"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." So the Jews 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 born, I am." - John 8:56-58I have read and reread this chapter over the last week, and these three verses always give me chills. This occurred during the Feast of Booths, a sequence which starts in chapter 7 and contains several discourses given by Jesus which assert His deity and His mission. Earlier in chapter 8, Jesus claimed to be the Light of the world. When the Pharisees challenged Him on that statement and deny that anyone can testify to what He is saying, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15--which says that two witnesses are needed to verify a testimony--and says, "I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me" (v. 18). They did not understand who He meant when He said the Father, so they asked where His father was. He answered, "You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also." He told the disciples the same thing in the upper room (John 14). He went on to tell the Pharisees that He will soon go away, but they cannot join Him where He is going--because they will die in their sins (v 21). "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world" (v 23). I am sure they were shocked by this statement, because they asked, "Who are you?" (v 25). Jesus then takes the opportunity to tell them about the Father and His loyalty to Him. And hearing His word, many came to believe in Him.
Jesus said to those who had believed Him, "I will make you free" (v 31). I am sure this offended some of them, because they replied that they had never been enslaved and they were Abraham's children. Jesus tells them they are enslaved to sin, but He will make them free. He tells them, "If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do" ( 39b-40). Jesus never sugarcoated His message. He never gave the people what they wanted to hear. He gave them the truth plain and simple. In fact, many of His disciples left Him after a hard message in John chapter 6.
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, "This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?" But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, "Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe."...As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore." - John 6:60-64a, 66Jesus would not water down His message to gain followers. He just told them the truth, hard as it was for many of them to take. It is the Spirit who gives life, not fancy words or eloquent discourses. Those are all fine, but without the work of the Spirit, there is no life given and no transformation of the old man into the new. Jesus said that His words are both Spirit and life. This is why I emphasize the Bible so much. My words are fluff. Other preachers words are fluff. It is the words from the Spirit that give life. If I quote John MacArthur or Phil Johnson or Chuck Smith non-stop, there would be no profit. Each of these preachers derived their words from studying the Word of God--and you would be hard pressed to find more than a minute of text from a sermon of any of those three that does not reference Scripture at least once--but they themselves will admit that their own words by themselves do not have the power draw people to God much less save them. It is the Word of God that has the power. I'm not saying that preachers are not inspired by the Spirit, because I believe that true pastors receive their message from the Spirit. But it is through the Scripture, which is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16) for all teaching, that the Spirit edifies. Any sermon that does not constantly refer to the word of God to back up their argument is suspect to me. Even worse is the fact that a lot of sermons now quote psychologists and philosophers more than Scripture. It is the most lamentable thing that Scripture has no authority in most churches, because it is filled with 'hard teachings that people do not want to hear.'
Back to John chapter 8, when Jesus gave them hard words, "The Jews answered and said to Him, 'Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" (v 48). Jesus knew full well that many would not believe His words. When He told them He alone could provide eternal life, the Jews scoffed at the notion, because Abraham, Moses, and the prophets had died. And this is where the glorious I AM statement comes in. They again ask who He is, and Jesus replies: "If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, 'He is our God'; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." So the Jews 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 born, I am." They understood exactly what He said to them this time. They understood here that He was claiming to be God. In Exodus chapter 3, when Moses asked the voice from the burning bush who he should say had sent him, he was to say I AM had sent him. So when Jesus said I AM, the Jews understood He was claiming to be God, and "Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple."