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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Exposing the Roots of Your Family Tree

(TOTAL DISCLAIMER: The following story is a joke, offered to make a point. No matter how you may wish it to be true, there is nothing true to it.)

A professional genealogy researcher was recently work on her own family tree when she discovered Nancy Pelosi's great-great uncle, Remus Pelosi, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889. The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows, awaiting execution. On the back of the picture Judy obtained during her research is this inscription: 'Remus Pelosi, horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889.' She e-mailed Speaker Pelosi with this information and to her surprise, received a reply. Speaker Pelosi's staff sent back a press release they say was based on her genealogy research. Here’s how it read: "Remus Pelosi was a well-known cowboy in the Montana Territory . His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed." And THAT, folks, is how POLITICAL SPIN can save your family tree! By the way, how many of you believed, at least for a moment, that was a true story?

Genealogy can be an interesting study, but the facts you uncover may not always support the family identity you’d prefer. Today we’re going to look at a passage where Jesus had to confront a family tree that had been spun so thoroughly that the truth was the first and worst casualty.

CONTEXT - On an occasion when Jesus was teaching the people, some Pharisees took exception to what he said and started arguing with Him (8:13). During this debate, Jesus made references to His Father (8:16, 17, 28). V. 27 tells us they did not understand Jesus was talking about God His Father. In the course of this teach, Jesus succeeded in getting through to MANY of THOSE WHO HEARD HIM and they BELIEVED IN HIM (8:30+31). Jesus addressed these remarks to THE PEOPLE WHO BELIEVED IN HIM. His intent may have been to separate out those who truly BELIEVED from those who only claimed to believe. However, there were others who did not, and they continued to argue with Jesus.

1. They didn’t know their true father.


This claim was made in response to Jesus’ promise that the truth would set them free (31-32). The people arguing with Jesus took this negatively as an inference that they were slaves and of course, they objected to such an inference. (It’s incredible how some people are so negative they will take good news and twist it into bad news just to create some drama.) If WE meant them as a group of contemporaries, it was technically true that they’d never been SLAVES. However, if WE meant the Jews in general, they were practicing selective memory: the Jewish nation had been enslaved by the Egyptians and Babylonians, with the Greeks and Romans also having conquered them.

Jesus’ intent was to give them necessary information about true discipleship. He listed two conditions to true discipleship: one, remaining faithful to His teachings, and two, knowing the truth. He also promised a benefit of discipleship: THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE. This statement had no Old Testament equivalent. This being a new thought may partially explain part their salty reply.

Jesus’ rebuttal was to inform them He was talking about spiritual slavery and freedom, not socio-economic slavery (34-36). Slavery to sin is also an exclusively New Testament concept (cf 2 Peter 2:19). In verse 35 Jesus used the practice of slavery to indicate the exalted status of His followers: a SON is a permanent member of the family while a SLAVE is a temporary part of the household. Freedom received by holding to the TRUTH is of immense benefit: we are no longer slaves to sin but are welcome members of God’s family for eternity (36). (The word REMAIN in verse 31 and PERMANENT in verse 36 are the same word in the Greek.)

THE JEWS second claim is in verse 39 - “OUR FATHER IS ABRAHAM!”

This claim was made in response to Jesus’ recognizing they had claimed sonship but denying the validity of their claim (37-38). The fact that they want to KILL Him (37) was a sure sign that their hearts were not in the right place. In verse 38 Jesus contrasted His authority being from God the Father, His Father, against their authority being based on their father, whom He will reveal in v. 44 to be the devil. His words should be accepted as the truth because they had their origin in our Heavenly Father.

Jesus’ rebuttal was to point out that if Abraham was really their father, they would not be so violently opposed to the truth He was telling them (39-41). If they were true CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM, they would at least FOLLOW HIS EXAMPLE and accept the truth (39). We read in Genesis 18 that Abraham received divine visitors with hospitality and accepted their prophecy that he would be blessed with a son. They chose to reject the truth and tried to kill the messenger, Jesus (40). This was definitely not following Abraham’s example. The Jews could claim to be descendants of Abraham, but in a spiritual sense, they were demonstrating by their actions they were not His children in any sense that counted. (cf Matthew 23:15; 13:38-39).

Claim number three appears in verse 41: “WE AREN’T ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN! GOD HIMSELF IS OUR TRUE FATHER” This claim was made in response to Jesus’ statement that in trying to kill Him, they were IMITATING their REAL FATHER (41), the DEVIL (44). They had once again put the most negative possible spin on Jesus’ statement, attempting to put words in His mouth. He never accused them of being ILLEGITIMATE; that’s a word they chose.

You may wonder why they used the word ILLEGITIMATE. Some theorize it was intended to be a snarky attack against Jesus. Some ancient writers record that Jesus was accused of being an ILLEGITIMATE son because He was not fathered by Joseph. Imagine that accusation following Him around all His life!

Jesus’ rebuttal uncovered their true roots, giving three proofs of their actual family tree.

Proof #1 = If they were God’s children, they would LOVE Him because God sent Him (42). Jesus did not say anything of His own accord; everything He said and did was at the direction of God the Father.

Proof #2 = They could not understand or even hear His teaching because their true father, the DEVIL is the source of all lies (43-45). They were so stubborn that it’s as if they could not physically hear His words; their ignorance was deliberate and complete (43). Jesus completely condemned their unbelief by noting that they acted in accord with the DEVIL who is the source of all evil. Making a play on words, Jesus said the DEVIL was their father and the FATHER OF ALL LIES (44). Because the FATHER OF ALL LIES is their father, they NATURALLY rejected Jesus and the truth He proclaimed (45).

