But before we look at this passage today, I want to take a minute to just firstly talk about 9/11. We would all remember this that tragic event that happened in America, that changed the world in so many ways. But the reason I mention 9/11, is for something that happened the week after it. Not 9/11 itself, but something that came as a result of 9/11.
The week after the terrorist attack, President George Bush addressed a special sitting of congress. Obvious after such an event there was a lot to say, and something very memorable was said. This is what George Bush said the week after 9/11…
"Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
Now, if you are anything like me, I don’t remember and frankly don’t care about a lot of things said in the congress hall of Washington. I get sick of hearing our politicians speaking in Canberra without worrying about what the Americans are talking about. But that comment I do remember. And I reckon most of us here would remember it as well.
That declaration will be written in most world history books. It basically divided the world. It set the 21st century on this course we are now on. It was a statement that couldn’t be any more Black and white. Because it called for everyone on earth to make a decision. You are either on our side, or their side. There is no sitting on the fence. There are only two teams, and you have to pick one.
Well here today in our passage this morning we see a similar type of comment being made. We see a very black and white description being made by Jesus, about what it is to live on this planet. A black and why description of how every person on the planet fits into one of two groups, and that there is no third option. Everyone who has, and will ever live, fits into one of these two camps. And we will see this morning why that would be so shocking for those hearing this. Why the words of Jesus can be so insulting to those who doesn’t want to hear the truth. That truth being… either your father is God in heaven, or your father is the devil. You are either a part of God’s family, or you are not. There is no sitting on the fence. There is no in between. You are either with Jesus, or you are against him.
So as we go through this passage today, have a think about what this fact means for…
- Our Society?
- Our friends and family?
- for ourselves?
What does Jesus’ words that create this black and white divide amongst all people everywhere… What does that mean for all of us today?
That’s going to be the big question we will be asking and answering this morning. But before we look at that, lets pray.
So for today, there are two big points or issues to look at in regards to this passage. And both of these points are to do with understanding how what Jesus is saying here goes against the beliefs and views of the cultures at the time. So there are two cultures, or two worldviews, we need to be looking at. And those two cultures to be looking at are…
- the Roman views and beliefs,
- and the Jewish views and beliefs.
Because when we understand those two worldviews, we then will see how what Jesus says here was such an offense to the beliefs of people back then, and why what Jesus said really upset people. And then we can also see how this is speaking to our own beliefs today - and once we understand that - then we can then start to think about how Jesus’ words should impact us now. How this should speak to us and change our lives today.
So to begin with, let’s start with the Roman culture. The one that the Jewish culture existed within, and then narrow in on those Jewish beliefs.
Point 1: Roman Culture
So looking at the Romans first. The first thing to know about Roman culture is that there is no such thing as Roman culture. That’s the main point. We’re talking about an Empire that swallowed up multiple different cultures, and simply rules over them. There is no absolute Roman way of life. Now that’s not to say there wouldn’t be defining traits that existed throughout the empire. Obviously any part of the Roman empire would have more in common with other parts of itself than it would say another empire on the other side of the world. So there are going to be things in common from one part of the Roman empire to the other, but it was still a very diverse society. Many people believed in different things. People lived very different lifestyles depending on what part of the empire they lived in.
So it’s actually a bit like Australia in a way. What is Australian culture? If you ask someone from another country they probably think we all live like Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin. Or even worse, Barry McKenzie. But we know that Australia is nothing like that. Those in the inner cities are very different to those in the suburbs of those same cities. Those in regional areas like here can have very different attitudes again. And in the real outback, there are actual Irwin type characters. There are a lot of differences in the ways Australians live. But there is still something that makes us Australian compared to for example German or French.
The Roman empire is a bit like that. The people in Israel live very different to the people of Spain, even if there may be a degree of overlap happening because of the rule of Rome. So there are some similarities, but there are also very different world views at work. And that’s because from Rome’s point of view, all the rulers of the Roman empire cared about was two things; Pay your taxes, and don’t try to overthrow Roman rule. That’s about it. What you believed in and how you lived they really didn’t care about. Hence why the Jews could have their temple, and they could live by their own customs. They could believe in their own God, but they just had to accept and respect Roman Rule.
