“Before Abraham Was, I AM”

Before Abraham Was, I AM

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 8:51-59

Introduction:

Last week we examined the concept of “finding freedom in Christ:” finding ourselves freed daily from the continuing destructive power of sin in our lives, as well as gaining permanent freedom from the eternal penalty of sin. We were able to determine that only believers were eligible for either of those two aspects of freedom. And it follows that only people who have been freed from the penalty of sin, so that they no longer face condemnation from God, will also find the eternal freedom from the presence of sin, which will be enjoyed by all believers.

Security in Eternal Freedom

So, the eternal freedom from the penalty of sin, which was granted to you the moment you believed, is yours forever. The eternal freedom from the presence of Sin, is also ours, guaranteed, in the presence of the Lord, but we will not experience it in this life: so long as we still possess our sin natures, the presence of sin and the problem of sin will persist.

But the freedom from the power of sin, experienced in our lives today, is what Jesus was inviting the believing Jews (in verse 30) to learn and experience. He told them that if they continued in His Word, they would become His true disciples: He told them that they would experientially know (“ginosko”) the Truth (which turned out to be Himself) and that He would make them free. We saw that concept reiterated in verse 36, where He said that the Son would make them free.

Rejecting Freedom and Dishonoring God

We also saw that, while the believing Jews may have rejoiced in His promise, the Pharisees who were also precent, were offended by His promise of freedom.

Jesus spoke to them, saying that if they had been “of God,” (as they claimed to be) they would have received Him and honored Him, because He was of God. But since they were not of God, they could not receive the words He spoke. And they dishonored Him, in spite of His truth.

Who do You Honor?

John 8:48-50

48 Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? 49 Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. 50 And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth.

One has to consider, even as a believer, whether one’s words and actions honor the Lord. Years ago, a man who professed to be a believer, and even a bible teacher, suggested some rather “Madison-avenue” ways he advocated for the church or for missionaries to raise money for the ministry. I expressed my feeling of repugnance toward such actions, and he replied, “The bottom line, Chet, is that it works!”  

What is the “Bottom Line,” for Believers?

I was still uncomfortable with that reply, but, as he was much older, and in a position of some honor, I kept my thoughts to myself, as I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was bothering me. Hours later, as his comments echoed in my mind, I realized, that whether something “works” or not should never be the “bottom line” for believers.

The “bottom line,” for believers, has to be the question, “Does it Honor God?!” It has never been the church’s mission to make money, and things that “smell like the World” should be viewed with deep suspicion, and considered very carefully, before engaging in such practices. There are many practices which, while perfectly legal, are still immoral, and never honoring to God.

The people to whom Jesus directed this rebuke were not believers. They claimed to be followers of God: they were the well-respected “pious businessmen” of their day: the “religious professionals,” just short of the priesthood. But they were deliberately dishonoring a man who was honoring God with His life.

That behavior revealed who they really were! We need to carefully avoid doing anything like this, for whatever reason. We don’t want to “trash-talk” other people, whether for political reasons or any other reason. It does not Honor God to do so.

Honoring God through Obedience

Jesus did not seek glory or honor or wealth. He sought to carry out the directives of the Father. Remember John chapter 4: When Jesus entered Samaria, and stopped while the disciples went into the city of Sychar to buy food, he was already on the edge of behavior the Jewish leaders would hate. When He publicly held a conversation with a Samaritan woman, He was crossing the line! Even His disciples were astonished at that behavior! But His motivation became clear, when He said, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work!”

Jesus had not been trying to gain social standing, or the favors of the religious authorities. He was not seeking His own honor, either, but rather, that of the Father. And there in John 4:1-42, the immediate result was the salvation of many lost souls in Sychar.

Had the Pharisees realized that Jesus sought no personal honor, but sought only to please and honor God, it should have changed their attitude toward Jesus. But they hated Him and just wanted Him silenced. They were absolutely not interested in what he was teaching, except that they felt it constituted a threat to them.

If a Man Keep My Saying, He shall Never see Death

John 8:51-53

51 Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. 52 Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. 53 Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?

Jesus made the “blanket statement” that whoever kept His word would never die. The Pharisees now seized upon His promise of eternal life, and said again that Jesus must be demon-possessed.

They pointed out that Abraham and all the patriarchs and prophets were dead. Their point was that if all the “greats” of the faith had died, what was He claiming for himself?

How could He promise that if someone kept His Word, they would never die?

The Promise of Eternal Life

Remember, back in John 3:16, Jesus had promised that “whoever believed in Him would not perish but would have eternal life.” Again, in John 5:24, He had said “whoever heard His word and believed on Him who had sent Him, had eternal life immediately.” In John 4:14 and John 7:37, 38, he had promised the indwelling Holy Spirit, who would become a “fountain of living water, springing up within the believers.” So, this was nothing new, really. But they seized upon His Word, and challenged Him again.

54 Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: 55 Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying.

So, Jesus took them back to the issue of Honor: He said, “if I were to honor myself, it would be valueless.” But He said that the Father was honoring Him. He reminded them of what He had told them earlier, that they did not have a relational knowledge of God, but that He Himself did have that personal, relational, and experiential knowledge of God. He concluded that if he were to knuckle under and imply that He was no different than they, not knowing God, personally, then He would make Himself a liar “…like unto you!” (It is starting to get personal, here!)

