“And the truth shall set you free…” (8:21-47

The truth shall set you free

In the previous two passages Jesus has faced disputes over what he has been saying and who he has been saying he is. In this passage the reader is witness to another dispute between Jesus and some of the Jews who had chosen to believe what he had been saying so far. Yes, you read that correctly. This passage records a conversation between Jesus and some of his new believers.

Why is that important?

It is important because those 7 little words at the beginning of verse 31 show that even when we have chosen to believe and follow Jesus, the temptation will always be there to fall back into our old identities and find meaning in them. Look at the people Jesus was talking to if you don’t believe me. Jesus says to them that having believed what he says, if they really are to be his disciples they will hold to his teaching, and when they hold to his teaching they will know the truth and the truth shall set them free.

What is Jesus’ teaching? In John 3 Jesus said to Nicodemus that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. New birth. New life. New identity. Or as Paul writes to the Corinthian church in 2nd Corinthians 5: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come.” In John 4 Jesus met a woman at the well in Sychar and invited her to drink living water and live a new life; a life different from her old one. In John 5 Jesus healed the man by the pool in Bethesda and encourages him to go off and live a new life free of sin.

Jesus’ teaching is that when you come to him; when you live your life in his way; when you really are his disciples you will know the truth and the truth will set you free, because you will know that the old has gone and the new has come; you will know that you are a new creation in Christ; you will know that in Christ you are adopted into the family of God; that you have become a beloved child of God.

In this text, the Jews who have believed Jesus have not realized fully what it means to believe Jesus. They have not understood that they have become new creations in Christ. How do we know this? We know this because when Jesus tells them that the truth will set them free they respond by stating that they are descendants of Abraham and therefore have never been slaves of anyone. In other words they believe what Jesus is saying, but they still don’t get that Jesus is inviting them to a completely new life, hence they continue to hold on to their old identity as children of Abraham. And Jesus even challenges them on that understanding of themselves: “But if you really were children of Abraham you would do what Abraham did.” What did Abraham do? He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen 15:5, Rom 4:3, Gal 3:6) Jesus is saying that if these followers were really children of Abraham as they claim to be, they would recognize the Father in the Son; they would recognize that Jesus is who he is saying that he is and they would believe him, rather than plotting to capture and kill him. As Jesus goes on to say later in this passage, “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.” If these believers really do recognize that Jesus is who he says he is then they will recognize God in their midst and will hear what Jesus has to say.

So I say it again, it is possible for us to hear Jesus and believe what Jesus has to say about all things and still not fully get what it means. We can hear Jesus and believe what Jesus has to say about one new life and new birth and still remain unchanged by it.

The Jewish believers in this passage had believed Jesus but had not considered themselves new creations in Christ, and i think that is a challenge to every reader of this passage. Are you a believer of the things Jesus has said? Has believing Jesus brought about a new birth in you? Have you had an experience of the new life? Has the old gone and the new come? Or are you living a life which believes that Jesus taught great things, but ultimately remains stuck in the old identity.

As John has said from the very beginning of this work, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh; Jesus is the light which the darkness cannot over come; Jesus is the Messiah; Jesus is the one sent by God. In Jesus you and me and every other human being in the world can be born again and can experience a new life and a brand new identity which is not marred by the old identity. This is the absolute truth from the lips of Jesus himself, and when we become his followers; when we really are his disciples we will know the truth and the truth shall set us free to live this new life as the beloved children of God.

So how about that? Is it time for you to be born again and experience this first hand?

I hope so.

Can I get a witness…? (5:31-47)

witnessI was sat in our local Pastors Prayer meeting this morning – each week anywhere between 20 and 40 of us gather together from all manner of traditions and backgrounds from within Christianity to pray for our community. Anyway, I was sat there this morning and the appointed leader of our group was taking us through the steps of what we were to do during our time together. Today he had prepared a passage of Scripture for us on a piece of paper, and he was inviting us to spend about 20 mins in silence as we each read the Scripture and listened for God’s voice in the passage. Then we would come back together and use the things we had heard as we spent time in the passage as the source material for our prayers. As he led us he stopped at one point and asked the question : Can I get a witness? This is a phrase which might commonly be heard coming from preachers mouths in the midst of any church service. A preacher will use this question as a means of checking that a congregation is still with him or her and following what is being said. Either that or the preacher is using the question as a means of waking the congregation up a little – I’ll let you decide! Seriously though, when a preacher uses this question it is giving the community that is listening the opportunity to agree with or corroborate what the preacher is saying at that particular moment.

Having a witness or witnesses to back up the claims we make is important. Whether claims are being made in a sermon in church or by an individual testifying in a criminal court – if we do not have someone or some evidence to prove that what we are saying is the truth then any testimony simply becomes “he said/she said.” or “my word against yours,” and the truth proves impossible to find.

Jesus has just made a staggering claim before the Jewish leaders – a claim that could get him in a lot of trouble with them. He has made the claim that he is God’s own son, or, as would be understood in that culture, that he is equal with God. This is a claim which must be backed up by evidence, and Jesus knows this.

That’s why John includes the todays passage.

Jesus knows that in a case of his word against anyone else’s word there is no grounds for his claim to be believed.
But Jesus has got evidence.
Jesus has got witnesses.

His first witness was John the Baptist, as John the author has already pointed out in the prologue:

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.”

John had been accepted by and large as a man of God who also had a message from God. In modern parlance you might say that John was a respected religious leader whose authority on all things spiritual would not normally be questioned. Jesus is making the point to the Jewish leaders that he has John the Baptist in his corner as a witness and corroborator of the claims that he is making about himself:

“You sent to John and he has testified to the truth”

 

The ministry of John the Baptist had been to point to the one who was to come from God.
John the Baptist had seen Jesus and exclaimed, “Look! The Lamb of God!”

