This week in Argentina a train entered a station going too fast and slammed into a barrier, injuring hundreds of people, killing at least 50. The engineer might have believed everything was fine until disaster struck, by then, for some, it was too late. If a member of that crew had realized they were approaching the station too fast it would have been criminal for him to not say something to avert the disaster. Who wouldn’t try to warn someone who was in such danger? Some were probably reading the newspaper, planning their day, and then their world exploded around them in shattered glass and twisted steel. If we know that every person we meet is on a train headed for disaster, and that with each second the end of the line is that much closer, what should we do?
Most people don’t want us disturbing them with our message, it might be true for us, but they want to believe something else. It’s no big surprise to say that we live in a world that that despises exclusivistic religious views and largely rejects the idea that there are absolutes of truth, absolutes of right and wrong. The world prizes tolerance, an “I’m ok, your ok” attitude, “to each his own,” etc. (That is, as long as you are not so “ignorant” as to hold to biblical Christianity!) Many people effectively say with Pilate, “What is truth? You believe your way, I’ll believe mine, and we’ll agree to disagree.” We know the truth, the world is on a train racing toward disaster, there is hope, but there is only one hope, and that is through faith in Jesus. The world would say, that’s your belief, that’s your God, my god isn’t like that. The problem is a god you make up in your own mind and create in your own image can’t do anything for you.
The Context: We looked last week in detail at Jesus’ declaration in 8:12, “I AM the Light of the World, he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” As the scene continues we’ll see the idea: Either we believe the truth that Jesus is God incarnate and trust the provision that He has made for our salvation, or we will reap the consequences of our unbelief.
I. How will you respond to the Truth? The Testimony of the Father and the Son (13-20). Jesus only spoke the truth, but He is attacked by the Jewish leadership. Where do you get authority to speak like this?
“The Pharisees therefore said to Him, "You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true." 14 Jesus answered and said to them, "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going” (John 8:13-14).Jesus reaffirms that he speaks the truth and he knows the truth. He knows where he came from and where he is going. They, on the other hand, are still in darkness; they have no idea who He is.
"You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one” (8:15). Their judgment is by merely human standards, external, based on their limited (and prejudiced) perceptions. They don’t see the big picture. As missionaries we had to travel a lot by airplane as many of you have. Those long overnight flights, you can fall asleep (sometimes!)… when it is really smooth, except for the noise of the engines, you can almost forget you are moving… More than once I woke up after dozing off and I was completely confused, for a few seconds not knowing where I was! Has that ever happened to you? That doesn’t change the truth that you are in machine traveling 7 miles in the air at over 600 mph. You can deny it, you can choose not to believe it, but it doesn’t change the facts. Jesus is the truth, and He speaks the truth—that doesn’t change whether or not you believe it.
In v.16 Jesus appeals to his unity with the Father: “…the judgment is not mine alone, but I and the Father who sent me…” The wording here emphasizes the unity between the Father and the Son. Jesus is One with the Father. He’ll say it again in v. 19, and then explicitly in 14:7, if you have seen Him, you’ve seen the Father, if you know Jesus, you know the Father. We’re getting a hint of the unity within the Godhead. John said it in the first chapter, v. 18, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”
In 8:17 He points to “their Law” that affirms the reliability of a corroborating witness. I don’t think that Jesus is minimizing the importance of the Law as the Word of God, but He is putting himself in a different category than his accusers. After all, every word of Scripture is “God breathed,” and Jesus is God! The Law they claim to believe and follow (which was “breathed out” by Jesus himself) says two witnesses confirm a matter – Jesus says, here are two: Me and my Father!
“Where is your father?” They are again thinking at another level, they don’t understand who Jesus is and what He is saying: that shows something about their hearts. John 8:19 says "You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also." Its rather similar to what Jesus says later to Philip, “Have I been so long with you and still you don’t know me? He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Either we believe the truth that Jesus is God incarnate and trust the provision that He has made for our salvation, or we will reap the consequences of our unbelief.
II. The Consequence of Unbelief is Eternal Judgment (21-29). Our choices always bring with them consequences. If you’ve been reading with us through the Bible (and its not too late to start!) we’ve been in Numbers for a number of days… this week we saw the Jews accept the majority report of the spies at Kadesh Barnea, and they reaped the consequences—forty years in the wilderness! Not only that, though God would bring the nation into the Land as promised, that whole generation, all the adults that left Egypt except for Joshua and Caleb, would die in the Desert. The people chose to believe the majority report and were ready to stone Joshua and Caleb, they chose not to trust God, and they reaped the consequences of that choice. We see here the Evidence of Unbelief in the Jews (i.e. especially the Jewish leadership).
