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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.45am Svc, 2009-04-19

Text: John 8:48-59

If you have been following the news lately, you may have read about the dramatic rescue of a ship's captain last Sunday from Somali pirates who had held him hostage in a lifeboat for 3 days. Besides his family, the ones who were most happy and relieved to hear of the rescue of Captain Richard Philipps were 19 crew members of his ship. He was their hero because he had surrendered himself to the treacherous pirates in order to save all of them. He was given a hero's welcome when he returned home 2 days ago. Philipps was quick to disclaim the honour that was lavished on him, saying that the real heroes are the U.S. Navy and those who had rescued him and brought him home. But there is no doubt that he will go down in naval history as a good captain who was willing to sacrifice his own life for the sake of his men. 

Do you know that we have a Captain who was willing to sacrifice Himself to save us? This Captain of our salvation is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 2:10). If not for Him, we would all perish in the eternal fires of hell. He is truly our great hero who gave His own precious life to die on the cross for our sins. What this means is that we now stand eternally indebted to Him. No one deserves more honour from us than our Lord Jesus. We should certainly honour Him most abundantly. Our lives should be lived for His glory and honour, so that the name of Jesus will always be exalted in us and through us. 

But what does it really mean to honour Christ? What are the full implications of honouring Christ on the way we live? For some people, honouring Christ merely means regarding Him as one among many other honoured people. Do you know that many who claim to honour Christ are merely paying lip-service to Him? They claim that they know Him and they sing the most glorious praises of His name, but their lives and conduct are as worldly and sinful as those who do not know Christ! In fact more dishonour is being brought to the name of Christ by those who claim to know Him than by those who don't know Him at all. This is one reason why many non-Christians do not want to listen to the Gospel any more - they have been terribly stumbled by Christians who dishonour Christ in their lives. As we look at God's Word this morning, I would like all of us to take a close look at ourselves to see if we are truly honouring Christ in our lives. From our study of John 8:48-59I would like to suggest that there are 4 questions that can help us to determine if we truly honour Christ. 

I. Do You Assess His Person and Character Correctly? (vv.48-50)

You may remember that in a previous sermon 4 weeks ago, we saw that Jesus was speaking to a group of Jews who were looking for an opportunity to accuse Him, arrest Him and kill Him (7:1,25). When these Jews claimed that Abraham was their father, Jesus challenged that claim by showing the vast difference between them and Abraham in their treatment of Him. Then the Jews claimed that God was their Father. But Jesus showed that this really was an empty claim because they do not love Him, the Son whom God had sent to them. Finally Jesus revealed who their spiritual father really was. He said to them very boldly, 'Ye are of your father the devil' (v.44). This was certainly not the nicest thing to say to them, but it had to be said for their own good. What they needed most was to humbly accept the truth of their spiritual paternity and to seek God's help to change it.

But instead of doing that, these Jews now hit back at Him: 'You have the cheek to say that we are sons of the Devil. Well, listen to this - WE say that you are a Samaritan and that you have a devil in you.' This was not merely an attempt to insult Jesus with the most horrible names they could come up with at the spur of the moment. It was something that they had deliberately thought out. We see this in the words of v.48, 'Say we not well that thou are a Samaritan, and hast a devil?' In other words they claimed to have rightly assessed Jesus to be a Samaritan and to have a devil. 

Calling someone a 'Samaritan' does not necessarily mean that he comes from Samaria. It was a term of reproach that could be applied to any Jew who was deviant in doctrine or who was disloyal to the Jewish nation. The other insult - the one about having a devil - was not new. In John 7:20 when Jesus asked the crowd why they sought to kill Him, they replied, 'Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee?' The term 'thou hast a devil' was therefore meant to imply that Jesus was a demented or insane person. So what the Jews said in v.48 reveals their claim to have rightly assessed Jesus to be a deviant, disloyal and demented Jew. Hence they think they do not need to take whatever He says or does seriously. But by doing this they not only discredited all His words and His works. They also dishonoured Him.

