Have you noticed that I quote and allude to C. S. Lewis pretty frequently? He’s one of the clearest thinkers and apologists for the Church in the 20th century, and I recommend him to everyone. Unfortunately, very few modern people know much about him except that he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia series, books of which have been made into movies.
I believe his best non-fiction, however, was the classic Mere Christianity. The title came from his efforts to explain and bring skeptics into Christianity. He had no intention of making someone into an Anglican (his own church) or any other particular denomination. The goal of his book was to show how the main doctrines of Christianity (the Trinity, the nature of Christ, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Heaven and Hell) could be understood by reasonable people.
The most famous passage in the book, however, is the “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” trichotomy. The problem, according to Lewis, was that people tend to think of Jesus as only a great teacher, and this is the only thing he could not possibly be. A mere man who claimed the things about himself that Jesus did could not be a good teacher or even a good man. He claimed to be God in human flesh, the Creator of the universe, the ultimate Judge of all mankind, and this was either true or not. If his claim wasn't true, then he couldn’t be a good man. He could be a lunatic, on the level of a man who claims to be a poached egg, or he would be a liar, on the level of the Devil himself. If he wasn’t a liar or lunatic, then he was (and is) Lord.
Today’s passage is probably the most explicit time he ever claimed Divinity for himself in public. Notice that he didn’t claim to be Zeus in human form to the Greeks. That wouldn’t be so farfetched, since the Greek myths had plenty of instances in which gods appeared to people in human form. He didn’t claim to be god-in-flesh to pantheists, since that wouldn’t be very spectacular either: "You say you're god? Wonderful, brother! Join the club!"
No he claimed to be God himself, the one true God who revealed himself to Abraham and Moses. He was saying this to Jews, the people least likely to mistake creation for the Creator. And he did it in the most in-your-face method. Remember how the Lord introduced himself to Moses in Ex. 3? What was his name, his ultimate self-revelation? His name (not his titles) was/is Yahweh, translated as I AM.
So when the Jews were questioning and accusing him, he claimed that Abraham saw his day, and was glad to do so. They immediately pointed out that Jesus was not even fifty years old (actually about 33), and of course Abraham lived over a thousand years prior. That was when he did it, when he made the claim that caused them (again) to pick up stones to kill him: “I tell you the truth [literally “Amen Amen"], before Abraham was, I AM. He claimed for himself the very name of God Almighty. As religious Jews who took the Law seriously, they only had two ways to respond: 1) bow down and worship him, or 2) kill him for committing the worst kind of blasphemy.
So what does this mean for you and me as believers? Just this. The Jews responded in the wrong way, but at least they took him seriously. If a 90-year-old with dementia claims to be God in the flesh, no one pays any attention to it: “Oh, that crazy old coot, there he goes again!” When you and I read Jesus’ word and don’t do what he says, then we're insulting him worse than the Jews did. We claim that he’s our Lord and that he has ultimate authority over us, but what do our actions say?
Lord Jesus, you alone are God incarnate, and I’m not. Your words are life, and I need to pay them much more attention than I do. Please help me.