Barry Metz 3/22/15
Jesus’ Public Ministry Comes to a Close
As we come to the end of John 12 this morning, and I invite you turn there with me, Jesus’ public ministry comes to a close.
If you were with us last week, Mary anointed Jesus for burial at Bethany and then Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey to the acclaim of Passover attending crowds crying out, ‘Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” John 12:17 tells us that the crowd who had been present when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, back in John 11, continued to bear witness about (what happened in Bethany with Lazarus). And all of this seemed to exasperate the Pharisees, John 12:19, who basically threw up their hands and said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
As we have seen several times in the book of John, characters will often say way more than they know. In this case it turns out the whole world will soon begin to go after Jesus. In fact, one verse later, John 12:20, some Greeks, probably Gentiles1 appear out of nowhere and approach Philip seeking Jesus. (Why Philip? We don’t really know. Philip had a Greek name—but many Jews at the time also had Greek names. It may have been that Philip was from a place near the Gentile region of Decapolis2 and these Gentiles may have been from that area. Again we can’t be sure)
The Gentiles said to Philip, “Sir we wish to see Jesus” (One author said that he had seen these words inscribed on a pulpit in a church facing the preacher—‘The Greek’s request says exactly what waiting congregations most long to ‘see’ and hear from their pastors and teachers at each gathering’3…Sir we wish to see Jesus.
As far as we know Jesus never meets with the Greeks; at least John doesn’t tell us that he did. What John emphasizes is what the information about the Greeks seeking Jesus evoked in Jesus. Look at Jesus’s response in verse 23 to the news that Greeks are seeking him… “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”
You see Jesus knew the plan. Jesus knew that there were other sheep—Gentile sheep—who needed to be brought into the flock (John 10:16). He knew that his death would gather into one place ‘the children of God who (were) scattered abroad’ (John 11:52). And so when the Greeks came seeking Jesus, he said, “It’s time….the hour has come….” (We’ve been waiting for the ‘hour’ to come throughout the book of John haven’t we? Way back in chapter 2, Jesus looked into his mother’s eyes—when she wanted him to get an embarrassed anonymous groom in Cana out of a pinch with his power—and he said, “My hour has not yet come”)… Well it’s finally time!
So you’re a student wondering if you should graduate now…. you wake up one Saturday morning to the ring of the doorbell….You answer the door and standing there are twenty-five students in cap and gown. “Maybe you should graduate.”
Or you’re a ministry-minded person wondering if you should go to seminary… you preach a sermon… ten people get saved… “Maybe seminary is right.”
You’re a gardener and you’re wondering if you should plant a garden this spring…It’s February….there’s been snow on the ground for a month. You look out your kitchen window one Saturday to the location where you always put your garden… and you can’t believe what you see… stalks of corn, heads of cabbage and tomato plants…popping right up out of the snow…. “Maybe you should plant a garden”
Andrew and Phillip come to Jesus…”there are some Greeks seeking to see you” (one author suggests that in the book of John “to come and see” is almost a formula for discipleship4)… “There are some foreigners who stand ready to join your flock Jesus”…. and we can imagine Jesus’s eyes got really big? “The only way that foreigners can become part of my flock is if I am lifted up on the cross and die.” So Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”
In the opening chapters of Matthew’s Gospel we read that wise men from the East came to see Jesus—the Magi right? --and here in John, shortly before the cross, we see wise men from the West coming to Jesus. Gentiles framed both sides of Jesus’ life.5
Look at what Jesus said next, verse 24…he explains the ‘law of the kingdom of God’6…. “Truly, truly I say to you…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit”
“Without the death of the seed, no crop; without the death of Christ, no world-wide gathering of mankind. This strikes the key-note of the whole discourse”7
“What looks like the grain’s demise is in fact its harvest. So (it is with) Jesus’ cross. What looks like the perfect proof against Jesus’ authenticity—(Jesus’) capital punishment—proves by longer exposure to it to be the supreme argument for, and the major display of, God’s profound love for the world.”8
And this same ‘law of the kingdom of God’ applies to disciples, verse 25. “To relinquish one’s hold on life, to give it up, to ‘hate one’s life in this world’ , by making Christ one’s first priority9, is the key to participation in the kingdom.”10
The church father Augustine paraphrased it this way: “If you want to keep your soul safe forever, you have to hate it for a time.”11
Verse 26… Following Jesus means serving Jesus and serving Jesus brings honor from the Father.
