More than You can Stand

Does God allow things to happen that are “more than you can stand”? What about cancer, catastrophe or death?
Let’s learn the truth about God’s control over life’s trials.
We will look at John’s version of the feeding the 5000 and Jesus walking on water in John 6:1-21.1
John 6:1 After this, Jesus crossed over to the far side of the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A huge crowd kept following him wherever he went, because they saw his miraculous signs as he healed the sick. 3 Then Jesus climbed a hill and sat down with his disciples around him. 4 (It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration.) 5 Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” 6 He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” 8 Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. 9 “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” 10 “Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. 12 After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” 13 So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves. 14 When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” 15 When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.
16 That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. 17 But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. 18 Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough. 19 They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, 20 but he called out to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” 21 Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination!
The Setting (John 6:1-4)
It was about Passover time, a spring festival in the Northern Hemisphere. Passover is a week-long festival according to the Jewish liturgical calendar in Leviticus 23. It starts as the sun sets beginning the 15th of the first month. That first night is celebrated with the Passover meal and no leavened bread is eaten for the remainder of the festival. Holy assemblies begin and end the week. It was near this time that Jesus crossed the sea of Galilee and sat on a hill with his disciples. A huge expectant crowd kept following him. Why were they following him? It was because they saw his miraculous signs. Signs eventually prove to be insufficient as many are later offended and leave. The faithful ones may stumble as did all twelve of the apostles, but will eventually stay to the very end.
Like another Feed in the Wilderness
Church membership is not like a club where we go to be fed or have social needs met. Church membership is a calling from God. We should ask God for discernment as to whether or not he is calling us to a share in the ministry of a particular church, not whether or not all our needs are being met. The disciples were not the crowd. They were called to serve not be served. Could it be that if we see a particular need, God is calling us to fulfill that need? Those sitting on the grassy slopes were not believers. Like those who experienced the first Passover, many of them later complained. There are always complainers. Even after the miracle of the Exodus and God feeding Israel, they complained. God did not let the complainers into the promised land.
Miracle Food (John 6:5-15)
Jesus asks a significant question. Where would they buy bread to feed all these people? He knew the answer, but as a master teacher he was testing his student Philip preparing for the object lesson. Jesus often referred to where he or the miracle wine, or the Spirit, or the living water, his other miracles came from. Where does our ultimate help come from? Is Jesus prompting us with the same question today? Philip, the adult, says it would take months of income to pay for enough food. A young boy offers five loaves of bread made from barley and two fish. Can we also learn from the naive faith of our children? Do we say, we can’t afford it and do nothing, or do we say, we have scarce resources, let’s pray and ask what God has in mind?
Barley and Fish
Wheat bread was common. Barley was a poor man’s bread and the fish may have been dried or preserved. The boy’s food seems more than a lunch for one. Jesus gave thanks, the Greek for Eucharist, and coupled with the miracle of water into wine, ties into Holy Communion, the greatest meal of all, the meal that would represent his sacrifice for us. When the disciples gathered up the leftovers, they gathered up the fragments of broken bread. Breaking bread is also a term for the Eucharist. Like the Manna in the wilderness, God had again provided. They attempted to make him fit their political idea of the prophet they had been expecting so he left. When the people vote you in the people rule you. Does God walk away if we try to use him for our political gain?
Walking on Water (John 6:16-21)
The key to this passage may be what Jesus says in verse 20, literally, “I am, fear not.” The divine name “I am” is a well-known name for God, also called Yahweh and usually translated as the LORD in the Old Testament, where he also tells people not to fear (Genesis 15:1; Isaiah 43:1; 44:2, 8). This is why Jesus is called Lord in the New Testament. Why were the disciples afraid of Jesus approaching them walking on water? Why are many people afraid of God or afraid of going to church? Is it lack of faith or feelings of guilt or a lack of willingness to accept God as he is? We like to make God over in our image, as Savior but not Lord. As with ancient Israel, Jesus made a way through the sea.
Does God try us above what we are able, so that we learn that we cannot do it on our own? He will never try us above what we are able with his help to overcome.
1 Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Unity in the Church

Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches claim to be the one true church. Some Baptist, seventh day and Restoration churches claim to be the one true church. When Jesus prayed that his church be one did he mean in administration or in spirit? Since the beginning, there were five separate administrative areas within the Roman Empire in Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Rome. Outside the Roman Empire were also separate church administrations, such as in India, Armenia and Assyria.

