The Truth Who Frees Us from Sin & Satan | Part 2
Passage: John 8:30–47
Sermon from John 8:30-47 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, March 2, 2014
Four Comments to Help You Understand
Before we jump in to verse 37, let me preface our time together with four comments that might help you swim before plunging you into the deep end. First, this is our second week in the same passage, because last week I realized I had bitten off more than I could chew. So for those of you who weren’t here—or who may need a quick review—let me summarize what we learned from verses 30-36. Basically, genuine disciples of Jesus are not those who believe only when he’s palatable to them. No, genuine disciples abide in Jesus’ word, regardless if it stings or sings, if it wounds or heals. True disciples take in Jesus’ word, swallow it, digest it, and let it become part of them through and through such that they come to know the truth revealed in the person and mission of Jesus. Abiding in Jesus’ word unites us to himself—he is the Son—and when we’re united to the Son, he sets us free from our slavery to sin. That’s the gist of what we see in verses 30-36.
Second, as we move in to verses 37-47 you can see a pattern that may help you understand what’s going on as Jesus confronts these Jews; and the pattern goes something like this: Jesus says something about their true father, the Jews object to his words—they don’t abide in them, but reject them—and then Jesus clarifies why the statement he made about their true father is accurate. This will happen twice as we walk through our text (once in verses 37-40 and then again in verses 41-47), and the question it presses on us is this: Who is your real father? If your Father is truly God, then you will abide in his Son’s word. If there’s no abiding in Jesus’ word, then the question becomes “Whose son are you really?”
Third, back in 8:12, Jesus called himself the Light of the world; and since then he’s said nothing else explicitly about him being the Light. But that shouldn’t mean we forget Jesus is the Light of the world as we continue reading. Rather, we should see in his dialogue with the Jews that the Light is shining in the darkness. There’s a severe darkness that plagues the hearts of mankind and the only way for us to see ourselves rightly and the world rightly and God rightly is if the Light shines upon us and awakens us to the truth. I don’t know what part of this world’s darkness plagues you this morning, or is blinding you to see God’s reality rightly and fully in Jesus, but I can say from Jesus’ word: the Light that you need to escape the darkness is shining. It is shining brightly for your eternal joy in God.
So, fourth, you need to consider even before we get into the text, how you’re going to respond to the Light. The question is not whether or not he’s shining; but whether you’re loving the darkness instead of the Light (cf. 3:19-21). I was sitting at the table on Thursday with the family, and at one point I said, “Luke, guess what daddy spent all morning studying the Bible about?” Luke says, “What?” I said, “I was studying what it means for somebody to have the devil as their father.” And Luke looked over at Rachel and said, “Mommy, can you pass the sour cream.” And that was all the response I got. Now, granted I could have approached the subject a little differently with my five-year old, but it at least gave me a great illustration about how we usually respond when the Light shines. What would you say to, “You’re of your father the devil.” It’s so unsettling, and yet sometimes that Light doesn’t faze us as it should.
It may not be sour cream that’s more interesting, but it may be Facebook when you’re trying to read the Bible; it may be a preoccupation with Angry Birds when the Holy Spirit has sat you next to a lost person at the doctors’ office; it may be the news about so-and-so that you just have to know, quite apart from what you had just read in the Bible about gossip; it may be that, like these Jews, you’re rather content with what you already know, and don’t need Jesus to speak any further into the depths of your soul—after all, you’re a Christian, maybe even of the Reformed theological persuasion at that. So, let me challenge you at the outset: how are you going to respond to the Light shining through this text? There’s only two ways to respond: remain in a love-affair with the darkness; or enjoy the Light of Jesus Christ as God’s true children.
So those are the four comments I wanted to set before you as we now jump in at verse 37. Again, already observed last week as a first point that (1) abiding in Jesus’ word unites us to the Son who frees us from slavery to sin (8:30-36). Here’s a second point we encounter in verses 37-40 that is true of all genuine disciples of Jesus.
2. Abiding Means Believing & Enjoying God’s Revelation in the Son
Abiding in Jesus’ word means believing and enjoying God’s revelation in the Son. One of the things the Jews had placed such confidence in was their fleshly lineage that could be traced back to Abraham. We pick that up from verse 33: “We’re offspring of Abraham.” But Jesus now shows them what being a child of Abraham really means. It means more than simply possessing an earthly birth certificate. In its truest sense, being a child of Abraham means you believe in God’s revealed plan of salvation through his Son. This, the Jews were not doing.
