Did He Really Say That?

June 24, 2012

Man on the Street video about Jesus.
So who do you think Jesus was? And more importantly: who do
you think Jesus is today?   You obviously think something about Jesus you
are sitting in church on Sunday Morning. 
So who is Jesus for you?  Usually
Jesus gets good reviews, even when people don’t think he was born of a virgin,
or was raised from the dead or was the Son of God, they like the idea of Jesus
even if they aren’t entirely comfortable with all that is taught about
Jesus.  And because of that people
sometime try to redefine him into someone they can understand.   That is why Mikhail Gorbachev could say “Jesus was the
first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.”  And Mahatma Gandhi would write “A man who was
completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others,
including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect
act.”   Atheist Friedrich Nietzsche wrote “The word
“Christianity” is already a misunderstanding — in reality there has
been only one Christian, and he died on the Cross.” And John Lennon said
“Jesus
was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it
that ruins it for me.”
But who did Jesus say he was?  That is really the crux isn’t it?  Because it doesn’t really matter what people
say about Jesus, or how people define Jesus. 
What really matters is how Jesus defines himself.
In the scripture that was read
earlier Jesus makes a statement and a claim that was readily understood by
those who first heard it but sometimes causes confusion when it is read
today.  So this morning we are going to
take a look at John 8:58 Jesus
answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!”   And some of you can’t get your mind
around that because you are so caught up in the obvious incorrect use of the
verb.   You are thinking “No, he should
have said ‘before Abraham was even born, I was!”  And that is because you are thinking that
Jesus was using “I am” as a verb when in reality he was using it as a noun.  How confusing is that? 
So let’s go back to the story
to find out what exactly was going on here.
There are a couple of key
thoughts that happen here in John 8. 
Jesus has been teaching the crowds and we read this statement in John
8:30
Then many who heard him say these things
believed in him.
That’s awesome, people are
believing in Jesus.  And for many
churches that is all they require that people believe in Jesus.  But Jesus wasn’t content that they merely
believe in Jesus, he seemed to feel that it was important that they believe in
the right Jesus.   He challenged them on
their beliefs.  And he does that
different times when he asked the Apostles “Who do people say I am?  And more importantly who do you say I
am?” 
And so after we read of the
many who believed in Jesus we see Jesus confronting their beliefs.  John 8:31-32 Jesus
said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you
remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth
will set you free.”
And this bothered them.  They immediately interject John
8:33
“But we are descendants of Abraham,” they
said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set
free’?”  And they get angry, and
nasty.  They had assumed that their
religion would save them, they just wanted to add Jesus as a condiment.  They believed in the Jesus they wanted to
believe in, not Jesus as he defined himself. 
And so they get into this big discussion about his standing with Abraham
and he tells them John 8:56 “Your
father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was
glad.”
And that is more than they can
stand, that’s just madness and that’s what they tell him John
8:57
The people said, “You aren’t even fifty
years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?”
Now if Jesus simply wanted to
talk about his pre-existence he would have said ‘before Abraham was even born,
I was!”  but that isn’t what he says,
what he says is John 8:58 Jesus
answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!”   And that is confusing for us but it
wasn’t confusing for those he said it to, because listen to their response. John
8:59
At that point they picked up stones to
throw at him.
It wasn’t because he had bested
them in intellectual debate, it was because of what he was claiming.  And they knew exactly what he was saying,
they weren’t confused at all.  They had
all been brought up in the culture of the Torah and the Old Testament, they
knew the story of Moses and how he had delivered the people of Israel from the
slavery of Egypt and they most certainly knew how God spoke to Moses from
burning bush.
Maybe you remember the
story.  How the Israelites had become
slaves in Egypt and how the Pharaoh had become worried that the slaves were
becoming too numerous and might rise up in rebellion.  So he orders all the boy babies that are born
to the Israelites be killed.  One Jewish
mother hid her baby boy in the bulrushes along the Nile River and it was there he
was found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who named him Moses, and he is raised in the
Palace as the Grandson of the Pharaoh. 
