Life of Christ 103
Today, the Feast of Tabernacles is over. Yet, today, Jesus is at the Temple again, taking advantage of the attention that has come His way, in order to press His claims to be Israel's messiah.
The Pharisees, seeing themselves bested in the last several contests with Him during the feast, have prepared a trap for Him in an effort to make Him look bad and themselves better. Their plan involves a harsh Old Testament law, an adulteress, and a confrontation. He, of course, foils their plan, convicting them of their own hypocrisy, and displaying the wondrous mercy of God on repentant sinners.
Our story today (John 8.21-59) is the intense conversation that takes place between Jesus and the crowd of Jews around Him who had just watched the Pharisees bested, and the adulteress sent away with mercy.
Jesus, taking advantage of the opportunity and the conversation that had just taken place about sin, tells the crowd that they, too, have a sin problem that will bring death, and that belief in Him is the solution (John 8.21, 24). At this point, having seen and heard Jesus interact with the Pharisees, the adulteress, and themselves, some in the crowd begin to move toward belief in Him (John 8.30). He tells them that this belief is only proved out as real belief by continued obedience, that this obedience will help them fully grasp the truth, and that grasping the truth will bring them to true freedom (John 8.31-32).
Their response, which indicates a lack of actually genuine belief, is to bring up their ethnic relationship with Abraham (John 8.33). After all, since they are Jews they are already innately free, automatically on their way to Heaven on the basis of their ethnic descent from Abraham. This concept, known as 'the merits of the fathers', purportedly had Abraham sitting at the door of hell to turn around any Jew who accidentally went that way in the afterlife. In other words, Jews were going to Heaven because they were Jews.
Jesus completely disagrees with them, and insists that they are still in the bondage of their personal sin, and that He is the only answer (John 8.34, 36). At this point, tackling the subject of Abraham head on, He tells them that their ethnicity brings them no merit at all. They may be physically related to Abraham, but they aren't spiritually in the same family with Abraham, and the proof is that twice in the last three days they've tried to kill Him (John 8.37, 39, 40). Thus, in trying to murder Him, they had revealed themselves to be actually related, not to Abraham, but to the devil (John 8.41).
In response, they assert their relationship with God, claiming to be God's children (John 8.41). Jesus tells them that if God really were their father they would accept Him (John 8.42, 44). He is being brutal here, but first of all, they needed the truth, and second of all, they had been trying to kill Him. He is done mincing words. He is seeking, at whatever cost, to bring them to see the sin inside of themselves, and to see Him as the only solution. He tells them that the evidence that what He is saying is the truth is His own sinless life (John 8.46).
They continue to reject His claims with the excuse long ago dreamed up by the Pharisees that He was possessed by the devil (John 8.48).
At this point, Jesus takes a different tack. He shifts the conversation in the direction of eternal life, which appeals to people, and says that He is the only way to get it, 'If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death' (John 8.51). The Jews in the crowd think that is preposterous. After all, even Abraham and the prophets, clearly believers in and belonging to God, died (John 8.52). Jesus calmly informs them that, actually, Abraham was quite happy about seeing Jesus finally come to Israel. 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad' (John 8.56). Of course, this is completely true. Abraham wasn't dead. He was alive in Heaven. And he was watching the unfolding drama of redemption, to use Graham Scroggie's wonderful phrase, on Earth below.
With this statement of Jesus' the rebellious Jews think they finally have Him. After all, how could Jesus have possibly seen or spoken to Abraham? 'Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?' (John 8.57).
Jesus' answer is, literally, immortal. 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am' (John 8.58).
In phrasing His answer this way, Jesus is carefully and explicitly making a claim to divinity in two different ways. First, by claiming to be eternal. The only way He could possibly be standing in front of the Jews in the Temple in AD 33 and also have existed prior to Abraham's life on earth two millennia prior was if He was eternal (Micah 5.2). And if He was eternal then He was God.
Secondly, in choosing the phrase 'I am' He consciously named Himself what Jehovah in the Torah had named Himself. 'And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say unto me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you' (Exodus 3.13-14).
There is an utterly ridiculous collection of theologians who assert that Jesus never claimed to be God. These intellectually dishonest and unscrupulous heretics claim that the only reason Christians hold such a doctrine now is because the claim to deity was foisted upon Jesus, posthumously, by overly zealous followers. In so doing, they think to excuse themselves from having to believe in the deity of Christ. In reality all they have done is excused themselves right out of Heaven and right into hell.
The stubborn facts are that Jesus plainly claimed to be God in the flesh, and that He did so repeatedly, and our story today is one of the clearest examples of it in the whole of His ministry.
It is proven by the flow of conversation which I have painstakingly lain out for you. It is proven by the reference to being eternal. It is proven by His specific claiming of the hallowed name of God. But it is also proven by the reaction of the Jews in that crowd that day. 'Then took they up stones to cast at him' (John 8.59). That crowd of Jews well knew that Jesus had just claimed to be God, and their emotional reaction to what they regarded as blasphemy was another attempt on His life.
Either Jesus is Who He said He was – or He is a complete and total fraud. There is no middle ground. In this story alone He claimed to be the truth, the way to eternal life, perfectly sinless, and God come in the flesh.
…and on whether you believe that or not hangs everything.