THE STORY — IT'S ALL ABOUT FREEDOM
by Pastor Mike Fortune
March 15, 2008
Introduction: BlueFish Video - Easter
The story of Jesus is...
- About a person not politics
- Who saves sons and daughters
- Giving them freedom from fear
31To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." 33They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" 34Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37I know you are Abraham's descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38I am telling you what I have seen in the Father's presence, and you do what you have heard from your father." 39"Abraham is our father," they answered. "If you were Abraham's children," said Jesus, "then you would do the things Abraham did. 40As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41You are doing the things your own father does." "We are not illegitimate children," they protested. "The only Father we have is God himself." 42Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. 43Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. 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. 45Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? 47He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."
It sounds like it's a different crowd than the folks Jesus was previously talking to in John 7:45 when John 8:31 begins with “31To the Jews who had believed him.” Because that earlier crowd of Pharisees and religious rulers did not believe the story of Jesus. They mocked Him. And the temple guards for listening it. They even mocked Nicodemus, one of their own, for considering the possibility that Jesus was the Water of Life and Light of the World. Which Jesus announced right after that encounter in John 8:12. He was saying the same thing Paul later would in 2 Corinthians 4:6 and 1 Corinthians 10:1‑4. Namely, that the pre‑incarnate Christ really was the same God as the God in Genesis and Exodus who created light in the first place, using it later as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, to literally lead the children of Israel out of slavery and into the freedom of the Promised Land.
But confusion is common in this story. Not because it's too hard to grasp. But because it sounds too good to be true. Even though everybody in Hebrews 11 reminds us that it is true. I think that's why John 8:27 says they didn't understand what Jesus was saying. Why? Because they couldn't believe it! The news was too good! To which Jesus basically replies in verse 28, "And you won't understand it until after I die on the cross." Which is exactly what happened. Because if you remember, John 2:22 said the same thing about the disciples. "After He [Jesus] was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken."
So I guess we shouldn't be too hard on this crowd of Pharisees and religious rulers here in our passage today because the disciples didn't really get it until after the cross either! Apparently, some started to. Verse 30 says, "Even as He spoke, many put their faith in Him." But apparently, like the crowd that deserted Jesus in John 6:66, they didn't continue to do so. We know this is true because Jesus says in John 8:31, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples ¼" But what teaching is He talking about? I believe He’s talking about the teaching that the story of Jesus is about a person not politics. John 6:28 says it this way: "What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.'" “61Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them in John 6:61, "Does this offend you?” Not backing down, Jesus adds these words in John 7:38: “38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." And then in John 8:30 as we just read, “30Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.”
What is the teaching that Jesus keeps talking about? It’s point number one this week: The story of Jesus is about a person not politics. It’s about believing the story being told. And continuing to do so. Even if it sounds too good to be true. Which makes me want to sing a few bars of that Journey song "Don't stop! Believin'!!! Hold on to that feeling!!!" But sometime we don't. And neither did they. Because right after all that faith in Christ stuff, they start talking about politics. Verse 33 says, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"
Apparently, they forgot to take their Ginsing because, in actual fact, they already are slaves. Currently of Rome. The country occupying theirs in 30 AD. And before that, they were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. I think it becomes obvious to the reader of John that the crowd’s version of the story was all about their biology and bloodlines and Father Abraham. In short, politics. But if they had paid better attention, they wouldn't have been confused. Because like Abraham, they would have realized that the story is all about a person. And that person is Jesus. As our passage next week concluding in verses 56-58 will reveal so come back for that.
But according to the context of John chapters 6-8 in addition to the words of Jesus in John 8:39, doing the work of Abraham means being weak enough to continue putting our trust and belief in His Word. Abiding with Him. Staying with. Even after everyone else mocks you and leaves. Isn’t that how Abraham lived his life? That’s how Hebrews 11:8 says he did. Let’s look at that. Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Abraham believed and obeyed. And I think he kept believing! Through the good times and the bad. Through the ups and the downs. Romans 4:18 says it this way: "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the Father of many nations."
