With apologies, we don’t have the audio from this sermon – but here are Peter’s notes, and he’d be delighted to discuss them if you get in touch via the contact form at the bottom of the page.
Whose child are you?
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years researching my family history. I’ve traced parts of my family tree back 12 generations, to the late 1500s. And before you ask, there are no royal connections! No exciting skeletons in the cupboard! Not one of my ancestors was rich, none of them was famous, they were among the rural poor, many lived and died in real poverty and hardship. When they moved from the countryside into the city of Leicester they mostly ended up living and working in the slums. When I drive through the area of south Leicestershire where most of them lived I feel a strange sort of pull. It almost feels like a spiritual connection with those long dead ancestors.
For the Jews in Jesus’ time a similar family connection was important for them. They needed to know their ancestry; to be able to trace their roots right back to Abraham whom God had called to be the father of their nation. Both Matthew and Luke include genealogies of Jesus in their gospels to prove his credentials. Matthew begins his with Abraham and works through 42 generations to Jesus. Luke starts with Jesus and goes the other way, right back to Abraham and then even beyond that – all the way to Adam!
In the OT book of Nehemiah, which tells the story of the return of the Israelites from 70 years of exile in Babylon, Nehemiah writes:
‘So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials, and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return.‘ [7:5]
They had written records of their family histories!
Nehemiah then lists the various families, but he mentions some who
‘could not show that their families were descended from Israel.’ [7:61]
And among the priests were some who
‘searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.’ [7:64]
They could not prove the purity of their descent and so were barred from serving! So, knowing their family tree was important, especially to the Pharisees, the priests and the religious leaders of Israel; and it figures largely in this long confrontation Jesus is having with the Pharisees, which we have been examining over the past couple of weeks. It continues today and will draw to a close with next week’s message.
Last week, we saw how the discussion centered around truth, freedom and bondage. How the Jews claimed to be descended from Abraham and that they had never been anyone’s slaves. They conveniently forgot about their slavery in Egypt and the exile in Babylon.
Our passage today opens with Jesus saying to the religious leaders,
‘I know you are Abraham’s descendants.’ [v37]
I want to just pause a moment to look at the circumstances in which this is taking place. Maybe we imagine Jesus sitting having nice, quiet, intellectual theological discussions with a few religious leaders, and that was sometimes true – but in this case at least, we need to think again. Picture Jesus in the crowded outer courts of the Temple. The debate is getting heated and confrontational! Jesus is facing an increasingly hostile crowd. Jesus continues:
‘Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word.’
Meaning ‘You make no space for my word – your hearts are closed to everything I say, your minds are already made up.’ The religious leaders have already decided that Jesus is leading Israel astray and undermining their authority, and they are planning and looking for excuses to kill him. As we have seen, they had already unsuccessfully sent temple guards to arrest him, and when we get to verse 59 next week we will find the crowd in front of him were actually picking up stones ready to stone him. So this is a dangerous and volatile situation. These people are not interested in discovering the truth about who Jesus is. Their minds are closed. Jesus is facing a crowd on the verge of getting ready to lynch him – and he’s boldly speaking out against the hypocrisy of their religious leaders!
Jesus’ words now are uncompromising – even brutal. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, this is not! He goes on:
‘”I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.” “Abraham is our father,” they answered.’ [v38-39]
I can almost imagine Jesus saying, ‘Oh,really?’
‘”If you were Abraham’s children”, said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As 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. You are doing the things your own father does.”‘ [v40-41]
The argument becomes about whose children they are – who their father is.
‘”We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”‘ [v41]
This statement can be literally translated as ‘we are not the children of sexual immorality‘. Surely they are referring to the rumours they may have heard about the supposed circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth? Suggesting Jesus himself is illegitimate. It is also rather ironic that they are claiming for themselves something which only Jesus can truly say:
“The only Father I have is God himself.”
‘Jesus 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. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.”‘
Jesus’ basic charge against these Jews is that they are trying to kill him. Therefore they cannot properly know God his Father, because if Abraham, or God, was their true father they would not be seeking to kill him, but would recognise him as their Messiah. If they are plotting murder they cannot claim descent from the One True God, and therefore, even without realising it, they have aligned themselves to the forces of darkness. They are not walking in the truth, or in the light. They may well be able to trace their ancestry back to Abraham, but their lives and their actions don’t match up to being God’s chosen people.
Now, suddenly, Jesus comes out with what he has only been hinting at previously. As one commentator puts it:
‘The word which he now utters is like the dropping of a bomb’. [William Hendricksen, John p60]
‘”You 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.”‘ [v42-44]
The gloves are really off now! Jesus calls the Jewish leaders children of the devil! Imagine their shock. Imagine the crowd shouting and angry. On what grounds does Jesus say this? The devil is the deceiver, satan – the adversary, the accuser. The devil is a dealer in death and lies. As Jesus says, he is a murderer, a liar, the father of lies and an enemy of truth. The devil desires to lie and to kill – and so do they!
