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By Simon ManchesterSunday 17 May 2020Christian Growth with Simon Manchester
Simon Manchester presents a five-part series of messages exploring the bold claims of Jesus. This week, Part 3: The Claim to Outlast the World.
Part 3: The Claim to Outlast the World
This is our last morning in John Chapter 8. I have been trying to think over the series; why I picked this chapter.
It’s a middle chapter in a gospel. Why didn’t we do 1-7? Why didn’t we do 9-21? They are all sensational chapters. I think I can tell you now in one sentence, which I read in a commentary this week, why John 8 has been our focus, and that is, it describes the clash of Christ and unbelief in a way that is not matched before or after.
The claim to be the light of the world is a polarising claim from a polarising person and people will move totally to Him or totally away from Him. And as we bring this little series to an end, I hope that today we will crystallise exactly why people do this, and why they are responsible.
There are three headings.
- The Claim and the Offer
- The Non-Existent Middle-Ground
- The Supply and the Demand of Christ
First of all, the claim and the offer of Christ. Do you remember what He says at the beginning of the Chapter, that is Chapter 8 Verse 12, where we began? ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ He is not just offering information and I promise you, friends, this information that Jesus gives will sooner or later be seen to be the information that everybody needs. We can read it and we are in a very strange day, aren’t we, where things just don’t mean very much and words just don’t mean very much.
But occasionally, somebody says something which is incredibly significant, and this claim of Jesus is at the top of the list. I am the light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. It’s not just the offer of information which is, of course, essential for a journey, and everybody is on a bit of a journey, but it’s also the offer of freedom. Jesus is claiming to get us out of the darkness, not just the lack of information, but the darkness of being in bondage. It’s as if He is getting us out of being under 100 metres of dark water. You don’t just shout at somebody who is under 100 metres of dark water. They actually need to be delivered. Jesus is promising to give not only information, but also freedom and deliverance.
So He has come to provide information about God and about ourselves and about Jesus and the way in which He is able to connect us to God, but He has also come to provide freedom and to rescue us from the trap that we are in, whether we feel it or not, which is sin, which grips us and kills us and takes us into judgement. Every person in the world, according to Jesus, needs information and salvation. There is a need in all of us for some intellectual answers and some moral answers and some spiritual answers and some eternal answers and they are found, says Jesus, in Jesus.
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It’s a very great claim, a very wonderful claim. I can’t see how anybody can live in this world, honestly, and not say, every now and again, you know, I would really like some answers. I can’t see how anybody can live in this world and be conscious of God and death coming and not say every now and again, ‘Gee, I really need some help.’
Here is a brilliant quote from Malcolm Muggeridge, a journalist of the last century. He says, ‘What other purpose can possibly have any meaning or significance than to look for God? Who can comfort themselves with the sound of applause, the figures in a bank statement, with memories of the body’s rapture or the mind’s agility, or sentences that have been accorded the small celebrity of print. These are mere diversions, the pranks and scribble of immaturity. We all know that this is so, in the most intoxicating and enchanting moments, we know that we have other business to transact. But though we are accorded time and taste for diversions, we must as Augustine said, walk to the city of God, or the night will fall, and we will be lost.’
Now the night will never fall on those who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, because the Lord Jesus Christ is wonderful. For those who belong to Jesus Christ, you see, His death means that the danger of death is over for you. And for those who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, His promises mean that you are in faithful hands. You are in the hands of somebody who will carry you right through, to His presence.
So why is Chapter 8 so feisty? The answer is because Jesus declares Himself to be the light of the world and the Bible says that we, by nature, prefer the darkness. We do not want to come, by nature, to Jesus, who is the light. It’s too humbling. It’s too demanding. He exposes us. We don’t want to do His truth, unless of course it suits us. We don’t want to depend on His mercy; we would rather depend on our own powers. And that’s why this Chapter 8 is full of fireworks, because Jesus comes and speaks like the light of the world and He watches people scurry under a rock. And just a few come to Him, in order to follow.
