The Great I Am
September 8, 2019

The Great I Am

Passage: John 8:48-59

Christian, have you paused for a moment realized how far-fetched our faith would appear to the world? We believe a man, whom lived 2000 years ago, came from heaven as the Son of God, lived a perfectly righteous life, was crucified, died, and buried, and then raised to life after 3 days. We believe the witnessed and written accounts of his life, death, and resurrection and ascension are preserved in this collection of writings we call the Bible, and we believe the Spirit of God lives in us, abides in us, as His children. We believe the Lord Jesus will return, descending from the clouds, and will judge the earth according to His righteousness. We believe the only righteousness we have is trusting in His word — the gospel of our salvation, that Jesus was and is God— the Son of God, and that we trust in His atoning death for our sins, which has justified us before the Father. Our hope of heaven has nothing to do with our own merit, but His mercy.

To the unbelieving world, to those who don’t see with the eyes of faith and find Jesus to be Lord, this is nonsense. They would say we are naive at best, or manipulative and malicious at our worst. They would say the world doesn’t operate according to the mercy of One, but according to what you merit. You get what you work for, you keep what you earn. Th gospel of grace through the man, Jesus Christ, is offensive to the non-religious world. 

However, it is also offensive to the religious and devout. Religion can be a tool of the proud. Just as the world would say, I get what I earn, one can believe God exists, and yet not honor him as such. A modern day Pharisee is one who believes  God exists, and that they deserve, or have earned God’s favor. They believe they’ve switched roles with God, and now, they are the philanthropist of good works, the benefactor, and God is the recipient. It is like a man, whom would attempt to dig their own well, when fresh springs are bubbling from the ground, and are offered to him. Do you honor the Lord by digging your own well? Or do you honor the Lord by drinking from His spring, and enjoying His refreshment?

We are plodding on in John! Here is a brief summary of the context. Jesus was in the temple after the Feast of Booths, and now was in a heated exchange with the Pharisees and religious leaders. Jesus was making it clear whom were his disciples and whom were pretenders. Disciples abide in His word, are set free by His truth, and do the work of Abraham: they believe Jesus! Jesus delineated between a false disciple and a true disciple, who was born of God. 

He overtly told the Pharisees that they were not born of the spiritual lineage of Abraham. Just as He had told Nicodemus in chapter 3, in order to see the Kingdom, one must be born again. 

This is where we left off last week. Would you stand in honor of God’s word, and let’s read John 8:48–59

[48] The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” [49] Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. [50] Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. [51] Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” [52] 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.’ [53] Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” [54] 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.’ [55] 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. [56] Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” [57] So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [59] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (ESV)


We are going to look at the passage under the following headings today:

Of Demons or Divine? (48-50)

Words That Give Life (51-53)

What Did Abraham See? (56)

The Great ‘I Am’ (58)


Of Demons or Divine? (48- 50, 51-55)

Last week, the conversation between Jesus and the Jews had to do with spiritual paternity. They claimed to be sons of Abraham, and as physical descendants, they were. But Jesus stated they were not sons of Abraham, as spiritual descendants. They countered, and said they weren’t just sons of Abraham, but sons of God. Jesus countered and said they were not sons of God, but sons of the devil. And the reason the could not hear, or accept His words, was that they were not of God. Here is their response: [48] The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 

First, they call him a Samaritan. You should know, Christian, that racism has no place in the kingdom of God. God’s people, under Jesus, are of every tribe, tongue, and language. But this isn’t your everyday racism. To the Jews, being a Samaritan was the lowest of all possible ethnicities, and religious heritics. They were once Jews, but separated from the majority during the Babylonian captivity. Their religious system developed in isolation from the people of Israel, and they believed Mt Gerizim was the place of worship. Jesus told the Samaritan woman (Jn 4) the Jews worship what they know; the Samaritans what they don’t know. Thus, the Jews were name-calling, associating him to a lineage of heretics. 

We need to examine Jesus’ response, for it is telling. [49]… “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. One would expect him to disassociate as quickly as possible: “I am NOT a Samaritan!” Wouldn’t that be our response? If we were lumped into a people that were despised, whom had beliefs and behavior that were wrong, wouldn’t we say, “I am NOT with them!”

This is not what Jesus did. Jesus seemed at home, at peace, in being associated with the people of Samaria. Remember, in John 4, Jesus had shared the gospel with the people of Samaria at Sychar, and many believed in His name. Jesus was not a friend who was close with you in private, and disassociated in public, where your reputation would bring his own into question. Have you had a friend like that— who would deny or belittle you in public in order to look good in front of others? Or, have you, in your own pride, been that friend? 