Let’s read together in verse 37: “I know that you’re offspring of Abraham.” And Jesus means, physically speaking—he knows they share the same bloodline as Abraham. “Yet,” he goes on to add, “you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.” Again, he’s taking them back to the abiding language from verse 31. When you don’t abide in Jesus’ word and Jesus’ word finds no place in you, murder of God already fills your heart. Where does this murder come from? Jesus hints at it in verse 38, “I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” And before any further clarification can be given. The Jews object: “Abraham is our father.” So, Jesus says to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.”
Jesus Sees Things We Cannot See of Ourselves
Jesus sees things about these Jews that they cannot see of themselves. This is why we need the Light from outside us to shine on us; he’s able to expose things about us that we’re unable to discern on our own, even deep into the recesses of our hearts. The Jews want to keep things on the surface, but Jesus exposes their true spiritual condition: their physical link to Abraham means zilch if they do not do what Abraham did. In other words, your doing exposes your being; what you do tells the true story about who you are. Their murder and rejection of Jesus’ word exposes their true nature. Their hostility to Jesus strikes at the heart of who they really are. And in Jesus’ understanding—which is the highest and most perfect and comprehensively right understanding in the universe—they’re not true sons of Abraham, regardless of what they boast of in the flesh.
He’s saying, “Yes, of course you’re Jews on the outside; but let me show you what’s not lining up here: my word finds no place in you; you only have room for murder and hatred for the truth. That’s not what Abraham did.” So, what did Abraham do? That’s the question they should be asking. True children of Abraham will evidently possess more than just a birth certificate. What is it they will possess? Well, when we look elsewhere in our Bibles we see exactly what Abraham possessed and what characterizes all of his true children, namely, believing and enjoying God’s revelation in the Son.
Abraham Believed & Enjoyed the Son
There are a few places where the apostles help us see this as they reflect on God’s promise to Abraham and Abraham’s response to God. I’m thinking of places like Romans 4 or Galatians 3 or Hebrews 11 or James 2. Essentially, God called Abraham out of his homeland and revealed to him his plan to bless all nations through a promised son (Gen 12:1-3). Abraham took God at his word; he believed what God had revealed in his promise; and it led Abraham to see beyond the land of promise to the City that has foundations whose designer and builder is God (Heb 11:8-10); to see beyond the sacrifice of Isaac to God’s power to raise the dead (Rom 4:17; Heb 11:17-19). The same was true for all of Abraham’s true descendants. They, too, took God at his word and believed in his revealed plan in the promised son, such that even now “God isn’t ashamed to be called their God;” he’s even “prepared them a city” (Heb 11:16).
Romans 4 gets even more specific. It says that Abraham received the sign of circumcision after he was justified by faith for this purpose: “to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well [that’s the Gentiles], and to make him the father of the circumcised [that’s the Jews] who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom 4:11-12). Very insightful to what’s going on in John 8. The Jews are trusting in the flesh, and Jesus is saying it’s not about the flesh, but about doing what Abraham did—namely, walking in the footsteps of his faith. And we get even more specific on what that faith actually looked like and who that faith ultimately resided in. Look down at John 8:56, “Your Father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
No “faith” or “belief” words exist in verse 56, do they? That’s because Abraham’s faith expresses itself through rejoicing to see Jesus’ day. His faith comes out in gladness that God’s promised Son was coming to rescue him from his sins, rise from the dead, and bring him into the new city, the heavenly one. And he didn’t even have all the revelation we have since the coming of Jesus. He had a word from God that revealed his plan to bless multitudes through a unique Son. That’s it! And he believed and rejoiced to see his day. We have the Son, Jesus Christ! There’s nothing partial or hidden anymore—he came! God’s promise to Abraham was standing before these Jews in the flesh! We have more than just a word of revelation, we have God’s self-revelation incarnate. And yet unbelief rears its ugly head. That’s not what Abraham did. He attended the word of God, believed what it revealed about the promised Son—partial as it was—and enjoyed all that it entailed for knowing and having God.
