Identity is a pretty popular topic these days. We seem to want to go to some pretty amazing lengths to determine who we are and what drives us, what is it exactly that makes us tick. Some people like personality profiling and think that getting to the core of themselves using a myriad of questions and feelings will provide some ultimate insights that they can then use as a foundation or a guide to their thought processes. That kind of approach can definitely be beneficial and enlightening but might also become a kind of crutch or box that everything has to fit into neatly. Sadly, life is hardly neat or conformist most of the time.
Other people think knowing about their zodiac sign grants them special insight into the kind of person that they are or gives credence to their attitudes and actions. There are people that measure their entire life by the positioning of the stars, moon, and planets and think that molding their approach to living to these things will give them purpose. It ends up requiring a lot of faith in its own right, wouldn’t you say? Ultimately, the position of the stars in the sky at the time of your birth doesn’t really have any effect on your life at all.
What do these things have in common? People want to know about themselves intimately, even when they try so hard to make it seem otherwise. People also want to know about others in relation to their signs or personality measures as it gives them a way to approach and interact with them on that level…and in some cases a means to judge and avoid them if they happen to fall into a sign or type they don’t like or believe they can’t “mesh” with properly. You know what it doesn’t do? It doesn’t really speak to you actually getting to know someone and can give you a set of preconceived ideas based on a box that sign or type should be contained by.
What we’re really going to dig into tonight isn’t about zodiacs or personality profiling, but it is about Identity. Being able to discover and know our true identity IS important. It’s something that we have a deep internal need to satisfy and why the topic is researched ad nauseum in every facet imaginable. People are hardwired to know their individual identity and to share in a group identity; when we lack in either of these then we set out to determine the best way to find satisfaction for the need. We also want to know the identity of those we interact with in order to optimize our time together (or minimize that time altogether if the identities clash).
We may even want to proclaim someone’s perceived identity in effort to expose or discredit them. An example of this happens in the passage we’re going to tackle in John chapter 8. Jesus is teaching in the temple in Jerusalem and the Pharisees are out to discredit and disprove Him, or more if the situation presents itself.
A little bit of context here. Jesus has gone up for the Feast of Tabernacles and has been teaching in the Temple. He’s caused a bit of a stir among the people and the Pharisees and religious leaders have been more open about their disdain for Him. Some of the people are beginning to believe Him and follow after Him, while others are confused and trying to figure out exactly who He is. Is He a prophet or a new Rabbi? People definitely thought He was a prophet, and He was considered a Rabbi by His followers, but He wasn’t in the kind of system they were used to and He definitely wasn’t acting like their other teachers and leaders. Was He the Messiah? A dangerous question as the Pharisees and other leaders were trying hard to squelch this idea. They even engineered an entire event of the woman caught in adultery in an attempt to trap Jesus. (I’m choosing to move past that part of the chapter as it’s really a whole message by itself). Jesus is not going to be caught in their game and He isn’t going to be deterred from the path the Father has set Him on, and He wisely…mercifully…resolves that situation and goes back to teaching, which He was already doing in the Temple when they interrupted Him with their attempt at a trap.
Read John 8:12-20
One of the things that will become clear as we go through this passage: Jesus is comfortable and certain in His identity. He is not questioning who He is or wondering what He should be doing. He stands firm that He is about His Father’s business, and this is something that John repeatedly stresses throughout his gospel account. Jesus is not tooting His own horn or promoting Himself but is calling out that He is doing the work He hears from the Father.
He calls Himself the light of the world, which would have been a picture filled with meaning on the heels of the recent Feast of Tabernacles. Light is an important symbol of the Feast, and there are many emblems and ceremonies remembering the pillar of fire that gave light during the Exodus. This is a stark contrast to the darkness being presented by those that oppose Him. The light connection is also an allusion to the Word of God being referenced as Light (Psalm 119:105, Psalm 43:3), and since Jesus IS the Word (John 1:1) it would make sense that He is the Light as well.
The Pharisees seize upon this statement and angle their approach to counter His witness. You can’t be your own witness; there must be at least two men to validate the story. They reason that, since it’s just Him, His witness of Himself is invalid. Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the light of the world but they were unable to see it because they were blind to it, not because His light failed to shine. Their tactic here was to discredit Him. If they couldn’t yet outright kill Him, they wanted to convince the people that Jesus was a fraudulent charlatan.
Jesus goes on to explain that, while normal circumstances would fall under their point of needing additional witnesses, Jesus is secure in the knowledge of His Identity and purpose – He knows where He came from and where He is going. He has a view from eternity that they cannot fathom and that, as He is in the Father who testifies of Him, His testimony is valid. He has to testify of Himself, there is no one else qualified to give such testimony on the nature of Him or His work! He cites the reasoning between Himself and the religious leaders in matters of judgement and the underlying motive behind it.
