The 'I am' - John 8:31-59
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I’m not an avid viewer of the Antiques Roadshow but when I do walk
past a TV that is showing an episode I stop and look out for two standard reactions
from the people who bring their artefacts to the experts. Only really two facial
expressions and noises people make all the time.
Those who know it’s valuable and are told it is act as if they are amazed (occasionally there is genuine surprise but I’m one of those cynics who think most of it is fake elation!).
The other reaction is from those who think it was valuable and are told it’s a heap of junk. They try not to be bothered. They are not pleased to be told what they think is the genuine article is really worthless.
We all think this is a good idea when this happens. No point confirming someone’s misunderstanding. If they are deluded then set them straight. Better to know the truth than be dangerously mistaken.
What about in the spiritual realm? What if someone believes they are a Christian but are not? What should you do? Play along with them or expose their profession for what it is. Fake, transcendent, short-term.
This is the issue facing Jesus at this point in John 8. He has been teaching much about his true identity and we are told in verse 30 “Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.” Must have been very exciting. As he spoke he may have been interrupted. People saying “I’m with you Lord. Put me down on your list.”
What should you do in these circumstances? Stop the speech and start the songs? Stop the preaching and start the prayers?
Jesus is suspicious about their profession of belief. On the surface they claim to be those who are his disciples but he is not convinced that their faith is the genuine article.
What he doesn’t want are spurious conversions. A crowd made of those who passionately believe they are in when in reality they are out.
So listen to what he said to them. Verse 31. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you really hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I don’t ask the question anymore. Are you a Christian? People have all sorts of wrong definitions. A better question is, “If you met God tonight and he said, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what would you say?”
But how do you really know if someone is a Christian? The Bible’s answer is that you look at their life over the long term. Yes ask the basic diagnostic question but keep on seeing how they get on over many years.
Not so much how you start but how you finish.
The Christian life is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Or in the words of Jesus, “If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples.”
Two aspects of this. First is the long-term. We’ve already looked at this.
Second, is the fact that the disciples of Jesus must hold to his teaching. Might think this is obvious. A disciple is a learner. A learner needs a teacher. QED: a disciple of Jesus must follow his teaching. It seems so obvious but it’s not always seen like this. Those who claim to be Christians or they might call themselves a believer without telling you what they believe in (or they might speak about it or religion but not Jesus) but in practice they do not follow what Jesus says in the Bible.
That’s where we find the teachings of Jesus. The true disciples will be someone who over a long period of time seeks to order their life in accordance with what Jesus teaches in the Bible. They will not always get it right. There will be mistakes, sometimes deep regrets, but they will pick themselves up (or better, God will pick them up) reassure them of his love and they will continue their discipleship.
Others who claim to be Christians, who profess passionately to be followers of Jesus but who in reality have no regard for Jesus’ word in the Bible. In fact, they can be very hostile to it. What of these? Well, Jesus says they are not the genuine article. They may be religious, they may even be following Jesus but it is their own personal Jesus, a Jesus of their own invention and imagination rather than the Jesus who is real.
I’m convinced it is the most loving thing to do when we meet people in this category to point out the truth. Rather than affirm them in their misguided conclusion that they are truly disciples of Jesus it is far more loving to graciously point out that they are not the genuine article.
Reason is simple: It’s a brilliant thing to be a Christian.
If you love someone you will want the best for them. Becoming a Christian is good news and infinitely better than thinking you are a Christian when you are not.
Jesus reminds us of one of the reasons why in verse 32. Don’t you just love this? “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Notice how he begins: ‘Then’ When you hold to Jesus’ teaching. You will understand the truth about reality. The truth of how things work and fit together. How we should live, spend our time, what we should feed our minds, how we relate to each other, friends, family, those closest to us. Jesus says, become one of my disciples, hold to my word, and things will slot into place.
End result? You will be free. Not free to live as you want but free to live as we were intended. Free to live the life our Creator designed for us.
Couple of things to point out. There is right and wrong. There are consequences of our mistakes.
Very popular to say, whatever works for you, whatever you find helpful. As if there are a number of different lifestyle options open to us which may all work.
Some things where there is a lot of choice.
o Don’t all have to have the same haircut
o Drink slur
o Eat quiche
o Shop at Ikea
o Drive a Fiesta
But there are right and wrong ways to relate to God and each other.
Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
Jesus says, his teaching will liberate us to live as we were intended.
Second thing to point out is that this freedom is enjoyed from within a committed relationship. You cannot experience everything from a distance. You get involved. Do your investigating but then commit. Perhaps some here tonight who need to do this. Result is wonderful: released from slavery and enter into freedom.
Hang on, if the promise is freedom then what am I already enslaved to? That’s the obvious question we should ask and it’s the one Jesus’ first hearers asked.
Listen to what they say in verse 33, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be free?”
Not claiming to never have been subjected to political slavery. By this point the Jewish people have been enslaved to almost every major empire in history: the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Babylonians, the Greeks and the Romans.
They mean spiritual slavery. How can they be enslaved when they are the chosen people of God? Jesus has already made clear to Nicodemus that physical descent is no good. What is required is new birth. Before this Jesus says we are enslaved. We think we are free. We do make choices that have consequences and for which we are held responsible. But in reality we are slaves.
Jesus mentions what this is in verse 34. He says without him we are slaves to sin.
Verse 34, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
We need to ponder carefully what he says. Identifies what is wrong with us as a human race. Think of someone who sins, who acts in defiance of what God has commanded. Everyone has lived like this at some point. Well, Jesus says, such a person is actually a slave to sin.