To say that these were divided because they did not all fall under Rome or Constantinople is not true. Throughout the entire Christian Church, we agree on so much more that truly unites us in Christ. To deny communion to those who are in Christ is the height of human arrogance and a sin against the church which is far more unified than divided.

We agree that God is spirit, has personality, is gentle, love, kind, compassionate, faithful, forgiving, good, just, Life, inhabits eternity, unchanging, holy, righteous, just, truthful, immanent, transcendent, 3 in One.

We agree that Jesus is the Lord, God of the Hebrew Scriptures, God with us, the angels are his angels, he judges the world, he is both human and divine, born of a virgin, died for our sins.

We agree that the Holy Spirit makes choices, teaches, guides people into truth, reveals Jesus, convicts of sin, seals believers, can be grieved, can be blasphemed, possesses a rational mind, can be lied to, can be quenched, can be resisted, is distinguished from yet related to the Father and the Son, is a person, is God, Comforter and the “Spirit of Christ”.

We agree that the Angels are God's servants, ministering spirits serving the heirs of salvation, individual persons who can have curiosity, shout praises, and they have choice because some chose disobedience, holy angels rejoice in the salvation of believers, serving, protecting, encouraging and relaying God’s will to them. Satan is called the god of this age, the prince of this world, the prince of the power of the air, evil one, thief and the tempter. He is also called a murderer, the father of lies, the great dragon and prince of demons. His final end is the lake of fire.

We agree that humans are created in the likeness of God with a similar but limited ability to reason, rule over the earth and were created to have a relationship with God. We are essentially two parts, material and non-material, created to have a relationship with God, requiring trust

We agree that sin means a range of things from simply missing the mark to abject moral evil and that the consequences of sin are eternal separation from God. Our sins prevent us from finding true joy and happiness, but God offers us his help

We agree that God is revealed in the Bible, in creation, in Jesus Christ and other special ways.

We agree that salvation comes from God and not ourselves, and that applies to being saved from sickness and calamity today as well as for eternity and that salvation is open to all people of the world.

We all agree that Jesus established his church as an assembly of Christians as the body of Christ, a family, a vine and branches, the pillar and ground of the truth, a living temple that grows, a holy temple in which God dwells, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, living stones around the cornerstone, and salt and light. Church gatherings are places to be strengthened in faith, to be spiritually fed, a place for prophecy or inspired preaching, a place for collections for the saints, to learn of God’s wisdom, to get spiritually cleansed, to sing God’s praises, and a place to be healed.

We agree that there will come an end of all material things, that we will all die, Jesus will come again, there is a resurrection, and a judgment where our eternal state will be finalized.

We agree that this message is so important that it must be taken into all the world.

Jesus prayed that we would be one, not in human administration, but as the Father and He are one (John 17:20-23). That is God’s purpose in us. The only thing that perpetuates any division is the arrogant idea that we must all be administered by the same human beings, when we are in reality all administered by the same heavenly beings.

