Morning Message – John Cline
John 8:12-59; Reader: Shannon Robertson
During Jesus’ ministry time on earth, he made many statements that confused his listeners. They were operating on the level they knew – observing what was going on around them and interacting with it, living lives where their rulers told them what to do and they either did it or they didn’t. Jesus operated on a much deeper level; a level of spiritual truths given to him by his heavenly Father as part of the plan of salvation for humans. People often didn’t follow his gist. For example, today is Pentecost Sunday where the Holy Spirit came down in power upon Jesus’ disciples. This event happened some fifty days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and ten days after his ascension into heaven. But, before all those things had happened and the day before his crucifixion, Jesus had told his perplexed apostles that his death would be to their benefit, for then he would return to heaven, and the Holy Spirit would be sent by the Father to be with them. Those followers – who loved Jesus deeply didn’t see the benefit. They didn’t understand, but Jesus told them to believe and to obey everything he was telling them to do.
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. (John 14:15-19)
The apostles responded that they didn’t understand how Jesus dying would be good for them, so again he tried to explain with words they would understand,
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen, you will believe.” (John 14:25-29)
That last phrase, “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe” illustrates that Jesus knew that many of his perplexing insights would make sense to his followers after his death, resurrection, and ascension back into heaven, and once the Holy Spirit had descended upon the disciples on that pivotal Pentecost Sunday.
Meanwhile, in our preaching series through the Gospel of John, we arrived last Sunday at chapter 8, a chapter with sayings not immediately accepted or understood. As for misunderstanding his words, in chapter 8 we come to the most misquoted and incorrectly applied verse in the entire Bible. In it, Jesus said,
“And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32)
Jesus said that phrase to those people who had come to realize the truth that he was the Messiah. The phrase, “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” is continually quoted out of context. In fact, it is the most misquoted or used-out-of-context verse in the entire Bible. It is so fascinating to me that though the world increasingly claims to not want the Bible to be read or quoted from, and yet, this one verse is found (incorrectly) as university mottos in universities in Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Germany, and others. The Original Headquarters Building of the Central Intelligence Agency in the USA has that phrase chiseled into stone on a plaque standing outside its front door. The Dominican Republic has it on its national coat of arms. Following his successful law case against his former lover, Amber Heard, actor Johnny Depp quoted it to celebrate the verdict that went his way. Quoting – or, misquoting or inappropriately quoting out of context – Jesus’ words happens all the time.
As we saw last Sunday, John 8 begins with teachers of the law and Pharisees bringing to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They had her humiliatingly stand in front of Jesus and a crowd of onlookers. Those religious leaders wanted to trip Jesus up by getting him to say something that they could then use against him. They vehemently shouted at Jesus that he should agree that the woman deserved to be stoned to death. Jesus wouldn’t play along. Instead, Jesus made them sweat by taking his time before responding. After writing in sand with his finger for some time, Jesus stood and said to them,
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7b)
None of them were without sin so they left the scene, one after the other. Once they had all gone, Jesus turned to the woman and asked her if there was anyone still there who was willing to accuse her of that sin.
“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)
After last Sunday’s sermon, Adrian reminded me that the Chinese Communist Party is rewriting the Bible and it has changed the ending of that story. The CCP has added Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist teachings to the Bible in an attempt to make Christianity the same as the other religions in China. The goal is for Chinese citizens to wake up in the morning asking themselves, “How can I serve the Party today?”, instead of asking how to serve God. The CCP’s revised Bible does away with Jesus’ uniqueness and divinity, to make him a human just like everyone else, one not worthy of worship or to be followed. In the woman accused of adultery episode, the CCP has rewritten the ending to, “When everyone went out, Jesus stoned the woman himself, and said, “I am also a sinner.’” Another in a long line of attempts to rewrite or revise the Bible and to discredit Jesus. Returning now to John 8, sometime later that same day, or possibly the next day, we read the next verse in the chapter,
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Jesus not playing their game and then claiming that he was the one who God has chosen to shine His light through in this world led to an intense dispute with the Pharisees. To those who accepted his teachings and believed in him, Jesus said, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (John 8:13-19)
Two of the Pharisees – Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea – were about to admit that they were becoming believers in Jesus and his followers, plus, after the events and proofs on Pentecost, many other Pharisees came to believe in and follow Jesus. But, here in John 8, this interaction is before those conversions, in a time when most Pharisees refused to believe in Jesus or follow him. They were threatened by what Jesus being the Messiah would do to their elevated social status. They would lose their prestige and power. Instead, they chose to nitpick, argue, and make false allegations against Jesus. They would rather do that than consider Jesus’ claims about himself or look at the miraculous signs that pointed to Jesus being the Messiah.
