Friday, March 11, 2011

John 8:37-47: Dispute Over Whose Children Jesus’ Opponents Are

This is a personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 6 February 2011 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 8:37-47

Jesus said: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The freedom Jesus talked about is not constrained within the laws. He is talking about freedom within the truth. A person who truly enjoys freedom is one who is willing to be constrained by the truth. Only when you are ready to be in the truth are you able to have true freedom. But who is this truth and where does it come from? Jesus said he told people the truth and the truth would enter their heart. If they hear his word, they will come to him. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Jesus talked about how some people are in the truth and some people are not in the truth. Those who are in the truth will come to know Jesus. Jesus said: “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence”. Jesus said the Jews thought they were Abraham's descendants, but what they did was different from the truth. One has to be responsible for what one says he believes in. Jesus said if they were Abraham's descendants, why were they willing to kill him? There is only one real reason. It is because he has told them the truth. If a person does not seek after the truth, and you tell him the person the truth, he will hate you. We see that people go to school not to seek wisdom, but jobs. Many students choose the pragmatic sciences, but few choose humanities. Many people also appear to be religious, but how many people actually seek God through faith? They want peace, blessings, prosperity, everything to be fine and to have descendants. Although they call on God, they want something else in their heart. This is a cancer of human culture.

When Jesus exposed people, he did not conceal the truth. He exposed the truth, which is why they hated him. We see horrifying consequences when Jesus confronted fake religion. When he declared: “I know that you are Abraham's descendants”, based on tradition they were the orthodox people of God and on the surface, they were descendants of Abraham. But in their heart they hated the truth and wanted to kill Jesus. Abraham loved the truth and waited for the son of God to come, so how could the descendants hate the truth and want to kill the son of God? Did they hear his Word? Yes. Did they hear the wrong Word? No. Did they hear the most original and perfect Word? Yes, because God became flesh, lived among men and the word himself spoke. The words he had spoken were different from what the sinners thought. We trap ourselves within our own constraints and oppose the shining of the truth and the words of Christ.

Jesus said he was telling them what he sought in his Father's presence, but what they did was from their father. He was hinting that their father was not his Father. When the Jews heard this, they would have considered Jesus to have made a mistake. Jesus said what they had done and thought were hatred and murder, which are not from God the Father. Those who love God would love him who came from God.

As Abraham's descendants, they should do what he did. Abraham had no hatred in his heart and was non-confrontational. He raised his nephew Lot when his brother died. Not only did Lot not give thanks, but he even went after selfish gain and did not respect Abraham. When he was succeeding, he wanted his uncle out of the way. He found an excuse. He instigated their servants to fight. Abraham was most generous and mature. He believed that the servants were being instigated by someone backing them, which is why they were bold. It would be foolish of him to join in the fight. He said both him and Lot, and their servants, were not to fight. He gave way first. Why did Abraham give way? He knew Lot's spirituality was very low. If he had continued fighting Lot, he would have equated himself with Lot. He let Lot choose the land. But in the end God consumed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire. Our wisdom cannot compare with God's wisdom. Abraham was non-confrontational, but he was powerful. When he fought the battle with the kings, he was able to defeat them all. He was not a weakling. He was a great warrior but in spiritual matters he knew it does not matter how hard he fought. Abraham was wise. He gave way to Lot.

When Jesus said the he knew they were not Abraham's descendants and that they wanted to kill someone who told the truth, it smashed the whole of Israel. They were not like Abraham. For us, how much of God's word that we've heard has come into our hearts? Many of us make use of God. We listen to sermons to cover ourselves with the truth, but we do things that are completely different from the truth. Jesus was so clear. He wanted to change the whole culture of Israel and the entire religious faith. The things in the law are about the holiness, goodness and justice of God. But these people did things that were not good. On surface they looked like people of the law and were pious, but they wanted to kill the son of God. Jesus said their father was not Abraham because if they were his children they would do things that Abraham did. The things he did were not things of hatred or murder.

Jesus is saying that they have another father. They said they were not illegitimate children. They now recognise that Jesus was implying they were not the real descendants. The Jews pay great emphasis on geneaology, with clear records of every generation. This is the difference between Middle Eastern cultures and other cultures. They know the fathers of each generation. It was very insulting to be called illegitimate children. The Jews did not want to be considered alongside the Samaritans, who were not a pure race. The Israelites who returned from Babylon maintained a pure lineage, while the Samaritans lived among Assyrians and married them.