Remember, the devil is not equal with God. He is not all-powerful; all-knowing; all-seeing, as God is – he is a created but corrupted being; his power is limited and his days are numbered! But he must never be underestimated. He has enormous influence in the world, as we see every day in the awful things people do to one another. His great aim is to destroy the church and the people of God, to deceive people and turn them away from the truth, and to damage and break up relationships, especially within the family of God. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:4 writes that the devil
‘has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’
As Alan has mentioned in previous weeks, Jesus often speaks about opposites; contrasts – the conflict between Light and darkness; life and death; truth and lies; freedom and slavery; righteousness and sin. There are two sides, and two sets of choices. And now Jesus adds this: The children of God and the children of the devil! The Jews thought they were children of Abraham; but Jesus said they were children of the devil!
It may be a terrible thing to say, but the fact is that we are all faced with the same simple choice – do we believe in Jesus or not? It’s a choice with consequences. We can’t sit on the fence – we can’t half-believe because that won’t be enough to bring us fully into the kingdom of God! There is no room for compromise. The Christian life doesn’t depend on half-truths. Jesus is looking for whole-hearted, not half-hearted, followers. Whole hearted commitment. Jesus, in a different context, but still speaking about the conflict between good and evil, said:
‘He who is not with me is against me …’ [Luke 11:23]
The theologian, F.F. Bruce wrote:
‘In a situation where no neutrality is possible, people must be either on one side or on the other… In the conflict between the kingdom of God and the forces of evil no one (is) neutral.’
I love these words which were seen in the house of a young African pastor:
I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of Jesus. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
I have stepped over the line. He has chosen whose side he is on.
The religious leaders were feeling secure in their claim to be Abraham’s descendants and children of God. [8:33] But Jesus says: How can you claim to be God’s children if you have murder in your hearts? If you were truly God’s children you would recognise the truth of what I am saying.
‘”Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”‘ [8:45-47]
These pillars of the Jewish establishment; these keepers of the law of Moses – not belong to God? Children of the devil? Outrageous! Imagine what they felt! Jesus must go!
This is simply the climax of a theme which runs consistently through the teaching of Jesus – no one can serve two masters. You can’t grow grapes on a thorn bush, or figs on thistles. There’s a narrow way and a broad way – the broad way leads to destruction. Drop everything and follow me. Make a choice! No compromise!
The Biblical truth is that no one is a child of God by right. It’s not a question of nationality, or geography, or having the right pedigree, or keeping the law, or being a good person. Nor is it true, as some people say, that we are all God’s children. Every human being was created by God, but not everyone is a child of God. So, who are the children of God?
If we go right back to the beginning of John’s Gospel we read,
‘To all who received him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, not of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.’ [1:12-13]
Further on, in John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that to enter the kingdom of God one needed to be born again. The first birth is our physical birth, the second is a spiritual birth.
‘Born of God…’
In my physical birth I am a child of my parents and all those generations of poor people in south Leicestershire, but when I became a Christian I also became a child of God, a son of the King above all kings! Jesus encourages his followers to address God as Father, and to live in that family relationship with the Living God.
When we place our faith in Christ God becomes our Father, and we become his children, other believers become our brothers and sisters, and the church becomes our spiritual family. [Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Life p118]
This is why we talk so much about RENEW Church being a family – because it is a spiritual, biblical truth. We are all connected, related, children of God our Father, by faith in Jesus his Son. There is clear and consistent teaching throughout the New Testament that it is those who believe in Jesus who are the true children of God. Paul writes, in his letter to the Galatians:
‘You are all [children] of God through faith in Christ Jesus…’ [Galatians 3:26]
He is writing to a church made up of a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, and he is saying, you are not a child of God by virtue of being able to trace your descent from Abraham, but by putting your faith and trust in Jesus as the Messiah. You have to step over the line! Our status in God’s family is by adoption, not birthright, and it’s because of his love.
‘In love he predestined us to be adopted as his [children] through Jesus Christ.’ [Ephesians 1:5]
‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!’ [1 John 3:1 NIV]
Our status in Christ is all about faith and belief. And the love of God the Father. It’s not who you are, but whose you are. Whose you are, who you belong to, depends on who and what you believe. Your beliefs are the deepest and most important things about you, they influence how you act and how you think. How you live your life.
The thing that matters to us now, in our lives, is that we belong in Jesus’ family. That we know the truth which sets us free. That we commit ourselves to follow him wherever he may lead us. That we make the decision; that we step over the line.
If you believe in Jesus and are putting your faith and trust in him as you go through life then you can be assured that you are indeed a child of the Living God. And a follower of Jesus. Part of the family.
Featured image courtesy of Pexels.