GOSPEL READING: John 8:31-42
31 Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, `You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did. 41 You do what your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.
SCRIPTURE READING: Daniel 3:14-20, 24-25,28
14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image which I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image which I have made, well and good; but if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast in and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?” 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”
19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was wont to be heated. 20 And he ordered certain mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He said to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” 25 He answered, “But I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” 28 Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set at nought the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
Meditation: Do you know the joy, peace, and freedom which God offers to those who trust in him and obey his word? God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to bring us God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Jesus came to rescue us from our sinful pride and slavery to sin. He came to rescue us from Satan’s snares and the clutches of hell, and to free us from the world’s temptation to empty glory and lust for greed and power. Only Jesus can truly set us free and reconcile us with God – every other way falls short of God’s plan to save and deliver us from death, corruption, and sin.
Why did the religious authorities reject Jesus’s offer of freedom, forgiveness, and new life in the kingdom of God? Despite Jesus’ numerous signs and miracles, the Jewish authorities could not accept his claim to speak and act in the name of his heavenly Father. They were blinded by their misguided ideas of how the Messiah would restore Israel and rule the earth. And Jesus revealed to them how Satan had led them into temptation – both to reject him as the Messiah and to thwart his claim by killing him.
Jesus met their opposition and hostility with courage and determination to do his Father’s will. He willingly embraced the cross in order to destroy the works of Satan and to save both Jews and Gentiles through his atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world. Jesus shows us the way to the kingdom of God – through faith and obedience to God’s word and will for our lives. To be a follower and disciple of the Lord Jesus requires faith and obedience – they are two sides of the same coin. The word disciple literally means one who learns from the Master and who listens to the voice of the Teacher. And the word for obedience literally means to listen under and be subordinate to the one who has rightful authority to teach and command what is just and true.
The free gift of faith
How can we grow in faith and discipleship – by faithfully following the Lord and obeying his word. Faith is a free supernatural gift of God. It is more than just a belief in the truths of God. It is first and foremost a personal relationship of trust and obedience to the Lord and his word. The Lord is worthy of our complete trust and wholehearted devotion because he is utterly reliable, just and true, and he is faithful to his word. That is why we can entrust our lives to him and submit to him without reservation.
God does not leave us in the dark or remain distant and silent. He reveals himself to all who earnestly seek him and hunger for his truth. God, in fact, first seeks us out and draws us to himself. We could not find him if he did not first seek to reveal himself to us. That is why we need to respond to God’s gracious gift of invitation with an open and receptive heart that wants to listen, learn, and receive what God wishes to give us. Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) said, “I believe, in order to understand – and I understand, the better to believe” (Sermon 43:7,9).
The test of faith
In the Old Testament Book of Daniel we see a remarkable example of faith being put to the test in the midst of trial and adversity. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three young companions of Daniel, were commanded by the king of Persia to bow down and submit to the pagan idols of his nation, they unhesitatingly said, “We will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:18). They knew God’s command, “Do not worship false idols”(Exodus 20:3-6; Deuteronomy 12:29-31). They decided it was far better to obey God and entrust their lives to him rather than give in to the threats of others. God gave them courage to take a bold stand for their faith. They willingly accepted the King’s punishment as they were bound and thrown into a burning fiery furnace.
Daniel tells us how God was very present to these three young men as they proclaimed their faith in him. God showed his presence to the three men and walked with them in the fiery furnace. As a remarkable sign of God’s power to the pagan rulers of Persia, God kept the three men from harm and delivered them from death (Daniel 3:25,28). Do you trust in God to give you his help and strength when your faith is put to the test?
True and false sources of identity
The scribes and Pharisees, who were the religious authorities of the Jews, questioned Jesus’ authority to speak and act in God’s name. They questioned Jesus’ claim to forgive sins and to set people free from slavery to sin. They understood that only God had power to forgive sins and to release people from their burden of guilt and shame. They refused to accept that Jesus’ authority was given to him by his Father in heaven. Jesus tells them that they think evil of him and desire to kill him because they are under the influence and power of the “father of lies” who is opposed to the one true Father and Creator who made us in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27).
Jesus explains that he is speaking of two different senses of “fatherhood”. The first is a physical identity through natural fatherhood. And the second and more significant identity is a self-chosen one that is the result of being led and formed in a moral way of thinking and living one’s life that has been shaped through the example, words, and influence of someone we are consciously or unconsciously following and imitating.
We do not grow or learn in a vacuum. We are shaped for better or for worse by those we choose to imitate and follow. Sin leads us away from God’s truth and the help he gives us to follow him. Slavery to sin is ultimately rooted in the father of lies (John 8:44), whom Scripture calls the devil (Luke 4:1) and Satan (Luke 10:18), the ruler of this present world who is opposed to God (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
True freedom comes from God
The freedom which Jesus offers his followers is freedom from the power of sin, Satan, and the worldly influence of those who oppose God and his ways. We are powerless to set ourselves free from bondage to Satan, sin, and death (Romans 3:23; 5:6). That is why the Lord Jesus took our sins upon himself and nailed them to the cross (1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5-6; Colossians 2:14). His death on the cross has won victory and pardon for us, and peace with God. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are not only forgiven and reconciled with God – we become the adopted sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:14-16). We can call God our Father because the Lord Jesus has reconciled us and redeemed us from slavery to sin and Satan.
A redeemed slave is not entirely free until all of his chains and weights have been broken and destroyed. The Lord Jesus alone has the power to release us from every chain and burden that would keep us in bondage to sinful habits and hurtful desires. Are there any chains – any sinful patterns, harmful attitudes, and addictive behavior – that you need to be released from? Allow the Lord Jesus to unbind you and bring you healing, pardon, and freedom to walk in his way of love and truth. The Lord Jesus sets us free from slavery to our own selfishness and sinful desires in order to set us free for a joy-filled life of love and service for his kingdom. Paul the Apostle reminds us that Christ has won freedom for each one of us – not to serve ourselves or do as we please – but rather to please the Lord and to serve our neighbors in love for their sake (Galatians 5:1,13). Do you accept and believe Christ’s word of truth, love, and freedom for your life?
Lord Jesus, write your words of love and truth upon my heart and make me a diligent student and a worthy disciple of your word.
Psalm 18: 25-27
25 With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
26 with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
27 For you deliver a humble people; but the haughty eyes you bring down.