The second thing this morning – the non-existent middle-ground. Here’s a quick recap of the last four weeks, in ten seconds, in case you were away.
- He offers the light of life. The Jews reject Him.
- He then says to them: “you need the truth, in order to be free.”
- And they say: “we don’t need any of Your truth or freedom, because we have Abraham as our ancestor, and that’s plenty.”
- And He says: “no… if you turn your back on Me and walk away from Me, it shows that you are under the influence, in fact under the paternity of the devil… because if you are going to really honour God, you will honour Me.”
- And they say to Him, in Chapter 8, Verse 48, which is our first verse today, ‘You are a Samaritan’.
It’s the only time they ever call Jesus a Samaritan in the New Testament, but it’s like saying, ‘You are a mongrel. You are a half-breed’. And they say, ‘You are demon-possessed.’
The dialogue in Verses 48-59 is so profound… Jesus operates at a level beyond us. It is not easy to follow on a quick reading. Just to give you an example, look at Chapter 8 Verses 53 and 54. It looks like a non-sequitur. In Chapter 8 Verse 53, they say, ‘Are you greater than our father, Abraham. He died. So did the prophets. Who do you think You are?’ Jesus says (Verse 54), ‘If I glorify Myself, My glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim is Your God, is the One who glorifies Me.’ It is not easy to follow the way Jesus speaks. Some of the things He says don’t look as though they are in sequence, but they are in sequence, because He is not dealing with the superficial issues, He is dealing with the real issues. And so what I want to do is paraphrase the passage we have, Verses 48-59, so that you will get the heart of it. It took me quite a long time to work out how it all flows and I am hoping in a minute now to give you the flow of the chapter.
Jesus has said to them: you must be under the leadership of your father, the devil, because you are turning against Me. Verse 48 – they answer with some name-calling: You are a Samaritan. You are demon-possessed. Incidentally, remember if you get called names, that your master was called names before you.
Jesus in Verse 49 sees that the issue is not just name-calling. That is just puerile. That is just infantile. In Verse 49, the question is – how do you honour God?
Because He does (Verse 49) honour God. They say, Look, we honour God too. But they don’t honour God because they don’t honour the Son. You can’t honour God if you don’t honour Jesus. You can’t just say I will have God, but not Jesus, whom God has sent. And Verse 50 must be the most amazing verse because we read there that no only does Jesus honour God, which of course which we expect, but that God seeks the glory of Jesus. Have you ever noticed that? God seeks the glory of Jesus. That’s an astonishing verse, when the Bible says that God doesn’t share His glory with anyone. Why is He going to glorify Jesus? But of course, because Jesus is God in the flesh, God glorifies His Son, just as the Son glorifies the Father.
So now we want to ask the question – are Father and Son just in a little bit of self-glorifying? Father to Son. Son to Father. No. Verse 51 – they are seeking to save people. Verse 51, ‘I tell you the truth. If anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.’ What a gracious, what a wonderful offer.
They, however, Verse 52 only hear Him thinking physically and they say: look, everybody has died up until now. Abraham himself died, our prophets died… who do You think You are?
And Jesus comes back in Verse 54 and says – well look, if I just glorified Myself, well, that is may mean nothing to you. But more importantly, the Father glorifies Me. And not only that, says Jesus (Verse 56) but your ancestral father, Abraham, glorifies Me. He looked forward, says Jesus, to My day. It’s a very complicated verse that Abraham looked forward to Jesus’ day, but it probably means, that like the rest of the people in the Old Testament, Abraham looked forward to the great day of salvation. He looked forward to the great day of the King and the Saviour and the Messiah and He was a forward-looking person.
Again, the Jews (Verse 57) just think Jesus is talking literally. They think He has seen Abraham, that He is old enough to have seen Abraham. And they say to Him: You are not even 50 … how could You have seen Abraham? Now He never claimed to have seen Abraham in this verse but He does claim that Abraham looked forward to His coming. And He makes the astonishing claim (Verse 59), ‘Before Abraham was born, I am!’
