Children of God - Children of the Devil

John 8:31-47 

In John 8, Jesus finds himself in an awkward position. Some of his attackers have now put their faith in him. But it’s a tenuous relationship, because while they wanted to follow him, they didn’t want to give up anything. They wanted to be the same kind of people they had always been, believe the same things that they had always believed. In fact, it sounds like a few people I know.

And, we aren’t surprised to see, the relationship only lasts one verse before Jesus offends them again. In John 8:31 Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

You and I might listen to Jesus and think that sounds like a wonderful promise: “the truth will set you free.” Who doesn’t love truth, who doesn’t want to be free?

What does freedom mean to you? Complete independence, no restrictions, no consequences? Unlimited choices, doing what you want, when you want?

When our children were small, freedom for them would have meant sticking a paper clip in the electric outlet, or running out into the street without looking, or playing with matches. We, as their parents, would not allow them to do those things. And if your kids were anything like our kids you know what came next: “But why? I want to, it’s not fair, you don’t love me…” When the fact is, we restricted their behavior because we did love them and knew that there would be terrible consequences to their poor choices. We had a certain amount of truth that, while they might not grasp it, would free them to live beyond the age of three. Truth will at times restrict our behavior, but ultimately gives us an even greater freedom than if we ignore it.

The problem these Jewish leaders had was that they thought they possessed all the truth and didn’t need anybody trying to change their minds.

It shows up in their response to Jesus: “Set us free? We’re Abraham’s descendants and we’ve never been slaves to anyone.”

There are three problems with their statement. Number one, they’ve just rewritten their history.  Who hadn’t they been slaves to? They were in slavery in Egypt for four hundred years, Assyria had deported Northern Israel into permanent slavery, Babylonian captivity of Judah for seventy, and now the Romans have been running their country for the last thirty-six years. They had been slaves to everyone.

Number two, there is greater slavery than to a foreign nation. Jesus reminds them, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)

That kind of slavery not only deprives you of your physical liberty, but your eternal home in heaven. If you are a slave to sin – that is, you refuse to repent and walk away from sin – you have renounced your place of sonship with God and clung to your sin as a drowning man would refuse to be rescued because he believed he could save himself.

The third thing is their claim to be Abraham’s descendants. Now, technically their claim is correct. They were descended by blood from their ancestor Abraham. But Jesus confronts the reality of their claim: “I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready 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 do what you have heard from your father.” “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined 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 things your own father does.” (John 8:37-41)

One of the things I always enjoyed when our kids were little was when people would tell me my oldest son Tim looked just like me (not a great thing for him, but…) And as things go, he turned out to be a whole lot like me (again, no walk in the park). But it is the nature of children and parents that our kids will imitate us. That’s what you would expect.

But, even though Abraham was a man of faith and dependence upon God, who sought his will and walked in his ways, the Jews didn’t look or act anything like Abraham. They might be able to trace their family tree back to him, but their actions contradicted their heritage.

In fact, Jesus says, your actions really do reveal your true father.

They cut him off and protested, “We are not illegitimate children. The only Father we have is God himself.”

Again, they are casting aspersions on the legitimacy of Jesus’ birth. As we’ve noticed before, when they run out of reasonable arguments, the resort to name calling. And they also make a claim for themselves that is beyond reason. The lay aside their claim to Abraham as father and say God himself is their Father.

If they don’t act like Abraham, they certainly don’t act like God. And so Jesus pointedly says, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. 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.” (John 8:42-44)

Jesus says, the likeness is unmistakable. Their father is a murderer and a liar, and not just any murderer and liar, he invented them – he was a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies – it is his native language. Jesus tells them, when you speak your accent betrays you; there’s no mistaking who your father is, you’re a chip off the old block.

If questioning their relationship to Abraham got them worked up, telling them that their father is the devil enraged them. They reach further into their bag of insults and say, “We knew you were a Samaritan and demon-possessed!”

Now that might not sound that insulting to you, but that was about as ugly and derogatory an insult as you could throw at someone. We probably have some comparable insults in English, but they would get this sermon an R rating if I spoke them out loud (not that I know any of them!)

Jesus further fuels their rage by adding, “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (Jn 8:51)

Don’t forget, these are people who, just a few minutes earlier had put their faith in him. But now, every claim he makes just adds fuel to the fire. “Never see death! Even Abraham died, are you greater than him? Who do you think you are?”

