Jesus replied . . . “I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.”
“Our father is Abraham!” they declared.
“No,” Jesus replied, “for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example. Instead, you are trying to kill me because I told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham never did such a thing. No, you are imitating your real father.”
They replied, “We aren’t illegitimate children! God himself is our true Father.”
Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me.Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:38-44)
Man, this must have felt so insulting. I’m trying to imagine someone coming to me in my younger days and saying, “You think you’re all tight with God, but I see the Devil all over you.” I would have been very hurt and upset.
The Jews must have been completely rocked. In their minds, they were keeping the law and honoring God. And instead of commending them, Jesus told them that their father was the devil and they had broken the 10 commandments.
It’s very sobering to think that Jesus would have said the same to us before we became Christians. Because we also were children of the devil.
It took me awhile to see and admit this. I remember telling myself when I was studying the Bible, “My sins aren’t so bad. I mean, I just do what everyone does, kick up my heels a little. I’m basically a good girl. I’m not as bad as others.”
But how was I different than the Jews that Jesus condemned? I lied at times, so I was a liar. I loved to do many things that God calls evil, like getting high, or reading smutty books, or being immoral. I didn’t kill anyone, but I had animosity towards people, so according to Matthew 5, I was still in the doghouse. Plus, Jesus had to die because of my sins, so in a sense, I was culpable for his death.
There’s a real sting and shame in knowing that I once belonged to the Devil. But that acknowledgement is also good and necessary. Because when we know what we were, and contrast that with what we are now, we can have an endless source of gratitude.
“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. . . . But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that he made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our sins –it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:1-5, abridged)
I’ve been praying with an online group that prays for brothers and sisters all over the world who are struggling with Covid 19. Each session, the group also thanks God for every person who was healed, a list that’s become several hundred names long. Sometimes I find myself wishing that we didn’t have to always express gratitude for each healed person. It takes so long. Couldn’t last week’s thanks be enough? Or could we thank God in general for all of the answered prayers?
But if I had been one of those people who had been in ICU for days, on the razor’s edge of death, wouldn’t it have felt like the most amazing thing ever to be healed and out of the hospital? Wouldn’t I want to thank God every day that I was alive?
That’s how we should feel that we once belonged to the Devil, but now we belong to God, that we once were dead in our sins, but now we are alive with Christ. It’s an amazing miracle. It’s humbling. We were on the razor’s edge of Hell, and Jesus brought us back from the brink.
A week ago, my friend Christina came over, and as we visited, she told me how she survived Hurricane Katrina. She was living in the 9th Ward when the levy gave way, and one of her family members happened to have a neighbor with a 3 story house. She and others in her family waded through waist deep rising waters to this neighbor’s house and lived 4-5 days on the 3rd story until they were evacuated by helicopter. If they hadn’t have had that neighbor to stay with, it’s very possible that they would have perished, as many around them with 1 or 2 story houses did.
Christina could have died, but she didn’t. Not only does she have life, but it’s life changing to realize how close she came to losing it.
So as we read back over Jesus’s words to the Jews, may it be life changing for us to realize how close it could have been, and what a gift it is that we were snatched out of the jaws of death, and given eternal life.
Here are three takeaways from today’s red letter passage:
- That Jesus sees those in sin as children of the Devil, belonging to him.
- That we also at one point were in sin, and were children of the Devil. (Romans 3:23)
- That the Jews were an example of the wrong kind of heart. They resisted Jesus’s teaching about sin. We should acknowledge this and the full implications of it.
- That acknowledging where we were, contrasted with where we are now, can and be a source of unending gratitude.
It’s funny. The older I get, the more clearly I see the sins of my youth. (Not to say I don’t sin now!) I have compassion on my younger self, but also know I made some pretty foolish choices. And I had a stubborn prideful streak that got me in more trouble. Wow. By the grace of God, I was placed on the most wonderful trajectory. I am so glad that I didn’t fumble and bump through the years by myself. How empty I would be now, instead of full and overflowing! May this spur me to praise God always, through every storm.
“However, you are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, people who belong to God. You were chosen to tell about the excellent qualities of God, who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not God’s people, but now you are. Once you were not shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy.” (I Peter 2:9-10 GWT)