One author encourages us toward following Jesus and serving Jesus… “The real Nobel prizes, Oscars, Emmys, and Awards are those eternal rewards to be given at the final judgment, and the eyes of the faithful want to be fixed on the that future great day more than any other day or any other conceivable honors and rewards.”12
Our passage this morning, from this point out, seems to have three movements.
Let me summarize them on a slide…
Jesus’ public ministry comes to a close.
Well we come to the first movement of the passage, “The Hour Has Come” (vs. 27-36a)
I. The Hour Has Come (vs. 27-36a)
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
Look at verse 27. Jesus says, “My soul is troubled”, possibly a quote from Psalm 6:3. This is Jesus’ ‘Gethsemane moment’ in the book of John. (You remember in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering be taken from him but then he tempered his request with ‘not my will but yours be done.’) He does the same thing here.
The word troubled literally means “to shake or stir up”…the pool of Bethesda, John 5, was stirred up.13 The word is a strong word. It can signal anxiety, agitation, revulsion, and even horror.14 “The anticipation of bearing the shame of sin, experiencing God’s wrath, and being separated from the Father”15, in this moment, caused Jesus’ soul to recoil in anguish. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.”
Living for the Father’s glory has controlled Jesus’ life and ministry up to this point.16 And so living for the Father’s glory is on Jesus’ heart as he anticipates the cross.
As Jesus prays “Father, glorify your name” he in a sense is praying “Let your son be crucified.” 17
Or we might imagine this longer paraphrase, “Father, help me this next crucial week to do everything you want me to do, and to do it all in the right way so that You, Father, will be most honored.”18 Father, glorify your name!
Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.
This is the only time in John’s gospel that the Father speaks audibly and directly from heaven to Jesus.19 But we know from the other gospels that the Father spoke from heaven two other times in Jesus’ ministry. Do you remember when? Jesus’ baptism20 (“You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased!”) and Jesus’ transfiguration21 (“This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”…notice that at his baptism, the Father’s words were for Jesus, you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased. But at the transfiguration Jesus spoke to those with Jesus, This is my beloved son…listen to him. In each case we can imagine however the voice from heaven was deeply encouraging to Jesus. Why would the Father’s words from heaven here in John encourage the Son? The Father is basically saying: “Dear Son, I have received much glory from your life and I want to assure that I will be glorified by your death and resurrection.”
We talk about living to glorify God. What does that really mean? You and I glorify God when we bring attention to Jesus’ life and when we bring attention to his death and resurrection. “God’s glory is supremely manifested in world history wherever Jesus’s life and passion are brought to the attention of the human race”22
When the Father spoke from heaven saying “I have glorified it” he was speaking of Jesus’s life and ministry. When he said, “I will glorify it again” he was speaking of Jesus’s death and resurrection.
Some who heard the voice gave it a natural explanation---was that thunder?
Some who heard the voice gave it a supernatural explanation23—I think it was an angel!
Both were wrong. But isn’t this a picture of what has gone on throughout the book of John. Many don’t have ears to hear what the Father says!
