The Thirtieth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Jesus went to Jerusalem during the Feast of Booths and began teaching in the temple. Crowds quickly gathered to hear him. On the last day of the Feast, Jesus declared that he would be the one who will give the people of God living water (the gift of the Holy Spirit). Jesus also declared that he was the light of the world. Both declarations were loaded with messianic implications. When the Pharisees arrived, they began to debate publically with Jesus, attempting to use his words against him, hoping to trap him in an error which would discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people. The people watching were greatly divided about Jesus’ identity and mission. Some believed in Jesus and possessed eternal life. Others are said to “believe in Jesus” but do so only for a time and fall away when Jesus says something difficult, or does something they do not like. Meanwhile, the Pharisees are plotting to kill Jesus, and the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees continues to intensify. As it does, the Pharisees make their most serious charge against Jesus yet, and Jesus responds with the clearest declaration so far as to his divine identity.
As we resume our series on John’s Gospel, we pick up where we left off last time in John 8 (with verse 48), during the so-called “conflict phase” of Jesus’s ministry (which includes the material in John 7-10). In addition to speaking of himself as the source of living water and the light of the world, Jesus has been repeatedly speaking of the fact that he is about to go away, and that where he is going, no one can come. Those who know John’s Gospel, know that Jesus was speaking about his own death, resurrection, and ascension which was drawing near. Throughout this section of his Gospel, John has made it clear that Jesus’ hour has not yet arrived–the reason John gives as to why the Pharisees plot to put Jesus to death has not succeeded.
After asserting himself to be the one who gives living water as well as the light of the world, the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees grows increasingly intense. Forcing people in the crowd to decide whether they are with Jesus or against him, Jesus told those Jews who profess to believe him, “if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). The proof that someone has eternal life (and therefore has genuine faith) is that they will abide (remain) by trusting in Jesus until the end of their lives. Those who are truly Christ’s are preserved to the end in this faith by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Those who have temporary faith (not genuine) do not abide. Because the saving work of Christ has not been applied to them, they will fall away when things get tough–as we saw in the “Bread of Life” discourse back in John 6 and here in the debate recorded in John 8.
The Jews are totally perplexed about Jesus’ comment about him setting them free since even though Israel was then under Roman occupation, the Jews were back in the land and they were still free to practice their religion. Jesus will explain this matter to them. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” The Jews still do not grasp the fact that Jesus is using slavery as a metaphor for the guilt and power of sin, and that he speaks of freedom in terms of that redemption which he will accomplish on the cross to set his people free. The Jews challenge Jesus by reminding him that they are children of Abraham. Why would they need to be set free? What kind of freedom can Jesus provide which they don’t already have (except political freedom)?
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