Monday, December 04, 2006

It matters

Since i lost everything from my laptop i'm going to start blogging everything i write... so here's my script for my BEC talk at the weekend. I say script rather than talk because i cut heaps out the night before (including two whole pages) and my eyes skimmed across a lot as well. It was a joy in the feedback time to be taken through the passage in view of the rest of John, to look at how it 'cuts with the grain' of John, seeing how it it went from a debate with Jesus and the religious Jews, to name-calling, to attempted murder in three steps. As Jason Clarke, UCCF director of training said, Jesus really is the sort of guy who would say things at a supper party that would make folding your after eight wrapper seem like the most important thing in the world.

Why do set our clocks by Jesus, why do we still pay attention to Him thousands of years after He died? Why do we still think He's so important? Well lets look at Him now, what He said and did and how people reacted to it. The passage we are looking at is in the acount that John gives of Jesus' life. It occurs about 1/3 of the way though as talk about Jesus starts to spread. A couple of chapters before hand we see that people who have been following Jesus have decided to leave Him because they find His teaching hard to deal with. His disciples however realise that there is really nowhere else to go apart from Jesus and His teaching. So this conversation takes place in that context. Jesus has been teaching for a while, He's been upsetting some people with the directness of His teaching, and He'll continue to upset people, as we'll see.

This passage starts with Jesus talking to 'the Jews who believed in Him' (v31), He tells them that the truth will set them free, and that brings about the first objection that the Jews have. In the face of Jesus they fall back on their religious heritage, on Abraham, to say that they have never been slaves of anyone and therefore do not need freeing from anyone. The Jews here have missed the point of what Jesus is saying, and we'll come back to that, but i think this is still an example what i think John is saying. It doesn't matter about your heritage, it doesn't matter about where you've come from. It didn't matter whether or not the Jews had Abraham as their father, as they obviously did ethinically...what matters is who Jesus is. Its only Jesus who can set your free, as He claims in verse 36. Real freedom from sin comes from Jesus, not from anywhere else. In verses 37-38 Jesus tackles the issue of the Jews heritage, which they are claiming as their route to freedom, which they are relying on instead of Jesus. Jesus dismisses their claims...if they were the offspring of Abraham, Jesus's words would find a place in them, and they don't.

Jesus then starts to take them to task over their claims to be Abrahams children. Claiming someone as your father in the time that John was writing into basically meant that you were claiming to do what they did. Whcih is why Jesus claiming to be the 'Son of God' caused such anger amongst the Jews...he was claiming equality with God. He was claiming that He could do the things that God did. This is why Jesus says 'if Abraham was your father, you would do the things that he did', because thats what the father son relationship was like when John was writing. John records this to show the difference between what the Jews were claiming, and what the truth actually was. They claimed Abraham as their father. Jesus told them that is this was the case they would do the things that Abraham did. But instead, they try to kill Him (verse 40). The Jews then up the ante when it comes to claiming religious heritage, when they claim God as their father in verse 41. Jesus also dimisses that. If they were to do as God did, they would do the things that God did. They would love Jesus.And they don't. Why is this? Jesus says it is because they are of their father, the Devil...they do the same things that the devil does...they have nothing to do with truth. Note here that John makes it clear though recording Jesus' teachings that there is no 'neutral pot' into which people fall. We are all either children of Abraham and thus God, or of the Devil. God sent Jesus, so Jesus claims, and why do people not recieve Him? Because they can not bare to hear the truth of the teaching that Jesus brings. The Jews wanted to hide behind their heritage, we want to hide behind anything we can. Behind our deeds, our parents...behind even ignoring the problem and saying God doesn't exist. The problem is God exists whether you believe in Him or not. It's not up to us to construct reality. And Jesus says that the truth wil set you free. He claims that knowing the truth about Him will set you free from slavery to sin, it will set you free from anything that binds you, from fear or self doubt. Jesus says that He has the power to do that. The truth will set you free He says. Isn't that a wonderful promise, that we can be set free from things that we hate doing. It says that those whom Jesus has set free will be free indeed, that those people will move from the status of slave, who will one day be kicked out of the house, to the status of son, who will live in the house forever. What a wonderful promise Jesus gives there. But, also, what an outrageous thing to claim. That people can be free by belieiving in a person, not by doing things themselves, or by changing anything in themselves. Jesus claims that if you know Him, then you will know the truth, and this will set you free. This is what it matters about our response to Jesus. Because He makes claims like this. Because if He's right then there is everything to lose by ignoring Him, and everything to gain by following Him. Jesus offers freedom to His listeners, and to us. Not by doing something, or by changing something, but by believing in Him. Just by faith in Him. By faith. So by accepting and living by what Jesus says, by letting that faith make the change rather than the other way around. In Him. By looking to Jesus. 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that the more we get to know Jesus, the more we see Him for who He is, the more we'll be changed to be like Him. Jesus Christ is here being presented by John as the centrepoint of the Christian life, as the absolute apex of life itself and of relationship with God. Christianity is all about Jesus, much more than any of us can appreciate. So we need to know what we believe about Him, and who he is. It matters! So where are we in our narative? Jesus is teaching and claiming to be God, and the Jews listening to Him are ignoring Him and relying on their heritage, on anything, rather than Jesus? Why does John record this?