Today there are also people who make the same claim: They think they have rightly assessed Jesus but end up dishonouring Him. And although they have not gone to the same extent as these Jews who said that Jesus was deviant, disloyal and demented, the dishonour they have done to Him is no less serious. For instance, there are cults that rob Jesus of His deity, like the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons. And many today believe that Jesus was nothing more than a great teacher or prophet. Three years ago, 'The Da Vinci Code' by Dan Brown popularized the utterly horrendous notion that Jesus secretly married Mary Magdalene and fathered a child by her, and that this was skillfully covered up by the Church. At the time that the Da Vinci Code movie was released, there was also much publicity about a newly-discovered Gospel - 'the Gospel of Judas' - which grossly misrepresented Jesus as a bringer of higher knowledge who constantly laughs scornfully at the ignorance of his disciples. These are just a small sampling of the many perversions and misjudgments of the character and person of Christ that are circulating the globe today. Please understand this: They are utterly dishonouring to Him. Jesus says to those who hold or perpetrate them as He said to the Jews in v.49 'Ye do dishonour me.' If you entertain any unbiblical notions, ideas and theories about Christ, you dishonour Christ. If your concept of Him is based on some legend, fable or story that you read outside the Bible, you dishonour Christ. If you want to honour Christ, your assessment of His character and person must not be based on what you or others think He is. It must be based solely and entirely on who He really is, as revealed in the Scriptures. So the first question that can help to determine whether you truly honour Christ is, 'Do you assess His person and character correctly?' The second question is:

II. Do you Accept and keep His Word reverently? (vv.51-53)

When the Lord Jesus speaks, do you pay attention and listen carefully? Do you accept whatever He says as God's authoritative truth? Do you respond to it with trust and obedience? Do you say, 'Jesus says it. That settles it. I believe it'? Or do you doubt what He says? Now, if you doubt and question what Jesus says, as the Jews in our passage did, you dishonour Him. Please look at what Jesus said in v.51 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.' This is one of the most precious promises in the Scriptures, for it deals with the affliction that is most distressing to all mankind - the inevitable end called death! 

There is surely no heart that has never been weighed down or troubled with the thought of death. Are we not reminded of death everyday? - death by earthquake and fire, death by political rioting and violence, death by mass food poisoning, and the death of friends and loved ones by old age and terminal cancer. Within the past 2 weeks alone, I conducted one funeral and attended two wakes. 

If it were not for this amazing promise of eternal life from Jesus, such events would only spell utter futility and hopelessness for all of us, for there would be absolutely nothing good to hope for beyond death. But the promise of Jesus has turned death into a passageway to a better life. Now, those who trust in Jesus to keep this promise will still die like everyone else, but they will not see eternal death, and all fear will be removed from the process of dying. As Stephen breathed his last breath, he saw Jesus standing in heaven and he said, 'Lord Jesus receive my spirit' (Acts 7:56,59). When Lazarus the beggar died, angels carried up up to heaven (Luke 16:22) How blessed it is to die the death of the righteous (Numbers 23:10)! And this promise of Jesus comes with the greatest possible assurance from Him, for the literal translation of v.51 goes like this, 'If a man keep my saying, he shall certainly never see death for ever.'

What amazes us is that Jesus said this not to those who loved Him and followed Him, but to those who hated Him and were fully against Him! It was the most undeserved offer of eternal life to the Jews who had just dishonoured Him so blatantly. But it indicated that there was still hope left for them, if only they would change from rejecting to accepting everything He had said to them. But what did the Jews do with this precious promise? Verses 52 and 53 reveal their awful response. Not only did they reject it, they used it as ammunition for another vicious attack on Jesus! They said, 'Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?' Can you see how they misinterpreted the words of Jesus? They assumed that the word 'death' in His statement refers to physical death. Since Abraham and all the Old Testament prophets had died, there is no way that Jesus can keep anyone from dying without being greater than Abraham and the prophets. Therefore they concluded that He is mad. 

I trust that you can see what terrible dishonour these Jews had done to our Lord by twisting His wonderful words of life for their own ends. The priceless promise of eternal life had been offered to them so graciously, but they spurned it. They were just like the proverbial swine who trample the most precious pearls under their feet and then attack the one who had cast the pearls before them (Matthew 7:6). How can the wonderful words of life from Jesus be treated like this? 

