John - Chapter 8
This is part 10 in a 23-part study on the book of John. Below is a modified transcript.
Lord, we thank You for our time to study together and to think and reflect on the marvelous and timeless truths of Your word. We ask that we would be people who apply the word and not merely hear it and also live and listen with a view to applying it and understanding it. May we be a people who come to know Jesus a little bit better tonight. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
We are looking at John chapter eight tonight and we are going to make some comments about the initial portion of it, which, as you may know, is a disputed text because in John 7:53, through John 8:11, if you have a New American Standard Bible you will see the text is in brackets. Others will put it in parentheses and others won’t even mention it.
The reason, of course, is obvious because it is absent from all major Greek manuscripts that would bear strong witness to John’s original text. The early patristic writers are somewhat the same as well. However, there is some ‘story’ evidence. That is to say there is enough tradition and enough ancient evidence that there is some authenticity to this account. For example, Ambrose mentions this account, and he died in 397 AD. Also, Augustine mentions it, and he died in 430 AD. When Jerome began to work on the Latin Vulgate, in the 4th century, he included this text in the Gospel of John. By doing that, what took place was that the Vulgate made it mainstream. There were hints that this existed and people knew about this account very early on.
For example, Eusebius, who was the first historian of the Church, tells about learning the story from Papias, who lived from about 60 AD to about 130 AD, and was a very early writer. There is enough warrant to include this as a legitimate Gospel account. That is to say, it appears to be a fragment of authentic Gospel material. However, it was evidently not in John’s original and it has much more in common with the Synoptics than it does with John’s work. For example, it mentions the scribes and John doesn’t focus on that but the Synoptics do.
It also mentions Jesus going up to the Mount of Olives, which the Synoptics do as well, but John does not do. In the Synoptic Gospels you have a very clear picture of the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, as He was going in and out of Jerusalem, where would He go at night? He would go up to the Mount of Olives, probably with His dear friends, Martha and Mary and Lazarus and then He would come early in the morning to teach and in the evening go back to the Mount of Olives. The text also seems to break up the flow of the narrative, which has to do with the festival of tabernacles and if you went from John 7:52 and skipped to chapter eight, verse 12, the tabernacle motif is continuous, and this portion seems to be kind of a tangent. In some early manuscripts, this was even thrown in as an addition to Luke’s Gospel. So, how are we really to handle this account?
One of the reasons I think this was left out of very early editions was the very surprising approach Jesus took with this woman who was caught in adultery. Sexual sins were looked upon with particular disdain, as they often are today, and the idea that there was no real punishment, and that He actually forgave her after saying, “Go, and sin no more,” would not actually fit that ambient background. So, I have to stress, as there is today, but certainly back then, kind of a double standard really, between men and woman. Even today there is a little more latitude offered to men than there is to women. This would be very characteristic of that account.
So, we have this reason why it might not have been originally included. But it really fits, in my view, a typical Synoptics conflict story, where people would try and put Jesus to the test and put Him on the horns of a dilemma. If He does this, He’s in trouble, if He does the opposite He is also in trouble. This is very clearly a dilemma text, in which they are trying to test Him. The point that I am trying to stress here is that in spite of all this I believe we have a story here that is true but simply did not have a home for a while. I will say, also, that in the history of the Church, this text has had a huge impact and the Spirit of God has used it in powerful ways.
So, from that standpoint and my own approach to it, that it wasn’t in John’s original text, nevertheless I believe it is an authentic event that did occur. Because of that we are going to take a quick look at this portion of the text and I want to say that in these first 11 verses what we have is a contrast.
In this case the contrast is between law and grace. It reminds me a great deal of Inspector Javert and Jean Valjean in Les Miserable, where we have an example of someone being so consumed by the requirements of the law that he basically digs his heels in to find Jean Valjean and does everything until he finally finds him. He discovers, though, the grace that is involved and he can not handle that kind of grace, the grace of forgiveness. Consequently it is more than he can bear and ultimately he commits suicide.
