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"'Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.'
"'You are not yet fifty years old,' they said to Him, 'and you have seen Abraham!' 'Very truly I tell you,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I AM!' At this they picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus hid Himself, slipping away from the Temple grounds." John 8:56-59 (NIV).
Jesus was either a madman, speaking words that were the height of blasphemy or...
This conversation, which started off with many of the Jews (his name for the religious leaders) believing in Jesus, and ended with these same believers' attempting to stone Him for blasphemy, was one of those times when Jesus probed to expose what was really in their hearts.
It turns out that their so-called faith was no faith at all because they refused to believe that He was the Son of God. Jesus said things that were either the words of a crazy man or, if they were true, could only point to His identity as God in the flesh.
He claimed to be the fulfilment of the water and light ceremonies which they celebrated every year at the Feast of Tabernacles; He spoke of His unity with the Father; He said that He had been sent by the Father; that the Father was with Him; that He spoke only what He heard the Father saying; that He would set all those free who believed in Him and held to His teaching; that He existed before Abraham was born and that He was the I AM whose name He revealed from the burning bush!
That tipped them over the edge! Their faith in Him was phoney and their wicked hearts were exposed. Just as Jesus had revealed, they were murderers at heart, just like their father, the devil, and their murderous intention broke out into action. They were thwarted in their attempt to kill Him once again because it was not yet time for Him to die and not in the manner they were using at that moment.
It would have been easy for Jesus to slip away through the crowd. It was the final festival of the Jewish calendar and there would have been thousands of people, locals and visitors thronging the temple courts. He did not wait around to give them the satisfaction of carrying out their murderous action. He simple melted into the crowd and left them to lick their wounds and plan the next move.
Why did Jesus egg them on to reveal their true colours? He was not interested in popularity for its own sake. He did not come to gain membership for a cause. He came to reveal the true nature of the Father and to restore those to fellowship with the Father who would recognize who He was and bow to His authority.
The Jewish leaders who had initially believed in Him had shown that they were not interested in anything other than what they believed and desired. They were not willing to repent (change their minds about what they believed and receive the truth from Jesus). He did not fulfil their expectation and so they dismissed Him as a fake and a blasphemer.
We need to look closely at our own attitudes lest we mirror theirs and disqualify ourselves from being Jesus' disciples. Eugene Peterson captures the sense of Jesus' words in his interpretation of Matthew 16:24 in "The Message":
"Then Jesus went to work on His disciples. ’Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way to finding your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?'"
Jesus demands unquestioning obedience to His will and His way. Unless we are prepared to lay aside our own demands and expectations and embrace Him and His way wholeheartedly, we are disqualified from being His disciples no matter what we think.
It's as simple as that!
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