The I AmRev. Philip Miller | February 14, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
Sin always looks like freedom until it’s too late. It always enslaves us in the end. But Jesus offers freedom—but that freedom only comes when we admit our bondage. In this passage from the end of John 8, Pastor Miller shows us three glorious offers from Jesus, but each offer has a tough reality we must face. Will we see that Jesus is the great I AM, able to liberate us from sin and Satan and death?
The “I AM”
Well, good morning. It’s good to see all of you. Before we jump in this morning, I want to say a quick thank you to Pastor Michael Best. Didn’t he do a good job last week? Let’s give him a little Amen in the chat, a thumbs-up. Let’s thank him. If you know him personally, give him a text and tell him how much he encouraged you with his words from God’s Word last week. They were excellent.
I also want to encourage you to join us for CARE 40. It starts Wednesday. It’s not too late to sign up. Please do that today. You go to moodychurch.org/care40 and sign up. It’ll be an impactful season for our church and for each of us as individuals.
Yesterday at the end of the snowstorm the clouds, I don’t know if you saw it, but the clouds sort of thinned out and the sun broke through, and all at once there was this glorious dazzling beam of light that came down. It was almost blinding. It’s amazing how bright the sun is off the fresh snow, isn’t it? And something like that happens here at the end of John, chapter 8. Today we’re looking at John 8:31–59, and up until this point Jesus has been relatively subtle and discreet, sort of the hinting at who He is through analogy. He’s said, “I am the bread of life.” “I have living water for you.” “I am the light of life.” The analogies help us to understand who Jesus is, but at the end of John, chapter 8, the clouds roll back and the Son, the S-O-N, shines through in brilliance, in unmistakable glory. It’s as if Jesus pulls back the veil, and there is piercing clarity about who He is and who He has come to be.
There are three successive waves here, if you will, of self-disclosure, one glorious offer after the other, and I want to show them to you this morning, these three glorious offers. Jesus first offers freedom. Then He offers a Father. And finally, He offers forever. And we’re going to use that as our outline as we work through this today.
Now each of these glorious offers from Jesus have a catch. They have a catch. There’s a contingency, a tough reality we have to face if we are to get to the other side and receive the glories that He has for us. And in Jesus’ day it was simply, for many of the people, too much. As a matter of fact, at the very end of this passage a group of them will pick up stones in order to kill Jesus because, friends, when the Son breaks through, they are either drawn to that brilliance or you are blinded by the light, and there’s really no middle ground left.
So I want to pray for us this morning as we see this passage, that we would see Jesus in all of His glory and brilliance, and that we would not be those who pick up stones, but those who fall on our knees at the feet of Jesus in worship. Let’s pray together.
Father, help us see Jesus, and help us respond. Send your Holy Spirit now to work in our hearts, that we might not resist what we hear here, that we might not harden ourselves or get angry with Jesus, but that we might allow Him to pierce through and show us who we are. And in dealing with those things, Father, would you help us embrace these glorious offers from your Son, for it is in His name that we pray? Amen. Amen.
The first glorious offer here from Jesus is the offer of freedom. Jesus offers freedom. Look with me at John 8:31, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him—” Pause for just a moment here. Recall the setting where this takes place. Jesus is at the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles or Sukkot, the feast in the fall that celebrated, commemorated the pilgrimage of the Jewish people through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. And they lived in tents and tabernacles, booths in the wilderness during that time, and so they did during this seven-day feast. And all throughout the feast, Jesus has been revealing Himself to be the fulfillment of this feast. As they poured out the water offering, Jesus (which commemorated the water from the rock in the wilderness), Jesus cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” When they lit the lamps in the evening, (commemorating the pillar of fire that led them through the wilderness), Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” And John tells us in chapter 8, verse 30, as He was saying all of these kinds of things that many believed in Him.
