Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents a five-part series of messages exploring the bold claims of Jesus. This week, Part 4: The Claim to Free the World.
Part 4: The Claim to Free the World
I don’t know if you read the author Bill Bryson, but he has a lovely story in his memoirs which is describing growing up in the 1950s, what he calls the innocent 1950s. The book is called ‘The life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid’ and he tells a lovely story of a Mrs Julia Chase of Maryland who, while on a tour of the White House, on 3 April 1956, slipped away from her tour group and vanished into the heart of the building.
For four and a half hours, Mrs Chase (who was later described as ‘dishevelled, vague, and not quite lucid’) wandered through the White House, setting small fires – five in all. Bill Bryson said, “That’s how tight security was in those days… a not quite lucid woman was able to roam unnoticed through the executive mansion for more than half a working day.’ He says, ‘You can imagine the response if anyone tried anything like that now – instantaneous alarms, scrambled air-force jets, swat teams dropping from panels in the ceiling, tanks rolling across the lawns, 90 minutes of sustained gunfire, the awarding of medals of bravery afterwards, including the 76 killed by friendly fire. But in 1956, Mrs Chase, when found, was taken to the staff kitchen, was given a cup of tea, and released into the care of her family and was never heard of again.”
It’s a great shift, isn’t it, in my lifetime. And one of the major reasons why life was so free in the 1950s is that the truth was generally accepted. If people agreed on general behaviour, as they did, they didn’t have to clamp down quite so hard. Today of course, truth has been much abandoned and so there is an avalanche of rules and regulations, to make sure that we co-operate.
The principle is very simple: if you throw truth out, then you have to bring down some kind of control. If you don’t have free co-operation, it has to be an enforced co-operation. And it’s not an accident that today, we have so much legislation.
That’s why our New Testament passage this morning is so important. It’s the famous words, world famous words, where Jesus says in John Chapter 8, ‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free’. And not only are the words globally famous, but they are globally urgent. People really do need to know what Jesus meant when He said these words, because they are lifted out of context and they are used in the weirdest and the weediest ways.
So we are on a short journey of Chapter 8 of John’s gospel in the mornings. We need to see what Jesus taught, of course, but we also need to see His example, the way He conducted Himself, because He was living in a very hostile situation, and we live in a hostile situation. And we are being pressured to ask the question regularly – is it appropriate to speak of Christ? I have found that if I go visiting now in North Sydney, in the old days it was appropriate. Now it is considered inappropriate. If I raise the subject of Christianity at a party it was considered in the past reasonably appropriate. It is now considered inappropriate. And so we have to ask ourselves whether it is inappropriate to be people who represent Christ. And of course, if you go back to John Chapter 8, you will discover that Jesus set an example for us and we are to walk in His steps and present the great truths of Christ in a way which is clear and loving.
Well, I want to divide our passage this morning into two parts:
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- Truth is Ultimately a Person. (Verses 31-32)
- Freedom is Ultimately a New Person. (Verses 33-41)
Truth is Ultimately a Person
First of all, truth is ultimately a person, John Chapter 8 Verse 31. ‘To the Jews who believed in Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”’ The background to this is that Jesus is speaking in the temple. We have seen in the last two Sundays that He has presented a very gracious claim, positively – I am the light of the world – it should be fantastic news for people. And then He presents it negatively, as we saw last week – without Me, you will die; you will perish.
It is interesting, He is not just offering information. He is not just saying, ‘I will mentally inform you.’ He is actually saying that you are in a darkness which is more than just intellectual… I am not just giving you information, I am going to release you from the darkness of lies and ignorance, but I am also going to liberate you, He says, from the darkness of sin and death. It is a very big offer that He makes. And in Chapter 8 Verse 30, as a result, we read that many put their faith in Him.
Now it’s great, isn’t it, that many put their faith in Him, but is it real, because He immediately turned to them and said: if you remain in My Word, you are really My disciples. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free… and they got angry, so they resisted Him. And you have to scratch your head at that point and think are they really putting their faith in Him at all.
