WHO’S YOUR DADDY? — John 8:37-47

Bible sermons, John 8:37-47, Uncategorized


In 1976, a book written by Alex Haley was published and it became a best seller.  The book was 900 pages long and was entitled “Roots”.  The following year a mini-series based on the book was aired on TV to a huge viewing audience.  Did you read the book and see the films?

That was the beginning of a genealogy craze that swept our nation.  Over 40 years have passed since that book was written but the quest to find one’s ancestors goes on.  With the dawn of DNA testing and organizations such as Ancestry.com, millions of families and individuals are actively researching their family trees.  This preoccupation with who we are and where we came from has obsessed humanity since the dawn of creation.  The first-century Jews were no exception.  They prided themselves in their ancestry and often used it as a reason for boasting or as an excuse to justify their sinful actions.

In the previous passage of Scripture, John 8:31-36, Jesus told the Jews that a true disciple of His was a person who believed in Him and obeyed His words, resulting in freedom.  He stated that only He could give them true freedom.  They responded by saying, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never been enslaved to anyone.”  Then they challenged Jesus to prove His point.  The Lord Jesus made it clear to them again, in verse 34, that He was talking about spiritual slavery to sin and, once again, offered them freedom from that slavery.

Jesus hasn’t finished His conversation with them yet.  Let’s see what else He has to say and observe their responses.


I continue to be amazed at the patience of Jesus toward those who are intentionally slow to learn, or who refuse to learn.  He begins by admitting that they are the physical descendants of Abraham, but they bear no spiritual resemblance to Abraham.  Verse 37 says, “I know that you are Abraham’s offspring; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.”  Abraham wouldn’t try to kill Him.  On the contrary, Abraham welcomed the messengers that God sent to him in Genesis 18, showing them respect and hospitality.  He also gave a tenth of his possessions to Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of God, after receiving a blessing from him (Genesis 14:18-21; Hebrews 7:1-3).  The Jews standing before Jesus bear no spiritual resemblance to that description of Abraham.  Instead of welcoming the One whom God has sent, they are trying to kill Him.  Several attempts have already been made to arrest Him (John 7:30, 32, 44).  Abraham was also called “a friend of God” (2 Chronicles 20:7).  Friends don’t murder one another.  That’s the work of enemies.

At the end of verse 37, Jesus states the underlying cause of their actions when He says, “My word has no place in you.” The Greek words might be more clearly translated as, “You have no room for My word” or “My word isn’t making any headway” in your minds and hearts.  To put it into modern-day English, they were “tuning Him out”.  They were unreceptive to Jesus and to His words to them.

Once again Jesus states His source of authority, in verse 38, when He says, “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father”.  Now Jesus is claiming to be with the Father from all eternity.  He was there with the Father when Abraham walked this earth.  His knowledge of Abraham is firsthand.  With that said, Jesus gives them some food for thought.  He makes an incomplete statement, leaving them with the opportunity to think it over and fill in the blank.  Here are His words:  “therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.”  Notice what Jesus didn’t say.  He didn’t say “fathers”.  Jesus said “father”,  They are all children of the same father.  Who is their father?  That’s the question Jesus wants them to answer for themselves by process of elimination.  They’ve heard the answer to that question before.  They heard it from John the Baptist.  Let’s see if they remember it and apply it to themselves.


What do you say when you don’t know what to say?  One option is to say the same thing over again and hold your ground, right?  Have you ever done that?  You may have done so to give yourself some time to collect your thoughts and come up with a better answer.  Jesus just took the wind out of their sails with His reply so “They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father’.”  They must have said it loudly and in anger in order to maintain their sense of control over the conversation.  It’s been said that a person who has nothing to brag about but his ancestors is like a potato plant.  The best part of him is underground (buried, like the potatoes).  After the reminders they were given by Jesus, I’m convinced that His listeners knew what He was talking about, and what He was implying concerning their spiritual parentage.  With some honest reflection on their part, the “mystery” father would no longer be a mystery to them.

