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"Abraham's Children"

June 19, 2022 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: John 8:39-59, Deuteronomy 14:1-2

 Worship Service Link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RphubGvjC2U

 

Abraham’s Children

John 8:39-59

June 19, 2022

Read John 8:39-59

This is the Word of the LORD.

This is the perfect title for Father’s Day.  It may not be the perfect text, but it is the perfect title.

Our text today is the conclusion of Jesus’ Festival of Booths teaching – and the consequent confrontation and conflict with the Jews.  We have been looking at this section of John for more than a month.  It is the second major section of John – following Jesus’ early ministry and rise to fame or notoriety.

As you may recall, this section began in Chapter 7 with Jesus at home in Galilee because there was a well-known plot to kill him.  The authorities were seeking his life because he had healed a man on the Sabbath.  Jesus’ brothers had (somewhat maliciously) encouraged – and Jesus had initially refused -- to go to this Festival in Jerusalem.  They went, he stayed home.  Then, he made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem about three or four days later.  He turned up – not on the outskirts of town like someone who was afraid – he turned up in the temple.  He was confronting his opposition face-to-face.  These conversations all centered around the rejection of Jesus by the Jews – shown in their plot to kill him – and Jesus’ revelation of his messianic identity.

John wrote that some in the crowd were asking, “Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah?” and “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?”  You and I know the answer, but they did not.  Some believed, many did not.

Then, the confrontation with the Jewish leaders continued with the challenge of the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus’ response convicted the crowd and showed us the heart of God.  By challenging “the one without sin to throw the first stone,” he affirmed both the holiness and grace of God.

After that, Jesus resumed teaching and he revealed 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 die in your sins . Respect Jesus (that is, declare him Savior and Lord of your life, follow as a disciples, remain in His Word), and you are free indeed. You spend eternity in the Father’s presence.

Things were tense.  But note this: Jesus did not diffuse the conflict; rather, he escalated it dramatically.  And that brings us to today, where the Jews countered Jesus’ comments by claiming security in their heritage as descendants of Abraham.  “Abraham is our father.”  Whereas in last week’s text – which was the earlier part of the conversation we have today – Jesus did not take up the Jews’ claim of righteousness based upon their descent from Abraham; this week, Jesus challenged that assertion directly and declared, “You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires.”

Well.

What do we do with that?

First, we take from that the God is serious about our salvation.  Jesus was not playing.  He was not toying or joking around.

N.T. Wright observed about this Festival of Booths sequence:

"The chapter is about a man facing a mob.  Some of their leaders and opinion-formers have already decided that he is leading Israel astray and ought to be killed.  Several of them are ready to get on with the job immediately.  A party had already been sent to arrest him, but had failed to do so (7:30-32, 44-46).  The crowd in front of him now were ready to stone him (verse 59).  This is no gentle devotional discussion of deep personal religious truth, set within a framework of civility and mutual respect: this is a man facing a crowd set upon lynching him, and bravely speaking up against their hypocrisy."[1]

Fatherhood and heritage are the topics here; but I do not want to get too academic before highlighting what was at stake.  To be specific: if God were not in control, if God’s timing was not sovereign over human affairs, and if God were not a part of what Jesus was doing – Jesus would not have survived this encounter.  He would have been killed.  That’s not hyperbole: they were picking up stones and they were not afraid to use them.

Think about that for a moment: how much does God love us?  How much was Jesus willing to do for us?  There are so many points along the way in the gospel where Jesus could have stepped off the ride and said, “Nope, it’s not worth it.”  He could have simply stayed away from the Festival.  He could have hidden in the crowd and not made any kind of impression.  He could have talked nice.  He could have played by their rules.  He could have explained away the healing on the sabbath.  More and more as we get closer to Jesus’ Passion and his intentional focus on the cross, we see all the exit ramps that he could have used to avoid it.  Instead, Jesus remained focused on obedience to what the Father spoke.

Our salvation matters to God.  That may seem obvious and not needing to be stated, however, we sometimes overlook the depth of commitment God has made in working to redeem us from our own unrighteousness.  How far would a father go to save his child or children from those who would do harm?  If you think about how far you would go for your own child or children, you have an inkling into the heart of God shown in Jesus.

God is serious about our salvation.  Deadly serious.

Second, we take from this that God saves on God’s terms, not man’s.

We see this from the get-go in our verses today.  “The Jews answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.  This is not what Abraham did.’”  Jesus was making the distinction between lineage and relationship.  The Jews relied on their lineage; Jesus was saying that God was about the relationship.  Jesus’ was pointing out that in Genesis 18, Abraham recognized the LORD when he appeared to him.  “The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre.”  Abraham extended extraordinary hospitality and was blessed.  Here, the Jews did NOT recognize who Jesus was and looked to – not receive him warmly – they were looking for ways to kill him.  “That is not what Abraham did.”