Proof #3 = They had no proof He was guilty of sin, yet they accused Him and rejected Him on a false basis (46). Jesus is taking pains to expose the evil and the illogic of their rejection of Him. (cf Hebrews 4:15; Isaiah 53:9)

2. Jesus revealed His Father.

Accusation #1 is reported in verse 48 - “YOU SAMARITAN DEVIL! DIDN’T WE SAY ALL ALONG THAT YOU WERE POSSESSED BY A DEMON?” Calling Jesus a SAMARITAN was intended to be insulting; it was an ethnic epithet. To call Him a DEVIL and insist that He was POSSESSED was more serious; they were guilty of grave blasphemy at this point. This accusation was made in response to Jesus’ assertion that they rejected Him because they didn’t BELONG TO GOD (47). The proof of Jesus’ assertion was found in their unwillingness to hear the Father’s words being expressed by the Son.

Jesus’ rebuttal was deny having a DEMON in Him, offering His honoring God the Father as evidence of His godly nature (49). If they had been honorable people, they would have honored God the Father by honoring Jesus.

Accusation #2 is in verses 52-53, “NOW WE KNOW YOU ARE POSSESSED BY A DEMON.” They were offended that Jesus would claim to have a power that even Abraham was not granted: immortality. How dare He think Himself better than Abraham?! This accusation was made in response to two promises Jesus made in these verses:

Promise #1 = that God, the TRUE JUDGE would GLORIFY Him, recognizing Jesus’ true parentage and intent to HONOR God (50). 2 Peter 1:17 tells us that the Transfiguration was a moment when Jesus received honor and glory from the Father. John’s gospel does not report the Transfiguration, so I’d guess that Jesus is here looking further ahead, to His ultimate glorification at His Second Coming. In this sense it is a promise.

Promise #2 = that anyone who obeyed His teaching would NEVER DIE (51). Jesus spoke about spiritual death - hell - eternal separation from God. His antagonists took Him literally and criticized a claim He did not make: that physical death might be avoided by obeying His teaching.

Jesus’ rebuttal was twofold. First, He reiterated the fact that He glorified the Father, not Himself (54). Second, He explained that they didn’t know God or obey Him as Jesus did (55).

The final objection by Jesus’ opponents is recorded in verse 57. They objected to Jesus’ assertion that their alleged father Abraham gladly LOOKED FORWARD to His coming (56). The inference is that if they were truly children of Abraham, they would be GLAD about His coming too. They said it was impossible for Jesus to have seen Abraham; He was not even an old man (FIFTY).

In response to their final objection, Jesus asserted His pre-existence and applied the divine name “I AM” to Himself (58).

The proof of their parentage was in their violent reaction: THEY PICKED UP STONES TO THROW AT HIM (59). To their ears, Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God was blasphemy. The penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning (see Leviticus 24:16). This was not the time for Jesus’ death, so Jesus was miraculously HIDDEN FROM THEM, and He LEFT THE TEMPLE unharmed. Some dispute a miracle occurred here as it is not directly stated. However, I can’t picture escape by hiding in a crowded place and then simply walking away. Luke 4:30 reports a similar occurrence happening in Nazareth.

Only the truthful are of God’s family.

The Old Testament does identify Israel as God’s children (Deuteronomy 32:6; 63:16). Over the course of their history, they saw their divine ancestry less as a responsibility and more as a privilege they enjoyed without regard to moral status. In one ancient document (Dialogue with Trypho) it was claimed that the Jews expected to receive the kingdom of God regardless of how they behaved. Privilege without responsibility is a seductive and popular lie. If we’re honest, that’s what describes so much of modern Western culture.

Here’s a sad truth that ought to wound each of us and cause us great concern: in America, we’re in danger of falling into the same error as the Jews that confronted Jesus. We want to point back to the roots of our country, our obvious Judeo-Christian heritage, and pacify ourselves by thinking we have a privileged position based on the faith of our ancestors.


Let us hear Jesus, let us listen again to His words of condemnation of every pretense and false claim. He speaks to people of every age who think that anything other than repentance and life-long obedience will save them.

This culture has degenerated from Christian ideals and much of the Church has followed right along behind. People who want to remake America in their image are telling the Church to either go along entirely or butt out entirely. The liberal extreme has gone along wholeheartedly, and the conservative extreme is happy to be left alone.

Where is our fight for the right? Where is the courage Jesus showed to go ahead and hurt people’s little feelings because it was more important that they hear the truth than be comforted with their lie? Why have we settled for a division into blue and red parties when neither of them matter? We are easily distracted by trivia and expend ourselves on issues that are nowhere near essential?

We easily agree that we need to follow Jesus’ example. If that’s so, we need to follow His example in John 8 as well, assertively confronting lies and liars with the truth. God has revealed the truth and that’s where we need to take our stand. As a friend told me recently, “Everyone is entitled to have their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to have their own facts.” Facts are not prey for excusing self-centeredness. They exist independent of self and independent of culture and are frequently critical of both. Be Jesus. Tell the truth.

RESOURCES:, retrieved on 24 sept 21.

The Anchor Bible (The Gospel According to John I-XII), Vol. 29, Raymond E. Brown

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