To show that it matters what our personal response to Jesus is...There is no other reason to have assurance of our standing with God. None. The people Jesus was talking to initially thought they could rely on their Jewish heritage...on the simple fact that they were Jews. That wasn't the case as Jesus showed them. If they were really descended from Abraham then they would have done what Abraham did, and accepted Jesus. In the next section we see that Abraham 'rejoiced to see Jesus' day'. That certainly wasn't what the Jews that John talks about here were doing. But you might be thinking, so what? I'm not a Christian, but neither am i relying on Abraham or my heritage for my standing with God. Well, no, you're probably not. But if not Jesus, what are you relying on? Your good works? How can anyone be good enough, when Jesus is the standard we need to attain? Even His enemies couldn't get their stories straight at the mockery of a trial they put Jesus through before He was crucified. Those who knew Him said there was no sin in Him. Is that something you can honestly say for yourself? Our own, personal, repsonse to Jesus matters. Nothing else will mean that we are truly His disciples...nothing else will mean that His word finds a place in us, nothing else will set us free from the power and penalty of sin. This is what we need more than anything else, freedom from the penalty with sin...and thats only going to happen through a relationship with Jesus. It matters who we say Jesus is.

And so it matters who Jesus is. Everyone thinks they have an idea of who Jesus is. Everyone eithers think He didn't exist, which is historically deeply unsound, or He was just a good teacher, or a prophet, or they don't know who He was, but they also don't really see that it matters. But what did Jesus say about Himself? Verse 48 shows how wrong the Jews have got it. First of all they call Him a samaritan, which they know not to be true, and that has an air of grasping at straws to try and write Him off. Next they accuse Him of having a demon, another attempt to find a reason to discredit him and ignore this teaching that has seemingly so unsettled His Jewish audience. Jesus' response is staggering. Far from going on the defensive, He actually ups the ante even more, and calls God His Father, therefore, as i said earlier putting Himself on a level with God, He said that He seeks the glory of God, the Judge. He says that if anyone keeps His word, then that person will never see death. Now these statements are in some ways quite famailiar to our ears...but that shouldn't detract from the shock that these words should bring. Jesus is claiming authority over death. If i came up to you and said 'hi, i'm ed, if you trust me you will never die'...if i as good as claimed to have authority over death as Jesus is here, you wouldn't think to yourself 'oh there goes Ed, he's a good moral teacher, he's a decent bloke, would you? You'd want me locking up! You'd certainly want to see if there was anything i could do to back up these claims. The Jews are appaled by this last statement of Jesus and this time they think they've got Him. They tell Him that Abraham, the man on whom Jesus' last assult on Jewish heritage pride was based upon. Abraham died and the prophets died. So, they ask, is Jesus claiming to be greater than them? Who is Jesus claiming to be? Literally, who does He think He is? Jesus says the Abraham rejoiced to see His day. He claims to have been around before Abraham was...and as the people He's talking to rightly point out He's not even fifty, how can He say that. And that questions bring us to the biggest claim of all that John records. 'before Abraham was...I AM'. This may seem to us just to be a case of poor grammar, but His original listeners, and the original readers would have known exactly what Jesus was saying, and exactly why John recorded it. When God speaks outside of the Garden of Eden he reveals Himself by saying 'i am who i am'. Thats what He says to Moses when he asks 'who shall i say sent me' God says 'say I AM sent you'. And this is what Jesus is claiming part of here. He goes back to Abraham, who was before Moses, and says, even before Abraham i was there and i was God. And it's interesting to see the Jews reaction to what Jesus says here. Many people say that 'Jesus never actually claimed to be God', and to an extent thats true, Jesus never actually said the words 'i am God, worship me', but here He is doing as good as. And we can see that thats certainly what His Jewish audience thought, because they started to try and stone Him before He got away. Jesus here claims to be God in the eyes and ears of the original readers and listeners. This is the conclusion of the discussion He has been having here. This is why Jesus can claim that believing in Him can set people free from sin. This is why Jesus can claim that He has authority over death, this is why Jesus can say that someone who lived thousands of years before He did rejoiced to see His day. Because ultimately Jesus is claiming to be God. This is why it matters who Jesus is. We saw in the last section that it matters who we say Jesus is, that nothing will give us the assurance, the fact of life and freedom that Jesus does. Nothing. So because of those claims it matters who Jesus is. It matters more than anything else matters in the world. The biggest problem we face in the world today isn't famine or war or anything like's sin, it's our separation from the most important question we face is how to dal with those problems. And Jesus claims to have the answer to all these questions, so its important that we consider what Jesus says about Himself and whether we can trust it.

So how can Jesus make these claims? How can we trust them? All the way through His life, and all the way through this conversation, Jesus knows how He will die. He knows how He will be able to set people free from sin and death. He knew it was because he would die to bring about this freedom in people's lives. Jesus knew that He was going to have His life ended on a cross, where He would die under the weight of the Father's wrath at my sin and your sin. That's where Jesus was heading, and He knew that. He also knew that three days after He was buried, He would rise again...He would come back to life. And thats how we can investigate what He says, as to whether His actions meet up with His words...and they definately do. And this is what i think John is trying to communicate when he records this. He wants us to know, to see, to remember that it is important who we say Jesus is, and who Jesus is. Jesus is the one who offers and guarentees freedom from slavery, and freedom from sin...freedom from death! Jesus offers eternal life. Is that not what He says in verse 51 'whoever keeps my word will never see death'? Whoever listens to and obeys Jesus will never see death. Jesus is offering eternal life! This is an amzing thing for someone who was just a man. But then, as we saw in the next passage, Jesus was far from being just a man. John shows Jesus as someone who demands a response to His teaching, to who He is. As someone who demands a response. As someone who claims equity with God. As someone who can deliver us freedom. So it really, really matters who Jesus is and it really really matters what our response to that is.

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