Father

God doesn’t always make sense

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Food For Thought

Chess, Food for thought

Warning! This post may not be exactly what you’re looking for. If you looking to make perfect sense of the tough situations you’ve faced or are currently facing, this is not the post for you. If you’re looking for a “three-easy-steps” guide to make your situation go away, sorry, look somewhere else. Instead, this post will remind you of stories in the Bible of people who faced extreme tragedy, heartwrenching pain, and heavy disappointment. I will try demonstrate how people, somehow, found comfort in the midst of pain, and I will look to find God’s perfect place, plan or timing in these stories. I believe these stories are the word of God and are equipped with all the power they need to work in us.

What is the one thing you want when you feel like God doesn’t make sense? Comfort, right? You want to feel comforted by anyone, anything, especially God. The history of the word “comfort” shows the ever-changing way I see God’s work in our pain. The word is made from two Latin word parts, com-, which loosely means “together with,” and fortis, which means “strong or strength.” Later, the Latin word confortare came to mean, “to strengthen much.” Eventually, an Old French word, conforter, adds words like “solace” and “help” to the definition. In the 14th century, another French word, conforten, is defined as, “to cheer up, console.” Finally, by the 17th century, the English version of the word implies the sense of physical ease that we understand today. (Definitions from Oxford Languages).

When I think of comfort, I think of fluffy pillows, duck-down duvets, a hug from wife, an encouraging word from a friend or colleagues and a “at-a-boy” from my father. I even think about that pair of shows I wear again and again or a hairstyle you always stick too . In about a millennia, this word went from meaning, “together-strength,” to meaning “pain-barrier.” It changed from understanding God’s comfort as His company, to understanding it as His intervention. When something terrible happens and I don’t see God intervene, I wonder whether He’s really there at all. But, I’m not alone. Before the “comfort” word morphed, King David experienced many times when God seemed inattentive. Read his letters to God and try to keep pace with his seemingly varying take on God’s place in his struggle.

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Take a Pause: Think about the last time you questioned God’s existence. How were you looking to experience His company?

Notice how in Psalm 13, King David is questioning and doubting God’s presence. He asks if God has forgotten him. See how sorrowful he is feeling? I’ve been there too many times to count or mention!

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.
1 Thessalonians 2:13

God’s word is 100% true. We can and must accept it as such. It may be a difficult read sometimes because there are many stories of war, famine, lamentations, doubt and so on – but remember, His Word, His plan, is always for your own good. We accept His as His Word and not anyone else’s.

Psalm 103

Of David.

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, my soul

Now look at Psalm 103. What a turn around! If you ever read a Psalm or sang a song in praise and worship of the goodness, dominion, power, companionship and comfort God brings – this is one prime example!

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Is God my Savior?

Today, it’s 13° outside – a family of five in the middle of township is without power, has no running water and is struggling just to keep warm or prepare a meal. Been South Africa, that same family most likely only has one income earner, so the little they have has to go a long way. They’ll be lucky to get a slice of bread or two each for the day. 1000s of people, families in South Africa are sleeping in the street with a cardboard box to keep them warm, if they lucky. Today, a family in Europe will tragically lose a child to an unexpected disease. In the next 24 hours, in other impoverished regions of the world, thousands of children are expected to die due to a lack of food, clean water, no food and diseases.

Then, by now, you would know how the pandemic, COVID-19, has brought the world to a standstill. People are scared of catching it, locked up in their homes, unsure about vaccines and living in fear of a disease.

Maybe today, but almost definitely this year, natural disasters will strike and suddenly kill thousands.

Coming back to South Africa, over the last week, the country has been brought to its knees by riots, looting and untimely deaths as a result.

If God’s existence was determined by His prevention of our world’s pain, then He’d be gone with the next strong wind that blew across the earth.

I’m not the first one to let difficulty cause me to doubt whether or not God is who He says He is. John The Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, is famous for preaching about the coming of Jesus and proclaiming that he wasn’t even worthy of lacing up Jesus’ dirty sandals. Later, John ended up wrongly imprisoned after spending his whole life for God. In fact, he was put in prison for preaching God’s truth. John had moments where he had second thoughts when from prison he wrote to Jesus, Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” John wanted to be sure that Jesus was truly the Savior that he’d made him out to be. But maybe John was also wondering if Jesus would be the one to come to his prison cell and break him out?