But the reality of the grace that Jean Valjean experienced, when he stole the silver from the Bishop, when the Bishop said, “Actually, you forgot to steal this as well,” referring to the candlesticks, was a lifesaving action and it made all the difference in the world. It was so overwhelming to him that it made him a marked man. He never forgot that moment and from that point on it was his own ambition to become a harbinger of grace, a manifestation of grace. What we will see here as well is that when we forget our true condition, before we knew Christ, when we forget the condition of sin, when we can forget what we are capable of doing, that grace also diminishes in our lives.
The contrast we have, between the self-satisfied religious police on the one hand and the idea of a woman who recognizes her true condition, is the contrast between those who will accept or reject Christ. We see that people who have an experiential grasp of their needs are the same people who will grasp grace. People who do not understand their true condition or after a while become smug and self-satisfied and don’t understand grace are people who often won’t give it as well. We become a people who are so focused on our self-righteousness that we can no longer focus on our own condition. I think, in that regard, this is an illuminating story.
Let’s look at the first few verses. What we see is Jesus going up to the Mount of Olives and “Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act’.” There are a couple of problems that we have in this. They pushed the woman into the midst of the crowd and according to the law we have a problem. What does the law require when both parties are caught in adultery?
Both parties are also to be condemned, the man and the woman. So, where is the guy? They basically violated the law by not bringing him before Jesus and they also violated the law when they set up a trap in the first place. In either case, they are so concerned with the law that they are ready to violate it in an attempt to trap Jesus. In the end, when we think about it, we get all these encrusted traditions and suppose God is really concerned about all of it. We ‘major in the minors and minor in the majors’, don’t we? We get our priorities inverted.
So, this trap was set to put Him on the horns of a dilemma. Here is the problem. If Jesus condemned her to be stoned, what would that have done to His message? It would have made Him look uncompassionate and ungraceful and also that He was no longer someone whose message of forgiveness could be taken seriously. What is the opposite extreme? What if He set her free? Then it would be a violation of the law. So, here is what they are trying to do; they are pitting Jesus against Moses.
Typically, this will be a ploy that they use. Next week, when we look at A Man For All Seasons, you will see a similar trap used in trying to trap Thomas More. When people want to make it happen there are a variety of ways they can use to make it happen. Even when it is not true, there are ways of accomplishing it. So, in looking at our text, then, they are saying this to Jesus: “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do you say?” You can almost see that smug, satisfied look on their faces and “They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.” That is a very intriguing little text, isn’t it, the idea of writing on the ground?
There is a tradition about this, Jeremiah 17:13, and it was this verse which Jesus wrote on the ground, “Those who turn away from You on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water.” Another option that some people think He may have written is Exodus 23:1: “Do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.” Others think He was writing a portion of the Law and the idea would be, from Exodus 31, that He was reminding them about the Ten Commandments. How were they originally written?
Remember what it says in Exodus about the Ten Commandments? They were written by the finger of God. So, it was with His finger that He was writing in the sand and it would be an allusion to that imagery. It would be an indirect, but visual, claim to His deity. These are all possibilities and we can’t know for sure. He never wasted a motion and there was something going on there but the text chooses not to reveal it. 2,000 years later we can enjoy our speculation, just as we always wonder what was Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’. They are fun to speculate about. The point is this; instead of passing judgment on this woman we see that He turns it back on the judges. “But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’.”
Now, what He is really doing here is looking at Deuteronomy 17:7. Flip back with me and look at Deuteronomy 22:22 first and there you will the mosaic requirement. “If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die; the man who lay with the woman and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.” That was the situation and here they violated that very text. Yet, they are asking Jesus if He is going to be following the Law. You see the idea there? Now turn to chapter 17, verse seven, and it says, “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people.
So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” What Jesus is saying is that if they are claiming to be the witnesses then, they must be the first ones to do it. So, they are applying the Law to the woman but are not applying it to themselves. He is trying to show them that they are hardly different from the woman in this regard. The case was more difficult because she knew she had a problem and they did not.
