There have been many great statements made throughout history that we remember with much fondness. For example it was Martin Luther King Jr. told us “I have a dream…” JKF told us, “…ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Yogi Berra told us, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Abraham Lincoln told us, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Martin Luther told us, “Here I stand…” And Forrest Gump who told us, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” All of these statements are great, there’s many more we could add to this list, but one statement from Jesus Christ stands above them all, “Before Abraham was, I am.” This statement from Jesus is more than a good quote, it’s a definitive declaration of deity, and it’s in our text today.
As we end John 8 this morning we must remember where we’ve been since last November. For Advent this past year we found ourselves in John 7-8, which is the section of text in John’s gospel where the Feast of Tabernacles is happening. During this weeklong celebration all Jews from all over Israel would stream into the city to remember how God had led them through the wilderness. It’s in this setting that Jesus comes proclaiming Himself to be the fulfillment of all that they’re commemorating. He said He was the Bread of Life greater than the Manna in heaven, the Living Water more Spirit-filled and life-giving than the water that flowed out from the rock, and the Light of the world brighter and blazing more ferociously than the pillar of fire that led them by night.
I mentioned back in the beginning of Advent that John 7-8 contain more accusations against Jesus than any other place in all four gospels, and that seeing these things would be good for us because the holiday season is the time of year when questions and objections abound concerning Jesus. Therefore, as we entered the holiday season, we heard many objections to Jesus and saw Him answer them all. Today we finish this O’ so potent section of this gospel with John 8:37-59.
As children many of us, at one time or another, said “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” If there is anywhere in Scripture where this childhood rhyme is shown to be false, it’s our passage today. Back in v33 the leaders of the Jews had boasted, “We are Abraham’s offspring…!” Jesus challenges this cherished belief and these Jewish leaders did the opposite of the childhood rhyme. From hearing His words they picked up stones to try and break His bones.
Let’s dig in:
v37-38 set the stage. After pointing out their slavery to sin and the right He has as the true Son of God to grant freedom to such slaves Jesus says in v37, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill Me because My word finds no place in you.” Jesus calls them out for claiming to be Abraham’s true descendants while seeking to kill Him and refusing to hear His words. He’s implying that such hostility reveals that their heritage is not what they claim it to be. Then what Jesus implies in v37 He clearly states in v38, “I speak of what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” You hear it? Jesus says He and these Jewish religious leaders do not have the same ancestry. They may be Abraham’s descendants physically, but spiritually Abraham is not their Father.
What follows in v39-59 can be taken in two parts. First in v39-47 Jesus speaks of their ancestry, and second in v48-59 Jesus speaks of His.
A Wicked Ancestry (v39-47)
Responding to Jesus’ ancestral implication they make a quick reply in v39, “Abraham is our father.” To this Jesus says in v39b-41a, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 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. You are doing the works your father did.”
When I was young I was a skinny kid who lived on pasta and peanut butter. These eating habits drove my mother crazy. She would place something before me for dinner, I’d whine and wouldn’t even touch it, and then she would say it, “You’re not getting up from this table until you eat it.” Well, I was up for such a challenge, and after an hour or so of just sitting there by myself, mom would always give in and I would go on my way. Now that I have kids some these things are coming back to haunt me. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Jack favors me more than Holly. Slowly but surely he has not only grown to look just like me, he’s also slowly and surely developed many of my habits. I now know what its like the be the one saying, “You’re not getting up from this table until you eat!” It’s true that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
We know what Jesus is doing here, He’s speaking of family resemblance. All over Scripture it is Abraham who stands out as the exemplary model of faith in God and obedience to God, even when things are hard and don’t make sense, he trusts God and obeys His commands. Jesus’ words here are clear: He’s a man sent from God, speaking the truth of God, and they’re seeking to kill Him. This means the faith and obedience (or the ‘works’) so characteristic of Abraham are not characteristic of them. Conclusion? There is no family resemblance. Therefore though they may be Abraham’s physical descendants, they’re not in his spiritual lineage. Rather, they do the works of their true father. This father of theirs, for the time being remains unidentified, but the implication is clear enough for them to hear it: their father isn’t God! They are clearly angered by such a comment so they make a jab back at Jesus, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father – even God.” They make this jab, because they know there were some scandalous details surrounding Jesus’ birth, Mary after all was pregnant before she married Joseph. Because of these things, they try to turn the tables and discredit Jesus with accusations of His immoral beginnings; while pointing out that they have always been pure, for their Father is God Himself.
So Jesus, speaking in a similar manner as before in v39 regarding Abraham, now in v42-43 regarding God says, “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. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word.”
Just as there is no family resemblance between them and Abraham, there is no family resemblance between them and God. If there was, if they were His true children they would do two things: first they would love Jesus recognizing Him as being sent from God, and second, they would hear His word. So it’s ironic, that they claimed to be the true children of God and rejected Jesus, because it is precisely their rejection of Jesus that shows their not only not children of God by deeply ignorant of the ways of God. In our text’s first climactic moment Jesus then tells them of their wicked ancestry. v44-47, “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. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
We’ve seen Jesus in the past go on about the wickedness of the Pharisee’s and the rest of these Jewish leaders. He’s not held back with them before, He’s called out their sin, and He’s warned them of judgment to come. But here at the end of John 8 are you caught off guard? Does it surprise you to see Jesus get so severe? He doesn’t just rebuke them, He doesn’t just call them out, He doesn’t just warn them. No, He flat out links them with the most evil being in the history of the world, Satan. Do you feel the weight of that? This is not something you say if want to continue having a conversation. Statements like this end conversations. Jesus isn’t merely disagreeing with them, He’s condemning them. Why? Because their actions show the devil is their father, and their unbelief shows they have a striking family resemblance to him. Satan is at home in lies, falsehood is his habitat, and all those who reject Jesus show a wicked kinship with him. This is what Jesus says at the end of v44, that what characterizes the devil (murder and lies) not only characterize them but are alive and well in them. They do the works of the devil because they long for the desires of the devil. Which is then why in v45 Jesus says they’re unable to hear the truth from Jesus, and why in v46 Jesus says they can’t even stand before Jesus or accuse Him at all, and why in v47 we see that they do not hear the words of God…why? Because they are not of God.