So many people are drawn to Jesus. They’re coming close. They are leaning in, trusting in who He is, but, you’ll recall, there’s also opposition in the crowd. The Pharisees are there, and they are looking for an excuse to arrest Him, to kill Him, to get rid of Him. And so there’s a mixed audience here, and Jesus will speak to different portions of that audience in this dialogue. But right here He addresses the many who are believing in Him. So chapter 8, verse 31 says, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”
He says, “Listen, I can tell my words have caught your attention. You are leaning in. You believe, and yet I want more than this. I want you to abide in my Word. I want you to settle down and make your home in my Word. I want you to dwell in it. I want you to reside in it. I want you to live in it. I don’t want you just browsing, you know, my Word on Zillow, you know, looking for a home possibly, just kind of shopping online. I don’t want you just going to the open house. I want you to move in. I want you to settle down. I want you to take up residence. Just as you are abiding in these tabernacles during the feast, I want you now to abide in my Word. And if you do, you will be my true disciples. You will be authentic and real. You will know the truth and the truth–my Word is truth–and that truth will set you free.”
This feast is all about freedom remember, the freedom, as God takes the people of Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness to the Promised Land. And Jesus is saying here, “Listen, I can give you even greater freedom, a true and greater freedom, if you will settle down and dwell in the truth of my Word, my promises, my teaching. You can be free.”
Now, the skeptics in the crowd object. And so here we have verse 33: “They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free?”’” (chuckles)
“Jesus, we’re not slaves. Jesus, we’re the children of Abraham here. We’re the freest people on the planet. We have the Law of God. We’re God’s chosen people. What are you talking about, Jesus?”
Verse 34: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.’”
He says, “I’m not talking about physical chains here. I’m talking about spiritual bondage. I’m talking about the sin that leads to slavery, the slavery of sin. Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. You think you are free, but you’re not. Sin has its tentacles wrapped around you. You need to be liberated.”
Now He shifts the metaphor here. He says, “Now, if you are a slave you have a status problem.” Verse 35: “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
See, slaves were temporary householders. Right? They just lived for a season. They didn’t have rights and privileges, but the son is a permanent resident of the household. He says, “You think you are sons of Abraham, and you are, but you are also slaves, and you need the Son, the true Son, to set you free so that you might be free indeed and stay forever. But right now you’re not.”
Verse 37: “I know that you are offspring of Abraham, yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” He says, “You are the offspring of Abraham. That’s true, but you’re not free. And how do I know that? It’s because you are seeking to kill me. The sin of murder has you in its grip, but you’re not free because my Word finds no place in you. If it did, you would be free because you would know the truth, and the truth would set you free, but you’re not truly my disciples because you are not abiding in my Word.”
And so, friends, don’t you see that Jesus is offering freedom to those who will admit their bondage? Jesus is offering freedom to those who will admit their bondage. There’s two groups of people here. There are those who will admit that they are sinners, that they are slaves to sin and they look to Jesus and Jesus will set them free. And on the other hand, there’s another group of people who are in denial about their bondage to sin. They insist that they are actually free when they are not, and they remain trapped. And friends, sin always looks like freedom until it’s too late. Sin always enslaves us in the very end.
Now we see this very obviously in sins that, for example, break the law, right? And you end up actually in prison for your sin. We see this clearly in sins of addiction, right, where we see people who, for whatever reason, have been swallowed up into an addiction. And now they can’t say no. They’re stuck, and of course everyone can see it’s bondage, it’s slavery, except for the person who is in it. And so we see the bondage of those kinds of sins, but what about just, you know, sort of average everyday sins? You know, like the little white lies and the things that everybody does? What about those? Do those lead to bondage?
Well, let’s talk about lying for a second. Think about what happens when you lie. You speak an untruth. You create a false narrative, and you play it out, right, with somebody? And then, after that you have to remember, don’t you? You have to remember who you said it to, and exactly what details you gave them so that next time you see them you can play into the same narrative and reinforce the story and not violate what you’ve already done. You have to distinguish between what really happened in your mind and what you’ve made up now, and you have to keep the narrative going. Right? And the longer you go and the further you go in playing out the narrative, the more trapped you are in the narrative. And here’s the most dangerous thing: one day you may come to believe the narrative you have told yourself. And then you are trapped, friend, in an alternative reality, in a denial of the way the world really is and you can’t step away from it, and then you are trapped. There’s no escape.
