John 8:31-59 Jesus: The Self Existent One
In Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot, the main characters are two tramps who in utter bordom wait for Godot to turn up. They don't know who Godot is, and at the end of the play, when he has failed to appear, one tramp says to the other, "Well, shall we go?" The reply comes, "Yes, lets go." But the final stage direction says simply "they do not move." There have been many interpretations of this play, but there is little doubt it reflects a twentieth century phenomenon. People are waiting for someone to turn up, to shed some light in the darkness.
So were the people of Jesus day. Every year at the Feast of Tabernacles, their version of our Harvest Festival and Supper all rolled into one, they commemorated the Exodus. The story of how God had brought them into a promised land. Hundreds and hundreds gathered in the Temple seeking for God's help and guidance, knowing the darkness of ignorance and moral failure. Their hope was in a Messiah would come and light the darkness. As dusk began to fall upon the great open Temple courtyard, the four massive golden candelabra were lit with flaming torches, and sent out a blaze of light that was visible all over Jerusalem. Then the people began to dance and sing, "The Lord is my light...by His light I walk through darkness. The Party lasted seven days and seven nights. There was plenty of food and drink non stop music and dancing in the flood lit Temple.
So, it was on the last day of the Feast, perhaps as these giant festival lights were being extinguished and dismantled that he offered Himself to the departing multitudes as an alternative source of illumination. "Follow me," he was saying, "and you'll find your way out of the darkness of your directionless existence. Just as the pillar of fire guided your forefathers to the promised land, I can guide you to life." Jesus was claiming to be the Shekinah glory of God. Claiming a unique authority as the light, a universal authority as the light of the world, and an unambiguous authority,
"who ever follows me will never walk in darkness". A unique, universal and unambiguous claim. And with it Jesus gave an ultimatum as well. Follow me or walk in darkness. or more precisely "Take me or leave me." As a result verse 30 says,
"many did put their trust in Him". And that's where we pick up the controversy today. That many "believed" in Him wasn't enough for Jesus. Mere profession of faith never is. Read 8:31.
What follows is the controversy Jesus created not so much with his critics but with those who professed to believe in Him. Jesus realised that they respected Him as a religious teacher, but that doesn't make anyone a Christian. There is a world of difference between being an admirer of Jesus and a follower. Between giving intellectual ascent and being a disciple.
What we have here is a kind of wedge, a dentists wedge. Jesus is driving a wedge between their spiritual roots and their spiritual needs, and He is exposing sensitive nerve endings, sensitive because of spiritual decay.
They had their great historical tradition and festivals, but Jesus knew on the inside they were lost, separated from the very God they claimed to worship. Lets analyse this passage under three headings.
1. The Authentic Follower of Jesus (John 8:31-32)
2. The Counterfeit Follower of Religion (John 8:33-53)
3. The Supernatural Nature of Jesus (John 8:54-58)
1. The Authentic Follower of Jesus (John 8:31-32)
1.1 The Follower of Jesus will know the Truth
I find something particularly compelling about that phrase, "You will know the truth" All through history people have been convinced that behind the complexity and variety of the universe there must lie some absolute and unitary principle of order and existence. We feel intuitively that this is so. That's why Douglas Adams' book "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, was so popular, why the BBC radio production so successful. Why there has been two sequels, "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe", and "Life, the Universe and Everything." Good reading but nothing compared to the Authorized version.
In the East this "Truth" has been seen as a spiritual force discovered through mystical experience. In the West it has been understood in scientific terms, as a mathematical or physical principle, discovered through intellectual effort. In our generation we have been witnessing a marriage of these two approaches, scientific and mystical. At the height of this romance of East and West, the "in" book to read was Robert Persig's "Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance."
The film to see was Star Wars with Luke Skywalker in his ultra high tech space craft seeking inner Buddhist enlightenment. And the popular religion to try was Transandental Mediation, supposedly a non-religious scientific technique for handling stress. Don't bother. It was and remains unadulterated Hinduism dressed up in a Western business suit. "May the force be with you" is not an acceptable Christian blessing. The important thing to notice is that in these verses Jesus is over turning both Western and Eastern presuppositions about this quest for Truth. He has nothing to do with either. "Real Truth," he says, "is neither a mystical force nor a mathematical formula. Ultimate reality is a relationship with a Person; with me in fact. If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples, then you will know the truth." In other words Truth is not something that you experience through Yoga or discover through science, it is Someone to be encountered and followed. "Commit yourself to me," Jesus says, "and you will know the Truth for which you are searching."
Jesus is making a remarkable promise. He is saying that without reading any Eastern philosophy, without mastering any Boolean algebra, without practicing any yoga meditation you and I can touch the ultimate reality behind the universe. In the daily routine of living we can find our existence becoming integrated and meaningful. We can discover the truth of Jesus through living it. The Follower of Jesus will know the truth.