III.  JESUS REPEATS HIMSELF (verses 39b-41a)

Jesus responds to their short answer by saying, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.  But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.  You are doing the deeds of your father.”  Jesus made that statement earlier, in verses 37 and 38.  Why is He repeating Himself?  Is this a teaching technique?  It may be much more than that.  For example, the repeating of a person’s name is a Hebrew expression of intimacy.  We find that occurring many times in the Scriptures.  God said, “Abraham, Abraham” (Genesis 22:11), “Jacob, Jacob” (Genesis 46:2); “Moses, Moses” (Exodus 3:4).  David cried out in agony saying, “Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son” (2 Samuel 18:33).  Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem” as He wept over the city and those living in it.  There are many other instances where names are repeated.  I suggest that Jesus is repeating Himself here and elsewhere out of love for them.  He’s been giving them opportunity after opportunity to repent of their sins and acknowledge Him as their Messiah, in spite of their continuing hostility and rejection.  He yearns to draw close to them and keeps giving them reasons to respond to Him the way Abraham responded.


The Jews react by saying, “We were not born of fornication”.  There are two possible meanings to that statement and both possibilities might be implied.  First, they may have been saying, “Our parents were not idolaters, worshipping other gods.  Secondly, they may have been saying, “we are pure in our lineage, but  we’re not so sure about you.”  This meaning would imply that they were calling Jesus an illegitimate son of Mary and Joseph, born outside of wedlock.  It’s also possible that both of those meanings were intended by their statement.  In any case, their words were intended to be derogatory and offensive.

I think these leaders are beginning to realize that calling Abraham their father wasn’t getting them anywhere.  What do they do now?  The words of the prophet Malachi must have come to their minds.  Malachi asked the question, “Have we not all one Father?  Did not one God create us?” (Malachi 2:10). The Jews may have thought to themselves, “That’s a good idea!  Let’s take our paternity case all the way to the top!”  So they say to Jesus, “We have one Father, even God.”  They thought that, by saying those words, they would get themselves off the hook, and avoid further embarrassment.  However, they are not out of trouble yet!  Further embarrassment is on the way!

V.  WORDS OF CORRECTION (verse 42-45)

The Lord Jesus looks around at them and says, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and now am here.  I have not come on My own; but He sent Me.”  Once again, the Jews are mistaken.  The practice of their religious observances doesn’t make them children of the Father.  If they truly loved the Father, they would love His Son whom He sent, and who was standing before them at that moment.  The Lord Jesus has proven Himself to be the Son of God by His miracles and they have not been able to refute His claims.  In verse 43, Jesus asks them a question and immediately gives them the answer.  He says, “Why do you not understand what I am saying?  It is because you cannot hear My word.”  I think Jesus asked His question in the form of a plea.  When He looks around at each of them after making that plea, He sees the reason by the expressions on their faces and makes it known to them saying, “you cannot hear My word”.  He’s not implying that they are deaf, hard of hearing or stupid.  On the contrary, they have chosen to ignore His words, refusing to listen to Him or to seek to understand what He is saying. 

The Jews still haven’t asked the question that Jesus prodded them to ask in verse 38 – “Who is our father?”  Since they didn’t ask, Jesus gives them a detailed answer in verse 44, where He says, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  That rebuke by Jesus should have reminded them of the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:7, where he said, “You brood of vipers”,  implying that they possessed character qualities similar to the devil.  The words of Jesus in verse 44 are the clearest statement that Jesus makes about the existence and the personality of Satan.  His listeners don’t resemble Abraham, and they don’t resemble God, but they do resemble the devil like a child resembles his father.  Satan lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden, convincing her to disobey God and entice Adam to do the same.  He tempted Cain to murder his brother Abel.  Those standing before Jesus have chosen to believe Satan’s lies about Him and are intent on murdering Him.  The truth can be embarrassing, especially when it is said publicly in the Temple for all to hear!

VI.  A CHALLENGE TO THEM (verses 46-47)

After giving that stinging rebuke to His critics, Jesus establishes His authority by giving them a challenge.  In verse 46, Jesus says, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?  If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe Me?”  His enemies are given an opportunity to find errors in what He just said but He doesn’t get an answer from any of them.  None of His enemies could prove Him wrong.  Everything Jesus said to them was absolutely true.  That question must have really frustrated and angered them.