The Jews said they came directly from Abraham, but Jesus was not talking about physical lineage. He was talking about one's basic character. If they were Abraham's descendants they would do the things Abraham did. If they were his descendants, why would they murder people? This shows that the truth is not in their heart. Why is this so? Their heart had no room for the truth. The New Testament tells us that Abraham is the father of all who have faith. God can raise the children of Abraham from stones. The first preacher in the New Testament, John the Baptist, called the Jews “brood of vipers”, for being evil like vipers in wanting to kill the son of God. Physically they may be children of Abraham, but they were not so spiritually. One year after he preached, John the Baptist was imprisoned and later executed.

Jesus exposed it all. He said they were the children of the devil. Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.” Here he gave the real reason. They cannot accept Jesus as God but as man. They said he was a man, with Mary as mother and Simon as father, and that he was from Nazareth. Hearing and hearing with understanding are different. It is one thing to hear and another thing to hear with understanding. Those who truly want to understand will leave room for God's truth. The next verse frightens us. He said their father was the devil. In the entire world only one person considered the Jewish faith to be of the devil. In the entire world, only one person considered those who believe in God to have the devil. He was most bold, and the terms he used, most rude. Would anyone dare say this to any religion? But Jesus said it: “Your father is the devil.” It's frightening. Think about it. Since the Jews were five, they went to the synagogue. They read and memorised the laws of Moses, worshipped and prayed fervently. And now Jesus said their father is the devil.

Why did Jesus speak in this manner? People will accuse him of being wrong. How could he treat the people of God as of the devil? One cannot be neutral in this case. One cannot bring peace. If Jesus came from God, the one who kills him must be from the devil. If the Jews came from God, Jesus cannot call their father the devil. These two things cannot be reconciled. How do we explain such a frightening conflict? Let us return to Jesus' principle. God created, sustained and built life. He does not murder life. God used the truth to inspire lives and would not destroy the truth. Jesus came to bring life, and abundant life, not to destroy life. He came to bring us the truth. Those who oppose the truth must be of the devil. You have to make a choice. There is no other possibility. Jesus came as God among men but why would they not accept him? Because they first assumed it was not possible for God to come as a man. Christ preached the truth, but they did not accept it because they considered their literal understanding of the law to be the truth and cannot be criticised.

We can see a relationship between God's truth and goodness. Evil, unholiness and unrighteousness come from the devil, as do lying, murder and rejection of the truth. Those who speak and love the truth must be from God. Implicitly, the way you act reflects what is in you. A good tree bears good fruit. A bad tree bears bad fruit. We can tell the tree from the fruit.

The Jews wanted to kill Jesus because they felt insulted. Did he really insult them or merely exposed their faults like an X-ray that exposed the cancer in their spirituality? Shouldn't one be more thankful to him for doing this? But they reacted with hatred for being told the truth. If Jesus continued to live, the Jewish culture would die. They had no option but to kill Jesus.

Jesus said: “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” He is getting more serious. In the Reformation, we have “by his grace alone”. Everything is by grace. We ought to be destroyed. We belonged to the devil. We should have been dead. We are saved not by our works. It is not that we had done anything good. For us to be worthy to be saved, God's salvation will not be complete. But if it is completely by His grace, it means we have to acknowledge that nothing comes from us.

So why would God save us and not save others? People say God is not fair. This is how a sinner thinks. The Bible has no place for works. It is all by grace. Even faith comes from God. God says I will have mercy upon whom I choose. Grace is related to the sovereign will of God, not his justice. If we were to discuss God's justice, if we want justice, all of must go to hell. But not only is God just, he is also compassionate. By his sovereign will, he has mercy on some people. Other than giving thanks, you are not worthy to interfere with God's choice to give or not to give. God is the God who does great wonders by himself, and the God who covers his mercy with his mystery. If you deny that God has the right to do this and can choose to do what he pleases, you deny God. When a person cannot accept the sovereign grace of God, he first assumes that God must explain himself to people and have their permission. Then God would not be God. In the Counter-Reformation movement, the Roman Catholics said that by making such a case, the Reformers were considering God to be the source of evil. But the Reformers said God is not the creator or reason of evil based on what Jesus said in this verse about Satan: “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Satan is the source of sin, not God. Satan is the reason for sin, not God. You can blame only the evil one himself.


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