This reminds me of Matthew chapter 21, where we have a passage that refers to this very dilemma we are facing here. In Matthew 21:31 we see Jesus saying, ““Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into kingdom before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterwards so as to believe him”.” That is a very strong statement. He is telling these very righteous people, and they are from an external point of view, that they are behind the tax collectors and the prostitutes.
It was really quite a claim. You can’t really get lower than that. The tax collectors were really the scum of the earth. They were regarded as sell-outs against their own people, actually making a profit in collusion with the Romans as they charged their own people. You know, we can contain Jesus; we’ve heard these stories and we are used to them, but I promise you that if He came into our midst today and said things to us, I think we, too, would struggle with Him. But do understand that His message appeals to those who grasp their true need; people who really nothing to fall back upon.
So, it would often be the people who were the outcasts and not in positions of power and influence. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain. You see the idea? These were the people who would more often be receptive to His message. The religious leaders had a great deal to lose. He was threatening their own interests. So, we see this extraordinary and radical nature, as so many facets of Christ’s life are. When He gives attention to people in great need, what kind of attention does He give them? It is undivided attention.
I love the fact that He completely reduces His world to their needs and focuses on them, while His disciples are interested more in moving on. This is to me a very important reality because it illustrates, too, that you and I are the recipients of God’s love and attention. It is not easy to grasp how God can even notice and be concerned with our very deepest needs and worries and fears and so forth.
Yet, He has all the time in the world to focus on you as well as each and every other person because for God a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is also like a day. In a very real way, then, He has all the time necessary. Do you ever think about that? When you are in a large church and all the people are praying and doing the silent intercessory prayers? How on earth does He take it all in?
Well, He has an eternity in every moment, and you see where I am going with that. However, the other side of the coin is that eternity is also only a moment to Him. It is a deep mystery. But, the point here is He is deeply focused and concerned about our needs. Now, our text continues, in verse eight, and “Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard this statement that He made, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone.”
So, one group after another would drop their stones and quietly leave until finally they were all gone. “He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go and from now on sin no more”.”
So, Jesus is not really minimizing the sin or contradicting the Law. For Him to forgive her is not a cheap thing at all. If we grasp the nature of Jesus’ forgiveness, and this is implied, it means that He would have to pay for her sins Himself. In order for the Father to be satisfied, and remember one of the great tensions points in Paul’s theology in Romans was that God must be just when He justifies sinners.
Now, how can He be just and at the same time declare those opposed to Him to be righteous? The only way He can do that is to take the cost upon Himself. Basically, He is underwriting the cost of the human condition. Now, forgiveness is free, but it is not cheap. Someone must pay the price. Certainly John 3 makes it clear; “He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Also, 1st Peter 3:18 is a central passage on this whole motif on what it required, this awful cost, that was necessary; “Christ also died for sins, once for all; the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”
So, Peter also makes this very clear; the just died for the unjust so that He could bring us to God. Otherwise, His offer of forgiveness really wouldn’t be meaningful. Then, in 2nd Corinthians 5:21, there is this well known text, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The awful price of forgiveness, then, is Christ underwriting that and making it possible for us to receive it.
So, we see a clear picture of God’s provision. The Law was given to do what? What did the Law communicate to us? Paul makes this clear in Romans 3. It wasn’t to save us from sin but to reveal our sin. Romans 3:20 reveals that, “Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” The Law reveals the condition and drives us to grace. No one in the Law was saved by keeping the Law because no one could satisfy the requirements of the Law.
Instead, the Law drove them to grace and that is why David, in his marvelous repentant Psalm, Psalm 51, essentially says that it is by grace and through faith in You, and Your mercy and compassion, that it is possible to have the right knowledge of You. Remember when he says, of his sin; “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your loving kindness. According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” The superscription of the Psalm is very specific. By the way, the superscription of the psalm, in Hebrew, was actually the first verse. Our numbers are actually one number off.
But, the superscription says, “For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone into Bathsheba.” We have no ambiguity here; we know what the context was. But you see what David is appealing to? It is not to his righteous life, it is to God’s loving kindness, to His ‘chanan’, and that word means ‘mercy’ and it means ‘loyal love’. “Because of the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.” Clearly, we see a man who grasps his problem and he is thinking if there were an option for me to do it, if I had a sacrifice, I would offer it.