Jesus concludes in verse 47 by reviewing their spiritual parentage and summarizing it.  He says, “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” The way they act is going to determine their destiny.


Here are several principles I’ve gained from my study of John 8:37-47:

  1.  Spiritually, all people are children of one of two fathers:  either God or the Devil.  Which one is yours?  If in doubt, your spiritual father is the one you obey.
  2. There are only two groups of people on earth:  the children of wrath and the children of God.  If your actions indicate that you are a child of wrath, please reconsider before it’s too late.
  3. There may come a time when you may need to be brutally honest with someone.  Let’s follow Jesus’ example and make sure that it’s our last resort.

The following illustration is an appropriate conclusion to this passage of Scripture.  A preacher had delivered a powerful sermon about the Devil, warning his listeners about his wiles.  Two rude, young ruffians heckled the preacher, shouting, “Don’t you know, Mr. Preacher, that the Devil died last night?”  The old preacher came down and, putting his arms on their shoulders said, “You poor fatherless orphans!  What will become of you?”  And then he said, “Let me introduce you to my Father who has promised, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ ”



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Someone has said that faith is not “believing in spite of the evidence, but obeying in spite of the consequences”.  When we read Hebrews 11, we meet men and women who acted upon God’s Word, no matter what the price they had to pay.  Faith is not some kind of feeling that we work up, but a confidence that God’s Word is true, and that obeying it will bring God’s blessing.  What kind of faith really saves a person?  Is it necessary to perform good works in order to be saved?  How can a person tell whether or not he is exercising true saving faith?  James answers these questions by explaining to us that there are three kinds of faith, and only one of them is true saving faith.

I.  DEAD FAITH (verses 14-17)

In verses 14-17, James talks about dead faith.  People with dead faith substitute words for actions.  They know all the right words to say during times of prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their actions do not measure up to their talk.

James gives a simple illustration:  a poor believer came into a fellowship without proper clothing and in need of food.  The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but he did not do anything to meet those needs.  All he did was say a few pious words:  “Go in peace, be warm and be filled.”  But the visitor went out just as hungry and unclothed as he came in!

In verse 14, James is saying, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  What kind?  The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works.  The answer is “No”!  Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration.  What kind of faith is dead faith?  In verse 17, James says “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  True saving faith can never be by itself.  It always brings life, and life produces good works.

In a Decision Magazine article, missionary Patrick Harris tells of his son David, who was brain-damaged.  When David was very young and his family was home on furlough, many people told them, “We are praying for David.”  Patrick and his wife were grateful.  But one woman said, “I have Wednesday off.  Give me the privilege of taking David out that day to relieve you.”  Harris said, “That was what was needed – not only prayer but practical help!”  An important part of praying is a willingness to be part of the answer.

II.  DEMONIC FAITH (verses 18-19)

Only God can see “faith” in the heart of a person.  People see our faith only by our works. Faith is like a seed planted in the ground.  It is hidden from view, but if it is a living seed it will soon manifest itself by pushing its stalk up through the soil for all to see.  Out of the war comes a story of faith in action.  A godly chaplain in the army found a dying soldier on the battlefield, and being anxious about his salvation, he took out his Bible and said, “Shall I read a portion of Scripture for you?”  But the soldier replied, “No sir, I am thirsty and need a drink of water.”  At the risk of his own life, amid bursting shells, the chaplain went in search of water, and having found some, gave it to the wounded man.  Then he asked again, “Shall I read some Scripture to you?”  But the man replied, “No thank you, I am so cold.  I am almost freezing,”  The chaplain removed his own coat and wrapped it around about him, and once more asked with shivering and chattering teeth, “Now may I read to you?”  Again the reply was, “No sir, I am too uncomfortable on this rough ground.”  The chaplain gently lifted him up and placed him across his knees with his head in his arms and once more asked the same question.  “Yes sir”, he replied, “for if what you are going to read can make a man willing to risk his own life like this to ease a dying stranger, I want to hear about it!”  And there on the battlefield he was told about Jesus who died that he might live.  This is the gospel in action!  This is what the world is looking for today!

Then James says in verse 19, “the demons also believe and shudder.”  It comes as a shock to many people that demons have faith!  What do they believe?  For one thing, they believe in the existence of God.  They are not atheists.  They also believe in the deity of Christ.  Whenever they met Christ when He was on this earth, they bore witness that He was the Son of God.  They also believe in the existence of a place of punishment.  They live there!  Not only that, but they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge, and they submit to the power of His Word.  Yet, knowing all that, they still rebelled against God and were condemned to hell.

In verse 19, the word “shudder” or “tremble” meant to be “rough on the surface”, “to bristle”.  It has the idea of making your hair stand on end and goose bumps to appear. That’s the way the demons respond to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ!

III.  GENUINE FAITH (verses 20-26)

Dead faith touches only the mind; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but genuine faith also involves the will.  The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth, the emotions desire the truth, and the will acts upon the truth.  Faith and works go together.

Pastor John MacArthur says it very clearly in his sermon entitled “Living Faith” (www.gty.org/resources/sermons/59-16/living-faith).  Preaching about James 2:21-26, Pastor MacArthur says:  “There is a faith in God, there is a faith in Christ, there is a belief of Scripture, there is a belief of the gospel that does not save from hell. . . . It is possible to believe in God, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to even believe that what Christ did He actually did, to affirm the cross and the resurrection and never be delivered from sin and never be given eternal life.  This is what James would call ‘dead faith’.”  That’s what he called it in verse 17, and now he says it again in verse 20 and again in verse 26.

In verse 20, James responds to the unwillingness of his readers to recognize the connection between faith and works.  He says:  “You foolish fellow”.  The Greek word can be translated “empty” in the sense that they are “without spiritual life”.  James goes on to say, “Can’t you see that faith without works is useless”?  The Greek word “arge” means “barren”, “unproductive”.  Faith that fails to produce genuine works motivated by willing obedience from the heart is a dead faith.  It demonstrates that it has never been alive because there has been no external evidence sufficient to remove any doubt.  Righteous behavior is an inevitable result of genuine faith.

In verses 21-25 James proves his point by giving two examples of true living faith from the Old Testament:  Abraham and Rahab, described as “our father” and “the harlot”.  The evidence for Abraham’s genuine faith was his willing obedience to God’s command to offer up his own son, Isaac, on the altar.  Because of his obedience, Galatians, chapter 3, teaches that Abraham is the spiritual father of all true believers..

James 2:22 reads, “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”  The Berkeley version says it this way:  “You see how his faith cooperated with his works and how faith reached its supreme expression through his works.”  Abraham’s works made his faith complete.  In verse 23 Abraham  is called “the friend of God”

On the opposite end of the social and moral spectrum, James now chooses Rahab as an example of true living faith.  Even though Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute, James says “Likewise also”, telling us that the illustration of Rahab teaches the same lesson about faith as the illustration of Abraham:  “God saves, not because of one’s righteousness, but because of one’s faith.”  Remember:  only God can actually see our faith.  We see genuine saving faith only by works.   Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her words to the spies in Joshua 2 saying, “… the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below”, and by her willingness to hide the spies at the risk of her own life and the lives of her family members.  Joshua 6:25 and Matthew 1:5  tell us how God blessed Rahab.  She was grafted into the nation of Israel, became the wife of Salmon, and was an ancestor in the line of David and the Lord Jesus Christ.  She is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a woman of faith.


In verse 25, the apostle James states his conclusion one more time:  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”  Do you have living faith? Do you have saving faith?  Is it evident to those around you?  Is it evident to you?  You may have been baptized, you may have made a public or private profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be attending a church at the present time.  You may be in the choir or teaching a Sunday School Class.  You may be on the deacon or elder board.  You could even be a pastor and not have a saving faith that manifests itself in a deepening walk with Jesus Christ and increasing joy in serving Him and obeying his Word.  I’m not saying this to point the finger at anyone or embarrass anyone.   I just want you to be sure if there might be any doubt.  Good works are the proof that Jesus Christ is living and reigning in your life.  As Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “And why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

May our faith be genuine and evident to the world around us, and may we enjoy the privilege of being children of God through faith evidenced by works (Ephesians 2:8-10).