Sunday, March 13, 2016
"I Am Before Abraham" Sermon: John 8:48-59
“I Am Before Abraham”
March 13, 2016 Second Reformed Church
We conclude our look at this discussion Jesus had in the Temple: Jesus told the Pharisees who were working against Him, “I am the light” – a shocking statement, since it was a claim to be God. Yet, after Jesus explained that they would not understand Who He is until they crucified Him, some believed – some to one extend, and some savingly.
Jesus talked with this group of people who believed in Him, but not savingly, and explained the difference between being a son and being a slave. And last week, we saw that Jesus also explained that those who are children of God do the things God commands – like Jesus did. But those whose father is the devil do what he desires – like they did.
As we turn to the final section of this text, we see that the Jews continued to dismiss Jesus based on His disputed parentage, and Jesus told them that the dead in Christ are alive, Abraham knew the Christ and rejoiced at His incarnation, and Jesus told them – again – that He is God.
As we might expect, the Jews did not take well to Jesus telling them that their father was the devil, not God – and as we saw last week, they resorted to calling Jesus “illegitimate” as their response – and they continued in this morning’s text, increasing their slander:
“The Jews answered him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’
They accused Jesus – not only is He illegitimate – his father was a Gentile – so He was a Samaritan! The Samaritans were a hated group of people – the children of Jews and non-Jews – Gentiles. They were considered half-breeds – not real Jews.
It was as if they said, “You’re not merely illegitimate – You’re not even a real Jew – You’re a half-breed – a Samaritan.” It was the worst insult they could think of.
And then they added to it – “You are not merely a product of moral sin – to be able to say these awful things about us – You must be demon-possessed! Do You deny it?”
How our Lord’s heart must have broken as His creation hurled insults and accusations against Him and even claimed He was in association with the evil one. This type of abuse was part of the suffering that Jesus bore for our sake and the sake of all those who will ever believe.
Imagine accusing one of your parents of being illegitimately conceived – then imagine condemning your parent for it – and saying that he or she was possessed by a demon due to the way he or she raised you. And imagine that none of your accusations were true.
There are children who treat a parent so viciously, and there are parents who treat a child likewise. Our parents and children are sinners, but this type of accusation is beyond the pale.
And now, consider, these Jews were not making these accusations against a sinful parent, but against the Holy God Who enfleshed to save all those who will believe.
“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.’
Jesus began with a simple denial of their accusations, and then set the record straight: Jesus honors His Father, but they did not honor Jesus.
As we have seen, God the Father and God the Son (even in the Person of Jesus) are the same One God. So, if you don’t honor the Son, you don’t honor the Father. If you don’t believe in the Son, you don’t believe in the Father. If you deny that Jesus is God, you deny that the Father is God.
But Jesus honors the Father. Jesus does the Will of the Father. Jesus’ work on earth was to reveal the Father’s keeping of His promise through the salvation merited by the Son. And because the Son seeks the honor of the Father, the Father glorifies the Son. The Father causes the Son to be known for Who He is like a telescope causes planets and galaxies to be known. The Father has given us His Word and the Sacraments that we would hear and see the Gospel through them and know Jesus, God the Son and Savior, Who is far greater that we can conceive or understand, because He is God.
And, Jesus told them, the Father is the judge.
What’s His point?
Jesus told them that the Father glorifies Him and the Father is the judge, so, the implication is, if they did not glorify Jesus – if we do not glorify Jesus – we will be judged by the Father in a most negative way.
“‘Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.’
Anyone who believes in Jesus as Savior will never die.
And we might want to chime in here and say, “Wait a minute, Jesus, I know many people – who as far as I can tell – and know I can’t tell a person’s heart – but I have known many strong believers in You and Your Gospel, and I have attended their funerals – how can You say they will never see death?”
Our physical bodies die due to the sin that our first parents brought into the world. And unless Jesus returns first, all of our physical bodies will die. That is temporary: at the end of the age, when Jesus returns, all those who have ever died will be raised in their physical bodies for the Judgment.
But Jesus was talking about something different.
Peter helps us understand:
“since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;” (1 Peter 1:23, ESV).
Remember earlier in the book of John, when Jesus and Nicodemus talked, Jesus explained the need to be born again, to be born anew, to be born a second time – and that this was the spiritual rebirth?
Peter explains that when we are born again, we become imperishable – “through the living and abiding word of God” – Who is Jesus.
All those who believe in Jesus savingly – with their hearts and minds – are made imperishable, and though our bodies die prior to Jesus’ return, we will never experience the second death and its eternal suffering that is promised to those who never believe.
So, those who did not believe in the Savior when they died are now beginning their eternal death. But those who did believe in the Savior when they died are now beginning their eternal life with Jesus.
All those who died believing in Jesus are alive with Him now waiting for the Resurrection and the coming of the Kingdom of God to earth. My father, who died, is alive, waiting for the Resurrection. Barbara Bell is alive. Larry Norman is alive. Keith Green is alive. All those you and I have known who have died in faith – believing that Jesus is God the Savior – are alive and will never die.
The Jews didn’t get it.
“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?’
Here, the Jews move from insulting Jesus and questioning where His views are coming from to ruling out all possibility of insanity. This statement, they are convinced, now proves the only reasonable explanation is that He is possessed by a demon.
“You say that anyone keeps Your Word will never die? Well, what about Abraham? He’s dead. All the prophets died. They kept the Word of God, and they died. Are You claiming to be greater than Abraham – the father of our people? Are You claiming to be greater than all of the prophets who have given us the Word of God? Just exactly do You think You are?”
Yes, Abraham died physically. All of the prophets died physically.
But consider: another time, when Jesus was arguing with the Sadducees – a group who denied the resurrection of the body, Jesus said, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32, ESV).