Jesus didn’t seem to care about his reputation among men. Instead, he was concerned with revealing his own loving character. Do you see the beauty of Jesus, and his character? Such love, such grace, such mercy from our Savior, that he would be a friend, steadfast in love, even to the lowly outcasts.

The Jews accused him of being a Samaritan, and having a demon. This is not the only time the Jews had accused Jesus of such. We read in Matthew 12 that Jesus had healed a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute. They people saw and were amazed, and began asking if Jesus could be the Messiah. But [24]…when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” How did they explain the miracles Jesus was able to perform? They couldn’t deny the results! 

Jesus refuted their accusation: [25]… “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? … But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (ESV)

Was Jesus demon possessed? Examine the evidence: did one who worked miracles, healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, do so as a work of Satan, whose mission was to kill and destroy? Or as a work of God, whose mission was and is to redeem and restore? Does one who graciously associated with the lowly, the outcast— was this the character of a demon, or the Divine? 

My answer: Divine. Further evidence is found in asking why? Why  did he come?

His answer: to honor the Father. Jesus answered: I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. [50] Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.

The work of evil is self-glorification. The work of the Divine is to honor God. This might appear in contrast to the words of Jesus. Look at his claims: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (Jhn 7:37-38). Or “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but have the light of life” (Jhn 8:12). Or “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed!” (Jhn 836). Is Jesus glorifying himself? Is he seeking his own glory? Is this demonic or divine? We have been examining these gargantuan claims — that no one else could make and be thought of as a sane human being! But Jesus was not like anyone else… and the glory he pursued was not the glory he would receive from man, but the glory he would receive from His Father, who is God and judge. Jesus revealed to us the intent of the Father with these words: the glory of the cross belongs to the One who died upon it. And the Father seeks this glory for His beloved Son. Jesus made yet another claim that we must examine… that he alone had the...

Words That Give Life (51)

[51] Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

Briefly, I want to examine this claim and then move on with the narrative. Jesus was claiming, emphatically, and that is what is meant by the repetition of the word truly, that his words were above the words of Moses, of Abraham, of the prophets, and on par with— even above Hebrew Scripture. The Jews believed that in the Scripture they would find life. We saw this in chapter 5:39-40. Jesus exclaimed: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 

Jesus made plain that His word had power above that of their own written word, for their written word was pointing to the power of life that would come through the Son! This is another grandiose claim we must examine to understand the meaning and power of His word.

Was Jesus claiming there would no longer be death? Recall that Jesus’ conversation in the previous section of scripture was not of physical but of spiritual origin. Born of God, or born of the devil? The same is true here. Lazarus believed, and died. Twice. The apostles believed, and their bodies were crucified, beheaded, burned, boiled, exiled. The salvation Jesus offered was bigger than physical world we see, but His salvation is for the true reality, a spiritual reality that exists with God for eternity. The promise of life— the words that give life, and keep one from seeing death, is the gospel of Jesus, as the Son of God who came to save the world from their own sin and its consequence. 

Friends, this is why death has lost its victory, why death has lost its sting… because the curse of sin has been broken. And we live in an age where the kingdom is here, but not yet. Death, as we celebrated yesterday for Chris Losli, is merely a speed bump on the way to true life, a gateway to the eternal reward of His presence.

Do you see the power of the words of Jesus? He was the Word, whom in the beginning, created the cosmos. The word became flesh, and dwelt among us (Jhn 1:1-5), and he upholds the universe by the word of His power (Heb 1:3). Only God has power over life and death.

Let’s continue with the narrative, and then we will ask the question:

What Did Abraham See? (56)

[53] Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” [54] 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.’ [55] 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. [56] Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” [57] So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”

Abraham is the greatest patriarch of the faith of Israel. He is the one to whom the first promise of people, land, and blessing had come. He died. All the prophets of old, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and so forth. They all died. In order to promise life, that one would not see death, you must possess life in and of your own self.

Did Jesus claim to posses this life? Yes. John wrote in chapter 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. Jesus claimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life and I am the resurrection and the life.” (Jhn 14:6, 11:25). They reasoned correctly, that in order to give life, one must have it. Yet, no other patriarch or prophet could claim such power. So their question, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” is the right question! But they don’t see. He had been telling them all along, and they couldn’t see with the eyes of Abraham, for Abraham saw the day of Jesus. He did, and rejoiced!

First, we need to understand what he meant. If we read without context, we would think Jesus’ statement was linear, and Abraham was looking down from heaven, watching things unfold. What Biblical scholars and critical scholarship tells us is that text doesn’t allow for that interpretation. I can’t explain it as I don’t know enough about how greek is constructed to tell you why. But I can share their conclusions. 

