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"Truth Will Set You Free"

June 12, 2022 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: John 8:21-38, Isaiah 8:21-38

“The Truth Will Set You Free”

John 8:21-38

June 12, 2022

Read John 8:21-38

This is the Word of the LORD.

As we have been for the last several weeks, in our text today we are still with Jesus as he was teaching in the Temple during the Festival of Booths.  He had just claimed that he was the presence of God right there in their midst; that he was the embodiment of the glory of God.  Continuing that lesson, Jesus went on to reveal the consequence of his identity, his ministry, and his presence.

It was – in sum – a very clear statement about the significance of Jesus.  Reject Jesus, you will die in your sins.  Respect Jesus (that is, declare him Savior and Lord of your life, follow as a disciple, remain in his word), and you will be free indeed.  You will spend eternity in the Father’s presence.  We could quit there.  But we won’t because Jesus didn’t.

This is going to be your basic three-point sermon.  Here is what we are going to cover:

  1. Humans cannot control God
  2. Freedom is not inherited
  3. Freedom – release from sin – comes only through the truth.
  1. Humans cannot control God.

God does not match our expectations.  This is the first things we learn from our passage this morning.  Now for us, we wonder why more people in Jesus’ day did not recognize who he was when he was doing all these amazing things and telling them specifically: how could they not get it?  But the truth is that they were just like we are: we so often do not expect God to show up that we do not recognize when God does. Why not?  They – and we – did not look with expectation to see.

I am not scolding here; I am encouraging you to wake up and think differently.  “We weren’t expecting you like this,” is a common reaction in Scripture when God showed up.  It was not unique to Jesus’ time.  In Moses’ time, the people were not ready even as the signs and wonders stacked up.  They complained about how hard life was becoming even when their deliverance was being declared.  Moses was telling them what God had said, and they found it difficult to believe.  “We weren’t expecting God to act like this.”

 In David’s time, Saul tried to fit him with armor to face Goliath; and David could not move.  Instead, he went out to battle armed with his slingshot and five smooth stones – and the LORD.  Goliath scoffed at this ruddy, small, youth – and you know the rest.  “We weren’t expecting God to act like this.”

In Daniel’s time – in exile – Nebuchadnezzar had Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego thrown into a flaming hot fire as punishment for not worshiping the idol he made; and then wondered when he saw a fourth man and none of them burned.  “We weren’t expecting God to show up like this.”

Time and again, God defied expectations and showed up in unexpected ways.

The corollary to “God does not match our expectations” is that God is not bound by our expectations.  Actually, that is more than a corollary: it is a true foundational understanding of the nature of our relationship with God.  God is God and we are not. When I say that, you probably agree with me; however, when it comes down to it, we fall into this trap all the time.

When Jesus showed up, he did not match what they expected of the Messiah.  Over and over, John wrote that they were astonished and asked things like, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?”   Some believed and some did not.  Some of the Jews who had believed in Jesus because of the hype quickly turned and became those who would be picking up stones to kill him.  They rejected him because he did not match what they expected.

Why do we struggle to see the truth?  Why can we not accept what God is doing in our midst?  More than that, why are we so often offended?  The way John described these people in verse 31, they had initially believed; but as Jesus continued to reveal who he was, they turned on him.  These Jews were not ignorant of the faith – they went to Bible studies and small groups and fellowship times together.  Why were they so upset by seeing God do what God promised to do?

It is difficult to read Jesus’ tone here.  “I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin.”  Was it matter of fact?  Was it angry?  Was it sad?  Was it a combination of all?  “Where I am going, you cannot come.”  Whatever the inflection, Jesus was telling them that their rejection of him had consequences.

The reality is that we are not happy about a God who does not match our expectation; a god we cannot control.  We are not happy about a God who acts beyond what we allow, beyond what we want, beyond what we think would make us happy.  Yet, God is consistent in acting beyond what we allow, beyond what we want, and beyond what we think would make us happy.  Humans cannot control God.

A good literary explanation of Jesus’ teaching here can be found in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books.  The Pevensie children are on the run from the White Witch in Narnia and have found shelter with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver.  The conversation turned to Aslan, the lion, who was symbolically the Christ-figure in the story.

“Oh, yes! Tell us about Aslan!” said several voices at once; for once again that strange feeling – like the first signs of spring, like good news, had come over them

“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan.

“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver.  “Why, don’t you know?  He’s the King.  He’s the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand.  Never in my time or my father’s time.  But the word has reached us that he has come back.  He is in Narnia at this moment.  He’ll settle the White Queen all right.  It is he, not you, that will save Mr. Tumnus.”

“She won’t turn him into stone too?” said Edmund.

“Lord love you, Son of Adam, what a simple thing to say!” answered Mr. Beaver with a great laugh.  “Turn him into stone?  If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face, it’ll be the most she can do and more than I expect of her.  No, no.  He’ll put all to rights as it says in an old rhyme in these parts:

          Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

          At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

          When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,

          And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

You’ll understand when you see him.”

“But shall we see him?” asked Susan.

“Why, Daughter of Eve, that’s what I brought you here for.  I’m to lead you where you shall meet him,” said Mr. Beaver.

“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly.  “Certainly not.  I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea.  Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts?  Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man.  Is he – quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Isn’t this what we get with Jesus in our text this morning?  Is he safe?  Who said anything about safe?  Of course he is not safe.  But he is good.

Why am I spending all this time emphasizing how God does not match our expectation?  Simple: the reason is that we all – the Jews at the Festival of Booths and me included – we all try to make God manageable and try to make God fit within our understanding.  However, Jesus was doing and saying exactly as God had revealed through the Isaiah 43 passage that Bob read earlier.  Jesus used the same language about himself that God had used, reminding them of their role and status in the covenant partners while declaring his identity.