No, it is not what Abraham did.

Next, the Jews said to Jesus, “We are not illegitimate children.”  Don’t miss this.  It was a slight against Jesus.  They were making reference to the legends about his birth; how there were rumors about claims of being born of the Holy Spirit and not Joseph.  “We have one father, God himself. 

Jesus did not waste time responding to their slight.  Instead, he retorted, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here.”  Again, Jesus was talking about the difference between legacy and relationship.  Jesus was telling them the same thing in so many different ways, it is overwhelming.  They could not miss it and yet they could not receive it.  The sum total is found in this question-and-answer Jesus provided, “Why do you not understand what I say?  It is because you cannot accept my word.”

That is a strong statement.  Hardness of heart means that they cannot accept his word.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Why is that a big deal?  Well, how many of you have been frustrated when friends or acquaintances just do not get it?  How many of you have wondered if you should share the gospel if there is no humanly perceivable possibility of the other receiving it?  How many of us have excused ourselves from saying or doing anything that would mark us a being disciples of Jesus because we sensed that the crowd was either hostile or disinterested?

But note this: Jesus told them the truth even when he knew they would not believe it.

Jesus told them the truth and told them why they could not accept it.  “You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires.”  Though interesting to us, the explanation about the devil is more of a flourish and expansion than his primary point.  “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.”  I am not going to walk down the road of – “why did God allow (or create) the devil to be like that?” – because it goes well beyond the scope of what Jesus was saying to the Jews.  He was stating it as a fact, not opening a topic of conversation.

“When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  What is the lie?  God is not God.  In other words, Satan’s lie comes in many forms, but it always boils down to “God is not God.”  “You can be like him.”  “You don’t have to serve him.”  “You can do what you want because it does not matter – he will always accept you.”  “You are a good person, you do good things, God owes you.”  “You are a descendant of Abraham, thus you are righteous and will always be acceptable to God.”  All are lies . All lead to a hardness of heart.

It is the hardness of heart that Jesus was addressing.  They ruled out the possibility that Jesus was telling the truth.  They chose the lie.  They chose disbelief.  “You choose to do your father’s desires.”  By rejecting Jesus – despite the teaching with authority, despite the amazing deeds of power, despite the fulfillment of prophetic words – they manifested their hard hearts and revealed themselves to be opponents of God.

That is not what Abraham did.  Abraham did not demand God prove himself before believing.  Abraham believed what God said and his belief was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Then the Jews accused him of being a Samaritan and having a demon.  There were a couple of reasons why they threw in the Samaritan jibe: a) Samaritans were deemed to be heretics; b) even Samaritans who were considered knowledgeable would not have been permitted to study with legitimate rabbis; thus, he could not be credentialed, considered an expert, or trusted; and c) there was a legacy of Samaritan prophets making grand unfounded claims about themselves.[2]

Jesus did not address the Samaritan comment; rather, he focused on the demon accusation.  “I do not have a demon.”  In other words, “that is a lie and you know it is a lie.”  In other words, “case-in-point: ‘whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.’”

Instead of having a demon, Jesus honored the Father.  He did as the Father commanded and willed.  He was not seeking his own glory – glory was revealed through power manifest in his submission and obedience to God’s plan for salvation – a salvation greater than his opponents could imagine.  “Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.”

Well…that set everything into a new level.  The Jews responded, “Are you greater than Abraham, who died?  Are you greater than the prophets who died?”  Everyone dies. Even the greatest people –Abraham and the prophets (like the greatest, Moses) died. Who are you that you are greater than death?  The Jews could not (and would not) accept that this person – flesh and blood close enough to see and touch – was from God, was the promised anointed one, and was the promised prophet greater than Moses.  “You are not even fifty years old (never-mind fifteen hundred years old), and you have seen Abraham?”

In their incredulity, they hit upon the very identity of Jesus as the beloved Son of God. Almost as if at the burning bush where Moses asked the name of God, Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”  Standing on holy ground right in front of them, Jesus revealed himself by answering the question, “Who are you?”  with the name of the one eternal God.  Instead of bowing down in worship, the Jews picked up stones.  This was not what they expected; nor was it who they wanted.

God saves on God’s terms, not ours.

Third, we take from this an invitation to assess how we relate to God. Where is your heart?

The difference between the Jews and those “whoever is from God hears the words of God,” is the difference between descendants and children.  Descendants inherit as a right.  Children engage in a relationship.  Descendants are due something and there is no question about their heart.  Children are due nothing and have nothing other than their heart to offer.

I saw this on-line yesterday.  It may be a little remote for most of you, but it makes the point clear.  Savannah Chrisley, the 24 year old daughter of Todd and Julie Chrisley, wrote a post on Instagram yesterday that was picked up by the national press and caught my attention because the headline was, “I’ve felt let down by God.”

