6/4/03 8 a.m. B.C.P. Lent 5 John 8:46-59
John 8: 46: Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? 47: He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. 48: Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? 49: Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. 50: And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. 51: Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. 52: Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. 53: Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself? 54: Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God:55: Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. 56: Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. 57: Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? 58: Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. 59: Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
"Is this the room for an argument?" asks Michael Palin's character in a classic Monty Python skit.
"I told you once," John Cleese tells him.
"No you didn't!"
"I most certainly did."
They continue in this vein to Palin's mounting frustration. Cleese simply contradicts everything Palin says. Back and forth the nonsense goes until finally Palin shouts, "THIS ISN'T AN ARGUMENT! AN ARGUMENT IS A SERIES OF PROPOSITIONS LAID OUT IN ORDER TO ESTABLISH A CENTRAL POINT. IT'S NOT THE MERE GAINSAYING OF WHATEVER THE OTHER PERSON SAYS!"
To which Cleese loftily replies, "Can be."
In today's gospel we have Jesus and some Jews arguing with one saying one thing and the other contradicting. Jesus had just been teaching in the Temple at Jerusalem, some Jews had professed belief in him and Jesus questioned them to find out how deep their faith went. It soon becomes clear that their faith is in their membership of the Jewish people, being descendants of Abraham.
Each side becomes more polarised. Jesus said that the Jews are enslaved to sin. They said they have never been slaves, even though they were under Roman rule ( v34 ) ! Jesus said that they are the devil's children, they say they are God's, v.44.
Jesus focuses on himself and says he is speaking the truth. I'd like us to focus upon three aspects of Jesus' teaching.
1) Which of you convinceth me of sin?
The Jews could not answer this because the life and teaching of Jesus was always true to God's ways. During this period of Lent it is a reminder for us to discipline ourselves to follow the way of Christ in thought, word and deed.
It also reminds us that it is because Jesus was sinless that he was able to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for us on the cross. We know that this is true because on that first Easter Sunday God raised Jesus from death to life.
Our Epistle from Hebrews concentrates on the superiority of Jesus' sacrifice compared to the continuing sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament.
2) 51, Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.
If we trust in Jesus' death for us and seek to follow his ways then we can look forward to a right relationship with God in this life and in eternity. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said, 51: he shall never see death. The Jews were on a different level. They thought he was talking about physical death, 52: Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. The Jews wondered how Jesus could state that his followers would never die when even people of great faith like Abraham and the prophets died. However, Jesus was talking about spiritual death, separation from God because of sin.
Jesus was making great claims that were centred upon himself so the Jews asked him, 53: Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself? The stress on the question is to expect the answer 'No'. It could be re-phrased Surely thou art not greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself? Jesus surprised them by saying, 56: Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. 57: Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
Again we have Jesus and the Jews talking about different things. They are looking at the material and physical. Jesus was probably about 32 years old and Abraham had lived 2000 years before Jesus' birth.
Jesus is saying that Abraham had looked forward in hope to his coming. Genesis 12 1The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
Those last words given 4000 years ago to Abraham pointed to the birth. life death and resurrection of Jesus.
3) 58: Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
In the Bible God says I am! when he refers to himself. This is a solemn emphatic declaration echoing God's great affirmation in Ex 3:14 Jesus did not say "I was" but "I am," expressing the eternity of his being and his oneness with the Father. The Jews knew who he was claiming to be, 59: Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
The penalty for blasphemy was stoning to death ( Lev. 24:16 ). The Greek says that Jesus was hidden from the Jews, implying this was through the action of God. Jesus time to die had not yet come. God the Father, with whom Jesus worked intimately had planned this to be on Calvary.
Jesus was sinless and was, therefore able to offer himself in our place on the cross. This should lead to our praise, gratitude and obedience to his teaching.
Jesus promises a life lived in a right relationship with God now and beyond physical death.
Jesus is God and man. This should lead to our awe and worship, whatever others may think of him.