Sermon on John 8:48-59 – “Before Abraham”

December 29th, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text:

[Jhn 8:48-59 ESV] 48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The 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.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But 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. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

OUTLINE – 3 QUESTIONS, 3 ANSWERS, AND 3 LESSONS

Q1. A Samaritan with a demon? (v. 48)

A1: No. Jesus does not seek his own glory. (v. 49-51)

L1: Do not respond in kind.

Q2. Greater than Abraham? (v. 52-53)

A2: Jesus glorifies his Father. (v. 54-56)

L2: Your duty is to glorify God.

Q3. Just how old are you? (v. 57)

A3. “Before Abraham was, I am.” (v. 58)

L3: Jesus is eternal God.

 

INTRODUCTION

As we continue now in John’s Gospel we come to a passage that can well be divided into three questions and three answers. So it could a 3-part “Q & A” with Jesus. But for this sermon we also want to look at a lesson from each of Jesus’ answer. So we have a 3-part “Q & A … & L.” 3 questions, 3 answer, and 3 lessons. The questions come from the Jewish leaders. Jesus answers each of the questions. And we can learn much from his answers.

Q1. A SAMARITAN WITH A DEMON?

The first question of this passage that the Jewish leaders bring to Jesus is from verse 48. They ask, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

Jesus has so well answered their questions previous and so challenged them that they are unable to continue to debate with him. Just imagine trying to debate with Jesus! He always has the perfect (and right) answer! The Jewish leaders then are embarrassed and must fall back on the oldest trick in the book: insults.

While forming their statement as a question, they truly accusing Jesus of what they consider to be two of the worst things imaginable. Since Jesus has challenged their paternity as spiritually illegitimate sons of Abraham, they now call him a Samaritan – those half-Jewish neighbor-enemies to the North that they so look down upon. And then, at the same time they say that Jesus must be possessed of a demon. It is interesting that they sling these two insults together. It is like a child on the playground calling you all the names he knows so that it is impossible to respond to any of the claims.

A1: NO. JESUS DOES NOT SEEK HIS OWN GLORY.

When Jesus responds he responds only to the second accusation; that of having a demon. He doesn’t respond to the accusation of being a Samaritan. But in both cases the accusations accuse Jesus of not following God, for neither a Samaritan nor a demon follows God properly, so the Jews believe.

Since then the two accusations have the same object, when Jesus refutes ones, he refutes the others. In saying that he honors the Father, Jesus shows both (1) that he does not have a demon and (2) that he glorifies God properly.

Jesus answers, “I do not seek my own glory.”

Demons seek their own glory. Jesus honors His Father. In saying that he seeks the glory of God, Jesus says something a demon could never say. And so he proves he does not have a demon.

New Geneva Study Bible well says: “Jesus’ conduct, in honoring the Father and not seeking self-glory, is the opposite of what a demon-possessed person would do.”

This accusation that Jesus has a demon is not new. We say it earlier in John’s Gospel as well. Chapter 7, verse 20.

[Jhn 7:20-24 ESV] 20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” 21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. 22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

So the Jewish leaders are merely repeating what they’ve heard from the crowd. They are desperate.

Now, here in Jesus’ answer is also the Gospel itself. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Again we have a “Truly, truly” or “verily, verily” meaning that here is something we should pay close attention to. Jesus is continuing from the earlier dialogue. He had say “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” And there was the key word “abide” meaning to continue, to obey. Or “to keep.” And so Jesus repeats that statement here when he says “if anyone KEEPS my word, he will never see death.”

This is the Gospel message. God saves His people from eternal death and gives them the Holy Spirit so that they will walk in his paths, and KEEP his word. The keeping of God’s word does not merit salvation, but the salvation given to us in Jesus Christ then leads us to KEEP his word.

L1: DO NOT RESPOND IN KIND

I’ve skipped over part of Jesus’ answer, which now is fitting to address as a lesson from this Q&A.

The first part of Jesus’ answer is simply “no.” He says “I do not have a demon.”

