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The Christadelphian | October 2008

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Fellowship in the Gospel: 2 – They shall become one
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “The truth shall make you free” (John 8:32) | Reg Carr
  • In the image of God 9 – Prophesying | Michael Edgecombe, Rebecca Lines, Russell Taylor
  • Challenges to Christian living A mind set apart | Sid Levett
  • Pause and ponder 22 – Married in the Lord, part 5: Older widows and widowers | Stephen Whitehouse
  • At the foot of the cross Part 2 – The King of the Jews | Dudley Fifield
  • Zion ploughed as a field 1 – Micah’s prophecy fulfilled by Hadrian | Gavin Ramsden
  • Acts of the Apostles 20 – Acts 19:1-27 | Paul Cresswell
  • The growing northern storm | Stephen Whitehouse
  • Thoughts on Romans 6 3 – “Present your members” | Graeme Tucker
  • Signs of the times “The age of irresponsibility”
  • Israel and their land Plane without an engine?
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Sunday morning

“The truth shall make you free” (John 8:32)

IN John 8, the Lord Jesus was in Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Tabernacles, about halfway through the final year of his ministry. As he taught from day to day in the temple courts, he was being increasingly (and more threateningly) opposed by the scribes and Pharisees (John 7:32; 8:3; 9:40; 11:53); but he was still exciting the enthusiasm of the common people, to the extent that “many believed on him” (John 8:30).

The Lord’s real purpose

Yet the crowds who listened to the Lord’s preaching were alarmingly fickle. Only a few months later, at the Feast of Passover, many of those who “heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37) would bay for his blood and shout for Pilate to crucify him (John 19:14,15). And even those “Jews which believed on him” (John 8:31) did not properly understand the real purpose of this miracle-worker from Galilee. They failed to grasp the true demands of the discipleship to which he was calling them, and by the end of this interchange with the Lord they became so angry that they picked up stones to throw at him (verse 59).

At this crucial stage in his ministry, Jesus was deliberately trying to ‘separate the wheat from the chaff’ from among those who claimed to be his followers. And he did this by challenging his hearers with a few realities which they needed urgently to recognise before they could gain the salvation from sin that his sacrificial death would ultimately bring.

What was needed for genuine discipleship?

Two things above all were needed – then as now – for genuine discipleship of Jesus. First, a wholehearted admission of personal sinfulness was required. The Lord’s teaching was not meant to be memorable sayings for the self-righteous to hear and ignore – it was designed to “call sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). And secondly, it would be necessary for the true disciples of the Lord to display a continuing personal commitment to understanding and applying the teachings of Jesus in daily living. And these two needs were so crucial that – at the risk of alienating his hearers completely – Jesus set about systematically explaining these things to them, beginning with the importance of faithfully following through the personal implications of his teaching.

“If ye continue in my word”, he explained, “then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31). In their original context, these were words designed to challenge those who were beginning to show some sympathy with his message. But even for those of us who have claimed Jesus as our Master for many years, this challenge is just as relevant now as it was for those who were experiencing the first flutterings of commitment to the Lord. ‘Patient continuance’ in the teachings of Jesus: that’s what his genuine followers needed to aim for, just as we do in the twenty-first century.

The Lord Jesus himself must have been deeply saddened to know that, for the most part, his immediate hearers would fail to respond favourably to his challenging words. Yet all the same, he made the effort to encourage them to try. For, if only they could persevere in their early commitment to his teachings, they would come to “know the truth”. And not only to know it, but also to be made free by it (verse 32).

Freedom from sin

Now freedom, of course, is a precious gift – perhaps the most valuable thing that men and women can have, next to life itself. So the Lord was clearly offering something really worth taking the trouble to know about. And the freedom that “the truth as it is in Jesus” brings is the most valuable kind of individual freedom that exists, because it means freedom from sin, and liberation from the bondage of eternal death which, but for the intervention of God, our natural slavery to sin inevitably entails for us all.

But in order for the saving truth of the Gospel of Jesus to be able to bring us such freedom, we must first recognise that we are enslaved to sin and that we need liberating from its power. And that was precisely what Jesus was so carefully trying to get his Jewish hearers to appreciate in John 8: “Continue in my word … know the truth … and the truth shall make you free” (verses 31,32). That was what they needed to understand (and follow through) if they wanted the spiritual freedom that Jesus was offering.