Transformation Comes with Believing & Enjoying God’s Revelation in the Son
Abiding in Jesus’ word means we believe and enjoy God’s revelation in the Son. That’s what characterizes all true descendants of Abraham, believing and enjoying God’s revelation in the Son—not spurning it, not trying to make it more palatable, not re-interpreting it to support your comfortable living, not short-circuiting its power for your own wisdom—but full-on, glad-hearted, humility-and-repentance-producing, “welcome into my life word of God; show me more of the Son!” That’s the sort of abiding that changes our being. What these Jews are doing has exposed who they really are under the surface. But the answer to changing who they are isn’t in something from within themselves—regardless what the philosophy of Oprah tells us today—and it isn’t even something from within this world—regardless of what scientism champions today.
The answer to changing who we are is found in the truth, which is outside of us and this world but comes to us in the person of Jesus. The answer is found in the revelation God has spoken in his Son Jesus Christ. His word alone changes our being, because his word alone brings us to Jesus? They seek to kill him because Jesus’ word finds no place in them. But how does a murderous heart that wants the eternal Son of God dead—or a heart that writes books titled, God Is Dead—how does that heart change? It changes when the truth from outside this world finds a home within. Change that glorifies God and brings us true joy takes place when God’s revelation in the Son enters our rebellious and messy hearts and cleans house. That’s when we see what we’ve ultimately been created to enjoy, Jesus in all his glory.
Some of you desire to change and overcome this or that sin, some of you want your marriage radically transformed, others of you want to see God do a mighty work in your care groups or even in this church as a whole. That change will only come when Jesus’ word finds a place in us regularly. That transformation will come when you husbands are taking your wives to Jesus’ word and treasuring all that is revealed there about him (Eph 5:26). It takes place when you lead the whole family into the word of truth, and take the kids to give your wife more time with Jesus, and lead your son to open to the promise of Psalm 3 when he has a bad dream at night. It happens when you sisters plunge each other’s hearts into the depths of God’s love revealed in Holy Scripture. It happens when your computers and your iPhones and your Facebook accounts and your tongue in your mouth are viewed as conveyer-belts for God’s revelation in the Son to everybody. Revival of the soul will only come through soaking yourself and others in the word of Jesus and remaining under its influence morning, noon, and night. Our church will experience change only insofar as we’re pointing each other to the truth week in and week out. Your care groups will flourish insofar as this book is opened and insofar as these words come off of your lips to each other, spoken in ways that impart grace to the hearers. Change comes through an encounter with God almighty in his Son; and how we know him truly is through abiding in Jesus’ word. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Col 3:16).
The more we abide, the more we’ll see the Son in all his beauty and the more our affections will desire him. So that’s the second thing we should take away from this passage: the first is that abiding in Jesus’ word unites us to the Son who frees us from slavery to sin; the second is that abiding in Jesus’ word means believing and enjoying God’s revelation in the Son. Here’s a third point for you to consider in this passage.
3. Abiding Ultimately Stems from God Making Us His Children
Abiding in Jesus’ word ultimately stems from God making us his children. Jesus doesn’t leave the whole father-son discussion, does he? He’s going to make his point. So again in verse 41 he says, “You’re doing what your father did.” And again the Jews object but up the ante a bit: “We’re not born of sexual immorality [which could be a loaded shot at Jesus’ virgin birth or simply a general reference to some sort of pagan birth; whatever the case, they see themselves as morally superior either to Jesus or to the Gentiles]. We have one Father—even God.”
And as he did before, the Light of the world exposes them: “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” Some background may help us understand Jesus’ cutting remark.
Your Father Is the Devil: A Matter of Covenant Language
In the Old Testament, God called Israel his son. When the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt, God came to Moses and said, “You shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me” (Exod 4:22-23). And from that point forward, God dealt with his people as a father. It became part of the language describing God’s covenant relationship to his people—at least those who obeyed him. In Deut 32:6 Moses writes, “Is not [the Lord] your Father, who created you, who made you and established you?”
Then later, as some of the prophets would lead the faithful in Israel to trust in the Lord, they would again use this language of God being a Father to his covenant people. For example, Isa 63:16 pictures the remnant calling out to God in prayer, “Look down from heaven and see…for you are our Father.” Likewise in Jer 31:9, God promises his people’s deliverance with this word: “With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a Father to Israel…” So you can very well see why these Jews would say to Jesus, “We have one Father—even God.” They believe that by virtue of their Jewishness they already have a relationship with God; but what Jesus points out is that couldn’t be further from the truth. The only covenant relationship they know is the one they share with the devil.