That is why he says, in verse 16, “You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God”-are what, who remembers how it goes? “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” And, “Blessed are those who”-what? “Are poor in spirit.”
So, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” David comes to God in the humility of conviction. So it is with us as well. The worst thing we can do is rationalize our foolishness and our sin and cover it up. God will know our heart and so when we come to Him we are understanding that it is the Law, God’s righteous revelation of Himself, in the Old and the New Testament, when we see His Commandments, and it is impossible for us to satisfy them, apart from His grace and power. And so, conviction must always precede conversion. So it always is; a person must first become aware of their sin.
I believe, and I am hoping this will be the case, that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ can have a similar impact on our own times. From all accounts it seems that it will have a very powerful impact. There is always a cultural warfare going on, isn’t there? We see it today and surely we see it in this text. If you wanted to look at the Gospel of John just in terms of spiritual warfare it would be a very creative and interesting study. It is in every chapter. You see the polarization that Jesus brings with those that would be willing to humble themselves and come to Him in the obedience of faith with the humility and transparency that is needful.
By contrast, it is the self-assured, smug people, who will resist His claims and offers. The one thing you can see with Jesus is that the more time people spend with Him the less they can ignore Him. You can not spend much time with Him without accepting Him or rejecting Him. To ignore Him is not an option. He polarizes the crowds and He does it in every chapter. Moving back to our text, then, we see that He does not diminish the sin but He offers gracious forgiveness. It is not an excuse to the sin.
The second contrast we see in this text, and remember that the first was between law and grace, and grace does not eliminate the Law, it satisfies it, you see the difference there? Jesus, by fulfilling the Law, makes it possible for us to enjoy the grace of God. So, we see the next contrast in verses 12 through 20 and this contrast is between light and darkness. Again, there is a lot of polarization in this Gospel.
This brings us to the second great ‘I-am’ statement. “Then Jesus spoke again to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life’.” So, the interruption we just looked at, in Jesus’ tabernacle discourse is now picked up again because I believe what we have, if you look at verse 37 of John 7, and remember that there was beginning of the feast and a middle and then, “On the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone is thirsty let them come to Me and drink’.” Now, after making these claims, when He talks about offering rivers of living water and He referring to the Spirit of God, then I believe the contest would also be continued of we go from chapter seven, verse 52 to chapter eight, verse 12, without this story in between. He is still on the last day of the feast.
Remember that the tabernacles were associated with the provision of water and also with provision of light as well. What you have in this idea of tabernacles is four huge bowls and stands in the area of the temple and these golden bowls were filled with oil and apparently they would use the garments of the priests that were worn out as wicks for them. When they would light them, and my feeling is that they did this every night, imagine Jerusalem at night because as the rabbis said, ‘All Jerusalem was illuminated’, and this in a city that did not have public lighting after dusk. You have to understand this; it is difficult to think of a city without public lighting. Imagine, also, Jerusalem’s yellow limestone walls illuminated by these massive, golden bowls of oil.
It must have been a spectacular thing that could be seen from many miles off. It would have been a marvelous thing and on the final day, with Jesus teaching in the court of the women, where both men and women could give offerings, you have to imagine, as that lighting takes place, you have Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world.” He is saying that He is more than just the light for Jerusalem, He is the light for the entire world. The theme of light, of course, is huge in the Scriptures, isn’t it? What is the first thing God creates? Light.
Think about the motif of light, where “The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear?” The light was what led them in the wilderness. These lights in Jerusalem were reminiscent of the pillar of light and the fire and the clouds and the imagery would all be associated with this. And the idea of Psalm 119:105 where, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” “The light comes into the world,” in John chapter one and “The darkness does not illuminate it.” So, this motif of light and darkness is very, very evident, particularly in John.
