“Who do you think you are?” Ever have that question asked to you? If you have, its probably because of something you said or something you did which the other person really didn’t like. In asking that question, they are essentially questioning your authority, they’re questioning who gave you the right to say or do what you said. When asked, “Who do you think you are?” … it is usually asked in anger.
So let’s ask this question this morning. Let’s ask, “Who do you think you are?” on this Trinity Sunday, but let’s ask it in relation to the Trinity, to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Who do you think you are?” Although there may be times in our overly narcissistic and self-centered culture where the question is asked of God out of anger, that’s not why we’re asking it this morning.
We aren’t asking this question out of anger, but more out of wanting clarity. When it comes to the Trinity, asking, “Who do you think you are?” is an important question. The question though is not so much about the Father or about the Spirit, but rather the question centers in on Jesus. Who is Jesus? Or, as the Jews put it on our Gospel reading from John, who does Jesus make himself out to be? “Who do you think you are?” they exclaimed (8:53). The question not only provides the key to understanding the Trinity, but it also is the most important question we or anyone can ask.
So, who is Jesus? Well, there are a lot of different but correct answers. Peter gets it right when he says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). John the Baptist is right when he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Thomas after seeing the resurrected Jesus finally gets it right saying, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Even Mary Magdalene at the tomb gets it right calling Jesus, “Rabboni” or Teacher (John 20:16).
Over time, the Church has offered its own answers. Often these answers are in response to some confusion or misunderstanding. The most basic place to see what we believe about who Jesus is can be found in the creeds of the church. On Trinity Sunday, some churches will use the Athanasian Creed in place of the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds as it was written to help Christians understand the teachings of the Trinity and of who Jesus is.
But who is Jesus in regards to the Jews in our reading? Let me give a little back story to our reading so that we can see how it is the Jews come to their conclusion of who Jesus is.
Jesus is out in the middle of the temple courts where all the people gather. Jesus, speaking to the Jews tells them that “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). The Jews are like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! We aren’t slaves to anyone! We are children of Abraham! We’re already free.” Jesus looks at them, agrees and recognizes that yes, they are children of Abraham. But He goes on to tell them that “anyone who sins is a slave to sin” (8:34).
Jesus had just proven at the beginning of chapter 8 that they were all sinners when they brought a woman before Him who had been caught in the act of adultery. Those who had brought her to Jesus wanted to know if Jesus agreed with the Law Moses commanded which said she should be stoned. Jesus, not directly answering their demands says, “if any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). After a little more dirt writing, Jesus looks up and asks the woman “‘Where are they? Has no condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’, she said. ‘Then neither do I,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin’” (8:10-11).
Proving then that everyone is a slave to sin, Jesus goes on to tell them that if they reject Him, if they reject the truth He proclaims from the Father … then Abraham is not their Father, God is not their Father, but that their father is devil. Their father is the devil because they want to carry out the devil’s desires of having Jesus murdered.
This is where we get to our reading. The Jews try to spin things back around on Jesus saying that He is not even a Jew like them and on top of that, Jesus is possessed by a demon. Now obviously Jesus isn’t going to let that stand, so He makes a bold and astounding claim, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). These Jews got the point, they knew exactly what Jesus was saying as Jesus is proclaiming to be God. In response, they again pick up stones as they are ready to kill him. But it isn’t the right time for Jesus to die. So Jesus slips away into the crowd and out of sight. The time would come when Jesus would die for this claim, for the Jews would remind Pilate that Jesus claimed to be God. To the Jews, Jesus was a fraud, a crazed man possessed by demons.
What about today? Who is Jesus? Some would rightfully say that Jesus was a real person. Some would say that He is a great teacher, that He had great morals and beliefs. Some say that He is the Son of God, the Messiah. Others though … they would say that he’s made up to give people a false sense of hope or a character in a story which has really been blown out of proportion.
This claim from Jesus being before Abraham, this is why we’re looking at this reading on this Trinity Sunday. The thing is though … as astounding as co-eternity and co-equality with the Father in all majesty and glory is … this is not the most significant answer Jesus gives in this Gospel reading, at least not for us here today. What matters for us this morning is what Jesus said about what He does, rather than who He is. Listen again to what Jesus says in verse 51. “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
Among all the different answers which people then and today give to the Jews question of Jesus, “Who do you think you are?”, there is no better, no clearer, no more direct, and no more always significant answer than … Jesus is the one who saves us from death. “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
For those who are able to ignore their mortality, who think they are invincible … this claim may not mean much if anything to them. But if you have ever watched a casket close for the last time, seen a casket or urn lowered into the ground, or if you have seen or are experiencing a body which has begun a slow but certain descent … this promise means and transforms the world.
These bodies we have will die because of the sin we have done and because of the sin we have inherited. But for the one who has faith in Jesus as their Savior, as the one who saves us from death … death is not the end. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23), Paul tells us. As the body dies, the soul immediately goes to be with Christ in heaven. Then on the last day when Jesus returns again in glory, the body is raised in perfection, reunited with the soul, and you will run and not grow weary, you will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31) in the perfection of the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth and in the physical presence of your Savior.
From this promise flows a lifetime of doing what Jesus says, namely, keeping His Word. We keep His Word by reading the Scriptures and clinging to its promises. We keep His Word by joining our brothers and sisters in worship, in study, and in conversation. We keep His Word through daily habits of devotion and prayer. We keep His Word as we live our lives in such a way in which we bring glory and honor to God. We keep His Word as we love our neighbors, as we love each other as we love ourselves.
“Who do you think you are?” Jesus is the one who saves us from death and you … you are a child of God … redeemed, cleansed, and saved by a loving, caring, and ever-present Savior. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.