And again. That isn’t too dissimilar to what we have in Australia. Believe what you want. Do what you want. Just follow the laws and pay your taxes. In some ways we are not that different to Rome. There is a rule of Law that must be respected. But after that you are free to do what you want and to believe what you want to believe. So we can many ways in how we relate to the way Rome worked at the time. Afterall, this empire we are talking about is essential the birthplace of what today is called the western world. For that reason we actually have a lot in common.
And it’s this culture. This way of life that is going to impact heavily on what we see happen in this gospel. This is why at the end of John, we will see this discussion between Jesus and Pontius Pilate that shows this kind of thinking from the Roman.
If you remember that part of the gospel where Jesus stands there before Pilate. We see this worldview of anything goes play out. If you remember the story, the Jews have taken Jesus to Pilate to have him executed. And what’s Pilate’s position on this? Well his first reply is… ‘Why? Jesus hasn’t done anything wrong. He has said something you don’t believe. That’s not a crime.’ From Pilot’s point of view the Jewish beliefs are stupid anyway. Believe what you want to believe, Rome doesn’t really care. This is why we then also see Pilate make his very famous quote. After Jesus says;
“the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Pilate’s reply was simply;
“What is truth?”
In other words, there is no absolute truth. Truth is whatever you want it to be. It is very much an idea that our own society has revitalized. Truth today is whatever you want to make it. Whatever is true to you is the truth. And that was the same view at play in the Roman Empire as well. Which means that no one back then really cared about personal beliefs. The only rule is that you don’t upset the establishment, but apart from that anything goes. Because that’s what you need to do to keep dozens of fundamentally different cultures together under one rule.
But why is that important for us to know today? Why are we talking about this point? Because we see here that Jesus is challenging that view of anything goes. He is standing against the idea of Live and let live. We see in our first verse Jesus says;
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Here we are already getting this idea that there is an absolute truth. That there is a correct way to live, and therefore, a wrong way to live. That there isn’t a freedom to do whatever you want to do. But instead, that if you are a part of God’s family, then you will be distinct from those who are not a part of God’s family. The idea that if you are saved in Christ. If you are a true follower of Jesus. Then you can’t live like those who do not follow him.
And this has been a central teaching of Jesus’ right through his entire ministry. Later on in John we get these comments; Here is a couple of the statements Jesus will later make…
From John 15: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world”
In John 17, speaking of Christians: “They are not of the world”
Jesus is very clear that if you follow him, you can’t just live like everyone else. There has to be a change in our life. There has to be a commitment to him. And it’s a point that will be expanded on by others in the New Testament as well.
Paul in Romans 12 said: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world”
In 1 John, speaking of those who don’t know Jesus, John says: “They are from the world”. Again we see this division between those who are, and are not in Jesus.
This is why Peter in his letter will talk about how we are foreigners in this world. We live here, but we don’t belong here.
Through Jesus ministry and throughout the New Testament, there is this continues emphasis being made that we don’t live like those of this world, because we are not a part of this world. So this is why when Jesus says at the end of our passage;
“I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”
This is a real smack in the face. He is actually saying there are two teams. You are either on God’s side or you are on Satan side, and there is no in-between. That’s what he means by “Your father”. He is saying you are a son of the devil. This is essentially Jesus’ George bush moment. He is saying you either follow God or you follow the devil. There is no third option, and that’s why what he says is so countercultural.
The Roman empire may say you can believe whatever you want, and “what is truth?” Our own society takes a similar view. Believe what you want and don’t let anyone tell you your beliefs are wrong. But Jesus says; You are either a child of God or a child of Satan. It’s that black and white.
Point 2: Jewish Culture
So having looked at how this goes against Roman Culture and therefore goes against our western Australian culture, this moves us on to our next point… Jewish culture. How does what Jesus say confront them? Because remember, He is speaking to Jews at this point. He is not talking to Romans. He is not talking directly about our culture today. What he says certainly contrast with Roman, western culture. But he isn’t talking to Romans here. Instead, he is talking to those who would already be against Roman culture anyway. He is talking to Jewish people who already disagree with the Roman worldview. So how does what Jesus say here conflict with their view of things? How does this go against their cultural beliefs and challenge them?