Verse 30 – they have faith, sometimes superficial faith. Verse 31 – Jesus shows them how to go forward, how to go deeply. And Verse 32 – they are feisty, the whole idea that they need to be free is offensive.
So let’s begin with the question of truth this morning. This is the first thing that Jesus says… if you are a new believer, if you want to know what Jesus would say to you, and you have just become a Christian, this is probably what He would say to you. He would probably say John 8 Verse 31 – remain in My Word and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
In other words, He would probably say to you – stay with what I say, stick to My message… read the Bible, which is exactly what we say to new believers. We echo Jesus, when a person becomes a Christian, we say to them – turn to your Bible, find somebody who will teach it to you, or read it for yourself. If you have someone who will teach it to you… great. If you have to do it on your own, do it on your own. But in the end, get into your Bible. That’s what I did when I became a brand new Christian. I went and bought myself a brand new Bible. I just started reading from the beginning to the end. Nobody told me what to do.
One of the things that we are always thinking about at St Thomas’s is how do we get new believers established or grounded in the Scriptures. And that is what Jesus says here. Read the Bible. Then you will of course be able to stand on the promises. You will be able to build your life on the Scriptures. And you see that He is saying this, not because He has shares in the Bibles and we don’t say it because we have shares in Bible sales. We are not trying to control you when we say, ‘Read the Bible’. We are not trying to tease you when we say, ‘Read the Bible’. We are wanting you to understand the truth, so that you will be clear, just as a parent would say to a primary child, ‘This is the bus number that you are to look for on the front of the bus and when you see this bus number, that bus will take you safely home’. Just as the government would say to adults, ‘If you want to understand workplace relations, you must get this little leaflet and read it.’ And Jesus, you see, wants His people to be safe, so He says, ‘Stick to the Bible’.
The flip-side of this of course is that there are believers who get no Bible basics and they are either not given them, or they think they don’t need them, they think that it is not particularly important or they have no interest in them. I imagine if I were shaking hands with you today, one by one, and I said, ‘What did you read in your Bible yesterday?’ there will be a whole lot of people who will look blankly. Okay, so maybe yesterday was a bad day. What happened the day before yesterday when you read your Bible? Blank. What have you read this week in your Bible? Blank.
Well friends, it is no wonder, if you don’t read your Bible on a regular basis, you end up with very little understanding. It’s no wonder you end up like a tourist in a country where you don’t know the language. You have really got to know the Bible.
You have really got to read your Bible.
Start with Mark’s gospel. Read your Bible.
Read the gospels.
Read the letters.
Get to know the New Testament. Know what the New Testament is about.
Know what the letters are about.
Get to know the promises.
Jesus says, ‘Hold to My teaching’. He doesn’t just say read the Bible in general. He says, Hold to My teaching – My Word – He says. And the benefits are that you will be My disciple, you will know the truth and the truth will free you. The most wonderful thing of course is that you could be His disciple. It’s very important that you would know the truth. And then the great blessing is that you will be set free by the truth.
Now what is the truth? Does the truth mean the red-letter section of some Bibles, you know the very words that Jesus said? Is that what He wants you to read? Is it that there are some phrases that will free you – give me the top ten phrases that will free me. That is a very important question, because people have lifted the phrase ‘The truth will set you free’ out of its biblical context and they have assumed, you see, that you can just get certain little pieces of information and that will free you. Here is your fridge-magnet, here is your bumper sticker… that will free you. So I want to ask the question – can information free you – and is that what Jesus wants is to know in this passage?
First of all, can information free you? And the answer is that information can free you. It is very liberating to get some information. If you are waiting for some results from the doctor, and they come through as good, it is very liberating. If you are waiting for exam results and they come through as good, it is liberating. If you are wondering where your lost child is, and the information comes through, it is liberating. You can be liberated by information. That is why when people come to understand the information of Jesus, it is liberating. Yes, He lived. Yes, He died for me. Yes, He rose again. And I have watched people as a pastor just come to grasp those three things: He really did live, He died for me, He rose again … and be liberated. It sets them free.
