John 8:31-47 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
Our vacation was fast-paced, but good. Big fish, big families, lots of miles. It was good to go and it’s good to be back. Thanks to Mike and John for filling in, in various ways while I was out. It was encouraging to listen to John’s sermon and consider the parallels he was able to draw between his passage in Exodus and John 8. As you’ll soon notice, those parallels will continue this morning.
Genesis 1 and 2 record God’s very good creation and ordering of the universe. By Genesis 3, however, as John mentioned last week, mankind had already rejected God as God and His ordering. The result, as God promised it would be, was curse and death. Therefore, God said to the serpent who’d tempted Adam and Eve to sin,
Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Embedded in this single verse are what’s been called “the first gospel” and the promise of a great war between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman. The “first gospel” is the promise that one of Eve’s offspring would eventually, fatally stomp on the head of the serpent, even at great cost to Himself. This was fulfilled at the cross of Jesus. And the great war has been raging ever since those words were spoken by God in the garden. The victory of the woman’s offspring, Jesus, was decisively won at the cross, but the battle has continued and will continue until Jesus returns.
One of the keys to understanding the OT specifically, and the Bible generally, is in recognizing that in large measure, the point of the Bible is to follow and describe both of those things; the line of the serpent-stomper from Eve to Jesus, and the nature and state of the war between their offspring. In other words, the Bible is a history of the line of the promised serpent-crusher and the battle between His people and His enemies.
And along those lines, one of the keys to understanding our passage for this morning is in recognizing that both of those things are at its heart. By Genesis 12 we find out that of all the people on earth, the serpent-stomper would come from the line of a man named Abraham. In other words, out of all of Eve’s offspring, God chose Abraham’s family to be His special people. They would be His special people in that God would reveal Himself to them in special ways for the good of the world, and in that the promised Deliverer would one day come from a descendent of Abraham. That’s why so much of our text centers around a discussion on the children of Abraham (the Jews); because God promised that his offspring would be on the winning side of the war, because one of Abraham’s offspring would lead the rest to victory over the serpent’s army.
What we have in our passage for this morning, then, is a glimpse of this battle. The seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent squared off. Given what I’ve just shared with you, the facts that the battle continued and that the Jews were a part of it should not surprise us. What is surprising, and even shocking, is that the Promised Deliverer had finally come and that the battle the battle lines weren’t what any of the Jews thought they would be.
In these few verses, Jesus described in plain language the marks of those on the side of the Promised Redeemer (Him) and those on the side of the soon-to-be-defeated serpent. He also sorted those present into their respective camps in ways they never expected. The main takeaway for us is to consider the marks, consider which side they indicate we’re on, and all in order that we might change our allegiance to Jesus or grow in our allegiance to Him.
To those ends, from a high level, I’ll walk us through each of the contrasts described in this passage (between those aligned with the seed of the woman and those aligned with the seed of the serpent). We’ll then take a closer look at three of the key distinctions—what they hear/understand, what they love, and what they do.
CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM OR THE DEVIL?
Before we look at the contrasts Jesus provided in these verses, I need to make sure we’re all on the same page on a couple of things. While the ultimate battle is between the seed of the woman (Jesus) and the seed of the serpent (the devil), the entire world—every single person on it—is aligned with one or the other. Every one of us represents either the woman or the snake. There are no neutral parties.
What’s more, not only are we aligned with one or the other, we are all, always (whether we know it or not) participants in the war—for goodness or evil, for light or darkness, for truth or lies, for life or death, for righteousness or sin. Again, a big part of what Jesus did here was to clearly define the marks of those on each side and make sure everyone who heard Him knew which side they were on and fighting for.
Those things set us up well to listen to and consider carefully the true marks of each side, in order that we might prayerfully consider our own hearts. What is it, then, that distinguishes the true children of Abraham from the imposters who, unknowingly, were on the side of the serpent? Consider with me, these twelve contrasting marks.
- The children of Abraham abide in Jesus’ word, while Jesus’ words find no place in the lives of the children of the devil (vs.31, 37).
- Likewise, the children of Abraham abide in Jesus word, while the children of the devil abide in the words of men (vs.31, 38).
- The children of Abraham know the truth, but the children of the devil know only lies (vs.32).
- The children of Abraham have been freed, while the children of the devil remain enslaved to sin (vs.32-34).
- The children of Abraham remain in the house of God forever, but the children of the devil will be forced to leave (v.35).
- The children of Abraham listen to, believe, and follow Jesus, while the children of the devil seek to kill Him (vs.37, 44).
- The children of Abraham do what Abraham did, while the children of the devil do what the devil does (vs.39-41).
- The children of Abraham love Jesus, and the children of the devil want to kill Him (vs.40-42).
- The children of Abraham know that Jesus was sent by and speaks for the Father, while the children of the devil remain blinded to these truths (v.42).
- Likewise, the children of Abraham hear the words of God, while the children of the devil do not (v.47).
- The children of Abraham understand Jesus’ words and speak trut, but the children of the devil are confused and speak only lies (vs.43-44).
