John 8: 31 – 47 Dispute over whose children Jesus’ opponents are
During my study period yesterday, I found myself looking rather wistfully at the other gospels, where we see so much of Jesus active in the world. I felt I wanted to be studying one of them instead; St John’s gospel seems to be full of debate and theology, with the same points made repeatedly in different ways.
Then it occurred to me that at this point in my walk in faith that may be exactly what I need. Maybe before I try to learn lessons about the nature of Jesus and his teaching, I need to be very certain that Jesus is the Son of God and that the only thing that truly matters is to follow him. Otherwise, I risk being in the position of the Pharisees – judging Jesus and his message through the lens of human wisdom.
Thank you, Father. Your way is always best!
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Anyway – to the study!
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.’
At first sight this seems comfortable. It’s good to know the truth, and freedom is something we all crave. However, the Jews with whom Jesus was debating, the chief priests and Pharisees, take exception to it.
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?’
Perhaps one reason why they are more sensitive than we are to the idea that they are not free is because, unlike today, slavery was legal and ubiquitous. As a slave you were scarcely human. Most slaves had very low social status (not all; there were some slaves whose knowledge and ability brought them esteem). You had to be available 24/7 to do your owner’s bidding – you had no choice in the matter.
[A small deviation from the study. Although nowadays slavery is illegal, it still happens in every country in the world. Today’s slaves are no better off than those in the ancient world and we should all work to eliminate slavery altogether.]
Those whom Jesus was addressing had status; they were leaders in Israel. Slaves? Them? No way!
Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
That is to say, you’ll always sin, 24/7 – you won’t be able to stop. Sin will own you.
Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it for ever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
This reminds me of the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal son was not a slave – he was family. He sinned, yes, but as soon as he returned home in repentance, he was forgiven and restored to his former place in the household. When Jesus sets us free, our status is that we are family, and we will always be sure of a welcome.
I know you are Abraham’s descendants.
In human terms, yes, the Jews are descendants of Abraham. Jesus is saying, ‘I know this. I’m not contradicting it.’
Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.’
Once again Jesus is speaking spiritually. He is very clear that he is an eye-witness of what he has seen in the Father’s presence.
‘Abraham is our father,’ they answered.
I find it interesting, and possibly suggestive, that the chief priests and Pharisees no longer deny that they are looking for a way to kill Jesus. Instead, they are trying to justify their position by claiming the inheritance of Abraham
‘If you were Abraham’s children,’ said Jesus, ‘then you would do what Abraham did.
What did Abraham do? He placed all his trust in God. At God’s commend, he left his homeland and became a nomad. He trusted God to give him a son, even though his wife was past child-bearing age and barren. He was a man of faith. If Jesus’ opponents were Abraham’s spiritual children, they would put their faith in Jesus.
As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.’
‘We are not illegitimate children,’ they protested. ‘The only Father we have is God himself.’
Once again Jesus charges them with planning to kill him. Once again, they don’t deny it. This time, they claim that God himself is 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. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.
If God were their Father, they would want to do his will. They would listen to Jesus and measure his claims against what they knew of God’s love and holiness. But they are unable to hear what Jesus says because they are too busy listening to the voice of self-interest, of worldly wisdom, of the prescriptive statutes of the law.
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me!
Jesus is saying that what his opponents are doing gives the lie to what they say.
Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?
No, they can’t and they know it. They’ve been trying to put together a charge against Jesus for months, and they haven’t succeeded
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.’
There is a sense in which his listeners are almost incapable of accepting the truth about Jesus, and yet he persists. He challenges them at the very core of their self-image, saying, “You do not belong to God.”
This really brings home to me the fact that I must follow God with all my heart. I long for his plan for creation to be fulfilled but unless I am actively following him, the chances are I will go wrong. My human wisdom will kick in; self-interest will dull my hearing to the cries of the needy.
Heavenly Father, Thank you for this period of studying your word. Thank you for calling me to follow Jesus. Please help me to follow him in full obedience. I pray this in his name. Amen