My first reaction to many of the harsh exchanges between Jesus and the leaders of the Jews is that He had to ensure that at all cost, He was crucified. And since it would not be for love… it would have to be because of hatred. I am not sure if calling them “whitewashed tombs” filled with the bones of the dead and everything unclean in Matthew 23:27 was the highlight, or was it telling them that He was alive before Abraham was born (John 8:58). But what is certain is that the combined effect of Jesus’ hard-core teaching was His crucifixion, which fulfilled His purpose for coming to earth in the first place. Put another way, Jesus came to die, and so He was not afraid of dying. He therefore could afford to say it like it is because He had nothing to lose.
How different is that with many Believers in Christ today? We go out of our way to be “politically correct” for fear of embarrassing or annoying those whose actions and words are condemned by the Word of God, and therefore should be called out by us. Perhaps we are the polar opposite of Jesus Christ. He was not afraid of persecution and death. Many of us are.
But let us take a closer look. Jesus found it necessary to aggressively call out false teaching, error and especially hypocrisy. When we are certain that error has been identified and that this error is negatively impacting the Kingdom of God, we ought in humility to call it out. I am carefully couching my words because of the fundamental difference between the claim that Jesus makes to Truth and our claim to truth. Jesus is Truth. We interpret Scripture in pursuit of truth. The huge amount of Theological differences between genuine Believers in Christ, each convinced that they are right and the other person is wrong, should in itself cause us to be cautious, humble, and extra reliant on God’s Holy Spirit and sound Bible Study practices to guide us into all truth.
You cannot help peeling back the early verses in this chapter in an attempt to get a full picture of what Jesus was saying. I paused at John 8:30-32 – “ Even as he spoke, many believed in him. 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.”
I have gone over these verses carefully, because on the surface, something seems to be wrong. Once we establish that Jesus’ audience is those who believed in Him (John 8:3-31), we have to accept that there is no recorded change in audience all the way down to John 8:59 – “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” We could surmise that Jesus was not speaking to a crowd that consisted only of those who believed in Him. It could be that those Believers were predictably silent as the unbelievers argued with Jesus and incurred his ire, and He, theirs. But since the text does not say that, I have to avoid conjecture. What the text does say takes us into deep waters.
If we rewind to John 8:31, Jesus establishes the acid test for Discipleship, and it is not “believing in Him”. It is obeying His teaching. James 2:19 clearly indicates that even the demons believe that there is one God. That does not save them. In John 14:15, Jesus links love for Him and obedience to His commandments. The English translation’s emphasis on “really my disciples” acceptably plays on the fact that many claim to be Disciples of Jesus who are not, but yet who address God as “Lord!” (Matthew 7:21) John 8:32 concludes with the assurance that there is freedom to be found in obeying God. You will know the Truth, for I am the Way, The Truth and the Life – and the Truth shall set you free.
In John 8:39-47 Jesus establishes the existence of two distinctly different camps of people with little scope for fellowship between them. He sums it up in John 8:47 – “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” It is arguably unlikely that Jesus was addressing those who had believed on Him (John 8:31) More than likely, even if they were still present at the time, Jesus was addressing His detractors. And if they were both present, then the principle of “if the cap fits, wear it” would apply.
What is important is that there are two fathers. One is God, and the other is the Devil. It is not enough to claim God as your father, you must love and obey Him (John 8:42), and accept His Son Jesus Christ. It is a binary choice. Not to have God as your Father is to have the Devil as your Father. What is also of interest is that Jesus completes the formula in John 6:44 by saying, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
There are at least two things that we can take away. The first is the reminder that God requires that we manifest our love for Him through obedience to Him. Just as we get high marks for loving Jesus because God the Father loves Him, so we get high marks for loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, because Jesus loves them (1 John 3:18).
Secondly, we ought not to become frustrated when it seems that our message of the love of Jesus is not getting through to those to whom we direct it. Many may not hear immediately, and not every one will ever be able to hear. But those drawn to Jesus by God the Father will hear and will repent and obey.
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