How frustrating, then, it must have been for Jesus when these would-be disciples interrupted his discourse with an outburst that betrayed their total misunderstanding of what he was saying: “We be Abraham’s seed”, they insisted, “and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” (verse 33). There was a touch of resentment in this response: their pride in their Jewishness was blinding them to the fact that Jesus was talking about spiritual rather than literal, physical slavery. They were Jews, and they were proud of it: how dare this man suggest that they had ever been slaves! How could he possibly offer to make them free?

Pride gets in the way

And, sadly, their exchanges with the Lord only went from bad to worse. If we read John 8:34-59 slowly and carefully, we can hardly fail to notice that the Lord was systematically misunderstood at every point in his teaching. There he was telling them “the truth”; and yet they persistently and stubbornly refused to “understand” or even “hear” it (verses 43-45). And their inability to accept his teaching was caused by their pride: they were unwilling to recognise that, naturally speaking, they were in bondage to sin. So Jesus was obliged to conclude, and to tell them plainly to their faces, that they were the children of the serpent in Eden, rather than the true spiritual descendants of Abraham (verses 44, 56-58). They were, and would remain, the slaves of sin: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning” (verse 44). And they proved him right by trying to stone him (verse 59).

“Never in bondage”?

There are many exhortations to be drawn from this unsavoury encounter. But perhaps the most remarkable feature of this whole incident is the fact that, in claiming that they had never been “in bondage to any man” (verse 33), those Jewish hearers of Jesus not only cut themselves off from the saving truth of the Lord’s teaching, but were also guilty of a staggering case of collective amnesia. “Never in bondage to any man”! Had they never heard of Pharaoh, of Shalmaneser, or of Nebuchadnezzar, who had enslaved their nation in the past? And how could they possibly have forgotten the presence, in the city of Jerusalem itself, of the soldiers of Rome, under whose iron rule they were groaning?

One thing, however, is very clear: they had completely forgotten one of the most persistent commandments of the God they claimed to worship. For the expression, “thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt” ran like a constant refrain throughout the Law of Moses which they claimed to follow. It was one of the principal lessons of the Year of Release (Deuteronomy 15:15), of the Feast of Passover (16:3), and of the Feast of Weeks (verse 12). In the rules governing their treatment of the poor also, of foreigners, of orphans and of widows, the children of Israel had been consistently taught by Moses that generosity towards such needy people should flow naturally from their continual remembrance that they themselves had once been saved by the mercy of God from slavery in Egypt (24:18,22). “Never in bondage” indeed! No wonder they were so unable to accept the teaching of Jesus when he called on them to recognise their natural slavery to sin.

Proud and empty self-glorification had taken the place of a humble and grateful acknowledgement of God’s power to bring freedom from bondage, whether physical or spiritual. They failed to keep their former helpless state in memory, and were therefore unable to receive the grace of God when it was offered to them in Jesus. They were Abraham’s children by genetic descent, no doubt; but they were certainly not the spiritual offspring of that great man of faith, who, as Jesus went on to tell them, had “rejoiced” in anticipation of his coming, two thousand years before it happened (John 8:56). They simply could not accept that Jesus was telling them “the truth”.

The dangers of pride and forgetfulness

We ought not, however, just to shake our heads complacently at the inability of those Jews who heard the truth of the Gospel in John 8, but failed to let it set them free from sin and death. Pride in our own privileged status as the children of God, and amnesia about our own natural bondage to sin, are ever-present dangers for us also, and ‘patient continuance’ in the teaching of Jesus does not come naturally to any of us.

In the Lord’s mercy to us, the breaking of bread is the divinely-provided and regular antidote for our forgetfulness and our waywardness, both actual and potential. For, if we keep the feast in a spirit of humility and gratitude, it will always provide the necessary reminder that we have been made free from sin through the saving work of the one who described himself as “the truth” (John 14:6). Let us therefore, as we eat the bread and drink the wine in memory of our Saviour, resolve anew to “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Galatians 5:1). For our liberty in Christ – our salvation from sin through him – is freedom indeed!

REG CARR

 

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