It’s an incredibly difficult thing to say, “I’m sorry.”
Those two words are packed with self-humiliation, responsibility, and acceptance of our own weakness and fallacy. And, of course, that’s why it’s so difficult. Our difficulty in uttering those two words, without self-justification and explanation and blame shifting reveals just how strong our impulse of self-defense is.
You take away our blustering, our posturing, our carefully crafted images, and most all of us are still like wild animals caught in a trap, more ready to chew off our own leg than stay exposed.
That deep desire of self-protection is played out in both physical and emotional ways every day. It’s that impulse that keeps us from getting too close in relationships, from revealing too much in conversation, and hedging our bets in the risks we are willing to take. We like safety. And we fear (at least most of us do), personal endangerment, whether that endangerment is physical, emotional, or spiritual.
Problem is, though, that Jesus is a very intrusive Savior. He is not content to be held at arm’s length, but instead will continually barge His way into the deep recesses of our hearts. He will, in fact, expose our fears in order that we might more fully trust in Him and Him alone.
This is what He’s doing, I think, in John 8.
If you read the text beginning in verse 30, you find a pretty intense back and forth that escalates over the course of the conversation between Jesus and a Jewish crowd. The subject at hand is freedom – the fact that Jesus has it, and is offering it, and the crowd claiming they don’t need it. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Jesus says they can know the truth and the truth will set them free. The Jews counter back that they aren’t slaves and therefore don’t need freedom (v. 32-33).
- Jesus questions whether they are truly children of Abraham because of the way they are responding. They respond with the equivalent of a “your mom” statement, claiming that at least they knew who their father was (v. 39-41).
- Jesus says they are not from God because they won’t listen to him. The crowd claims that He’s not even a real Jew, and that he’s demon possessed (v. 47-48).
And so the back and forth continues until Jesus eventually does the unthinkable – He claims God’s divine name for Himself, and the crowd picks up stones to try and kill Him. You see, then, the escalating back and forth, but don’t miss two ironic aspects of the passage.
The first comes in verse 30: “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” That’s right – this crowd was in the process of believing in Jesus, and within a few minutes are holding stones in their hands to kill Him. Which brings us back to that impulse of self-protection. Here was a crowd who liked what they were hearing, enjoyed what they were seeing, and appreciated this new religious teacher on the scene… until things got personal.
And when things got personal, to the point when this crowd realized that Jesus’ message actually had some intensely personal implications for them, it got threatening. And that’s when the old self-protection impulse really kicked in. The crowd went from friend to foe in a matter of minutes.
Then there’s the second ironic aspect. This whole thing started with Jesus offering them something. Something good. Something great. True freedom. But the crowd realized instinctively that in order for them to be free, then He must be saying they were currently slaves. So despite Jesus’ desire to give them what they lacked and needed, they were not ready to accept the truth about their current state in order to receive it.
And this is where we find ourselves. Still, in some ways, arguing with Jesus. And Jesus still, in many ways, offering us that which we desperately need. True freedom. True purpose. True life. And yet to accept what Jesus is bringing, we must also accept the truth of our true selves.
Friends, when you meet Jesus in the Word, in prayer, in the course of the Bible being preached to you on a Sunday morning, that impulse of self-protection will kick in. And it will be strong. And like this crowd, we have a choice. Will we believe that Jesus, though the truth is hard, is indeed telling us the truth about ourselves?
Or will we give into that deep impulse of self-protection, and seek to gnaw off our spiritual legs in order to be free from His gaze? May, by God’s grace, it be the former. And may we beat down that deep need of self-protection with the knowledge that Jesus loves us enough to tell us the truth.