So, He is making a very strong and very clear claim here and in doing so, in this ‘I-am’ statement, He is comparing Himself, in effect, to the rising sun. These wilderness images are used effectively in this text-the manna, the water from the rock and the pillar of fire-in chapters six, seven and eight. “He who follows Me,” He says in verse 12. What does it mean to follow Him? Essentially, if we put all the texts together, it means simply to put one’s trust in Him and to put one’s hope in Him. This is what results in life.
Again, I have to stress that mere intellectual assent is not the issue. It is a personal reception. I have worked with people before and I am thinking here of one person in particular, and he was a classic example of a person who was logical from the get-go and continued on. He started off in a kind of strong agnostic position and then he was a soft agnostic and then he moved into a ‘maybe a possibility of a being’ position and then he moved toward theism. And then his issue was about Jesus. Was Jesus who He claimed to be? Eventually he came to believe in the deity of Christ and that was when he said, ‘Now I have a problem’. He couldn’t go the next step on an intellectual level. It had to be a heart level. He understood the issue. He understood that now it wasn’t just a matter of believing, but that he had to accept Him or reject Him, if Jesus was who He claims to be. You understand that issue?
The thing that brought him over the edge, as it turned out, was a book by Peter Kreeft that was a summary of Pascal and titled Christianity for Modern Pagans. The book had an impact because it focuses on that very issue which Pascal raises, which is the difference between propositional and personal truth; the difference between believing in a proposition and believing in a person. He understood, finally, that it was not a leap into the dark but a step into the light. I remember when he made that step and the amazing thing about this guy was that he was such a logical machine and then he was faced with ‘what do I do to grow’?
It is a wonderful story but for most people it is not that logical. I have a book called Philosophers Who Believe and the intriguing thing about these philosophers, who are all strong academics and also believers, each says that it actually wasn’t the intellectual arguments that really did it for them. It was some experience, some encounter, some matter of the heart, that brought them there. Then they began to think through the logical implications of their new world view. The point is that this idea of belief and trust, what ever launches that, that is what sustains our lives.
Looking now at verse 13, “So the Pharisees said to Him, ‘You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true’.” This is kind of going back to the story of John 5. Remember how He actually has more than one witness? He said that John the Baptist witnesses to me, that God witnesses to me, and “So, also, My works bear witness of Me.” Moses even bears witness.
If you believe Moses, “you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me.” He is kind of having to review that old territory again. “He answered and said to them, ‘Even if I answer and testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.” Here is the interesting point He is claiming here.
He is not just saying His words are true because of this external authority. His words are true because of His origin. The very fact that He comes forth from God gives authenticity to his words. This is a radical concept because He is telling them that, “You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone. But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me. Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.” Now, the light, by its very nature, has a way of bearing witness to itself, doesn’t it?
Have you ever been in a situation where you were in a completely dark area, maybe a cave? Merely a pinpoint of light is enough to illuminate where it is going. You don’t need a lot of light in a completely dark area for you to follow that light. It has its own self-attestation. The light overcomes the darkness. The darkness can not comprehend it. It will lead you safety. Well, His own witness, His own word, is His Father. The experts of the law, ironically, didn’t know their own messiah, even as He stood before them.
Now here is the point. No one can know the word of God without knowing the God of the word. You can know the word of God intellectually, but not in a meaningful way unless you know the God of the word. It is needful for us to have an encounter with God because it is the Spirit of God who illuminates the things of the Spirit in the word of God. There are many people who are theologians who do not have a relationship with God at all.
They know about Jesus but they don’t have a relationship with Him. Just as it is possible for you to be a churchgoer for decades and never know Him. You can quote the Creeds and still not know Him. You see the importance difference? So, there is a huge difference and a huge distance between them. So we see this contrast, and, “They were saying to Him, ‘Where is Your Father’? Jesus answered, ‘You know neither Me nor My Father. If you knew Me you would know My Father also’.” This is another strong claim. “These words He spoke in the treasury as He spoke in the temple and yet no one seized Him because His hour had not yet come.” Again, we have that motif of ‘His hour’ not coming.
