Monday, November 01, 2010

Sermon: John 8:31-47 The Truth About the Father of Lies

Freedom! It’s the cry that stirs millions of hearts, has inspired stories, movies, revolutions and resistance the world over. Whether it’s William Wallace, stirring the Scottish troops before attacking the evil English in Braveheart; or the delight of the USA - the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Everyone wants to be free; free to do what they want when they want - perhaps especially it’s what the teenagers are seeking as they push boundaries at home (ironically, in seeking to be free and different, they all end up looking exactly the same!).

For a people who have been enslaved for centuries, freedom is a big deal. Just think of the joy of the people of Israel as they left Egypt at Passover; or more recently, those newly independent states in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. Freedom is something to celebrate. How sad, then, if some people don’t even realise that they are in slavery.

To groan under the oppression of slavery is one thing, but to not even know that you’re a slave is quite astonishing. Yet that’s exactly the state of the people speaking with Jesus in our reading from John 8 tonight. Jesus is speaking with Jews in Jerusalem, during one of the feasts of the Jews, the feast of Booths (when everyone made themselves booths/shelters to remember the time of wandering in the wilderness).

Jesus says to these Jews, who have believed in him (to some extent): ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ Jesus’ word is truth, and the truth sets people free. Yet on hearing of this release, they immediately protest that they have never been enslaved to anyone! To their mind, they are free as a bird!

But look at what Jesus says to them in reply: ‘everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.’ Completely unbeknown to us, as we sin, we become enslaved to sin itself. Sin continues and multiplies, and comes to rule over us, leading us to more sin, further sin, deeper sin. So even though these Jews never realised they were in slavery, Jesus is saying that they are definitely slaves, needing to be freed.

It’s not just the Jews who didn’t realise they were in slavery. Perhaps you yourself are also in unseen chains, presenting your body as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness (Rom 6:16,19). You don’t realise your position. Yet Jesus offers freedom, even tonight.

As Jesus goes on to debate with these Jews (who are getting more irate by the minute), he links this slavery to sin with the idea of sonship. Do you see the contrast in verse 38 (which is the first hint of it): ‘I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.’ Jesus’ Father is not their father - and each act according to who their father is.

This is shocking stuff! These were religious Jews, people who attended synagogue, who had travelled to Jerusalem for this special occasion, this feast, yet Jesus is exploding the idea that his Father is their father. Just stop for a moment and think about it. If you were to ask people on the street if God was their father, most people are likely to think that he is, no matter what their connection to God is. Even more so in a church connection. But Jesus is asking them (and us) to be sure of who our father really is.

These Jews are convinced that they are Abraham’s children. We see this in verse 33 - ‘We are offspring of Abraham’, and again in verse 39 ‘Abraham is our father.’ They’re identifying themselves with Abraham, the father of the people of promise. While this is true in a biological sense (they could trace their family tree back to Abraham) yet Jesus insists that they’re not really true children of Abraham, because they aren’t doing what Abraham did.

Abraham heard God’s word and obeyed it. You remember in Genesis 12 where God tells Abraham to leave his father’s house and homeland, and go to a land God will give him. What happens? Abraham goes. Abraham receives the promise of offspring, numerous descendants like the stars or the sand, and (despite a wee wobble when Ishmael is produced through Sarah’s intervention...) Abraham believes God and obeys.

Yet here, Jesus is revealing God to them, speaking the very words of God, and they want to kill him! They’re not doing what Abraham did.

Similarly, in verse 41, they claim to have one Father - even God. They claim that God is their Father, but again, Jesus says that simply isn’t true, because Jesus has come from the Father, so if they were of God, they would love Jesus, they would welcome him and his words. But again, they’re rejecting Jesus.

We sometimes see this today, don’t we? People who think that God is their Father, and yet they reject Jesus. They think they don’t need him, don’t need to hear his teaching. But if they are truly of God, then they will receive Jesus and his words.

So Jesus has exposed the false beliefs of these Jews, that Abraham is their father, and behind that, that God is their Father. Yet Jesus is still pushing the idea that someone is their father. Look at the start of verse 41. ‘You are doing the works your father did.’ Your father. And who is their father? Who is the one who has enslaved them, ruling over them, leading and guiding them?

‘You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.’ (44) Do you get what Jesus is saying to these religious Jews? And not only to them, but to everyone who isn’t a Christian, no matter how decent or nice or good they may appear. Your father is the devil.

Jesus goes on to sketch out just who their father is in a bit more detail. It’s for this reason that we’re thinking about it tonight, on this night in the year when people willingly are open to the influence of evil, when kids are encouraged to dress up and think about evil spirits.

Just who is the devil, our enemy? What are his desires that Jesus speaks of? ‘He was a murderer from the beginning’. Satan, the devil, appears to have been one of the angels of God. But he set himself up in opposition to God, wanting the praise of heaven for himself. And so the war has raged from that day to this, the devil opposing God, seeking to destroy and defile God’s good creation.

If God is the giver of life and all good things, then the devil seeks to do the opposite - to kill and murder and destroy. He led Adam and Eve astray, in effect murdering them, killing them through their slavery to sin. He continues to destroy lives, families, nations.

Similarly, just as God is just and true and right and good, the devil ‘has nothing to do with 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.’ Just think of some of the lies the devil tells people - there’s no such thing as God; there’s no such thing as the devil; hell is just a thing to joke about; there’s no judgement and no consequences; sin is a good thing; just seek your own pleasure; you’ll never be found out.

The light of Christ shines in the darkness and points out exactly what the devil is like. His lies lead people astray, they enslave people to serve sin and himself.

In contrast, Jesus, the Son of God, is the one who came from God and was sent by the Father (v42), who tells the truth (v46), who reveals what God is like (v40), and who sets people free (v36). He did this ultimately in his cross and resurrection, when the powers of evil did their worst, killing the Son, but God the Father raised him from death, setting him high over all as King.

It’s one of the great contrasts running through John’s Gospel - between light and darkness, between those who believe and those who don’t; between those who receive Jesus and those who reject Jesus; between freedom and slavery; between life and death; between those who serve God, and those who serve the devil.

The question is - which are we? Which are you? Or as the passage tonight asks - who is your father? Are you linked up to the devil, serving him, following his example of murder and lying? Or are you a child of God through adoption?

The good news is that Jesus, the Son of God, through his death and resurrection, offers us adoption into the family of God - being removed (as it were) from the abusive parent, our father the devil; being adopted by God the heavenly Father, so that we can call him our Father. We receive eternal life as we believe in Jesus.

We can be confident of our future in the family of God. Yet we’re aware that Satan still prowls around (as Peter puts it) like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Peter urges us to resist him - Jesus has defeated Satan through the cross, and will finally defeat him when he returns on the last day. We know how it ends already - it’s as if we have seen the score before watching the highlights on TV.

In Jesus, we have the victory. We are truly free - now from the penalty of sin and the power of sin, and when Jesus returns, from the presence of sin. Free indeed!

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday evening 31st October 2010.

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