Or take the Pharisees here. How do the Pharisees get so seething and mad? Well, Jesus cleared the temple, remember? And their pride was wounded. And they nursed that wound and they grew jealous and resentful. And then He showed up on the Sabbath and He healed that guy and caused a confrontation. And when they pointed it out, He didn’t back down and they were more wounded and more threatened, and they became seething and angry and murderous in their intent, blind to all that He was telling them, vengeful. And don’t you see, how this sin has now taken hold of them and they cannot stop themselves. They are on a path to murder the Son of God. They cannot hear what He says. They are threatened and they are trapped now in a pattern of behavior, and they don’t know how to stop it. Friends, do you want proof of how deadly your sin is? Just look at how quickly it’s convinced you that it’s no big deal. So Jesus comes, and He offers freedom from sin, but there’s a catch because you’ve got to admit you are in bondage. You’ve got to admit you are in bondage. Don’t you want to be free?
The second glorious offer here is that Jesus offers a father. Jesus offers a father. In verse 38, which we just read, Jesus said, “I speak of what I’ve seen from my Father, and you do what you’ve heard from your father.” So my father, versus your father.
They pick up on this in verse 39. “They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’” (chuckles)
I don’t know who you think our father is, Jesus, but our father is Abraham. Let’s make that very clear.
“Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.’”
Wait a minute. Wait, what’s going on here? In verse 37, Jesus said, “I know you are the offspring of Abraham.” Right? He said that. He’ll say it again at the end of the chapter. In verse 39 though, here He says, “If you were Abraham’s children, you’d do what he did. You would welcome the truth of God when it comes, but that’s not what you’re doing.” So the implication? You’re not the children of Abraham.
Wait, what are you doing Jesus? Jesus is making a distinction here. He’s saying it’s not enough just to have the right bloodline. That the heritage that God counts on and looks for is the heritage of faith. Abraham’s true children are those who believe God and who believe in His Word and who believe in His messengers, in this case in Jesus Christ whom He had sent. And yet their murderous disbelief means that they are not true children of Abraham who is the father of all who believe. And they resent Him for pointing this out.
Look at verse 41: “They said to him, ‘We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father——even God.’”
Now this is probably a jab at Jesus. They know the gossip concerning Jesus’ parentage, that His mother had an unwed pregnancy. Of course we know that is by the Holy Spirit. This is the virgin birth of Christ, and yet the rumors have gone wild. And so they’re saying here, “Unlike you, Jesus, we have no sordid past in our origin story. We have one Father, God Himself.” Oh the irony.
Verse 42: “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.’”
Whew! Friends, these are massively indicting words. Not only are you false children of Abraham, because you don’t believe me, sent from God, you don’t believe the Word of God, but you are not even children of God because you are trying to kill me. That’s the devil’s agenda. And he’s working his way in your heart right now. Like father, like son. The devil is full of murderous lies, and you’re just like him.
It doesn’t get any more in your face than that, does it? But we have to remember Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that world might be saved through Him, and so these strong words are, it’s a warning, but it’s not a condemnation yet. It’s an offer. “Would you see what’s happened in your heart and see me and believe me, and I can save you, even from as far down this path that you’ve gone.”
See, Jesus is offering a father to those who will own their devilry. Jesus offers a father to those who will own their devilry. In all of this, friends, Jesus is making an appeal. He says, “You’re living in enslavement to sin. You’re under the power of the devil himself. This is more than bad habits. Satan has you under his thumb and he’s taking you down with him. But I’m here that you might have life. I’m here that you might be free. I’m here that you might no longer be slaves but that you might be sons. I’m here to bring you home. I am here that my Father might be your father.”
