“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the eighth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ: you can’t have Jesus as simply a good teacher. You can’t have Jesus as only your friend, your companion. You can’t have Jesus solely as a philosopher or giver of advice. You can’t make Jesus a saint, a doer of good deeds, a banner for political or social causes without considering these words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Anyone who claims to have any opinion about Jesus must deal with these words; they cannot be ignored. They came from the same lips that said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another,” the same person who, just verses before, saved an adulterous woman from mob execution. The same Jesus who said all those wise sayings we like to hear, who did all those kind things we want to emulate, also said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Decades ago the Christian thinker C.S. Lewis wrote that when you are confronted with the question, ‘What do you think of Jesus?’ there are only three options. Either Jesus is a lunatic, that is, He thinks He is God and He isn’t, or He is a liar, that is, He knows He isn’t God and He’s the most successful con man in history, or He is Lord, that is, He knows He is God and He is telling you so.
The Jews understood this dilemma perfectly. They actually listened to the words of Jesus—all His words—and they understood what He meant by them, better than most people today. Better than any political interest group, any social activist organization, better than many Christians, they took Jesus seriously. They looked beyond the miraculous healings and the wise sayings and they saw the fundamental claim of Jesus: ‘I am God walking this earth in the flesh, and all who believe in me have life in my name.’ “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” They heard Jesus loud and clear, they understood Him perfectly, and they gave an answer: Jesus is a lunatic, or He is a liar, but He is certainly not the Lord. “The Jews answered Him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’”
The Jews didn’t want Jesus as a teacher, they didn’t want Him as a friend; they cared little for His wise sayings, and they despised His acts of mercy, because they rejected who He claimed to be. Why take the advice of a crazy person? Why appreciate the miracles of a con man? Why befriend a liar? They were much more honest than most who deal with Jesus today, who superficially follow Jesus, who see Him as an advocate for a cause, the companion we lack in this world. We think we can have Jesus without dealing with the words of our text, but the Jews knew better; they took Jesus’ claims seriously, and they rejected them. They didn’t want a superficial Jesus, they didn’t want Jesus as a banner or slogan, they didn’t want a Jesus who made them feel better about themselves. If Jesus wasn’t God, as He claimed, then He was of no value to them.
They took Jesus seriously, they took the question ‘What do you think of Jesus?’ seriously, and they gave their answer. There is only one problem: they were wrong. “Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.’” Any false view of Jesus dishonors Him, any view that calls Him a liar or a lunatic just as much as any view that doesn’t take His claims seriously. Jesus is dishonored when people call Him simply a good teacher, He is dishonored when His compassion for the sick and needy is emphasized at the expense of His claim to divinity. He is dishonored when you simply think of Him as a good friend or companion, but not as your Lord. He is dishonored when His salvation is minimized or ignored, when His cross is skipped over in favor of His teachings or miracles. Jesus told us what is important: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
The Jews took His claim of salvation seriously. They heard Him loud and clear. “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 bring forth Abraham as their expert witness, claiming that he testifies against Jesus by the fact that he still lies in the grave. “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” But Jesus takes their witness and turns him against them; Abraham knew of Jesus and confessed Him. “Your Father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Abraham rejoiced when he saw the day of Jesus in God’s promise that all the nations of the earth would be blessed in his offspring, Abraham rejoiced when he saw the day of Jesus in the provision of a ram in place of his son Isaac. He saw the day when the very Lamb of God would substitute for all sinful people, when that Lamb would be placed on the altar instead of Isaac or Abraham, you or me. He saw that day coming, and He was glad. He didn’t call the name of that place ‘The Lord has provided,’ but “The Lord will provide,” and thousands of years later it would be just outside the city built on that very mountain where God would provide the Lamb for the sacrifice, once for all people, once for all sin.
For it is God Himself who testifies to Jesus, who glorifies Him, who honors Him. “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.’” Jesus takes their every witness away from them. Not only does Abraham testify to Jesus as Lord, but God the Father, who they claim to worship, calls Jesus His own. The Father glorifies the Son. Jesus doesn’t seek His own glory, He doesn’t grasp after the honor from all men that is certainly His due. He will wait patiently for His Father to glorify Him, to witness to His identity throughout the world. “I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge.” And the Father will seek the glory of His Son. He glorified Him when the angels sang at His birth, when the Magi brought great gifts. He glorified Him when He testified to His identity at His baptism in the Jordan and on the mountain of Transfiguration. But those were simply previews of the glory to come, glory that would begin in the strangest way.
When Jesus is nailed to the tree, when He is lifted up high upon a cross, at the moment when the Jews said, ‘I knew He was a liar or a lunatic!’—there the Father is glorifying His Son. He is glorifying Jesus as the sacrifice for the sin of the world, He is glorifying Jesus as the Lamb who substitutes for us as the ram substituted for Isaac. As the sun is darkened and the earth quakes, God is glorifying His Son as your Savior. That is who Jesus is—not a liar, not a lunatic, not simply a good teacher, wise philosopher, good buddy, or political activist, but your Savior. He is given bloody glory as the deliverer or all people from sin, death, and the power of the devil. The proof is three days later, as Jesus leaves an empty tomb behind. From there He passes from glory to glory, as He ascends to heaven, taking His place at the right hand of the throne of God, from whence He will return on the Last Day, when all people will give Him the honor and glory that He is due, with joy on the one hand, and with weeping and gnashing of teeth on the other, the terrible realization that having dishonored Jesus they have dishonored the Father, and His words of judgment are true: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
That’s why they reject Him; while they take His words seriously, they refuse to believe them. “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?” They could never have predicted what Jesus would say next: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” The world so often doesn’t take these words seriously, it doesn’t understand, but the Jews did. “So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” They know what Jesus claimed, they know that with this simple phrase Jesus was declaring Himself to be not just before Abraham, but the God of Abraham, the very One who spoke in the burning bush, true God from eternity. Liar, lunatic, or Lord? Their actions tell the tale, and it will only be a matter of time before Jesus hides Himself no longer and they nail Him to a cross.
What do you think of Jesus? Is He a liar, lunatic, or Lord? Is he simply a good teacher, a wise companion in life’s journey, an example of compassion, the friend that you cannot find anywhere else, or is He your Savior? Is He simply good for you in this life, to help you make it through your day, or is He of eternal significance? So many churches and so many pastors spend all their time on the former, but Saint Paul says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” A Jesus who only helps us during our life on this earth is worthless, and those who follow Him are most to be pitied. He did not come so that your life in this world would be comfortable before you spent eternity in hell. Jesus Himself declares why He has come. “If anyone keeps my Word, he will never taste death.”
Jesus has come to give you eternal life, to deliver you from the bonds and shackles of sin and death. Jesus has come to forgive all your sins by dying in your place. Jesus has come so that you will live forever. Through the cross and empty tomb, Jesus was vindicated, He was proven to be the Son of God and the sacrifice for the sin of the world. Through the cross and the empty tomb, the Father was vindicated, as He was proven just and loving, exacting justice on Jesus to show love to you. And through the cross and empty tomb, you are vindicated, you are rescued from your enemies and made right with your God. You are justified, declared righteous in God’s sight through the death and resurrection of Jesus for your sake. That is a Jesus worthy of honor, that is a Jesus worthy of joy and gladness, that is a Jesus glorified by His Father, not a lunatic, not a liar, but your Lord and your Savior. In His Name, Amen.