As we return to John 8, I need to very quickly set the stage for what’s happening… The day following the Feast of Tabernacles, John 8:2 says, “Early in the morning Jesus came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.”
It’s early in the morning and Jesus is in the Temple — we later came to learn He’s near the “treasury” — teaching the multitudes when the tranquility of the moment is interrupted by a group of “Scribes and Pharisees” who bring to Him “a woman caught in adultery!”
We noted a few weeks back that it was clear these religious men had little to no compassion for this woman. Instead, they were simply using her in an attempt to catch Jesus in a legal conundrum. Not only does Jesus sidestep any controversy by defusing the situation, but He refused to “condemn her” exhorting that she “go and sin no more.”
It’s at this point Jesus turns His attention back to the crowd of onlookers who’d been listening to His teaching before this interruption. It would appear the topic at hand was the idea of Jesus being “the Light of the world!” Aside from this and on multiple occasions in the exchange that follows with the religious skeptics, Jesus will go so far as to apply to Himself the sacred name of Jehovah (“I AM!”). The conversation is heated and contentious.
In verse 28 things reach a climax when “Jesus said to them, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man (crucifixion), then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.’ (John then includes a bit of commentary adding that…) As Jesus spoke these words, many believed in Him.”
While much of Jesus’ discussion has been focused on this back and forth with the religious leaders, John wants us to know “many believed in Him” based upon what He was saying! As people listened to Jesus declare these wonderful truths about Himself, faith stirred within. As we’re told in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
John 8:31-32, “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’”
When Jesus says, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed” He’s explaining to a group who already “believed” the mechanism by which their belief would grow. As we noted two Sunday’s ago… Faith in Jesus is just initiated by hearing His Word and believing, it expands through an abiding in His Word. What initiates life — expands life!
This word “abide” in the Greek is an action verb that literally describes a continuance in something. Please know this word speaks to more than just reading your Bible, the idea implies a full immersing of oneself in its pages. While God’s Word is essential for spiritual life to begin, God’s Word remains the essential element for spiritual life to then develop.
As Jesus continues His thought don’t miss what He says results in a person’s life when they choose to “abide in His Word” - He says, “You shall know the truth (the word “know” can be literally translated as “come to know” describing a continual process of gaining knowledge and understanding) and the truth shall make you free!” It makes you into something.
Literally, Jesus is saying “the truth” will set you “at liberty.” The results of “abiding in His Word” is a greater understanding of “the truth” which — with time — yields greater and greater freedom! Before we continue I want to take a few minutes and explain what Jesus meant when He spoke of freedom and liberty that stem from the truth!
In Galatians 5:1 the Apostle Paul expounds on this idea exhorting believers to “stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” This definite article “the liberty” implies a distinctive liberty — a particular liberty. So what liberty is Paul referring too? There are 3 clues in this verse:
First, Paul is referring to a liberty that originates not in country, a constitution, or for that matter the individual, but rather a liberty provided by Jesus. He writes, “The liberty by which Christ has made…” Keep in mind, the freedom Paul is referencing is something that resides in Jesus and a particular work He initiated and accomplished that provides liberty.
Secondly, Paul is referring to a liberty that exists regardless of perspective. “Christ has made us free!” You see Paul describes this freedom as being sure and solid! It’s not up for debate. Every Christian has been set free through the work of Christ Jesus on Calvary.
Thirdly, by the very implication of Paul’s exhortation to “stand fast in the liberty” it’s clear that, while this freedom exists for the believer, there are forces seeking to snatch this liberty away. It’s why Paul says, “Do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage!”
The implications of this verse imply that it’s entirely possible for the person freed by grace to revert again to bondage — which explains why Paul invokes such a powerful image through his exhortation that we choose to “standing fast!” In the Greek this word “stêkô” means “to keep one’s standing.” We stand firm by firmly standing on this idea.
Coupling Paul’s exhortation with the things articulated by Jesus in John 8 we can surmise that we “stand fast in the liberty” by standing fast on the truth of God’s Word — “Abiding!”
With these three clues in mind — that Paul is describing a liberty provided by Jesus, one that exists regardless of perspective, and one in which there are active forces seeking to snatch it away — we come to see that there are two things Jesus has liberated us from:
First, Jesus has freed us from the resulting bondage of moral-expectations! Whereas the law — all religious systems — bind us to a merit-based process that demands we earn and maintain God’s favor, it is grace alone, provided through Jesus, that frees us from this expectation by declaring us to be permanently right with God apart from our involvement.
While the law enslaves you to the pursuit of measuring up, it is grace that removes these shackles allowing you the opportunity to simply enjoy a relationship with God! I love, serve, and live to please God — not because I have too — but because I want too! This idea will undoubtedly set the stage for the conversation Jesus is about to have.
