As I’ve pondered how to introduce our season of Advent this year, I looked at our first Advent reading. As you heard read earlier, it states in part,

Today we begin a new Christian year with the season of Advent. The word advent means “coming.” It’s a time of preparation for the coming of Christ, as we look forward to the celebration of his birth. The Scriptures tell us that Abraham, the forefather of Israel, looked forward to the day of Christ. Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day.”

Perhaps because we recently completed looking at the life of Abraham, in this reading I was struck by Jesus’ statement that Abraham rejoiced to see his day. I looked up where he stated this and realized that much of our morning’s Advent meditation is grounded in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John. So I thought I’d use this chapter as our morning’s text as we begin this Advent season by again looking forward to the advent, to the coming of Christ, God’s Messiah, to earth in human form by way of Jesus’ birth to bring salvation to all who believe and receive him as their Savior and LORD.

Now given the length of John 8—59 verses!—I’ve selected particular sections to focus upon. Following the account of the woman caught in adultery, verse 12 begins with one of Jesus’ most well-known proclamations: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In stating these words, Jesus identified himself with Old Testament teaching. For this combination of attributes—light, life, and salvation—is similarly noted, for example, in the opening verse of Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” Only one who is God can be our light, salvation, stronghold, and life—and such was Christ Jesus.

Similarly, in pointing to God’s promised Messiah, the prophet Isaiah contrasts him with false and dark sources of knowledge and truth. Near the end of Isaiah 8, he declares, “19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.”[1] Those who consult mediums and spiritists instead of God’s Word are walking in darkness. “[T]hey have no light of dawn.” Concerning those who don’t consult God’s Word, Isaiah goes on to state, “21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.”[2] The eyes of those who choose to consult darkness rather than light will be limited by earthly sight. Having no vision of God or heaven, they can only expect to experience distress—and darkness—and fearful gloom as, ultimately, they are “thrust into utter darkness” for their disbelief. Contrast this with the promise God gives to those who do consult God’s instruction and testimony of warning. As stated in the opening of Isaiah 9, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.” Isaiah then provides the awesome advent promise of hope in verse 2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” That great light is Jesus. The light that has dawned in the land of deep darkness is none other than Christ Jesus himself!

This stark and beautiful image is the one Jesus presents concerning himself in the twelfth verse of John 8. For not only does he present himself as the light of the world, but he offers his light to all who choose to follow him. He promises that those who follow him will never walk in darkness. The reason is because those who follow him will have him who is the light itself; those who follow him will have the light of life. Each Christmas Eve we symbolically enact this when we light our candles from the Christ candle and then pass on this light to those standing next indicating that Jesus is the light who gives us light; who gives his very life to any who believe and receive him as their Savior and Lord.

Now throughout the Gospels we see Jesus presented as one who is not only fully God, and therefore able to save us, but also fully man. As one who was fully human, he was known by others to be a carpenter by trade[3] as well as a rabbi,[4] a scholar and teacher of Jewish law and Scriptures or our Old Testament. But as a teacher of Jewish law he had competition from various Jewish sects. One of these, the Pharisees,[5] were present in his audience in John 8 so we’ll consider Jesus’ remarks within the context of their challenges to his authority and teaching.

Throughout this chapter, Jesus tries to convince his audience of something that, admittedly, is difficult to understand and embrace—namely, that he has come from the Father. Although this is implicit in his stating that he is the light of the world, notice the number of times he makes this explicit throughout this chapter (emphases added here and in all Scriptures throughout):

Verse 16b: “I stand with the Father, who sent me.”

Verse 18: “I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

Verses 23–24: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”

Verse 26b: “But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”

Verse 29: “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”[6]

Jesus Christ, who as God was one with his heavenly Father, was sent by his Father into the world as light and life in order to save that world from darkness, death, and sin. This is the message Jesus was proclaiming concerning himself. And though many who were listening did come to believe him,[7] others disputed with him.

In the verses preceding verse 34, Jesus stated that those who hold to his teachings are not only his disciples but as such they will know the truth that will set them free.[8] By way of response, some who were present claimed, verse 33, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” These leaders believed themselves to be free already but Jesus taught them otherwise. He picked up on this notion of slavery and spoke of it not in the sense of being enslaved to a person, as his audience understood, but in the sense of being enslaved to a power beyond our control—namely, sin. For after Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, their whole orientation changed from doing the good God had made them for to doing evil at the serpent’s bidding which resulted in self-destruction, the destruction of others, the destruction of God’s created world and, ultimately, death. Once they partook of the forbidden fruit, they and all humanity that followed became slaves to sin, no longer free to do the will of God; no longer free to please God; no longer free to love God and others.

Therefore, Jesus used the concept of human slavery introduced by the Pharisees to teach about the far more serious slavery to sin which has been humanity’s devastating condition since the time of the Fall. Again, in reply to the Pharisees claiming that as Abraham’s descendants they had never been slaves of anyone, Jesus said, verse 34, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” As slaves exist to do their master’s bidding and therefore have no will of their own, so, too, everyone who sins does sin’s bidding rather than their own. Those born in sin no longer have the freedom to do the good they would like.[9] Slaves, whether of humans or sin, cannot break free of their own accord. Someone else must set them free.

Next Jesus stated, verse 35, “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” Slaves are not a part of the family but exist to serve it. Once a slave is done serving, they must leave the family’s presence. However a son, a child, belongs to its family forever. Therefore, verse 36, “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The only way for humanity to become free of sin, is to be set free from it by the Son of God. But this can happen only if we first believe in the Son—and confess and turn from and place our sins upon him—and receive his gracious righteousness and Holy Spirit in return. Then and only then can we be free from sin. For in order to be free from sin we must have our fallen nature replaced with his righteous nature. And all who believe and receive the Son are clothed with his righteousness so that they are now accepted and embraced by our Father in heaven. All who do so are truly free for freedom in Scripture is freedom to do God’s will and this is only possible in and through Christ Jesus. To use Paul’s language, “17 …thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”[10] This is the Gospel. This is Good News that Christ Jesus brings and makes possible in himself.

Jesus continued to address the Jewish leaders who didn’t believe him. As stated in verse 37, “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word.” In other words, despite their claiming to be Abraham’s descendants, they nonetheless disbelieved and therefore sought to kill Jesus. And so Jesus yet again told them his origins in order that they might be convinced, verse 38, “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.” They clearly weren’t getting his point for they answered, verse 39, “Abraham is our father.” But Jesus corrected them saying, “If you were Abraham’s children,… then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.” Though these Jewish leaders may have been genealogical descendants of Abraham, they weren’t spiritual descendants; they weren’t Abraham’s children. For earthly lineage and heavenly birth are two different things. Part of what’s happening here is that both Jesus and the Jewish leaders were claiming Abraham as their father. But Jesus was insisting that if Abraham were their father, then they wouldn’t be seeking to kill him. In other words, Jesus who had come from the Father—and was God himself—was telling these leaders plainly what he had heard from God yet they refused to believe him. This refusal indicated that Abraham wasn’t their father for Abraham believed and followed and did as God bid him to do. Therefore if they believed as Abraham did, they should believe and follow and do as Jesus bid them do for Jesus had come from God and was God himself.

The leaders again protested, as stated at the end of verse 41, “We are not illegitimate children…. The only Father we have is God himself.” The leaders tried to do Jesus one better by now claiming not father Abraham, but God as their father. Jesus replied by yet again asserting his origins from his Father in heaven. Starting in verse 42, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.” You can hear Jesus’ exasperation as he underscored the main point in what he had been saying all along, that he had come from God. Therefore, if they did indeed know God as they claimed, they would not only believe him but they would love him. For to know God is to love God because he is so wonderful. Therefore to know Jesus is to love Jesus because he is so wonderful; he is God who was sent from God.

Next Jesus made clear that not only were Abraham and God not their father but he went on to tell them who was, verse 44: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Because these leaders not only didn’t believe Jesus but also sought to kill him, by their actions they were demonstrating that they were followers of the devil, their father, rather than of the one, true Father in heaven from whom Jesus had been sent. For as the devil had sought to murder our first parents, so, too, these leaders sought to murder Jesus even as the devil similarly sought to murder Jesus when he tempted him in the wilderness.[11]

Jesus went on to contrast these lies with the truth of his own words and teaching. Starting in verse 45, “45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” As one who was not only fully human but also fully God, God in the flesh, Christ Jesus, Messiah Jesus, had come from God and was proclaiming God’s truth. If these leaders had truly had God as their Father, they would have heard, that is, they would have believed and obeyed Jesus. For the only way to the Father is through him, Jesus Christ, God’s Son.[12]

Next the leaders accused Jesus of being both a Samaritan—an insult for historically the Samaritans had married those outside of the Jewish faith—and demon-possessed, verse 48. When Jesus responded by stating, verse 51, “Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death,” the leaders took this as evidence that they had been right in their assessment of him. As stated starting in verse 52, “52 At this they exclaimed, ‘Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Now keep in mind that verse 12 began with Jesus teaching that he was the light of the world and that whoever follows him will never walk in darkness but have the light of life. If Jesus is the light of life, then he can legitimately make the promise he made in verse 51—that whoever obeys his word will never see death. But the Jewish leaders couldn’t comprehend this for they were only able to see Jesus through earthly eyes. They had no heavenly vision. Therefore they argued that if death comes to everyone—to father Abraham, to the prophets—then death would come to Jesus as well.[13]