- And the children of Abraham acknowledge the righteousness of Jesus, while the children of the devil accuse Jesus of sin (v.46).
Again, the two main things I wanted to help you see with this high-level overview are the simple facts that (1) there was a good deal of confusion concerning what it meant to be a child of Abraham among those Jesus addressed, and (2) the contrast between the true children of Abraham and the children of the devil couldn’t be any starker.
THREE KEY DISTINCTIONS
Having considered this from up high, then, I’d like to dive down and look more closely at the three key categories the contrasts fall into. In other words, when we combine all that Jesus said, we see that three things in particular define the distinction between the children of Abraham and the children of the devil: 1) What they hear/understand, 2) What they love, and 3) What they do.
The first of the three main distinctions Jesus made between the true children of Abraham (God, Eve) and the children of the devil (the serpent) is in what they hear and understand. The two different sets of offspring listen to and understand two completely different voices.
This shows up first (and perhaps clearest) in vs.31-32. Since I preached on vs.31-36 two weeks ago, I’ll only briefly touch on it.
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The main idea here is that children of Abraham abide (remain, continue, stay, reside) in Jesus’ word. When Jesus speaks, the true children of Abraham listen and understand. Abraham’s children are marked by an eagerness to hear Jesus teach and clarity when He does. The implication (which will become explicit soon) is that the opposite is true for the children of the devil. Jesus word is an awkward and unpleasant sound (like country music) for those who do not belong to God. It is confusing and distracting. It is angering and annoying. This is a sharp contrast indeed.
We see this same idea in vs.37-38. The children of Abraham and the children of the devil hear/understand things very differently.
37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
The first thing to grasp here is that the word Jesus used here (“offspring”) is different than the word He used in v.39 (“children”). Far from a contradiction, then, Jesus was making an important distinction. It is one thing to be of the physical lineage of Abraham (“of his seed” or “his offspring”) and another to be his true child. Jesus acknowledged that His audience was certainly comprised of the former, but few were of the later.
The next thing to see is more explicit in the text. Largely because of what we saw in 31-32, and in tragically certain terms, not only do the children of the devil not want to hear Jesus’ word, and not only does it make little/no sense to them, and not only does it anger them, but it truly “finds no place in” them. There is no place for them to put Jesus’ actual teaching in their thinking. It’s like a square circle or the smell of seven for us. For the children of the devil, Jesus’ words simply find no purchase in their minds or hearts.
This was my exact experience for the first 18 years of my life. The words of Jesus were around me on a regular basis, but none of them made any sense at all to me. I had some level of intellectual comprehension, but it was like there was some sort of impenetrable wall around my brain that kept me from being able to actually understand.
This is one of the most devastating critiques imaginable. If Jesus word is the one and only true source of life, goodness, beauty, and salvation, it’s one kind of tragedy to be marked by ignorance of Jesus’ word, another to be marked by confusion by it, and another still to be marked by rejection of it. Those are all tragic in their own ways. But far more tragic still is the idea that the words of life simply cannot exist in the children of the evil one, that they have no place, that they cannot fit, that they are entirely incompatible.
For that reason, Jesus concluded, “43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” Saying, “you cannot bear to hear my word” is the same as saying that His word had not place in them. And, therefore, whenever Jesus spoke, the children of the devil (the serpent) could not understand.
In more explicit terms still, Jesus named what He’d previously implied, “44 You are of your father the devil” and among his chief characteristics is the fact that “[he] does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Again, then, the children of the serpent, the children of the devil, those who are mere physical descendants of Abraham, listen only to their father, the devil, and therein hear only lies and deceit. How tragic is it that in this great war, the enemies of God give themselves to hearing only lies and that only lies make sense?
As if to put a giant exclamation mark in it, Jesus added, “45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” Again, then, it is precisely because Jesus told the truth that the children of the serpent couldn’t believe. We need to be shocked that in spite of the fact that Jesus’ words came directly from the Father (the very Father the Jews claim to believe in and belong to), they were entirely foreign, and utterly frustrating to those whose father was the devil.
In the end, one of the great dividing lines between the children of the woman and the children of the serpent is the simple fact that “47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” And, therefore, one of the primary reasons Jesus’ words fell on deaf ears was that His hearers were “not of God.”
All of this forces us to ask ourselves what we are primarily listening to and what makes the most sense to us. If you were to take an inventory of everything you believe, how much of it are you able to trace straight back to the Bible? And how much of a biblical perspective shapes your beliefs? In other words, how much of what you believe comes from the Bible and how much of the Bible determines what you believe?
The second main category of distinction made by Jesus between the true children of Abraham and the children of the devil was their greatest love.
The most important, the greatest commandment of all was given to Abraham’s children in Deuteronomy 6:5.
5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Just as they were certain they were Abraham’s children, there’s no doubt that Jesus’ hearers believed they loved God above all. There was scarcely a corner of their lives that didn’t contain some type of reminder of the millennia old stories and practices and beliefs of their ancestors. Stories, practices, and beliefs that were rooted in God’s choosing them to be His special people. They’d gained and given spectacularly by aligning themselves with God. Did they love Him? Of course!