Then, Jesus, who basically called John the Baptist the greatest human to ever live, responded by pointing to some of the miracles He had done, and finished with, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” It’s as if Jesus said, “Look, John, I’m the Savior, but don’t blow your blessing by getting ticked off at me for not saving you from prison.”

In short, Jesus thought John was a stellar servant of God. Jesus essentially said, “Yes, I am the Savior, and I do saving works.” Then, He didn’t save John from prison, or from getting his head chopped off. What can we take away from this story? Whether or not God diverts your struggle does not determine whether or not He is God. And, proof of how God feels about you might not be happening to you today, but it happened to Jesus 2,000 years ago, on the cross.

Pray: Thank Jesus for what He did on the cross, and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you how He feels about you.

Dangerous Theology

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” – CS Lewis

I think about the worst situation I have been through and survived to tell the tale. There are some very painful lessons and truths I’ve learned but I realise now that God was doing what was best for me. It hurt coming to this realisation!

Remember earlier what I spoke about the word “comfort” as “together-strength.” If God’s comfort is found in His strong company, then a difficult situation can be something we face with the powerful and loving comfort of God’s presence. It can be very hard to see it this way, but the situation itself could at times be God’s strength for us. Read that last sentence again until it hits you.

James 1:1-18

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

Trials and Temptations

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

The dangerous and bad theology comes in to the picture if I was to describe every trial and difficulty I face as something God is intending to use to make me grow or learn something. It’s equally dangerous theology to assume that God never puts me through any struggles to strengthen me. The knowledge that His strength is with me, and that I can come out stronger, holds in it the power to separate me from my need to know, “God, how could you let this happen?” It’s okay when God doesn’t make sense. It should be enough to know He’s Immanuel, God With Us, and He has the power to turn what’s hard for me into what’s good for me. In the passage above, notice how much emphasis is placed on perseverance! Enough said.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Matthew 1:23

Celebrate: Think about all the struggles you’ve faced. Look back and remember how they’ve built your character, perseverance, and faith. Find a way to thank God for it all.

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Be Ready To Listen

Has this happened to you before. You in the middle of the road with no petrol in your car. The warning light was flashing, I could almost hear the engine praying for more petrol and I know the fuel consumption is not great but I continued to push through and see how far. The issue was obvious, but I tried to live with it. Holding down the accelerater a little less, just don’t overrev and you’ll be fine. What first was inconveniently noticeable becomes conveniently a problem, the dreaded moment happened, I found myself at the mercy of a nearby petrol station to bring me a few litres of petrol in a water can. My car raised its voice to get my attention and I ignored it.

There’s a Bible story like this. Eli was a good man who gave his life to serve our God. He was a high priest and judge over Israel – the middle-man between God and His people. Eli was God’s listener and God’s voice to communicate any vision, law, or prophecy the people needed to hear. He also oversaw the temple which made people able to submit their offerings and requests to God. A woman named Hannah—who was painfully unable to bear children—made the trek to Eli’s temple each year to plead for a child. Despite God’s lack of cooperation, she remained faithful. One year she told God that if He gave her a son, she’d give him back to serve the Lord.

1 Samuel 3:1 NLT says In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. … Despite God’s direct words being rare, in the second chapter of 1 Samuel, a man of God came to Eli with a flashing “petrol light” from God. Eli’s sons were sinning against God and His people by robbing the temple offerings and seducing women at the temple gates. Eli knew, but just scolded his sons and allowed them to remain in their temple roles. His car was chugging along, but he just added some more laid off the accelerator a little.

Meanwhile, Hannah miraculously gave birth, weaned her son Samuel, and brought him back to Eli’s temple to serve God just as she promised. If Hannah had a car, she’d have probably fill up with petrol even before the meter reached half way.

I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.
1 Samuel 1:27

As Eli’s temple helper, Samuel heard a voice call his name three times one night. Despite his role as God’s listener, it took Eli three times of Samuel coming to him before he realised the voice might be coming from God. Finally, Eli seemingly remembered something he had once learned. Next time you hear the voice, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”’ God spoke to Samuel the fourth time. Sadly, the message he received was doom for Eli’s family.

