Before Abraham Was, I Am
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on July 3, 2016
Open your Bibles to John 8:39-58. Today ends the study of Jesus’ tumultuous return to Jerusalem during the Festival of the Booths. If you recall we started examining these accounts at the beginning of John 7. The Apostle John has chosen this specific encounter between Jesus and the Jews of Jerusalem to flesh out some massive realities of who Christ is. Why? Well, let us not forget what the primary purpose of this Gospel is. In John 20:31 the Apostle John states, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his named.” John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was led to spend substantial time focusing on the Feast of the Tabernacles because Jesus was proclaiming significant truths about who he is, such as in John 7:37-38, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” And then in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” And then in John 8:31, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And then in verse 36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
As we reminded ourselves last week, the Jewish officers were correct when they said in John 7:46, “No one ever spoke like this man!” Jesus was speaking with authority, he spoke with great confidence about who he was and his purpose in this world. And as we said the main message of Jesus’ sermons was not religion, it was not sacraments, it was not liturgy, the main message was himself. He placed himself in the center of the Festival of the Booths, and proclaimed himself as central to humanities existence.
And as I said, His Words were creating quite a stir. He was rocking the religious boat of the religious class. The Jewish leaders did not like this outsider proclaiming this new Gospel and disrupting their festival, their tradition, their religion.
Today we will close out this fascinating and tense conversation and we will see the climax of truth and with it, the climax of persecution. So let us read our text, pray, and examine what the Lord has for us today.
John 8:39-58 – “They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 48The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52The 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.’ 53Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54Jesus answered,“If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’c 55But 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. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
In verse 48 we see the phrase, “the Jews.” Let’s begin by understanding who Jesus is having a conversation with. Who are the Jews? Look back in verse 33 and we can see how they define themselves, “We are offspring of Abraham.” Then again in verse 39, “Abraham is our father.” What does that mean? It means to be a biological Jew is to be a biological descendent of Abraham.
Abraham was the man who existed around 2000 B.C. whom God chose out of the world to be the Father of the Hebrew nation. We see this event in Genesis 12:2 when God says to Abraham, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Jesus, in verse 37, acknowledges their biology, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham.” Jesus does not deny the physical realities of who they are, but Jesus is not focused on the physical he is focused on the spiritual, for he goes on to say in verse 44, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”
These are some explosive words spoken by Jesus. He just called his own people, the Jews, children of Satan. This is not seeker friendly, this is the cold, hard, blunt truth and he is proclaiming it, not behind closed doors but in the heart Jerusalem and to the face of those he accuses.
Why can Jesus claim they are children of Satan? Let me ask you, have you ever looked at a child and said, “You look just like your Father.” Of course you have. My children have a similarity to their features that match mine. I have passed those physical traits on to them. They bare my mark. It was the same for the Jews, they did not bare the spiritual marks of Abraham, instead they bore the spiritual marks of Satan.
So what are the traits of Satan? Our text tells us that he was a murder from the beginning. What does this mean? In Genesis 3 we see the first appearance of Satan, and what is he attempting to do? Kill Adam and Eve through temptation. We see him again in the book of Job and what is he doing? He kills all of Job’s family, and would kill Job also if God would allow him. We see him again in 1 Chronicles 21 when “Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” What was the result of this sin of David? God killed 70,000 men. Satan’s goal is to murder humanity. As Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Satan has an insatiable desire for the blood of man.
We are also told that he does not stand in the truth. What does that mean? Very simple. It means that truth has its boundaries, and Satan is not found within those boundaries. He operates outside of truth. But not only does he not stand in the truth, we are told there is no truth in him. There is not reservoir of truth that he can draw from when he does or says something. Don't get me wrong, he masquerades in the truth, tryin to lure you into death, but ultimately He stands in lies, contains lies, and is the Father of lies. These are his characteristics.
And this is what Jesus sees when he pears into the heart of the Jews that he is addressing. He sees a heart that does not stand in truth, a heart does not contain truth, a heart that does not speak truth, and ultimately a murderous heart. Perhaps the people of Israel do not see it, but Jesus sees it and does very well in drawing it out of them at the Feast of the Booths. For the proclamation of the Gospel produced quite a response from the Jews.
First, we see in verse 41 a backhanded comment about Jesus’ birth, “We were not born of sexual immorality.” Most likely these Jewish leaders were eluding to Jesus' mysterious birth. As we know Jesus was born by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Jews were spreading the lie that Mary was promiscuous before her marriage to Joseph. They then called him a Samaritan. If you recall, to a Jew there was not a more derogatory remark then to be called a Samaritan. Then they claimed he had a demon. Verse 52, “Now we know that you have a demon!” If you recall, this was not the first time this accusation has been lodged against Jesus. In John 7:20 the crowd said the same thing. Most likely the Jewish leaders are the ones who came up with this explanation as to why he had such miraculous powers. With each statement, they displayed their heart, they displayed their traits. They were spiritually not of Abraham, but of Satan. And then ultimately, Jesus pulls back the curtain of their hearts and says, “before Abraham was, I am.” And what do they do? They did just what their father would do, picked up stones to throw at him. They wanted to murder God. They were a chip off the old block. Their actions were proof of who they really were.
