Before Abraham was, I AM.
(St. John viii. 58)
The threat of God’s nearness and proximity are quite enough to unnerve, unhinge, and unsettle most men in all ages. There is something about human nature that is resistant, refractory, and recalcitrant to God and His Word. Most men treat the existence of God carelessly, incautiously, indifferently, or haughtily. Think about it. How many of you have heard a person say, I am spiritual but not religious. What that usually means is that he or she isn’t in the least bit interested in the intellectual pursuit of God, and is, rather, smugly and self-righteously self-contented. Evidently he’s got it all figured out and he doesn’t need to know more. If he goes on to describe the philosophy or theology that moves him, one soon learns that it amounts to nothing more than if it feels good, do it; you’re ok, I’m ok; whatever floats your boat. Of course, such a philosophy of life is nothing more than adolescence write large onto the big screen of Western life, where the actors refuse to grow up, in which we must never, never, never offend the emotional sensibilities of a nihilistic world.
Of course, Jesus meets all opposition to His visitation then and now with the words that read in this morning’s Gospel. Which of you convicts me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God, hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God. (St. John viii. 46) To be fair to post-modern nihilists, they have stopped caring about Jesus Christ because they are drenched, drowned, saturated, and soaked in the pagan culture which envelopes and enables them. But should their spiritual right to feel good, and do whatsoever pleases them be threatened by anything like Christ, they soon become the new Pharisees. They believe that good works, freedom from the perceived threat of a Christianity that they think has only enslaved and oppressed the world, must be put down at all costs. And what threatens them most is that there might just be one form of goodness and truth that is absolute and not relative, true and not false, right and not wrong.
So they are like the Pharisees in this morning’s Gospel who find Jesus Christ to be alien to their religion and our relationship with our gods. This morning the Pharisees bereft and devoid of any hint of evil by which to accuse and censure Jesus, nevertheless attack Him. Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil? (St. John viii. 48) Are we not correct in thinking that so much of Jesus Christ’s nature is alien, strange, foreign, and just too bizarre to command our allegiance and following? Are we not justified in feeling uncomfortable which so much that Jesus said and did? And must that not mean that the problem is not with us but Him? This is how we convince ourselves that we need not hear and bear who Jesus says He is and what He asks of us. We pardon, excuse, and justify our failure to follow Him on the intellectual or emotional grounds that who He says He is and what He asks are beyond the reach of our rational and moral comprehension.
And, of course, technically speaking, we are right. Who He says He is and what He asks are beyond the reach of mortal men! If who He says He is and what He asks were within the scope of human ability and expertise, well, there would be no need for a Saviour. So the real question is this. Do we believe that He is who He says He is, and will we give Him what He asks of us? Jesus claims that God is His the Father…[He] has come from God…that [he came] not of [himself], [but was] sent. (St. John viii. 42)The Pharisees won’t and don’t believe because they think that He is possessed by the Devil. Jesus answers, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. (St. John 8. 49-51) What Jesus carries and bears in Himself is beyond the reach and extension of any human effort, good work, ritual or doctrinal law, or ethical code. He makes it very clear that what He offers to the world He has heard and received from the Father, in order to honor, obey, and glorify the One who sent Him. He is sent by the Father on a Divine Mission and so He says, in another place, My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work. (St. John iv. 34) And what He claims to offer is something that the world has never before experienced in quite this way.
And here is where, I am afraid, our faith fails us. This man Jesus makes claims that if a man keeps [His] saying, he shall never see death, (Ibid) and so our human imagination and intellect protest that he has gone too far. 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. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself? (St. John viii. 52-53) With us the Pharisees so much as say, You are a man, Jesus of Nazareth, and when you die, your words will die with you. Abraham and the prophets are all dead. And their words have died with them. Indeed the words that they spoke, like those that you speak, die. And so we cannot believe that your words will ensure our everlasting life.
This is the response of them for whom the words of the prophets and the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us are dead. Christ speaks once again. If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: 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. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I Am. (St. John 8. 54-59) Christ the Word teaches us that both as a human being and as the Son of God, He never seeks His own glory and honor. He is what he receives from His Father. His communication and expression of the Father’s will and way are honored and blessed because the Father honors and blesses all who receive Him. What He reveals and communicates throughout His life is what He receives from the Father whom He has always known. His knowledge of the Father informs and defines His whole being, meaning, and purpose. He is not separated from the truth or wisdom that defines and moves the universe. And He is not ignorant as to how that Word must redeem and save all men. In fact, he claims to be that very Word that Abraham heard and followed, and that the prophets espied, detected, and pursued. Jesus says, Before Abraham was, I AM. I am the Word, that was heard of old, is with you now, and will be with you forever if you believe and follow me. I am my Father’s Word. I am my Father’s eternally begotten Son, Jesus says. Will you follow me? If we are like the ancient Pharisees, being dead, we will try to drag Jesus down into our spiritual death. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple. (St. John viii. 59)
But Jesus, God’s Word as flesh, is more than mere Divine Wisdom or Truth personified. He is sent to do His Father’s will. God’s Word is His will, His will is His Love, and His Love is the utterance and expression of God’s deepest desire and delight for all men’s salvation. His Love is His passion to bring all men to Himself, no matter what it might cost. Divine Love moves the universe. It moves us towards Him at all times and in all places. His Love incessantly, persistently, and relentlessly pursues us until we become His own. His Love is His Passion, and we understand Passion in two ways. First, there is romantic passion, which steadfastly suffers in love for another person. Then there is that passion, which means to be acted upon, to suffer, to endure, and withstand all attempts to destroy Love. Christ's Passion is both of these. His Passion and Desire waggled and whipped up Abraham into faith and hope in God’s Word for the salvation of the nations. That same Passion resonated, reverberated, and resounded in the spirits of those Prophets whose souls heard God’s Word and were athirst for God, yea, even for the living God…[eagerly longing] to come before the presence of [their] God. (Ps. xlii. 2) God’s Word, as Passion made flesh, [will so love] the world, that He will give Himself as a living sacrifice and propitiation for its sins. (1 John ii. 2) What Jesus Christ then claims is that He is the everlasting I AM God’s Word, I AM Heaven’s Passion and Desire made flesh, I AM the way, the truth, and the life that alone loves all men and will conquer all attempts to separate men from the knowledge and love of God.
On this Passion Sunday, Jesus Christ persists and perseveres in His determination to reveal God’s Passion and Love for us. Our English word passion comes from the Latin word patior, which means to suffer, endure, permit, or be acted upon. Today he suffers a first rejection of His love for the salvation of all men. This will not disrupt, discompose, or disarray the Passion, which He receives from His Father, for our salvation. He does not come first to be loved but to love with that Love which can never be arrested, hindered, or impeded. He is God’s Love in the flesh. And as we shall see, that Love will so love us that though it be tortured, bruised, maimed, mocked, derided, gagged, silenced, and driven from the human flesh of Jesus, still it will be stirring, moving, visiting, summoning, transforming, transfiguring, and finally calling us in faith, hope, and love to rise up through Him into the journey back Home to the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father and His unending happiness. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: