Jesus Exposes our Sin so He Can Free us From It (John 8:12-36)

Two or three times in my life I have been confronted with certain aspects of the way I was living my life that needed to be corrected. Each of these confrontations was painful and in one case, though I am grateful the man confronted me, the friendship was not the same afterward. These instances are most definitely painful, but they are also necessary to our growth and development as individuals. It is no less painful, sometimes more so, when a person is confronted with his or her sin by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In John 8:12-36, Jesus proclaims Himself to be the light of the world which exposes our sin (12) and frees us from it (32, 36).

On each night of the Feast of Tabernacles except the Sabbath, lights were lit in the temple to remind the people of God’s leading them out of Egypt and through the wilderness by a pillar of fire. Just as Yahweh was the light for Israel to lead them through the wilderness, so Jesus is claiming to be for the world in this age what the Lord was for Israel in that age. In doing this, He was also taking to himself something that belonged to God as Creator. (note that this is what the prophet Isaiah predicted in Isa. 9:2 – “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt I the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”)

The light of the world has shone in Jesus Christ. The catch is that his shining has revealed things that were previously hidden when we walked in darkness.

In the lobby of our church building, the sun shines in each morning early in the morning and the light shining in often reveals cobwebs and smudges on glass, etc. that you miss when there is no sun. Likewise, the light of the Gospel reveals things to us, both believers and unbelievers, that we would not otherwise see. We can pretend that it isn’t there (just like we can pretend that the cobwebs and fingerprints aren’t on the glass) but that won’t alter the reality in any way.

The word “so” or “therefore” at the beginning of v. 13 (it could also be translated “because of this”) is John’s way of telling us that the Pharisees’ response to Jesus is just like this. Their sin is revealed but they refuse to see it. They turn it around and attack Jesus’ witness, his testimony and the authority with which it comes.

Notice that in this passage, Jesus uses a combination of illustration, logic, and proclamation to make his point. In vv. 13-19, when they accuse Jesus of bearing false witness of himself, he argues against them logically to exposes their error.

Jesus’ self-witness is true because He knows his origin and destiny with the Father (unlike the Pharisees), and thus Jesus is the only one who could speak of these things (14).

They judge according to themselves (alone), but He judges with the Father which fits their own criteria of needing two witnesses (15-16).

Jesus’ testimony is in agreement with the requirements of the Law (Dt. 17:6; 19:15) as both He and The Father testify to His identity (being the only ones who could) (17-18).

They demonstrate that they do not know Him, the revelation of the Father (19).

Jesus’ light exposes all of one’s sin, but the use of the singular in v. 21, “sin,” probably points specifically to their unbelief.

In vv. 22-24, the whole situation goes right off the rails when the Pharisees wonder if Jesus will commit suicide since they believed that would lead to damnation and they thought they were not headed for damnation (22). They came up with this crazy interpretation of Jesus’ words because they could not think outside of their own categories. They refused to follow Jesus’ new teachings even though they weren’t “new,” in fact, had they studied the Scripture as they thought they had, they would have known these things.

But they misunderstood. Jesus was not headed down, but up, since he came down when he came to earth (23). Instead, the Jews were of this world and their pursuits and concerns, along with their rebellion against God, shows that they are serving not God, but the Prince of this World (12:31) who is their Father (44).

So the problem of v. 24 is the main problem today: if you do not believe that Jesus is the “I AM,” you, too, will die in your sins and go the opposite direction from Jesus, not up, but down.

In 25-28, Jesus is understandably exasperated when they begin the same old chorus, of “Who are you” and he responds by pointing them to what he has been saying all along.

The problem is not that Jesus hasn’t explained it adequately, the problem is that their sin blinds them to Jesus’ true identity. It will not be until they have gone too far in their sin (by crucifying him, v. 28) that they will realize his true identity. But even then they will try to cover up their sin by convincing themselves that they are right.

Now what does this have to do with us?

When we are confronted there is really only one of five ways to respond.

(1) We use the “tu quoque” method and simply redirect the sin back onto the person accusing us. The problem is, this doesn’t really progress the situation it escalates it and leads to a fight.

(2) We misdirect by pointing someone to some other problem which we have taken care of or which is not as bad as the one being addressed.

(3) We reject the exposure of sin, claiming that it really isn’t sin at all or

(4) we try to justify or excuse our misbehavior.

But, (5) The only way that fits the character of a Christian is this: Once we thoughtfully and prayerfully consider what has been said and conclude it is true, the only that brings us the healing we need, and fixes the relationship is to confess our misbehavior and seek forgiveness (also trying to forsake it).

For believers, we do one or more of these five things when we are confronted about our sin. We can’t point the finger back at God but we often try to point to other peoples’ sin or try to excuse our behavior by blaming him for the circumstances we are in. We misdirect by trying to point out the good things we have done. But none of those things matter. The only reasonable response is to confess and seek forgiveness.

If you are reading this and have not trusted Christ, there is no way you can point the finger back at God or find fault with him and you certainly can’t misdirect him. There also will be no way to justify your sin. The only possible way to be reconciled to God is to confess your sin and rest in God’s provision for forgiveness which is the work Jesus Christ did on the cross.

Next week (Lord willing) I’ll talk about how Jesus exposes our sin not to make himself superior (he already is), but to set us free.


About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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