The Pharisees are not gaining ground so they result to good old-fashioned slander and mudslinging – favorite tools in the hands of career politicians. By asking “where is your father?” they were not exactly being genuine in their desire to know more about Him but implying that they thought He was a bastard. This was a definite slur intended as an insult. Hmm…people insulting their rivals in a kind of political arena…nothing much has changed there sadly.
Jesus counters this calmly and simply states that they don’t know Him or His Father at all. The Pharisees are not dumb. These were learned men that absolutely prided themselves on their knowledge of God and the Law and they would have been connecting the dots to Jesus’ claim in some fashion but He pulls that secure rug of knowledge out from under them – You don’t know anything about God at all. All of this is still happening in the very public arena of the Temple and yet no one is moving to restrain Him or arrest Him for His words. It was not yet the time for that to occur.
Read John 8:21-30
Jesus again identifies and confronts their ignorance. “I’m going to be going away, and you’ll not be able to find me or come where I am and you’ll die in your sins.” It isn’t the turning away of honest seekers trying to make sense of what He means, He’s confronting their willful ignorance and disobedience. Jesus would be glorified and return to the right hand of the Father, and on their present course the Jewish leaders and Pharisees were bound in a different direction. They simply could not follow Him on their chosen path.
They toss out another insult in their question of suicide. To the Jews of His time, and to many religious people now, suicide was thought to be unpardonable and that there was a place in the lowest part of hell reserved for those that committed the act. We can certainly have a discussion another time on what feel the ramifications of suicide are (I do not think it’s the “unpardonable sin” as some religious people do), but I can tell you something that a person struggling with suicidal or deep depressive thoughts DOESN’T need to hear: that taking your life is a terrible sin and you’re doomed to hell if you do it.
Jesus explains further and calls them out – I’m from above, you below. You’re of the world, I’m not. He makes it even more plain – If you don’t believe that I AM…you will die in your sins. He is making a clear declaration that He is the Messiah and one with the Father and if they don’t accept it then the final end of their road isn’t pleasant or what they’re hoping for.
This prompts the further question “Who are You?!” and is the third hostile question that they have put to Jesus in this encounter. This was not an honest genuine question from people seeking to better understand what they’re hearing. This is another attempt to glean something from Jesus that they can use to entrap him. Jesus doesn’t miss a beat; “Just who I’ve been telling you I am from the beginning.” This is not a new approach for Him. He’s covering it all for them again and saying I am the Son of the Most High, I and the Father are one. Jesus is telling them that He is doing the work of the Father and that He is doing the work God set before Him to complete. Those are the words He speaks – what He hears from the Father. He was laying out the fact that, in opposing Him and the work He is doing, they are opposing God whom they claim to represent.
John alludes to the fact that they’re not fully getting it, and Jesus goes on to say that when He (the Son of Man) is lifted up they will know that He Is. Jesus is making an allusion to the work of Moses lifting the bronze serpent in the desert and the people being saved; He is also foretelling the manner of His death and His obedience to the work God has set before Him. He again tells them that He and the Father are one and unified and many of the people (not necessarily the leaders) believe in His words.
Read John 8:31-36
Jesus can see that People are beginning to believe and He addresses them directly – abide in My word and you are My disciples and you will know the truth that will make you free. He’s urging them from acknowledgement of believing what He says to acting on that belief – trusting in Him by following the Word. The result of this trust, abiding in His Word, is true freedom that only the Son can provide.
“There is nothing like the freedom we can have in Jesus. No money can buy it, no status can obtain it, no works can earn it, and nothing can match it. It is tragic that not every Christian experiences this freedom, which can never be found except by abiding in God’s word and being Jesus’ disciple.” – David Guzik
Of course, the Pharisees aren’t having this. “We’re descendants of Abraham and have never been in bondage to anyone! How can you say we’ll be made free?” This is a remarkably questionable statement that shows a complete lack of thought on their part. Never been in bondage to anyone? What about the Egyptians (twice), Philistines, Babylonians, Persians, Syrians, Greeks, and Romans? Are those just vacations from leadership? Misunderstandings? Never been in bondage? Really?! Ryle said that “the power of self-deception in the unconverted man is infinite.” I would wager that it has a pretty strong power over the converted too but that’s a whole different message.
Jesus elaborates that anyone who sins is a slave to sin. He’s not talking about a one time or occasional slip up, the language used indicates a habitual and continual lifestyle of sin, that’s what enslaves you. Slaves have no power or place in the household other than to perform the tasks set before them, often under penalty of abusive punishment. You can’t free yourself from it, but if the Son frees you and elevates you to a status in the family you are truly made free. That’s what Jesus is offering. “Let Me release you from this life of bondage and enforced servitude and make you part of My family. Let Me give you a seat at the table.”
