“I am…” (8:48-59)

I am

John 8 feels like one big long argument between Jesus and the Jewish people that seemed hell bent on discrediting him and all that he was teaching. This is of course because Jesus has been making claims that he is the one sent from God, and, in the last passage, he has even called into question their very identity as descendants of Abraham. In this particular passage the dispute, which has been raging through the chapter, rises to a jaw dropping climactic moment when Jesus pretty much seals his fate by uttering two tiny words.

You will remember that Jesus previously had said that if these believers fully believed him, and were truly his disciples that they would experience the truth and the truth would set them free. That particular passage ended with Jesus saying that the reason they could not make sense of what he was saying was that they did not really know God. It is fair to say that Jesus had insulted them in that exchange and so it is unsurprising that this next section opens up with them returning the insult: “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

Jesus does not rise to their bait in the exchange and chooses instead to continue to try and prove to them/convince them that he is who he says he is – God’s sent one. He takes his argument a stage further in this passage. He is no longer simply saying that following him will set you free. Now Jesus is saying that if these folks follow him and obey his word will never taste death. This was way too much for the feeble minds of these Jewish followers to conceive. No one can get out of tasting death. No-one – not even the heroes of their tradition had avoided death – Abraham, all the prophets…all of them had succumbed to death just like every other human. What Jesus was saying now was too much for them. Who on earth did Jesus think he was?

Again, Jesus does not rise to the point they are making. He simply continues to offer his testimony. Jesus is under no pressure here. His only work is to glorify God, and that is all that he seeks to do. Again taunts them by questioning whether or not they really do know God in the way their father, Abraham, knew God. Abraham rejoiced at hearing from God – but they cannot even seem to hear God through what Jesus is saying. They cannot even seem to fathom that God might be right there with them in this moment.

Then comes the crescendo moment. These followers have absolutely had enough. This young teacher/preacher is going too far. And what can he know about Abraham anyway: “You are not yet 50 years old…and you have seen Abraham.”

The next words of Jesus are huge:

“Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!”

In my mind, as I imagine the last two words of that sentence being uttered I imagine it being a complete sucker punch to the Jewish descendants of Abraham. There is a silence that only lasts for a couple of seconds, but seems to last for an eternity. Did he really just say that? Did he really just self reference himself as “I am”? Does he know how serious a claim that is? Does he know how blasphemous that is?

Yes.

Yes he does.

For any human to claim that they are God was too much. “I am” was the name God used for God-self in the the Exodus story. To even utter the words was considered blasphemous. So you can imagine the utter shock of this moment, and you can understand why these men picked up stones and were ready to kill Jesus there and then.

Why would Jesus say this?

Because Jesus is who he says he is.

Jesus is the word of God made flesh.
Jesus is the light in the darkness.
Jesus is the living water.
Jesus is the bread of life.
Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus is the Messiah sent by God.

Jesus is who he says he is and that means Jesus has the power to do what he came to do: heal the sick, bind up the broken, announce, enact, and embody the kingdom of God, save the lost, defeat death, and cancel the power of sin.

The fact that Jesus is who he says he is is exceedingly good news for us all. Will you believe him today?

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Can I get a witness…? (5:31-47)

witnessI was sat in our local Pastors Prayer meeting this morning – each week anywhere between 20 and 40 of us gather together from all manner of traditions and backgrounds from within Christianity to pray for our community. Anyway, I was sat there this morning and the appointed leader of our group was taking us through the steps of what we were to do during our time together. Today he had prepared a passage of Scripture for us on a piece of paper, and he was inviting us to spend about 20 mins in silence as we each read the Scripture and listened for God’s voice in the passage. Then we would come back together and use the things we had heard as we spent time in the passage as the source material for our prayers. As he led us he stopped at one point and asked the question : Can I get a witness? This is a phrase which might commonly be heard coming from preachers mouths in the midst of any church service. A preacher will use this question as a means of checking that a congregation is still with him or her and following what is being said. Either that or the preacher is using the question as a means of waking the congregation up a little – I’ll let you decide! Seriously though, when a preacher uses this question it is giving the community that is listening the opportunity to agree with or corroborate what the preacher is saying at that particular moment.

Having a witness or witnesses to back up the claims we make is important. Whether claims are being made in a sermon in church or by an individual testifying in a criminal court – if we do not have someone or some evidence to prove that what we are saying is the truth then any testimony simply becomes “he said/she said.” or “my word against yours,” and the truth proves impossible to find.

Jesus has just made a staggering claim before the Jewish leaders – a claim that could get him in a lot of trouble with them. He has made the claim that he is God’s own son, or, as would be understood in that culture, that he is equal with God. This is a claim which must be backed up by evidence, and Jesus knows this.

That’s why John includes the todays passage.

Jesus knows that in a case of his word against anyone else’s word there is no grounds for his claim to be believed.
But Jesus has got evidence.
Jesus has got witnesses.

His first witness was John the Baptist, as John the author has already pointed out in the prologue:

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.”

John had been accepted by and large as a man of God who also had a message from God. In modern parlance you might say that John was a respected religious leader whose authority on all things spiritual would not normally be questioned. Jesus is making the point to the Jewish leaders that he has John the Baptist in his corner as a witness and corroborator of the claims that he is making about himself:

“You sent to John and he has testified to the truth”

 

The ministry of John the Baptist had been to point to the one who was to come from God.
John the Baptist had seen Jesus and exclaimed, “Look! The Lamb of God!”

Jesus has John the Baptist as a witness to back up the claims that he is making about himself.

But that is not all.

Jesus has a testimony that is even “weightier” than John’s, namely the works that he is doing, having been sent by the Father to do them. He has turned the water into wine at Cana. He has met with a Samaritan woman, told her everything about herself and offered her living water and new life. He has healed the man who has been sick and waiting by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years. In pointing to these things Jesus is asking the question of his doubters: If this power, if these acts are not of God, then where or who are they from? And if they are from God then are they not proof that what Jesus is saying to you might just be the truth?

Jesus has indeed got witnesses, and still the people who have been waiting for him, and who are watching him act do not believe him.

“He came to his own and his own would not receive him”

Jesus then meets their accusations of him with an accusation of his own when he tells them that they do not even appear to believe in the things that they profess to believe in. These people have built their lives around the law that came through Moses – they are good, law abiding, ritual-observing people no doubt, yet they have absolutely and completely missed the spirit of that same law. Where this not the case then these observers would have no problem accepting the testimony of Jesus and the witnesses he has to back it up. As Tom Wright puts it:

 

“…they don’t know the God they profess to believe in. They have not truly seen [God] or heard [God]. [God’s] word finds no place in them.”

 

“He came to his own and his own would not receive him”

The worrying thing in all this is that these deniers were the religious people of the time and place. They were the ones who were seemingly engaged in the story of God; who were attentive to the ways of the Divine.

They believed the story of God in their lives.
They practiced the rituals of God in the Temple.
They knew the word of God in their minds.

Yet when God showed up among them in Christ, they could not recognize him.

I can’t help but wonder if me and the rest of the religious people of today’s world might be in a similar boat, which is where this text speaks to us today.

Jesus has said who he is – God’s son; the Chosen One; the Light of the World.
Jesus has witnesses (‘a great cloud of them’) to back up his claims.

The only question for us is this one: What will we do with him?

In his day, and as we have seen in these opening 5 chapters, when folks were faced with the full story of who Jesus is they had to make a decision to either reject him or follow him. Following Jesus led to a new life being transformed from the inside out (4:14). Rejecting him meant doing nothing and experiencing nothing new (when you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got!). In our own days the choice is still the same and the results of that choice are still the same.

So what will you do?