“46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 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.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 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.’ 55 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. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
My dear ones, the Gospel for today is a very special one because it tells us about a tense moment in the controversy between our Lord Jesus Christ and the Pharisees, a moment that took place right in the Temple in Jerusalem. On this occasion, the tension reaches maximum levels so that John tells us: "they picked up stones to throw at him" (Jn.8,59). This violent outburst of the Pharisees was generated by the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (Jn.8:56) and then, to the reply received from the Pharisees, our Lord Jesus Christ says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (Jn.8.58)
My dear ones, what must have upset the Jews so much that they took action for stoning our Lord Jesus Christ? In the Old Testament, stoning was a punishment that was applied in some very special situations such as: breaking the commandments regarding the Sabbath (Num.15), practicing necromancy and witchcraft (Lev.20), worship to an idol (Deut.7), adultery (Deut.22), disobedience to parents (Deut.21) and blasphemy of God's name (Lev.24).
A prophet could have said many things. In fact, most of the Old Testament prophecies were messianic promises, the prophets' hope being based on the coming of the Messiah, the one promised by God. But what a prophet could never have said are the words: "πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί". No prophet could have ever said ”before Abraham was, I am” (Jn.8.58) because such words could only be said by the almighty and eternal God. Therefore, the words of Jesus of Nazareth are seen by the unbelieving Pharisees as an extremely bold blasphemy, because, in their opinion, Jesus of Nazareth takes the Holy Name of God from the burning bush on the Many Horeb and attributes it to himself. In these words, Jesus of Nazareth says most directly: "I am the God who spoke to Moses from the fire" and who said to him as we read: "Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Ex.3,15). The Jews understood more than clearly what our Lord Jesus Christ wanted to convey and therefore considered that he was guilty of blaspheming God's name. A similar reaction we can see it when Jesus says to the Pharisees: ”ἐγὼ καὶ ὁ Πατὴρ ἕν ἐσμεν” in English: "I and the Father are one" (Jn.10,30). On this occasion, the Jews address the following words to our Lord Jesus Christ: "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God" (Jn.10,33).
John tells us about another very special moment. This time we are in the night when our Lord Jesus Christ was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Word of God tells us this: "Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” [...] When Jesus[ said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground" (Jn.18,4-6). Here we are dealing with the same words: "ἐγὼ εἰμί" but also with the reaction that these words have it on the soldiers who came to arrest our Lord Jesus Christ. My dear ones, these soldiers were not brought to the ground three times by a word of blasphemy, but rather by the power and the glory of God's Name were the cause of this.
A last episode that I want to remind you occurred during the trial of Jesus Christ in the Sanhedrin, the supreme religious authority of Israel. During this trial, the High Priest Caiaphas makes the following request to our Lord Jesus Christ: "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God" (Mt.26:63). Luke the makes known to us the answer of our Lord Jesus Christ, who says: "meμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι" meaning: "You say that I am!" (Lk.22,70). The word of God tells us that when the High Priest Caiaphas heard these words, he tore his clothes because the words of our Lord Jesus Christ were seen by him as a true blasphemy due to which our Savior was to be condemned to death. However, Scripture tells us that the leaders of the Jewish people showed no interest for God's Law. For them, the political power was far more important than God's Law. Therefore, Jewish leaders do not stone Jesus - as the Law required to punish the blasphemy - but they manipulate Pontius Pilate to sentence our Lord Jesus Christ to death for a presumed rebellion against Caesar.
We saw how the Pharisees interacted with the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, but how did we interact with them, today? What we understand from these special words? My dear ones, these words are a very clear confession coming from our Lord Himself, about who He is and why He came into this world of sin. Through his words, our Lord Jesus Christ says that he himself is the fulfillment of all the promises that God has made to the Holy Patriarch Abraham and to the Holy Prophet Moses. He is the Messiah, the one through whom God promised to bring salvation to this world from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil.
When our Lord spoke to the Holy Prophet Moses from the burning bush, He announced to him the deliverance of the people from the bondage of Egypt as we read: “I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Εx.3,17). This deliverance would be a supernatural one, a deliverance that would not be the work of man but the work of God himself, the creator of heaven and earth. In this supernatural deliverance, God would fulfill His promise made to the Holy Patriarch Abraham, to whom He said: "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing" (Gen.12,2). The Savior of this world would be born of the seed of the Patriarch Abraham. Every Jew knew this very well, and they knew very well that through the words: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (Jn.8:56) refers to the fact that the promise of saving this world through the seed of Abraham was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, who is truly the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Jesus of Nazareth was not just a V.I.P. of that moment, a miracle worker and a wonderful speaker. He is the solution that God has found for our deliverance from the true slavery in which mankind finds itself after sin, a slavery of death in which the devil holds all men. This news should have brought boundless joy to the entire Jewish people and to the whole world. But the Jews, instead of experiencing the joy of fulfilling God's promises, erupted in anger and wanted to kill the one who is the Lord of life, because they were simply unable to believe God's Word because the old Adam holds us in the bondage of sin, refusing to allow the Gospel to give birth to faith in us and to set us free from the bondage of sin, death, and devil. The old Adam, who still lives in each of us, refuses to believe the Gospel and the pride makes him to refuse to humble himself and to receive God's promises.
But, my dear ones, although the old Adam keeps us constantly under the curse of the Law as Paul says: “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom.7,18-19), the Gospel of Christ tells us that through our Baptism: “We know that our old self[a] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom.6,6). We know that in Christ we are God's people who receive the forgiveness of our sins in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that comes to us in the words of the Holy Absolution and by participating in the Sacrament of the Eucharist as we read: "in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith" (Gal.3,26). He who says of himself: "ἐγὼ εἰμί" or "I am" (Jn.8:58) is our Lord who will not abandon us in the bondage of sin because "he is" to save us from sin and death. For this, our Lord speaks to us from the unchanging words of his Gospel. But the old Adam cannot be converted, he must be crucified and buried. In this regard Paul tells us: "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom.6,4). By his own death, Christ crucified in Himself our sinful Adam, taking upon Himself all our sins and failures concerning the Law. This statement is the center of our faith because it speaks to us of our salvation through the substitute sacrifice of the Son of God. That is why, my dear ones, a tradition of the historical Lutheran Church liturgy for this Sunday is to cover the crucifix. This ritual does not come to show that we are ashamed of the crucifix or to prove that the crucifix is an idol, but because by this gesture we confess that we are not at all worthy of what Christ did there on the cross for us. This is also a confession that what we now see unclear by our weak faith, will be fully revealed to us when our Lord Jesus Christ returns to take us with him to the Land of Promise, as he promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of life submitted himself to death so that we might be set free from death and through his death to have eternal life.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is: “ἐγὼ εἰμί”, “I am” (In.8,58) comes to bring joy in a world of sadness and death. He obeyed to his Father voluntarily as we read: "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord" (Jn.10,18). Our Lord Jesus Christ gave up himself when the time appointed from eternity came.
My dear ones, Lent is not an eternal season but is followed by the Feast of the Resurrection of our Jesus Christ. The sorrow for sin that the Law works in us is transformed by the Gospel of Christ into the joy of salvation, because, says the Holy Prophet Isaiah, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Is.53,5)