Into all the World

Have you ever asked yourself what is my purpose in being a Christian between now and eternity? Should I be doing something?
What is the importance of what we do during the week, between services?
We’ll look at Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, what an apostle is, and our mission.
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.1
The Messengers Recharge
The messengers returned from a mission. The word apostle simply means a delegate, missionary, envoy or messenger. The twelve had a special place, but the word apostle was used of others in the Bible. They reported all that they had done and taught. What they taught was the message with which they were sent. It is not their message, but the message of the sender, Jesus. What would happen if we began each church service with reports of what we had done spreading Jesus’ message during the week. The apostolic tradition is not just a set of doctrines, but being sent out. The reason for the existence of church is going out. The reason for their retreat was to recuperate for the next mission. The reason for attending church is to recharge for the mission of the coming week.
Purpose of Vacations
What kind of vacation is best? The commercial world entices us to all kinds of exotic and expensive vacations so they can make a living, but is that the kind of vacation that we really need? Is it to experience new cultures and excitement? That is okay and has its place. What is the purpose of a vacation? What kind of vacation do we really need? Most of us occasionally need a rest, time out. In Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 Jesus introduced the concept of a quiet place to get some rest. Rest for the body and mind are good. But, the author of Hebrews described a place, the promised land and a time, the weekly rest as not that true real rest. Each of them was a mere foretaste of a place of eternal resting with God (Hebrews 3-4). Another important aspect of rest is time with God and an important part of that time is in the company of the saints at church each week. 
Why Go to Church
Why go to church? Statistics prove that those who attend church regularly actually live longer and so do their children. Regular church attendance also reduces our children's risk of involvement in drunkenness, drugs or suicide. They rebound faster from depression, have lower risk of crime, better odds for a happy life, have a nurturing family atmosphere, and better odds of an active church life in their adults years. I go to church to be a part of God’s kingdom on earth, to live and learn the Gospel, worship God, to encourage and be encouraged, to pray, feed my soul. Even in the most boring sermons I hear God’s voice, I learn to forgive and be forgiven, to rest with the disciples of Jesus and touch his cloak so that I may be healed (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56).
Crossing the Lines
The most important purpose of the church of Jesus Christ is mission (Matthew 28:19-20), beginning with our immediate neighborhoods and into all the world. Christianity always grows on the edges, at the intersection of cultures. The original messengers went to new languages and new ethnic groups. Most of them did not just stick with their own kind, but were willing to cross the lines for the sake of the Gospel. Some people get angry at the growing numbers of Spanish speaking people in America, as do some Germans get angry at the growing number of Turks, some British get angry at the growing numbers of Pakistanis and some Australians get angry at the growing number of Chinese speakers. Have we thought about it from God’s point of view? Some of them will become Christians and take Jesus back to their own peoples.
No Room for Xenophobia
The church has no room for xenophobia, an unreasonable fear of strangers or foreigners. We are not meant to be an exclusive club, but an inclusive, multicultural and ever-growing family. No matter what culture the church is introduced into, there is always a common ingredient, Jesus. Like the original messengers, the twelve, we too need spiritual retreat. The purpose of a spiritual vacation is not the meaningless pursuit of self-indulgence, but a recharging of the batteries for the next mission. Being exposed to other cultures means a risk. Many people are not willing to take that risk, but we must be willing to risk everything for the Gospel’s sake. Going into other cultures we face challenges to our faith. People will ask us pointed questions, threaten us, get angry and some will be curious. We must become strong in faith.
Our Report
What did we do last week? What do we have to report to Jesus? Did we spread the message? The word apostle was not originally so much a title as a descriptive term of what people did. It meant a person sent out with a message. In that sense, we are all sent out with a message. Could it be that apostolic succession is wrongly defined? Could it be that all Christians are assigned to go out with a message after having met with Christ each week? Could it be that we have gotten church wrong? Could it be that we are here to be debriefed by Jesus (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56)? Are we here as a social club to meet with each other or to meet with Jesus and then leave with a message to take to the world? Fellowship is an important aspect of church life, but the most important part is the message that goes with our lives as we leave. 
How Jesus views Prejudice
Prejudice is universal. It is found everywhere. An Egyptian once said that the northern Egyptians do not like the southern Egyptians. We hear how some Chinese dislike Japanese, some Ukrainians dislike Russians, some Indians dislike Pakistanis, and so on. What is Jesus’ attitude? God loves everyone. There is no political hatred in God’s kingdom. In Mark 6:33-34 we read how Jesus took much needed time for rest. People followed him and ruined his vacation. How annoying! Yet Jesus looked upon them with pity. They were like sheep without a shepherd. When we look upon people of a different religion what do we see? We can feel threatened, disgusted, angry and a whole host of hostile emotions. Do we let politicians decide how we should feel? Do we see beyond our human fears and view them as God does, sheep without a shepherd?
What a Shepherd Does
Pastor or shepherd is not a popular business title. Imagine a large company with a corporate shepherd. It is not fashionable. Jesus is the Great Shepherd. He was compassionate towards large crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56). What would corporate life be like if earthly CEO’s were caring shepherds? Would they rob mom and pop investors of their modest investment portfolios by stealing from them in grossly excessive salaries? Would they feed their flocks crumbs while they dined opulently and sacrifice them all just for greed? Or, would they be selfless shepherds like Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd and CEO of the universe, and be willing to suffer so that others may live? We cannot learn to be great shepherds of our businesses unless we are hearing from the Great Shepherd each week.
Attending church each week is an important reminder of the Gospel message. An important part of rest is time together as God’s people. Let’s take our Sunday rest, be at church and get recharged for our mission back into all the world the coming week. 