Secondly, Jesus has freed us from the resulting bondage of self-rule! Sadly, as Americans, it’s so easy for our political context and traditional understanding of freedom to warp our comprehension of what Paul actually means when he says “liberty” or what Jesus is implying when He declares, “The truth shall make you free!” As a matter of fact, it’s this fundamental misunderstanding that ends up fostering so much legalism within the church.
For many liberty is defined as “the freedom to do what I want as long as it doesn’t harm someone else.” As Deist Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Consider the fundamental flaw in this notion… Does the liberty to live your life however you want in “the pursuit of happiness” actually make you free? The truth is — it doesn’t! You might be able to choose your vice, but once chosen you vice possesses all the authority.
Understand, no one reading Paul’s letter to the Galatians in the first-century Roman world or those listening to Jesus would have processed “liberty” as living life void of authority. There was no such thing. They realized what we’ve forgotten… Everyone has a master!
In America you might be free to pursue whatever makes you happy, but that in and of itself isn’t liberty or the freedom afforded in the truth! The fact is our founding father’s specifically sought limited-government — not with the aim of no-government, but in the pursuit of self-governance. Instead of a king ruling over every man, the America founders wanted a system whereby each man could rule over himself.
Jefferson should have written, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, the freedom to govern oneself, and pursue what makes him happy.”
Sure, while living in America with a Constitution and Bill of Rights affords us a freedom from a tyrannical government seeking to imposes its will on our lives, in the end, the freedom to do whatever we want in the pursuit of whatever makes us happy doesn’t yield true liberty, but instead yields a servitude to these very pursuits!
Here’s why this is the case from a Biblical perspective… Man is not conditioned to rule himself, but to be ruled! In Genesis, while Adam was given dominion over all of creation, he was not given dominion over himself. God was over man and man was over creation.
And yet, while Satan’s original lie in the Garden was that man could be his own god, do you remember what actually happened when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit? According to Romans 1:25 Paul says in that singular moment man “exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator.”
While true you have complete control over who or what sits on the throne in your life, one thing is evident — You cannot sit there! This is what makes “liberty” in our American context so misleading. Though you’ve been given the freedom to self-govern, the irony is you’ll always advocate the throne to someone or something other than yourself.
It’s why the ideal of American liberty is nothing more than a mirage. Though we’re free to generally do what we want, would you say the majority of Americans are walking in liberty or mired in some other form of bondage? Honestly, the majority of people living the “America Dream” of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” are not free nor are they happy. In actuality they’re empty and miserable. Look no further than credit card debt!
Keep in mind, the liberty described in Scripture and what Jesus is discussing isn’t freedom from governance or servitude (authority) — God made humanity to be ruled — Instead, the liberty grace and truth affords describes life under the enthronement of a worthy King!
You see, the “liberty” you’ve been given by Jesus through His grace is not the freedom to do whatever you want — which ironically only leads back into the bondage of self-rule and therefore the servitude of these pursuits, but is instead the opportunity to finally live according to the way you’ve been designed. Man back under the rule of his Creator.
What this means is that real “liberty” and lasting “freedom” can only be discovered in an absolute surrender to Jesus. To this point Paul will write more extensively in Romans 6:16-22, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.
And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” Jesus isn’t offering you a freedom from servitude, but the opportunity to ultimately serve a much greater Master!
John 8:33, “They answered Jesus, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”
To begin with there is a measure of irony to this statement… The Jewish people had been in “bondage” to the Egyptians, numerous nations during the period of the Judges, not to mention the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks — presently they were in “bondage” to Rome! The fact is the Hebrew people had experienced more “bondage” than freedom!
The reality is that these religious leaders rightly understood Jesus was speaking spiritually — which is why they begin their retort by saying, “We are Abraham’s descendants!” Because of their unique heritage and subsequent dedication and obedience to the Law of God, they were making the argument their hearts had never been conquered by “anyone!” The argument centers upon their allegiance to God regardless of national circumstance.
John 8:34-36, “Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”
Since these men are basing their challenge on their religious allegiance to God and family heritage — all the while failing to understand the type of freedom Jesus is speaking of, Jesus transitions the conversation to sin… He’s says, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.”
If their obedience to the law which demonstrated their allegiance to God had yielded such freedom, Jesus points out one glaring counter-proof… The existence of their sin was unavoidable evidence of a greater bondage they were all subjected too! Jesus is saying, “You claim to be free, but look at your sin and the bondage that results! Are you really free?”
Building off this idea Jesus then establishes a contrast between the authority granted “a son” and that of “a slave in the house.” You see the only one in a house who had the power to liberate a slave (set a slave free), in a practical sense, was either the master of the home or his legal heir — the son. In a sense, Jesus is calling these religious leaders “slaves” while at the same time highlighting their inability to free themselves from the bondage of sin.
Jesus’ point is that sinners can’t free other sinners anymore than a slave can free a slave. Additionally, a slave can’t free himself without the intervention of a son! With this in mind, Jesus is saying His position as the sinless Son grants Him unique authority!