Look again at verse 30….30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now what could Jesus mean by that given that no one at the time understood it? He probably meant that the voice came more for their sake24 than even his even though he was encouraged by it. And secondly given that we now have the words from heaven in the Word, disciples all over the world can be encouraged that Jesus’ shameful death on the cross was not a defeat but a victory.25
So let’s review the movement of thought in this section of John 12 up to this point. The arrival of the Greeks (vs. 20) has triggered in Jesus’ mind the recognition that his appointed hour has arrived (vs. 23). And because that hour encompasses the cross he is troubled (vs. 27). But even though he is troubled, his desire is that the Father would glorify his own name, even in this hour (vs. 28). Jesus prays. And Jesus’ ‘Gethsemane-like’ prayer evokes an audible response from heaven (vs. 28-29). What does it all mean? Verses 31-33 unpack what it means….
31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Let’s look in detail at the four things Jesus emphasizes in verses 31-32…
1. Now is judgment of this world
When you and I think of judgment we often think of something coming down the pike at the end of the age, don’t we? And there will be judgment at the end of the age. But Jesus is telling us in these verses that judgment is inaugurated with the cross.
“The glorification of Christ on the cross brings catastrophic change to everything right now”26
Every time someone encounters Jesus, every time someone hears about his death on the cross for sins, and rejects His precious sacrifice for sins, that person condemns himself to the eternal judgment of hell.
As Jesus is lifted up on the cross as the light of the world, he forces a division between those whose evil deeds are exposed by his brilliance and those whose deeds prompt them to embrace the light.27 Isn’t that the way it goes? The light of the world shines. Some, loving their sins, scurry away. Others, drawn to the light, forsake their sins and embrace Christ. Judgment has occurred.
There’s great irony in the passion of Christ. The world thought it was passing judgment on Jesus when they crucified him. In reality the cross was passing judgment on them. When mankind exercised judgment on Christ on the cross, it judged itself.28
Now is the judgment of this world.
2. Now will the ruler of this world be cast out.
The ruler of this world—Satan—lost his authority and influence at the cross.29 His reign of tyranny was broken at the cross.30 When Jesus was glorified, lifted up to heaven by means of the cross, enthroned, then Satan was dethroned.31
It’s interesting that the book of John includes only one exorcism—Satan’s exorcism because of the cross. 32 That’s the word here.33 Satan was cast out, he was thrown out from over us. Yes the devil “still roams the world, works his wiles, seduces, tempts, tricks, but ever since (the cross), he enjoys no ultimate power or supremacy over believers”.34 And although the cross might seem like Satan’s triumph, it is in fact his defeat.
3. Jesus will be lifted up on the cross and exalted to heaven.
The verb ‘lifted up’ is ambiguous isn’t it? I think it’s ambiguous on purpose. Jesus was not only lifted up on the cross, he was lifted up (i.e. exalted) to glory. So I think when John uses the term ‘lifted up’—and we saw it in John 3:14 and John 8:28 and now here in John 12:32—he means both lifted up on the cross and lifted up into glory. (There’s actually a verse in Isaiah—Isaiah 52:13—where the notions of being lifted up and glorification come together.35 We won’t take the time to look at it but it’s beautiful and it leads right into the ‘suffering servant’ passage in Isaiah 53.)
4. Jesus will draw all people to himself.
The consequence of Jesus’ passion/glorification, his death/exaltation is that Jesus will draw all men to himself.36 We saw this word ‘draw’ in John 6:44. There it was the Father who drew all men to give to the Son. Here it is the Son who will draw all people to himself.
The lifting up of Jesus—again by that we mean his lifting up on the cross and his lifting up into heaven glorified—is the ‘single most magnetic power on the planet attracting the filings of human hearts all over the world like no other magnetic force in the universe’37
You see Jesus had to die and be exalted to become magnetic. That’s why when Jesus heard that Greeks were coming to see him, he began to think forward to the cross when he would become magnetic for all the people of the world. And He had to die to become spiritually magnetic.
Now we know that not everyone is saved. So how do we handle this idea that Jesus will draw all people to himself? Most often it’s explained that ‘all people’ is ‘all people without distinction, Jews and Gentiles alike, (every kind of people but) not all individuals without exception’38
But could the text be teaching a magnetic universalism (all people will be drawn to Jesus, some to receive him and others to reject him) not a saving universalism (that all people will be saved)? Could the text be saying that all people will be drawn to Jesus to encounter him as the crucified and risen Savior but not be saying all people will be saved? I think so.
