Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (Jn 8:45-59)
“If anyone keeps my word he will never see death.” These are the words of Jesus. These are the words of the one who is glorified by God the Father when he raised him up on the third day. These are the words of him in whom Abraham rejoiced. These are the words of he who before Abraham, is. He who says, “before Abraham was, I am.” The word’s of the I Am. If we keep his word we will not see death, because his word is the source of life itself, the word that spoke, “let there be light and there was light.”
Keep his word, never see death. What is meant? Obviously the Jews in our text misunderstood Jesus. They respond talking about tasting death, by saying that even Abraham died. But Jesus says he lives, for God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Who is right? Abraham certainly died this earthly and bodily death that we all taste, even Jesus himself will taste this death. But to see death is to die eternally, the death of Sheol, the torment of hell, an existence divorced from the glory of God, but exposed to his wrath in the fires meant for the Devil and his angels. It is this that Jesus would preserve us from with his word. It is this that he has come to save us from. And to save us from this he gives us life in his word. Whoever keeps my word he will never see death.
His word is life even in the midst of death. His word is life because he is the author of life, the creator of life who creates life with words the way an author writes a story with words. “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” His word spoken and we are given life. It is spoken in baptism when we are given life in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. His word found in the Holy Scriptures. His word spoken and expounded in the sermon. His word given in the New Testament consecrated in his body and his blood. There is in these things a common thread of forgiveness, of salvation, of life. It is this that Jesus came to give to the world ravaged by death whose sting is sin, whose power is the law.
Keep his word. And yes, his word in the scriptures that the Pharisees searched believing that in them they had eternal life, when they were these that spoke of him who is the great I AM. Yes it was his word that is spoken from Mt. Sinai through the burning bush to Moses. It was his word spoken through Abraham, and the prophets who died. Yes the law is his word and it too promises life if you keep it. But then it is this word that we sinners find impossible to keep, because it fails to give us the love we need to keep it. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and might. Love your neighbor as yourself. And the more we try to keep his law, the more we find we fail. The more serious we take it, the more serious we see our condition before it. The law, it never delivers on its promise because we never live up to its commands. We know this, and the death that we taste is confirmation of this. It is confirmation of the fact that in our greed, our lust, our grudges and contempt for others we fail to love and therefore fail to keep this word, and are condemned to death by this that promises life.
But for this reason Jesus came in love. For this reason he came to live, to die, to love. “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.” And it is in this death that he gives the words of eternal life, life that flow from a death died in love, in love for you. In love he lived and kept for you the word of the law, that he could give you another word to keep, the words of eternal life, the word that forgives sins in baptism, in absolution, in the Lord’s Supper, the word that took on flesh and blood that in death it could be poured out for the forgiveness of sins, and given for you that in this word you would have life, and keeping it never see death. Because it was in this word that he who tasted death for you was glorified by the Father and raised up on the third day for your justification.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.