God said, “I am” – not “I was,” but “I am” – right now – I am the God of Abraham, because he is alive. I am the God of Isaac, because he is alive. I am the God of Jacob, because he is alive. To say that Abraham and the prophets are dead is to ignore what God so plainly said – they are alive – all those who believe the Word of God are alive – even if their physical bodies are dead, they are alive.
Adam is alive. Eve is alive. Seth is alive. Noah is alive. Abraham and Sarah are alive. Isaac and Rebecca are alive. Jacob and Rachel are alive. Everyone who believes the promises of God regarding salvation from the beginning and till Jesus raises all, are alive.
The Jews did not understand that Jesus was not merely talking about their bodies, but that which waits for the Resurrection and experiences the beginning of life – or death.
And Who did Jesus think He was?
“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.’
Jesus began to answer by telling them that if He was pointing to Himself, if He was only promoting Himself, then He would be nothing. But that is not the case – His Father, the One they called their God – He is this God Who glorifies Jesus and shows Him to be God the Son and Savior. The very One they claimed to know and believe was the God they did not know or believe in – the Father of Jesus Christ.
Jesus told them that He actually knew the Father, and He would not deny that He knew the Father, because He was not a liar like they were – their lying proved who their father was – the father of lies – the devil.
And then Jesus said something they might have caused them to take a step back in shock: “’Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’
“Not only is Abraham alive, but he looked forward to seeing My day. Even though God promised to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham’s seed, and that blessing was fulfilled in Me some two thousand years later, Abraham believed God that he would see it happen. And Abraham did see it. Abraham is alive and saw My Incarnation, and he was glad.”
The word that Jesus used for Abraham rejoicing is a word that means a “vehement zeal” and an “ardent affection.” This was not a simple happy occasion – this rejoicing was over the greatest thing that would ever happen: God came to earth in the form of the human Jesus of Nazareth to merit salvation for all who believe – blessing for all the nations of the world.
John Calvin puts Jesus’ thoughts about the difference between the Jews and Abraham this way: “[Abraham] had no other object…during his whole life, than to see my kingdom flourish. He longed for me when I was absent, you despise me when I am present” (Calvin, 360).
And the Jews objected:
“So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’”
The Jews were incredulous: “You’re not even fifty years old. Abraham died over two thousand years ago. And You know Abraham; You have seen Abraham?”
Were they thinking, “They only way He could know Abraham is if the demon possessing him knew Abraham – Jesus is a young man, He could not possibly have ever known Abraham…”?
Have you ever known someone who had to say the opposite of you – even to deny what is obvious? I have some friends like that.
“That’s a beautiful blue sky, isn’t it?”
“No it isn’t.”
“It’s been a very nice week, hasn’t it?”
“No it hasn’t.”
“We have so much to be thankful for.”
“It’s hard to imagine – all the atrocities that happened during the Holocaust.”
“They never happened.”
“Why are you mad at God?”
“There is no God.”
And so forth. A stubborn disagreeableness.
Paul was that way about Jesus before his conversion. Paul was one of the best educated Pharisees of his day. It would seem like he should have recognized Jesus for Who He is based on his knowledge of the Scripture.
When Paul was finally confronted by Jesus, we read, “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads’” (Acts 26:14, ESV).
We better understand this text when we understand what “goads” are. Goads are any type of sharp instrument used to prod a farm animal forward. When one was plowing the field, one would attach a board with spikes behind the oxen, so, if they got angry and refused to move and kicked back, the spike would pierce their hoof. The way to stop being hurt was to stop kicking against the goads and to move forward as the farmer wanted.
So, Jesus told Paul, he was like an ox kicking against the goads as he persecuted Christ and His Church. He was kicking and wounding himself by not receiving what would have made perfect sense to him – that Jesus is God the Son and Savior – the promised Christ – if he were not spiritually dead.
The Jews were kicking against the goads, they were acting in a way that only hurt themselves because they were unable to accept and receive the Truth of the Gospel.
Those who are spiritually blind and dead also hurt themselves fighting against the Truth. May we be compassionate as we pray for the salvation of those who do not believe. May be we compassionate as we seek to tell the Gospel to those we meet.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’”
We will remember that repetition in Hebrew is for emphasis – so, Jesus was saying, “Attention, listen up, this is very important!”
“Before Abraham existed, I have always been.”
Or, “I know Abraham because I am God.”
We will remember we have talked about how the “I am” saying of the book of John use the expression that God gave Moses, when Moses asked God what His Name was, and God told Him, “I am.”
God has neither beginning nor end, but is, forever and always, God.
We may remember that the author of Hebrews said the same thing about Jesus: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, ESV).
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God in Three Persons, is and was and will ever be. God is. The Trinity is.
Now the Jews understood:
“So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
They understood that Jesus was claiming to be God – the God of Abraham – the One True God. And if Jesus was lying – that would be blasphemy – and blasphemy was a capital crime, as we read:
“Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” (Leviticus 24:16, ESV).
But Jesus got away, because it was not yet His time to suffer and die.
Let us rejoice as we think of those who have died in Christ, knowing that they are alive, and they will be raised with their bodies on the last day – never to die again – even as each of us shall, if the Lord tarries.
Let us wonder at the joy Abraham had in knowing God the Son before the Incarnation and in his profound rejoicing at seeing God become man for our salvation as the great fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the nations through Abraham and his seed.
And let us hold dear to us that Jesus is God before the Incarnation, and Jesus is God in the Incarnation, and Jesus is God as He sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us in His flesh.
May we be comforted and emboldened in these things.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You are. We thank You that You give life – even eternal life through Your Son. Well us up with joy as we consider what Your Son did, and may our joy cause many others to look to You. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.