Sermon for the festival of the Holy Trinity based on John 8:48-59
Dear people who will never see death: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
When God called Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, Moses asked God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:13-14)
“I AM,” or the original Hebrew “Yahweh”, is the name of God as He revealed it to Moses. It is translated as “the Lord” in most English translations of the Bible, but we would do well to remember the meaning is “I AM.”
When God revealed His name to Moses as “Yahweh” or “I AM,” it is not the first time God’s name appears in Scripture. Already in Genesis chapter two the name “I AM” appears multiple times when describing His creation of man and woman and His placing of them in the Garden of Eden. The name “I AM” is the most frequent name for God in the Old Testament, appearing over 5000 times.
“I AM” is God’s holy name. Out of fear of taking God’s name in vain, the Jews of Jesus’ time never uttered it. They were so scared of breaking the Second Commandment that they never spoke God’s name in prayer or worship. Even when reading from the Scriptures in synagogues, they would say “Lord” instead of “I AM,” which is written in the text.
“I AM” is God’s personal name indicating His eternal existence and the origin from whom all things came to be. Only God can say, “I AM.” He has no beginning; He has no end. In the book of Revelation, God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev. 1:8) In Isaiah God says, “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares I AM, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I AM he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am I AM, and besides me there is no saviour.’” (Is. 43:10-11)
So you can imagine the outrage of the Pharisees when Jesus describes Himself as “I AM.” The Pharisees, as usual, were arguing with Jesus. Jesus said, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” This set the Pharisees off in an uproar. They said, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets… who do you make yourself out to be?” The Pharisees did not understand Jesus was talking about eternal death and that Abraham and the prophets are alive with God in Paradise even though they died from this life.
Part of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees was saying, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” This only added fuel to the fire. The Pharisees replied, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”
Genesis tells us about I AM appearing to Abraham and speaking with him. I AM made promises to Abraham and made a covenant with him. I AM called Abraham out of his country and promised to make a great nation of him (cf. Gen. 10-25, esp. 18). This was more than two thousand years before Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees. So how can Jesus claim that Abraham saw Him? What is Jesus saying about Himself?
Just to remove all doubt, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus is claiming to be I AM. Jesus is taking God’s holy name for Himself. He is saying He is eternal with no beginning and no end. He is saying that before Him no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Him. He is saying, “I, I AM who I AM, and besides me there is no saviour.”
That’s why the Pharisees picked up stones to stone Jesus to death. Not only was He speaking God’s name, He claimed to be I AM, the one and only true God. In their eyes, this was blasphemy. Someone is guilty of blasphemy if he claims to be God and is merely a man. Recall that this was the only charge against Jesus of which He was found guilty in His trial before the Council.
Jesus’ words left the Pharisees with two options: believe that Jesus is God or believe that Jesus is some lunatic claiming to be God. There are no other options.
If Jesus was just a prophet of God, but not God in the flesh, then He would not have claimed to be God. No other prophet sent by God ever claimed to be the eternal I AM. If Jesus was a good teacher but nothing more, then He would not have said that Abraham had seen His day and was glad. No teacher is good who makes up such lies. Either Jesus is God or He’s crazy. There are no other options.
This means that you also only have those same two options to believe. Either Jesus is the great I AM, Yahweh, God in the flesh, or He is a lunatic and a liar. Either Jesus is right when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death,” or He is a liar and we should discard His every word. It’s all or nothing.
Any thinking that Jesus is anything other than I AM in the flesh is false. This is why today, being Trinity Sunday, we will confess in the Athanasian Creed that along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son is equal in glory and majesty, that He is uncreated, infinite, eternal, and almighty.
Although He is the eternal I AM, the Son humbled Himself by taking on flesh and becoming man. Although equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit as God, the Son humbled Himself to be a man, and thus to be less than the Father according to His humanity. Even more, He humbled Himself to the point of suffering and death.
The eternal I AM who has no beginning or end, before whom no god was formed and after whom no god shall be, the great I AM, besides whom there is no saviour gave His life for fallen man. The Creator of the universe died for the sake of His creation that has rebelled against Him. So great is His love towards us.
Since Jesus is the eternal I AM who kept His promises to Abraham, we know that He will also keep His promises to us. Whoever keeps Jesus’ Word will never see death, because Jesus saw death instead. Whoever trusts the promises of God has the promise of eternal life.
These promises to you are sure and certain because the eternal I AM has made them to you. He who has no beginning or end promises you that you will have no end. He before whom no god was formed and after whom no god shall be promised you in the waters of Holy Baptism that you belong to Him. The eternal I AM gives you His very body and blood to eat and drink making you eternal by giving you eternal life.
I AM saved His people Israel out of slavery in Egypt and He has likewise saved you from slavery to sin. You are saved from the punishment of sin. You are saved from eternal death. You are saved to call on God’s name in prayer and praise. And because you cling to this Word of God, you will never see death. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.