1.2 The Follower of Jesus will also experience freedom
Coming back from our post Easter break I used the M11. I like this particular motorway. Its newish and not too busy. When you are cruising along at 70 in the middle lane with little traffic about its tempting to think that the Highway Code is a little restrictive, rather legalistic. It cramps my style, restricts my freedom. Thats really a dangerous illusion. When people start to overtake you in the inside lane, ignore one way signs, jump red lights, infringe speed restrictions, overtake on double white lines, and drink and drive, then driving becomes very dangerous, deadly. We are no longer free to travel anywhere safely.
Thats a fair picture of what the world is like when people ignore Jesus teaching. Only in the Makers Instructions do we find the truth to live by, the truth to see things as they really are, to see the true worth of people and possessions, to see the causes of evil and suffering in the world, to see God's hand in control of human history. Truth to see, to experience freedom. The Hallmarks of the authentic Christian?
The authentic follower of Jesus quite simply is someone who holds on to Jesus teaching more than any other. Has found the truth, and experiences freedom. We can see, we are free, we are safe. Safe in His love, safe in His arms, safe in His presence. But the crowd of people around Jesus weren't ready for this..... Read 8:33 Jesus had touched a sensitive nerve ending. It was hurting, but not enough. Jesus goes on to describe not only the authentic disciple, but the Counterfeit believer too.
2. The Counterfeit Follower of Religion (John 8:33-53)
Jesus has three damning things to say about these nice religious law abiding people.
Jesus Reveals their Terrible Spiritual Bondage 8:33-38
Jesus Reveals their True Spiritual Parentage 8:39-47
Jesus Reveals their Total Spiritual Bankruptcy 8:48-53
2.1 Jesus Reveals Their Terrible Spiritual Bondage 8:33-38
They were suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. Free? Who were they kidding? They had forgotten their history. They had been slaves of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and now were not much better off under the Romans. It just shows how blind people can be when they turn away from the truth. But Jesus is more concerned with spiritual freedom than physical liberation. Their real slavery wasn't external but internal. The worst kind of bondage is the kind that is unrecognised. We tend to think that addiction to drugs or alcohol is a problem affecting a minority. Not so says Jesus. Everyone is addicted to something worse - sin. Read 8:34-36,
This was all too much for those listening. They were very proud people. Proud of their heritage. They traced their ancestry back to Abraham, and thought that it gave them a guaranteed ticket to heaven. Special seats on Judgement day. The argument was getting more heated and personal and confrontational. But Jesus does not give way. He not only reveals their terrible spiritual bondage. He also,
2.2 Jesus Reveals Their True Spiritual Parentage 8:39-47
Here is some of the strongest language spoken by Jesus. It was a devastating accusation to make, yet it was true for two reasons:
8:44 They behaved more like the Devil than Abraham. Like father like son. 8:46 He behaved like God yet they questioned his paternity. Like Father like son. Character reveals kinship - our family connection. That is why how we behave speaks far more loudly than what we say. Their terrible spiritual bondage, their true spiritual parentage, and lastly,
2.3 Jesus Reveals Their Total Spiritual Bankruptcy 8:48-53
Pressed to the wall, devoid of decent arguments, they resorted to sarcasm and blasphemy, Read 8:48.
Sarcasm for calling Jesus a Samaritan, blasphemy for claiming Him possessed. They had already impugned his paternity 8:41, now they question his sanity 8:48. As the Election draws nearer you will have noticed how the Political invective has got more personal and more negative. Party leaders are coming in for some rather unsubtle personal abuse. Even the members of the Royal family are not immune Sadly its a common practice when people run out of facts. Here however it was much, much more serious because of who they were talking to. But notice the way Jesus graciously but firmly replies.
He was progressively revealing their own spiritual need, but also His own true nature. The depths of their bankruptcy comes in 8:53. "Who do you think you are?" A good question to start with, but a foolish one to repeat with the eyes closed and ears shut. Jesus had already told them plainly who He was but they were not listening. As we saw last week, by refusing to accept the light they were going blind fast.
Religious people can be very nice when you invite them to tea, when you chat over the garden party or the summer fayre, but when you engage them in discussion on who Jesus is, why He came, or of their personal need of Him, then they reveal their true nature. A skunk is a very nice animal. I think its quite pretty. Its intelligent. You can clean it, dress it, take it for walks like a dog, but should you upset it, you know very soon that its still a skunk.
Only Jesus can change our nature for good. He can only do that when people realize their terrible spiritual bondage - enslaved to sin, their true spiritual parentage - children of darkness, and their total spiritual bankruptcy - blind and ignorant. Thats why Jesus is such good news. The Authentic Follower of Jesus; The Counterfeit Follower of Religion. On what authority can Jesus divide people in this way?
3. The Supernatural Nature of Jesus (John 8:54-58)
If you are into photography you will know what difference sunshine makes to photographs. When the sun is shining colours gets brighter, and there's more contrast between light and shade. That is what was happening here. The position between authentic and counterfeit was polarizing.
