Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”—John 8:51 (ESV)
The Law kills. That is what it is intended to do. And John 8:51 does just that. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death (ESV)”. Identical to those Old Testament Laws God handed down to His chosen people on Mount Sinai, here again the formula doesn’t change, “if…then…” If you do this then you will get this in return. That is the same card Jesus is playing in this text.
He is using the law not to cause obedience, but to kill the disobedient. None of us can keep the law perfectly as God commands. Sure, we can do well today but what about tomorrow when the recurring monthly bills are mailed in? What about the other day when your mother in-law visits? No one under the sun can guarantee an infallible obedience to God’s Law.
The early reformer, Martin Luther, elaborating on the purpose of the Law had this to say:
[T]he commands exist to show, not our moral ability but our inability. This includes God’s commands of all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, an impossible act of will apart from a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit uniting us to Christ.
If keeping God’s word is what will save us from the second death, truly, truly, all of us will die. There is no hope for us here if we are going to do this by ourselves. The prophet Isaiah, to use biblical language, said that our Law keeping disgusts God just like used menstrual garments (Is. 64:6).
But that is never the end of the story. Jesus died, was raised and now reigns at the right hand of His Father. The Good News of substitution is that Jesus’ perfect Law keeping record is ours and our perfect Law-breaking record He took away on account of His cross and blood for you and me.
St. Paul himself writes to the messed up Corinthian church about Jesus’ substitutionary work: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21, NIV).”
My friend, you will never see death. And this is not because you kept all the precepts of God’s Holy Word. No, you won’t see death because God Himself, clad in human flesh, bone and muscle, kept His Word on your behalf. Jesus at Calvary traded His Law-keeping for your Law-breaking—the Law giver became the Law-keeper to save us Law-breakers—that is the gospel.
“He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on the cross (Phil 2:8, NIV).” He died so that you will live—you and I. He did what we could never do for ourselves, so that we will have what we could never earn or deserve.
Because Jesus kept His father’s Word, You and I will live, forever!
That is your lifeline, AMEN.