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“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”
John’s gospel portrays Jesus as a new kind of Moses who brings bread and light as well as shepherding Israel in the wilderness. In the raising of Lazarus, Jesus is shown as someone who is Lord over life and death—something only God can do! To top it off, Jesus implies in John 8 that he is even greater than Father Abraham by invoking the revered name for God, Yahweh, by saying “I am”. That’s why these listeners were going to kill him: for calling himself equal with God. These are people who earlier demonstrated some level of admiration for Jesus but now wanted to kill him. Jesus seems to be forcing them to decide if they truly want to be followers of him or are content simply admiring him.
Tim Keller emphasizes that the one option Jesus doesn’t leave you with is to merely admire him because the I Am demands more than admiration. Keller imagines Jesus challenging mere admirers in John 8: “Either crown me or kill me. Decide whether I am a demon or divine.”
Søren Kierkegaard describes in his work, Provocations, an important difference between mere admirers versus true followers: “What then, is the difference between an admirer and a follower? A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.” What a great challenge for leaders today who don’t want to simply “admire” Jesus but instead want their faithful orthodoxy (right beliefs) to result in an effective orthopraxy (right actions).
By claiming to be divine, Jesus was asking his listeners to recognize that he had a claim on them. This is the challenging message that leaders today are called to emulate in a world that considers the self as the only authority worth trusting. But the Bible has a word for trusting any authority other than Jesus — sin.
Jesus wasn’t hesitant to challenge his listeners to consider his outrageous claims, even insisting that they admit they are a “slave to sin”. We’ll talk about that in my next devotion. In the meanwhile, let me encourage you to consider your relationship with Jesus the I AM with the following questions.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How can you tell the difference between what Keller describes as mere admiration of Jesus versus faithfully following Jesus?
What Christian beliefs do you consider as essential (orthodoxy)? What Christian actions do you consider essential (orthopraxy)?
Have you ever been perceived as “extremist” for your faith in Jesus? How did you respond in this situation?
Are you more of an admirer of Jesus or a follower of Jesus?
Jesus, you demanded great belief and great response from those who were more than admirers. I want to be a faithful follower today who leads well. As your Spirit guides me, help me to align my right beliefs with right actions so that your goodness might be revealed to a world in need. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Introduction to the Gospel of John
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