As you scroll through your day, does it feel like everyone else has it all together? Someone always has the best job, cutest kid, or happiest relationship. The eat the best food, go on the best vacations, and somehow, they always look good doing whatever it is that they are doing.
And so, out of pressure to measure up to other people’s social media updates, we too attempt to post the perfect selfie; trying to capture the perfect angle in the perfect light and run it through a bunch of filters and then add the perfect hashtag and perfect status update in order to make us appear something other or something more than we really are . . . all for the ever elusive “like”.
And sometimes, for a variety of reasons, we conclude that we just don’t measure up. That’s the world we live in and the struggle is real.
What’s interesting is that sometimes we do this with Jesus. We want our Jesus to act a certain way and to look a certain way. We run the stories and message of Jesus through filters and try to find the perfect angle so that Jesus is presented in the way we think he should be.
But when we forget what Jesus is like, or we try to change him, or our recognition of him is so messed up, we run the risk of now knowing who Jesus really is anymore.
Lucky for us, the gospel of John includes seven selfies of Jesus. Although Jesus didn’t have a smart phone or social media apps that offer those really-cool filters, like puppy dog faces or halos made of flowers, He gives us seven “I AM” statements in which he reveals himself to us.
The I AM statements of Jesus are his true-identity. This is Jesus unfiltered. And he presents Himself against very real backgrounds. He uses a kitchen when he says, “I am the bread of life”. He uses a pasture when he says, “I am the good shepherd”. It’s against the background of a grave when he says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He uses the garden when he reveals himself as the true vine.
But the greatest I AM statement is found at the end of John 8. Here he doesn’t say, “I am this” or “I am that”, he simply reveals himself as “I AM”. There is no object following the verb. Jesus simply, is.
He is life in and of himself in an ever-present, eternal self-sustaining existence.
Jesus can say, “I am the bread of life”, or “I am the light of the world”, or “I am the good shepherd”, all because he can truthfully say, “I AM”.
And when can more clearly see Jesus for who he really is, it helps us understand who we are or maybe more importantly, who we are not and be OK with that.
Before we listen to our text this morning, let’s put it into context.
It comes at the end of a series of conflicts and disputes between Jesus and the unbelieving Jewish people and the teachers of the Law. It is the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths; an annual religious festival established by God himself in Leviticus 23.
It lasted for a week and began and ended with Sabbath worship. During that week the people lived in temporary tabernacles, or tents, or booths to remember their time of wandering in the wilderness. It sought to give thanks to God for that year’s harvest and express their trust in Him as their provider.
During the feast, the temple courts are overflowing with worshipping Jews. So, it is the perfect opportunity for Jesus to teach. It’s also the perfect time for his opponents to strike.
Chapter 8 opens with Jesus teaching in the temple courts, the religious leaders bring in a woman caught in adultery. Curiously, they only have the woman in custody. There is no sign of the adulterous man. Perhaps he was an accomplice, or a hired co-conspirator. No mention is made of just how they managed to catch this woman in the act.
But the question is . . . How would Jesus treat this obviously guilty woman when the letter of the law required the death penalty?
- If he spared her, then he was violating the Old Testament law as they interpreted it.
- If he condemned her, he was violating Roman law, and would bring down the wrath of the empire on his head.
It was a brazen attempt to trap Jesus before the watching eyes of the crowd, but Jesus cuts through their trap with wit, wisdom and love. He invites anyone without sin to cast the first stone.
Not a single rock was thrown.
Their plan backfired as Jesus publicly embarrassed them in front of the people, and so they challenge him. They question his credentials. They said resume was lacking. They question his identity. No matter what Jesus says or does, they refuse to see who he really is.
So, Jesus and the unbelieving Jews debate their Jewish heritage. Jesus says, you may carry Abraham’s blood, but you definitely do not carry his faith. The fact you won’t listen to my words, proves you don’t hear the words of God. In fact, you only listen to and are driven by the lies of the devil.
At this point, the fangs come out and they are dripping with venom. This is where we’ll pick up the story.
READ John 8:48-58
So, Jesus has just accused them of being followers of the devil and trying to carry out his murderous ways and in response these unbelieving Jesus say to him, “Oh yeah, well, you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed”
They attack Jesus by employing racism. They call him a Samaritan. To a Jew, this was the worst of insults. Think of the most racist comment in our culture. These words are dripping with that sort of hatred. Then, they accuse Jesus of being demon-possessed. It’s easy to ignore the words of God if you can claim they come from demons.
And so, Jesus replies: “I am not possessed by a demon, and by dishonoring me, you dishonor God.”
He tells them that His glory comes only from the Father, and the Father will be their judge. And then he makes an incredible promise, saying that whoever obeys my word will never see death.
The Jews are fuming, and they were like, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed!”
How could Jesus say that his disciples will never see death? Are you claiming to be greater than Abraham? We are all children of Abraham and even Abraham died.
They simply could not grasp what Jesus was saying.
