Sermon: The eternal I am – John 8:12-59

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Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come. 

21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him. 

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 

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. 

It’s widely considered the greatest plot twist in movie history. 

The Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are locked in an intense lightsaber battle. Luke’s hand has been cut off and he’s lost his lightsaber. Darth Vader tells Luke to join the dark side instead of suffering a similar fate to Obi Wan Kenobi. 

Luke has believed that Darth Vader killed his father. 

And in a climactic moment, Darth tells him “I…am your father.” 

You see the anguish in Luke when he learns of this. 

In this long passage, I would say that it is ultimately about fatherhood. 

We see three fathers mentioned in this section. God, Abraham, and the devil. 

As I begin, I want to make a quick note about the structure of this sermon. 

A lot of my sermons are three points. Usually the first few verses are the first point, the middle verses are the second point, and the last verses are the third point. 

This sermon, we’ll be covering the flow of the passage and focusing on the theme of fatherhood throughout the narrative and also looking at the heavenly and the worldly perspectives in this passage. 

And with that, we’ll jump right into this passage, and we’ll start with our section from last week. 

Jesus begins in verse 12 by saying “I am the light of the world.” 

As I keep pointing out, the “I am” statements are statements that Jesus makes during his ministry where he uses the same name that God uses to reveal himself to Moses in Exodus 3. 

Today’s chapter begins and ends with two different “I am” statements. 

So Jesus has said that he’s the light of the world, and the pharisees continue to oppose him. 

Verse 13:  “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.”

That’s the beginning of the debate. 

Talked about it last week so wont’ belabor it but they’re suggesting that they don’t have sufficient evidence to believe in the claims of Jesus. 

We see that Jesus does not submit to their man made demands. We see that it is Jesus who will call them into question, but the passage also points forward to the cross and Jesus’ willingness to die for the very people who opposed him. 

Verse 16, Jesus talks about having been sent by his father. 

Verse 18, as Jesus has continued his response to the pharisees, he again points to the fatherhood of God:
I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”

The pharisees respond and are confused. 

Verse 19: They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?”

Jesus has been speaking to them in heavenly terms. They respond from a worldly perspective. 

They ask to see Jesus’ father. 

Second part of verse 19:  Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 

Again, they’re focused on mere paternal lineage. Jesus’ father is in heaven, but they don’t understand that. 

But Jesus adds the point that if the pharisees truly knew the Father, they would also know the Son. And that idea will become more and more pronounced throughout this passage. 

Jesus makes God known. 

As John says in 1:18:  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. 

If you don’t know Jesus, you don’t truly know God. 

Or John 5:38, where Jesus has told the pharisees:  you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.

The story continues. In verse 20, John reminds us that despite the pharisees’ plots against Jesus, no one arrested him because his hour had not yet come. 

But then immediately in verse 21, Jesus points forward to his hour, to his death. 

So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Jesus is pointing to when he goes to be with the father. 

Jesus says “I am” twice in this verse. In the Greek, those are not the same words as the I am statements, so I wouldn’t over theologize that in this instance.

Jesus is talking about going to be with his father, and his point is that the pharisees cannot go if they continue to reject Jesus and live in their sins. 

He’s getting at the heart of the gospel. 

Faith and belief in Jesus is what enables us to know God, to be forgiven of our sins, and to have an eternal hope. 

Jesus is speaking in heavenly terms, and it again goes over the crowd of some of the smartest people in the community. 

22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”

So Jesus continues to explain it to them. 

Verse 23: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.

Again, throughout this passage, we continue to see this focus on heaven vs the world. 

He’s talking about the pharisees as being from below and from the world. Jesus is from above, and not of this world. 

They’re stuck in worldly thinking and miss the heavenly aspect of what Jesus is saying. 

Twice more in verse 23, Jesus says “I am,” and once again, those are not the same wording in Greek as the “I am” statements. 

But it is in verse 24. 

I think that’s for intentional emphasis. 

He’s giving a warning. 

And this warning is as true for every person in the world today as it was for the pharisees when Jesus said these words almost 2,000 years ago. 

 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 

Our sins bring death. Jesus is the one who gives life. 

