Sermon by Rev George Hemmings
Meet Peter. He’s an average, Aussie bloke. Not long after he got married, he left a career in Sydney to move to the country and raised a family. Nearly twenty years in, his marriage fell apart. After a few dark years and some soul searching, Peter emerged more compassionate, more caring, more sympathetic. You might even say wiser! He’s worked hard all his life, as you might be able to tell from his face. He’s either out on the farm, or in his farm supply store. He goes out of his way to ensure his customers are looked after. In fact many of them, and the people he’s worked with over the years would think of him as a friend. Peter's an average Aussie bloke. You're unlikely to ever see him in the news, or read about him in the paper. But if you met him, you might think you knew him. Because Peter's my father. There's a lot of him in me. There's a lot that he's said, and done, that's shaped who I am. I see aspects of him in a lot of what I do, what I say, how I react. I wonder what your Father’s like? How do your parents define you?
Jesus, Son of?
The question of paternity is at the heart of John chapter 8, and indeed much of John’s Gospel. The question of Jesus’ paternity is one that’s already come up several times. Back in chapter 6, after he’d fed the five thousand,
41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?”
They seem to have missed everything that Jesus has said about God being his Father. They’re not ready to accept that Jesus is the unique, special, one and only, Son of God. This chapter clears up a lot about the relationship between the Father and the Son?
In verse 12 of our reading today, Jesus makes another one of these outrageous claims.
12Again Jesus spoke to them, saying “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
It’s another claim to be equal to God, the one who is light and life. We’ll look more at this next week, when we go back to John 1 and think about the light of the world some more. It’s a claim that the Jews, the Pharisees can’t let go unchallenged. But rather than argue with Jesus directly the Jews question the validity of his claim. Rather than enter into another theological debate, they try a legal tactic.
During the week I was introduced to a game called Resistance. The aim of the game is to discover who around the table are the spies, and who are the resistance. So of course, everyone begins saying, “I’m Resistance.” The problem is you’ve only got their word for it!
That’s what the Jews are accusing Jesus of in verse 13. ‘Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.”’ As is the case today, the law of Moses required multiple witnesses to testify in capital cases. Today when you sign something you often need a witness, someone else who can verify, who can support your claims. The Jews want to know, where’re Jesus’ witnesses? Who can corroborate his claims? You can’t just go making things up!
Jesus answers that his testimony is valid, because he knows where he has come from and where he is going. He’s not saying that he knows he’s from Bethlehem, or Galilee, and that he’s going places. No, he’s come from the Father’s side. Before he entered this world he sat at the right hand of the Father. And he knows that’s where he’s going again. (John 7:33). The normal requirements for witnesses don’t apply. How could they? In claiming to be the light of the world, Jesus is claiming to be God. But who could possibly testify to that? Who else has seen God? Of course, John’s already given us the answer, back in chapter 1,
‘It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart (John 1:18).’
More than just having come from the Father, and destined to return to his side, Jesus says in verse 29 that the Father has never left him. Have you ever heard about ‘helicopter parents’. It’s a term that refers to parents who hover over their children. Whether it’s at the park, or parties, or later school or even uni, ‘helicopter parents’ are never far from their children. They pay close attention to everything they say or do. Jesus says that the Father is always by the Son’s side. But the Father never has to worry about what the Son does, as unlike most children, Jesus always does what is pleasing to the Father.
So it’s no surprise that Jesus says that the Father testifies on his behalf. Even by the normal rules about witnesses, Jesus’ testimony is valid! He doesn’t testify on his own, the Father backs him up 100%. If the only one who can support the testimony of God is God, well Jesus has that covered! The Father has testified in the works, and the words, that he has given Jesus. Back in chapter 5, Jesus said:
36But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. 37And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf.’