By the time Eli remembered how to hear, he was in the middle of the road, hazard lights on, walking annoying to a petrol station to find help. Eli’s career was to listen to God. With Jesus as our High Priest, God’s Word as our guide, and the Holy Spirit as our helper, we no longer need an intermediary. We are both Hannah and Eli. We get to hear from God directly and follow Him devotedly. But, when God doesn’t make sense and seems uncooperative, are we like Hannah who remained faithful, or like Eli who became a selective listeners?

Pause: Take pay attention! Open up your ears, speak directly to God, and make sure you’re a servant who’s ready to listen.

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In Good Company

There is a difference between people like Eli from earlier, who experience pain because they haven’t been listening, and people like the Apostle Paul, who experience pain despite their devotion and steady requests to God. However, while the people may be different, the pain feels the same. It hurts and leaves us asking, “Why, God?”

Have you ever grabbed a rose assuming the thorns had been removed? The result is a needles poke into your fingers followed by a bone-throbbing reminder of your mistake. Yet, the thorn Paul describes in our reading today from 2 Corinthians chapter 12 is different. Paul describes a thorn that remains in his flesh.

…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Paul wants the Corinthians to know about his thorn because the thorn causes him to rely on God, and he hopes the Church of Corinth will rely on God, too. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. If Paul stopped there, this concept would be a little easier. We could envision a God who swoops in and picks us up when we’re too weak to go on or get out of bed.

It gets a little trickier. These verses suggest that Paul’s thorn—which he also describes as a messenger of Satan—was not a seldom occurrence of weakness but rather a steady companion. Harder still, Paul explains this thorn was given to him as a strategy to poke a hole in his ego. Suffering so that God’s work could not be claimed as Paul’s work. Paul calls his perpetual pain a gift that reveals God’s true comfort for man. In other words, pain reveals God’s “together-strength” that transforms our failure into His perfection.

When God seemed inattentive to Paul’s pain, he could have assumed God was either absent or abusive. Instead, he recognised that pain put him in good company.

What are some thorns you need to see for their roses? How does your pain provide you opportunities to partner with God in ways you couldn’t if He took it away?

Who else received thorns as a strategy to unveil God’s perfect strength for our persistent weakness? Jesus.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:3‭-‬5

Pray: God, I’ve been asking You to remove this trial. Today, I ask You to reveal Your power in my trial. Will You show me how Your strength can be seen through my weakness? Is there someone I can extend your powerful comfort to? Jesus, would You let me feel Your company today?

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When, Jesus?

If you’ve lived at least a couple of decades, you’ve most likely experienced death. No matter who I have lost or how I felt losing them, death is arguably the most difficult thing I have faced. Maybe it’s the seeming finality of death that is so hard. In comparison, every other pain I experience seems treatable, preventable, repairable, or at least tolerable.

For many followers of Christ, the moment I realised a loved one is really gone is when I experience our deepest doubts of God. Streaming thoughts turn into silent prayers, “God, how could You let this happen?”and, “You even listening?”, “Do you care?”, “Are you even there at all?” Basically, we accuse God of being either an imposing fake or an absent bystander.

Read: John 11

When close friends and followers of Jesus—Mary and Martha—told him their brother Lazarus was sick and dying, Jesus did not come. Even though He was only a day’s walk away, Jesus let Lazarus die, then let Mary and Martha grieve alone before finally coming. When He did arrive, Lazarus was already decaying in a sealed grave. Mary stayed home, and Martha let Jesus know that He was late. Then, Jesus called for Mary, who came weeping. Jesus’ responses to Mary and Martha are some of the most powerful scriptures in the Bible. When Martha told Jesus he could have kept Lazarus from death, Jesus responded, “… I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die … ” Then, when Mary wept, Jesus wept.

Jesus’ tears paint a picture of a God who hurts when we hurt, but also a God who hurts because we hurt. He is not the origin of death and separation. Sin is. He is the very one who looked death in the eye and conquered it for us. He understands, better than we, the true effects of death in the world and life He created for us. So, just because He doesn’t stop pain from happening to us, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt Him too.

