As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed in Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, You will become free?” John 8:30 – 32.
This doesn’t make sense. At least it doesn’t make sense to our current way of thinking. Why does Jesus say these things to those who have just expressed belief in Him? The conversation does “downhill” from here; those who believe in Him end up picking up stones to stone Jesus – couldn’t Jesus, couldn’t God incarnate, have done a bit better than alienating people who have expressed belief in Him? And how quickly He did it! In zero to sixty seconds Jesus seemingly transforms an expression of belief into hatred – I write “seemingly” because we should ask the question, “What was really there to begin with? What kind of belief were these people expressing?”
What is the problem that those who are seemingly believing in Jesus have with what Jesus is saying? The problem is that Jesus is pointing to their need of knowing the truth and of salvation from slavery to sin. The people deny their slavery to sin; they rest on their lineage, their connection to Abraham. They rest in their adherence to their form of Judaism. They make the outlandish statement that they have “never been in bondage to any man”, forgetting a little place named Egypt, forgetting the Philistines and Babylonians and Persians and Greeks, and somehow forgetting that Rome controlled Jerusalem even as they spoke the words “we’ve never been in slavery to anyone”.
As Jesus presses the issue those who have believed in Him go from being descendants of Abraham to being children of the devil – what a remarkable way of alienating people! And all because they wouldn’t confess their need of salvation, all because they pretended to be something they were not; all because they defended themselves, defended their self-righteousness, and in so doing convicted themselves of their sin and slavery to sin and need of a Savior – their denial was their confession of guilt but they couldn’t see it. And Jesus says, “Which of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?”
Jesus is saying, “Don’t you see the difference between us?” And they vehemently respond, “No! We don’t see a difference in the way You portray a difference – You are hardly holy and true in contrast to us! We do see a difference, but it is opposite of what You think – we are the ones who are free and righteous and You are the One who deserves death!” And they pick up stones to stone Jesus.
Mary Magdalene sees a difference, the Woman at the Well sees a difference, four fishermen in Galilee see a difference, the man born blind in Chapter 9 “sees” a difference; but those in the Temple, those who lives are enmeshed in religious practice, most of them do not see a difference, not the difference – which is that Jesus is God holy and righteous and that they are sinners in need of Him.
Why didn’t Jesus ease these people into this awareness? Why did He use a straightforward approach? This can seem strange to us in a society where people seldom say what they mean and in a church that is often so “seeker sensitive” that it is not sensitive to the truth of the Gospel. We fret about self-esteem when the problem, at least according to Jesus, is that we don’t have a realistic awareness of just how messed-up we are, of just how sinful we are, of how desperately we need the mercy of forgiveness of God. We have built a Tower of Babel in our collective minds, in the church and out of the church.
But lest we misunderstand, this is God speaking in John Chapter 8, and the Middle C of the Gospel is the love of God to humanity in general and to individuals in particular. This is not a preacher ranting hell fire and damnation devoid of mercy and grace; this is not one legalistic system in place of another; this is not about “I’m right and you’re wrong”; this is about the broken heart of God walking and talking on this planet, this is about the Cross and the Sin-Bearer, and this is about the Risen One speaking our name on Resurrection Morning – “Mary”.
There are some words can only God can utter – some of these words in John Chapter 8 are some of those words; and woe to the self-appointed prophet who assumes the position of God in the lives of others. God knows hearts; I don’t.
But yet, but yet…on the other hand we have no warrant to avoid the issue of sin and repentance in the Gospel, to do so is to give a sick man a sugar pill and consign him to sickness and death. Our problem, more often than not, is that we do not have the broken and bleeding heart of Jesus when we speak of such things, nor do we have His passion for self-sacrifice on behalf of others. Perhaps if I was more cognizant of my own sin that I would be better able to communicate an awareness of sin and death to others? Perhaps if I knew better the holiness of Jesus Christ I would speak to others not out of a subculture of Christianity, but out of the depths of eternity? Christianity, as most of us know it, is trendy, Christ is eternal; He is eternal because He is God.