Read John 8:37-47
Jesus doesn’t dispute their genetic heritage. They’re absolutely descendants of Abraham. What He is disputing is their spiritual parentage. They are not spiritual children of Abraham, if they were they would be acting accordingly and not be seeking to kill Him. The fact that they were rejecting the word of Jesus, and Jesus as the Word, reflects that they are not the spiritual children of Abraham and that God is not their Father. He plainly states that He listens to what His Father says and acts according to what He hears and then tells them that they do the same with their actual father.
They insult Jesus for a fourth time – “We were not born of fornication.” It’s thrown out as if to say, “we know who our fathers are, but can’t really say as much for you, you bastard.” They’re really trying to cut Him deep with that. (interestingly enough, John doesn’t record the events surrounding Jesus’ birth but there are allusions of it happening under mysterious circumstances. Since his gospel came later, he probably felt it had already been well founded in the other three.)
Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He tells them if they really were children of God then they would love Him and recognize Him because He came from God and is one with the Father. They can’t understand Him because they’re not able to listen and hear His word. All of their prejudice, jealousies, and antagonistic actions made them deaf to Him.
Jesus then goes on to point out their true father – the devil. In their desire to kill Him they are acting in accordance with his desires as he was a liar and a murder from the word go. He lies because he created the language of it – it is his nature. They’ve seen and heard him and they are acting out accordingly. Jesus asks them to plainly to point out His sin – He challenges them to do it! Since they can’t, why don’t they believe Him? If they were of God then they would hear His words. Since they do not, they are not of God as they claim.
Read John 8:48-59
That’s now five insults. Not only are they calling him a half-breed mongrel – the Jews held the Samaritans in high contempt because they were Jews mixed with other ethnic groups – they were calling him a demon possessed crazy person. This is a rather silly attack, as His character, humility, and all of the verified miracles to this point would not be able to be done by someone possessed by a demonic spirit. Jesus, of course, firmly states that He is not possessed and is only seeking to honor His Father while the Jewish leaders are going out of their way now to dishonor Him. He is not seeking to glorify Himself, only the Father.
Not only that, but anyone that follows Me shall never see death! Jesus is referring to spiritual death but the Pharisees don’t see that. Back to the Demon possession. Abraham is dead, and the prophets, but you claim to be greater?! Who do You think You are?!
They’re thinking they can move in for the kill here. This is the strongest hint of perceived blasphemy yet and they’re trying to pounce on it. Jesus deftly and humbly counters that to honor Himself would account for nothing. Self-promotion is not what He’s about. The Father is the one who honors Him – you know the One you claim is your God – and you don’t know Him. I do though, and if I were to claim not to know Him that would put Me in the camp of liars along with you – but I do know Him.
Jesus isn’t done there though. He makes His most outright and boldest claim yet by telling them that Abraham rejoiced to see Him in this day and in this manner. They can’t believe it. Jesus is still a young man, there’s no way He has actually seen Abraham. Then the boom drops – I was there before Abraham, I AM. This was actually the third time in this chapter that He made this statement, but this was the one that incensed them.
That does it. This was the blasphemy they were looking for. Jesus just claimed to be the one true God. They immediately sought to stone Him to death but He made His way out through the crowd. Ninja Jesus.
It’s fairly obvious from that encounter that Jesus undeniably knew His identity and what His purpose for coming was. He was secure in that knowledge but He did not use it to lord over everyone around Him, nor did He try to launch some “new road to self-awareness” seminars and movements. He used His purpose as intended and sought to illuminate the world and outshine the darkness. He sought to bring the people back to a true understanding of the Heart of God. He loved them and He loves us.
This passage also resonates with me in reference to it being Father’s Day tomorrow. Many of us did not have the best earthly examples in our biological fathers. Some did, and that is truly a blessing to be cherished. For those that didn’t, like myself, hopefully there were other men who were able to fill this role in the right way. Fatherhood is so important in this life – not in some domineering patriarchal way – and a right understanding of relationship to a father is crucial to our total physical and spiritual development. The epidemic of Fatherlessness our world is experiencing is causing deep hurts and damaging us in ways we are having trouble fathoming.
That’s why the notion of God as a Father is important to me. I didn’t have a great relationship with my Dad growing up, and it’s non-existent now, but in recognizing God as my Father He has becoming the example. He has filled that need and brought other wonderful men into my life to fill the earthly role and I am immeasurably grateful for that.
I also have come to recognize that my own identity is to be found in Christ, and in working to follow that on a daily basis I can see that I do not need to let that relationship (or lack thereof) with my father define or shape me. I have found my true Father in God and He is perfect.