As noted in my previous post, in John 8:48-59, the religious leaders criticized the Lord Jesus three times (8:48, 52-53, 57). This was not the first time that this has happened. But on this occasion the comments were getting more personal and ended quite intensely. In this passage we can observe how Jesus responded to criticism and from this be provided with a truly helpful example. There are two actions that we see in this passage: Honor God and Have a Clear Conscience.
The religious leaders verbally criticised Jesus by saying, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48). That is a huge accusation and reveals that they are not happy with Jesus. By calling Him “a Samaritan” was an accusation of racial and religious hatred. The Jews and the Samaritans did not get along. This was more than what we may call an “inter-state rivalry”. The hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans was far more serious. Adding to this, they accuse Him of being demon-possessed. Suggesting that He is demon possessed was a rather harsh and blasphemous way of saying that He was out of His mind. This is not the first time Jesus has been labeled this way.
How would you respond? Notice what Jesus does. He doesn’t pull out the boxing gloves, nor does He start yelling at them. A fleshly response would be to passionately defend oneself. Amazingly, He completely ignores the first accusation regarding being a Samaritan, then He said, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me” (8:49). He confronts the criticism by appealing to the truth in a way that honors the Father. This is amazing. Jesus makes the most important thing the center of this conversation. Too often we get offended when people criticize us because we don’t like looking bad. This really is an issue of pride. The best way to deal with criticism is to honour God. It is not about getting worldly approval; it is all about giving God the glory. An important question we need to ask ourselves is, what is the goal of our lives? Is it about vindicating ourselves or giving God the glory? The first question of the Westminster shorter catechism is, “What is the chief end of man?” the answer is, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”.
HAVE A GOOD CONSCIENCE
After Jesus provided such a gracious invitation to receive eternal life, sadly they took their criticism to an even deeper level. This is what they said, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death” (John 8:52). They continue their round of criticism by asking, “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” (John 8:53). For the second time, notice how Jesus confronts their criticism,
“If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” (John 8:54-56)
After they hurled the first criticism, Jesus responded by making it an issue of honoring God. Notice this time He replies in a way that displays a good conscience. If we are going to face criticism, it is important that we have a clear conscience. What is the conscience? The conscience is a devise that will either accuse or excuse one’s behaviour. It becomes somewhat of an alarm system when you depart from obeying God’s Word. Jesus was able to look at His critics in the eyes with a good conscience. Sometimes, that is all we will have and are able to do.
Now we come to round three. The religious leaders are proving themselves to be relentless in their criticism. They said, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (John 8:57). The response Jesus gives is truly profound, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Here Jesus states with clarity the He is eternal (cf. John 1:1) and gives Himself the name of God that Moses heard at the burning bush (Ex. 3:11). Notice how they respond, “So they picked up stones to throw at him” (8:59). They have followed the destructive pattern of a critical spirit. It began with a critical heart and now it manifests itself in violent actions. This is really sad for them, because look at what Jesus does, “but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple“. That is the only response He gives to these hardhearted rebels. It started off with an invitation to receive eternal life and ends with silence. It was Augustine who said, “As man, He fled from the stones; but woe to those from whose stony hearts God has fled.” We can gain a lesson from this: Sometimes this is how we are to respond to criticism. There comes a point in which whether it is for out safety or because of the hardness of the person’s heart, we are to remove ourselves from the person’s presence.
What do we learn from this event int he earthly ministry of Christ? Just as Jesus responded to criticism by giving honour to the Father and maintained a good conscience, so must we. Consider what Peter said to Christian’s undergoing criticism and hardship,
“14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:14-17).
Notice there are two things the believer is to do: (1) honour Christ and (2) have a good conscience. We should be thankful that our Lord Jesus Christ did this perfectly. We should prepare ourselves for when criticism comes. It will be from within the church and it will come from the outside. Let us be ready by His help.
 Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 13 vols., ed. Philip Schaff (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), 7:245