Ok, I admit it. As a public speaker, I have often used the outlandish statement as a rhetorical device to get or keep an audience’s attention. It reminds me of one dear person who looked at me once and said “Father, I can’t tell if you’re serious or not.” Bingo!
If you are going to speak to move people to change or embrace what you are saying, you have to get them to engage their minds AND hearts. And, sometimes, you need to speak plainly enough to get them to question themselves. Now, you have to be careful how you use this tactic. It can backfire on you quick.
Jesus didn’t have that problem.
Look at our lesson today in John 8:51-59:
The Lord said to the Jews who came to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one 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; and you say, ‘If any one keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you claim to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God. But you have not known him; I know him. If I said, I do not know him, I should be a liar like you; but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; and he saw it and was glad.” The Jews then 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 took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.
Jesus promises that if anyone keeps His word, he will never see death. That will certainly get any thinking person’s attention. It speaks of such an overthrow of mortality that it won’t even appear in our sight! This is a promise of a total and complete reversal of death in every way, shape, fashion, and form.
And what reaction does this promise produce in the crowd of religious leaders who hear it? “You must be crazy or demon possessed!” The religious leaders start accusing Jesus of proclaiming Himself greater than Abraham, because Abraham, the Father of the Faithful, died, and Jesus is promising that no one will die if they believe Him. And they were right to make the comparison because Jesus is, in fact, saying He is greater than Abraham.
But not in an arrogant or prideful way. He is only saying the truth of the miracle of His Incarnation as God in the flesh. And He tells them that Abraham, the Father of the Faithful, looked forward to the coming of Jesus and the death of death. In fact, Abraham is one of the many Old Testament saints who hear the Lord preach in the place of the dead after His crucifixion. And Abraham, along with so many others, accompany Christ out of the netherworld into Paradise at His ascension. Jesus is the conqueror of death, past, present, and future!
And the Lord finishes His correction of these Jewish leaders with a phrase that shook these men to their very core. It was so upsetting to them that they immediately tried to kill Jesus then and there. Jesus looks these leaders in the eye and says “Before Abraham was, I am.” Besides being a bit questionable grammatically, this was absolute blasphemy IF it wasn’t true! Jesus uses the same phrase that God uses to Moses in the desert from the Burning Bush when God told Moses that His name was I Am. Jesus is clearly saying “I am God in the flesh.” The God the Jewish people claimed to follow since Abraham and Moses, the two great leaders of the Jewish Faith, was standing right in front of them! And they simply couldn’t believe it!
Today, do you need some plain talk to get your attention? Are you willing to hear the Truth from Him Who is Truth Himself? If you have the courage, you can be Orthodox on Purpose!