John 8:48-59 (Holy Trinity C)                       

St. John, Galveston 6/12/22

Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

"The Jews said to (Jesus), “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but (He) hid himself and went out of the temple."

“They picked up stones to throw at him.” The leaders reaction to what Jesus said seems a bit over the top, don’t you think? Have you ever met someone and knew almost immediately you didn't like them? I suspect all of us have at one time or another. The thing is, we sometimes make rash judgments about people. We make those judgments based on a lot of things, their appearance, their mannerisms, their attitudes and opinions, even the general feeling we get when we meet them.

The opinions we form about people are pretty well set in our minds and it’s sometimes hard for us to overcome them. In fact, sometimes, rather than making an effort to overcome our negative impression of a person, we look for things about them to justify our low view of them. For instance, if I'm of one political affiliation and they're of another, that tends to confirm the already low view I had of them and it justifies me in my opinion. At least, that’s how we often tend to see things.

It seems that, from the very beginning, many of the Jews looked for reasons to justify their hatred of Jesus. As we’re told in the Scriptures, they were always looking for things He did that could be seen as a violation of the Law of Moses. Or, if not a violation of the Law itself, then at least a violation of the Law as they interpreted it. They tested His political interests by asking Him whether it was appropriate for Jews to pay taxes to Caesar. They said He was a subversive who wanted to tear down their Temple. They even said He performed miracles by the power of the devil rather than by the power of God.

In this morning's Gospel reading, there was yet another charge leveled against Jesus. We encounter here in John 8 some people who were claiming that Jesus was a Samaritan who had a demon. Now, that is quite a charge, isn’t it!? I mean, if Jesus actually was a Samaritan with a demon, the Jews would be doubly justified in hating Him. Remember, they hated the Samaritans because they considered them half-breeds.  So, to be a Samaritan was bad enough, but, to be a demon possessed Samaritan? If Jesus were a demon possessed Samaritan, not only would they have reason to reject Him for His impure lineage, they could also reject Him as evil, an instrument of the devil who was looking to deny their god and to destroy their faith.

People had all sorts of opinions about Jesus. And, of course, things haven’t really changed in that regard in the last 2,000 years. Jesus continues to call out to every man, woman and child, "Come unto Me, He says, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."  Some say, who is this man who calls me to find rest in Him? Why, I'm not even tired! Others say, there's too much fuss made these days over Jesus and His message. Why, He divides families and even entire cultures. Still others will tolerate Him as a teacher of morals and godly living, but, they won't have anything to do with His claim to divinity. In fact, to those who accept Jesus' divinity, they would say, He never once claimed to be God.

So, whether Muslim, Morman, Jehovah's Witness, or just your average person on the street who is Biblically illiterate, Jesus is lauded as a great prophet, but, not as God! After-all, if He is God, His claim on our lives is absolute. If He is God in the flesh, there is no more keeping Him at arms length, no more picking and choosing what we'll believe regarding His life and ministry. If He is God in the flesh, the blood that flowed from His hands and feet on the cross was sacred blood, blood that turns our crimson sins whiter than snow.

A number of years ago there was a book published titled "Evidence that demands a verdict." It was written by a man named Josh McDowell. He is a Christian apologist. He isn't Lutheran, but, he makes a great point concerning who it was that Jesus claimed to be. He picked up on the common opinion many people have of Jesus, namely that He was a good prophet, a great leader, but, not God. And then he exposes the inconsistency of those who hold such a view of Jesus.  Since Jesus claimed to be God, remember, He told Thomas, "I and the Father are One, if you have seen me you have seen the Father," since He made such bold claims, He cannot be, at one and the same time, a good prophet and not God. If He isn't who He claimed to be, God in the flesh, the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world, then He is liar and a deceiver. According to Jesus’ own claims, you cannot laud His humanity, His love and compassion for people, and, at the same time, deny His divinity. The Scriptures very intentionally never leave us that option.

McDowell also points to Jesus' enemies, even those who crucified Him, as the greatest witnesses to who He claimed to be. The Jews didn't put Him on the cross because He claimed to be a prophet. No, they put Him there because He claimed to be God.

Look at the Gospel reading for this morning again. Particularly the last part. Jesus claimed to be older than Abraham. The Jews said, now we know you are a liar and a deceiver, you are not yet 50 years old and Abraham has long been dead! At that point, Jesus said something that really set them off...He said..."before Abraham was, I am." And then the Jews, were are told, picked stones to stone Him to death. Why? Well, quite simply, because they got it! They understood what Jesus was saying.

The phrase "I am," in Greek "ego Imi." It is the equivalent of the Old Testament name of God, the name Yahweh. Moses, who was to deliver the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt, asked God, but, who shall I say has sent me?  And said, "I am that I am." In other words, "Yahweh, or in Greek, ego Imi!"

When Jesus said "before Abraham was I am," the Jews couldn't stand what He was saying. You see, their opinions were set, as it were, in stone, and they would hold those opinions about Him even to the point of their own damnation because they believed they were justified in holding them. 

Our confession of who Jesus is is set too, given to us and maintained in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the Great "I am," the God of an infinite majesty, the Father's true and only Son. Before Him, the Seraphin and Cherubim do cry. “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory.” And in perhaps the greatest mystery of our faith, we acknowledge and confess that, in Jesus, it was truly God who died for your sins and mine.  

Today, of course, is Trinity Sunday. Jesus divinity and the unity of the Trinity are confessed here today as they always are when we gather.  What moved the Jews to take up stones to stone Jesus to death, namely His claim to divinity and the Father's kingdom, is precisely what has moved to bow before Him in humble awe and adoration...

"To you all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein, 

The cherubim and seraphim continually do cry;

Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth;

Your majesty and glory fill the heavens and the earth!"

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

                                    + Soli Deo Gloria +