Before we judge these Jews, let us inquire whether we are doing the very same thing. If we truly want to honour Christ we must not be careless in the way we treat His Word. Firstly, we must listen attentively when He speaks. Nothing is more dishonouring to a speaker than to have his audience pay little or no attention to what he is saying to them. He might as well not speak to them at all. Secondly, we must take the trouble to understand accurately what Christ means by what He speaks. And if we don't understand what He means, then we should bother to ask and enquire until we are sure that we do not misconstrue His words and make the wrong conclusions. 

Perhaps you have dishonoured Christ by failing to treat His Word with reverence. Perhaps you have not been listening to it attentively. You read the words in your Bible, but nothing registers in your mind because it is pre-occupied with other thoughts. And perhaps when you come across something in the Bible that you do not fully understand, you don't bother to search and find out its meaning. Or worse still, perhaps you allow your imperfect understanding to lead you to misconstrue His Words, and you end up teaching others what Jesus Himself never taught. Please consider your ways and do not dishonour Christ by any of these means.

Now, these 2 steps that we have just seen - listening to His Word attentively and understanding His Word accurately - are essential to honouring Christ, but the honour is still incomplete until we keep His Word actively. In verse 51 Jesus said, 'If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.' The word 'keep' here does not merely mean safely keeping something that one has been entrusted with. It means observing it, fulfilling it, and obeying it. And this is really the most important part of your response to the Word of Christ. The book of James says that if you are only a hearer of the Word, you deceive your own self (James 1:22). You must be a doer of the Word and not just a hearer. 

And this applies especially to the unsaved. Perhaps there may be someone in our midst who has not yet come to Jesus Christ for salvation. If you are that person, please don't stop at just hearing His precious promise - 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.' (v.51) Listen to the voice of Jesus speaking to your heart. He is calling you to do something: He wants you to receive eternal life from Him by turning to Him in faith and humble repentance. Without doing this, you will see not only physical death but eternal death as well, because your sins will bring you under God's condemnation. But Jesus is able to save you from eternal death because He died on the cross, in the place of sinners. 

Now He calls you to turn to Him. Will you keep His saying? Will you obey Him and have the eternal life only He can give? Please make no delay in turning to Christ for salvation, for it does Him no honour to make Him wait too long for your response. Come to Him right now, if you believe that Jesus deserves the honour He claims from all men. And the honour that Jesus claims, dear friends, is nothing but the greatest honour we can give. This leads us now to the third question that can help us to determine if we truly honour Him:

III. Do you Ascribe all Greatness to Him?

Please look at v.54 of our scripture passage. Here Jesus answers the Jews' question, 'Whom makest thou thyself?' He says that it is God the Father who honours Him. This glorious truth is fully elaborated in Philippians 2:9-11 which tells us that, 'God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.'

If you confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father, then please regard Him as the greatest person in your life - greater than your favourite leader or teacher, greater than your favourite soccer player, actor or singer, greater than your closest friend, your parent, spouse or child, and most of all, greater than yourself. Christ must be Lord of all, otherwise He is not your Lord at all. The presence of any competitor or rival to the highest place in your heart dishonours Him. 

Now, the Jews who opposed Jesus thought very differently from this. From what they said in v.53 it is obvious that they held Abraham in the highest esteem. No one other than God could be greater than Abraham. In fact the Jews still revere him now as the beginning of the Jewish people. Hence the slightest suggestion that anyone is greater than Abraham made them bristle with rage. And it was their excessive esteem for Abraham that ultimately prevented them from accepting Jesus. 

Hence, Jesus had to correct their thinking by revealing what He was to Abraham. Firstly, He said in v.56, 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day.' Jesus and Abraham had met and known each other personally. We had seen in a previous message that this encounter took place in Genesis chapter 18 just before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was one of the pre-incarnate appearances of Christ. By saying that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, Jesus showed the Jews that He deserved at least equal esteem with Abraham from them. But what was their response to this? It was one of scorn and disbelief - 'Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?' (v.57)

If this was too hard for them to accept, they would definitely not be able to accept what Jesus said next 'Verily, verily I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.' (v.58) This implies that Jesus deserves to be esteemed not merely as a friend of Abraham, but as the God of Abraham. The words 'I AM' in this verse is actually the name God used to reveal Himself to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus chapter 3. (Exodus 3:13-14 'And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.') The name 'I AM' is a very unique name. it speaks of God's eternal existence. It tells us that from everlasting to everlasting He is God (cf. Psalm 90:2). Therefore the saying, 'Before Abraham was, I am,' was a direct claim of Jesus that He is God. 