Still with me?  When Moses was an
adult he discovers his heritage and one 
day he comes across an Egyptian beating an Jewish slave, he steps in and
while defending the slave he kills the Egyptian.  Facing possible murder charges Moses flees to
the desert where he is eventually called by God to go back to Egypt and rescue
his people.  If you don’t know the story
from the Bible you know it from the Disney film, Prince of Egypt, which has
more singing.  And at this point you may
be thinking, “Sure but what does this all have to do with people throwing rocks
at Jesus?”  We’re getting there. 
The way God speaks to Moses is
from a burning bush, and Moses isn’t sure he is up to the challenge, after a
little bit of back and forth Moses agrees to accept the challenge, but he has
one last question for God.  And we find
that question in Exodus 3:13 But
Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of
your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then
what should I tell them?”  Good  question Moses, and here is the answer to
Moses question and the answer to your question what does this have to do with
people wanting to stone Jesus. 
Exodus 3:14 God
replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has
sent me to you.”   And so when
Jesus said in John 8:58 Jesus
answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!” He
wasn’t saying “I was around before Abraham was created”  he was saying “I created Abraham”.  And the people understood that in no
uncertain terms that Jesus was saying “I am God”.  And they considered that blasphemy and under
Jewish law the penalty for blasphemy was spelled out in Leviticus
24:16
Anyone who blasphemes the Name of the
LORD must be stoned to death by the whole community of Israel.
It is interesting that these
are the same people who were there when this passage began, remember how they
were described?  John
8:30-31
Then many who
heard him say these things believed in him.   
Jesus said to the people who believed in him . . . They
wanted to believe in Jesus as a good man, they wanted to believe in Jesus as a
great teacher, or as a prophet, or as a healer and miracle worker they didn’t
want to acknowledge Jesus as God. 
And some things never change, a
few years ago a United Church minister in our community was quoted in the paper
as saying that: Jesus was a spiritual genius, like Mozart was a musical genius,
or Picasso was an artistic genius, but he wasn’t the son of God. 
Apparently Jesus thought he was
and apparently those he taught had no doubts about the claims he made. 
C.S Lewis wrote in “Mere Christianity” “‘I’m ready to accept Jesus, as a great moral teacher, but
I don’t accept his claim to be God’. 
This is the one thing we must not say. 
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said
would not be a great moral teacher.  He
would either be a lunatic on a level with a man who says He’s a poached egg, or
else He would be the devil of Hell.  You
must make the choice.  Either this man
was and is the Son of God or else a Madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit
at Him and kill Him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord
and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a
great human teacher.  He has not left
that open to us, He did not intend to.”
So Let’s start with this.  There
was a Jesus
You see even the most liberal amongst us aren’t willing to say
that there never was a Jesus.  That is
now beyond debate. 
This claim that Jesus did not really exist arose in the 18th
and 19th centuries but after  a hundred
years or so it has been almost universally refuted. There are very few scholars
who would attempt to seriously teach that today, the evidence just isn’t there to
support that position.
However, there are still many people in the world today who
buy into that view and some who even promote it.  But when you hear someone making this claim,
they are simply repeating what they have heard someone else say. They have done
no real research, they are simply parroting back something they have heard or
read.  Because the truth is, there is
overwhelming evidence for the historic Jesus, both biblical and non-biblical.  And simply because you didn’t see it for
yourself is not a reason to believe. 
That’s like saying the Leafs have never won the cup, just because there
isn’t anyone here who was alive when it happened. 
There is Biblical
Evidence For Jesus’ Existence
The problem here is that some people
immediately tell you that you can’t believe the bible, their view is very
similar to the view of  “George
Gershwin” Song “Ain’t Necessarily So” 
“It
ain’t necessarily so No, it ain’t necessarily so These things that you’re
liable, to read in the bible. No it ain’t necessarily so”
So what are some objections to the validity of the
gospels? 
The Dating of the
Gospels. 