Again, Jesus accuses them of not really knowing God, and even their physical ancestor Abraham looked forward in faith to Jesus’ day and rejoiced at the thought.
You can almost see them pulling their hair out at the thought. How could Abraham ever see Jesus? He lived 2,000 years before, and Jesus hasn’t even reached middle age . . . come on dude, give us a break.”
And it’s here that Jesus responds with one of the boldest proclamations of his identity and his divinity that he ever made. Pay close attention to the grammar Jesus uses here, how he switches verb tenses from past to present.
He says, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!”
Jesus isn’t just talking about his age here. If that is all he meant, he would have said, “Before Abraham was born, I was.” But Jesus said, “I am”
He is claiming to be eternally present. There are a lot of things that I can claim; I WAS there, but I can’t say I AM there. I am only ever present in the now. I can only say I am here. I am now. For anything else, I can at best say. I was there. I will be there. I hope. I wish I had been there.
Only Jesus can say at any time and at any place in history– I Am. This is nothing less than an unambiguous claim to divinity. Jesus is claiming to be equal with God. And that’s exactly how the Jews took it, because look how they respond . . . “At this, they picked up stones to stone him”
To the Jews, blasphemy was a capital offense. They go from trying to trick Jesus into stoning the woman caught in adultery to picking up stones themselves and wanting to brutally execute the ever- present, eternal Son of God.
If Jesus was anything other than the divine Son of God, he would have been guilty of the most heinous crime. It was all a question of who is Jesus, really? It all boils down to a conflict between who they thought Jesus was versus who Jesus really is.
We experience some of those same conflicts, don’t we? There is the Jesus we want him to be, and there is the Jesus we fear He may be. There is the Jesus we think He is. The Jesus we misunderstand. The Jesus we don’t fully grasp. The Jesus we pretend He is, but then there is Jesus as he really is.
Jesus knew this was a bold and foundational truth.
He starts off by saying, “Very truly I tell you.” Other texts read, “Verily, Verily.” Or “Truly, truly,” or “I assure you.” In the original text, it reads “Amen, amen.” Amen means, “It is true.”
When you say “Amen” at the end of a prayer you are declaring the truth of the prayer. When someone shouts “Amen” during a sermon, they’re saying, “That’s the truth! Preach it! Hear it!”
Here, Jesus says it twice.
That’s how they emphasized things in ancient culture. It’s like typing something in bold face or italics. It’s like a speaker shouting something or using an exaggerated gesture to emphasize a point.
If something was important, you repeated it, and so the creatures in heaven in Revelation worship saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”
Paul writes in Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice.”
So, when Jesus says, “Amen, amen,” or when you the translation of those words, “I tell you the truth,” or “Truly, truly,” or “Very truly I tell you,” that means this is an important truth, pay attention.
Jesus says this is a big deal– I Am . . . Let me explain why it was a big deal.
In Exodus 3:13-17. God sends Moses to go before the Egyptian Pharaoh and say, “Let me people go.” Moses wants to know if Pharaoh should ask, whom he should say sent him. God says tell him “I am” sent you. The ever-present, eternal one.
In Hebrew, the word for I am is Yahweh. Yahweh means I am, and it is the personal, sacred name of God. This is the name the Jews would not write. This is the name the Jews would not speak for it was holy, and they didn’t even want to accidentally use it in vain.
When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” He was using the personal, sacred, divine name for God and applying to Himself.
This is a specific claim of divinity. Now, some have said that Jesus never claimed to be divine in any of the gospel accounts. That is categorically false. This is a brazen claim of Godhood by Jesus and that’s why the Jews wanted to stone him.
It was a bold and revolutionary declaration when Jesus said it. It rocked the 1st world, and it ultimately changed the course of history. Jesus still announces “I am” into our lives today, and it is just as revolutionary and disruptive now as it was then.
In the middle of your fears, doubts and uncertainty, Jesus says, “I am.”
In the rubble of your mistakes and failures and broken dreams, Jesus declares, “I am.”
In the face of your biggest obstacles and most overwhelming challenges, he says, “I am.”
After your greatest victory or fallen in your most humiliating defeat; Jesus says, “I am.”
Whether you’re at the top of the ladder or the bottom of the barrel Jesus can truly say, “I am.”
I am present. I am there with you. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. You are not abandoned, you are not above or beneath, ahead or behind, because Jesus is I am.
He is the one who declares I am what you need. I am the one who understands. I am the one who can use this for God’s glory. I am the one who can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. I am the one who can make your accomplishments count for something eternal. I am the one who makes all things new.
There is an echo of the divine through each one of Jesus’ I am statements. When He says, “I am the bread of life, I am the good shepherd, or I am the way, the truth, and the life”, we hear ripples of his divinity as who He is comes into contact with who we are.
So, as you scroll through your life, thinking that everyone else seems to have it together and that you just don’t measure up. Remember the radical claim of Jesus, I AM. And we recognize Jesus as the I AM, we will know our true identity because who we are is wrapped up in who He is.