Now we move on to a third contrast in verses 21 to 30. It is a contrast between life and death. In verse 21 He said, “’I go away and you will seek Me, and you will die in your sin; where I am going you can not come’. So the Jews were saying, ‘Surely He will not kill Himself, will He, since He says, ‘Where I am going you can not come’?” Remember earlier, in chapter seven, they thought He was going to off to the Diaspora among the gentiles?
Now they think He is going to kill Himself. “And He was saying to them, ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you ‘will die of your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins’.” The ‘He’ in your test should be in Italics because it is not in the Greek and it is very important that you grasp this. Just as He said ‘I-am’ in verse 12, He is making a very direct ‘I-am’ claim here. He is saying that unless you believe ‘I am’, ‘ego-ami’, “you will die in your sins.” He is claiming here to be the ‘I am’ that ‘I am’.
Those who were true would understand that. That is why the leaders said to Him, “’Who are You’? Jesus said to them, ‘What have I been saying to you from the beginning’?” So, there is this tremendous claim here. But the difference in their destinations was the difference in their origin. ‘You are from below, I am from above. Because I am from above I have a different destination.
If you are from below, you have a different destination than I do’. This is what He is telling them. Now, in the mystery of the Gospel, what takes place is all of us, as we are born in this world, are from below, are we not? We are born in Adam’s line.
So, for you to be reborn in the line of Christ is for now you to be changed in your very derivation. That is to say you have a new origin. No longer is your identity found in the line of Adam. Now your identity is founded on a new line, the line of Christ, a life that has no beginning and no end. If you have a new origin, and it means you have come forth from the Father, where are you going? You are going back to the Father. Before, you were going to be separated from Him. In fact, we were separated in our trespasses and sins. We were dead there, Ephesians chapter two tells us. So, the radical transformation means that we actually have a new origin. We have a new heredity.
This new heredity is what makes it possible for you to have a new destiny. So, in effect, you come from above if you are in Him because that is your new identity. Many other texts tell us this as well. Colossians 2 and Romans 6 are two of the texts that talk about our true identity in our spiritual lives now, with Christ’s death, His burial and His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father.
Let’s continue on in our discussion, then, and He is saying we have a new citizenship, a new destiny, as we see in verse 23, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” This is a very, very strong claim, indeed. It has been well said that those who have been born once will die twice; those who have been born twice will die once.
It is an important distinction. The second birth means that you only have one death. The strong statement continues as we move to verse 28, where we see another claim, but, before that, in verse 25, “So they were saying to Him, ‘Who are you’? Jesus said to them, ‘What have I been saying to you from the beginning? I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world’. They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father.
So Jesus said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He’,” and this term, ‘lift up’, has a dual meaning. We have seen it before. ‘Lifting up’ speaks of crucifixion, but it also speaks of exultation. So, the hour when Jesus is ‘lifted up’, He is lifted up on the Cross, yes, but it also refers to His exultation and His ascension to the right hand of the Father. The two are part and parcel.
And so, it was through His death, burial, resurrection and ascension that Jesus would be revealed to the Jewish nation. The Old Testament predicted both the sufferings and the glory of the Messiah, as we well know. So, Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that ‘I am’, and I do nothing on My own initiative but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” It is always what the ‘Father teaches Me’.
Now again we have to say that we often don’t identify with the Father very well because we think of that almost like an Old Testament God. But you must understand something. Jesus never did a thing unless it was something His Father showed Him, or taught Him or showed Him how to do. Understand that if you come to love Jesus, you’ll understand that Jesus is the manifestation of the life of God and that Jesus is, so is the Father.
You must not make a disconnect between the two. It is very, very important for you to grasp that the Father has a deep and profound concern over you and He wishes to display His love to you and cherish you and there is a very real connect here and the more we know about the Son, the more we learn about the Father. And so this powerful ‘I-am’, then ‘you will know I am’, as we saw in verse 24, we see again and He does nothing on His own initiative. In verse 29, “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”
Now, I must be honest with you, I can not say that. I would like to say I always do the things that are pleasing to Him but I then be totally deluded. I will say this though; He has given me a new appetite. I do desire, in my deepest self, to do the things that are pleasing to Him. So, I occasionally do not, but I like to think of myself as one who aspires to be pleasing to Him and you should see yourself that way as well. And so, “As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.”