I do not know anything about the Chrisley’s other than they were a family that gained fame from having a reality television series entitled “Chrisley Knows Best.”  However, a couple of weeks ago, the parents (Todd and Julie) were convicted of bank fraud and tax evasion and each face up to 30 years in prison.[3]  Their life of privilege and wealth apparently was fueled by deception and criminality.  Here’s what the daughter (Savannah) wrote:

Hi there my Instagram family…it’s been a few weeks. Before you continue reading I would like to ask one thing of you…please be kind.  This life is so cruel and we’re all doing the best we can.  I will continue to stand by my family and fight for justice. Justice for ourselves and for others that the system has failed.  (There is only so much I can comment on legally at this moment.) 

Recently, I’ve felt let down by God, that my relentless prayers have been unheard.  But I do believe that He will use every hardship and adversity we go through to strengthen us and prepare us for an even greater purpose.  So, I will continue believing in our Lord and Savior…I pray for strength, hope, and love.  Thank you to all of those that continue to stand by our sides.  This fight isn’t over.[4] 

Now let’s get back to work.  Now is my time to break the glass ceiling - no matter what comes my way I WILL succeed. (bold italic emphasis mine)

I want to be careful about picking on a 24-year-old who is enduring some hard times. Personally, I would not like to be judged entirely based upon something I wrote when I was 24.  I also am not judging her heart.  That said, what she wrote is a good illustration of the difference between someone who holds the view of the Jews versus someone who hears what Jesus was saying.

Savannah wrote that the system had failed because her parents were held accountable by a federal jury for bank fraud and tax evasion beyond a reasonable doubt.  Somehow, some way, for some reason – because of who they are – apparently, they deserved either to be allowed to continue in the illegal practices – or – should have been exempt from the consequences.  This is why the headline is so telling, “I’ve felt let down by God, that my relentless prayers have been unheard.”  God owed this to me because I pray, I have been a good person, and I deserve God’s favor. 

Those are words of a descendant.  God had an obligation to her.  God needed to hear AND to respond to her prayers AND needed to grant what she wanted BECAUSE of who she is.

Jesus said “no.”

He said “no” to her prayers for her parents to avoid conviction and he said “no” to the Jews who demanded their inheritance rights before God.

And the difference with a child?  There is a YouTube creator by the name of Van Neistat who posts to a channel he calls, “The Spirited Man.”  This week he uploaded a piece entitled “Motorcycle for a 3-year-old?”[5]  He talks about his relationship with his young son in which he is teaching the boy how to go on long rides together.  He began with carrying him as an infant in a backpack so the boy learned the feel of a saddle seat, to riding in a contraption on the main bar of his adult bike to get the feel of moving; to progressing to a balance bike (no pedals), and then a little bike.  The motorcycle is motorized and the boy has learned how to ride.  All that is the baseline for the story, but it leads to this conclusion:

This isn’t to say that I am Father-of-the-Year or “look at how brilliant my boy is” – the jury is out, he’s like every other four-year-old-boy out there. … But I found out today that every 21st century school shooter was dad-deprived.  These fatherhood activities may be our greatest blessing and these little rituals and adventures that keep us close to our children may be our greatest responsibility.

A dad is someone known to a child: abba, father.  A forefather is an historical memory. A dad is someone who invests himself in their child, in his children.  A forefather leaves something to which a descendant is entitled.  A dad is someone who takes time with his child and gives himself to them (and for them) – not because it is their inheritance right – but because he loves them.

“It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’ though you do not know him.”  And when they picked up stones to throw at him – because it was not yet his time and because it was not in God’s way – he hid himself and went out of the temple.

Friends, look at how God treats us like children.  Look at how deeply he loves us. Jesus was the revelation of our heavenly Father.  He was Emmanuel, God with us.  Believe him because he told the truth.  He is the great “I am.”

Happy Father’s Day.

Amen.

Questions:

  1. Have you ever considered all the choices Jesus made in order to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins? How do you understand the depth of God’s love for you?
  2. How do you speak the truth to those who cannot accept it?
  3. How is your heart? Does it challenge you to think differently if your identity as a child and not a descendant?

 

[1] N.T. Wright, John for Everyone, Part 1, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), p. 126-127.

[2] George R. Beasley-Murray, Word Biblical Commentary, John, volume 36, p. 136.

[3] https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/todd-chrisley-julie-convicted-bank-fraud-tax-evasion-000424351.html

[4] https://www.instagram.com/p/Ce4Tc2SuW3r/?utm_source=ig_embed&ig_rid=9d8b9fb4-d36e-4bf5-b0ef-1043412aaf9c

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1oXUUoiT98