Did he perfectly obey? No! He lied about his relationship with his wife. Selling her into slavery not once but twice. Once when she was pregnant with Isaac! The actual heir to the promise whose name had been given to Abraham by God! Prior to that, he circumvented the plan of God by sleeping with Hagar. His wife's servant. And had a son he dearly loved named Ishmael. So to remind him of all that foolishness, God's sign to Abraham was circumcision. A physical reminder that true love and obedience for God come not by human effort, but by a heart sincerely submitted to God by faith. After getting circumcised as an adult, which had to hurt, do you think any man would ever forget that lesson? You would think not! But we’re men. And we forget all kinds of things including birthdays and anniversaries some times!!! The other day I forgot to pick up my kids from school! Good thing my office is only down the hall right?
But the most painful of lessons learned we sometimes forget. And that was the case with Abraham. He continued sincerely serving God. But never perfectly. He made tons of mistakes. Falling short of the glory of God all the time. Just like we do. But Abraham didn’t stop believing. Like this crowd of Pharisees and religious rulers did. Jesus says in John 8:37, “I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word.” Yikes! Doing the work of God means making room for His story. It means continuing to believe it even if it sounds too good to be true. It means sincerely serving Him the rest of your life. It means putting your faith in the Son of God. Because you are a child of God. Which leads us to point number two. Point number one: The story is all about a person not politics. Who saves sons and daughters. Which is point number two.
Let’s jump down to verses 34-35. “34Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” The story is all about a person who saves sons and daughters. The Bible's bottom line is everybody, whether they realized it or not, is a slave or a servant. Which is why it's the same word in Greek. That's why Jesus can say in Matthew 6:24 "24No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." Because guess what! You're either a sincere servant of Jesus. OR you're a slave to sin and the author of it. Which is the devil. Or Satan. Sorry, but there are no other alternatives. That's the whole point of these discussions Jesus is having with these people through verse 47. That's why Jesus told the same crowd earlier in in John 7:24, "If you don't believe Me, you will die in your sins!" And what the Bible writers are saying is that sincere servants of Jesus are also known by Jesus as sons and daughters of God—not slaves. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
1 John 5:12 says it this way, “He who has the Son has life. He who does not does not!” But Jesus wants to give us both His eternal and abundant life. And during this Easter time of year, more so than at any other, I think the whole world is looking for both of those things. Even though they may not know it! They are begging to be reminded that the story of Jesus is about a person not politics. That HE's the one who died for our sins! So you don’t have to die in yours!
He did so because we couldn't live a perfect life. The purpose of the law was to teach us that. To the third and fourth generation. So He lived it for us! That's the Good News! Yes, the law is still good. Used properly, it continues to point people to the only who ever kept it and that is Christ. And that's why Jesus can say in verse 46, "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? No? Then, if I am telling you the truth, why don't you believe me?"
Jesus actually answers His own question in verse 47. "The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." Ouch! Apparently, we hear what we want to hear. And you do what you want to do. Some of them believed Jesus. And stayed with Him. Abiding in Him. Even though they didn't understand the rest of the story until after He was crucified. But others did not. And when you quit abiding with Jesus, it won't be long till you don't believe Him either. And if you don’t believe Him. You won’t obey Him. That's the way it works. Abiding always precedes obeying. John 15 will teach us that loud and clear when we get there! But proof of this before that can be found in verse 34,35, and 46. Will we make room for His word?
Somebody once said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Well, I think that’s true because in the fall of 1997, following a pastoral internship at the Columbus Eastwood Adventist Church, Jackie and I moved back to Berrien Springs, MI where I studied for 3 years at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary eventually earning my Masters of Divinity. One day near the end of class called “Salvation” taught by Jon Paulien, while kneeling down in prayer with the entire class of 90 students as was his custom, I remember thinking “How did I not know?” How did I not know this story was about Jesus? And His perfect life lived for mine? How did I not know that my “standing with God is not subject to the ups and downs of my daily obedience, but to the ongoing nature of Jesus’ perfect righteousness!” Why was I still trying to perfectly obey Him instead of sincerely serving Him with all my heart?