Now on one level, what he says here wouldn’t come as too much of a shock. The idea of an objective truth. The idea that those who are not of God are therefor of the devil. The Jews actually wouldn’t have a problem with this. Unlike the Romans, the Jews really do believe in an objective truth. They believe that there is God’s way and that there is the wrong way. So Jesus saying to follow God’s ways and that only God’s way is the true way… that is the kind of thing that would offend Romans. It’s the kind of things that would offend our culture. The Jews however would be on board with that kind of thinking. That fits their beliefs anyway.
So what’s the issue? Why would they want to kill him for saying that? Because that is what Jesus says they want to do in verse 37…
“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me”
Why do they have such a problem with what he is saying if it seems to fit with their worldview?
See the problem is that whilst the Jews believe in objective truth, they object to the truth of Jesus. That’s the issue. It’s not that they don’t believe that there is one truth, but they just don’t agree that Jesus is it. And this comes down to the issue of what it is to be a son of God. What it is to be a part of God’s family, and therefore, to be saved by Him.
And we see the Jewish position being stated in verse 33. Here we see why it is that they object to what Jesus is saying. They say in verse 33…
“We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
And there are a couple of interesting points to be made of their comment here.
The first one is how completely and utterly ridiculous this is. For people who hold to the objective truth, this is a complete lie.
“We have never been slaves of anyone”
It would appear, that they have conveniently forgotten the 400 years of slavery in Egypt form which the nation of Israel came out of. Then once they were the nation of Israel in the promised land, they seem to have also overlooked how they got dominated by the Philistines. And then the Assyrians. Then the Babylonians. Then the Persians. Then the Greeks, and at the moment they were saying this as we just looked at this morning, they were under Roman rule.
The truth is, they had been slaves of every superpower in the Mediterranean area for over 2000 years. Except for a few small spans of time they were never free people. In fact, this is why they have been waiting for the messiah to come. They are waiting for that King who will come with a sword on a horse and drive their enemies back, ushering in a new time of freedom and prosperity. And we know that this is why they didn’t recognize the messiah when he did come. Because Jesus was simply not what they expected! He came talking of peace and they expected a warrior. So their claim to have never been slaves is ridiculous. They obvious have been many times. That’s the first issue with their beliefs; They are simply in denial.
But that then leads to the next claim, The one where they say “we are of Abraham’s decedents”. And this is the point that Jesus is really going to challenge them on. What Jesus says here is what is going to fly in the face of everything they believe.
See, being descendants of Abraham…. this is where they see their freedom coming from. To them salvation is a birthright. Maybe they have been physical slaves of other nations in the past. That’s something they really can’t deny. But whilst they may have been physical slaves of others, at least in their mind, they are spiritually free. They have never been spiritual slaves. Because according to their beliefs, they are the children of Abraham, and that means that the promises given to Abraham are theirs and theirs alone.
Now this, yet again, shows the ignorance of their own history. The Edomites are descendants of Abraham. Esau, where the Edomites come from… Esau was the brother of Israel himself. Using the logic of the Jews here, surely the Edomites are free through their blood line back to Abraham as well?
The Ishmaelites are even older than the Israelites and the Edomites. Ishmael being Abraham’s first son. Are they free through their bloodline?
Israel split in two kingdoms. A northern kingdom and southern one. The entire northern kingdom got wiped out. Why didn’t their bloodline save them?
And we know that the Israelites intermarried with other nations ,and that foreigners became a part of the nation of Israel despite not being born into Abraham’s descendants! There is a reason why today, Muslims see themselves as the children of Abraham. Because most of the middle east can trace itself back to him.
This is why there can be only one logical conclusion. Being born physically into Abraham’s blood line effectively means nothing. And we can see that here, because that is exactly what Jesus is going to challenge them on. He says to them…
“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants.”
Jesus isn’t denying that fact. But then he says that their father is the devil. So Jesus makes it clear where you physically descend from is irrelevant.
