John 8:46-59 (ESV)
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."
 The Jews answered him, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?"  Jesus answered, "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."  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.'  Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?"  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.'
 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."  So the Jews said to him, "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 Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
“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. … Truly, Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
“If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe me? “ Jesus asks this question. It is an amazing question to ask. Perhaps you have asked it yourself once or twice. Sometimes it seems we are so used to lies that when the truth comes, we don’t believe it could be that. Lies? They spread like wild fire. People believe lies, much more readily than they believe the gospel that is for sure. I sometimes think to myself, I could preach just about anything other than what I preach and there would be standing room only. I could preach libertine ethics, anything goes do what you want there are no moral absolutes, and the place would be full. I could preach legalism and demonize anything and everything that anyone has ever found to be fun and like wise the place would be packed. I could preach politics and the place would be packed if I backed democrats or republicans or even Libertarians. But preaching the gospel? Preaching the forgiveness of sins, talking about Jesus Christ and what he did, who he is? The world meets that with a hostile yawn. You can’t bother them to care. At least the Pharisees in today’s gospel cared enough to debate with Jesus, even enough to throw stones, today you hardly get that reaction. Oh everyone wants to love Jesus, no one wants to take him seriously though. And the situation is incredible for it’s complexity. We live in a mess people. Our society is a mess. We are a mess.
I’ll give you an illustration of how messed up our situation is. Another airport story. I knew I couldn’t go to California without having one last story about an evangelism mishap for you. It was my last trip to pick up John. Quite possibly the very last since he now wants to fly alone. I was waiting at the airport, reading and trying to charge my phone when this man started a conversation with me. Asking me a few questions he thinks it is wonderful that I’m a pastor in Utah, someone needs to bring the gospel to the Mormons. He starts telling me how he was once a missionary in Uraguay, (I don’t know how it is I meet these people, I really don’t.) I surmised it was a Pentecostal thing from the conversation. He talked about speaking in tongues. Two minutes later he denies the divinity of Christ. Flat out denies it. Tells me it is impossible for a man to be God. One wonders what gospel it is he wants me to bring to Mormons, and what catastrophic damage he has done in Uraguay. I start bringing him to the text, pulling out the Greek from memory, and parsing it for him. I don’t know that I had him convinced, I do know I had him thinking though. This is the world we live in folks. Even the one’s who claim to know Christ, don’t know him.
This is why doctrine is important. This is why we need to know what we believe and why. This is why I spend time teaching people before I just let them say, I’m a Christian and come up to the Lord’s Supper. This is why we practice closed communion. What happens at this table is spiritually harmful to blasphemers, those who teach falsely concerning Christ. Those who deny the Divinity of Christ. And these days I run into that all over the place. This is why we confess the Apostles’ Creed, and the Nicene Creed. This is why we have Bible Study. This is why we spend time individually reading God’s word and praying. Because Doctrine matters. Lies are popular but they don’t save. God becoming man and dying on the cross to be raised in three days that saves! Jesus Christ who says “Before Abraham was, I Am” hanging bloody on the cross for you sins saves. And if he was just a man, if he was not God, well then he didn’t do anything for your there. I’d say if he isn’t God he didn’t do a damn thing for you, but if he wasn’t God than that is exactly what he did for you, a damn thing a thing that damns. If he wasn’t God, if he wasn’t raised from the dead, then our belief in the Christ crucified is the most damning thing the most cursed thing we can do. We’d be better off either as libertines or legalists.
But that is just what Jesus is saying when he says “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus says it in such a way that it cannot be mistaken, not by those who know their Scriptures, not by pious Pharisees who take God’s word seriously. There is one of two things to do with this man when he makes this claim, believe him or stone him. The phrase is a complicated one. Jesus doesn’t merely claim preexistence, he doesn’t merely claim chronological priority. That is he doesn’t claim just to be before Abraham in time. If he claimed that he would say “I was before Abraham.” But he doesn’t do that. Instead he claims priority in a different way. Before Abraham was “I am.” Ego Eimi. He says I am I am. He means to say he is Yahweh. When God spoke to Moses from the bush he said tell the people Yahweh sent you. Tell the people “I am” sent you. Ego Eimi I am I am. Before Abraham was I am.
It says something about God. It says something about the existence of God. I Am. The meaning of this is profound. He is. He simply is. Infact he is the source and sustainer of all that is. He is the eternal. He is. It is a flaw in the mormon concept of God. One of the things that came up in the hot tub incident I told you about not to long ago. Their very concept of God, does not allow Jesus to be God, but doesn’t really allow for God to be God either. More it is their concept of eternity. Their concept of the eternity of God, a God who has a beginning, but no end. Same as we have a beginning, but will live forever. And that is the distinction, eternity and forever, they aren’t quite the same. The one is an actuality, the other a potential built upon the premise of the actuality. Can’t have forever without eternity. Eternity mandates that forever is a potential. But forever has a beginning if it doesn’t have an end. Eternity is outside all of that. It is at the very basis of the concept of God in western culture that God has no beginning. I mean it is Bilblical teaching too, infact though it is one of the reasons the Bible caught on so well in western culture, is here for the first time, was a God breaking into time and space claiming to be that which people intuitively knew of God. For instance Paul quotes Acts 17:28 (ESV)
" 'In him we live and move and have our being';
as even some of your own poets have said,
" 'For we are indeed his offspring.'
He quotes the Greeks philosophers and Poets, and builds on what they know of God, to explain who Christ is. He is eternal, the source of our being. Aristotle’s argumentation for the existence of God, is worked from the demand and need according to the laws of physics, then known, and not yet supplanted, for a first mover. Something has to put the ball in play, and finally that something has to operate from outside of time. And this is who Jesus claims to be when he says, Before Abraham was, I am. And only if that is true, does his death, does his blood have the potential to save. For this reason he was raised on the third day, that we might know that he truly is the great “I Am.” That we might know everything he said is true. That we might know finally that in him we have forgiveness.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.