But Jesus did not reply in kind to their malicious charges. As 1 Peter 2:23 tells us, “While being reviled, He did not revile in return.” Jesus calmly answered “I do not have a demon.”

His action here teaches us not to respond in kind.

The question of the Jewish leaders was an attack, a personal attack on Jesus’ character and being. Did he respond to their playground antics with his own? Did he say “I know you are, but what am I?” No, he simply denied their accusation without any flair of emotion. And then he proceeded to dismantle their accusation with rational argumentation. No emotional or physical retaliation was used.

We too are not to respond in kind to our accusers. And we should know this. I know we struggle to learn, but we should know this. Have you ever won someone over by responding to their accusations with their own? I haven’t. And I’ve tried far too many times. I should know better. Let us not respond to evil with evil. This would take us a long way in our earthly relationships. I pray that we can respond to evil with good.

Now, let’s move on to our 2nd Q & A & L.

Q2. GREATER THAN ABRAHAM?

The second question that the Jewish leaders ask Jesus is found in verses 52 and 53.

There, we read:

52 The 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.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”

There are here two questions that are connected.
1) Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?
And
2) Who do you make yourself out to be?

Jesus had said that those who keep his Word will not die. The Jews see this as a claim to be greater than Abraham, for even the great Abraham died. And they are right in this – it is a claim to be greater than Abraham. They just don’t believe Jesus’ claim And so they ask “Who do you make yourself out to be?”

They continue to miss the fact that Jesus does not testify merely of himself, but He has the Word of God supporting his claims. This is why in Jesus’s first answers he said that he does not seek his own glory. He is not a self-promoter. Now, he explains whose glory he does seek: God. He seek’s to glorify God.

A2: JESUS GLORIFIES THE FATHER.

Jesus’ concern is to glorify God. His chief concern is the glory of the Father.

54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But 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. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”

Jesus identifies his own person and work as the fulfillment of all of Abraham’s hopes and joys. He is the messiah sent of God to glorify God.

L2: YOUR DUTY TO GLORIFY GOD.

Now, as Jesus glorified God, and as you follow Jesus, so you too are to glorify God. This is our second lesson. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

This is why it is so important to be deeply involved in church life. I want to appeal to you – all of you. Come to our Sunday Bible Hour. 9:15 AM. Come to our Wednesday Prayer 6:30 P.M. Pay attention also to the special events in our bulletin. Because here we worship God. We glorify God. And if it is your chief end to glory God — if it is the purpose for which you were created, and IT IS — then you should strive to be at church whenever the doors are open.

Our Sunday morning in particular. Less than half of our congregation attends our Sunday morning study. And for a number of weeks we’ve been reading through and discussing an excellent book on Christian hospitality. And from that study we’re learning how to show the love of Christ to others in our homes and in our lives. And I could say many good things here to promote that study. But the ultimate reason that you should attend is TO GLORIFY GOD.

Let’s try this. On your bulletin, write yourself a note, “ATTEND BIBLE STUDY” “ATTEND WEDNESDAY PRAYER”

Q3. JUST HOW OLD ARE YOU?

Let us move on then to the third Q & A & L from this passage. Jesus has just claimed that Abraham rejoiced to see his day. And the Jews respond saying essentially, “Just how old are you?” More precisely they say, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”

Clearly they think he is just a man.

I have to laugh at what they say though. “You are not yet fifty years old.”

The dates of both Jesus’ birth and his ministry and death are debated. At the time of this discussion he was anywhere from about 32 years to as much as 37 years old. (That’s my age). But they say “you are not yet fifty years old.” I don’t know about you, but I’d be rather insulted if someone added 10 or 13 years to my age estimate. And little consolation that they say “NOT YET fifty.”

Now Abraham had died almost 200 years before the time of Jesus. Isn’t it absurd to compare the age of Jesus with the age of Abraham? Certainly the Jews think so. Hence how they challenge Jesus.

Leon Morris explains why they might have used the number 50.