But I don’t need to tell you that selling truth or commending truth or telling truth today is very difficult. It is much harder now, than when I began in this church, much much harder. We are in, roughly, the 20th year of what has been called post-modernism. Post-modernism is normally traced to 1987. That’s where many many people turned their back on the modern mindset. If I can give you a little sketch of thinking over the centuries, in the 18th century, there was a shift in people’s thinking from ‘religion tells you the facts’ to ‘science tells you the facts’.
You can’t trust religion… it has to be testable. Now of course we know that life doesn’t operate like that. That’s the shift that took place in the 18th century.
In the 19th century, there was another significant shift, where people moved from realising that people are basically sinful, to thinking that people are basically and fundamentally good. And that lasted pretty well through the 19th century, and was then blown out of the water for many people by the first World War and then the second World War.
And then we emerged from the two World Wars with what is really the end of modernism, you know, science will solve all our problems, technology will solve all our problems… patently not solving our problems. And out of the wreckage of modernism, has emerged post-modernism. And post-modernism is that dethroning of modernism. It’s not a bad thing, in a way, because it has dethroned the gods of science and technology, as if they can solve the world. But post-modernism is also very anti-foundational. That’s what makes it so difficult. There is no rock to stand on. Everything is sand. And so it’s a very weird and difficult time to speak truth to people, isn’t it.
Of course, if you go to university and you are a in the chemistry lab, you can talk about H2O – you know, that doesn’t change. If you go into the history department, you can talk about Germany invading Poland in World War 2 – that’s not going to change. But if you start to talk about what you believe, or what is valuable, or what priorities should be, or who should be followed all of that is seen to be fluid. That’s why giving your testimony is pretty straight-forward because somebody can stand up and say, ‘This is what Christ has done for me’, as long as they ‘He has done it for me… it’s private’, and don’t go on to say, ‘And therefore, you…’. But evangelism is seen to be pretty evil, isn’t it, because evangelism is saying to somebody, ‘I think you should change. I think you should change your thinking. I think you should change your direction’ and so evangelism is seen to be destructive, and oppressive and aggressive.
Now if you think that post-modernism has not crept into the church, just ask yourself how difficult it is to run a discussion with other Christians and get the thinking back to the Bible. You know that discussion groups in churches today are saying, ‘I think… I think… I think… I think’ and it’s so difficult to get people to go back and say, ‘What does the Bible say?’
I don’t meet too many Christians who are making their decisions, their big decisions with the compass of the Bible. I meet so many Christians who are making their big decisions with the compass of the world. That’s how people in the church are making their decisions, they are thinking like the world. In the old days, they would think like the Bible.
However, I don’t want you to despair because we are in this fog and I don’t know how long it will last, post-modernism. It has been around for 20 years and modernism was around for 350 years, but ideas and issues are speeding very quickly and post-modernism could be over, hopefully, in another 24 hours – well, that would be great. But it looks as though it is in for a while. I don’t want you, however, to despair. Just take a leaf out of Jesus’ book because what Jesus does in John Chapter 8, very simply, is He sets forth the truth (it is still the truth), He shows the consequences if you turn your back on it and He shows the benefits if you pursue it. And that’s really what you and I are called to do: set forth the truth, show the consequences if you don’t, show the benefits if you do. And the truth has its own way, in the power of the Spirit, of changing people’s lives. It always has and it always will. We just happen to be in a very slippery day.
Now I also ask the question: is that what Jesus wants us to know here in this passage? Is He wanting us to know that looks and information will free you? The answer is Yes and No. Yes (Verse 32) – the truth will set you free. No (Verse 36), the Son, the Son of God must set you free. Truth will free you. The Son will cause you to be free indeed. This is very important because again, people have depersonalised this teaching of Jesus, this very famous teaching. They have made out that you just need a couple of texts. You just need a little bit of information, but Jesus says: if you want to be truly free, if you want to be profoundly free, wonderfully free, eternally free, then you are not only going to need the truth, which are words, but you are also going to need the truth that is Him. You see? He won’t separate truth and Him. You need what He says, but you need Him if you are to be truly free.