The reason we do these wrong things is because there is something wrong with us. We have an inbuilt disease called Sin which motivates us to defy God’s instructions. We still choose in accordance with our desires but we are inbuilt with strong desires to turn away from God’s instructions.
Here is the knockout blow: without God’s intervention we will remain in slavery. We will continue to commit individual sins because we cannot help it. We will continue to choose what we desire most and that is a desire to defy what God says.
See this so often don’t we? The addiction of the human heart. Whether it’s money or status or possessions or whatever lifestyle choice we adopt that is anti-God then we cannot stop our behaviour. More education or relaxation doesn’t work. We keep on doing it. Maybe a lull for a time but in the long-term the behaviour returns.
Jesus would say to us, “You think you are free but the reality is that you are a slave to your sinful nature. But the good news is that I can set you free.”
So he says in verse 35, “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it for ever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Jesus is the eternal Son. Always has a place in the divine family. He has also been given authority by the Father to release people from their bondage to sin. And this he promises to do for all those who truly believe in him.
o His death releases from the tyranny of past guilt
o His Spirit releases from the tyranny of present addiction.
This is offered to you by Jesus. Is this not what you need?
As a Christian. Be thankful for this liberation. See the prospects of living in accordance with Christ’s ways. Released from penalty of sin, not yet from the presence, but certainly from it’s power.
A Christian is no longer a slave to sin.
Secondly, a Christian is no longer a child of the devil.
Reality is that those who are not genuine followers of Jesus are in fact children of the devils.
Tough thing to hear. Try saying this to your friends and family. The spiritual truth is that although we think we are free from God, the reality is that we are acting just like the devil himself.
Even tougher to hear if you think of yourself as a committed religious person. These were the very people Jesus was speaking to.
So he says in verse 37, “I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in my Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
What is he talking about? They claim they that Abraham is their father. Yet Jesus is very straight with them. Verse 39, “If you were Abraham’s children [different word from before, the other word simply meant physical ancestor, which Jesus accepts they are] then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things [he always welcomed God’s prophets]. You are doing the things your own father does.”
“What are you saying Jesus? Are you saying we are not Abraham’s children? The true and living God is our Father. He is the one who influences us and whose behaviour we follow.” Well, that’s what they claim.
Jesus is having none of it. How do you know if you really believe in the true and living God and not a God you have invented? Jesus is very clear in verse 42.
“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? [Is it because I’m not a very good communicator?] Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.”
What’s this? To destroy life and to lie. That’s what the devil has been doing since the beginning and it’s what his children do all the time. Those just like him, influenced by him. They follow in his footsteps. They may not all seek to murder physically but they so frequently do it in their mind or with words. To take away another’s life and joy. And the lies that we tell that non-Christians cannot help but tell.
If people belonged to God they would act like him and have his concerns. Things like truth and fairness and honesty.
Jesus says this in verse 47, “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
Explanation for so much unbelief in Jesus. Not because he’s a bad communicator but because he speaks the truth and people have an inbuilt aversion to the truth.
Therefore, we need a miracle of conversion. When someone is made new and given new desires.
Promise. God will draw those he has already chosen to himself. They belong to him and so will be brought to Christ.
Alternatives are stark. The choice we face.
o On the one hand, we can have freedom in Christ.
o What’s the alternative?
o Not personal freedom without God but enslavement to sin and membership of the devil’s family.
o What would you choose? Cake or death?
All depends on whether you can trust what Jesus is teaching. Who does he think he is? Was he simply a big mouth or can he be trusted?
His identity is of crucial important. And this is what we discover in verses 48-59.
“The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”
They hated Samaritans. Completely ignorant religious buffoons according to the Jews. Demon possessed? A little bit deranged. Jesus sticks to his guns.
49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
John 8:52 At this the Jews exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”
John 8:54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
What did he mean? Messianic day? Day of the Lord now day of Jesus? Personal meeting? Notice how the Jews pick this up.
John 8:57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”
John 8:58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
Why do they pick up stones to stone him to death? Was it his use of bad grammar? Should he have said, “Before Abraham, I was.”
He is claiming more than pre-existence. He is certainly claiming that. Even angels would pre-exist Abraham.
He is claiming to be the very God who met Abraham on many occasions for a chat and a meal (See Gen 18)
God’s person name was “I am.” In Exodus at the burning bush. Who is sending me? I can’t say the bush. Who are you?
This is why they stone him. In Lev 24:16, the penalty of blasphemy is death.
They think Jesus is lying so they do the expected thing.
Jesus is claiming to have the powers of God because he is fully divine. He is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. He has also shown this by performing various miracles – water into wine, walking on water, 5000+ people.
Implications of this
As God he can reveal truth to us. He speaks truth about our human condition. Our slavery to sin and our attachment to the devil.
Vital for Christians to believe these things.
o Enables us to view the world properly.
o Why the problems?
o Why the difficulty of change?
o The true solution required.
o Keeps us pressing on with our task of preaching the gospel and promoting the gospel. The world’s only hope is for the Son to set individuals free.
o Everyone is on the band wagon with Wilberforce. Four words of Hull. Pride, Freedom, Belief, Change.
o Fearns Gallery. Wilberforce Woman. Sierre Leon. One comment was interesting – education and beauty don’t seem to work but I’ll keep on believing anyway.
o We need Jesus to change people.
o One of the greatest joys in the world. See an individual liberated.
o Another great joy is to see them continue in the faith.
ß A previous church I read a verse to a few young people before I left. 3 John 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
o A true believer is one who continues.
o They are convinced by Christ, they are released by Christ and then they follow Christ for the rest of their days.
So let’s keep on persevering in our walk as Christians and earnestly pray for others that they too will experience this new life available to those who become committed followers of Jesus.
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