"Truly, truly, I tell you," Jesus declared, "before Abraham was born, I am!"
I. IN RELATION TO THE FATHER.
1. His entire devotion to him. This includes:
(1) His perfect knowledge of him. "I know him." His knowledge of the Father was essential, absolute, and most intimate. It was not merely knowledge which he had gathered in the past, but which he derived and possessed in the present, then, on account of his oneness with him.
(2) His faithful confession of him. "I know him." He confessed him before men; did not hide the knowledge he possessed of the Father, but faithfully declared it.
(3) His thorough obedience to his will. "I keep his saying." His saying was his will expressed in and to Christ. The Father's saying was Jesus' message; this he faithfully kept and devotedly published. He swerved not from his Father's command on account of the most menacing threats of his foes, but most minutely and enthusiastically carried it out.
2. Some of the features of his peculiar honour.
(1) The honour of absolute self-denial and self-forgetfulness. He honoured not himself, but made himself of no reputation.
(2) The honour of the most devoted loyalty.
(3) Honour derived from the highest source, It was not self-sought, self-derived, nor self-conferred. This honour, he says, would be worthless. "My Father honoureth me." He was really what his Father made him, and he made him what he was because of his essential dignity and relationship and his official integrity and devotion.
3. His entire contrast with his foes.
(1) They were ignorant of him whom they called their God. "Ye have not known him." In spite of their great advantages, these had been lost. on them. Christ knew him absolutely, and manifested and proved his knowledge.
(2) They were utterly false. They were liars - false to themselves, to Jesus, and to God. Christ was true to all. He was the faithful and true Witness.
(3) Their claimed relationship to God was an empty boast. It was disproved by their spirit, language, actions, and whole conduct. Christ's relationship to God was real. His Sonship was most conclusively proved by his Divine knowledge, his public ministry, his Divine miracles, by his whole life.
II. IN HIS RELATION TO ABRAHAM, AND ABRAHAM TO HIM. These Jews claimed Abraham as their father, and attempted to cause a discord between him and Christ; but he reveals himself in relation to the patriarch.
1. In relation to his highest interest.
(1) The incarnate life of Jesus engaged the patriarch's most rapturous attention. "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day." The incarnate life of Jesus was revealed to him in the promise which God repeatedly made to him. This excited his interest, and became the subject of his ardent study. He meditated on it with delight, raised himself, as it were, on tiptoe to look over the shoulders of ages to catch a glimpse of it; stretched forward with eagerness and joy to behold it; made use of every light, and earnestly prayed for more.
(2) A vision of his incarnate life was granted him. "And he saw it." His faithful efforts met with success, and his eager faith was rewarded with the desired vision. Whether this refers to the general vision of his life of faith, or to some special one, is not certain. Perhaps it was specially enjoyed on the summit of Moriah, and through his own experience in offering up his only son he had a special vision of the incarnate life of the Son of God. This served as a telescope through which he saw the distant day close at hand, and beheld its leading features, and grasped its Divine and human bearings and import.
(3) This vision filled his soul with joy. "He saw it, and was glad." Being the chief vision of his life, his soul overflowed with delight and gladness. His was the joy of overflowing gratitude, intense satisfaction, and Divine fulfilment. Since he saw that day his joy was in his soul, a springtide which carried him at last to the brighter visions and diviner joy beyond.
2. In relation to Abraham's age. "Before Abraham," etc. This implies:
(1) The priority of his being. It was very little for him to say that he was before Abraham, considered in the full light of his statement, but it was a step in the right direction, and a reply to the objection of his opponents.
(2) The eternity of his being. "I am." "I was" here would place him among created beings, but "I am" at once reveals him as uncreated, eternal, self-existent, and independent of time and material conditions and circumstances, and makes him belong to the highest order of being.
(3) The unchangeability of his being. "I am." In time, and amid the changes of his visible and earthly existence, his eternal personality and consciousness are preserved unchanged. He is still the "I am."
(4) His unquestionable Divinity. If his being is uncreated, eternal, self-existent, and unchangeable, he must be Divine. This he most emphatically and solemnly asserts: "Verily, verily," etc.
III. HIS REVELATION OF HIMSELF IN RELATION TO HIS OPPONENTS.
1. They understood it. It was intellectually intelligible to them. They were too acquainted with the attributes and designations of Jehovah to misunderstand the language of Christ, and their application to himself was felt by them, as their conduct proves.
2. It became to them unbearable. "They took up stones," etc. A proof of:
(1) Inability to refute his statement. When stone throwing begins, arguments are at an end. Stone throwing is a sign of weakness.
(2) Inability to be convinced. Their false and malicious nature was patent against conviction. They could not rise to the Divinity of his Person and mission. This inability was sad, but wilful and criminal.
(3) Inability to control themselves. Passion was their master; hatred was on the throne. They fail to conceal them.
3. It widened the gulf between him and them. It was wide before - wider now. As he revealed himself in the sublimest manner as their promised Messiah and the Son of God, they in consequence revealed themselves in stone throwing as his most implacable and deadly foes.
