John 8:38-40 – What Abraham Did

Last week Jesus contrasted the difference between abiding in His word versus relying on one’s ancestral relationship with Abraham.
• In the first case one is free and in the second one remains a slave to sin.
• Clearly the inference made is that the free man abides in Jesus’ word and anyone else is enslaved to sin.
• As usual, there is no neutral ground.

In today’s text we continue Jesus’ conversation with the Jews.
• In their conversation we see a theme that will continue for the remainder of John 8.
• The theme is father Abraham.
• Abraham is brought up 11 times in a 25 verse span in John 8.
• We will see shortly why this is significant.

John 8:38–40 (ESV) — 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 be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.


John 8:38–47 (ESV) — 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 be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.

In our text today, Abraham is brought up in a conversation about Fathers.
• Jesus distinguishes between (2) fathers – His and theirs.
• The Jews argue that, presumably like Jesus, Abraham is their father.
• “The Jews are advancing the argument by saying, in effect, that even in the moral and ethical realm, they measure up well enough to be considered the descendants of Abraham” – D.A. Carson.
• In other words, they were following Abraham’s “pattern of faith in God” – MacArthur.
• Jesus disagrees.
• He makes the astute observation that if this were so, “you would be doing the works Abraham did” (vs.39).

But, as it stands, they are rejecting the truth they are hearing from God.
• They even “seek to kill” the truth giver.
• And Jesus says again, “This is not what Abraham did” (vs. 40).

At this point we need to find out what Abraham did.
• We will hang out here for the duration because this topic has significant theological implications.

What Abraham Did:
(1) He did not follow Mosaic Law.
• It seems odd to start with what Abraham didn’t do when asking what he did do.
• However, this is an extremely important point.
• Abraham’s election by God and his remaining in God was not founded on works – the Levitical Laws God handed down to Moses.
Why was this so? – He didn’t have them!
• And Paul devotes Romans 4 to explaining that Abraham was not made righteous by works.
• We will see shortly what his relationship with God was founded on.

Why is our first observation this significant?
• Because the Jews Jesus was talking to and the Jews of today reject this fundamental teaching of both the OT and Jesus.
• They believe that righteousness (salvation) comes by works.
• And when Jesus argued over and over that if you believed Abraham, Moses and the Prophets you would believe in Him, He is being literal and dead serious (John 5:42; Luke 16:27-31).
• If you believe righteousness (salvation) is by works, you are rejecting what Abraham, Moses and the Prophets taught.

This rejection always has (3) parts to it as seen here by a current example of this rejection from Rabbi Shmuley – “America’s Rabbi”:
• (a) Reject the Father’s Jesus – “…I will be engaging in a debate as to whether belief in the divinity of Jesus is compatible with Judaism. It is not. Period. It never was, and it never will be” – Rabbi Shmuley.
• (b) Makeup the World’s Jesus – “The time has come for them [Christians] to once and for all declare their reciprocity by refraining from ever directly targeting Jews for conversion. This is what Jesus would want…” – Rabbi Shmuley.
o “Jesus’ mission was to renew Jewish attachment to the Torah in a time when the threads of tradition were being unwoven due to the oppressive hand of the occupying Roman beast” – Rabbi Shmuley.
• (c) Finally, Reject Faith for Works – “For instance, Christianity says that faith trumps action. What you believe is more important than what you do [straw man and plainly false]. And that’s why they want us to believe in Jesus. But is that really the problem in the world today, that people don’t have the right beliefs, OR that they don’t have the right actions?” – Rabbi Shmuley.
    o “We Jews believe in righteous action. We don’t care what you believe; it’s what you do” – Rabbi Shmuley (Unbelievable Radio).

POI – As we discussed last week, action that satisfies God is linked to belief – the glorious consequences of abiding in Jesus’ Word.
• But this action begins with the new heart of Ezekiel 36 and John 3.
• And as we will see shortly, Abraham’s belief led to action and glorious consequences.

(2) He converted.
Genesis 15:6 (ESV) — 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
• Abraham converted from “idolatry to monotheism” – Bauckham.
• The story of his conversion does not appear in the Bible, however it is clearly inferred.
• Yahweh spoke to Abraham in His own country and called him out of it physically, spiritually and culturally.

Abraham’s conversion was evidenced by the fact that he:
• Left Ur in Haran of Upper Mesopotamia for Caanan.
• Left his polytheistic pagan roots and at least 13 gods.
• Left his urban pagan culture for a semi-nomadic one.
• “Abraham exchanged an urban-based life for the semi-nomadic style of the pastoralist with no permanent home, living in tents (Gen 12:8, 9; 13:18; 18:1; cf. Heb 11:9)” – AYBD.
    o This cultural upheaval he put himself and family through means that he didn’t count the cost of following Yahweh.