Listen to Jesus’ response: “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:54-58)

Two things you especially need to hear:

1) The Father is the one who glorifies Jesus. Jesus isn’t saying or doing anything out of pride or self-promotion. Never mistake Jesus’ words for the words of an egomaniac who is trying to take power or claim to be something he isn’t. When Jesus says, “I tell you the truth,” that’s exactly what he is telling you – the truth. Nothing more, nothing less. When Jesus says, “I know the Father,” it is because he intimately knows the Father – they have been together for all eternity. When Jesus says, “you will never see death,” it is because he is the source of life and it is his to give.

2) The second thing you need to hear is that when Jesus says Abraham saw me and was glad, it is because Jesus was there – he has always been. When God spoke to Abraham and told him to go to the land he would give him, that was Jesus speaking, when God showed up and talked with Abraham about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, that was Jesus.

When we are talking about the reckoning of time, there is no B.C. (i.e., before Christ) because Christ has always been. When the Pharisees cry out, “You are not yet fifty years old,” it reinforces what we heard Jesus say last week, “You judge by human standards.” All they could see was what was before their eyes. They had no eyes of faith – they were unmoved by his words or his miracles. They were spiritually blind. They were pathetically unlike their ancestor Abraham, and absolutely unlike their father God.

And at this, John says, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. When they lost the battle of reason, when they ran out of insults to hurl, they picked up stones to kill him. But as we’ve noticed before, it is not Jesus’ time and they will not circumvent the plan of God by killing him before the hour has come.

I’ll have to admit, this confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders really challenges me to the core. I have to ask myself whether I am so in love with my heritage and my belief that we’re the true church that I forget who owns the church. Am I willing to look truth in the face and be moved by it? Those leaders had such an iron grip on their past that they had really lost sight of what their past was. They believed Abraham was their father, but they forgot what he stood for. And in doing so, they had cut themselves off from both Abraham and the truth.

Jesus said to them, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” The Hebrews writer looks at Abraham and says, “Abraham saw these things by faith.” Do I see Jesus by faith? Abraham looked into the future, I look into the past. Abraham chose his path and followed it because he believed God was in control. Do I have the same motivation? If Abraham did what he did on the basis of faith, am I willing to live my life following Jesus because of that same kind of faith?

The other thing that challenges me is Jesus’ discussion of being children of God. If you claim to be a child of God, there ought to be a distinct family resemblance. If I am a son of the Father, my life should reflect his values and his nature. I should be growing in those qualities that make me his child – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And as I become more like God in the way I think and act, I should also be diminishing in those qualities that reflect Satan and his influence.

Fred Craddock, one of my favorite preachers and storytellers, told of going back one summer to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to take a short vacation with his wife. One night they found a quiet little restaurant where they looked forward to a private meal - just the two of them. While they were waiting for their meal they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting guests. Craddock whispered to his wife, "I hope he doesn’t come over here." He didn’t want the man to intrude on their privacy. But the man did come by his table.
"Where you folks from?" he asked amicably. "Oklahoma."
"Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there. What do you do for a living?” "I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary of Phillips University."
"Oh, so you teach preachers, do you. Well, I’ve got a story I want to tell you." And with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife. Dr. Craddock said he groaned inwardly: Oh no, here comes another preacher story. It seems everyone has one.
The man stuck out his hand. “I’m Ben Hooper. I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born so I had a hard time. When I started to school my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunchtime because the taunts of my playmates cut so deeply. What was worse was going downtown on Saturday afternoon and feeling every eye burning a hole through you. They were all wondering just who my real father was. When I was about 12 years old a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me.
‘Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?’ I felt the old weight come on me. It was like a big black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. ‘Wait a minute," he said, "I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God.’ With that he slapped me across the rump and said, "Boy you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it."
The old man looked across the table at Fred Craddock and said, "That was the most important single sentence ever said to me." With that he smiled, shook the hands of Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends. Suddenly, Fred Craddock remembered. On two occasions the people of Tennessee had elected an illegitimate son to be their governor. One of them was Ben Hooper...a man with a great inheritance.

When I look at you, I see that resemblance too. You’re a child of God. Go claim your inheritance.