One commentator says, ‘There is no clearer claim to divinity in the gospels.’ If ever you are wanting to show somebody that Jesus is not just some first-century guru who can be dismissed, just remember the last two verses of John 8, where Jesus says, ‘Before Abraham was, I am’. This is probably a claim to divinity. You know how God would refer to Himself ‘I am. I am who I am’. But it’s also probably a claim of Jesus to exist in every era. You name an era… Jesus existed. Name a past era, name before the world, He existed. Name the present, He exists. Name the future, He exists. I am, says Jesus. It’s a claim to pre-existence, existence and post-existence.
They, of course, pick up rocks to stone Him. And He, although (Verse 59) He is the light of the world, He is hidden from them. It was lawful to stone someone for blasphemy, but it was normally done through the law-courts. They are planning to do it as a kind of a riot.
I just want you to notice in the little flow of those Verses, 48-59 what a wide gulf there is in views of Jesus. You have on the one hand some people saying, ‘You are demon-possessed’… that is probably as far left as you can get. You have the Father wanting Him to be glorified… that is probably as far right as you can get. The gulf is unbelievably wide, isn’t it, the spectrum. And you don’t get such a wide gulf really for anybody else. You don’t get anybody in the history of the world who people will say – demon-possessed… worship Him. He is unique. He is supreme like this.
I was sitting on the train this week and I was looking at some of the other passengers and I was asking myself the question as I looked around, ‘I wonder what these people think about Jesus Christ’. You may not ask these questions on trains, but I ask them every now and again. And the possible answer, I said to myself, is that they don’t think about Him at all. And then I asked myself the question, ‘Well, why is Jesus Christ everything to me?’ and I thought, well the answer that people could give is, ‘It’s your job. You know, you have to be serious, because that is your job, but that’s not the reason, is it, because there are millions and millions of Christians around the world for whom Jesus is everything and they are not clergy. So I then have to face the fact that my fellow passengers on the train don’t fall into either category in John 8. They are not saying He is demon-possessed and they are not worshipping Him and so there must be some huge middle-ground. And I imagine myself tapping one of these passengers on the shoulder and saying to them, ‘Excuse me. Can I just ask you a question… I am a minister and I am preaching on this on Sunday and could you please tell me what you think of Jesus Christ? Would you say that He is demon-possessed or do you worship Him?’ And I imagine the person coming back and saying, ‘I do neither. I do neither for Jesus. I do neither for Elvis Presley. I don’t call him demon-possessed and I don’t worship him. And I do the same for Jesus. I don’t call Him demon-possessed and I don’t worship Him.’
And then I find myself with the very awkward position of wondering if there is a middle-ground which is just very reasonable. And the middle-ground is very safe. You know, they are not devilish and they are not fanatics. They are just in that nice, safe middle-ground. And then I go back to John Chapter 8 and I look at what Jesus actually said. And I discover in Verse 12 that if you are not actually following Him, you are not in the light and you are not in the life. And then I discover Him saying in Verse 24 – if you don’t believe, you will die in your sins. And then I discover Him saying, in Verse 31 – if you don’t hold to the truth, you are not a disciple and you are not free. And then I discover Him saying in Verse 51 – if you don’t keep His Word, you are facing death, not just physical death, but serious eternal death. And so I discover that Jesus is making Himself crucial, and He is removing the possibility that there is any middle-ground. He is declaring middle-ground to be non-existent.
The point of this is that you don’t get a middle-ground in the world. You don’t get people who are just neutral about Jesus. It does look like it, in the short-term. And I think that you are I are fooled to think that there are lots of people who are just on a safe middle-ground. But the Bible tells us that they are moving to two different ends, and one end is called praise and worship and one end is called insult and grief. They are moving in two different directions – everybody.