When I learned that I couldn’t perfectly obey from my perspective, that the best Christians, as Ellen White says in Steps to Christ chapter 7 continue to fall and fail, like the prophets of old no matter how hard I tried, no matter how hard I prayed, and instead asked Jesus, right there in that classroom, to give me Christ’s perfect life lived for me, I wanted to jump for joy. Which is what I did as soon as I wiped my eyes and ran out the door and into the parking lot. And the funny thing is, after I began to understand what righteousness by faith was really all about, He installed in me an undying love and loyalty to Jesus. One that nobody can change in me by criticizing my denomination that introduced Jesus to me. One that nobody can scare out of me by critiquing my freedom in Christ. One that instead, motivates me to just to get to know Him a little better each day. That turns issues of obedience into joy. And He can do the same thing for you.
I know this is true because He’s already doing that for Joshua. Check out this picture he drew me for me out of the blue. I asked him why the sun was there and he said it’s because he heard me say that Jesus is the light of the world. I asked him what the fish was all about. And he said he didn’t know why, but that the fish is a symbol of Jesus. Which it is. He took it from there pointing out the obvious. That J is for Jesus. That He died on the cross. That He is the Rock of Ages. And that His word is light unto our paths. The story is simple enough for a child to understand. It’s all about a person not politics. Point number one. Who saves sons and daughters. Point number two. Giving them freedom from fear. Which is point number three.
Let’s read John 8:31-36 in closing. “31To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." 33They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" 34Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed .”
When I figured that out, I ran out of the seminary building and started jumping and yelling at the top of my voice. I called my brothers Mark and Matt and asked them if they knew the news was this good. I’m sure I didn’t make much sense to them. But I had to tell someone. Jesus lived a perfect life for me because I couldn’t and has given His to me for free. It’s called grace. And because He did, I am going to sincerely serve Him the rest of my life telling everyone I know and even those I don’t about THIS story!!! It’s about a God who loves you like crazy!!! Who would rather die than spend eternity without you!!! Who saves sons and daughters. If we just keep believing and abiding!!! You know you have correctly understood His story if the result is overwhelming freedom and joy. The truth is Jesus is a person. And knowing that person is eternal life [1 John 5:11-13]. But in addition to eternal life, He gives you an abundant life. One that is free from fear.
Now we will still live in a scary world. With needles. And bomb threats. And foreclosures. All kinds of crazy stuff. But we don’t have to live a paralyzed life of fear if we’re living a life of faith. Because 1 John 4:4 says Jesus already beat all that scary stuff at the cross. It’s still hanging around for now, but it won’t be here forever!!! Don’t stop believing!!! The story is still true!!!
A friend of mine told me the best definition of freedom is wanting to do what you ought to do. I think that’s a great definition. That’s what I mean by sincerely serving Jesus. You actually want to do what you’ve probably heard your parents and pastors telling you to do all your life but never understanding why or how. But that “want to” comes from knowing you don’t “have to” because even if you tried your entire your life, you couldn’t perfectly obey. That’s why Romans 5:1-2 says it this way: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 8:1 adds, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
I love the way the Old Testament prophet Hosea [11:1-4,8] described this story. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and just listen to these words. “1When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. 3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. 4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. How can I give you up?”
And the good news is God doesn’t. He never has and never will. Romans 6:21-23 says it this way, “21What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become servants [slaves] to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
2 Corinthians 3:12 and 17 add these words to the freedom trail. “12Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” James 2:12 says the law gives freedom. And “It is for freedom, according to Galations 5:1 that Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Chapter 3:29 says, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
The story is all about a person not politics. Point number one. Who saves sons and daughters not slaves. Point number two. Giving them freedom from fear. Point number three. Is that your story? If it’s not, it can be! How? By fighting the right fight of faith 1 Timothy 6:12 says, "Fight the good fight of faith." Which is something we can do. It may not always be easy. Like leaving your own country and traveling to another. Trusting God to will and to do in His time what He wants to do [Philippians 1:6; 2:13]. Like Abraham did by faith. But it is simple. And it can be for us too.j
If you can fall out of bed, you can abide in Christ. And sincerely serve Him the rest of your life. Just don’t stop believing that. Is that your desire? My hope and my prayer, is that Toledo First will be known for telling THAT story every chance we get. Until the third and fourth generations picture it the same way.