Think about it this way… Salvation from sin requirers two fundamentals: The need to be saved and the inability to save yourself. By definition if you can do something to remedy your sin situation, you have no need for a Savior! That said… If there is nothing you can do because your enslaved, your only hope is for the intervention of a Liberator!
This is why — in the context of the bondage of sin — Jesus immediately pivots, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed!” Again, this word “makes” implies an act done on one’s behalf — an act intrinsically independent of one’s personal merit. As “the Son” — Jesus came to do something that fundamentally makes you free — liberation from sin!
Before we continue, I hope you understand there is no bondage of sin that Jesus cannot free you from! Again, to this point, the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” Practically, never forget what Jesus says is the key, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
John 8:37-39, “‘I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.’ They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.’”
While these men took pride in their Abrahamic heritage as being the evidence of God’s favor, the fact was they were self-deceived as to what this really meant. In a way Jesus is saying, “I know you descend from Abraham. But who cares? Look at your actions! You seek to kill Me!”
As we unpacked last Sunday through a greater examination of Abraham’s initial calling while in Ur of the Chaldeans, the core difference between being a “descendant” of Abraham and being a “child” centered on a correct understanding of what Jesus meant when He said, “The works of Abraham.” The Scriptures are clear the only “work” that made Abraham righteous before God and you and I a “child” was a belief in God’s promise of a Savior!
John 8:40-41, “‘But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. (Jesus is literally saying, “Abraham didn’t treat me this way.”) You do the deeds of your father.’ Then they said to Him, ‘We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.’” (No doubt the reference to being “born of fornication” was meant to be another dig towards Jesus’ controversial parentage.)
John 8:42-47, “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. (What an amazing statement… A true love of the Father will result in a love for the Son!) Why do you not understand My speech? (This is a rhetorical question Jesus immediately answers Himself…) Because you are not able to listen to My word.
(In the Greek language this word “able” means power and spoke of one’s capability… Jesus is saying they were incapable of listening. He continues by explaining why…) You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. (Jesus is dropping a thought bomb. He’s publicly confronting them by calling them children of Satan. Once more Jesus is speaking to their motivation for rejection Him — “the desires of the devil.”)
The devil was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.
Which of you convicts Me of sin? (Jesus is testing them… “Name a sin!” How long did He wait for an answer?) And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.’” (Again I need to point out that Jesus is addressing the most religious men in this society and this rebuke that they were “not of God” was a verbal assault against their piety.)
John 8:48, “Then the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?’” (You can typically tell when someone is loosing the argument, because they quickly resort to name calling!)
John 8:49-51, “Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.’” (Earlier in this exchange Jesus told them they were going to “die in their sins.”)
John 8:52-53, “Then the Jews said to Him, ‘Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; (this was actually false) and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’ (Theologically these men don’t understand what Jesus is saying about death.) Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?’”
John 8:54-56, “Jesus answered, ‘If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’” (Two questions obviously emerge… (1) What did Jesus mean when He said, “My day”? (2) When did “Abraham see it and rejoice”? We’ll address these questions next Sunday, but don’t forget the context of the statement is death and resurrection.)
John 8:57-58, “Then the Jews said, ‘You are not yet 50 years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’”
There is no question what we have recorded here is one of the most radical statements of Jesus in all of the Gospels. First, there is no getting around the fact Jesus is again using the divine, unspeakable name of God (“I AM”) and He’s attributing it to Himself.
Beyond this, when Jesus says, “Before Abraham was” He’s specifically affirming His very pre-existence before Abraham was ever born — “Before Abraham even came into being, I already existed.” In response to their snarky question, “Have you seen Abraham?” Jesus answers as directly as He possibly could, “I AM God!”
John 8:59, “Then they took up stones to throw at Him (this was customary punishment for blasphemy); but Jesus hid Himself (literally, He concealed Himself) and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” (This is one of those moments I would have liked John to have given a little commentary, but he doesn’t.)
In closing, I want to point out a general theme that seems to be emerging in these sermons of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel. Jesus’ sermons are centered upon Himself! He talks about Himself a lot! Here’s why… Faith in Jesus and His work on the cross is the only way you can be saved! Jesus’ sermons focus on Himself, because He’s the only thing that really matters in a world headed to hell!
As we’ve mentioned before according to John 20:31 the entire point of this Gospel was to convince the read to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” There is no way around this reality, but what you concluded about Jesus will have a profound effect on how you spend your eternity!
Friend, Jesus came to earth for one reasons — to set you free from the bondage of sin! He has the authority as “the Son” to do this and ability because He’s God! If this morning you’ve stumbled into this place completely overwhelmed by the reality you’re unable, I beg you to listen to the still small voice of Jesus softly saying, “I AM!” Will you believe Him?
Just as Abraham heard the voice of the Lord, believed, and was made righteous, you have a decision… Will you embrace the truth, hear the voice of Jesus, and believe He is more than able? Will you allow the Liberator to liberate, the Son to free, the Savior to save? And then will you choose to “stand firm in that liberty” by “abiding in His Word?”
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