If you finish the story, you know Jesus wept right before he brought Lazarus back to life. He also knows that for whoever believes in Him—including people we love—death is not permanent, and life with Him is eternal. Does it still hurt when people die? Yes. Does God hurt with us? Yes.

Pause: When you lost a loved one, how did you characterise God? Fake, bystander, late, hurting with you, something else? How does knowing, “Jesus wept,” change your experience?

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The Same Jesus

The same Jesus who called Lazarus back from the grave is calling me to abundant life. I may be lonely; He is with me always. I may be anxious; He cares for me. I may be tired; He is my rest. I may be lost; He is my way. I may be angry; He is love. I may be broken; He was wounded to heal me. I may be addicted; He is freedom. I may be in darkness; He is a great light. I may be dying; He is the resurrection and the life.

When God seems inattentive, uncooperative, and late, these are the moments when I get to decide what I really believe about Him. Do I believe the Bible stories I read? Even when I decide to believe the Bible is true, I may still sometimes feel like God doesn’t make sense. Yet, I can be sure the same Jesus still hears my cries, shares my pain, and saves my lives. He is my “together-strength.”

Pray: Jesus, thank You for calling me out of the grave. I choose to trust You to care deeply about what I’m facing, and I want You to face it with me. Thank You for taking on my shortcomings and my pain when You experienced brutal death and separation from God on the cross. Let’s do this!

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Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in Devotional, 1 comment

The Gospel of John – Like Father, Like Son

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Father and son

In the next part of the gospel of John, the word “father” appears over a dozen times.

This passage really is about “fathers” and “sons.”

It deals with those crucial issues which caused many to reject and resist Jesus Christ as the Messiah, while at the same time bringing others to faith in Him. The issues dealt with in this passage are those with which many in our culture struggle today. Let’s learn what the Word of God has to say to us about “fathers,” “sons,” and “freedom.”

This is a passage which dovetails with John 2:13–22, where Jesus drives corrupt businessmen from the temple. These Scriptures disprove any myths that Jesus was weak, timid, passive, or soft.

Jesus felt every emotion we feel today.

In this exchange with the Pharisees, Jesus pulls no punches. Jerusalem’s religious leaders, and their followers, continue to resist Jesus’ preaching. They rely on arrogance and insults, to which Jesus responds with blunt, unfiltered condemnation. This culminates in Jesus making an overt statement of His own divinity, punctuating the debate by declaring ”before Abraham was, I am!’

Follow the series on John here

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Dispute Over Whose Children Jesus’ Opponents Are

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing 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 what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.”

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“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. 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. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

Jesus’ Claims About Himself

48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”

52 At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”

54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. John 8: 31-59


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The Father and Son continues

However, the last post left you to believe – there are those who “believed” in Jesus were expressing saving faith. However, the Bible distinguishes between those who believe in a shallow, superficial sense from those who express legitimate faith in Christ. Verse 31 explains one of the ways to know the difference: those who truly submit to Christ “abide in [His] word” (John 8:12; John 5:38; 1 John 2:14).

The conversation Jesus has now is still mostly aimed at the Pharisees, but it actually includes all of the hostile crowd which has now gathered.

The truth will set you free

The most enticing aspect of sin is the promise of freedom. Even from the first temptation, in the garden of Eden, man has assumed that defying God is a way to control his own destiny. In fact, the opposite is true. Nothing enslaves like sin—it corrupts our thinking, controls our actions, and destroys our peace. Worst of all, it separates us from God (Ephesians 2:12 – “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world”) and condemns us to an eternity of loneliness and shame (Matthew 8:12 -But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”).

Jesus, on the other hand, represents the truth—that is, Himself.

This is a theme Christ will return to often in His teachings. No other claims are true, and nothing but truth can really free us.

The truth can hurt or provide comfort

Comforting lies are never as beneficial as loving truth. Even when the truth is not what we want to hear, we can’t expect to make good decisions or correct choices when we’re operating under the control of a lie. As Christ stated earlier in this dialogue, He—alone—is the “light of the world,” the one and only means to apprehend truth. True freedom is found in the forgiveness of sin and service to God, and this is only found when we accept Jesus.

