Our own Clive appeared on the programme with Jeremy Paxman
But here it is the question that they ask Jesus.
They think they know the answer: You’re a Samaritan and demon possessed – and they’ve certainly got an answer at the end of the passage: he is a heretic.
It is the question behind the whole of John’s story of Jesus. In John 20.31 he says that he writes so that we might believe ‘that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him we might have life in his name’.
Jesus, in these short verses, makes three astonishing claims
1. He can give us eternal life
‘If you keep my word you will not die’.
Jesus is not saying that we won’t experience physical death. I can think of only two people who have not experienced physical death (Enoch and Elijah)
But he is saying that if we keep his word we will not experience real death.
Jesus is claiming to be bigger than death. It is an astonishing claim, and I guess it needs to be justified.
In Chapter 11 Jesus again says that he is the resurrection and the life, and he goes on to prove it by raising Lazarus from the dead.
And in a few days time we will celebrate again Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead.
So if we believe him, if we trust him, if we receive him, if we allow the seed of his word to come into us, if we remain in him and his words remain in us, we will physically die (not much escaping that), but we will not die.
DL Moody said: ‘One day you will read in the obituary column that DL Moody is dead. Don’t believe a word of it’.
2. Jesus claims to share the Glory of God
He says here, ‘God is my Father and my Father glorifies me’
J is saying, ‘I’m not glorifying myself. I don’t need to. My Father glorifies me.’
I was going to preach a very profound and deep sermon on the nature of glory – but it was so deep I couldn’t understand it myself, and it got binned!
But basically we are speaking here of the glory of two lovers. They know each other – at the very deepest of levels. They see the beauty, the wonder, the truth, the creativity, the wisdom, the power, the love of the other. The lover forgets himself and wants everyone to know how beautiful, how wonderful the beloved is. But the beloved also forgets themselves and wants everyone to know how radiant, how marvellous the lover is.
These are not two lovers obsessed with each other to the exclusion of all. We are actually speaking not of two, but of three. There is a Trinity of glory. And the Spirit holds out their hand to the world they created. So the person who comes to Jesus, who receives his word, who allows his word to come into them – just as in a few minutes we are going to receive the bread and wine deep into us – becomes part of that relationship.
We are caught up in the glory and wonder of the Father and the Son – and even more remarkably we share in that glory.
3. Jesus claims to be bigger than time and equal with God
He speaks of Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, longing to see the day when he would come. And by faith, even though he lived about 2000 years before Jesus, he did see it. He saw the day when one of his descendants would come and be the blessing for all peoples of all nations. And he was glad.
But then Jesus makes the most outrageous statement. When they say, ‘You are not 50 years old. How can you say that you have seen Abraham’ (in fact Jesus did not say that. He said that Abraham saw his day), Jesus replies, ‘Before Abraham was I am’. And that statement ‘I am’ is a clear reference to the sacred name of God that the Jews cherished. It was so holy that they could not repeat it. And the name was Yahweh, ‘I am who I am’. So it is no surprise that when Jesus said, ‘Before Abraham was, I am’, they picked up stones to hurl at him. He had just uttered the greatest of blasphemies. He had identified himself with God.
Who do you think you are? It is a theme of this chapter. (cf. v25)
But Jesus turns it round
He asks us another question: who do you think you are?
Are you someone who will throw stones at me or who will worship me?
Are you someone who will glorify my Father, and who will share in the glory that he gives to me?
Are you someone who is alive, and will never die, or are you someone who is dead?
John is very black and white
If we have not come to Jesus we are blind, spiritually blind. We simply cannot see our sin or see God.
If we have not come to Jesus we are dead, spiritually dead.
That is a challenge to those of us who like grey areas, who have been brought up to suspect any claim to absolutes.
From one perspective that can be helpful: we can be people who look for harmony
But from another perspective it is harmful: we become pick and mix people, and in the end we choose what suits me.
But Jesus here does not give us that luxury. His claim on our life is absolute.
Either he is God, or he is a mad heretic.
Either he is bigger than death and can give us life, or he can’t
And what John seems to say is that the only way we will find out if that is true is to respond by faith to those feelings, those thoughts, those prompts which tell us that He is the truth and he is the way. In simple trust we need to pray (so-called sinners prayer – welcome him, bow before him; the Lord’s prayer), be attentive to his word, commit ourselves to come to worship and to seek to live daily for him and with him.