began with a familiar account of the woman caught in adultery. She was caught in the very act. Moses required that she be stoned. “What say you, Jesus?” they asked. But Jesus said nothing. He knelt down and wrote in the dust. It was the only thing we know Jesus ever wrote – but we have no idea what it was. He then said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” He pleaded her cause. He made her cause his own. He went back to writing in the dust and when he stood again, all her accusers were gone. They were convicted. They were not without sin. Jesus asked where her accusers were: “Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she said. “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Jesus absolved her. He pleaded her cause and she was vindicated. She went her way and Jesus’ words had saved her.
Well this riled the Jews against Jesus. “Who does he think he is? He forgives sins? He reveals ours. He calls himself the Light of the world? – saying, ‘He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’ He claims for himself what belongs only to the word of God.” And that’s right. Jesus did. Because he had the word of God and he kept it. He knew why he was sent. He knew where he came from. He knew that God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. That is why he would not keep silent. He stuck to the word he preached and would not give in. He did so for this woman. He did so for us.
It’s remarkable that a mob of angry Jews could be compelled by guilt to lay down their stones when confronted with their own sin. This woman was caught in the act. And yet each man there knew that at least his heart, if not his life, rendered him just as guilty. Only Jesus was without sin. But he did not condemn. So what did this angry mob do? They could not attack Jesus’ life. They could not accuse him of sin. So what do they do? They accuse him of false doctrine. And here, because Jesus claimed to be God, they could not be persuaded by anything to put their stones down.
So they do to us who claim to be of God – to us who keep God’s word. When they cannot find fault in your life, they will attack the word you speak. St. Peter writes,
“But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:15-16).
This is what it means to suffer as a Christian. It means first of all to be a Christian. It means that you, who recognize your sin and your need for God to have mercy on you, and who find such mercy in the words of Jesus – it means that you hold this word dear and regard it as more precious than your reputation or social comfort. Because it is.
“Which of you accuses me of sin,” Jesus asked. No one. They could not. Neither does God accuse you. Instead he lays your sin on Jesus who willingly bears it. He spares you from the flying stones of God’s judgment by bearing God’s wrath in your place. He allows himself to be caught in the thicket of the world’s scorn and laid on the altar of God’s judgment as your Substitute – just as the ram served to be a substitute for Isaac.
Was it not Isaac who was bound to die? And is it not you who are bound to pay for your transgressions? But Jesus takes your place. The great I AM whose appearance brought joy to Abraham also brings joy to you. It is the joy of God’s approval. It is the joy that what Jesus says cannot deceive you. He who stooped down to write words in the dust and who rose up to defend the sinner has also stooped down for us to write words. And we hold dear these words and confess them. They are the words of Holy Scripture. Jesus fulfills Scripture. With these words we have eternal life. With these words no one can accuse us of sin, because all our sin has been paid for.
But they will accuse us of having a demon – of being judgmental and arrogant and everything that Jesus was accused of. They will. We who are sinners ourselves claim to have the righteousness of Christ alone. We insist that Baptism gives us new birth and makes us children of God. We don’t budge when we confess that Christ’s true body and blood are given to the sinner for the forgiveness of sins, and that those who commune with us should be united in a common confession of God’s word. And we are maligned just as Jesus was.
But what escape do we make? When rocks are thrown at you and your confession of the truth is mocked? And you know they’re wrong! What escape do you make? You flee to him who pleads your cause – to him who vindicates you and sets you free from the worst this world can do to you. You flee to the same place you flee when your own conscience accuses you, when God’s law reveals that you have not kept the marriage bed pure in your mind or heart and that you have not defended and spoken well of others who couldn’t defend themselves and that you have not been content with what God has given you but have grumbled and schemed and been lazy and that you have not prayed to God for what you needed or bothered to learn from God what you needed but have given more attention to worldly amusements over the word of Almighty God – then what do you do? Where do you go? When the world hates you, you flee to the same place you flee when your conscience accuses you and tells you that God must hate you. You flee to the same place you flee when the stones that are flying are correctly aimed and you know that God is right to condemn you. You flee to the word Jesus has given you to keep – the word that he kept and fulfilled so that he can with his blood-won authority say to you: neither do I condemn you. This word of Jesus gives glory to God because Jesus glorified God by being condemned in your place reconciling God to all sinners. He offered himself as your Substitute so that you may find in him and in all he teaches you that God is glorified by the mercy he shows to you. And you glorify God in turn by embracing that mercy and finding your life in Christ you Savior. It is God who vindicates. It is God who judges. It is God who seeks the honor of his beloved Son by seeking our good. He sent him to take our place under the law and his strict condemnation of sin. It is the same Father who raised Jesus from the dead in the greatest vindication ever. And he will raise you as well — first from the death of guilt and dread and so also from your grave. You see Christ’s death so that you do not see your own. And so you rejoice to see it, you rejoice to hear it, you rejoice to know it and so in this way you keep it. He who tasted death for you gives you what is sweeter than honey: the approval of your Father in heaven and the foretaste of eternal life in the forgiveness of your sins.
Let us pray:
To me the preaching of the cross
Is wisdom everlasting;
Thy death alone redeems my loss;
On Thee my burden casting,
I, in Thy name,
A refuge claim
From sin and death and from all shame—
Blest be Thy name, O Jesus! Amen.