JESUS, THE “I AM”
John 8″ ‘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” (John 8:58–59).Sometimes a blunt presentation of truth, even though it provokes angry opposition, is necessary.
Jesus forgave a woman caught in adultery (8:1–11). Jesus’ continuing claims about Himself were rejected by the leaders (vv. 12–30), and He in turn rejected their claim of descent from Abraham (vv. 31–41). Their hatred of God’s Son showed they were members of Satan’s family, not God’s (vv. 42–47). The angry confrontation reached a peak when Jesus claimed to be the I AM (Yahweh) of the Old Testament, and His opponents sought to stone Him for blasphemy (vv. 48–59).
Understanding the Text
“A woman caught in adultery” John 8:1–11.
One of the most fascinating aspects of every trap Jesus’ opponents devised is that each time they netted themselves. It’s almost a cartoon: Elmer Fudd aims at Bugs Bunny, never noticing the gun barrel has been bent, and shoots himself in the foot. Look at this incident. I’m sure the teachers of the Law and Pharisees were sure they had Jesus neatly trussed up when they brought Him a woman caught in the very act of adultery! If Jesus said, “Stone her!” He’d be sure to lose popularity. If He said, “Let her go,” they could get Jesus for rejecting Moses’ Law. But think about it for a minute. In the first place, where would you go to catch some woman in the act of adultery? There may be someplace here in our town, but I sure don’t know where it is. How did the religious leaders know the address? And then, who was the man? Why did they let the guy go—and which one of them got him to volunteer? The more you think about the scene, the more it raises serious questions, not about Jesus, but about the men who captured the adulteress! It’s helpful to remember this when someone attacks our faith, and we’re momentarily off guard. Whatever the nature of their attack, it says more about them than about Christ. “Neither do I condemn you” John 8:7–11. Some have suggested that when Jesus wrote on the ground He recorded the sins of the woman’s accusers. They slipped away, not because of any shame or sympathy for the woman, but because they dared not risk exposure. Whether or not this is true, it is dangerous to condemn others. In so doing, we condemn ourselves, for none of us is without sin. What’s stunning in this account, however, are Jesus’ words. As one who was without sin, and who had been appointed by the Father to judge humankind (cf. 5:22), Jesus refused to condemn the woman despite her real guilt. The saying echoes John’s words in 3:17. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. And that salvation involves more than forgiveness. It involves a change of life: a change reflected in Christ’s words, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” D.L. Moody was once met by a man who staggered out of a bar, gripped the evangelist’s lapels, and announced with delight, “You’re the man who saved me!” Moody replied, “I suspect I did. If Jesus had saved you, you wouldn’t be here now.” When Jesus saves us, we really do leave our life of sin. “I am the light of the world” John 8:12. John records several “I am” claims made by Jesus. This is one of the most significant. Jesus had said, “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6), and thus claimed to be the source and sustainer of spiritual life. His saying, “I am the light of the world,” is a claim to be the genuine light by which truth and falsehood are distinguished. Light and darkness are important images in John’s Gospel and his epistles. Light reveals reality as God knows it. Darkness is the shadowy world of illusion cast by human notions of what constitutes reality: a world of delusion, deception, and fantasy. Apart from relationship with and trust in Jesus no one has the slightest chance of knowing reality. “The Pharisees challenged Him” John 8:13–30. The challenge was on a technical point of Old Testament Law. It required two witnesses to establish a fact in court (Deut. 17:6). The Pharisees’ point was that they didn’t have to believe anything Jesus said about Himself, because there was no one to corroborate His claims. They were wrong! Standing beside and in Jesus Christ was God the Father Himself! As One sent by the Father (emphasized four times in this chapter: John 8:16, 18, 26, 29), Jesus spoke with the Father’s voice, and the Father spoke through Him. Several things follow from this truth. A person who was truly in touch with God would have recognized Jesus (v. 19). Failure to recognize Jesus for who He is meant that Israel’s spiritual leaders did not know the God they claimed to represent, and that they surely would die in their sins. We can understand why the Pharisees were so upset. No one likes to hear that their religion is meaningless, and that unless they turn to Jesus they are doomed. No one likes to hear it. But it’s true! And it is a valid approach to evangelism. The Bible says that many who heard these blunt claims of Jesus put their faith in Him, even as He spoke (v. “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone” John 8:31–41. The conflict and anger became even more intense as the religious leaders defended themselves. As