In vv.21-22 we see that their unbelief is evidenced by their lack of understanding of his words. We’ve repeatedly seen this theme in John, the failure of the leaders especially to understand what Jesus was saying. There is a spiritual aspect of “hearing” the Word of God. It means understanding the words, discerning the meaning, and believing that it is true. Remember the word of Paul to the Corinthians: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor 2:14).
What’s more, in v.23 it’s evident that their unbelief is shown by their worldly perspective. They will die in their sins since they are focused on the world. Some people focus their lives and living exclusively on things that don’t really matter, things that are passing away… John warned his readers in his first letter,
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).Think about that. I believe that it was of this passage that Lincoln said: “How chastening in the hour of pride, how consoling in the hour of affliction!” Isn’t that true?
Vv.24-27 gets to the heart of the Matter: They don’t know Jesus. Most of them had no idea, they didn’t know who Jesus was.
- Either they believe the truth about Him, or they are lost and will one day “die in their sins.” That is as true today as it was then. That is a horrible thought—to stand one day before His Holiness, guilty, naked, condemned. Our sinfulness exposed, no hope.
-The only means of avoiding judgment is stated: “…if you do not believe that I AM…” It’s not enough to consider Jesus a great moral teacher or even a prophet from God. It won’t do to call him the first and greatest of God’s creation as some cults would. He is the great I AM. He is God incarnate (v.28 he says it again, echoing 8:12, and then in 8:58 there is no way to avoid what He is saying!).
Jesus looks ahead to the cross (and resurrection) in v.28, then finally some will have their eyes opened, understand and believe: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM…” This phrase “lifted up” isn’t numerous in John, but it occurs at import moments in the story (see also 3:14,15; 12:32,34). It has the double sense of “lifting up” physically onto the cross in crucifixion, but also exaltation, as Jesus is vindicated in the fulfillment of scripture as the promised Messiah. “Son of Man” is one of his own favorite self designations which is an allusion to Daniel 7:13 and the coming in glory of the Son. Finally, as the plan unfolds according to the predetermined purpose and foreknowledge of God, the hearts of his sheep will be opened to the truth. Either we believe the truth that Jesus is God incarnate and trust the provision that He has made for our salvation, or we will reap the consequences of our unbelief.
III. Good News: Some will hear and believe (30). “As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.” It’s not certain that all of these had genuine saving faith (see v.31!), but they at least professed to believe that He was who he claimed to be. Some encouragement we can take away from this is that some will hear and believe. Its still true that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.
-Each of us have people around us that we have opportunity to share our faith with. Family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues in the work place. Are you frustrated by a lack of response? Are you tired of humiliating put downs? Don’t give up. Remember what is at stake. Whether or not they know it, they are on a train rushing into the station and time is short. If you try to warn them and are rejected, that hurts, but for them eternity is at stake. So persist. We’ve heard testimonies from within our own church family of some who it seemed would never believe, finally, after years of hearing the testimony of someone around them, had their heart softened and believed.
In the near context (chapter 7) we heard the Jewish leadership scoff at the idea of believing in Jesus, he was only fooling some of the mindless multitude, none of the Pharisees have believed, had they? And then, at the end of Chapter 7, Nicodemus spoke up, the one who had come to Jesus by night in John 3, calls on his brothers to at least give him a hearing. And then in Chapter 19, after the crucifixion, he goes with Joseph of Arimithea, and helps him give Jesus a decent burial. Not many, but even some of the Pharisees came to believe the One who is the Truth.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Either we believe the truth that Jesus is God incarnate and trust the provision that He has made for our salvation, or we will reap the consequences of our unbelief.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Friend, if you are here today, you could be gone tomorrow. What then? Are you ready? Are you certain? The warning has been given. There is no excuse. Believer, what does this say about the urgency of our mission? Every person we cross paths with—every human on the face of this planet—is facing eternity. Will you be the “watchman” who shouts a warning of impending disaster, and points them to the Light of Life? Jesus came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly. He came not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. We have been entrusted with the Word of Life. We’ve been called to be the body of Christ in the world. We need to reflect the Light of the world in our sphere of influence.
Father we thank you for your amazing Grace, that you showed us your love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Help us Lord, to see the world through your eyes, and to always be ready to give a reason for the Hope that is in us. Amen.