This is their wicked ancestry. And everyone who similarly rejects Christ and His teaching shares the same family resemblance. Sure in view here are the many and vast group of people who turn away from the gospel in unbelief and remain outside the Church. But do not be duped. Many within the Church share this family resemblance as well. These people are sneaky, claiming to believe but using God for their own purposes. Or, claiming to believe but denying Christ by their own unwillingness to live the way He asks us. These religious leaders are evidence that there can be many within the Church who are more committed to their own views and traditions than the truth itself. v43 details a condition of the heart that is very eternally dangerous. These Jews could not bear to hear His Word when He spoke. If you shirk back in horror when His Word is taught, what does say about you? If you similarly cannot bear to hear it, do not deceive yourself about what family you’re in. Repent now, trust in Christ, and your religious hypocrisy will be removed and forgiven and you will be freed by Christ and free in Christ.
A Divine Ancestry (v48-59)
It is said that as you approach the base of Mt. Everest that you walk through multiple ecosystems, all very different from one another. Some are so thick with trees that you cannot see the great mountain you’re about to climb. But sure enough the moment comes, when you make it through and out into the clearing and are compelled to look up. There before you stands the tallest mountain on the planet in all its wonder and majesty. Still, beautiful, and grand yet treacherous, deadly, and fierce. As we walk through v39-47 we have, if you will, been in the thick of the trees down at ground level, dealing with the depraved nature of men. As we move into v48-59 we come into the clearing and see what we have longed to see. Jesus plainly proclaiming that He is not only the Descendant of Abraham, but the God of Abraham as well.
Understandably so, these Jews are upset at what Jesus had said to them. But since they clearly couldn’t make any claim against Him, recall v46 had gone unanswered, they resort to language more likely to be found coming from playground bullies than found on the tongues of the religious elite. It’s almost as if they don’t know when to stop, and the more they talk the more they reveal how wicked they really are and how divine Jesus really is. v48, “The Jews answered Him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’” Jesus, ignoring the personal insult of being called a Samaritan, turns only to answer the accusation that threatened His gospel message. v49-51, “I do not have a demon, but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. Yet I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” Jesus is by no means in league with any devils, all He does honors His Father, and they, in rejecting Him and His words dishonor the Father. For their dishonoring of His Father Jesus warns them speaking in v50 of the One who honors Him, saying He is the Judge. The implication is that if they dishonor Him they will one day have to reckon with this Judge who is none other than God Almighty. More so in v51, Jesus says death will come to those who spurn His word, but life (and life eternal at that!) will come to those who keep it.
In Jesus’ response they heard a claim to greatness that they thought ridiculous, so they said in v52-53, “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.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Deceived and blind as they were, they understood the implications in Jesus’ words, and so they try to call Him on it. His response back though, will be extremely disappointing to them because Jesus doesn’t back down. If anything He expands on what He said earlier in v49-51 saying in v54-56, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. It is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 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. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad.” In other words, ‘My Father, who you falsely call God, He is the One who glorifies Me. I know Him and I do not lie. You say you know Him yet you lie. You speak of Abraham? Abraham knew this, Abraham saw My day and what did he do? He rejoiced! You see Me and what do you do? You respond with a murderous rage.’ That Jesus pointed again to Abraham to prove His point saying Abraham rejoiced to see His day means Abraham looked forward to seeing the promises made to Him fulfilled.
Hebrews 11 explains this further saying, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God…yet he died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
Clearly the glory of Christ that Abraham saw and welcomed with a glad hearted joy was lost on these men who claimed to be Abraham’s descendants. They respond again, with unbelief. v57, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Now the moment has come, the clearest declaration of deity in John’s gospel shining out brilliantly for us to see. v58, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Using the divine name of God revealed to Moses on the mountain in reference to Himself was a clear claim to deity. It cannot be taken any other way. He did not say ‘I was’ to teach simply old age and long years, he said ‘I am’ to teach an eternity of being. So to answer their question from v53, yes, He is greater than Abraham. He is the God of Abraham!
Their response proves the gravity of His confession, v59 “So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” Stoning was the penalty for blasphemy according the Law, so they grabbed stones to kill Him but again we see that it was not His time.
You’ve now heard one of the greatest statements in history in it’s own context and seen the response of those who heard it. But, what is your response to it? Is yours similar to v43? Having heard the Word of Christ do you find yourself unable to bear it? If so, I am saddened that you are blind to such beauty and dead to such delight. St. Augustine warns, “As man, He fled from the stones, but woe to those from whose stony hearts God has fled.” May God open your eyes to the glory of the gospel.
Or is your response similar to v56? Like Abraham have you found yourself rejoicing at seeing the glory of Christ? Have you not only seen it but welcomed it gladly? True belief doesn’t just know the right things, it rejoices in the truth. Is that you’re response? If so, I am overjoyed that God has given you eyes to see, ears to hear, the gravity and gladness of Jesus Christ. May such gladness in God continue to grow in us.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 392.
 Morris, page 461.
 Morris, page 464.
 R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 166.
 Morris, page 474.
 Richard Phillips, John 1-10 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 575.