He is our advocate before the Father. He loved the righteous life that we could not. 

unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.

Again, the importance of the “I am” phrase is that it’s the same phrase God used when he revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3. 

Moses asked God for his name, and God refers to himself as “I am.” God is being itself. 

And Jesus is in a dead world at the feast of booths warning their moral and intellectual elites that: unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.

Unless they believe that Jesus is the one who redeems us to the Father, unless you believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah, unless you believe that Jesus is Lord, you will die in your sins. 

What do you believe about Jesus? 

He came into the world to bring salvation, love, and grace. He came to restore our broken relationship with the Father. He came to redeem fallen humanity. 

The pharisees continue to fail to understand. 

Verse 26, Jesus tells them:  I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”

He continues to point to his father. 

Again, he’s not just some guy saying this out of nowhere. 

His ministry is pointed to in the scriptures. He lives a perfect life. He displays signs which show his glory.

And he has the witness of God. 

Verse 27 adds the comment: They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 

These are the most important things that these people will ever hear. And because of their sin, their blindness, their refusal to accept the truth, and their failure to know the heart of the Old Testament, they miss what’s right in front of them. 

They don’t understand who Jesus’ father is. 

28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 

Again, this passage keeps talking about fatherhood and about heavenly and worldly perspectives. 

Jesus talks of being lifted up. 

He uses that phrase a few times in this gospel.

As often in this gospel, Jesus says things with more than one meaning. 

He doesn’t say “when you have killed the Son of Man,” 

He says when the pharisees have lifted up the Son of Man. 

This lifting up refers to literally being lifted up on the cross at the time of his crucifixion. But it also speaks of his ultimate lifting up of exaltation and glorification. 

The world intends the cross to be the site of his humiliation, but it’s the place of his exaltation. It is the cross and his death and resurrection which is the ultimate confirmation on his identity. The ultimate example of Christ’s role in the divine mission. 

Through the cross, many will believe. 

Verse 30 says that as Jesus was saying these things, many in that crowd believed in him. 

Many more will believe in the eternal life he promises through understanding his death and resurrection. 

And ultimately, the whole world will stand in judgment before Christ on the last day and acknowledge his lordship. 

But for those who rejected him in life, it will be too late. 

Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, he came to save the world. 

But we must believe. 

Sinners coming to Christ, believing in the grace he offers. 

The story continues. So far, Jesus has talked a lot about the fatherhood of God. 

In this next section, we begin to see more and more discussion on the Israelites and their view of Abraham as their spiritual father. 

In the middle of a section where people have widely reviled and rejected Jesus, he has a word to those who believe in him. 

Verse 31: So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Jesus talks about abiding in his word. 

Keeping his word, applying his word, believing his word, walking in the truth of his word. 

And his word is his teaching, his message. 

Jesus says that true discipleship involves that. It’s in true faith which results in a life that is changed, due to the power of the gospel. 

Jesus says that for this person, they will know the truth and the truth will set them free. 

Ironically this is a verse that is often taken out of context or misunderstood. 

The phrase “the truth will set you free” gets quoted as if that’s true by itself. 

It’s knowing the truth about Jesus and living as his disciple which is the truth that brings freedom. 

Without Christ, there is no real freedom. 

Our society has gone through a crisis of truth in recent generations. Postmodernism brought with it ideas that we couldn’t know what the truth truly was. I fear a nihilism with the younger generation where truth itself is questioned. 

The problem with the world is not a lack of truth, it’s a lack of people knowing the truth. 

Jesus is the ultimate truth in a world which loves falsity. 

Also that’ll be important in this passage, because freedom is contrasted by slavery. Freedom is found in Christ. Enslavement is found in sin. 

The pharisees respond to Jesus in verse 33:  They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 

Two things are significant here. 

This is where they start to talk about the spiritual fatherhood of Abraham. Abraham is the father of the Jewish people. 

And so they point to their lineage in contrast to what Jesus has said. 

Second, their response can seem almost unrelated. Jesus has talked about truth and how the truth brings freedom. And that’s referring to the truth and freedom which come from knowing and believing Jesus. 

