Wednesday, March 28, 2012

John 8:48-59

In today’s passage we will see the anger of the religious leaders reach a new high. Jesus had just told them that their father was NOT Abraham, but the devil! They were apoplectic! They begin the name-calling:

The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

“I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

At this the Jews exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are? (John 8:48-53)

Now this last question was surely rhetorical, but it is the key to the entire Bible: Who IS Jesus? Each of us must answer this question, because our salvation depends upon it. Jesus had been trying to reveal His identity to them, but they would not hear it. And it’s His answer to this question, and their response that is the focus of this passage:

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (vs. 58-59)

Why did Jesus’ answer evokes such a violent response? He was clearly referring to the passage in Exodus 3 in which God, appearing in the burning bush, tells Moses His name. Moses was being called by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, but the reluctant leader was trying to find a way out of this job:

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)

This name that God gave Himself encapsulates His eternal, self-existent nature. So, the Jewish leaders confronting Jesus clearly understood that when He said, “Before Abraham was born, I am,” He was making a claim to deity. The evidence that they understood His meaning was that they picked up stones to stone him! They believed He deserved the death sentence for such blasphemy!

According to Jewish law, stoning was only legal for five types of offenders: mediums or spiritists who communicated with familiar spirits (Lev. 20:27); those who committed blasphemy (Lev. 24:10-23); false prophets who lead the people into idolatry (Deut 13:5-10); stubborn, rebellious sons (Deut 21:18-21); and adulterers and rapists (Deut 22:21-24 & Lev 20:10). It was clear that the Jewish leaders believed Jesus was blaspheming in equating Himself with God. They had to conclude He was either demon-possessed, or boldly lying. Otherwise, they would have to conclude He was actually telling the truth!

John is giving us the background here to what lead up to Jesus’ crucifixion. His outrageous claims (in the minds of the Jewish leaders) threatened their authority and their control of the people. The tension continued to build.

If Jesus truly is Who He says He is, then it will radically alter our lives. It demands a response from us. Will we believe or take up stones?

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