Who do you listen to? Who has authority (John 8.46-59 )
Who do you listen to? Who has authority? It’s a funny old world that we live in at the moment isn’t it? Russia flexing its muscles in Europe, Brexit and austerity, fake news, real news. It’s difficult to know who we should be listening to, or indeed who even has authority. The passage from John this morning indicates that Jesus was having precisely these issues with people, people who didn’t believe in him in the right way. It also indicates where he gest his authority from, from God.
He’s hitting them here with a few home truths, and they don’t like it, not one bit. Just before the passage we heard this morning, Jesus said to the people who were present, Jews who had believed in him, that they were slaves to sin, by trying to kill him, and that only he can set them free.
They are foaming at the mouth angry “We’ve never been slaves!” they answer, “we’re Abraham’s descendents!” This was a common boast of Jewish people at the time. Jesus then goes on to say that they are essentially illegitimate. Abraham believed and trusted in God, he relied on God’s truth. This is totally the opposite to what they’re trying to do, by attempting to kill the one who tells them God’s truth.
He says that they can only call themselves that if they do the good deeds associated with their faith, rather than trying to kill him, a completely innocent person, and that really riles them up.
Jesus was certainly not afraid of being controversial.
Can you imagine the scene in the temple with the crowd. Can you imagine being stood outside St Peter Mancroft, with Ian or myself calling you illegitimate and that you are sons and daughters of the devil. I bet you wouldn’t like it much.
So it’s from this context that our passage begins, mid ferocious argument. If they were God’s children, they’d believe the truth that Jesus has brought them from God.
Jesus doesn’t sin when he speaks the word of God, and that the glory is not for him, but for the Father. That’s how we know he’s genuine, Jesus doesn’t seek a reward for his actions, he’s not glorifying himself but with proper humility, seeks to proclaim what God tells him to.
Who do you listen to? Who has authority?
The thing that seems to strike home through this passage is the certainty of the Jewish crowd that they are right. They’re unable to listen to the amazing teaching before them, because they cannot look past their own pride. Who do they listen to? Themselves.
We have a phrase, the in group and the out group. The in group are the people included.
The crowd were so sure of their in-ness with God, that they didn’t need to listen to
what Jesus had to say. His overturning of what they thought was too much for them, they couldn’t cope, and so they rejected and despised him.
They take everything he says literally, how can you say we will never see death, Abraham died! How can you have seen Abraham, you weren’t alive then?
Jesus responds to say that they’re missing the point, they’re missing the truth of what he’s saying. They don’t know God, he’s there right in front of them.
This passage has a great deal of relevance to us now. There are some people who are obsessed with the in groups, and the out groups. Those who should be in the church, and those who shouldn’t. Jesus shows that he’s not that interested in who is in our out, that he doesn’t have a preference, but that those in the church should listen to his words, should honour him and God through their actions. Loving God, and loving our neighbour are the things that Jesus requires of us, or at least attempting to do them.
That instead of self-righteous judgement of others, perhaps listening to the unexpected, perhaps accepting mystery is the way that we should go. We are always required to confront those who are not like us with love and respect, there is no place within Christianity for trying to kill or injure emotionally or physically people who disagree with us.
Following the will of God means following the will of Jesus, and that takes discernment, but what it doesn’t mean is blocking out the voices of those who have something unexpected to say. Perhaps, it means true and solid listening to those who are different.
Secondly, when something is genuine, it gives God the glory not ourselves. To be the crème de la crème we have to put ourselves aside, which is so incredibly difficult, and try to seek God’s vision, making the kingdom reality, here and now. There are many who claim to speak for God, but if their message doesn’t have love and doesn’t give God the glory, it’s not genuine.
We’ve been doing a lot about vision here at Mancroft, and one of our vision strands is to seek to be ‘a welcoming and inspiring place for all people, wherever they are on their spiritual journey.’ It’s a hard task, but through it we will give God the glory by expanding His church, and showing his love to all people through our actions.
Who do we listen to? Ourselves or God? Hopefully God on a good day. Who has authority? Jesus and his commands, and we have the authority when we don’t throw stones at others, like the people in our reading did.
Russia can flex it’s muscles, fake news can keep on faking on, but God’s authority through Jesus Christ, never changes.
Preached at 8am Service St Peter Mancroft, Norwich.
18th March 2018