As the light of Christ shown in their eyes they did everything they could to put it out. John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” In my day job as an attorney, I always say that my best witness is always the accused. Eventually, they will show their true colors. This is true then and this is true now. Your lives and how you live them will be the evidence that proves who you follow. Satan or Christ.
The Mark of Abraham
And the Jews behavior stands in stark contrast with how Abraham would have acted. If you look back to Abram’s commission in Genesis 12 that I read to you earlier, what is interesting is Abram’s response, Genesis 12:4 “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” Abraham was obedient to the Word of the Lord. He did not mock, slander, or see God's Word as demonic, he submitted to God’s Word. He obeyed. This was the mark of Abraham.
Perhaps you do not realize this, but Abraham is a significant figure in the Muslim faith. He is considered one of their patriarchs. Tradition of Isalm considers him the Pioneer of Islam. The word Muslim means “one who submits” and to the Muslim faith they see Abraham as the archetype of the perfect Muslim, one who submits. In September they have a holiday commemorating Abraham’s submission to God’s when God command him to sacrifice Isaac. This is called Eid al-Adha (the festival of the Sacrifice) and according to Wikipedia it is the holiest Muslim holiday, even before Ramadan.
This is interesting. Just think about it. Christianity, Judiasm, and Islam all trace their biblical roots back to Abraham. We should not be surprised by this, for God ordain this. We read about it in Genesis 17:4 when God said to Abraham, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.”
The Muslims, like the Jews, consider Abraham to be their father. But likewise, they like the Jews in this passage, are of their father the devil, not Abraham. Why? Because they are putting their faith in something other than Jesus. In this moment, as we speak Abraham's body is buried some place in Israel. Abraham cannot save them from their sin. He can not reconcile them to God. He is just a man, born under the same sin as they are.
And Abraham knew this better than anyone. He knew that he was not the end, but was merely the means to the end. God made this very clear to Abraham when God reconfirmed the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 22:18, “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” Who is this offspring? It is Jesus. This is what Jesus is saying when he says, “our father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Abraham did not put his hope in himself. He put his hope in the coming Christ. He knew the first Gospel promise that was given to Adam and Eve in the garden about the seed of Eve crushing the head of the great Serpent, Satan. And he knew that he played a part in the continuation of the promise. The Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:16 reinforces this understanding, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.”
Before Abraham Was, I Am
So how is it that Abraham is a means to an end, but his offspring, Jesus Christ is not a means, but the end itself? Why is Jesus different that Father Abraham? Why is he greater than all the prophets who have died before? Verse 58, “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Abraham is limited by time. He had a beginning. As I stated, that beginning was around 2000 B.C. Jesus on the other hand has no beginning. He is always existing, always present. Why? Because Jesus is not just a man. He is not just a prophet. He is God.
It is no accident that Jesus uses the two words, “I am” too explain this point. These two words in Jewish culture have significant meaning. In fact they are the two most significant words in the entire Jewish vocabulary. Why? Because those two words are reserved for God. “I Am” is the way in which God describes Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”a And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” He is saying very clearly he is God.
Make no mistake, the Jews who heard him knew exactly what he meant. How do we know this? Look at their response. Verse 59, “So they picked up stones to throw at him.” They were going to kill him on the spot because he made himself equal with God. We have already seen this once before in John 5:18 when it says, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” Jesus now upped the ante. Anyone who takes the position hat Jesus never claimed divinity is either ignorant of what the Bible says, or is just not being intellectually honest with the text. The truth is that Jesus is God, and he came and proclaimed that truth to everyone within earshot. And to believe in Christ means to believe in his eternality.
You Shall Never See Death
But this leads us to the so what question of every sermon. Who cares? How does this truth effect us? Jesus answers that question in verse 51, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Because Jesus is more than a prophet, because he is more than a man, because he is God (the Author of Life), he has the power to save us from our biggest problem, sin and death. Abraham cannot do it. Moses cannot do it. David cannot do it. Muhammed cannot do it. Buddha cannot do it. Your religion cannot do it. Only Jesus, the I Am can deliver us from death. How? By submitting to His Word. What is His Word? It is the Gospel that we spoke of last week. Believing in his sinless life, his death on the cross, his resurrection, and his ascension back to the Glory he had with his Father. Before time began Submitting to this truth overcomes your greatest enemy, sin and death, and gives you life everlasting.
And let us be abundantly clear. Christ is able. Jesus does not need anyone's help, including yours. Repenting and trusting in the blood of the cross is what it takes to have eternal life. The Gospel of John cannot be more clear on this subject. We have seen this time and time again as we have studied the Bible. Faith alone. Grace alone. Christ alone.
And this reality leads back to where we ended last week. Verse 32, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Not only does Christ set you free from sin and death, but he frees you to live without fear. If we are not afraid to die, than we are free to live sold out for Christ. The last fiery dart of Satan, death, is put out with the shield of faith. We can live like our Savior, standing in the midst of the greatest of enemies and without fear proclaim the glories of Christ. Why? Because we can say confidently say as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 15:55, ““O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
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