For some people they feel
that because we don’t have actual copies of a gospel account that was written
the day after the resurrection that information can’t be trusted. 
But that was a different time.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wouldn’t have
just opened their laptops and started to type out the story.  For that matter they wouldn’t have dug out
their lined notepads and ball point pens and started to write.  Writing material were very expensive and hard
to come by and so 2000 years ago people relied on what is called “Oral
Tradition”  that is the story was passed
on from one person to the next in community. 
And when we think of that today we think of the “telephone
game” you know where the first person in the group whispers something to the
second person, who whispers it to the third person and so on and so on until it
gets to the last person in the group and then everyone laughs over how much the
original has changed.  But this wasn’t
done in whispers this was done in community, where someone could challenge the
telling of the story and say “Wait that isn’t the way it happened.”
Anthropology has shown that ancient cultures could pass on
oral traditions without error.  It was
their way of preserving their history, their story and their culture and it was
very important that the story be told without error.  And that has become a lost skill because we
don’t need it anymore.  Like doing math
in your head.  There was a time that you
could add a string of numbers in your head and figure out your change because
you had to .  And so I could ask you to
add up 1 + 5 + 7 + 7 + 4 – 3  the answer
would be?  21.  Do you remember when you could spell words?
Correctly? Without spell check?  It’s a
lost art. 
And so in the same way we, through neglect, we have lost the
art of oral tradition. 
And in most cases we don’t negate a historical document
simply because it wasn’t written down at the time it happened. 
But the Gospels were written down, and they were written
down while the eye witnesses were still alive. 
When it comes to accuracy, when the oldest copies of N.T. books are
compared to today’s version, they proved to be 99.5% identical. Of the
0.5% differences, none had anything to do with doctrinal teachings
The Bias of the
Writers  
Some would say that we
can’t accept the bible because it’s biased. 
That it was fabricated by people who had a vested interest in the
story.  Well of course they were biased,
they were writing the story.  But all of
the gospels were written within the life time of eye witnesses.  There were lots of other people who could
write differing opinions, but we have none of those texts, nobody was saying
“Hey, this is wrong, I was there and that isn’t how it happened.”  And regardless of what some say there isn’t
any evidence that any of those texts existed.  There is no evidence of a grand conspiracy of
those dissenting views being tracked down and destroyed, regardless of what is
written in fiction.  The early believers
weren’t powerful, they didn’t have political sway or the resources necessary to
track down and destroy dissenting views.
These days when you get into discussion about the so called
“Lost Gospels or Gnostic Gospels”  and
there are those who want to tell us that these are a more reliable account and
they were banned by the church because of their dissenting views.  But that isn’t the truth, the four gospels
that we have were written by eye witnesses to the life of Christ, and were part
of an oral tradition that could have been refuted by other eye witnesses, but weren’t. 
Most scholars,
even liberal scholars, will concede
that the four Gospels which we hold to were in all probability written between
50 and 100 AD.  Those same scholars tell
us that the earliest of the Gnostic Gospels was written at least a generation
later and some of them as much as two to three hundred years after the event
and even after the early church had established the Canon of the scripture,
which is our Bible. 
To say the writers of the Gospels were biased because they
were eye witnesses is ludicrous.  It’s
like saying you can’t believe any of the accounts of Paul Henderson’s 1972
winning goal in the Canada Russia series because the people who report it were
all people who wanted it to be true.
Apparent
Contradictions 
This is one of those
catch twenty two arguments.  If every
account of every story in the four Gospels was identical then the critics would
charge collusion.  They would tell us
that this was evidence that the writers all copied from one common source and
therefore can’t be trusted.  But because
the accounts differ they tell us that these apparent contradictions are
evidence that the Gospel accounts can’t be trusted.