Well look at verse 33….33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”
Jesus hasn’t said he is the Christ, the Messiah, in this interaction with the crowd. But some in the crowd have connected ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Messiah’. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Doesn’t the Law, doesn’t our Old Testament scriptures say that the Christ remains forever? What kind of Son of Man are you talking about?
(Now we won’t take the time to go to Daniel 7:13-14 where the Son of Man is stunningly introduced by Daniel. But when you see the name Son of Man you should think Daniel 7:13-14 because Daniel paints a breathtaking picture of an eternal, powerful, sovereign king in those verses whose dominion will be everlasting and whose kingdom will never be destroyed. It fits Jesus to the “t”)
“What kind of ‘Son of Man’ are you talking about?,” the crowd asks. Jesus ignores their question and gives them a word picture of a traveler at sunset39. The traveler has light right now but it’s getting dark—the meaning? Jesus is the light and the light is among them for a little while longer. The traveler must make an effort to finish the journey before the darkness overtakes him or he will lose his way. When it gets dark—the meaning? when Jesus is gone from the scene—the traveler won’t be able to find his way.
Verse 36….36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” Believe! Become my disciple! A son of the light has become a disciple of the light!40
Some of the ladies are going through a Beth Moore study on I Thessalonians. The name of their study is ‘Children of the Day.’ Paul uses that phrase in I Thessalonians 5:5 For you are all children of light, children of the day.41
Well Jesus challenges his listeners, verse 36, while you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.
“Become my disciples. It won’t become any easier to place trust in me after the cross. You should commit yourselves to me now before I the light of the world am taken from you and you find yourself in total darkness.”42
Well we come to the second movement in the passage.
II. Many have not believed (vs. 36b-43)
Continuing in verse 36….
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Jesus seems to be acting out the warning he has just given. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”
41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
Now these verses address an important question. How is it that so many Jews, how is it that so many of Jesus’ own people did not believe in Him? Now in the very first few verses of John chapter 1 we were prepared for the wide-scale rejection of Jesus by His own people. Let’s look at John 1:10–11 on the screen…
So we were prepared early in the book of John for the wide-scale rejection of Jesus.
And we know that Paul addresses the important question of ‘Why Israel rejected their Messiah?’ in Romans 9-11. There Paul argues that Israel’s rejection of Christ was not merely foreseen by God, it was by God’s sovereign design. It was a judgment act on God’s part.
Well what does John say here? John seems to list two causes for Israel’s belief, one divine and the other human. Verses 37… the people did not believe…. Verse 39….therefore they could not believe….Taken together these two perspectives illustrate the interface between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.43
Look at verse 37… Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him. And then verse 38… so that… here’s the purpose44….so that the word spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled…. And then we have Isaiah 53:1…. “Lord who has believed what he heard from us and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
In using Isaiah 53:1 (verse 38b in our text) John seems to be saying that Isaiah himself complained to God that hardly anyone had believed what the people (himself included) had heard and that hardly anyone had believed what had been revealed to them as God’s almighty power.45
But then in verse 39, John goes further and referring to Isaiah 6:10, he attributes people’s hardening to God himself…
39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”
Let’s turn back to Isaiah 6. These verses are used frequently by New Testament writers to justify the unbelief of Israel…. Isaiah 6
Beginning in Isaiah 6, verse 1
In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
Holy, holy Holy is Yahweh of hosts
The whole earth is full of his glory.
The prophet Isaiah was given a stunning vision of God. And the vision of Yahweh’s holiness disturbed him greatly. Why? Because he was not holy. He cried out, verse 5… Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the king, Yahweh of Hosts!