Before Abraham Was, I AM

Jesus went on to say that the patriarch Abraham had rejoiced to see my day” (the day of Christ.) Abraham was a prophet, and he had seen the coming deliverance. He had rejoiced, to see that day coming. Further, Abraham had seen Jesus, face-to-face! (Remember the meal of beef, bread and butter, and milk?) He had conversed with Him personally, and addressed Him as the Judge of all the Earth! But Jesus only said,

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.

Abraham knew Jesus, walked with Him, obeyed Him. and rejoiced in His promises and presence.

57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?

Of course, the Jews were incensed by that statement, too, and they derided Jesus, saying, “You aren’t even fifty years old, yet! How can you claim to have seen Abraham?”

58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

What did Jesus Mean?

Now, in today’s English, we might have simply thought it was bad grammar, and that Jesus was failing to maintain the correct past-tense in the sentence. He began by saying, “before Abraham was” (which clearly is a past-tense condition) but ended by using a strictly present-tense statement of self-existence.  (Did the Jews question His grammar?)

Nope! They took up stones, intending to stone Him to death, for what was clearly blasphemy. They knew Jesus was using the eternal “I AM,” by which the Old Testament God had identified Himself to Moses. They saw that He used it as if He Himself were God! And, the fact is, that is exactly what He was doing! The Pharisees had no question about His intent! They knew that He had just claimed to be the God of Israel!

Seven statements in St. John

When Jesus had earlier claimed to be the Light of the World, they had missed the point: They did not realize that, for Him to be the Light of the World,  He had to be the light of the Gentiles as well as the Light of Israel. He had to be far more than just a carpenter and an itinerant street-preacher.

When He had claimed to be the “Bread of Life that came down from Heaven,” they were offended, but still did not make the connection that He was claiming to be not only their sustenance but their sustainer!

This is only the beginning, as there are five more heavy identifiers which He will use in the Gospel of John, regarding Himself. But this one makes His overall intent very clear: He definitely is claiming to be the God of Israel, in the flesh, and is confronting them face-to-face!

And that is how they understood it, too! Couldn’t they have applied Isaiah 7:14, where the prophecy reads that the child born of the virgin shall be called Immanuel? (meaning “God with us!”)  But they gave no thought to whether what He said was true: they only wanted to silence Him and to kill Him. That proved all His estimation of “who they were” and “what the intent of their hearts was,” to be clearly the truth!

59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

They still were not able to carry out their murderous intent. He was still the One in control, and His time had not yet come.

Who are We dealing with, here?

I think we tend to forget who Jesus really is, ourselves. Though we never slander Him, we seldom think of Him as being identical to the God who parted the Red Sea and drowned the entire Egyptian Army. We seldom see Jesus as the One who spoke the World into existence, and who created everything in it, completely by His own authority, and from His own, limitless imagination.

And, even when we briefly consider these things, we may momentarily rejoice at His creativity and power, but we still feel free to “go do our own thing,” whenever the notion hits. Somehow we still feel that we are “free moral agents,” and that we are under no absolute obligation to follow the will of our Creator, Savior, and God. (But we are under just that obligation!)

What Manner of Man?

When Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples in the boat had feared for their lives before He acted, but they were more afraid, afterward: They asked, “what manner of man is He, that even the wind and the waves obey Him?”

And yet, after He had stated His will for their lives, and after His death, burial and resurrection, most of them (in John 21) had decided to go back to commercial fishing. Jesus called them away from the fish for the last time, and redirected their thoughts to His command.

After they received the Holy Spirit, in Acts chapter 2, they seem to never have lost sight of the objective anymore. They all seem to have faithfully walked with Him after that.

So, What about Us?

Each of us already has been born again. Each of us already has been indwelt by the Holy Spirit: So, why are we still so easily distracted? Why do the things of the world so easily entangle us?

In Hebrews 12:1, 2, the writer begs us to consider all those that have gone before us, and take their example:

Hebrews 12:1, 2,

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The great cloud of witnesses he mentions are the whole group named, or alluded to, in the previous chapter. It was not that they are “watching us”, as “witnesses” of our behavior, but rather, that they have all testified to us. They testify as witnesses of what God can do in the lives of believers who are committed to His will. And, on the basis of their testimonies, he commands us to “lay aside every weight.”—”Get rid of anything holding you back, just as a competitive runner would lay aside any heavy clothing or baggage, in order to run well.”

What is Holding You Back?

But he also calls us to lay aside the “sin that so easily besets us.” What is there in our lives that regularly trips us up? What passions do we regularly obey, that are detrimental to our obedience to Christ? These are questions for self-examination. I point no finger at anyone, except myself. And yet, the command is there for us all to see.

Finally, He commands us to “Look to Jesus, the Author and finisher of our faith.” Take Him for our example of commitment and obedience. He says that it was “for the Joy that was set before Him” that he “endured the Cross, despising the shame” of that Cross, and, as the eternal champion, He has “sat down on the right hand of the throne of God” the Father.

Get in the Race!

He calls us to emulate His example: not just sit on the sidelines, and wave flags and cheer. We are to enter the race ourselves and run!

The Pharisees to whom He spoke were his enemies. Most of them would never believe in Him. But there were believers in the group, and those were the ones to whom He extended the invitation to walk with him and learn from Him, and be set free from their sins by His power in their lives.

That invitation has been extended to us, as well. We need to answer that invitation daily, follow Him, and reap the benefits He promised.

Lord Jesus, stir our hearts to follow You, and to follow Your example. Teach us to look for Your will, and listen for Your voice, Teach us to read Your Word, seeing Your face in the pages, and obey Your commands faithfully. Make us the Men and Women of God You have called us to be.

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