Interestingly, the story of his conversion does appear in the “Jubilees, Philo, Josephus, and the Apocalypse of Abraham” - Bauckham.
• All the stories agree on one crucial point about his conversion, “Abraham’s crucial recognition…that the only true God is the Creator of all things, himself uncreated” – Bauckham.

(3) He Worshipped
Genesis 17:1–4 (ESV) — 1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.
• Abraham also built altars to the Lord to worship Him and memorialize the encounters he had with God.

(4) He Obeyed
Genesis 12:1 & 4 (ESV) — 1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
Genesis 22:1–3 (ESV) — 1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
Genesis 22:18 (ESV) — 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Summary of what Abraham Did:
• Left his gods – Marduk and the lot
• Left his home – Northern Mesopotamia
• Left his culture – Urban Pagan lifestyle
• He did all this because he believed the “truth that he heard from God” (John 8:40).

And as a result of his belief He:
• Followed the one true God – Yahweh
• Obeyed and Worshiped Him
• Made a new home - Canaan
• Embraced a cultural upheaval (didn’t count the cost) – Semi-Nomadic Monotheistic lifestyle

One final comment about Abraham’s righteousness:
• “… Yahweh pronounces Abraham to have fulfilled righteousness, to share righteousness, ṣĕdāqâ, not by an act or a work, ritual or otherwise, but by faith. Von Rad understands the verse…as a revolutionary statement. Faith sets one right with God, and it is God who reckons this internal act to Abraham as ṣĕdāqâ” – AYBD.

So Abraham did everything that Jesus’ Jewish audience would not do.
• They feared corrupting and maligning the very Judaism that they in fact were corrupting and maligning by rejecting the “truth that they heard from God” (John 8:40).
• That truth being the Father’s (Father God and Father Abraham’s) Jesus.

So when Jesus says, “but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did” (John 8:40), He is equating His words with the words that Abraham recognized as coming from Yahweh.
• He is saying that the Jews are rejecting Yahweh’s words by rejecting Jesus.
• He is saying that Abraham would not reject His words because He did not reject Yahweh’s words.

A related rabbit trail – Does the OT mistakenly lead the Jew to believe that righteousness comes by obeying God’s commands?

If the OT taught that humanity’s sin problem was entirely a matter of obedience to God’s commands, one could make the argument.
• However, the OT does not teach this.
• It teaches, like the NT, that the fundamental problem is a heart problem.
• And it demands a direct correlation between the state of one’s heart and the nature of one’s actions.
• Jeremiah 17:9–10 (ESV) —9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
• Ezekiel 36:23, 26 & 27 (ESV) — 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
• Jeremiah 4:14 (ESV) — 14 O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you?
• Jeremiah 11:8 (ESV) — 8 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.”

Nor does the OT teach that obedience to the law atones for sins.
• Only the shedding of blood atoned for sin (unless one couldn’t afford a blood sacrifice – Lev. 14:21).
• Leviticus 17:11 (ESV) — 11 …for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

So what did obedience do and why did God demand it?
• Obedience, especially in Israel’s corporate context, made a way for God to bless through prosperity, rain and abundant crops, peace, removal of harmful beasts, victory in battle, increase in population, protection, preservation of a remnant, life, etc. (Lev. 26:3-9; Deut. 6:24; Lev. 18:4-5).

BTW – Because of the nature of God’s nation building project with Israel, there does appear to be some differences between the roles of obedience for the nation as opposed to the individual.
• On an individual level, obedience to God’s law did not mean one was righteous (same as NT) because the nature of the individual’s heart was determinative in that regard.
• On a national level, it seems that if the general trend of the nation under this or that king was obedience, God would bless the nation.
• This topic would be a great book and it would take a book to give this topic justice.

Lessons for Us:
• Nothing has changed.
• Abraham was chosen by God and responded with belief and obedience.
• As a result, he was deemed righteous.
• The Jews Jesus was talking to were also chosen by God to be part of the people through which God would bless the nations.
• They responded with disbelief and disobedience and were deemed children of Satan by Jesus.
• In the OT and the NT it comes down to how you respond to the Word of God’s truth – not your works or ancestry.
• This is how it was, is and will be until Christ’s return.
• People have and always will try to circumvent this by reinventing works, faith, righteousness and even Jesus.
• Nothing has changed.