3.1 There was Contrast in their Relationship with God 8:54-55
Your God My Father
Don't know I Know Him
Contrast in their Relationship with God
3.2 There was a Contrast in their Relationship with Abraham 8:56-58
They naturally had never met him and had only heard of him. Jesus was known to Abraham because Jesus was alive before Abraham. Yet Jesus is saying much much more than even that, Jesus has already claimed to be Perfect 8:46. Now He claims to be Pre-existent 8:58. We use the name of God rather glibly. For many its become a swear word. Not so among the Jews. Nobody in their right mind would even dare utter the sacred name of God. Furthermore in their culture a name represented nature. Here Jesus is not only using it, but claiming its His personal name. For Jesus to take the name of God to Himself, was either blasphemy of the worst kind, evidence of total insanity, or, or its was true. Which was it to be? The text tells us how some people responded.
Its ironic that those who rejected the offer of life sought to kill the one who made it. But Jesus gave people no other option, no middle ground, either they must worship Him or destroy Him.
Dr. S.M. Lockridge was the Pastor of Calvary Baptist
Church, San Diego CA from 1953 - 1993. He entered heaven in 2000. He is well-known
for a passage out of his sermon titled “He’s My King”:
strong, He’s entirely sincere, He’s eternally steadfast. He’s immortally
graceful. He’s imperially powerful. He’s impartially merciful. He’s God’s Son.
He’s a sinner’s savior. He’s the centerpiece of civilization. He stands alone
in Himself. He’s unparalleled. He’s unprecedented. He’s supreme. He’s
preeminent. He’s the loftiest idea in literature. He’s the highest idea in
philosophy. He’s the fundamental truth in theology. He’s the miracle of the
age. He’s the only one able to supply all of our needs simultaneously. He
supplies strength for the weak. He’s available for the tempted and the tried.
He sympathizes and He saves. He guards and He guides. He heals the sick, He
cleans the lepers. He forgives sinners, He discharges debtors, He delivers
captives, He defends the feeble, He blesses the young, He serves the
unfortunate, He regards the aged, He rewards the diligent, He beautifies the
meek. Do you know Him?
Well, my king is the
king of knowledge, He’s the well-spring of wisdom, He’s the doorway of
deliverance, He’s the pathway of peace, He’s the roadway of righteousness, He’s
the highway of holiness He’s the gateway of glory, He’s the master of the
mighty, He’s the captain of the conquerors, He’s the head of the heroes, He’s
the leader of the legislators, He’s the overseer of the overcomers, He’s the
governor of governors, He’s the prince of princes, He’s the king of Kings and
the Lord of Lords.
His life is
matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His love never
changes. His word is enough. His grace is sufficient. His reign is righteous.
His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Well. I wish I could describe Him to
you. But He’s indescribable. Yes. He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible, He’s
irresistible. I’m trying to tell you, the Heavens cannot contain Him, let alone
a man explain Him. You can’t get Him out of your mind. You can’t get Him off of
your hands. You can’t outlive Him, and you can’t live without Him. Well. The
Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found out they couldn’t stop Him. Pilate
couldn’t find any fault in Him. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t handle
Him and the grave couldn’t hold Him. That’s my king!
He always has
been, and He always will be. I’m talking about He [who] had no predecessor and
He [who] has no successor. There was nobody before Him and there will be nobody
after Him. You can’t impeach Him, and He’s not going to resign. We try to get
prestige and honour and glory to ourselves, but the glory is all His. Thine is
the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, and ever, and ever, and ever.
How long is that? And ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and when you get
through with all of the forevers, then 'Amen'."
“Oh I wish I could describe him to you.” Jesus has left us in no doubt who He is, and what the difference is between an authentic and a Counterfeit Christian. Controversial? yes. Boring? no.
To the artist He
is the One Altogether Lovely.
To the architect He is the Chief Cornerstone.
To the astronomer He is the Sun of Righteousness.
To the baker He is the Living Bread.
To the banker He is the Hidden Treasure.
To the biologist He is the Life.
To the carpenter He is the Sure Foundation.
To the doctor He is the Great Physician.
To the educator He is the Great Teacher.
To the farmer He is the Sower and Lord of the Harvest.
To the florist He is the Lily of the Valley.
To the geologist He is the Rock of Ages.
To the horticulturist He is the True Vine.
To the judge He is the Righteous One.
To the juror He is the True Witness.
To the jeweller He is the Pearl of Great Price.
To the editor He is the Good Tidings of Great Joy.
To the oculist He is the Light of the Eyes.
To the philosopher He is Wisdom.
To the Printer He is the True Type.
To the servant He is the Good Master.
To the student He is the Incarnate Truth.
To the toiler He is the Giver of Rest.
To the Sinner He is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.
To the Christian, He is the Son of the Living God, the Savior, the Redeemer and Lord!