Wednesday, May 7, 2014
John 8:48-59 The great I AM, Part II
Yesterday we "hit rewind" and wet back to Exodus, to see God use the term "I AM" to describe Himself. Now we're back in the gospel of John, ready to dive in. Please re-read the passage if you like, to refresh your memory. (Kinda lengthy post here, hang in with me!)
Now that we're back in John, we see Jesus engaged in a spirited conversation with a crowd of fellow Jews. Some are the common folk that were drawn to Him, and others were the leaders that found Him so terribly annoying. Most of these are not His enemies; they are people who like some of the things He's been saying. They may be hopeful that He can help them. They probably consider Him to be a good teacher and a wise man.
But the more they listen to Jesus, the more upset they became (especially the leaders).And the more they listened, the clearer it became that Jesus was not going to be simply a friend or teacher, or someone who'd help them out of tight spots! He was asking for much more than that. He was asking for absolute devotion; it is what turned them against him, for they were neither understanding nor ready. In verse 48 they were so frustrated that they called Jesus a Samaritan, and even suggested he was possessed by a demon -- neither of those is a compliment! So patient . . . He responds by telling them He has no demon. At the same time, he affirms His sonship of God. He says He honors His Father, and then says, "Whoever keeps my word will never see death." He is repeating what He has told us before. He's come from God, and the Father is working through Him to bring the world back to Himself. If we trust Him, we trust the Father. And if we trust the Father, we will never die.
Wow! That should get our attention! The thing that we humans fear most -- death -- is what He promises to deliver us from. Can you blame the crowds? Here is a Jewish carpenter, Who is teaching like a rabbi, and Who has given some wonderful lessons and performed some miracles. Now He tells us He can deliver us from death!
If a person claims that they have power over death, that means that they are somehow above life and death. More powerful. In essence, they are claiming to be divine. To be God. Well, the crowds can't believe what they're hearing . . .they tell Jesus, "Now we know for sure you must be possessed by a demon. Even Abraham couldn't cheat death, and you're trying to tell us that you're greater than him? Who do you think you are?"
Hmmmmm. Funny that they should bring him up. Abraham, I mean. As Jesus tells them, Abraham rejoiced that he would see Jesus' day. "He saw it and was glad." That causes people some problems, just as it did these listeners . . . how did Abraham, living thousands of years earlier, see Christ's day and rejoice? Well, if we go back to Genesis 12, we see God making a covenant with Abraham. He was promised that if he followed God, God would make his people a great and blessed nation -- through whom God would one day bless the whole world! Abraham couldn't have begun to understand how everything would play out. But he trusted God anyway: he left his land, his family, and his former life, following God even though he had no crystal ball in which to see that one of his descendants, Mary, would lay a child in a manger -- Who came from heaven to bless the entire world. He didn't have that crystal ball, and didn't know the details, but the idea that somehow God would make this happen filled Abraham with joy.
That is what Jesus is saying. But do they "get it"?
The best comeback they have is "you aren't even 50 years old, and you say you've seen Abraham?" (It's like looking at someone today and saying, "What? Are you nuts?" Oy vey. The Truth is standing patiently in front of their eyes and they can't see Him.
So that is when Jesus lets the hammer fall on their toes. "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham, I AM."
You know how there are certain people that you must be careful around? There are certain things you can't say around them? If you say those words, you have an instant fight on your hands?
Well, as soon as the crowd hears Jesus say that, the time for dialogue is over -- it's time for picking up stones, because the Law is very specific: Leviticus 24 stated that if anybody ever blasphemed the unspeakable, holy name of God, he or she was to be immediately stoned to death.
It's almost as if during this whole conversation, the people didn't really want to believe that He was saying what He was saying. Like when we want to give a person the "benefit of the doubt" and not think the worst. But now they had no choice -- by saying those two words, I AM, Jesus is taking the very name which God first used for Himself when He spoke with Moses at the burning bush. That name was the one that no Jew would ever speak, write, or spell -- and Jesus is claiming that name for Himself!
This is a life or death declaration, then. Jesus is saying, "Where I am, there is God, there God lives, speaks, calls, asks, acts, decides, loves, chooses, forgives, rejects, hardens, suffers, dies." (Ethelbert Stauffer) In the end, this claim of His demands that we either accept His claim, and build our lives around Him, or reject His claim. We either give Him our undivided worship or we cut ourselves off from God (and all that is good, and life-giving).
Well, we know that the crowd that day rejected it, and tried to kill him.
More important is how we receive His claim today. There are a lot of people in the world today to accept Jesus as a friend. He's someone who will faithfully walk by our side and comfort us when we need a good cry. He's a life preserver we can hold on to, when we are in deep water. (Remember the bumper stickers? Jesus is my co-pilot? Doesn't He need to be our pilot?)
Is Jesus our friend? Of course. The best friend ever.
Does He comfort us? Absolutely. Like no one else can.
Can He save our lives? You know He can.
He is all of these things, but in the end, Jesus Christ is Lord. If we claim Him as less, we put ourselves in danger.
Jesus knows our tendency is to be happy with having Him as a friend, a comforting shoulder, a life preserver. But our human nature bristles a little when He says we need to submit. To accept His Lordship and His path for our lives. Let's think about that and finish up this passage tomorrow.