“Probably fifty is thought of as a good age, possibly as the completion of a man’s working life and the entrance on to old age. It is the age at which the Levites completed their service (Num. 4:3). Or it may be meant to contrast one short life-time with the centuries that had elapsed since Abraham’s day. In any case they thought of Jesus as being out of His mind. They were certainly not discussing his age with any precision accordingly. They simply gave good measure. Jesus was still a young man. He could not claim even to be one of the elders. How then could He possibly have seen Abraham?”

Jesus then answers.

A3. BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS, I AM.

L3: JESUS IS ETERNAL GOD.

And here we find the verse of central importance in this passage. And the verse from which I’ve titled the sermon as “Before Abraham.”

58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

We have another “Truly, truly.” “Verily, verily.” An important saying is coming.

“before Abraham was, I am”

Here Jesus claims divinity. He is divine. He is God.

I use these words interchangeably: divine, divinity, deity, and God. But you do have to be careful because slick false teachers will make crazy claims like Jesus is divine but is not God. Perhaps they would say he is “of God” rather than simply “God.” The Christian teaching of the Trinity, however, is that Jesus is fully God.

You’ll find similar obfuscation – similar intentional confusion — from teachers who might say that the bible is infallible but not inerrant. They’ll try to make a distinction between these two terms. Their position is that the Bible will never lead you into error, but might teach some error. Well, that’s hogwash. The Bible is both inerrant—without error—and it is infallible—without fail in its applicable. I use these terms them virtually synonymously. Inerrant and infallible.

And likewise, I use the terms deity and divinity virtually synonymously. And this is Jesus’ claim; when he says “before Abraham was, I am,” he declares that he is God. Again we have that “I AM” statement used by God of himself in the Old Testament. But also in this statement Jesus says he existed before Abraham.

This is the doctrine, the teaching, of Jesus’ pre-existence. And his pre-existence is not merely that he came into being a few days or a few years before Abraham. Rather, Jesus has always existed; he has always been.

He does not say “before Abraham WAS, I WAS.”

He says “before Abraham WAS, I AM.”

The I AM is eternal. And Jesus is God.

Now, when the Jewish leaders finally understand Jesus’ claim, what do they do? They flare into violence. Verbal abuse proved unsuccessful. So now they attempt physical abuse.

They go to get stones, because the law (in Leviticus 24:16) requires stoning for blasphemy. If anyone claims to be God (who isn’t in fact God) they are to be stoned. But we must not think that the Jews here are righteous and are following the law, for they do not seek a judicial case against Jesus, but resort to mob violence. They go to get stones because they are going to carry out the stoning themselves!

But Jesus gets aways. Simply, by God’s design. What is most interesting about these repeated escapes that Jesus has from the Jews is that they happen so simply and by God’s plan. Jesus doesn’t RUN away, nor does he have a get-away car. (at least the Scriptures mention no such car) Rather God designed the events such that Jesus simply walks away and is lost in the crowd as the Jews are distracted looking for baseball-sized stones to throw.

This whole stoning episode seems to me also to add support to the validity of that passage at the beginning of the chapter where another stoning was attempted. There, Jesus said that they had to be witnesses of the sin to throw the first stone at the adulteress. But they were not witnesses. Now, all of the Jews heard Jesus say he is divine. They are all witnesses to what they perceive to be the sin of blasphemy. And so they go grab stones! It is as if they say “thanks for reminding us about the stoning thing.”

Ultimately, the opponents of Christ despise him.

CONCLUSION

But what about us? What do our actions say about how we view Christ? [What do our actions say about how we view Christ?]

How might we bear better fruit showing our love of Christ?

Returning to our lessons, we find at least these answers to that question:

1) Respond not in kind to your accusers.

and

2) Seek God’s glory in all that you do.

Ultimately, we come back to theme from last Sunday’s sermon. “ABIDE in the Word of Jesus.”

TRUST in Him who was, who is, and who is to be. ABIDE in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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