Jesus has John the Baptist as a witness to back up the claims that he is making about himself.

But that is not all.

Jesus has a testimony that is even “weightier” than John’s, namely the works that he is doing, having been sent by the Father to do them. He has turned the water into wine at Cana. He has met with a Samaritan woman, told her everything about herself and offered her living water and new life. He has healed the man who has been sick and waiting by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years. In pointing to these things Jesus is asking the question of his doubters: If this power, if these acts are not of God, then where or who are they from? And if they are from God then are they not proof that what Jesus is saying to you might just be the truth?

Jesus has indeed got witnesses, and still the people who have been waiting for him, and who are watching him act do not believe him.

“He came to his own and his own would not receive him”

Jesus then meets their accusations of him with an accusation of his own when he tells them that they do not even appear to believe in the things that they profess to believe in. These people have built their lives around the law that came through Moses – they are good, law abiding, ritual-observing people no doubt, yet they have absolutely and completely missed the spirit of that same law. Where this not the case then these observers would have no problem accepting the testimony of Jesus and the witnesses he has to back it up. As Tom Wright puts it:

 

“…they don’t know the God they profess to believe in. They have not truly seen [God] or heard [God]. [God’s] word finds no place in them.”

 

“He came to his own and his own would not receive him”

The worrying thing in all this is that these deniers were the religious people of the time and place. They were the ones who were seemingly engaged in the story of God; who were attentive to the ways of the Divine.

They believed the story of God in their lives.
They practiced the rituals of God in the Temple.
They knew the word of God in their minds.

Yet when God showed up among them in Christ, they could not recognize him.

I can’t help but wonder if me and the rest of the religious people of today’s world might be in a similar boat, which is where this text speaks to us today.

Jesus has said who he is – God’s son; the Chosen One; the Light of the World.
Jesus has witnesses (‘a great cloud of them’) to back up his claims.

The only question for us is this one: What will we do with him?

In his day, and as we have seen in these opening 5 chapters, when folks were faced with the full story of who Jesus is they had to make a decision to either reject him or follow him. Following Jesus led to a new life being transformed from the inside out (4:14). Rejecting him meant doing nothing and experiencing nothing new (when you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got!). In our own days the choice is still the same and the results of that choice are still the same.

So what will you do?

The man took Jesus at his word… (4:43-54)

Faith

I have spent the morning looking for something different to write about in regard to this passage. I have tried to focus in on the identity of the Royal Official so that I can write something about that. I have tried to think through the geography of it all and see if I can find something significant about where Jesus is moving to and from. I keep looking for something else; something different, but i cannot seem to get away from the main theme: faith.

In the twenty years since I became a disciple of Jesus, my best friend (and mentor in the journey) has always said the same thing to me:

“You are a man of great faith.”

He says that because he has watched my life in the last 20 years and has seen me take some steps that could only have been taken by faith, i.e. those decisions did not always make perfect sense at the time they were being taken. Now I don’t know if I am really a man of great faith or not, but I do know this: the royal official in this story IS a man of great faith.

The book of Hebrews perfectly defines faith for the reader:

“Now faith is being sure of what you hope for, and certain of what you do not see” (Heb 11:1)

In this story, the royal official exercises such faith. He has heard about the things Jesus has been doing and makes the journey where Jesus is in order to ask Jesus to help his sick child. The official wanted Jesus to come back with him to his house and perform the healing there but Jesus was having none of that. In fact he seemed quite indignant when he responded by saying “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe.”

And perhaps he was.

Jesus had not simply come to entertain the masses with a ministry of miracles. Remember John’s opening statement in the prologue – this Jesus is the very word of God; the light – the true light who had come to the world to be the belligerent light beaming brightly in the darkness. Jesus had come to change the game and to announce God’s new work of grace and mercy available for all people. This new work would not always be accompanied by the signs and wonders that the masses loved to witness – finding this new way would be an exercise in faith and belief in the promise of God – the Word of God!

Jesus sent the man away stating that his son would be healed. The royal official had to turn and walk away from Jesus in blind faith. He had come all this way to invite this healer/miracle worker to come with him and make his son better, but the healer/miracle worker would not oblige. Instead the royal official now faced the long and uncertain walk home not knowing for sure if what Jesus had said would become a reality. He chose to believe what Jesus had said, turned, and headed for home. On the way, his servants come to meet him and they bring good news. The boy is healed and it turns out that the healing took place at around the same time Jesus had said that he would be well.

By telling this story John is reminding his readers that humans are to believe Jesus – take him at his word. People had been responding to the signs and wonders that Jesus was involved in – it was the signs and wonders that were becoming the centerpiece of the show and not Jesus, the very Word of God. This story reminds us that our core task in being followers of Jesus is to remember that he is the Word of God; that he is the true light of the world; that he is the chosen one of God. We are called to believe relentlessly in the fact that this new work of God, a work of grace and deep agape love, is taking place in and through Jesus.

Perhaps today is a good day for you and me to take a moment to stop whatever it is we are doing or being distracted by and pray the following prayer:

Jesus:
Light of the World;
Chosen one of God;
Word of God.
Forgive us if we too have become caught up in the side show of signs and wonders;
If we too have forgotten that you are the centerpiece of this wonderful work of God that you came to announce.
Turn our eyes back to you, the author and perfecter of the faith;
Be our beginning and our end – and everything else in between.
Today,
Right now,
In this moment – enable with courage and grace to turn once again and follow you.
May we refuse to take our eyes of you as we journey on in faith.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
May it be so.