1 New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Message that Embarrasses

How much does Christianity embarrass powerful people? In North Korea it will get you killed. In Iran it could get you imprisoned. In America and Australia it could get you laughed at or silenced in the media. People have always tried to silence those who challenge bad morals.
Let’s understand that God’s message contains high moral standards that are an offense to some people who will try to silence it.
We will first look at the politics of hate, how truth can be offensive and silencing the messenger in the context of Mark 6:14-29.1
14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Herod Antipas (Mark 6:14a)
H’rodes Antipatros nicknamed Antipas belonged to a murderous family. The Herodian dynasty began with Herod the Great, who butchered his enemies and even family members. He was a client king over Judea, subject to Rome. His son Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee. A tetrarchy is like a monarchy but with four rulers instead of one. Antipas divorced Phasaelis to marry his niece Herodias, a marriage that caused great offense in royal families and war. John condemned it as evil and was murdered for his open criticism, which embarrassed Herod Antipas and Herodias. Mark almost mockingly calls Antipas king, perhaps an unofficial local title, which Rome had refused to recognize after Herodias goaded him into requesting it. Inter family rivalries and subsequent wars led bloodthirsty Roman Emperor Caligula to charge him with treason and send Antipas and Herodias into exile.
Rumors about Jesus (Mark 6:14b-15)
As news of the missionary activity of Jesus and his disciples spread, so did hearsay. Three of the most popular rumors were that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected, Elijah or another prophet like those of old. Because Jesus did not begin his ministry until after John the Baptizer had been assassinated, it is easy to understand how some may have thought he was John come back from the dead. They had obviously not heard that Jesus had also been baptized by John nor much of his ministry in Galilee. John the Baptist had proclaimed one who would come after him, and some assumed that was perhaps the “messenger of the covenant”, Elijah promised in Malachi 3:1; 4:5. Others thought that Jesus was some other returning prophet or spokesperson for God in the order of the ancient prophets.
Herod’s Conscience (Mark 6:16)
I once met a man who was engaged in black magic. He claimed that the devil promised him power and wealth, and asked what God had to offer. I told him none of those things necessarily, but all of that and more in the world to come. The devil’s promises were temporary and led to hell. The man decided that God’s religion was not for him and that the devil had a better deal. When true religion is ignored because it is not politically advantageous, superstition and magic are sometimes the choice. Herod’s family held power through evil, but he still had a conscience. He may have thought that John used magic to come back and haunt him. Herod’s beliefs were probably mixed with some Jewish ideas like resurrection being a precursor of the judgment and he seemed somewhat terrified.
Politically Incorrect (Mark 6:17-18)
Herod Philip, half brother to Herod Antipas, was Herodias’ first husband. Herod’s marriage was adultery, causing great offense to the father of Herod’s first wife Aretas IV of neighboring Nabatea. John’s criticism was a personal insult, but could have been seen as a threat from Nabatea. Telling the truth can sometimes get you imprisoned. Does that mean that we become so politically correct that we avoid the offense of the cross (Galatians 5:11)? We are not to cause offense (1 Corinthians 10:32), but the truth will. We cannot avoid the truth of the Gospel (Matthew 13:53-58; Luke 5:29-30; John 6:60-70). It will cause offense. Persecution and tribulation cause offense (Matthew 13:21; 24:10), Jesus offended religious leaders (Matthew 15:12) and he is a rock of offense (Romans 9:33) because of the truth.
The Politics of Hate (Mark 6:19-20)