Now just to be clear, that doesn’t mean Jesus believes in some sort of dualistic universe, where God is one father dueling it out with his equal counterpart, the devil as the other father. No, the Bible teaches us elsewhere that God rules over the devil (John 14:30), he controls the devil (John 13:27), the devil doesn’t make one move apart from his permission and counsel (Job 1:6-2:7), and on the final day the devil will be destroyed (Rom 16:20; Rev 20:10). What’s going on is that the devil has been given some temporary power on earth, and he rules over the evil system of darkness that corrupts the world and leads people astray. 1 John 5:19 says, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one [not the universe, not heaven and earth in its entirety, but the limited world of people who sit in the darkness of sin and death].” Jesus is saying to these Jews that regardless of how morally superior their birth was, the only covenant relationship they possess is not one with God above but with the devil below.
The Devil Is Your Teacher
What does that mean exactly? Well, Jesus spells it out clearly in our passage. It means the devil is your teacher: verse 38, “you do what you have heard from your father.” When you have a relationship with the devil, you follow his teaching, which isn’t good teaching at all, but bad teaching disguised as good teaching. Verse 44 says he “has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” But, when you’re in cahoots with the devil, you can’t see the difference. You do what you hear him say. We even know from other places in Scripture that the devil will even use true statements for false purposes (cf. Matt 4:1-11)—which ought to cause you to tremble the next time you tell a half-truth to get what you want, or intentionally don’t tell the whole story to protect yourself, or use the truth to get what you want instead of glorifying God. That’s dabbling with Satan’s games.
The Devil Is the One You Imitate
It also means he’s the one you imitate: verse 41, “you are doing the works your father did.” This cut rather deeply in a culture where the son was expected to carry on the family business. As a son, you did whatever your father did. If your father was a blacksmith, you were a blacksmith; if he was a carpenter, you learned his trade. Like father like son. Jesus means the same here, but with remarks that should alarm any son. The trade you’re carrying on is that of the devil—a trade he taught Adam and Eve in the Garden, to distrust God’s word and bring death on the human race as a result: “Did God really say?” Moreover, the devil was a murderer from the beginning; and at least at this point, many of the Jews were imitating him in that they wanted Jesus dead.
The Devil’s Desires Influence Your Will
It also means that his desires influence your will. The very core of your being that tells you to do this or that, to love this or that, is influenced by his devilish desires: verse 44, “your will is to do your father’s desires.” We shouldn’t press the point so far as to say, “The devil made me do it.” But we should realize the human condition is much worse than that apart from Christ. This illustrates what it looks like. The devil has evil desires that are contrary to God’s word, and in our sin we want to do them by nature. What he loves, we love. And as verse 42 says, that love is not a love for Christ. It’s a love for anything that will keep people from seeing Jesus as the beautiful Savior he really is.
A Universal Problem, Not Just a Jewish One
So if the devil is your father, that means you relate to him like a covenant master, he teaches you, you imitate him, and you follow his desires. This is very much in line with what Paul says in Eph 2:1-2. Before any of us knew Jesus, “[we] were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience [that’s the devil].” We should also note from Eph 2 and John’s Gospel that having the devil as your father is not just a Jewish problem; it’s a universal problem (cf. 1 John 3:10). It is the predicament of every human being born into this world. It’s not that some have God as their Father, others have the devil as their father—you know, the ones who are really, really bad—and then everybody else is just fatherless. No, everybody born in Adam already has a deceiving spiritual father, namely, the devil.
If you don’t know Jesus this morning, that is true of you. Parents, I hope you see the kind of fight you ought to be fighting for your children in proclamation and prayer. There’s a deceiver in this world from whom you cannot protect your children, save through the truth of God’s Son and prayer (Eph 6:10-20). And children and youth, when your mother and father speak the word of God over you and to you, when they counsel you from what they know to be the truth in Scripture, please listen to them. They are trying to introduce you to an infinitely better Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus. If any of you are here today without Jesus, only locked in the devil’s traps, unsure of how to escape, let me tell you that God is in the business of freeing people from the devil’s tyranny. He does this by making you his child through the redeeming work of his Son, Jesus Christ, and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.