He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come. Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.” This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?” But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” “Who are you?” they asked. “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So, Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Even as he spoke, many believed in him. (John 8:20-30)
This “Son of Man” was the prophesied and eagerly anticipated Messiah, who would come to bring God’s kingdom on earth. People today may be confused by Jesus’ usage of the third person phrase “Son of Man” when referring to himself as the Messiah, but in the first century, people would have understood each time he uttered the phrase and applied it to himself that Jesus was identifying himself as the Messiah. Here’s the prophecy, which came in a vision to the prophet Daniel:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13,14)
The next time I preach, we will go on to chapter 9, wherein Jesus heals a man born blind and then asks that man if he now believes that he/Jesus is the Son of Man. People identifying him as the Son of Man was so key to Jesus for he knew that the designation said that God had sent him to our world with His “authority, glory, and sovereign power” to establish God’s dominion/His kingdom on earth.
To the Jews who had believed him, 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.” (John 8:31,32)
“The truth” that will “set you free”, thus, is not the accumulation of intellectual knowledge (as valuable as that is) a la those universities quoting it as their motto. Nor is the truth that will set you free in undercover espionage unveiled (as helpful as that may be) a la the CIA. It is certainly not a jury decision based on evidence produced in any court case (as just as that may be) contrary to Johnny Depp’s statement. The “truth that will set you free” is knowing who the Son of Man/the Messiah is: Jesus.
At that point in their history, the Jews were under the rule of the Roman government. Even though Rome gave them an exceptional amount of autonomy, the people were keenly aware of the Roman presence around them in the form of soldiers, governors, and empirically appointed kings. So, it was understandable that the people hoped Jesus would be giving them political freedom. However, Jesus was not talking about bringing them political freedom. Besides which, technically they were not slaves to Rome, but vassals of that mighty empire.
They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” (John 8:33)
The freedom Jesus brought is spiritual freedom from the bondage of sin – that is, a release from a lifestyle of habitual. There is no more chain and anvil tying us down or forcing us to sin. We can do as we want. Either live righteous lives or sinful lives, but we are no longer slaves to sin. Freedom is ours. But, as Jesus said to the woman, “Go, now, and sin no more”.
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36)
The rest of chapter 8 is a review of the Pharisees arguing with Jesus. They had earlier said that Jesus was demon-possessed, that the devil was his father. In response, Jesus here now says that if the devil is anyone’s father, it is those who lie and steal, a thing that was true about the Pharisees. They were incensed by that insult, for truly no other person had ever challenged their authority before. They proudly retorted that God was their Father.
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.” (John 8:42)
“Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” (John 8:45-51)
Was calling Jesus “a Samaritan” the worst human insult the Pharisees could think up? That’s pretty weak! A thing I appreciate about John’s gospel book is that he didn’t scrimp by saving paper or papyrus as was used back then. He wrote down the lengthy and difficult interactions Jesus had with Pharisees. It is uncomfortable for us to think of Jesus as being anything other than kind and gentle. But Jesus was a truth-teller, and he told the hard truth, in love, when doing so was needed. That many of the Pharisees later came to believe in him shows the power of his strong words and that they were not destructive even though they were strong. The fact is that Jesus’ words were so deep that they often wouldn’t be understood until later. But with the Pharisees,
At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:52-59)
Jesus’ claims that not only was he the Son of Man/the Messiah but also that he had been sent by YHWH God and was himself YHWH, I AM – well, those provocative statements led to the Pharisees attempting to kill him. They didn’t succeed on this day to stone him to death but they would succeed a few months later in having him put to death by crucifixion. He was put to death because of false claims made about him but also for equating himself with God his Father.
The truth that sets us free liberates us from negative things: of being slaves to sin and the deathly effects of our sins. On the positive side, though, the truth that sets us free liberates us to live for God. As the hymnwriter Charles Wesley put it in his great hymn, ‘And Can it Be?’:
‘He left His Father’s throne above—So free, so infinite His grace—Emptied Himself of all but love, And bled for Adam’s helpless race: ’Tis mercy all, immense and free, For, O my God, it found out me!
Long my imprisoned spirit lay, Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray— I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine; Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness divine, Bold I approach th’ eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
This freedom is a pure gift from God, so let’s not despise or waste it. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we are now allowed to do whatever we want.
Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. (1 Peter 2:16)
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galatians 5:13)
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:17,18)
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22)
In closing, we will read through passages that tie together the three subthemes of this sermon. 1. The subtheme of the accused woman and others of being freed from condemnation.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1,2)
- The subtheme that the freedom brought to us from God we can realize and experience only when we believe in Jesus, accepting that he is the Son of Man/Messiah, and following him in obedience, no matter how difficult or harsh his words may seem to be. At the start of his ministry, Jesus announced it this way:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19a)
- The Pentecost Sunday subtheme that the freedom Jesus brings is cemented by the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)
Jesus wants you to be free today! Free from condemnation by others, free from slavery to sin, and free to truly and faithfully live for God. As Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!” Amen.