I AM Is Our Savior.
The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 8:46-59
In Christ Jesus, who told the truth, even though it caused many to oppose and attack Him, dear fellow redeemed:
Was he just seeing things? Was his mind playing tricks on him? There Moses was out in the wilderness, when he came by a bush that was on fire. That might have been interesting enough, but Moses noticed that the bush was not burning up. Fire was in the bush, but the bush remained whole. Moses thought he would have a closer look. At that moment, God called out to Moses from the bush and told him to stop and take off his sandals, “for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exo. 3:5).
Then God said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (v. 6). Moses was afraid. How could he, a sinner, stand in the presence of the holy God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? But God had plans for Moses. Moses would lead the people of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt.
Now Moses hadn’t left Egypt under the best circumstances forty years before this. He wondered if the Israelites would accept his leadership. If he told them the God of their fathers had sent him, and they asked for the name of this God, what should he tell them? God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM …. Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (v. 14). God had given His personal name. It is a name that emphasizes His undeniable existence and a name that indicates His absolute power. God is I AM. He said, “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (v. 15).
The Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt, but as time passed, God’s people did not always remember Him. The God I AM might have been good enough for Abraham and Moses, but the people wanted something else. They liked the look of the gods of the nations around them. Those religions did not require so much self-discipline, so much sacrifice. In fact those religions offered the opposite: self-gratification and self-service.
But God loved His people. He is a faithful God. He sent prophets to call the people to repentance. Sometimes, some listened. But other times, the people mistreated the prophets and killed them. The week of His death, Jesus recounted this sad history with the chief priests and elders. He told them a parable about a vineyard owner who left the care of his vineyard to tenants and went away. At harvest time, he sent servants to gather up the fruit, but these were beaten, killed, and stoned. So he decided to send his son, saying, “They will respect my son.” But they killed him too (Mat. 21:33-39). Jesus was speaking about the Israelites who killed the prophets and who now planned to kill Him, God’s Son.
This tension between the religious leaders and Jesus had been building for a while. Today’s text presents one of their conversations in which neither side held anything back. The Pharisees insinuated that Jesus was born through a sinful union (Joh. 8:41), that He was a Samaritan, and that He had a demon (v. 48). They, on the other hand, presented themselves as being faithful descendants of Abraham.
Jesus replied, “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” (vv. 39-40). He said that they were not following their father Abraham but their father the devil, because they were doing what the devil does, which is lie and murder (vv. 44, 55). Which side was correct? They could not both be right. Either Jesus was telling the truth when He said He came from God, or the leading Jews were right in calling Him an imposter.
Jesus had powerful testimony on His side. For one thing, there was the evidence of His signs and miracles. A ruler of the Jews had earlier come to Jesus and admitted, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (Joh. 3:2). And then there was the evidence of His teaching and life, which the Pharisees could hardly criticize. As Jesus said at the beginning of today’s text, “Which one of you convicts Me of sin?”
Still these religious leaders rejected Him. They had hardened their hearts against Jesus. They refused to acknowledge what all the evidence pointed toward—that Jesus was God in the flesh. They believed the lie that the devil had planted in their hearts, and they willingly cultivated this lie. They agreed that Jesus must be eliminated. Then they could get back to the way things were before when the people looked up to them, and they got to make the rules.
It surprises us that the Pharisees could be so blind. Why didn’t they just listen to Jesus? Why didn’t they just believe? The same questions can be asked of us. By the grace of God, we do believe in Jesus. But do we always listen to His Word? Jesus said very clearly, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” This includes all of God’s Word, even the parts that seem old-fashioned or too extreme for modern society.
Just as there was tension between Jesus and the Pharisees, there is tension between us and the world. The Bible presents a very different view than the world does of many different things, such as the purpose for our lives, what we are free to do and not do, and our responsibilities toward God and our neighbors. It is tempting for us to give ground in these areas, to go along to get along. The way some Christians deal with this tension is to confess one thing on Sunday morning, but to take a totally different approach in their work and interactions with friends. They stand for one thing one day and the opposite thing the next. This is hypocrisy.
If we consider the Bible to be God’s truth, and if we actually value these words, we will live our lives according to them. Through our words and actions, we will want to show others the hope we have in Christ. Living such a life will almost certainly put us at odds with people around us. Those who practice self-gratification and self-service will be uncomfortable with our lives of self-discipline and sacrifice. But by our humble example, they may in time be won over to the truth.
Of course none of us can sit here today and think we have done all we could to honor God’s Word. We do not hear it and study it as diligently as we should. And we do not honor it with a consistently holy life. If we could do this on our own, with the force of our own will, then we really wouldn’t need Jesus’ presence in our lives. But we do need His presence. We can’t live the way we should apart from Him.
And this is why the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and the God of Moses took on human flesh. Before, God had sent representatives—prophets, priests, and kings—to speak His Word. Now the Father sent His only Son. What happened in the incarnation parallels the mystery of the burning bush that Moses saw. The LORD was in the fire in the bush, but the branches of the bush did not burn up. In a similar way, the divine nature of the LORD was joined to the flesh of man, but the flesh of man was not consumed. Jesus was true God and true Man in one person.
In other words, the God who before shared His personal name “I AM,” could now be apprehended in a still more personal way. Now He could be seen and heard and touched. Now the religious leaders could lie to His face, they could arrest Him and beat Him. Now He could suffer and die. These things were all part of God’s plan. God wanted the world to have a Savior, and no one could do it but I AM incarnate.
In the Gospel of John, he records a number of examples where Jesus ties Himself to the name I AM, and where He speaks words of comfort for sinners. Jesus said:
- “I AM the bread of life” (6:35, 48).
- “I AM the light of the world” (8:12).
- “I AM the door of the sheep” (10:7,9).
- “I AM the good shepherd” (10:11,14).
- “I AM the resurrection and the life” (11:25).
- “I AM the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6).
- “I AM the true vine” (15:1).
And perhaps the clearest of them all is from today’s text: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” It was unmistakable. Jesus claimed that He is “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exo. 3:15). The Pharisees called it blasphemy; they picked up stones to kill Him. We call it salvation. God came in the flesh to be our Savior and the Savior of all sinners.
We can no longer see and hear and touch Jesus, like His first disciples could. But I AM is still with us. He tells us to look for Him in the administration of the Sacraments and to hear Him in the preaching of His Word. These are the ways He comes to each of us personally and brings us the spiritual healing, strengthening, and forgiveness that we could not live without.
Our God does not leave us to drown in our sins or be overcome by the devil. He has redeemed us, so that we would be called the spiritual descendants of Abraham. Like Abraham we trust in Him alone for salvation, and through this faith in Him we are saved. “To God and to the Lamb, / Who is the great I Am, / While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing, / While millions join the theme, I will sing” (ELH 306, v. 3).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(painting is portion of the altarpiece in Weimar by Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1555)