Freedom:  A Tale of Three Fathers

John 8:31-47

 Disclaimer: We celebrated our country’s freedom this week…freedom from oppression by the King of England.  In this week of celebration, we should also acknowledge victories that have come along the way, victories that embraced freedom and the proclamation: “All men are created equal.”  But, like the freedom of the Israelite slaves from the clutches of Egypt’s Pharaoh, these American freedoms continue to be challenged, as do all other earthly concepts, and have begun to erode …disappearing like the life of a frog in a pot.  As with all human conceived or made “freedoms,” these too will one day pass.  Jesus, however, came to offer a different kind of freedom, a freedom that is eternal…one that is in God’s hands…one that cannot be taken from you…freedom from death…freedom from darkness…freedom from sin.  Today, we will study freedom from a very different vantage point…freedom that comes from choosing the right father…the right one to believe…the right one to follow and obey.  Yes, it may not seem like it, but true freedom comes from obedience.  I want to share a quote from a book I’ve been reading: “For any created being, autonomy is lunacy.  Freedom involves trust and obedience inside a relationship of love” (The Shack 132).  What the author is saying is that any human form of “independence” that is separate from willfully submitting ourselves to God is insane.  The only way we can experience true freedom is by trusting and obeying God.

That being said, I want to begin my lesson with a disclaimer of sorts.  I want us to begin by reading the entire passage in its natural sequential order (meaning from start to finish).  Once we’ve done that, I am going to dissect it and present the facts back in an entirely different order.  Please understand that I will keep the thematic meaning in context, but I believe to understand it, we really need to watch the spiritual progression or digression of the argument.  The “Jews who had believed him” doesn’t exactly mean they placed their faith in him, as we will see by the text itself.  It does, however, say that at one point of his prior teachings, they “believed him.”  So, the debate is about relationships, loyalty and freedom.  Let’s look at the passage first. as a whole.

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’  They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.  How can you say that we shall be set free?’  Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  I know that you are Abraham’s descendants.  Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word.  I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.’  Abraham is our father,’ they answered.  ‘If you were Abraham’s children,’ said Jesus, ‘then you would do what Abraham did.  As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.  Abraham did not do such things.  You are doing the works of your own father.’  ‘We are not illegitimate children,’ they protested.  ‘The only Father we have is God himself.’  Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God.   I have not come on my own; God sent me.  Why is my language not clear to you?  Because you are unable to hear what I say.  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!  Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?  If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?  Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.  The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’”

Now, I am going to break this passage down into three sections…all about fathers.  I call this sermon:  Freedom – the case of three fathers.  Let’s look at each “father.”  We’ll briefly address each situation as it is in the passage and then apply each to our current world.  What I want you to do today is follow along with me in your Bible or read the passages in this text.  I truly would encourage you to use your own Bible, to bring it to worship and Bible Study, so that you can mark important passages and know where to find them again, in the event that you need to hear God’s specific word on the subject.  Also, I want you to listen to the story of three fathers and find yourself…discover honestly which situation applies to your life right now.  Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and heart to God’s Word and to give you the courage to change what needs to be changed.

 Abraham – The first claim is that Abraham is their father. It comes in the form of a rebuttal used by the Jews listening to Jesus, saying they are Abraham’s descendants.  These Jews made a critical error in their argument, however.  The point Jesus made was this: “‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”  Jesus was speaking to his audience about freedom and truth.  Their counterpoint argument presumes their heritage has already granted and assured them freedom.  They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.  How can you say that we shall be set free?… Abraham is our father.’”  If I were listening to their argument, I would simply begin with the words, “Yes…and No.”

Jesus does the very same thing, just in a slightly different order.  He says, “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants.”  Biologically, it is truth that they are descendants of Abraham.  They could take one of the ancestry tests and prove it.  But that doesn’t really address the topic of the debate.  As a 9th grade English teacher, I see this mistake all of the time.  We call it a “fallacy” or an un-truth.  Just as my students are redirected to the topic at hand, Jesus redirects his audience to the truth of his message.  Let me say, however, he could have followed the proverbial rabbit and still destroyed their counterpoint.  For these Jews to say they are children of Abraham, and therefore have never been slaves of anyone, denies their own biblical history.  The Jews were not only slaves of Egypt and Babylonia, they were actually slaves of Rome at that moment.  But, Jesus has a greater point to make.  So, he actually rebuts their counterpoint by saying, Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  I know that you are Abraham’s descendants.  Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word.  I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.’  Abraham is our father,’ they answered.  ‘If you were Abraham’s children,’ said Jesus, ‘then you would do what Abraham did.  As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.  Abraham did not do such things. 

In other words, you claim Abraham as your father, and yet you do not act or behave like Abraham did.  Abraham loved Father, and yet you are seeking ways to kill Me.  They still did not understand that Jesus and the Father were one.  This is at the very heart of his argument, because they have rejected the Son, and to reject the Son is to remain a slave to sin.  And, as we know by scripture, sin leads to death.  Being Abraham’s biological descendants does not save you.  Even if they “did the works” that Abraham did, they would still be lost and dead in their sins.  Paul explained this to the church in Rome.  He wrote, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter [righteousness through faith]?  If in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.  What does Scripture say?  ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:1-3).