But, “42 Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me…’”
Jesus’ point was simple. Whatever claim His hearers might make to love God was entirely disproven by their rejection of Him. Whether they didn’t love God at all, mistakenly loved something they’d mislabeled as God, only loved the idea of God, or loved nothing more than some small aspect of God, the fact that they rejected Jesus proved that they lacked any genuine Deuteronomy 6:5 love.
Jesus not only stated this. He also explained it. “42 …for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.” In other words, Jesus said, if your love for God was real—if it was real love and God you really loved—you would recognize Him in Me and rejoice that He sent Me. God sent me to bless you. I’ve come to reveal more of the Father to you, to reveal more of His will, and to give my life as a ransom for your sins according to His design. Instead of loving Me for it, though, you are filled with hatred.
We see this fairly often today, don’t we, Grace? All around us people (including us) create something in their minds, call it “God,” and believe they believe in God. Some conjure a “god” to hate, but many one to admire and love. You certainly don’t need to have advanced degrees in the Bible to know and love God, but you do need to know true things about God. And the center of what it means to know and love God is to receive Jesus as God in the flesh, the Lord and Savior of the world. You cannot have God, much less love God, if you do not have Jesus.
And so, again, that genuine love for Jesus is a key mark for the true children of God, calls us to consider our highest love. What is it that you love most? What is it that you most desire? What is it that you’ve primarily given yourself to? Where it is Jesus in increasing measure, this passage helps us to see that we are true children of the promise, on the side of the offspring of Eve and on the side of God’s light, life, and victory.
The third and final category that we’ll consider is that of doing. The children of Abraham and the children of the devil hear, understand, love, and, therefore, do different things. In these few verses, Jesus mainly focused on what the children of the devil do. It probably goes without saying that the children of Abraham are marked by not doing these things.
As we saw the last time we were in John (8:34), the children of the devil do, practice, and obey sin. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” In our passage today, Jesus expanded on the nature and kinds of sin His hearers were engaged in.
And to that end, Jesus came out swinging. Rather than start with smaller sins, in v.37 He said, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.” The children of the devil do murder. To make sure this wasn’t misunderstood, and to expand on it, in v.44 Jesus said, they were children of the devil who “was a murderer from the beginning.” The children of the devil murder because that’s what the devil has done from the beginning. He killed Adam and Eve spiritually in leading them into temptation. And then within a few years, he led one of their sons (Cain) to commit the first physical murder against his own brother (Able). In addition to their murderous hearts (1 John 3:15), surely some of the people present in this passage were among those in the crowds who participated in Jesus’ murder just six months later.
More than that, though, Jesus told his audience, that their every desire, and therefore, their every action, came from their father, the devil. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” Although they believed themselves to want the things of God, their desires were the devil’s desires. And, therefore, although they believed themselves to be doing the works of God, their actions were the devil’s actions. Jesus explained that was why they sought to kill Him (v.40), because they were “doing the works your father did” (v.41). In a neat summary, Jesus said, “38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
Positively, Jesus taught that the true children of Abraham do “the works Abraham did” (39). Above all, Abraham did the work of believing in God. And that, not obedience to the law, was what God counted as righteous (Romans 4:3). To be a true child of Abraham, then, is, above all, to do the work of believing God in everything, and especially that He sent Jesus to be an example, teach truth, die in our place, and rule the world in glory.
The main point of all of this is, in large measure, the simple fact that not all of Abraham’s physical descendents are among his true children. It is Jesus’ teaching in passages like this one that led the Apostle Paul to write,
Romans 2:28-29 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly…
The lines were drawn in places very different than the Jews imagined. And the sides were sorted in ways very different than the Jews imagined. We ought, therefore, to carefully consider these things in our own lives. It is a high priority of John to help his readers to do just that as he recorded story after story of those who didn’t.
It seems good to conclude with something we all ought to be asking yet again. How do we come to the place where we are marked by hearing, loving, and doing the things Jesus calls us to in this passage? How do we get from Jesus’ word having no place in us to longing to hear it and being transformed by our understanding of it? How do we move from being enemies of God to loving Him with all we have? And how do we move from doing the works of the devil to doing works of righteousness prepared for us by God?
Jesus does not give us the answer in this passage, but it’s a good time to remind us of what He’s already said. In order for this transformation to happen in us, in order for us not to remain like those standing in front of Jesus confused, angry, hateful, and rebellious…
3:3 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
6:37 “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
6:45 “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”
6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”
6:65 “I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
The simple fact is that the ability to hear, understand, love, and obey Jesus is a gift from God. Since we are all born dead in sin, and since one mark of sin-death is spiritual blindness, we need God to open our eyes for us to behold the wonderful things of God in Jesus Christ. Let’s take a moment to ask God to do and continue to do that in us today in the certain knowledge that He will for all who ask in faith.