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28 - Christ Before Abraham

The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 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. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 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?” 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 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, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.


As Jesus begins His response, He appears to immediately dismiss the first of the two accusations as so absurd that it doesn’t even warrant the validation which would be given by saying anything about it. There are a couple of possibilities as to why Jesus responds the way He does, and it seems both may hold some validity:


First – no, He’s not a Samaritan; Galilee bordered the northern portion of Samaria, but that was the only relationship between the two areas. Their first accusation is factually incorrect, and it may be therefore that He chooses to simply ignore it for this reason.


Second – their disdain for Samaritans may warrant silence on Jesus’ part simply as a way of saying, “Guess what – a person’s racial or ethnic identity shouldn’t have the bearing you give to it.” The Jews of this time associated Samaritans with apostasy, as Samaritans subscribed to a slightly modified version of the Jewish faith. We see Jesus associate with the Samaritan woman in John 4 (a major social taboo on numerous levels) and He of course tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Jesus clearly speaks well of those who are widely considered enemies of the Jewish people – not because He agrees with them, but because they are automatically ostracized. They serve a powerful illustrative purpose in the ministry of Christ as those who are not typically given the benefit of basic human dignity by the Jewish people. All – yes, all – ought to be cared for and loved by the people of God.


The second accusation leveled against Jesus, however, is one to which He responds. For a similar accusation in Matthew 12, Jesus spoke of an “unforgivable sin.” Many today would agree that this sin is attributing the clear, manifest work of God to the work of the devil, which appears to be exactly what the people are doing in this moment. The question was never whether or not Jesus was able to do wondrous things; the question, rather, was how He did such wondrous things. The Jews of Jesus’ own lifetime chose to explain His actions by saying they were demonic in origin. Many today try to simply ignore them. In any case, they demand an answer. How does Jesus do what He does?


For the skeptic, the Gospel accounts are simply misguided or antiquated. Some, like Bart Ehrman, like to treat them as mythical stories which greatly exaggerate what Jesus was actually doing. But assume, for a moment, that the works of Christ cannot simply be brushed under the proverbial rug. If we assume that they actually did occur, it leaves us in much more of a predicament. We’re left to ask, how?


In my understanding, there are only two ways for this to be answered: either (a) the Jews were correct in their assessment and these works were done deceptively; or (b) Jesus is exactly who John claims He is – the Son of God in human flesh. Both responses, if we’re honest, cause problems for us individually.


In the former case, how do we explain the genuine goodness which is so prevalent throughout Jesus’ ministry? How is it possible that the author of evil could manifest so much legitimate good?


In the latter case, how can I justify living in nonconformity to the words of Christ? How could I ever do anything which was not completely aligned with His teachings if He did what He is said to have done by the power of God? I think back to the words of Polycarp before his martyrdom: “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Each of us would have to respond in like manner. All the days of my life, He has been the One who proved faithful – not me. How could I do anything other than walk in total, faithful obedience to Him?


Thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your faithfulness when we prove unfaithful. You are good. You are righteous. You are true. It is in our deepest rebellion that You choose to banish the darkness and align us with Your will – it was while we were yet sinners that You chose to die for our sake. Today, let me proclaim the truth of Your gospel. Let me see those around me as You see them. Open my eyes to the reality of who You are and the power of Your hand at work. Work within my heart and bring me into conformity with Your will in all things, that I might not blaspheme my King who saved me. May my heart long for You above all else.

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