However, the information being discussed here is not the same kind of knowledge for which Jesus offered human evidence. Those were issues such as eyewitness to miracles and the content of the Scriptures. Here, as Jesus will respond next, only one person has ever actually seen the truths being claimed, so only that person can speak of them.

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Spiritual freedom

The “they” referred to is a collection of Jewish religious leaders and their followers. Jesus is debating them in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1–2). Prior to this moment, Jesus has claimed to be “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and therefore the only source of spiritual truth.

In the prior verses, Jesus reemphasised this point by claiming that those who “abide in [His] word” are those who know the truth, and are set free by that truth.

Later, He will clarify that those who have not accepted this truth are still slaves to sin (John 8:34). The response from the hostile crowd is not merely bizarre, it demonstrates a lack of insight.

The “freedom” Jesus has spoken of is spiritual: those who reject Christ are still enslaved to sin. This results in both eternal damnation and earthly consequences (Romans 1:26–27“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”). The people who remark back about their freedom seem to think that if they are not actual slaves, in a social sense, they have no need to be freed. In this way, their reaction proves that they do not understand the point Jesus is making.

It’s absurd

The absurd side to this argument is that it ignores both Israel’s history and her current situation! In the past, Israel was often subjugated to other nations—the entire book of Judges describes the nation’s cycles of sin, oppression, and rescue. At one point, the vast majority of the Jewish people were carried off into captivity (Daniel 1:1; Esther 2:5–6). And, most obviously, the nation of Israel had been enslaved by the nation of Egypt prior to the events of the book of Exodus. At the very moment these words were spoken, Israel was under the absolute control of the Roman Empire. It’s mind-boggling that they could claim to have “never been enslaved to anyone.” Then again, so is their inability to recognise their enslavement to sin.

We’re all slaves to sin

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Jesus uses the phrase translated as “truly, truly,” or “very truly.” This is from a doubled use of the Aramaic word amēn. Used at the end of a statement, as many cultures do in prayer even today, it suggests a hope that the words will be fulfilled, or that they are true. Used at the beginning of a statement, it is a claim to absolute, original, first-hand knowledge.

It’s important to realise what Christ is saying here, and what He is not saying. . Without question, Jesus is pointing out that sin is a mark of following darkness, instead of His light (1 John 1:5-10).

Sin, by definition, means choosing earthly, worldly things over heavenly things.

What Jesus is not saying is that all sin, at all times, should be interpreted to mean that the sinner has no relationship to Christ. The Greek of this phrase makes this nuance much easier to understand than any English translation. The exact phrasing used is pas ho poiōn ho hamartia doulos ho hamartia. Literally, this means “everyone who keeps practicing sin is a slave of sin.” In other words, Jesus is now speaking of a habitual, persistent sin. Those who are free in Christ may stumble into darkness, but they do not perpetually “walk” in it (John 8:12).

Enslaving nature of sin

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Jesus explains the enslaving nature of sin, as compared to the freedom He offers in salvation. He has already claimed to be the one and only source of spiritual truth (John 8:12), and that accepting this truth would rescue a person from sin and spiritual slavery (John 8:31–32). His noting that those who habitually practise sin are slaves to sin—these are not people who have been “set free.” He draws out the distinction between a household servant and an actual son of the house.

Slaves—from the Greek term doula–meaning a “bondservant”—were the equivalent of employees in the ancient world. They lived in the master’s house, and had a certain kind of relationship with the master. However, they were not actually part of the master’s family. Eventually, these bondservants would leave, or be dismissed. Only the actual children of the master had a permanent right to live in the home. The classic example of this is found in Genesis 21, where Ishmael, Abraham’s son through the servant Hagar, is dismissed from the home; his son Isaac, through his wife, remains. This, according to Jesus, applies to our spiritual relationship to God.

Specifically, Jesus is referring to the crowd’s earlier claim to being the children of Abraham. As Jesus will soon point out, His critics may be “in the house” of Abraham, but they are not really “children” of Abraham, since they are not spiritually part of God’s family.