Murder and hate go hand in hand according to 1 John 3:15. Murder of a political enemy is a common theme of history. French royalty used the guillotine. British royalty had enemies pulled apart by four horses, drawn and quartered. Our politicians assassinate each other’s character and spread lies. John the Baptist is metaphorically referred to as Elijah. His conflict with Herodia recalls Elijah’s conflict with Jezebel and Esther’s experience in the court of king Xerxes. When royals are criticized they can exact revenge in ways which commoners cannot. However, Herod had a healthy fear of John and was strangely fascinated by his preaching. John’s simple lifestyle, like that of Saint Francis, added an authority to his preaching that is not available to wealthy televangelists or Bavaria’s Bishop of Bling. Herod did not follow John but liked to listen.
Silencing the Messenger (Mark 6:21-23)
God’s message is not always popular with power brokers. The church’s message is two-fold. It is good news for the poor, of the kingdom, of salvation, of Jesus Christ and peace (Isaiah 61:1; Matthew 4:23, 11:5; Mark 1:1; Luke 4:18;7:22; Ephesians 1:13, 6:15). It is also bad news for those who have been corrupted by power in this world’s dog-eat-dog Babylonian system (Revelation 18). Herod planned a birthday banquet for society’s greatest, the commanders of a thousand and other A-list citizens. Just as then, the church today has an offensive message for corrupt leaders who willingly let others suffer for profit and those who use religion for personal gain: repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:2). The princess performed a dance and won her mother’s wish.
The Plot (Mark 6:24-25)
The politics of hate caused John the Baptist’s death. Like some modern sociopaths who behead innocents, Herodias plotted to decapitate John. Just as political parties plot to get the dirt on each other, so too did Herodias plot to undermine her husband’s protection of John the Baptist. Her daughter responded quickly to Herod’s offer of an extravagant gift, betraying the preconceived conspiracy. Herod had him beheaded and presented her with his head on a platter. Are we any different? Politics manipulates the truth and we believe it. We don’t know all the facts, yet politics incites us to hatred because the more we hate the more we will vote for the other party. When we allow hatred of each other, hatred of a political party, hatred of even our enemies to enter our hearts, we are no different than Herodias.
The Truth is Political Death (Mark 6:26-29)
If we live sheltered lives it can be a shock when we are confronted with some of the evils that exist in our society. There are levels of abject moral depravity which can shock even someone who has destroyed lives to get where they are. Herod deeply grieved having to kill John the Baptist. He did so to save face. He sent one of the spekulatora, Roman Imperial bodyguards, to bring John’s head. Telling the truth can sometimes get you falsely imprisoned and killed. John’s death did not end his ministry. In the end John’s words proved true as Herod’s former father-in-law Aretas IV the Nabatean king made war with him in vengeance for Antipas’ adultery against his daughter Phasaelis. Aretas defeated Herod Antipas which eventually led to his removal from office by Rome and his exile to Gaul.
Putting it in Balance
Are we uncomfortable with Christians who publicly condemn others for their faults? This Gospel lesson has John doing something similar. How do we understand John's criticism of a public figure, contrasted with what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, that who is without sin cast the first stone. Jesus did not condemn her to death, but told her to sin no more. Neither did John condemn Herod to death, but said his actions were unlawful. This story is descriptive not prescriptive. It is not a call for Christians to blunt and offensive criticism of sinners. Jesus urged people to repentance from human corruption not judge or condemn them to hell because of it. Some of us are blunt. Others are tactful. Whichever way we choose, truth is not popular in the public arena. Yet, truth must be told.
The greatest news of all time is seen as bad news by some people and they will try to silence it. If we call the world out for its bad behavior, even as we admit that we are fellow sinners, people will hate us. Yet the Gospel is also wonderful news of salvation from our corruption. Let’s not allow that message to be silenced.
1New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What is Freedom?