               You are my witnesses, says the LORD,

                              and my servant whom I have chosen,

               so that you may know and believe me

                              and understand that I am he.

               Before me no god was formed,

                              nor shall there be any after me.

               I, I am the LORD,

                              and besides me there is no savior.

               I declared and saved and proclaimed,

                              when there was no strange god among you;

                              and you are my witnesses, says the LORD.

               I am God, and also henceforth I am He;

                              there is no one who can deliver from my hand;

                              I work and who can hinder it?


“I am He.”  It is precisely what Jesus said twice in our verses this morning.  “I am He.”  And look at what God said with those words: “I am He; there is no one who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can hinder it?”

I struggle with being a witness and not a manager.  I struggle because I want God to do what I want – and I want to know that I can predict God.  I want a god I can make do what I want and when I want.  Pragmatically, I want a god to make things work for me.

But then, I am confronted with the true God who loves me enough to not give me what I want when I want it.  There is always a come-uppance when I realize God is working and I am doing something else, and then also to realize but God’s work is not being hindered by me at all.  I am awed and astounded by the true God who does not do things how I think ought to be done, but does them better and more mysteriously. Fortunately, God also has a tremendous amount of patience in dealing with me.

Remember this: if you can control what your god will do, there is a strong likelihood that you are not worshiping the true God.

            2.  Freedom is not inherited.

Jesus’ statement in our verse 31 was really offensive to the listening audience of Jews. When Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” their response was, “Free?  What do you mean, ‘free?’  We are free.  We are descendant from Abraham, and we have never been slaves to anyone.”

This was remarkable in its ridiculousness. Of course they had been slaves.  Remember Egypt?  Remember Assyria and Babylon?  Remember Rome?  They were living under the authority of Rome!  Yes, they had been slaves. 

The appeal to Abraham is akin to our appealing to our status as Americans.  Because they were genetic descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they were a part of God’s chosen people.  Jesus was addressing their condition in relation to God; the Jews responded that their heritage linked back to Abraham.  The problem was that the righteousness they claimed by heritage was not Abraham’s righteousness to leave to them – Abraham was reckoned righteous because he believed God.  He believed the truth and followed and for that God reckoned righteousness to him.

Having Christian parents does not make you a disciple.  It is a blessing, but it is not a guarantee.  Befriending your Christian pastor does not make you a disciple.  It is a blessing, but it is not a guarantee.  Sitting in church evaluating whether the service is any good does not make you a disciple.  It is a blessing, but it is not a guarantee. Doing good stuff does not make you a good disciple.  It is a blessing, but it is not a guarantee.  Freedom is not inherited.  It is not a birthright.

Jesus’ statement also is kind of offensive to us as Americans.  In our culture, we believe “freedom” is a birthright.  Now, you may say, “That’s different, we’re not talking about spiritual freedom when we say that as Americans.”  Really?  Look around.  Many of the issues we see in culture today have spiritual ramifications.  Many of the issues we see in culture today stem from our desire to have – not freedom “of” religion – but freedom from religion.  The anarchy and the corruption and the brokenness that we all decry all have the same root: we do not have any unifying foundation or orientation towards God.

Further, look at the idols we have all around us.  Democracy will not save us.  Winston Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”  Technology will not save us.  Is Facebook or Google or Apple going to look out for you?  The economy will not save us.  How is this recession feeling right about now? Social justice will not save us.  Have the protests and the marches drawn us together or solidified the lines that separate us?  Is an assassination attempt against an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court progress or more evidence of descent into anarchy?  The military will not save us.  How much have we invested in the proxy war in Ukraine; are we more free because of it?  Health care will not save us.

Do not hear me as saying those things are not important or that we should not engage; rather, I am saying that none of those idols will set us free.  Yes, but we are “the home of the brave and the land of the free.”  We would like that to be true.  We aspire to that being true.  We celebrate the sacrifice of those who have died to make it true.

That last statement reveals something very important: we celebrate the sacrifice of those who have died to make it true.

There is a cost to freedom.

And in our text said the same thing.  They were questioning his identity, “Who are you?”  He said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he.”  “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. Jesus was graphically stating that there would come a time when he would be crucified – for our freedom.  He was graphically stating that he was doing as the Father had planned – for our freedom.  He was speaking as the Father instructed, and that he was headed to the cross – in God’s timing – to set us free.  Through the cross – and God’s raising Jesus from the dead, we do realize that Jesus was the Messiah.  Through the cross – and God’s raising Jesus from the dead, we do realize that Jesus was the one who sets us free.

          3.  Freedom – release from sin – comes only through the truth.

From what does Jesus set us free? The truth is that we are sinners: we are slaves to sin.  Jesus does not hesitate to identify sin.  “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  God does not tolerate sin.  “I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am He.”  Jesus did not come to leave us in our sin.  He meets us just as we are, but He came to deliver us from our bondage and slavery to sin.  

Jesus said, “I am He.”  That’s the Truth speaking the truth about the truth.  Freedom – release from sin – comes only through the truth: only in Jesus.

At Pentecost, those who listened to Peter’s sermon about what God had done in Jesus responded by asking, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The truth is God loves us so much that he redeemed us from slavery to sin and death. The truth is that believing in Jesus, continuing in his word, makes us free.

            Conclusion

Go forward today in the light, hope, knowledge, and certainty that we are God’s witnesses – those who have come from Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth – even to Carson City, Nevada.  Go forward from this place telling of God’s deeds of power.  The world will be amazed and perplexed.

Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Amen.

Closing hymn: Trust and Obey

Questions:

  1. When has God acted in ways not matching your expectations? How did you know?  How did you react?  How do you see those times now?
  2. How has God been “not safe, but good” in your life? Have you seen this in others (who, when, and how?)
  3. What does freedom really mean?