The Regenerating Power of the Spirit
The regenerating power of the Spirit comes out in verse 47: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” Now, Jesus says this to expose the spiritual condition of all who do not hear him with faith—they are not of God. They hear what's coming out of his mouth; the problem is that they do not hear with faith. And the reason Jesus gives for this is that they are not of God. Jesus' reason continues the same theme John used to introduce his Gospel, namely, the new birth. It’s the same language used in 1:12-13, “But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Or with Nicodemus in 3:6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The same is true in 8:47: "Whoever is [born] of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not [born] of God."
The new birth is behind a true disciple abiding in Jesus’ word. In order to abide in Jesus’ word—in order for his word to find a place in you—you must be changed from the inside out. God must give you a heart that loves Jesus; and he does this through the Spirit applying the beauty of Jesus to your soul. If you’re abiding in Jesus’ word this morning, you have nothing to boast about except grace. Every time you bow your head to pray to your heavenly Father, there ought to be a sense of awe-struck gladness in you that you—unworthy and devilish as you were—now relate to the King of heaven and earth as your Father. For those of you who don’t know God, do not be deceived when you look around at all these people reading their Bibles and loving Jesus. We don’t have it altogether; we’re not smarter than you are; we used to be right where you are. What made us who we are as Christians, as Christ followers, was this and this alone: God made us his children by his own power and grace; and he can do the same for you. You’re not too far gone, you’re not too involved in devilish schemes, for the power of God’s grace to rescue you. And let me tell you why. Not only is his Spirit powerful enough to convert your soul and make you God’s child, but his Son’s redeeming work has also made every provision for your transformation.
The Redeeming Work of the Son
One of the purposes God sent Jesus into the world was to destroy the works of the devil. First John 3:8, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” The devil’s work is sin; it’s what he’s led humanity to do since the beginning of time. He deceives people into sin; he tempts them with sin; he accuses people before God for their sins; and he oppresses people with death so that they will sin. But Jesus came to destroy his works. He does this in several ways.
The devil deceives people into sin, but Jesus cannot be deceived into sin because he resolved even before coming to earth only to do his Father’s will on behalf of sinners (John 8:29). The devil tempts people with sin, but Jesus entered our world of darkness and overcame every temptation flung at him, most clearly depicted for us in his wilderness experience (Matt 4:1-11). And the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is the one who can help us when we’re tempted too (Heb 2:18; 4:15).
The devil accuses people before God for their sins. Colossians 2:13-15 says that before God we have a certificate of sorts that spells out the penalty for our sins that we rightly deserve for breaking God’s law. And the picture given is that the devil and his demonic forces—"the principalities and powers [of this world]"—possess this document and hold it over us to keep us in their wicked grip. They use to blackmail us. But, get this, Jesus comes into the world, and when he died on the cross God forgave us our sins—he blotted them out—so that the document amounts to a dead piece of paper. More than that, he took the certificate itself out of the hands of our enemies and nailed it to the cross. He paid the penalty laid out in the certificate and destroyed the certificate itself since there was no further payment necessary. More than that, since he stripped the powers and principalities of their accusing might, he topped it off by parading them around as his defeated foes. Let me just read it to you: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Jesus].”
The devil also oppresses people with death, so that in fear they commit sin. But Jesus, according to Heb 2:14-15, partook of flesh and blood, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver [in his resurrection life] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” The devil teaches us only lies, but Jesus died and rose again to bring us to a Father who only teaches us the truth (John 6:45). The devil wants us to imitate his desires, but Jesus rose again to send the Spirit, who gives us new desires for what is good and right and true, making us imitators of God in Christ (John 7:39; Eph 5:1). The devil blinds us to what is truly glorious, but Jesus sends his Spirit to open our eyes to the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:1-6).
Jesus entered this world, lived his life, died his death, and rose again victorious to destroy the works of the devil. None of you are too far gone. Not a single person in this room is without hope this morning in the power of God in Christ to change us. For many of us, he has already done so much in making us his children. We know God as Father and spoke to him this morning in prayer. The same power he used to convert you is the same power he will keep using to transform you. Trust him; he’s not a Father who abandons his children to the devil. No, John 10:29 says that our Father “is greater than all, and no one—the devil included—is able to snatch us out of his hand.” Because of the Spirit and the work of Christ, God can make you abide in Jesus’ word and taste its goodness. Trust in him as the Father who has revealed himself in the Son to free you from sin and Satan and listen to the word he speaks.
More in The Gospel According to John
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May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus