True Stories Re-Shape Life

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
24 July 2016 / Ordinary Time
John 8:31-59

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[Note: The following is not a fleshed out transcript of the preached sermon.]

Grace and peace with you.

Our sermon text for today is John 8:31-59. You can find it in your Bible — or printed in your worship order.

Now, if you are willing and able, I invite you to stand and open your ears and listen to God’s Holy Word.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (ESV)

The word of the Lord. May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen. You may be seated.

As we enter into this story today, I imagine that some of you are feeling like little kids on a long trip. You’re looking up here with big eyes thinking: “Are we there yet?!”

We are just now coming to the end of a story that we started looking at four weeks ago. What that tells us is that, either the preacher is dragging his feet, or what happened at the feast of tabernacles was so important that the story deserved more attention. I’ll let y’all decide.

About a year ago my old friend Ed Clark passed from this life and went to be with the Lord. A few weeks ago his daughter sent me a gift to thank me for being a pastor a friend to her father. A fat book called Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels by Richard Hays. As Ed would often remind me back in the day, “There’s more to life than fat books, but a good minister’s got to read some of ’em.” In this fat book Hays says this about John’s Gospel:

John summons the reader to recognize the way in which Israel’s Scripture has always been mysteriously suffused with the presence of Jesus, the figure who steps clearly into the light in the Gospel narrative…all of Israel’s Scripture, rightly understood, can become transparent to the figure of Jesus. For this reason, while John shows little interest in renarrating the scriptural stories, he regularly makes passing allusions to them. (289-290)

John expects his readers to connect the dots and follow the clues he leaves for us. That is exactly what we see happening in this text.

Jesus was talking to a group of people who claimed to believe in him. They knew the stories, but they misunderstood them and misapplied them. American evangelicals do the same kind of thing when they treat the stories of the scripture as stories about America.

Rather than re-hash every line of the back and forth grudge match, I want to show you how Jesus treats the word of God as his word, how he tells the Story of the Scripture as his Story.

Now, as soon as Jesus addressed those who had believed in him, they got defensive and start arguing with him.

On the surface, this looks and sounds like a plain old debate: He said, they said; he said, they said.

But in reality, John is portraying Jesus as a covenant prosecutor bringing a lawsuit against the people of God.

Like a priest, Jesus had true instruction in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with God in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. His lips guarded knowledge, and people should have been seeking instruction from his mouth, for he was the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But they turned aside from the way, and they caused many to stumble by their false instruction, and they corrupted the covenant. (Malachi 2:6-8)

So, like a prophet Jesus brings accusations and charges against the false disciples, and they try in vain to defend themselves.

As he prosecutes the false disciples, he tells them true stories from scripture in order to shape (and re-shape!) the life of his people.

Here, Jesus re-interprets and re-frames the biblical story by re-telling the true story of Abraham, the story of the Devil, and the story of God.

The reason he does this is because the people appeal to those stories to make their defense. And Jesus has to show that they are misusing those stories.

So Jesus re-tells the true story of Abraham, the story of the Devil, and the story of God.

TRUE STORY OF ABRAHAM – 8:31-41

The false disciples said, “We are Abraham’s children (Gk. seed), and he is our father.” Jesus argued that was only true physically speaking. But spiritually speaking it was false.

They were not as free as they imagined. They were not free politically, because they were living under the power of the Pax Americana — I mean Romana; and not free spiritually, because they were living under the power of sin.

Whatever they imagined about their life situation, they were definitely not free; they were actually slaves of sin.

This is a basic truth that Americans need to learn and re-learn as well. For all our talk about freedom, we are still slaves of sin. Do you want evidence? Our land is filling up with porn, hatred, lies, and violence. “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”

Now, Jesus explained, slaves don’t last long. The slave is a temporary resident in the house; the son is a permanent heir over the house.

This statement might seem strange and out of place to us, but it fits perfectly with the story of Abraham.

Jesus was simply explaining a deep truth that Abraham had learned.

The first time was when God promised to give him an heir, and Abraham thought God meant his servant Eleazar would be the heir of his house. In Genesis 15 Abraham said,

“O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

But the word of the LORD came to him and said,

“This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” (Genesis 15:2-6)

The second time was when God promised to give him a son as an heir, and Abraham thought God meant Ishmael, the child born to his wife’s servant Hagar, would be the heir of his house. In Genesis 17 Abraham said to God,

“Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”

But God said to Abraham,

“No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him…I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you.” (Genesis 17:18-21 ESV)

So, Abraham learned that “the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.” That is why Isaac remained in his house, but Ishmael was driven out. (Genesis 21:8-14)

Now, when Jesus alluded to these stories, the people knew exactly what he meant: You are illegitimate children, you are Ishmaelites, you are children of the slave woman, born of the weakness of the flesh.

And they felt the sick burn.

That’s why they said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality.”

Jesus’ point was that if they were truly Abraham’s children, they would be free to dwell in God’s house forever — unlike Elezar and Ishmael (unlike servants and slaves) — and they would be doing the works Abraham did.

What are the works that Abraham did?

Abraham trusted and obeyed God. He left his homeland and family and followed the Lord. He pitched a tent and built an altar and worshiped God everywhere he went. He fought for and rescued his nephew from evil-doers. He looked at the stars in the sky and believed God’s promise — “so shall your offspring be.” He circumcised all his sons and sacrificed Isaac to the Lord.