If anyone should ever tell you that Jesus never claimed to be God, you must show him this verse, John 8:58, for it is the most direct claim to deity made by Jesus in the four gospels. And any Jew who heard what Jesus said in this verse would understand that Jesus was saying, 'I am God.' That is why the very next verse says that they took up stones to cast at Him.

They thought that He was only a man and therefore His claim to be God makes Him guilty of blasphemy. The irony of it all is that this claim was true, but because of their spiritual blindness and refusal to regard anyone to be greater than Abraham, they simply could not accept it, and they ended up dishonouring the One they should have honoured. 

Let us be careful not to do the same thing to Christ. If you truly want to honour Christ, please do not let your esteem for anything or anyone in your life become greater than your esteem for Him. Christ must always have the highest place or pre-eminence in your life. All things must be placed below Him. You should ascribe all greatness to Him alone, and not only that: You should also aspire to see His day, as Abraham did, according to v.56 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.' From this we derive the fourth and final question that can help us to determine whether we truly honour Christ:

IV. Do you Aspire to See His Day with Gladness?

Awhile ago we saw that the Jews of Jesus' day took up stones to cast at Him. Their hostility to Him had been growing throughout the events in chapters 7 and 8 of John. Initially they tried to trap Him and arrest Him. They got into some heated debates with Him, and then, as we saw earlier in this sermon, they used name-calling on Him. But now for the very first time, they resorted to using violence - by attempting to stone Him to death. About six months later they would succeed in doing their worst to Jesus, putting Him to death on the cross. Compare all this with the way that Abraham responded to Christ. Jesus said, 'Abraham rejoiced to see my day.' Even before his encounter with the pre-incarnate Christ recorded in Genesis 18, Abraham already knew that the Saviour of the world would come one day as his own descendant. God had revealed to him that all the families of the earth would be blessed in him (Genesis 12:3). 

And after his encounter with Christ, Abraham was given a dramatized preview of the work of Christ, when God commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. Just when Abraham was about to plunge the knife into his beloved son, God stopped him and commanded him to sacrifice in Isaac's place, a ram which was caught in a nearby bush (Genesis 22:1-13). Abraham's joy and sense of anticipation must have increased with each new glimpse he received of the day of Christ. 

We can only imagine how glad Abraham must have been when the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ finally took place on earth, and Abraham beheld all these events from heaven. 

This kind of rejoicing, gladness and eager anticipation is really most honouring to Christ, for it reveals a heart that is on fire with love and desire for Him. And the question we should ask is whether we have this kind of gladness and joy when we think of Christ. Does the very mention of His name thrill your soul? Is He the One that your heart yearns for? Do you aspire to see Him face to face? How much do you long for that blessed day when Jesus will return to earth with the clouds of heaven and take you home to be with Him forever? If you aspire to see the day of Christ with the greatest delight, you honour Christ; you truly honour Christ! 

But on the other hand, if you have little or no feelings for Him, or if you have no delight at the prospect of seeing Him, you do dishonour Christ. Or worse still, if you have grown weary with Him and you wish that your life could be rid of Him and of His claims to lordship, then beware that His words in v.49 are the words He wants you to hear today 'You do dishonour me.'

In today's message we have seen that the Jews dishonoured the Lord Jesus because they had failed in at least four ways - (1) They did not assess His person and character correctly, concluding that He was a Samaritan and that He had a devil; (2) They did not accept and keep His Word reverently, but doubted it and used it against Him; (3) They did not ascribe all greatness to Him, because of their greater esteem for Abraham, and (4) They did not aspire to see His day with gladness, but tried to stone Him instead. 

We have also seen how utterly unreasonable it is for us to treat Christ with dishonour, since God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name above all names; since Christ speaks such wonderful words of life to us; since Christ is none other than the great I AM, and since Christ came into the world to redeem us and He will come again to receive us. Let us all resolve therefore, that with God's help we will honour Christ in everything we do, in every choice we make, in every word we speak, in every thought we think and in every breath we take.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25