So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36)
The context of this passage is where a woman has been caught in adultery and is brought before Jesus. It's meant to be a trap. The Pharisees told Jesus what the requirements of the law were and then asked him what he was going to do or say. Jesus does not fall for the trap as he lives by a higher law, the law of love.
Jesus turns everything on its head. In chapter 8 verse 12 he declares "I am the light of the world" and in doing so he turns on the light and everything becomes clear. Light illuminates and enables the reality to be clearly seen. What Jesus does is point people to the truth.
The truth, or reality, is not about observance of the law (or, by the way, the laws we make up for ourselves to keep). The truth is about relationship.
Throughout the life of Jesus, we see that he has one clear mission and that is to reveal the Father, so we may know that we are loved in the same way as Jesus himself is loved. This is the point of the gospel, as Philip so clearly stated in John 14:8 "show us the Father and that will be enough for us".
The Pharisees had made up a whole lot of rules and regulations which kept people away from God. They thought they were protecting the people from an angry God but it had led to a life of slavery, control and manipulation.
Jesus puts everything right. He tells us we are loved by the Father, that we are accepted by the Father; he affirms us and shows us the way to the Father.
And importantly, he shows us by his example that we are all sons of God through faith. As sons we are treated differently to slaves. A slave has no permanent place in the family home, they are always on duty, they can be fired at a moment's notice. They have no security or ultimate sense of well being.
A son, however, belongs. We have a permanent place in the Father's family, we have a home in his house. We belong.
Our place in the family home is not dependent on our behaviour, position or title. It's not because we've tried hard to do the right thing. Our place in the Father's house is guaranteed simply because he is our Father and we are his sons and daughters.
"I will be a Father to YOU, and YOU shall be my sons and daughters" (2 Corinthians 6:18)
The onerous duty of 'doing good' disappears once we recognise that we have no need to impress God with our success. We realise we have no need to buy God's approval. We are already loved, we are already accepted. (Bishop Desmond Tutu 'Made for Goodness')
I wonder if you have ever been the victim of identity fraud. A few months ago, my bank phoned me one evening to ask about a few transactions on my credit card statement. None of them were mine and someone had spent several thousands of pounds in a few minutes using my card details. Thankfully the bank blocked all the transactions and it was dealt with very quickly.
It left me feeling violated and vulnerable.
We've had our true identity stolen. We have had our sonship stolen and the enemy has turned us into slaves and orphans. Because our identity has been stolen we've lost sight of where our true value comes from.
We do not earn our value through our deeds or our works. It is imparted to us simply because our Heavenly Father loves us as his precious sons and daughters. We belong to him and there is nothing we can do to make him love us any more than he does right now. There is also nothing we can do which will stop him loving us. He loves us with an everlasting love.
In Luke 12 we read the story of the man who built bigger barns to store all his wealth. Jesus cautions us through this story not to rely on "the abundance of possessions". For 'abundance of possessions' we could read abundance of achievements, abundance of good works, abundance of performance, or abundance of seeking to please other people. Instead Jesus concludes, let us be rich towards God.
Being rich towards God is, I believe, a heart of dependence on him, trusting him to provide all we need. It's investing in him rather than investing in possessions, activity or the affirmation we may seek from other people. It's knowing that our true value comes from our relationship with him where he continually affirms us simply because we're his sons and daughters.
Martha was concerned with activity and busyness but Mary had chosen the 'better thing' of being with Jesus. God is not impressed by our activity or success. Our value and identity does not come from what we do, but from who we are.
Today, ask him to show you who you really are and what you mean to him.
We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 NASB)
There's a Maori proverb that says "turn your eyes to the sun and the shadows fall behind you". How true! What keeps us going is often the knowledge that there is something better ahead.
What do we do when things are hard? Do we give up or can we be like the writer of Hebrews when he says "let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith". Jesus could see beyond the cross and saw the eternal joy which was there for him.
What do we look at?
Are we focussed on our circumstances and allow them to drag us down and cause us to lose hope? Or, are we able to look the other way, to let the shadows fall behind us as we look to the source of our life? Are we able to lift our eyes and put our hope in him? Hope is an expectation or desire for a particular thing to happen. As we hope in him we have set out on a journey that leads to our freedom and salvation.