In sum, Abraham “obeyed God’s voice and kept his charge, his commandments, his statutes, and his laws.” (Genesis 26:5)

Sons should take on the traits and characteristics of the father, but these false disciples did not do the works of faith that Abraham did. Rather, they were doing the works their father did: works characterized by hatred, lies, and violence.

In their minds, their children on Abraham and children of God. But the light of the world shines in the darkness and exposes them as children of the devil.

Jesus portrays the Devil as a personal-finite creature that is hell-bent on destroying anyone and everyone in his path with hatred, lies, and violence.

At this point in Jesus tells the true story of the devil. Not in a church lady, Satan is everywhere, kind of way. And not in a charis-manic, Satan is to blame for everything that doesn’t go my way kind of way. But in a biblical theological kind of way.

TRUE STORY OF THE DEVIL – 8:42-48

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you are not able to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do his will. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”

This pointed accusation and charge strikes at the heart of the matter. Not only for them, but for us.

According to the light of the world, it doesn’t matter who your founding fathers were, which nation you come from, which denomination you are part of, which festival you keep, what stories you know, if you do not love the Savior sent by the Father, you are a son of the Devil and a slave of sin.

And you will perish in your sins unless you believe Jesus is God in the flesh, unless you abide in his word and come to know the truth.

Now, when Jesus mentioned the Devil, he meant the real Devil, not a Hollywood devil, nor horror movie devil. He meant the father of hatred, lies, and violence — the personal-finite dragon introduced in Genesis 3.

The serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:1-8 ESV)

The real Devil is the crafty serpent who seduced our mother Eve and caused her to doubt God’s word, deny God’s word, and disobey God’s word; the crafty serpent who separated man from God, and snatched us all into his family.

That devil was the father of the false disciples who were gathered around Jesus. He might be the father of some of you as well.

Ever since the fall, it is the nature of things that everyone who is born of flesh is a child of the devil, but everyone who is born of the Spirit is a child of God.

The devil’s children are characterized by hatred, lies, and violence. But God’s children are characterized by love, truth, and peace.

Now, when Jesus alluded to this story, the people knew full well what he meant: You are the children of sinners (Adam and Eve); you are like Cain, who hated his brother, believed a lie, and murdered him in cold blood. Their sinful attitude and actions towards him were exhibits A and B.

Again, they felt the sick burn.

That’s why they said to him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

For those who don’t know, “Samaritan” was racial slur; it was the N-word of their day. Jesus’ word struck at the heart of the issue, but instead of repenting and confessing their sins, they grew even more defensive and aggressive. They resort to hate-speech and speaking parseltongue, just like their father the devil.

The point is that they were deliberately trying to demean and dishonor Jesus any way possible. Why? The truth hurts, so they fight back.

They tried to marginalize Jesus by calling him bad names (You are a foreigner, an alien, you don’t belong here!); and they tried to minimize Jesus by ranking him under their patriarchs and prophets.

Keep in mind that these are the same people who claimed to believe in him just a few minutes ago; the same people who claim to be his disciples, who claim that God alone was their Father.

With every hateful word, with every lying confession, with every violent thought and intent, they prove that they are not children of God, but children of the Devil.

That brings us to the third story within the story.

TRUE STORY OF GOD – 8:48-58

The Jews claimed that God was their God. But Jesus answered, “It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.”

They want to default back to Abraham, but Jesus re-frames the story.

“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”

There is no text in the OT that shows Abraham rejoicing at seeing Jesus. But we know that he saw his Seed by faith and

When Abraham heard the promises of God and rejoiced in them. When God told him Isaac was going to be born in a year, he laughed, not because he did not believe, but because he was so glad.

Furthermore, by faith Abraham saw the

So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

This is the fourth time Jesus has claimed to be I Am at the temple. But this time they finally get what he meant. Jesus claimed to be Yahweh. The God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush. In Exodus 3, Moses said to God,

“If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”’ (Exodus 3:13-17 ESV)

On one hand, Jesus comes as the true and better Moses — the Prophet that Moses said would come (Deut 18); on the other hand, Jesus comes as Yahweh, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

Jesus was sent into the world as God in the flesh.

For all intents and purposes this is their burning bush moment. And how did they respond to it?

“So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”

They intend to kill Jesus and leave him under a pile of rocks. This is the response of people who claimed to believe in Jesus just a few minutes ago.

PERSONAL APPLICATIONS

This takes us back to what Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV)

Listen for more specific explanations / applications

Now we know that this means so much more than just being a daily Bible reader. Abiding in Jesus’ word means living, moving, dwelling in all the scriptures; — not just the “red letters” in the NT; it means letting the story of the Bible shape your life and worldview; it means loving Jesus with all your heart and mind, and letting his word have plenty of room to work in your life.

According to Jesus, a true disciple is not one who pays lip service to him, but one who pays life-service to him; is one who dwells in his word, but a false disciple does not.

A true disciples comes to know the truth, but a false disciple does not.

A true disciple is liberated from slavery to sin by the truth, but a false disciple remains enslaved to sin by falsehood and lies.

A true disciple will never see death, but a false disciple will taste death.

What’s at stake here? Life and death. True and false.

Abiding in his word means listening to everything he says and doing it. Ignoring his word and/or disobeying is another way to “stone” Jesus in your life.

Pastoral Prayer: Based on Psalm 25 (NLT)

O Lord, I give my life to you. I trust in you, my God! Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat. No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others. Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you. Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past. Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.

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