But are the contradictions really contradictions or simply
different people reporting the same thing as they saw it?  If you wanted to know the story of
“Denn”  you could talk to my mother, my
best friend, my wife and my kids.  And
the stories would all be a little bit different.  They each saw me in a different light.  Because my mother thought I was perfect and
never gave her any trouble, does that negate the stories that Reg could tell
about our teenage actions?  If Angela’s
accounts of Denn as a husband are different then Stephen and Deborah’s memories
of Denn as a father, which one do we believe?
I was at a debate this past year where they debated the
historical relevance of the Gospels and the skeptic would point to stories
being told with different details.  One
example that was used was the story of Jairus, the ruler of the Synagogue who came
to Jesus for the healing of his daughter. In Mark and Luke’s accounts when
Jairus came to Jesus he told Jesus that his daughter was sick, it was only as
they made their way to the Jairus’ home that the servants came and told Jairus
not to bother Jesus anymore because the little girl was dead.  “But” said the skeptic “in Matthew’s account
we read that Jairus came and told Jesus that his daughter had died and begged
Jesus to do something.”  With a flourish
the man said “They both can’t be true.” 
And my thought was “What an idiot! 
Or course they can both be true.” 
If Matthew arrived part way through the story, just when Jairus had
heard the news about his daughter’s death, his account would have to be
different than those who had arrived 10 minutes earlier.   
When our kids were growing up Deborah loved big scary rides,
Stephen not so much.  So Deborah and I rode
the roller coasters while Angela and Stephen would do something else.  Same people, same trip, same visit to Disney,
different stories.  Does that make it any
less reliable?  
But we don’t only have biblical accounts of the life of
Jesus was have There is Non-Biblical
Evidence For Jesus’ Existence
as well. 
Mostly from the late 1st and early 2nd centuries, you have the documents
and writings of people who reference the life and death of Jesus: Clement of
Rome (c. AD 96), Ignatius of Antioch (c. AD 107-110), Flavius Josephus (AD
37–100), Julius Africanus (c. AD 221), Acts of Pilate (c. AD 37?), Babylonian
Talmud (AD 70-200), Thallus (c. AD 50-100), Papias (c. AD 90), Quadratus (d. AD
124), Pliny the Younger (c. AD 61-112), Mara bar Sarapion (1st-3rd century),
Suetonius (c. AD 70-130), Justin Martyr (AD 103-165), Lucian (c. AD 125-180),
Celsus (c. AD 180), Tacitus (c. AD 56-117) and that doesn’t even account for
the Apocrypha & Gnostic writings.  To
have this many people referencing Jesus really is amazing. Because remember, at
the time not a lot of people knew about Jesus. Jesus lived and ministered in a
relatively localized area, in a rather insignificant part of the Roman Empire,
and was only a public figure for about three years. Yet we have a lot more
information about Jesus than most major public figures at the time.
According to historian Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, Professor
Emeritus of History at Miami University and an expert on first-century
Christianity, we could know over one hundred facts about Jesus without even
consulting the New Testament.   We could know that some saw Him as a miracle
worker, a healer, and the Messiah. We could know that He was executed by
crucifixion on a Roman-style cross. And we could know that even after His
crucifixion there were those who claimed He was still alive. The extra-biblical
sources contain an abundance of information about Jesus and treat Him as a real
historical figure.
And finally and most compelling There is the Evidence of
the Martyrs For Jesus’ Existence
The majority of the apostles died because
they were preaching in the name of Jesus and thousands of others in the first
fifty years after the death and resurrection were put to death because they believed
Jesus was a real person as well as the Son of God. To them, He was a reality, He
was a real breathing person who lived and walked where they lived and walked.
Many of them even knew Him personally.  
People will die for what they believe to be true, but nobody
will willingly die for what they know to be a lie. These martyrs would have
known the reality of Jesus.  Did they
believe Jesus was real? They certainly did. And their proximity to the time frame
when Jesus lived makes them prime witnesses.
There is no doubt in the minds of serious scholars that
Jesus Christ existed, that he taught, was revered and was crucified.  Over the next two months we are going to be
looking at what Jesus said about himself and what that means to each one of us
today.  Sure hope you can be a part of
our journey.