And Jesus offers a father, don’t you see? But there’s a catch. There’s a catch and it’s we have to own our own devilry. Now I don’t know about you, but that’s a hard pill to swallow. But if we’re honest, we know deep down that not only are we sinners, but we have joined the rebellion against God, and in doing so we have aligned ourselves not with light, but with darkness; not with God, but with Satan; not with heaven, but with hell. And Jesus is offering a father, His Father, to those who will own their devilry. Don’t you want God as your Father? Don’t you want Him?
The third glorious offer here is forever. Jesus offers forever. Look at verse 48: “The Jews answered him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’” Whew. Friends, this is a racial slur. Samaritans–the Jews hated them, they were half Jews, they were half-breeds, they thought. “These dirty Samaritans with their false Bible and their false religion, false temple.” And they play this a little further, this jab at Jesus. “We were not born of sexual immorality. You were. And we don’t even know who your father is. Maybe it was one of those Samaritans. Oh, and by the way, you have a demon too, just for good measure. You call us sons of the devil. All right, well you’re possessed by the devil.” It escalates kind of quickly, doesn’t it?
Verse 49: “Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.’”
My job is to honor the Father. The Father’s job is to honor me. He seeks it. He seeks it above all else. And He’s the Judge. His opinion matters most. In the end, He is the final Judge, and you do not want to be on the wrong side of the Judge. You do not want to be dishonoring me like this, not when the Father’s ambition is to honor me above all else. You do not want to be on the wrong side of the Judge. Judgment will fall, and there will be hell to pay.”
Oh, is there no way out of all this sin, of all this devilry, of all of this condemnation? Are they just trapped? Verse 51: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” He will never see death. (Chuckles)
Remember what Jesus said in John 5:24 and 25? Just a few chapters ago? “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.’”
“If you will keep my Word, if you will abide in my truth, if you will live in all that I have promised you,” Jesus says, “not only will I free you from enslavement to sin and give you a Father who will emancipate you from the devil, you will enjoy forever life because you will never see death. You will never see it. Oh, your bodies will die, but you will never see death. Death will not come for you. The Father will come for you and bring you into life eternal, and when you breathe your last you will immediately be ushered into the presence of God.”
Don’t you see the three great enemies of our souls here, friends? They’re right here: Sin, Satan, and death. And Jesus can free us from then all.
Verse 52: “The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died? Who do you make yourself out to be?’”
No one has ever been this presumptuous. It’s preposterous. Everyone sees that. Everyone tastes its sting. No one escapes, no patriarchs, no prophets, no persons. Who do you make yourself out to be?Verse 54: “Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, “He is our God.” But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’”
So finally Jesus tells us who His Father really is. Do you see it? He connects the dots. He says, “My father is the one that you say, ‘He is our God.’” “I am the Son of God.” That’s what He’s saying. And He says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
Now, Bible scholars have no idea what He’s talking about. Okay? You can go back to the life of Abraham and it’s like there are many possible points where Abraham might have gotten a clue about Jesus and His coming and all of this. We don’t know. Okay? But the point is that at some point Abraham foresaw at some level that Christ would come and usher in all the days of promise, and Abraham was excited. He rejoiced. He was glad when he saw it, unlike these Pharisees who actually see the day of Jesus and are filled with rage.
Verse 57: “So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’”
“Jesus, we have small chronology problem. Okay? Abraham lived like two thousand years ago. You’re not even like fifty. How on Earth...?”