And so there is one group on the train, and I fear that it is probably the majority, and they are not following Christ and they don’t want to get close to Christ and they don’t want to get close to the light. And if you push the claims of Christ hard enough on them, up will come something which is quite hostile. It may be the insult of Verse 48 or it may be the rocks of Verse 49, but underneath that calm, neutral surface, up will come the hostility.
And then there is another group on the train and they are following Christ. They may, sadly, be way too few. They do want to get close to the light. They do want to walk with Christ and if you push through their sinfulness and their weakness and their hypocrisy, you discover that God has put a brand new life in their heart and a brand new concern in their heart and that is that they want Christ to be honoured, and it’s miraculous.
So you see, we can’t work people out superficially, although we are tempted to do so, because actually, nobody is neutral about Christ, if you push. Everybody is on one of two directions. They are either moving steadily away from Christ or they are moving steadily to Him. Now of course, everybody is moving chronologically to Jesus. That’s the tragedy, isn’t it. Everybody is moving, day by day, steadily to Jesus. C S Lewis said, ‘Everybody is moving to Christ at the rate of 60 minutes an hour.’ And we are. We are all moving, chronologically, to see Christ. But I want to know whether people are moving keenly to Him, or whether they are moving keenly away from Him. These directions are eternally important.
On the surface, the direction away just looks like the person has very small interest in Christ … ‘Leave me alone. I have small interest in Christ.’ But Jesus says, deep down, there is hostility, darkness, a wanting of Christ to be out of the way. On the surface, the direction to Christ may seem like just special interest. Oh, you have a special interest in Christ. Great. Good for you. But the Bible says that deep down, that is miraculous. Your heart has been changed to do something unnatural, to do something supernatural, which has come to the light, although naturally, we prefer the darkness. And so there is no middle-ground.
Jesus tells us that there is no middle-ground. In the end, you will end up in a destination which is full of grief and insult, or you will end up in a destination which is full of praise and worship. The question is really not how do you sit at the present. The question is, ‘On which train do you travel?’
The last thing this morning, the supply and the demand of Christ. I was surveyed once in Blacktown when I worked in Blacktown. I was surveyed by the Esso Petrol people. Do you remember when Esso was a petrol? The Esso Petrol people wanted a name for the shops that were going to be linked to the petrol pumps. And in a moment of genius, I said that I thought that they should call their shops ‘Essentials’… a little play on Esso, you see, and then the need of what you have as you drive down the highway. And the guy wrote this down very keenly and I went home, looking forward to a CEO ringing me to say that this was a piece of genius and that they were going to use the name ‘Essentials’ and that it would now be up on the side of all the petrol stations and that I would get a small reward for this, perhaps a very large reward. But of course, nothing happened, they never took any notice. They didn’t like the idea. They went with something completely different. And the word ‘essentials’ of course is probably an exaggeration, because as you are travelling down the road, whatever that little shop can provide, it is probably not (apart from the petrol) essential… probably not.
Now by contrast, Jesus presents Himself, as you know, in the New Testament, as absolutely essential. He doesn’t say, ‘I have some truth for you which may be interesting.’ He says: I have some truth for you which is absolutely essential. You needed to know what God is like, what you are like, how the cross brings you and God together and you need to know what the future holds. I have all the information for you. It’s essential.
Francis Schaeffer, the great Francis Schaeffer, said: if you have two men in an empty room and one has a Bible and the other has no Bible, the man with no Bible has information related to the room and that is it, but the man with the Bible has information related to the room, and everything beyond. It’s crucial. The Bible is a huge gift to us, but of course Jesus also has given to us not just the information of the Scriptures, but He has also given to us life, what He calls eternal life. And that has come at the cost of His own death.
Alec Motyer says of this eternal life, ‘It is precious, unbreakable fellowship, and when a Christian dies, all the uncertainties and dangers lie behind and all the certainties and safeties lie ahead in the presence of Christ.’