Well God graciously solved his problem with a burning coal, verses 6-7. And then God commissioned Isaiah to go to the Jewish people “with the chilling prospect of being ignored, scorned, and rejected by them… God commands Isaiah to undertake his ministry in the full knowledge that the results will be negative”46
Look at verses 9-10:
9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
And then we come to the verse that John refers to…
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
Isaiah, may your ministry be gloriously unsuccessful!
Well turn back to John 12
So John, in our passage, has used a shortened version of Isaiah 6:10—he drops all reference to ears and hearing and he puts eyes first —to drive home that God himself had judicially hardened the Jewish people . The blinding of eyes and the hardening of hearts was a work of God himself.
“It’s a sobering reality that those who persistently harden their hearts against God may find themselves hardened by him”47
“When revelation comes, we must believe. But if we refuse to believe, the light disappears and when God’s light departs from the world, the darkness closes over unbelieving hearts”48
D. A. Carson writes, “God’s judicial hardening is not presented as the capricious manipulation of an arbitrary potentate cursing morally neutral or even morally pure beings, but as a holy condemnation of a guilty people who are condemned to do and be what they themselves have chosen.”49
Isaiah speaks to us today, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near”. That’s Isaiah 55:6.
Well there’s a real surprise in verse 41…41 Isaiah said these things …these things about Jewish unbelief and God’s judicial hardening of them… because he saw his glory and spoke of him. The prophet Isaiah spoke of these things because he saw whose glory? Whose glory did Isaiah see? It would seem that John is saying Isaiah saw Jesus’s glory. Did Isaiah see Jesus’ glory in the famous vision that he had of Yahweh in Isaiah 6? Most commentators believe that is exactly what John means.50 Many in fact think that Jesus is in fact the “heart hardener” of Isaiah 6.
One writer puts it this way: “One sees here that John had no difficulty in speaking of Jesus as God… Being with God before the origin of things (John 1:1), he had appeared to Isaiah in the form of God before he became flesh”51
Well there is another real surprise in verses 42-43.
42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him…look back at verse 37..though he had done many signs they still did not believe…. but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
It’s hard to know what to make of these authorities. Is Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea in this group? Were they truly followers of Jesus? Did their unwillingness to stand with Jesus publicly invalidate their faith? We can say this much—John has penetrated the human heart in these verses.52 He’s shown us what keeps people from coming to faith completely—they love the praise of men more than they love the praise of God.
Well we come to the final movement in the passage, verses 44-50, which seem to summarize Jesus’ public ministry to Israel.
III. A Final Plea for Belief (vs. 44-50)
44 And Jesus cried out … note the urgency and passion…. and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.
Believing in Jesus is believing in God. Seeing Jesus is seeing God. “Jesus is God’s autobiography and to hear Jesus is to hear God in word, and to see Jesus is to see God in action. The whole gospel of John from beginning to end and almost everywhere in between, drills this one message home.”53 Jesus is transparent to God.
46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. We’ve seen that idea several times in the book of John. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
“At the judgment, people will be reminded of the opportunities they had to hear Jesus’ words and be changed by them. Then Jesus’ words will be words of judgment; but now they are words of loving warning: “Please don’t have to hear me only on the last day; hear me today Jesus is crying. Your life depends on what you choose to hear. This day or that day you will have to come to terms with my word. Today it is a gracious word of warning! On the last day it will be a condemning word of judgment!”54
49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”
Our passage this morning underscores the importance of coming to faith. Christianity is not merely church going but a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. If you’ve yet to put your faith in Christ, today is a great day to believe. Now is the day of judgment! Now is the day of salvation!
From our text, John 12:36, While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become children of the light.
Those who refuse the light will eventually find it extinguished and the darkness closing in over them.
“It’s a sobering reality that those who persistently harden their hearts against God may find themselves hardened by him”55
As you may be aware, the first eleven chapters of Romans lay out God’s great salvation plan. Paul ends those chapters with a benediction. It seems fitting here…
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.