All this talk of the Father testifying about his Son, leads the Jews to ask, ‘Where is your Father?’ Bring him out here so we can see him. It’s similar to the question Philip asks in chapter 14:
8Phillip answered him, “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me?” – John 14:8-10
Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father. To see Jesus is to see God the Father, to know Jesus is to know God, to hear Jesus, is to hear God the Father speak. Indeed, a little while later, after getting exasperated with the Jews gathered there, wondering ‘why do I bother talking to you!’ Jesus says;
26’I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.’
28‘I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.’
The words Jesus speaks are the words of God. To hear him speak is to hear God speak. What’s more they’re words the Father has given him to say.
It seems that some were willing to listen, and some believed, because at the end of verse 30 we read that as he was saying these things, many believed in him. But the depth of their belief, and their true paternity, is soon put to the test.
31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;’
So far so good. There’s a challenge to persistence, to the true nature of Christianity – to persevere, to continue in faith and following. But then the controversy starts again:
32“and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
At this they start to grumble. Aren’t they already free? It’s clear they’ve got something other than physical or political freedom in mind. At one time or another they’d been subject to Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, or Syrian rule. Even now, while they enjoy a quasi-freedom, they’re still very much under Roman rule and authority. It’s more likely they’re talking about a spiritual, inward freedom. They don’t need the ‘truth’ to set them free ideologically, or spiritually. They’re descendants of Abraham, the grandfather of Israel, the patriarch of the nation. They’re members of God’s kingdom, they’re free!
What they haven’t realized is that their sin, their disobedience, has made them slaves. The ultimate bondage isn’t to a political power. It’s to moral failure, to rebellion against God. They’re not bound to a human master, but to shameful self-centeredness, a devotion to the created things and not the Creator.
Jesus concedes that the Jews are indeed Abraham’s sons and daughters, though just biologically. They might be great, great, great, great, great, great, grandsons and granddaughters of Abraham. But he’s not their father in a spiritual sense. No matter how much they might claim to be Abraham’s descendants, no matter how much they might protest that they’re not illegitimate children, but have one father, God himself, their actions prove otherwise. If they truly were Abraham’s descendants, they should be welcoming Jesus as Abraham did! They should be listening to him, hearing his words and obeying them. They should be rejoicing in Jesus! If they truly are God’s children, then
42Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.”
Instead of rejoicing at the appearance of the Son of God, what are they trying to do? They’re trying to kill him! Their words and actions, their secret desires, show their true paternity.
Jesus reveals just who their father really is:
44”You are the from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires.”
Not only are they seeking to murder the one true Son, they refuse to accept his testimony. The devil lied from the very beginning, telling Adam and Eve, ‘You will not surely die’. They’re following in their true father’s footsteps when they claim to be the children of God. But it’s not just that they speak lies, they can’t stand the truth! Jesus speaks the truth, he is the truth, and they can’t abide him, or abide in him! They can’t hear him, because they’re not truly from God.
Who’s your Father?
So the question today is, who’s your Father? And the answer is really shown in how you respond to Jesus, God’s one and only Son.
Jesus offers to set us free from our slavery, from the captivity of sin, rebellion. He promises to free us from the clutches of the devil. Through Jesus we can be born, this time with a new Father:
12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12
As Paul puts it in Galatians:
26in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
If we want to be children of God, Jesus says in this chapter we will listen to his words. More than just hear them, we will continue in them, we will keep them. We have to consistently, continually hear, follow and obey.
That’s only to be expected as if we’re God’s children we’ll naturally love our Father. You’d hardly say you love your Father if you don’t listen to him, if you ignore what he says, or how he expects you to behave.
And loving the Father means loving, Christ Jesus, his Son.
42Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me,
We’ll love him with a deep, personal, faithful, familial love.
In doing these things we’ll show our obedience to the Father, in seeking the glory of the Son. (15:8). God the Father is committed to seeing Jesus, his Son glorified. (5:23; 8:50; 17:1,4-5). We do that as we praise and worship the Son together.
Let’s pray that we can be obedient, loving children of our heavenly Father, committed to the glory of the Son.