biological descendants of Abraham, they had a claim on God who made a covenant with Abraham. It’s true that the Old Testament Covenant did give the Jewish people certain wonderful privileges. But no individual has ever had an automatic relationship with God based on biological descent. Growing up in a Christian home doesn’t make a person a Christian, anymore than growing up in a university town makes a person intelligent. All either provides is an opportunity. That’s what Jesus was saying to these religious leaders. Descent from Abraham gave them a special opportunity to know God. But if they had really been like Abraham, they would have acted as Abraham did and responded to God rather than plot to kill God’s Son. Mere opportunity to know God doesn’t count for any more today than it did then. We must seize the opportunity, and respond to Him, now as then (see DEVOTIONAL). “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” John 8:31–32. The saying has nothing to do with its use on the banner of the New York Times. Jesus had already said, “If you hold to My teachings [keep My words] then you’ll be My disciples.” Only then did He speak of knowing the truth, and the truth making men free. Jesus’ teachings are “true.” That is, they are accurate representations of reality. There is only one way to “know” reality, and that is to experience it. What Jesus said was that if we put His teaching into practice, we will actually experience moral and spiritual reality. And the experience of that reality will set us free. In the words of a modern commercial, “Try it. You’ll like it.” “Who do You think You are?” John 8:48–59 The words are laced with hostility and scorn. Jesus was making Himself out to be someone greater than Abraham, the father of the Jewish race! He was claiming He could give endless life through Abraham. Jesus’ claim that Abraham had “rejoiced at the thought of seeing My day” angered the leaders even more. How could Abraham, who lived some 2,000 years before, have known anything about Jesus of Nazareth, a Man not yet 50! What followed is one of the clearest of Jesus’ claims to Deity. “Before Abraham was born, I am!” That “I am” is rooted in the Exodus revelation of the personal name of God, Yahweh. It was “I Am,” Yahweh, who sent Moses to deliver Israel. And here Jesus claimed that before Abraham was born, He Himself existed as sacred history’s “I Am.” The claim was understood, and the listeners picked up rocks to stone Jesus for blasphemy. Ultimately every person’s destiny depends on how he or she responds to Jesus’ claim to be “I Am.” What a blessing for us to acclaim, “He is!”
All God’s Children?(John 8:31–47)
I don’t know any issue on which I’ve heard preachers fudge more often. Some minister’s on a radio or TV talk show and is accused of believing that only Christians are God’s children. The others there are incensed at the very thought of such raw prejudice, and the poor preacher stumbles and mutters. On the half dozen or so occasions I’ve heard such confrontations, the preacher has quickly backed off. If he did believe non-Christians aren’t God’s children, he wasn’t about to admit it and take all that heat. I honestly don’t understand why. Of course non-Christians aren’t God’s children. No way! This doesn’t mean that every human being doesn’t have great worth and value to God. Each of us is an object of His great love. After all, Christ died for those who were actively hostile toward Him because of sin and guilt. But none of that means non-Christians are in God’s family. John 8 reports how Jesus insulted a panel of Pharisees far more than anyone’s been insulted on a TV talk show. Jesus not only said God wasn’t their Father; He said straight out that they “belong to your father, the devil.” And Jesus proved His accusation by showing that the leaders’ lies and anger at Him mirror the lies and anger of Satan at God. Of course they were the devil’s children. They acted just like him! What bothers me about modern ecclesiastical fudging is that it prevents people from facing the most important issue anyone has to face in this life. Do we belong to God, or not? Are we members of God’s family, or not? Will we spend eternity with God, or not? There’s no room for “maybe” here. There’s no room for just being nice, and saying what will make people feel good. These questions demand a clear-cut yes or no. A person is either a member of God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, or he or she is right there in the devil’s camp, with the folks who murdered our Lord. I know. It’s not nice to say such things. It’s not polite. It doesn’t sound open-minded enough. It makes people angry when they hear us say it. I suspect many Christians fear that it will “turn people off” if they’re told we don’t think of them as children of God too. But it’s not true to suggest that those who do not know Jesus can have a relationship with God. And it’s not loving to let people think that they’re all right when in fact they are lost.
No one can choose between the truth and a lie unless they know what the truth is.
“Apart from blunt truth, our lives sink decadently amid the perfume of hints and suggestions.”—Alfred North Whitehead