Verse 58: “Jesus said them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
Friends, this statement is one of the most massive theological detonations of truth in all of the Scriptures. If all Jesus was trying to communicate was that He was preexistent before Abraham, okay, He would have said, “Before Abraham was, I was.” That would have been audacious enough, but it’s not what He said. What He says is even more radical. He says, “Before Abraham was, I am. I am!” And they immediately pick up stones to throw at Him because they know what this means. They know exactly where that comes from. This comes from Exodus 3:13 and 14 where God is appearing in the blazing of the burning bush and speaks to Moses, and Moses wants to know, you know, he’s commissioned to rescue the people. And he says, “Who shall I say sent me?” he says, “What is his name?” and God says, “I AM who I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent you.’” This is the proper name for the covenant keeping God. Four letters–the tetragrammaton. It’s called the yod, he, vav, he; Yahweh; “I am who I am.”Friends, Jesus could not have been more audacious or clear. He is saying, “I am the God of Israel.”
All of a sudden, don’t you see, the clouds part and the sun shines through the clearer, and we see why, why Jesus can be the one to liberate us from sin and Satan and death. It is because Jesus is the great I AM. Jesus offers here forever to those who will honor His deity. Jesus offers forever to those who will honor His deity. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
And once again there are two groups. There are those who believe. After all His disciples are there, right? Those who are believing in Jesus and honoring Him as Lord and as God. As Thomas will say at the end of the book, “My Lord and my God!”
And then there are those with stones in their hands. See, this blaze of radiant glory takes away all the middle ground. They can either crucify Him or bow at His feet and worship, but there’s no in-between. And forever hangs in the balance, friends. Don’t you want to live forever? Don’t you want to live forever?
Three takeaways in closing: First, friends, we have to remember we’re far worse off than we think. We’re far worse off than we think. As human beings, apart from divine grace, we are in a desperate world of hurt. Sin lures us in under the pretense of freedom, and it defrauds us, mocking us as we struggle in vain surprise against the very shackles with which we willingly adorned ourselves. We come to love and hate our sin, as we love and hate ourselves. And Satan holds dominion over us in oppression and torment, hostages held ransom by a terrorist hell-bent on destroying all that God holds dear. And death, that sinister and inexorable enemy, that swallows our hope, devours our happiness, harrows our days, and haunts our nights. As Ernest Becker wrote in his Pulitzer prize-winning book, “The Denial of Death,” “The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”
Friends, without Jesus, sin, Satan, and death are our slave-masters, and we are their captives. And no amount of self-help or good advice, or therapy will solve this problem. No, we need rescue. We need salvation. But the good news is that Jesus is far better than we realize.
Jesus is far better than we realize. Hebrews 2:14 and 15 say, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood (that would be us), he himself (Jesus) likewise partook of the same things (He gave them flesh and blood like us), that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
Friends, Jesus, the divine Son of God, took on human flesh and blood so that He might die in our place and for our sake to rescue us. Truly man, He would be our representative. Truly God, He could be our infinite sacrifice, to redeem us from our sin debt, to ransom us from Satan, to reconcile us with God, to rescue us from the power of death.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Jesus is the resurrected king. He alone is our Savior. Why? Because He is the great I AM. This blaze of radiant glory, we have to do something with Jesus, friends. Don’t you see that? Don’t you see that?
C.S. Lewis wrote this in “Mere Christianity,” “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse...You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any of this patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
See, friends, there’s far more at stake than we realize. There’s far more at stake than we imagine. If Jesus is who He said He is, the contrast could not be starker. Don’t you see that? Freedom or bondage, a father or a devil, forever or death.
Don’t you want to be free? You’ve got to admit your bondage. Don’t you want God as your Father? You’ve got to own your devilry. Don’t you want to live forever? You’ve got to honor His deity. Won’t you admit you are a sinner? Won’t you believe that Jesus is enough? Won’t you commit your life to Him?
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
Oh Father, help us to see Jesus. May this light draw us near and not blind us. Father, I want to pray for all of those who are hearing this now. Would you draw them to you? Let the light of Christ shine upon their hearts so that they might believe that you are who you say you are, and that Jesus is the one you have sent and there is life in His Word. Teach us to keep your Word, to believe your Word, to abide in your Word that we might be free, that we might know you as Father, and that we may live forever. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.