As I keep saying. This passage has a heavenly and a worldly aspect to it. 

Jesus is talking about ultimate freedom in the spiritual sense.

The Jewish leaders respond by talking about freedom in a worldly sense. Specifically, they’re talking about the period when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. 

But that was centuries before their time. Many, many generations ago.

Jesus is talking about spiritual slavery. 

We see that in his response. 

Verse 34: Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 

Everyone is a servant to something. You’re either a servant of sin or a servant of God. Serving God is where freedom is found. 

In verse 35, Jesus illustrates his point. 

He points to himself as a son and an heir referring to his father’s kingdom. The pharisees were metaphorically in the house of God, but the true inheritance belonged to the son. It is the son who could give them standing and inheritance. It’s the Son who could give them freedom.  

Jesus directs his attention away from his metaphor when he says to the pharisees in verse 37:I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 

And this will again get back to the point that they do not truly know God. 

Jesus calls them offspring of Abraham. That’s true in that they’re Jewish. But they don’t truly know the God in whom Abraham placed his faith. 

Verses 38 and 39, Jesus will refer to God as his father and the crowd refers to Abraham as their father. 

38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” 

They think that they have special standing by virtue of their Jewish heritage. But that counts for nothing in their faithless lives that are cold to God and his truth. 

The verse continues: 

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 

To quote Leon Morris from his commentary on John. Deeds count far more than ancestry. 

They might be Jews, Jesus never disputes that fact. But they’re not living as God’s people. 

Again, they’re rejecting the truth, and they’re plotting and will ultimately see the killing of Jesus, the savior of the world. 

40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.

The Old Testament tells us that Abraham believed in God. When Abram was called to leave the land of Canaan, he went. When Abraham was called to sacrifice his son. 

Abraham responded to the word of God. 

These Israelites are trying to kill the word of God. 

Verse 41 is very interesting. Jesus continues his thought to the pharisees. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”

We will find out in a couple of verses who their real father is. But for now, we’ll stay with the mystery that John has worked into this passage. 

The crowd responds to Jesus by trying to take a shot at his own lineage. 

They’re calling into question the legitimacy of Jesus’ origin. 

Suggesting that elements of his story were known to the crowd. And since they rejected God as Jesus’ father, they reason that he is illegitimate. 

Jesus is undeterred. Verse 42 cuts to the heart. 

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.

Their hatred of Jesus is the greatest example of why they are not true children of God. 

Again, we have so many references to fatherhood in this passage. 

Jesus refer to God as his father. The crowds refer to Abraham as their father. They question the legitimacy of Jesus’ father. 

Verse 44, Jesus tells them who their father is.

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 

He says that the devil is their father. 

That is quite the accusation to make. 

But that’s the state of the world. 

We’re either children of God or we’re children of the devil. We’re either of the kingdom which is above or the kingdom which is below. We’re either of light or of darkness, of good or of evil, of truth or of lies. 

The pharisees might follow some outward rules, but in opposing God’s anointed savior of the world, they’re in league with the devil. They’re opposing the very truth of God. 

It’s that major of an issue. 

Again, our world likes to act like we can take or leave Jesus. Our world likes to think nice things about Jesus but undermine his exclusivity. We might appreciate that he’s a savior, but we undermine that he is the only way. 

There are two ways. 

These Israelites are not truly sons of God, nor sons of Abraham, but are sons of the devil. 

The Apostle John picks up these same themes in the book of 1 John, chapter 3. 

1 John 3:8: 

8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

He’ll continue his argument in verse 10 when he says: By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 

Continued sin and opposition to God’s truth makes one a child of the devil. In the Spiritual sense. 

Again, throughout this passage, it’s pointing to heaven and to the ways of the world. 

Ok, home stretch of this passage. 

Verse 48, they lash out: The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

Once again calling into question the legitimacy of his birth. 

Perhaps also a dig at Jesus for positively interacting with a Samaritan woman in John 4. 

They suggest that it is Jesus who is demon possessed. 

Jesus talks of how he honors his father. 

In verse 51, he again points to life. 

Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

It was a great source of pride for the Jewish people that they had the scriptures, the law of God. 