So if you have a friend who is not a Christian and they say or they think ‘I am perfectly free. I don’t want my Christian friend pestering me at all’ you have to mentally remind yourself that Jesus has a freedom which is much bigger and better than the freedom they understand. And if they then say, ‘My truth is fine. I do not need your truth’, you have to remind yourself that Jesus said that we are essentially needy of His words if we are to be set free from real lies and darkness. And if your friend says, ‘Okay, to get rid of you, give me a New Testament. I will read it I and will practise it’… you have to remind yourself that Jesus said: no, for a person to be really free, they need Jesus because He is not trying to annoy people (although He does annoy the people in John Chapter 8). He knows that the slavery that people are in, is much bigger than people realise. It’s going to need the truth and it’s going to need the Son if you are to be ever freed.
Freedom is Ultimately a New Person
That leads me to my second thing this morning, which is that freedom is ultimately you becoming a new person. Truth means, ultimately, that you need a Person called Jesus and freedom ultimately means that you become a new person (Verses 33-41).
I saw in the paper yesterday that there was a legendary soccer coach who was very unsympathetic to injury and there was a legendary story of him from the 60s where one of his players was hit pretty badly and was concussed and didn’t know where he was and didn’t know who he was. And the team doctor was pleading with the coach that he was not to go back on the field. And the doctor said to the coach, ‘Look, he doesn’t know where he is and he doesn’t know who he is’ and the coach, apparently, this famous unsympathetic coach said, ‘Look, just tell him he is Pelé and just point him to the park.’ It’s a tough call, isn’t it, to have this whispered in your ear. ‘You are Pelé… get to the park’. And of course, you need more than just something barked in your ear if you are to perform. If you have a really deep need, you are going to need a really deep solution. You are going to need to be transformed. You are going to need to be changed.
Jesus, in Chapter 8 Verse 33, is talking about a freedom which His listeners are against. They say, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants. We have never been slaves of anyone. How can You say that we should be set free?’ You see, His listeners don’t get it. They think that freedom in an outward thing – you know: I am in a free country. I go to church freely. I am an Anglican, freely. ‘I am free’, they say. It’s surprising, isn’t it, that the Jews consider themselves to have never been slaves when they have been slaves in Egypt and Babylon, Persia and Greece and Rome. But of course, what they are saying is: God rules everything… we belong to God… we are safe, all is well, we belong. We have this sort of nominal link with God.
And Jesus says in Chapter 8 Verse 34, ‘I will tell you what real slavery is: everyone who sins is a slave.’
Well there is a frightening thought, isn’t it. I say this to you this morning and I say this to me this morning: if you sin, you are a slave … and you are just, Jesus says, on borrowed time.
One writer says, ‘The most vicious form of bondage is not bondage to oppressive political systems. It’s slavery to failure, to sin. The evil habits that we cannot break, the selfish desires that we must gratify and the shameful guilt that we cannot escape.’ It’s true, isn’t it. One of the most wretched, dreadful slaveries that we ever experience is being inwardly in the grip of something. We can be in the most wonderful circumstances. We could be on an island holiday, and we are absolutely consumed with jealously or rage or anger or greed or lust or fear. They grip us. They drive us. We are restless.
There is something even worse than that, however, and that is in Chapter 8 Verse 37, which I think is an excellent definition of real sin, and that is to be hostile to Jesus. He puts it like this. Jesus says, ‘Yet, you are ready to kill Me, to get rid of Me, because you have no room for My Word.’ That is the real essence of sin – Christ … get out of here! Christianity … get out of here! Discipleship … get out of here! That is the essence of sin. And the price you pay, as we read in Chapter 38 Verse 35, is that you therefore have no place in God’s family. You are just in His world, on borrowed time. The rejecting of Christ means that you just have to hang around in the world until finally you are rejected by Christ, and that’s absolutely dreadful. It is, literally, hell. And it’s only when we see this slavery of saying No to Christ and therefore being in the bondage of sin and gripped by sin and going, eventually, to judgement, that we are so grateful for Jesus Christ. We ask the question: is it possible that anybody could save me from rejecting Christ and being consumed by sin and eventually being judged and sent to hell? Is there anyone who could save me from this escalator downwards? And the answer of the Bible comes back – it’s Jesus Christ. And He is able to save us from a slavery which is much worse than outward slavery.