Sooner or later, as with any other “slave,” they will find themselves cast out.

The son sets you free

John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” is one of the most inspirational phrases in all of Scripture. While sin enslaves us, true freedom is found only in Christ. Sin deceives by promising freedom when all it does is control and corrupt us. Those who don’t have faith in Christ are bound by sin (Romans 6:18), and subject not only to slavery but to spiritual death. Those who find Christ, the one and only source of spiritual truth (John 8:12), will be “truly” free.

The Father’s will

When Jesus claims to be doing the will of His “Father,” these critics responded by laying claim to their ancestry through Abraham. Christ’s reply is that biological fatherhood is not as important as spiritual fatherhood. Jesus has just used the example of a household servant, who is not a permanent part of a family, in contrast to a son, who is always guaranteed access to his father (John 4:15–16). This was an analogy to the difference between those who merely know “about” God—including the spiritually obstinate Pharisees—in contrast to those who truly know God because they know Christ.

Christ is the real, promised “son” of Abraham (Galatians 3:16).

So, the “real” children of Abraham are those who obey God, by accepting Christ (Galatians 3:26“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith”). This is the subtext behind the rest of Jesus’ dialogue with the crowd.

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 Spiritually the sons of God

Jesus’ analogy highlights the difference between a household servant and the master’s son. One is not a permanent part of the family, while the other is guaranteed a place with the master. The “true” sons of Abraham, then, are those who are spiritually the sons of God—a status only available to those who trust in Christ.

Jesus is aware that the religious leaders of Jerusalem, and their followers—called “the Jews” here in the gospel of John—are the descendants of Abraham. However, they are not really part of God’s family, since they don’t accept the message of God. That message includes Christ (John 6:29). Since they reject Jesus, they also reject God, and cannot claim to have His truth, or His light, inside them. Jesus’ challenge to their spiritual arrogance has led them, not only to reject Him, but to attempt to kill Him.

This leads Jesus to continue the analogy of “fatherhood,” by making a brutally condemning remark – Jesus will suggest that the people opposing Him are following the example of their spiritual father…who is neither God nor Abraham. Rather, according to Christ, their father is the Devil (John 8:44)!

Misinterpreted references

As the man given a promise by God, Abraham represents an anchor point for the Jewish understanding that they are God’s chosen people. In trying to dispute Jesus’ claims to spiritual truth, the religious leaders of Jerusalem have misinterpreted His references to His “father.” Their claim, in response, was to profess their descent from Abraham. As Jesus has pointed out, however, being a part of God’s family is driven by faith and spirit, not by genealogy. The “true” children of Abraham are those who obey God, which includes following His son, Jesus Christ. As Abraham followed God, so too will his spiritual children.

After claiming that the people opposing Him are not really sons of Abraham, Jesus now begins to refer to “your father,” meaning the spiritual father of these obstinate critics. While Jesus comes by the will of God and does what His Father wants Him to do, the people who seek to kill Him are acting in the example of their father. Jesus will subtly make this point several times before outright naming the true spiritual father of His enemies: the Devil.

Unsurprisingly, this escalation leads Jesus’ critics to resort to insults, accusations of insanity and another attempt on His life.

Insulting Jesus

The critics, seemingly confused about the meaning of this, once again state that they are children of Abraham. This repeated reference might also be a subtle insult to Jesus, by hinting at His scandalous birth. Later, this subtlety will be gone and the crowd will outright accuse Jesus of being an illegitimate child.

Here, Jesus takes a slightly different approach. In the prior verse, He spoke to the hostile crowd about “your father,” meaning someone other than Abraham or God. Here, He begins to point out that the actions of these critics prove their real spiritual state. They don’t do as Abraham did, so they are not Abraham’s children. Instead, their actions imitate the Devil, their true (spiritual) father.

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The twist

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

The conversation takes a nasty turn. Prior to this, the crowd’s attacks on Jesus have been somewhat formal. They have disputed His claims, condemned His words, and even tried to have Him arrested or killed. At this moment, though, they resort to outright personal insults. The statement “we were not born of sexual immorality” is a direct slur against Jesus, whose birth was a subject of some controversy. In short, the critics are smearing Jesus’ reputation by calling Him an illegitimate child.