But they don’t follow it at heart. In Matthew 15:8-9, Jesus is having another run-in with the pharisees when he quotes Isaiah to them and says: 

8 “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, 

but their heart is far from me; 

9 in vain do they worship me, 

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” 

It’s easy to talk the talk. It’s easy to talk a big game about faith. 

But actually believing and knowing God is another matter. 

Once again, the pharisees ultimately do not understand Jesus. 

They feel like it’s their “aha” moment, where they’ve finally gotten Jesus to trip up. 

Jesus has said in verse 51 that the one who believes in his word will never taste death. They try to use that against Jesus when they argue in verse 52: 

“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.’

They don’t even understand what Jesus means when he talks about eternal life. They look back to Old Testament figures who are long dead, and think that Jesus’ promising life to those who believe in him is absurd. 

The heavenly vs the worldly. 

Jesus promises eternal life with him in heaven. 

So Jesus is promising eternal life. Even as great as Abraham was, he died. His followers died. So they ask him

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

It’s certainly ironic. 

They ask Jesus if he’s greater than Abraham and the prophets. In their mind, the answer is an obvious “no.” 

Of course the irony is that Jesus actually is greater. 

Verse 55, Jesus will tell them that they don’t truly know Abraham. 

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.”

That’s really the sad irony of this story. This group of people identify with Abraham. They’re at a feast which calls them to remember God’s deliverance of the Israelites in their desert wanderings. They’re in Jerusalem, in the land that the Lord had promised to Abraham. 

And they’re standing with the savior of the world. 

Indeed, that was a day that Abraham would have rejoiced. Seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises. Seeing Abraham’s ultimate offspring. The true son to be sacrificed. The true lion of the tribe of Judah. 

And they miss all of it. 

Verse 57. We see how they totally miss the point. 

Jesus has just profoundly talked of how Abraham would have loved seeing this day, this ministry. 

And they point to Jesus’ youth. 

So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 

And here we come to the climactic scene of the story.

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. 

That’s where this scene ends. And that concludes Jesus’ time at the feast of booths. 

In chapter 7, Jesus delays arriving at the feast because people are seeking to kill him. Now it’s the final day of the feast, and they’ve picked up stones and they’re ready to kill him. 

Jesus response of Before Abraham was, I am is the climax of the story, and yet the scene almost immediately ends. 

That is the third of Jesus’ “I am” statements.” 

They had questioned Jesus by comparing him to Abraham, they had pointed to Jesus’ age. 

And in saying, before Abraham was, I am, Jesus is saying that he’s before Abraham. 

Jesus is before him in time. He came before him. Abraham is finite. Jesus is eternal. 

He’s also before Abraham in imminence. Abraham was only a man. Jesus is God. 

But such a suggestion is seen as blasphemous to these people. 

Jesus is again making a claim that he is divine. The fact that the pharisees pick up stones and are ready to stone him shows that they knew exactly what Jesus meant. 

Again, the I am statements are making revelations about Jesus. This overarching section is bookended by Jesus saying “I am” the light of the world. It ends with him saying “before Abraham was, I am.” We have a couple of minor instances within the passage where Jesus not so subtly keeps repeating that phrase “I am.” 

Jesus is God. 

At the end of this passage, the pharisees continue to disbelieve, to question. And Jesus states his eternity. 

They have the light of the world, and the eternal God of creation in their midst. And instead of falling down to worship him, they pick up rocks because they want to kill him. 

And so at the Feast of Booths, six months before his dearth, the passage ends with Jesus walking away. The light leaves the temple. 

In the next chapter, we’ll see an individual interaction with Jesus and a man born blind. The light of the world gives him sight and this man sees and he sees Jesus for who he is and he believes Jesus. 

What a beautiful contrast. 

How do you respond? How do you respond to the light? How do you respond to the truth? How do you respond to the great I am? 

Many want to ignore his light, want to disregard that he is the truth, want to deny the freedom that he brings and call that enslavement. 

But we must see Jesus for who he is. He’s the savior of the world. He’s the only one who can restore us to God. He’s the only one who can take away our sins. 

We cannot be our own saviors. 

And so we respond by believing in him and living for him.