This “father” situation applies to those who believe their earthly relationships or connections give them a “get out of jail free card” when it comes to eternity.  They believe that they are safe just because their parents believed…or because they are “members” of a local church…or because they do “good deeds.”  Works and earthly memberships or relationships do not save you.  I don’t care what Ancestry.com says.  Without Jesus Christ, you cannot be saved!

 The Devil – Now, let’s take an honest but darker turn in the story. The audience thought it was hurtful enough when they believed Jesus was challenging their heritage.  Can you imagine what they thought or felt when he connected them directly to the devil?  In front of a large crowd?  It must have been humiliating.  And to be honest, if they had any thoughts of killing Jesus before this, his insult probably solidified the question in their minds.  Listen again, and focus on how Jesus escalates the argument.

Jesus continued, saying, “‘Abraham did not do such things.  You are doing the works of your own father.’”  They didn’t exactly understand yet where his argument was going, and responded, “‘We are not illegitimate children,’…‘The only Father we have is God himself.’”  Oops.  It is obvious they were ignorant of Jesus’s true identity.  It was also obvious they didn’t know the Father.  Jesus had this same discussion with Phillip in the 14th chapter of John’s gospel, saying, “‘Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves’” (John 14:11).  To this group of Jews, “Jesus said…‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God.   I have not come on my own; God sent me.  Why is my language not clear to you?  Because you are unable to hear what I say.  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!  Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?  If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?  Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.  The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’”

Wow!  I can hear their attitude right now: “Oh no you didn’t!”  But, yes, he did.  He throws their connection to Abraham out the window and makes the claim that they are following their “real” father, the devil.  Just as you can tell a tree by its fruit, you can tell who a person is following by their lifestyle.  NOTE:  Falling into sin and getting back out of it, is not what he is addressing here.  Jesus is addressing a lifestyle…consistent behavior or actions…who a person is.  Jesus is identifying their sin, by saying three things:  1) They cannot or choose not to hear His words, so they have a general absence of God’s Word.  2) They are following and acting on the desires the devil has place in their hearts, minds and flesh.  3) They choose to believe the lies over God’s truth.

There are only two masters.  I know the American way and fallacy is to believe that you can be your own master.  We have swallowed the words of “Invictus” hook, line and sinker: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Sorry to say, it’s a lie, and Satan keeps shoving them down our throats.  We either belong to God, or we belong to the prince of this world…the devil.  We either serve God or we serve Satan.  The lie that we are the masters of our own lives, and that by seeking human independence we have found freedom, is an epidemic in our society.  The more people seek to separate themselves from God, the more they fall into the clutches of the devil and his schemes.  No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that we are in control, the truth is we never were.  People rebel against authority (God’s especially) and think they have discovered freedom.  They’ve just stepped into the trap and swallowed the bait whole.  They have chosen Satan as their father.

God – Well, before we could talk honestly about freedom, we had to discuss captivity. Now for the good news.  I think after that depressing talk about the devil, we all need some good news and some encouragement.  God offers true freedom.  He is light in the darkness…love in the midst of hate…power in our weakness…freedom to our captivity.  All he requires of us is to believe and follow Him, and I don’t mean just believe the facts about him…I mean believe him.  Going back to our passage, “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”  He brings the discussion back to freedom…where it began and where it belongs.

This Tuesday, many of you will gather places to celebrate our country’s freedom.  When you do, I want you to pause and consider how free you really are?  Are you banking on your family heritage or your church attendance to save you?  Are you secretly stuck in a life of sin, thinking you’re getting away with it?  Or, are you seeking true freedom with all of your heart?  The truth will set you free!  “What truth?” you ask.  THE TRUTH.  Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well…” (John 14:6-7).  To know Him is the know the Father…to believe Him is to believe the Father…to accept Him into your heart and life is to become a child of God.  Do you want God as your Father?  Would you put your hand in his?  Would you trust Him with your life?

Saying, “Yes,” is easy.  Living the “Yes” is not.  You can’t hold to His teachings unless you know them.  You can’t really know them unless you read them.  If you do, and you live your life by them, then “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  If you’ve never trusted in Jesus before, I invite you today, to put your life into His hands.  If you’ve accepted Christ as your savior, but have been struggling to surrender to Him as your Lord, I invite you to pray to God for encouragement and strength.  We are in the heart of spiritual warfare.  It is consuming our country right now.  Until God’s people are willing to surrender completely to God…to fall on their knees on behalf of their families, neighbors, and country, we will continue to see Satan’s grip tighten on America.  But as God’s Word promises: “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place” (2 Chronicles 7:14-15).  Will you offer your prayer today?

 

Pastor Mitchell