Jesus’ response shows that He is not the passive, soft, weak-eyed cartoon character so often imagined. Instead, He forcefully repeats His claim that these men reject Him because they reject God—they are the spiritual children of Satan (John 8:44)! This turmoil will escalate until Jesus once again claims to be God incarnate, at which point the crowd will resort to violence.

Adamant resistance

Jesus’ critics have adamantly resisted His teachings. Since Abraham believed God, and these men do not, they are not part of Abraham’s spiritual family. Instead, they are the children of some other father. So far, their conduct has been marked by violence (John 5:18), deception (John 7:21–24), and hypocrisy (John 8:1–11). They reject the message of Christ because they do not want to hear it (John 8:43). They’ve even insulted Jesus’ family by insinuating that He is an illegitimate child—a “son of fornication” (John 8:41). Here, Jesus completes His statement about the true spiritual father of these critics, in spectacular fashion.

In no uncertain terms, Jesus states that these hateful enemies are, in fact, the spiritual children of the devil. He refers to murder, resistance to the truth, and lies—all of which were part of His earlier criticism of these men. This is not a soft, timid response on the part of Jesus. This is an open, overt rebuke delivered against religious leaders who are leading others to hell (Matthew 23:15). Contrary to the caricature of Jesus as a fragile mystic, passages such as these prove His ability to present righteous strength.

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Jesus sinless life

Jesus now brings out another major piece of evidence which supports His claims: His sinless life. If the religious leaders had a single incident which they could use to accuse Jesus of immorality, they would have already brought it out. This is why they resorted to cheap tricks and challenges—they had no other “dirt” to throw. Here, Jesus brings this up directly: none of these men can accuse Him of any sin!

This ties into the hypocrisy of their rejection. If Jesus is attested to by miracles, displays a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15), and speaks the truth, why would they not believe Him? The answer will be repeated: they are not of God and do not want to hear.

The men opposing Jesus sink even lower in their approach. The Jewish people saw Samaritans as despised half-breeds. This cultural hatred was a major reason why Jesus’ actions in the Samaritan town of Sychar were so controversial (John 4:1–9). Calling Jesus a “Samaritan” combined two insults into one: mocking His birth and accusing Him of heresy. Referring to someone as demon-possessed was, in that day, equivalent to calling them crazy. Unable to give reasonable answers to His teaching, those opposed to Jesus are resorting to petty insults. Unfortunately, this tactic is still common in debates today, where mocking and slurs take the place of actual discussion.

Jesus vs His critics

Jesus makes an important distinction here, which further shows the difference between Him and His critics. Everything Jesus did in His earthly ministry was intended to glorify God the Father. And, Jesus always pointed His mission, His words, and all of the credit for those accomplishments to God (John 8:50). The Pharisees, like other religious leaders of that era, were more interested in their own power and prestige than in the truth (Matthew 20:25; Luke 11:43; Matthew 23:6). Since Jesus’ message conflicts with what they want to believe, they refuse to understand it (John 7:17). This is why Jesus was comfortable in saying that they were, spiritually, the children of the devil, not of Abraham (John 8:44).

Recently, this same hostile crowd has resorted to petty insults. These critics have insulted Jesus’ birth and accused Him of being insane. This only goes to prove the point Jesus has made over and over: those who reject the One sent by God are also rejecting God (John 3:36). To dishonour Jesus is to spit in the face of God the Father.

God being the judge is brief and often overlooked. However, in the context of this conversation, it is extremely important. The men arguing with Jesus at this moment are beyond reason (Matthew 7:6) and have begun to use vile insults (John 8:41; 8:48). Jesus’ remark defers judgment for those actions to God (Romans 12:19). Instead of becoming flustered or enraged, Jesus shrugs those slurs off and leaves the consequences to God.

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One way to Salvation

Jesus’s words here are in contrast to those who do not “hear,” “walk,” or “believe” according to His message. Those who “keep His word,” in this context, are those who express saving faith in God’s Son. Those who reject Christ, however, are condemned to spiritual death.