Where does that leave our friends on the train, because Jesus says, ‘I have some information for you and I have Myself for you’. And the answer is, you can’t deal with the Person of Jesus unless you get the information. Without the truth, without the Word, you cannot work out Jesus. And you see in Chapter 8 how He keeps injecting the importance of His Words. Chapter 8 Verse 14 – My testimony. Chapter 8 Verse 24 – believe My claims. Chapter 8 Verse 26 – I tell the world. Verse 28 – I speak. Verse 31 – hold to My teaching. Verse 38 – I am telling you. Verse 40 – I have told you the truth. Verse 45 – I tell the truth. Verse 46 – I am telling the truth. Verse 51 – keep My Word. Verse 58 – I tell you the truth.
Jesus, you see, is an absolute tap of information. He has turned Himself on. He has run the tap into the world. There is information that is just moving through the world. You only have to drink, and you have it. And it’s critical to your decision about Jesus that you get the information about Jesus. If you want to know what Jesus is like, you are going to need Scripture information. He marries the two – words, person. It’s obvious, isn’t it. How are we going to know what He is like? Get to know what He is like. How are we going to work out whether He is important? Look at what He says and does.
Now of course, it is very convenient to separate the two and say, ‘Well, now I don’t have to deal with the Person because I don’t like the information. I don’t have to deal with the Person because I don’t trust the information.’ But Jesus won’t play that game. He says, ‘I have told you. I have shown you, to help you to make your decision.’ What a big decision that is.
So, back to our friends on the train. How are they going to assess Christ? I mean, He certainly needs to be assessed, doesn’t He? He has made a big impact on our world. It’s very important then to make some decision about Jesus Christ. He has impacted the world like nobody else. He has created a crater in our city, hasn’t He, which totally affects the way we live. Our holiday system, our calendar. He has made a big impact. How are we going to make a decision? The answer is – get the information, get the Scriptures.
How are the people on the train going to avoid making a decision about Jesus? Best strategy? Avoid the information. Steer carefully around and away from every piece of information which would help you of course to make a decision. His Word to us is a very great gift, but it does place a big demand on us. It’s a great gift but it is also a big responsibility. We have to take seriously that He has communicated.
And therefore friends, and I say this very solemnly to you because this is the world we live in. You can sit on a train and you can pretend to be completely honest about Jesus Christ, and actually you are moving away from Christ. You are glad you are moving away from Christ. You don’t want to hear anything about Christ. And that is hypocrisy. There is no integrity in that at all. That is just saying, ‘I don’t have to make a decision, because I am not going to think.’ But if you get the information on Jesus Christ – you know, maybe you just have John 8 – and He delights to give information, He really does. He is the light of the world. He loves to communicate.
And when you have the information, you must do one of two things. You must either bow down and glorify Him, which is very humbling, but that’s where eternal life begins, or you must find a way to chase Him out of your brain and you will do that either by being insulting or by getting something the equivalent of a rock to get rid of Him. But there isn’t a neutral. It will be worship, or stones. And the reason is because He is the light of the world, He polarises, and your direction today, whether it is towards Jesus Christ and His Word or whether it is away from Jesus Christ and His Word, tells you a huge amount about your destination tomorrow.
So, what are you doing today? Word and person… to or away – because that tells you a huge amount about your destination tomorrow. The light has come. What will people do?
Let’s pray. Our gracious God, we thank You for sending into the world One who has brought us crucial information and also crucial salvation. And there are so many of us here today who, by nature, would move away from the Lord Jesus, and have done. And now, in Your sheer kindness, You have turned us round and brought us to the light, in order that we might know Him and live. And we are deeply thankful to You, our heavenly Father and we pray in the midst of this very needy and dark world, that You would give to people the courage and the need and the humility and the desire to turn to the truths of the Lord Jesus and find the Person of the Lord Jesus, and enter into the light and the life which He has come to bring. Please help us to be Your faithful and useful servants in a dark world. We especially pray that You would help us to live as good representatives of the One who is the light. We ask it in His Name. Amen.
- See the whole series, ‘ Five Bold Claims of Jesus— A Christian Growth Series
- See more of Simon Manchester’s Christian Growth messages
- See more on the topic of Jesus