This obviously goes completely against everything they hold to. This is what makes Jesus comment so shocking to their beliefs. Like how Jesus comments contrast with the Roman worldview - and just like how his comments conflict with our own society’s beliefs on truth today - what Jesus says to the Jews here challenges the very foundation of their culture and their way of life. He is saying to them, that what they believe to be true is in fact a lie.
Now this raises the big question for today. If being born into Abraham’s bloodline doesn’t save anyone, then the question has to be, then what does? If Jesus is challenging their theology and all that they hold to be true, then He must have an alternative answer.
So to find that answer, we now need to look at what Jesus says here in more detail. So in verse 34 it says…
“Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
That’s the obvious problem. We are all in Sin. Salves to Sin. So the question then is, how is that fixed? So if we look back to verse 31 and 32 we see Jesus says;
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
So there is our answer. Trust in Jesus, and you will be saved from being in this sin. If we are his disciples, we will be set free from this sin we a stuck in. Which leads to the last question we need answered, how does trusting in him save us? How do we get saved from our slavery to sin by being his disciple? And we see that answer in verses 35&36
“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.”
By trusting in Him, Jesus is going to make us a part of the family. He as the Son of God will invite us to be children at the fathers table. We move form being slaves to being family members. We are essentially adopted into his family. That’s where salvation comes from. Not being born physically into Abraham’s blood line. But being spiritually reborn into Jesus’ family.
So you can probably see why this was such an insult to the Jews there. The absolute truth that they hold to is a lie. Jesus is saying to them; Physically you are a decedent of Abraham, but Spiritually you are a decedent of Satan. You are a slave to Sin. You have not been made free. Jesus’ words again;
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
And they have not been set free. They don’t want Jesus to set them free. They claim to hold to absolute truth, but the truth they hold to is a lie. Hence why when Jesus comes speaking the truth they want to kill him. Because it doesn’t fit with what they claim to be true.
And this is why it is important for us to know, That we also cannot be born into God’s family. There is a lesson to be learnt here. Many Australians would call themselves Christian, because we are apparently a Christian country. The idea that being a part of God’s family is something you are born into. But that’s exactly the mistake the Jews are making here. Because we are not born into God’s family. Instead, we are brought into it by the saving sovereign choice of God by His Grace. We are saved through Jesus not through bloodlines. Not through national affiliation or the place where we born, but through Jesus alone. Through being his disciple and trusting in him.
So to finish up this morning, having looked at how the words of Jesus here contrast with the Roman world view of how there is no truth but what we make of it, but instead, Jesus making it clear that there is an absolute truth. That you are either a child of God or a child of the devil and there is no in between. And then having looked at how this contrast with the Jewish world view, and how being born into a bloodline does not make you are child of God, but instead, that it can only be by being brought into God’s family through believing in His Son. Having looked at how the words of Jesus here both contrast and attacks the cultural views of that time and how it therefore also flies in the face of our own culture’s views of the world. The last question to ask is, why the George bush moment of shock and division? Why is Jesus being so blunt and uncompromising in his statements here? Well the answer is… So that you may believe.
At the start I asked, what does Jesus words means for;
- Our Society…
- For Our friends and family…
- for ourselves.
Well what it means is… that we need to wake up and take what he says seriously. To actually see the situation for what it really is and to trust in him to save us.
That’s why Jesus challenges the world so bluntly on its views, because it’s the only correct approach. If the building you’re in is on fire, there is no point saying, “In my opinion the building is on fire, but it up to you whether you believe that or not.” If the place is burning down you have to tell people that the building is on fire and to get out. You have to say how things really are, whether they want to hear it or not. Jesus is essentially saying your world is on fire. He is saying; ‘I don’t care if you find that offensive… I don’t care if that goes against your beliefs… That’s the way it is, So that’s why I’m telling you that, so that you can saved from it.’
That’s the message for us today. To see the warning of Jesus here where he essentially says… You are either with him, or you are with the devil, and there is no in between. So how are you personally go to respond to that? And who are you going to tell that truth to? Because if Jesus is saying this so that we may believe… then that’s a warning we can’t ignore.