Yet Jesus declared, starting in verse 54, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Jesus stood by the truth of his words, the truth of his teaching. For his heavenly Father who had sent him was the one who glorified him, who made himself manifest in Jesus who always taught and did as the Father told him. Jesus knew the Father for as God he was one with the Father. To state otherwise would be to lie even as the Jewish leaders were lying. For the evidence that Jesus knew the Father was because he obeyed his word. What is more, Abraham, whom these leaders had earlier claimed as their father, looked forward to the coming of Christ Jesus, the light and life of the world. Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing Jesus’ day. Abraham “saw it and was glad.” Abraham understood the meaning of Advent, of God’s coming to earth in human form in order to save all who believe in his Son.

Now though there is no chapter and verse in Genesis that states this truth, it is a truth from Scripture nonetheless. For as we’ve seen throughout our study in Genesis, Abraham was one whose life was characterized by believing and obeying God. To take but a few examples:

As we heard read earlier, when God first came to him, telling him to leave his country, people, and father’s household, to go to a land that he would show him,[14] “Abram went, as the Lord had told him;”[15]

When the LORD promised to make Abraham’s offspring like the stars in the sky through a yet-to-be born heir, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness;”[16]

When the LORD, God Almighty, again appeared to Abram at the age of 99 when he was still without an heir born to him and Sarah, and promised to make his covenant with him and greatly increase his numbers, “Abram fell facedown” before God;[17]

When Isaac, the son who had been promised when Abram was 75 and Sarah was 65, was finally born when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, “…Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him;”[18]

And as the author of Hebrews teaches, “17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’[19] 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”[20]

These highlights from Abraham’s life illustrate why Jesus spoke of him as seeing his day and being glad. So, too, did the author of Hebrews state concerning Abraham, Sarah, and others mentioned in the faith chapter, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”[21]

To believe God and his promises is to rejoice in seeing his day and being glad even as Abraham and all of the Old Testament saints did. For they looked forward to the first Advent. They looked forward to the first coming of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us. But we, too, are living in a time of Advent for Jesus Christ has promised that he will return again as Judge and King. He will judge those who, like the Pharisees and those who consult mediums and spiritists, didn’t believe in him. And he will carry those who, like Abraham, did believe in him, into the strong and loving arms of our Father in heaven for all eternity.

Dear sisters and brothers, let us, like Abraham, rejoice at the thought of seeing our Savior and LORD Jesus; let us, like Abraham, look forward to his coming and be glad. For one day our gracious and loving LORD Jesus will usher in his kingdom. And when that day arrives, all who have believed and received him will cease to suffer and instead will enjoy him and our heavenly Father forever by the Holy Spirit he’s so generously given us. So let us with father Abraham walk in the light of Christ, the light of life, and rejoice at the thought of seeing that day. Let us see it and be glad!

Let us pray.

Benediction

Hebrews 13:20–21 20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

[1] Isaiah 8:19–20.

[2] Isaiah 8:21–22.

[3] Matthew 13:54–56: 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”; Mark 6:2–4: When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”

[4] See, for example, Mark 9:4–6: And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.); Mark 10:50–52: 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.; John 1:37–39: 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.; John 1:48–59: 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believebecause I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”

[5] John 8:13 sets the stage: The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”

[6] At the end of this passage Jesus again makes this point stating in John 8:58: “Very truly I tell you, …before Abraham was born, I am!” For having identified himself with God, John 8:59, At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

[7] John 8:30: Even as he spoke, many believed in him.

[8] John 8:31–32: To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

[9] I believe that the Apostle Paul acknowledges this struggle in Romans 7:14–20, 24–25: 14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it…. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

[10] Romans 6:17–18.

[11] See, e.g., Matthew 4:5–7: Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[Psalm 91:11,12]Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[Deuteronomy 6:16]”; Luke 4:9–12: The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[Psalm 91:11,12]12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[Deuteronomy 6:16]

[12] John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

[13] As also noted last week, at Jesus’ Transfiguration magnificently displays that the living God is the God of the living for Moses and Elijah are speaking with him, alive and well! Matthew 17:1–8: 1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

[14] Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

[15] Genesis 12:4b.

[16] Genesis 15:1–6 (verse 6 is quoted above): 1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

[17] Genesis 17:1–7 (verse 3 is quoted above): 1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

[18] Genesis 21:4.

[19] Genesis 21:12.

[20] Hebrews 11:17b–19.

[21] Hebrews 11:13.