Summary: This confrontation between the Jews and Jesus reveals a lot about who we are and who Jesus is.
A CRISIS OF IDENTITY
Who is Jesus to us? I am reminded of the question Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The answer is not as simple as it sounds. We have a variety of responses to that question, some of them bang-on and others that sound good but are kind of fabricated out of our own imaginations. We invent Jesus from our own perceived needs and desires. Who is Jesus to us?
A popular book out on the market today depicts God in an unusual manner. The author, identifying with his character, felt that the traditional view of God and Jesus was inappropriate for his situation. Men had not been particularly kind to him and so God as Father needed alteration. His new image of God was a transformation into something more comfortable, more approachable.
There is nothing wrong with using different metaphors to understand God’s person and role in our lives. Those images do however, need to conform with Scripture. And God in Scripture is never seen as comfortable. Isaiah was struck with the holiness of God and thought he would surely die when he met God. Job was struck dumb when he finally had a chance to ask God his questions. When was God ever seen as comfortable in the Bible?
Who is Jesus to us? Let us not fabricate some image of Jesus that he is our pal. Let us not imagine that he is a divine vending machine that his purpose is to meet all our needs. If we want to come face to face with the Jesus of Scriptures then we will find that he is dangerous, that he threatens to upset your current status. We will find him offensive. And we will find that he is good, and only those who refuse to be broken will find the offense and the danger destructive to themselves.
Take a look at the conversation in John 8. We need to go back to verse 31 and see the larger conversation. We saw Jesus as satisfying (the bread giver); we saw Jesus as penetrating (light); now we will see something else.
1. “Who do you think you are?”
Jesus continues to speak following his “I am the light of the world” revelation. He is speaking to Jews in the temple courts and some are starting to believe in him. But Jesus knows there are some preconceived notions that need to be dismantled. In a way, Jesus asks them, “Do you know who you are?” Observe this progression:
a) A True Disciple – To these Jews who think they are starting to understand Jesus and want to believe in him, Jesus makes this comment: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (31-32).
You would think that if you want someone to follow you and “buy in” to your program for life, you would sign them up as fast as possible. You would encourage them with incentives and bonuses. Jesus didn’t want mental assent; he wanted total commitment. To “hold to” his teaching was to revolutionize your life, to direct your life according to his teaching. Then you will know the truth that sets you free. You may have to give up a lot but you gain so much in return. Jesus, in this way, was asking “Can you be my disciple?”
b) Slaves to sin – The Jews didn’t get it. “Set free?” they said, “but we’ve never been slaves of anyone. We’re not slaves.” Jesus said, “Yes you are.” Over 1500 years prior they had been slaves for a short time in Egypt till Moses led them out, but that was a blip in time. They no idea of their present bondage. Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (34). This cuts at our own sense of identity. We don’t like to think of ourselves as sinners - it’s too negative. We like to think that we are people who make mistakes and sometimes fail. Jesus tells us that we sin and we are slaves to sin. We do not become sinners because we commit sins; we commit sins because we are sinners. I was reminded of this fact personally in recent days and was cut to the core by the reality of it. It broke my heart to think that I was still susceptible to sinning. But “Amazing Grace” in that moment I realized I still need my Savior. I am not perfect and that is hard to face. When you do, Jesus can set you free. The Jews were not willing to admit this slavery and so they balked.
c) Children of Abraham – Jesus accuses them of trying to kill him for simply telling the truth that his Father revealed to him. Another misconception is revealed as to who they think they are. The Jews reply, “Abraham is our father” (39). Jesus says, “No he’s not.”