I Am “I AM” A Synopsis of the Sermon of 14 June 2020 On John 8:31-59
This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for June 14. I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.
I have been preaching through the discourses of Jesus as recorded in John’s Gospel. In particular we have been zeroing in on three questions:
What did Jesus say about who He was? What was the central message He was bringing from God? What was He asking His audience to do in response to that message?
Today we look at the discourse in John 8:31-58. As we do, we must remember when this conversation occurred. Jesus had come to Jerusalem to observe the “Fall Feasts” (see chapter 7:2 and following). He is still in Jerusalem all the way through chapter 9:41, and possibly all the way to chapter 10:21. Jesus is about half way through His three and a half year ministry. His ministry emphasis is shifting during this Jerusalem visit from preaching to the crowds and encouraging them to follow Him, to teaching His followers and instructing them in how to follow Him.
In addition to the crowds & followers, He also has a third “audience” listening to Him. They are His opponents, the scribes and Pharisees, who were the teachers of the law, and the Sadducees and priests, who ran the Temple. Both these groups were threatened by Jesus’ message, and were already plotting how to rid themselves of Him (5:18, 7:1).
Our discourse begins with Jesus instructing His followers on “freedom” from the “slavery of sin.” Read John 8:31-38. The big idea of this paragraph is the teaching that the followers of Jesus were freed from slavery to sin by knowing “the truth.” The audience asks, “What does this mean?” The phrase “they answered” (NIV, our pew Bible, vs 33) is ambiguous. Are the disciples asking how this freedom works? Or are the opponents sarcastically attacking what He is saying? Perhaps both are true.
Jesus goes on to explain that a slave has “no say” or part in household affairs. The NIV says “no permanent place” in the house. They merely do as they are ordered to do. After all, they are slaves, not “householders.” In contrast a “son” has power to “run” the household affairs. The son even has power to set a slave free, if he wishes to do so. The analogy is this: All men are born “slaves” to sin. They end up doing what sin wants them to do. Those who have “received” Christ (remember John 1:11-12) have the “right” or “authority” to become sons! As a follower of Christ, the Son, it is no longer necessary for us to live under the power or authority of sin. By knowing this truth about “The Truth,” Jesus Christ, the follower of Christ is enabled to live above sin, not enslaved to sin! This could be a sermon all in itself.
However, His opponents take over the discussion in John 8:39-47. They immediately retort that they are “children of Abraham.” They are trusting in their heritage as a means of pleasing God, not unlike many people in America today. We think that because we were born in America, we are good with God. Or because we went to church as a child, perhaps even were baptized, God is accepting us on the basis of our parents’ or grandparents’ faith.
Jesus argues back that these are in reality, not children of Abraham, because they are not “doing” the works Abraham did! This is a reference back to Genesis 15:6, “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” This, again, is the repeated theme of John’s record of Jesus’ discourses. “Belief” in Jesus is essential to receiving salvation from God.
The opponents immediately retort, “We are not illegitimate children. . .” Implied in that statement is that Jesus Himself was not a true son of Abraham, because He really did not know who His father was! After all, His opponents had looked long and hard at ways to discredit Him. No doubt they had heard the “tales” from Jesus’ home town of how a little peasant girl had suddenly left home to visit a cousin in Judah, and three months later came back pregnant! The stories of the visitation of an angel and the birth being a divine event was as laughable then as it would be if someone told it in our world today. Jesus once again tells them that He is indeed from Heaven with a message from God. However, Jesus claims these opponents of His cannot hear Him, because they are sons of the Devil, not true sons of Abraham. He then dares them (in vs 45) to show any sin He has committed. If the Pharisees and Sadducees had a charge against Jesus, they would have leveled it there and then, in the presence of all the people on the Temple floor. But no charge is forthcoming, only another accusation.
Now read John 8:48-59. The opponents, rather than point out even one sin, accuse Jesus, of not only being illegitimate, but being a “Samaritan,” a polite term for “half-breed,” and a Demon possessed one at that! The proof of the accusation of illegitimacy would exclude Jesus from Temple worship. Being half-gentile would even exclude Him from entry onto the Temple proper, and exclude Him from participation in the synagogue services. These were serious accusations.
Jesus denies all of the accusation, and promises life to all who “obey” His word (they “will not see death,” 8:51). His opponents use these very words against Jesus. “You must be demon possessed, after all, Abraham and the prophets are all dead!” (my paraphrase). In modern English, we might say “you, Jesus, are insane!” And that my friends is the crux of the entire argument. Jesus was either who He said He was, or He was an insane lunatic.
Jesus, of course, is speaking of life beyond physical death, not of escaping dying in this life. He continues by telling that He had seen Abraham. And Abraham had rejoiced to see “His (Jesus’) day,” an expression referring to a birthday. The opponents are now furious. “You are not yet 50 yrs old (the age of retirement for Priests and others in that day), and you are saying you have seen Abraham?”
Jesus now makes the most profound statement about who He is. “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (8:58). The religious leaders of that day knew exactly what He was claiming. Way back in Exodus 3:13-15, Moses was being charged with the duty of delivering the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Moses asked God, what name he should use for the “God of your fathers” who would deliver the people from Egypt. God replies, “I AM WHO I AM, This is what you are to say to Israel, I AM has sent me to you” (Ex 3:14). Previously John points out that Jesus had made statements “making Himself equal to God” (5:18 et al). Here He goes even further, claiming Himself to be God Himself. The Jesus we worship is not just another religious leader or social reformer. He is God Himself. If we follow Him, we must accept the fact that He is who He said He is. When we do so, we “receive” Him by “believing” in Him, we will have eternal life, just as He promised. Only two days before He made the promise “Come to me and drink” (7:37). However, there is no middle ground. Either Jesus is who He says He is, or He is a lunatic. It is up to each of us to decide where we stand with Him. May we all chose to believe.
CH Jim Odell