A Meditation on John 8:57-59
(Please read this scripture passage BEFORE the meditation)
Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem, teaching and arguing with scribes and Pharisees, who hoped to catch him saying something against the Law. In the conversation, which has been going on quite awhile at this point, Jesus boldly states that the reason they don't recognize and accept what he is teaching is that they have turned a deaf ear to God.
Their response: "Are we not right in saying you are a (hated) Samaritan, and have a demon? Jesus flatly denies that, saying he doesn't have a demon, but honors God while they dishonor him. Further, he is content to let God be the judge. Then, Jesus says, "...whoever keeps my word will never see death." That did it! They thought they had him for sure!
"Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets, yet you say, 'Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.
Who do you claim to be?
Archbishop William Temple: "The claim that if a man observes his word he shall be freed from death is the claim of a fanatic or lunatic - unless it's true!" But, the Jews missed the special nuance of the phrase Jesus used. They said "never taste death," but Jesus himself tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9).
Amazed and confused, they asked, "Who do you claim to be?" My glory is nothing. " It is my Father who glorifies me." "You don't know him,...but I do know him and I keep his word." Then Jesus picked up on Abraham, saying that "he rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad." Pointing to Jesus' age, the Jews asked, "Have you seen Abraham?" In responding, Jesus "lit the fuse." saying: "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am." Here note there was a Jewish tradition that in Abraham's vision (Gen. 15:8-21) he saw the whole history of his descendants.
At the words, "I am," the Jews were jolted - they could not possibly miss Jesus' claim to Deity! They immediately picked up stones (the temple being still under construction) to throw at him, but he was able to hide himself in the crowd and went out of the temple.
Here we see the astounding hostility which Jesus encountered in Jerusalem. Obviously, the whole religious leadership of the temple can't accept what God was doing in Christ. Observing the depth of the hostility revealed in chapter 8 of John's Gospel, it's no great surprise that Jesus was crucified within a year's time.
Tensions can run very high in matters of religion - remember the 16th century Reformation! More recently, new ideas re: morality and marriage have shaken many churches and denominations! Ponder for a few minutes whether you would have always stood with Jesus, if you had been a Jew at that time!
But the really defining issue is Jesus' ultimate claim about himself. He is not just another in a long list of prophets, or a rabbi, challenging the theological experts in the temple. He is the eternal Word of God, made flesh, in whom is our hope for all eternity!
Collect: (Epiphany 2) Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world; Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.