See Jesus is not now talking about some small slavery. He is not missing the important headlines of the newspapers. He is not missing what is going on in the world television news. He is not reading the wrong paper. He is not suddenly caught up in the church times or something like that. He has identified the big issue which really enslaves people, and that is sin. He has put His finger on the real problem. The problem with so many other people, of course, is that they miss what Jesus sees and therefore, they just lurch from some kind of outward slavery to then some kind of moral slavery and they never really get saved from the real slavery.
How Does Jesus Make Us Free?
Now Jesus is a realist. He recognises that the world does not need new structures. What the world mostly needs is new people. The Son, He says, can make you free.
How does He do this? The answer is mostly in Verse 35. You see that the Son has a permanent place in the family, so He is okay. Well, how are you going to get a permanent place in the family? The answer of the New Testament is that the Son (that’s Jesus, who has a permanent place in the family) will give-up His permanent place in the family, so that you can have a permanent place in the family. And that’s what He does at the cross. For people like us, who are on death-row, He steps out of the family and out of the fellowship, in order that you, the believer, might step into the family and into the fellowship.
Do you remember Jesus said, in John 14, ‘I go to prepare a place for you. I go to the cross to prepare a place for you.’ When we grasp what He did on the cross, when we see there that on the cross, He gave up His place, so that we would have a place. And when we see there on the cross, we realise that He was rejected by God so that we would never be rejected by God. And when we realise that on the cross, He took the darkness and He took the death, so that we would have the light and the life. And we put our trust in Him, we are amazingly, profoundly, spiritually and eternally set free. We are free from the prospect of ever being removed from God. We are free to enjoy God’s acceptance forever. We are free from the penalty that sin deserves and we are free to enjoy all that Christ deserves. We are free from the ability of sin to destroy us and drag us down to Judgement and hell and we are free by the Spirit of God to change us and take us to glory. We are forgiven and we are reborn. This is an inward change. It means a person has a new heart, they have a new life, they become a new person.
Our Chance to Accept or Reject
Sadly, of course, as we see in the rest of our passage, the people to whom Jesus was speaking rejected this because they could not cope with the idea that they had an inward problem. They just resisted and resisted. The whole idea that they had a need and therefore they didn’t need a Saviour and they missed everything. But to those who see their need and who see the Saviour, they are wonderfully freed.
D L Moody, the preacher, used to say, ‘You prove that you are a sinner and I will prove that you have a Saviour’ and when he was preaching once, an old man, a very feisty crusty difficult old man was converted and his servant back at the house said, ‘I don’t know what’s happened to my master. It’s the same suit, but a different man inside.’ And that’s what being freed means… you become a new person.
So the shock of our passage, you see, is that if you want to find the truth, you will need the words, but they will lead you to the Person of Jesus. Truth is, ultimately, a Person. That’s what the world misses. ‘The truth will set you free,’ says the world. ‘Ah,’ Jesus says, ‘I am the truth’. And then the other shock of course is that ultimately, freedom means that you become a new person. Freedom, you see, is not just a new outward thing, it’s a new inward thing. And I wonder if non-Christians in our day have any idea how real, how bad, the slavery is that they belong to. They have no Christ. It’s just hell waiting to happen, isn’t it. And I wonder whether the Christian, whether we realise the great freedom to which we belong. To know Christ – it’s just Heaven waiting to happen.
Well let’s pray, let’s bow our heads. Our gracious God, we thank You this morning, that You have sent into the world, undeserved by us, Someone who would bring the light of life and would do that by taking the darkness of death in our place. We thank You that it’s possible, through the Lord Jesus, to have a place forever in Your family. We thank You that it’s possible, through the Lord Jesus, to have a new life in our heart. We thank You that it’s possible, through the Lord Jesus, to have a new home in the future. We pray that You would help us to remain in Your Word, and to be a true disciple and to know the truth and to be truly free. And we pray that You would help us, in a difficult environment, to tell the good news and that You would give people ears to hear, and the will to respond. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.