4. His revelation was suitably appended by his apparently miraculous escape. "But Jesus hid himself," etc. Hid himself in the folds of his glory. A suitable sequel to his revelation of himself as their Divine Deliverer. How easily and effectively could he defend himself, and retaliate in their fashion! But he preferred his own. He had a royal road. He departed as a King. He could walk through the crowd unobserved, and through the stones unhurt. The weak are more ready to attack than the strong, but there is more majesty in the retreat of the strong than in the attack of the weak. When stone throwing begins, it is time for the messenger of peace to retire. The stones may kill his person, but cannot kill his published message, and he may be wanted elsewhere.
1. Natural relationships often survive the spiritual. The natural relationship between these people and Abraham, and even between them and God, still remained, while the spiritual was all but gone. This is true of God and evil spirits.
2. When the spiritual relationship is destroyed, the natural availeth nothing. It is only the foundation of an empty boast and hypocritical self-righteousness, and at last the source of painful reminiscences and contrasts.
3. The best of fathers often have the worst of children. This is true of Abraham, and even of God - the best Father of all.
4. Much of the religious capital of the present is derived entirely from the past. Many claim relationship with, and boast of, the reformers and illustrous men of bygone ages, and this is all their stock-in-trade. Their names are on their lips, while their principles are under their feet.
5. It was the chief mission of Christ to explain and establish the spiritual relationship between man and God. To establish it on a sound basis - the basis of faith, obedience, and love. To be the real children of God and of our pious ancestors, we must partake of their spiritual nature and principles. This Jesus taught with fidelity, although it cost him at last a cruel cross.
6. We are indirectly indebted to the cavils of foes for some of the sublimest revelations of Jesus of himself. It was so here. Their foul blasphemies, after all, served as advantageous backgrounds to his grand pictures of incarnate Divinity and love; so that we are not altogether sorry that they called him a "Samaritan" and a demon, as in consequence he shines forth with peculiar brilliancy as the Friend of sinners, the Son of God, and the Saviour of mankind. - B.T.
Before Abraham was, I am.
I. THE SELF-EXISTENCE OF CHRIST. The creature is a dependent being; God alone is independent and self-existent.
II. HIS UNCHANGEABLENESS. Change is written on everything earthly. The billows of a thousand generations may sweep over the rock, but it is steadfast. Jesus is "the same today, yesterday, and forever."
III. HIS ALL-SUFFICIENCY. We are at liberty to write what we like after "I am." Whatever you want to make you happy, put in there.
(J. M. Randall.)
1. Then we think of the eternity of Christ. There never was a point when He began to be. Not so with man, angels, the universe. Go back eighteen hundred years to the time of Abraham; back further still to the time of Noah, Enoch, Adam; back before any creature existed: "In the beginning was the Word," etc. Meet Him anywhere in eternity past or in eternity to come, and He says, "I am."
2. How can we think of the eternity of Christ? What know we of eternity? Suppose the patriarchs were living now, with what awe should we listen to their words weighty with the experience of millenniums. But they had a beginning. Let the ages be reckoned back to when the world was not, and added to those which shall follow till it shall cease to be, and what shall we pay for the stupendous sum total? But this is not eternity. Call in angelic numeration, and gather into one gigantic aggregate the sands of the shore, the drops of the ocean, and the stars of the sky; what would it be? Only a spot of spray to the immeasurable ocean.
3. But the eternity of Christ is a doctrine most blessed and practical, because related to the Divinity of Christ. We need a Divine as well as human Saviour, and we have one in the "I am."
I. Is Christ eternal? THEN ASSURED IS THE LIFE OF ALL LIVING THINGS, "By Him all things consist." Because He is eternal, the stars wax not dim; they are as bright to us as they were to Abraham. Because He is eternal, the flowers of each coming spring are as fair as their blooming ancestry in the dawn of the world. Because He lives, "While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest...shall not cease." Because He lives man lives. How sweet and fresh the beauty of the newborn child! The hand of the Eternal has moulded it. And so come the successive generations of children. The years bring changes, and the man is unlike the child. Yet the soul that lives in Christ is never old; it is "renewed day by day."
II. Is Christ eternal? THERE IS HOPE, THEN, FOR EVERY MAN. Withdrawn from human sight, He ever liveth to make intercession for us. Stephen saw Him, and Paul, and John; and now He reaches forth His invisible hand to save.
III. Is Christ eternal? THEN WE HAVE ONE ABIDING FRIEND. We can lose much here; much, thank God, that it is well to lose — ignorance, bad habits, sin. But there are some bereavements that impoverish us, through injustice, misfortune, accident, loss of friends. But if Christ is ours we have an eternal possession. He loves us to the end. Lose what we may, who can be poor with Him. "Who shall separate us," etc.
IV. Is Christ eternal? THEN HIS KINGDOM THOUGH DELAYED SHALL COME. We wonder at the tardy steps of Truth. But what are the millenniums to Christ? His name shall endure forever.
(G. T. Coster.)
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