Sunday, February 27, 2011

Jesus' True Disciples, Word, Truth, and True Freedom (John8:31-36)

This is a personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 30 January 2011 at STEMI Expository Preaching in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 8:31-36

'When the Son of Man is lifted up ...' (v28). Many people observed that these words were unique. They soon realised that there was no other way, that Jesus must be the Christ. This was a natural reaction. Nicodemus was the first to believe this way. He had considered all matters about Jesus with the knowledge of Jewish law and traditions that he had. Because he was curious, he went to look for Jesus. His first words were, '... for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him' (John 3:2b). In other words, Nicodemus was not a materialist. He was an idealist with observations drawn from fact. He drew his conclusions with a pure conscience and objective view. This is the first group of people, present in every generation.

There were also people who had seen for themselves what Jesus did (and they did not lie to their own conscience), but could not dispose their upbringing or did not put what they heard into use. That is why there are many people who have come and gone to sunday service for years but still have not believed. The seeds of the gospel sometimes take a long time to grow. The regret is these people, coming to believe in Christ in their old age, have lost much time to serve God. This is the second group of people.

Just before chapter 8, we see another group of people. These people saw that what Jesus said, no one ever said before. They were sensitive enough and actually, very intelligent because they were able to recognise that this was 'something new'. It's a pity that they were not the experts of the law, who sent to arrest Jesus. Even those who were ordered to arrest Jesus were part of this group, as we see them in obeying their conscience said, 'Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks (John 7:46).'

Now in v31, there was yet another group of people. This was the group of people who believed in Jesus. To them, Jesus said that if they held on to his word then they were truly his disciples. This means that to follow Jesus, a unilateral decision made by the followers does not suffice, but also entails an acknowledgement from Jesus. This can be seen in the examples of people who claimed to be students of great teachers or musicians but are not up to the standards of the latter. To guard the latter's reputation, an acknowledgement is required. People cannot simply say they are students of so and so but do not attain the standard of achievements of their teachers, let alone an acknowledgement.

Next Jesus declared that they need to know the truth, and the truth will then set them free. Various philosophers in history studied about freedom and made their own definitions. Out of all of them, one is particularly noteworthy: Immanuel Kant. He said that freedom was not being able to do what one wanted, but it is 'the power to prevent myself from doing something that I should not do.' [See The Honor of Humanity Part 4 – Freedom for a detailed explanation]

Kant's statement might seem profound and novel, however about 1800 years earlier, Jesus had already said this. Freedom comes from the truth and is not constrained by the truth. In summary, Jesus made 3 points:

  1. If you follow my word, you really are my disciples,

  2. from my word you will know the truth,

  3. and the truth will set you free.

Sadly, those who heard this were not enlightened but hurt instead. The Jews were surprised and offended. They inaccurately answered that because they were sons of Abraham, they were never in slavery/bondage (In actual fact, they had been enslaved once in Egypt). The Jews' even had 3 thanksgiving prayers such as this:

  1. Thank God I am born a man, not a woman.

  2. Thank God I am born a master, not a slave.

  3. Thank God I am born a Jew, not a pagan.

All these reflect the sheer arrogance of the Jews. However Jesus did not see the need to argue whether the Jews had always been free. He directly answered in v34 that true freedom is the freedom from sin, not anything else, not even freedom in the political sense that people tend to think about. And he continued in v36 that truly, only if the Son calls one free, then he/she will be free indeed. This is the only way out. He was willing to be constrained that we may be freed and he was willing to die that we may receive life.


Post a Comment

<< Home