The Jews would have heard and even accepted that to Abraham God would have imparted knowledge of the Messianic Age. Abraham, as we read in Genesis, walked with God, was visited by The Angel of the Lord, whom we understand to be the pre-incarnate Son of God. Theologians call these accounts of the Son of God before his arrival as Jesus in 3 BC, a Christophany. What they couldn’t, and refused to believe was that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah.

So, what did Abraham see?

In Genesis 22, we read the account of God asking Abraham to kill his son, Isaac. This made no sense to Abraham, for if you recall, Isaac was the son of the promise, the child given to Sarah when she was past the age of childbearing. It was a miracle that Isaac had been born, scientifically, and medically impossible.

Thus, we read from Hebrews, that Abraham acted in faith, believing God, and considered that He was able to raise Isaac from the dead. He took Isaac up the mountain, and Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice to be burnt. Isaac willingly was bound, and laid on the alter. We see a picture of trust and obedience of the son to the Father. Scripture records that at the last second, an angel halted Abraham from sacrificing his son. And in the thicket was caught a ram, which God had provided. 

Genesis 22:14

[14] So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” (ESV)

Abraham saw that in the physical, his son Isaac would receiving blessing, and there would be a people who would arise. But he saw, according to God, a picture of the Messiah, the Son of God who would one day cary the wood up the mountain, to the place he would be slain. And God would not withhold his hand, but His son would make atonement for all nations, Jews, Samaritans, Greeks, Barbarians, Sycthians, slaves and free. And just as Abraham considered that God was able to raise his son Isaac from the dead, God was able to raise His Son, the Messiah, from the dead, and vindicate His righteousness to the world. Abraham’s son, Isaac, was a type of Christ, pointing to the greater Son, The Offspring, by whom- as we read in Isaiah 53, the many would be counted righteous.

Abraham saw a picture in Genesis 22 of what the Lord would do to redeem and restore all nations to Himself.

How? One must ask, how would the death of one man redeem and give life to a world of sinners? 

Keep this in mind as we read on in the narrative.

Our last heading: The Great I Am

The Great ‘I Am’ (58)

[58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [59] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (ESV)

Notice first, the Hebrew idiom, Truly, truly… for emphasis. Jesus was making a statement that what he was about to say he would stake his life on. Then, in this statement, Jesus claimed to be before Abraham. That alone wouldn’t get him killed, it would make him laughed at. He would be known as the town clown, a lunatic. As they said, Jesus was not yet 50 years old.

It was at the self-disclosure of his name that the Jews picked up stones. Jesus stated, before Abraham was, I am. He had eluded to this statement earlier in the same conversation, with “Unless you believe that I am…” (8:24). Jesus often spoke cryptically, in parables, so it is understandable that they didn’t perceive it the first time. But now, Jesus clearly stated, in terms they could not miss, that He was God.

This is easily missed without context. Moses, when in Yahweh’s presence at the burning bush, asked God who he should declare sent him to set the people of Israel free. God, through the fire of a bush that was not consumed, told him to say, “I AM WHO I AM. Tell them I AM sent you.” Names possessed meaning. In this name, I AM, God was revealing that He alone is self-existent. There was and is nothing before Him.

Jesus, when responding to the Jews disbelief that he had seen or known Abraham, whom they claimed as their father, replied in a way that established priority over Abraham, and equality with God. Look back on this passage with me: I AM set the people of Israel free from slavery to Egypt, and I AM has come to set his people free from sin and death. He has come as the Son of God to give life, and those who keep his word will never taste death. He has come with the power and authority as the Son of God, yet willingly walked the hill, carrying his cross, obedient to His Father, to save and set free a lost people from their greatest enemy, sin death. He was Chrystal clear about who he was, and he left no grey area. 

The Jews heard it, and picked up stones. They determine he was demonic, a heretic. Stoning was the right response of someone claiming to be God who was not. They didn’t leave him as the town clown, a lunatic. Jesus didn’t leave room for that. 

So, the question from the Jews was relevant: Who do you make yourself out to be? Are these the words of a liar, lunatic, or Lord? You must decide what you believe. Are these the words of a demon possessed man? Or is he the town clown? Or is He the Great I Am?

CS Lewis - from Mere Christianity

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

My prayer for you is that you see with the eyes of Abraham. That you see the wonder, the majesty, the glory, the beauty and power of Christ and you trust him. That you recognize your need of him, and are confident in the life he gives.

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