Again we see John’s motif; many rejected and many believed. So we have that contrast again. Now we have a fourth contrast, in verses 41 through 47 we have a contrast between freedom and bondage. There is a very clear contrast between freedom and bondage. In verse 31, “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine’.” There is this imagery in John of “abiding in His word,” allowing it to dwell in Him and you, and then, “You will know the truth and it will make you free.” That is the well-known text from John 8:32 You will be set free.
But the Jews responded, though, “We are Abraham’s descendents.” My own suspicion is that, going back again to the religious leaders, although He was speaking to the crowd, the religious leaders get the center stage and challenge Him at every step.
They say, “We have never yet been enslaved to anyone.” Are you kidding me? These are the same people who were enslaved by the Egyptians, by the Assyrians, by the Babylonians, by the Persians, by the Greeks, and now by Rome, and they think they have never been enslaved? It may have to with the Jewish concept of being physically enslaved but not spiritually enslaved. Even those who died in Masada said, “We will be no one’s slave.” It may be this symbolic understanding. Clearly, though, the worst kind of bondage is a bondage that the person doesn’t recognize. The idea is that Jesus is saying He wants to turn their condition. He says, “I say to you , everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.”
I believe that is true. If you get into the bondage of sin you discover that it begins to form a slave out of you. It will enhance it appetite and become an addiction. He continues, “The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” He is offering to turn them from slaves to sons. Only as sons can they be guaranteed a future.
Frankly, a slave can be sold off. But if you are God’s son, no one can sell you off, you are secure. The true security, then, is the acceptance. We all know what it is like, in our experience, to not be in fellowship with our parents. It didn’t mean that you were not your parent’s child, but there were times that you might as well have not been, in terms of your relationship with them.
Still, it did not change the reality that you were a member of that household. That is the concept. There will be times when the fellowship is not there but the relationship still exists. So it is with our relationship with God. Of course, and better than any earthly parent, He is always there to welcome us when we return.
Again, the best Biblical image I have of God’s welcoming grace has got to be in the parable of the prodigal son. That is just the paradigm for me. Again, if you haven’t read Henri Nouwen’s book by that name, you just need to read it; The Return of the Prodigal Son is such a rich portrait and it would be such an encouraging reading for you because he not only looks at the ‘prodigal’, he also focuses on the father. It says we all are prodigal sons, but we also have something of the elder brother in us. Then he says we are called, actually, to become the father, to become people who mediate the grace of God with our own lives as well, so there is a maturity and development that takes place there. I think that is a very helpful insight.
Let’s continue on. We see this theme, then, between slavery and freedom and it is a tremendous contrast. Jesus goes on to discuss this in verse 37. “I know you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” Again, this is a very strong statement. “’If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham didn’t do. You are doing the deeds of your father’.
They said to Him, ‘We were not born of fornication, we have one Father: God’.” So, their insult, of course, is to say that He is a bastard. That is basically what they are saying. He was born of fornication. That is your father. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your father, you would love Me, for I have proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not come of My own initiative, but He sent Me.”
In other words, He is saying that if you really love God, you would also love Me, because the two of us go together. Why don’t they understand what He is saying? Because they don’t hear His word. They don’t have the capacity. Now He makes this very strong claim: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.” This is the clearest description of Satan we can think of, in terms of his true, intrinsic nature, when He says, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
May I parenthetically tell you, that in the spiritual warfare, you are vulnerable to the degree in which you believe the enemy’s lies. If you do not believe his lies, he has little power over you. It is only through his lies and deception that he will cause you to believe and he will seduce you in that way. Usually, it is by a little bit at a time. You can disguise, for example, a pint of poison in a lake of truth.
Frankly, he is a lot more cagey than we might suppose. He is actually going to be a spiritual counterfeit. He tries to use religiosity rather than use something clearly in his own territory. So, I think that his most effective ploy is to be that of an angel of light and to disguise himself in that way. There is a deception that can take place and to believe his lies is to really believe a false idea about who you are and where you came from and where you are going.
