John 8:21 Again (Jesus) said to them, “I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 Then the Jews said, “Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “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, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.” 25 They said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Why do I speak to you at all? 26 I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”
I’m struck this morning by the contrast in Jesus’ response to different people in this chapter. The first part of the chapter (not included in the passage above) tells of Jesus’ encounter with a mob and a woman caught in adultery. Rather than condemn her, or turn her over to an angry mob prepared to stone her to death, Jesus turns the tables on those gathered and invites anyone who is without sin to cast the first stone. Everyone drops their stones and walks away, knowing the truth of their own sin. Then Jesus deals with the woman with tremendous care and mercy, inviting the woman to repent and sin no more. This is the Jesus I am drawn to. Rather than rejecting me when I’ve sinned, Jesus draws me closer and invites me to go and sin no more.
Then there’s our passage for today. The people he’s talking to include religious leaders of his day who are anything but humble. Their confidence is in their adherence to the law of Moses. For these people Jesus has a difficult truth, “…you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he (the promised Messiah).” Jesus was the key to their eternal lives, but they rejected him. There is no care or mercy for these people, just cutting truth and confrontation.
As is true of God the Father, Jesus the Son is far more complex and nuanced than we tend to admit. We embrace Jesus as Prince of Peace or Lamb of God, but Jesus the confrontational judge? Not so much. In the end I expect we need Jesus to be both for us. We need the one who tells us hard truths about who we are apart from the gospel. And we need the one who forgives our sins and invites us closer despite our brokenness.