There's a quote I like (which only works in English): "You gotta have hope. Without hope life is meaningless. Without hope life is meaning less and less".
When I talk about hope it is not a human hope where we want everything to work out the right way. It is the assurance that believes all his promises are "yes and amen". It is, like Abraham, a desire to discover the city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10). It is a belief that we can see things "that are not as though they were" (Romans 4:17).
It is a hope that comes out of love. The foundation of his love in our lives. It's a hope we experience once we have placed our trust and dependency on him, knowing that his love is all we need to sustain and carry us. After all, "faith, hope and love remain; but the greatest is love. Therefore pursue love.... " (1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1).
Turn your face to the Son and let the shadows of life fall behind you.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 NASB)
Last week I talked about choosing life. Sometimes that's not an easy thing to do, particularly when we are disappointed or going through a season of suffering.
As Jesus approached the cross he asked his Father to "save him from this hour". He knows, however, that there is no other way so he willingly submits himself to what lies ahead in order to bring glory to his Father (John 12:27-28). He could have run, but he choose to embrace his suffering.
We don't know everything about King David's life but we do know he'd suffered a lot of misunderstanding and rejection. Somehow, through it all, he remained focussed on God, his Father, and this enabled him to write psalms of worship, love and adoration. He could have run, but he choose to embrace his suffering.
The truth is, we too suffer disappointment and experience suffering. We are let down by people, we are hurt, we are taken advantage of, we lose heart and become weary.
We can run from it or we can embrace it.
We can respond by holding it at a distance and building defences around our heart which will ultimately lead to a hard heart. We can take it into us and drown in self pity, often leading to shame and condemnation. Or we can have hope. A hope that is rooted and grounded in him, which then becomes an open door allowing him to pour his love freely into our open heart.
If you are feeling the weight of disappointment can I first encourage you to look to him. Trust him, put your hope in him. He is there to carry you through your suffering and disappointment. The situation may not change or go away but it will diminish when we focus on him rather than on our troubles.
James encourages us to "consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds". That sounds tough. It will be if we try and face it on our own but when we go through things with him we discover that his joy begins to full our heart.
At the end of Job, after all the suffering and turmoil there is a beautiful revelation that comes out of Job's transformed heart and dependency on God. He'd experienced a loving Father.
"Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you will answer me. 'My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you'".
Living with disappointment or going through a season of suffering is not easy. My encouragement is to put your hope in him, that hope will not disappoint you. It is the way our heart becomes open to receive his love.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them......So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them. (Deuteronomy 30:15-17,19-20 NASB)
I believe we face a daily choice, in fact it may be a choice we have to make several times each day. Moses sets this choice out very clearly for the people of Israel and concludes by encouraging them to choose life.
Choosing life may not be automatic and it's certainly not our default setting. We have a stark choice: choose dependence on him and find life or follow the pathway of independence which leads to something inside of us dying. We think independence and self-sufficiency is something to be strived for as we think it will lead to freedom. The opposite is true. Freedom, true freedom, is only found when we are totally dependent on him.
Love always gives a choice. Sometimes it's not easy to choose life because the pain and brokenness of our heart can overwhelm us. On those times when, for one reason or another, we don't choose life the choice is not taken from us as Father always provides another opportunity to come back home. He is the Father of the second chance.
Jeremiah 31:3 tells us we are loved with an everlasting love. An eternal love that began in the heart of the Father before time began, a love that has run through all of history, a love that is loving us now and one that will continue to love us for all of eternity yet to come. Everlasting love is not something we are used to. Love, to us, has an on/off switch. It's dependent on us, on others or on our circumstances.
As we read through Jeremiah 31 we see how this love works a transformation in us. It rebuilds the broken places, it gathers us, it provides for us and it gives us hope for our future. Towards the end of the chapter we see how this external love flows from an eternal covenant.
"I will be their God and they will be my people".
When this is quoted in the New Testament we are given a much more personal promise.....
"I will be a Father to you and you will be my sons and daughters".
Because we are held in the Father's everlasting love let us choose life. After all, Jesus came that we might have life and life in all its fulness. That's abundant and complete life.