So, when we refuse to believe his lies, and we allow the Father to define us, then we can stand against him. Note the order of this; submit to God first, then resist the devil. Do not try resisting the enemy without first submitting to God. That would be a very big mistake.
The sequence is clear. Jesus goes on to say, “Because I speak the truth you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” This is a theme He developed earlier in chapter six. “The Jews answered and said to Him, ‘Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon’?” There is the great ‘two-fer’, not only are You a Samaritan, but you possess a demon as well. This was more than a double insult because calling Him a Samaritan was about the worst thing they could call Him. The Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answers, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.”
When I was on my way over here tonight I was wondering, what are the ways we can honor Jesus? And, what are the ways we can dishonor Him? I was thinking about certain philosophies, and things in literature that dishonor Him and then other things that do honor Him. Then I was thinking about our own lives as well. T
here can be very subtle things by which we dishonor Him. For example, when we make the overt claim to be followers of Jesus, then we do not pay our bills when people expect us to pay them. How is that honoring to Christ? I was talking to a believer who has been consistently manipulated by people who presume to his grace by not paying him, even though they had contracted to do so.
That to me is as dishonoring to Jesus as are more overt kinds of activities can be. There are subtle ways in which we can be dishonoring to Him and we want to be pleasing to Him and to honor Him in that regard. The problem of slavery to sin, then, is one that Jesus discusses and deals with and then we have this contrast between honor and dishonor. So, in verses 48 to 59, the contrast here is between dishonor and honor.
The Jews accused Him of being a Samaritan and having a demon and Jesus answered, “’But I do not seek My glory; there is one who seeks and judges. I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death’. The Jews said to Him, ‘Now we know you have a demon. Abraham died and the prophets also; and you say’, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste of death’. Surely you are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make yourself out to be?
Jesus answered, ‘If I glorified Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’.” He makes it very explicit there. If they were wondering about who His Father was, He makes it clear to them right there. Jesus continues, “You have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word.”
I must tell you, Jesus doesn’t mince His words. He is being very forthright in the things He says to them. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” That would be an outrageous thing to make a claim about. “So the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham’? Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, ego-ami’.” This is ‘ego-ami’ for the third time; verse 24, verse 28 and now in verse 58. Before Abraham was born, ‘I am that I am’.
It is the claim of Exodus chapter three, the One before whom Moses stood at the burning bush. That is an awesome claim and they understood what He was saying because, “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” How He did that I am not clear on, especially when He was surrounded by such a huge crowd. But clearly the reason He could do that was that His hour had not yet come.
I want to tell you something; your life is immortal until God’s purpose has been fulfilled in your life. There is no force that can take you out until God’s purpose is complete. Understand that; your hour has not yet come. God alone knows your hour and you must work while you can still work.
Use your time and your opportunity. Some people often say, ‘He is so heavenly minded, he has no earthly good’, but actually the more heavenly minded you are, the more you will treasure the opportunity of your present time because you know right now does count forever. Or, to quote our pal, Maximus, from Gladiator, “What we do today echoes in eternity.” There is a truth in that.
What we do right now does reverberate and it does have an impact. So, we want to treasure the opportunity and to honor the Father as the Son honored the Father. He who honors the Son honors the Father, and so we want to be people who pursue that, allowing God to define us, then we discover true security, true significance, and true worth.
(Q) (A): Actually, the intellectual thing would have been a barrier for Him. It required the power of an encounter, and I think a lot of these people who were philosophers, actually by their own testimony, it would have been their pride that kept Him from going that way. So, often He comes up and surprises us. It is not to denigrate the value of the mind, but it is to say that the mind and the heart need to work together because we are holistic beings. Let me close in a prayer. Father, we thank You that you care for us and that Jesus has manifested You to us and that He was lifted up and because He was lifted up we are also now transferred from being slaves to being Your children. I pray that we would walk in that and revel in that and be people who truly walk in the genuine security and satisfaction and significance of persons remade in Your image and conformed to Your Son. We pray in His name. Amen.