The critics once again invoke the superiority of their ancestors. The question asked is phrased in such a way that it expects a “no” answer. This is like asking “you don’t think…do you?” in English. Jesus has claimed that those who follow God, by accepting His teachings, will not “taste death” (John 8:51). These men are challenging that by pointing out—in their confusion—that Abraham and the prophets died. Is Jesus claiming to bring a superior message?

Ironically, this is exactly what Jesus is doing, which is the main theme of the book of Hebrews.

However, in this case, Jesus is speaking of a consistent message from God. This is one that Abraham, and all the other prophets, were aware of. Jesus is about to follow the crucial question asked here—”who do you think you are?”—to a spectacular and outrageous conclusion.

These men, who hypocritically protect their own power instead of following the truth, do not know God.

 In other words, these men haven’t even encountered or learned about God, while Jesus has personal, direct knowledge of Him. The gulf between Christ’s understanding of God and their understanding is not just intellectual, and not just spiritual. The difference is fundamental: Jesus knows God because He is God. This is a point Jesus will make very directly in the closing of this passage.

Closing

Jesus clarifies by saying that Abraham’s faith looked forward to the Promised One—and Jesus is that One. Therefore, when Jesus claims to bring a message which frees men from death, that message includes those who came before Him, such as Abraham. In making this statement, Jesus implies that He witnessed Abraham’s life in a direct, personal way.

Jesus responds to disbelief from His critics. He indicates that Abraham looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, and “rejoiced” to see Jesus’ day finally arrive. His word choices, in the original Greek, imply a kind of knowledge that is inborn, innate, and natural. This led His critics to jeer: “you’re not even fifty, how can you have seen Abraham?”

Jesus answers with what some refer to as the “hidden ‘I AM'” statement, since it’s not typically counted among the others. Ironically, this is perhaps the most direct of all of Jesus’ uses of this phrase. The meaning is certainly not lost on His critics. When Jesus claims the title of “I AM,” everyone listening knows exactly what He means: that He is God (John 10:33). Those who suggest that Jesus never actually claimed to be God should consider the reaction of the religious leaders to His words, shown in the next verse. They are so enraged that they attempt to stone Jesus (John 8:59) right then and there.

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Posted by Stephen Baragwanath in The Gospel of John, 2 comments

Your inheritance is peace!

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Fix your eye on Jesus! Peace! Not on your difficulties!

In Jesus, we have received the greatest inheritance of all! The Kingdom of God is ours! The victory is ours! We are co hiers with Christ, adopted into Sonship with Him! Peace.

We are brothers and sisters with Christ!

 “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
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Stress is one of the most damaging factors to our physical, spiritual, and emotional health. Yet, when God created you and molded you with love, He didn’t destine you to live a life of permanent worry. He intended you to live a life filled with His peace! He has already given it to you, as the following Bible verse reminds us: “‘I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.’” (John 14:27)

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Scripture

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. “Come now; let us leave.
John 14:23‭-‬31

Now that is a gift! All other gifts pale in comparison! Be filled with the Holy Advocate!

I understand that this peace is so often threatened or disturbed by various situations: at work, in the midst of your family, or in your health. Or through your relationships or financial difficulties.

So you may be wondering…how is it possible to enjoy this peace that God gives you? To not be “troubled” or “afraid” in the face of these disturbing events? God has only one word to say to you: “Trust.”

He’s inviting you today to return to His arms that you may have left. To surrender yourself totally to Him, to rely on Him. How do we do this, practically speaking, when the bills pile up? When the pain is unbearable? When nothing is going right any more? By choosing to believe and continuing to trust Him, whatever happens, despite the circumstances, because:

  • His Word is true, His promises certain.
  • He loves you personally.
  • He is taking care of you.

Perhaps you can’t seem to completely let go, and the more you struggle, the more your peace melts like snow in the sun. So it’s time to renew your trust in the One who can do all things…

Let’s pray together that this peace given to you won’t be stolen from you!…“Father, I admit that life’s worries tend to steal my peace. Today, I choose to turn to You. I want to fix my eyes on You and not on my difficulties. You are and You have, Lord, the solution to all my problems. I trust in You. In Jesus’ name, amen.” 

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Remain in the shadow of the Most High!

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