The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America, not the Ten Commandments and not the law of Christ. A similar thing may be said of all other countries. When we speak of freedom and law we must remember that there is a supreme law of liberty (James 1:25; 2:12), and it is found in the Bible. What is it? What is freedom?
To know what freedom truly is.
We will begin with John 8:31-39, explore what freedom is and discover how we can have it even for those who live under the most oppressive of this world’s regimes.
Reading: John 8:31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. 38 I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.” 39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did,1
True Disciples (John 8:31)
Here we read of those who “had” believed in him. Did they now no longer believe in him? Was their faith weak and wavering? Are these some who would now stone him but later be among the thousands converted on Pentecost? Jesus now gives a remarkable definition of a true disciple: those who continue in his word. It does not say those who continue in a particular denomination, or even those who continue in some kind of succession of ordinations from the original Apostles, but those who continue in his word. The phrase “in my word” is from “logo” and in this context means instruction. Collections of the sayings of Jesus are sometimes called the “logia” and Jesus’ teachings are at the root of all orthodoxy, the basis of real Christianity. The sayings of Jesus are primarily in the Gospels.
True Freedom (John 8:32)
What is truth? Is it what a political party tells us? Is it what advertisers tell us? Jesus teaches us here that we will know the truth if we continue in his word. What does that truth do in our lives? It sets us free. What is freedom? Free countries guarantee us certain political and religious freedoms. Political freedom gives us certain human rights and civil liberties such as freedom of assembly, of association, of speech, of religion and economic freedom. It does not free us from troubles, crime or death. Religious freedom does not free us from false religion. Our words do not set us free, but the words of Jesus do. They set us free from sin and from death. The Old Testament law could not do that and our national freedoms cannot do that, but Jesus can.
Have We ever been Slaves? (John 8:33)
Abraham is a father of many nations and in Jewish tradition Avraham Avinu (our Father Abraham). Americans speak of George Washington as the Father of His Country. Like the Jews, Americans could claim they have never been slaves. Is that really true? Not according to Jesus. What exactly is slavery? The Americas once had a form of slavery that even the Bible does not allow. Kidnapping has always been against the Bible, yet North and South Americans kidnapped people from Africa and sold them as chattel slaves. Other forms of slavery are more common today, such as bonded labor (slavery to a debt), forced labor (such as child slavery, chain gangs, conscription, human trafficking and prostitution), forced marriage and dependency. Many of us have experienced slavery to debt or conscription. There is another form of slavery common to us all.
Slave to Sin (John 8:34)
Everyone who commits sin is a slave to it. That is 100% of us. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). So, here we are, slaves in a free country. How can that be? The freedom guaranteed in western countries is not the same freedom guaranteed by Christ. Our national freedoms are civil liberties and limited. The freedom that Christ guarantees is eternal and unlimited. Our lives are dominated by sin: everything from minor issues such as just missing the mark to abject moral evils which plague every society. As with many misunderstandings in life, our definitions differ. When modern westerners or ancient Jews speak of freedom they are defining it differently to what Jesus is talking about. He is speaking of absolute, spiritual freedom.
A Permanent Place (John 8:35-36)
When God made the world, he made it good, but we came along and messed it up. We caused suffering and troubles in the world, and we know that these conditions will not last forever. God will reestablish things the way he intended them to be, but for a time he allows us to suffer the consequences of our ways. Those who choose to remain in the slavery of sin will not survive forever. They and their ways will cease. But those who choose to live a forgiven life, even in their faults, will live forever. That forgiveness is a decision made by the Son. If he frees us from our slavery to sin, we are free indeed. It is not up to us. We are merely the recipients of a free gift from heaven above what we deserve.
Heritage does not Guarantee Freedom (John 8:37)
Those discussing freedom with Jesus were descendants of Abraham and thought that their heritage gave them freedom. In many countries we are descendants of the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of Rights, the United States Bill of Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Whatever our heritage and pedigree, if there is no place in us for Jesus’ word, we are no better than those who sought to kill Jesus. The same could be said of apostolic succession, the idea that an ordination is only valid if it is in direct line of succession from the apostles. However, if one ordained by succession rejects Christ’s words, does that invalidate their ordination and if one not in succession accepts Christ’s words is not that a succession in faith?
Obedience to God Trumps Heritage (John 8:38-39)
Those men claimed the privileges of descent from Abraham. They claimed Abraham as their father but did not follow his example. Americans claim George Washington. Canadians claim John Macdonald. Mexicans claim Miguel Hidalgo. South Africans claim Nelson Mandela. The Philippines claims Corazon Aquino as their mother. Jesus saw his Father in heaven. He tells the men to obey what they heard from the Father. Whether Abraham or God the Father is intended, the meaning is the same: to obey God as Abraham did. Perhaps a double meaning is intended as in verse 44. They actually obeyed their father the devil. Galatians 5:31-39 describes the difference between the misuse of freedom in self-indulgent pursuits and the good use of freedom, evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit. If indeed Abraham was their spiritual father they should have followed his example.
The freedom given to us by human governments cannot match the freedom given to us by heaven. In Jesus we will eventually find complete freedom from all our problems and ultimately freedom from death in life evermore.

1 New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.