Friday, February 01, 2008

John 12:44-50

44Then Jesus cried out, "When a man believes in Me, he does not believe in Me only, but in the One who sent Me. 45When he looks at Me, he sees the One who sent Me. 46I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness. 47"As for the person who hears My words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not accept My words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. 49For I did not speak of My own accord, but the Father who sent Me commanded Me what to say and how to say it. 50I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told Me to say."

The first section of John’s gospel here comes to an end. Jesus’ present ministry was not a ministry of condemnation or judgment, but of peace and salvation. He had not come to conquer in glorious power, but to overcome in glorious humility and suffering. However, before He goes to the cross, He gives His hearers a very stern warning: His message of free grace and salvation is precious beyond compare; and therefore, to reject it will have dire results. For Jesus will return one day; and in that day, He will judge the world in power and righteousness. At that time, the very words that Jesus has now spoken will rise up to condemn all who have rejected Him. Do not despise this offer of free grace, for in the next moment, you might be cut off forever from any further offer of grace, and left to burn in righteous torment for the sins which you have committed against a Holy and Almighty God!

It is foolish and unreasonable for faith to be wavering or doubtful; it is impossible to offer a greater insult to God, than not to rely on His truth. The one who profits from the gospel is the one who believes God and thereby quietly and steadily contends against all the schemes of Satan. If we render to God the honor due Him, we must learn to remain firm in faith, though the world were shaken, though Satan should disturb and overturn all that is under heaven. To look at Jesus and see God the Father is to know Him and to be known by Him. Finally, in the first half of v50, Jesus says that God the Father’s command leads to eternal life. “And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another, as He commanded us” (1 John 3:23).

As we’ve said several times, this fits with the purpose of John’s gospel, which we’ll look at in John 20:31 – “These are written that you may believe [or may continue to believe] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” From this point on, John will focus on the private instruction that Jesus relays in much detail to His disciples, and the crucifixion and resurrection with which Jesus would fulfill His purpose and mission in the world to glorify God. Amen.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

John 12:34-43

34The crowd spoke up, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can You say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this 'Son of Man'?" 35Then Jesus told them, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light." When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid Himself from them. 37Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him. 38This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" [Isaiah 53:1] 39For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40"He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn--and I would heal them." [Isaiah 6:10] 41Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about Him. 42Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in Him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

As Jesus so often declared, the crowds in general did not believe in Him; instead, they only possessed an inadequate half-truth. They knew that the Messiah would live forever – after all, the prophecies stated that He would be the “Everlasting Father”, and that His reign would have no end (Isaiah 9:6-7). In this much, they were right: but they failed to take notice of the prophecies which spoke of Jesus’ substitutionary suffering and death (Isaiah 52:13-53:12); and so they were offended by this teaching that the Messiah’s eternal, victorious life would be a resurrection life, and that the Son of Man must first be lifted up in death before He sat down to reign in life forevermore.

Isn’t it interesting that they understood this much without seeing the whole truth? They ask, “Who is the Son of Man?” They know that Jesus is calling Himself the Son of Man, but they are mocking Him for using that title. They knew that the Son of Man was Messiah, but they denied that Jesus could hold either title. By asking this question, they are inviting Jesus to be quiet and depart from them. We see that the testimony to Messiah through the Old Testament prophets was not only clear, but also in accord to Jesus’ own teaching about Himself, yet the people refused to believe due to their blindness. This underscores a deeper truth: as long as they were under the authority of their father the devil, it was not possible that they should understand and believe the truth of God. Jesus responded gently, explaining the urgency of the situation. Their hardness needed to end now, for when the light departed, the darkness would overtake them. There was never a better time to hear the truth than when Jesus was walking upon the earth, for He was Light itself. But all the light in the world will do no good for a blind man (Matthew 6:22-23). Jesus would only walk the earth for a few days longer, and His call is urgent: “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” Then Jesus left and hid Himself from them.

At this point, Jesus leaves the crowds, and John goes on to explain why Jesus spoke the way He did, and why the people could not believe Him (v39). As surprising as the answer may seem, it ultimately goes back to God’s choice: the people had every reason to believe in Jesus, who had done countless miracles and received every conceivable form of reliable testimony, and yet they were still unable to believe. Why? Because God had already decided, as far back as the days of Isaiah, that when the Messiah came, He would blind the eyes of the people, and harden their hearts, so that they would not see or understand, and so be converted and healed by God. This may be a difficult teaching, but it is a Biblical one (Matthew 13:13; 2 Corinthians 2:14-15; Deuteronomy 29:4)! And furthermore, as Paul later explains to us, the hardening of the Jews was not simply so that they might fall, but for the mercy of us Gentiles, in order that we might receive God’s free grace, and provoke Israel to jealousy! The ultimate outcome of all this will be Jew and Gentile alike coming to God for free, undeserved mercy, all to the glory of God alone (Romans 9-11).

Some of the Jews looked to Jesus and saw His glory, but most of the Jews were completely blinded and so rejected Him. Others, who did glimpse His glory in a fleeting and shallow way, did not turn to Him, for they still loved the glory of man more than the glory of Jesus. Think of Martin Luther, who did not fear excommunication when he was convinced by the word of God. How many other people feared excommunication and kept silent? How many failed to stand firm on the word of God for the sake of church tradition? Consider the parable of the four soils.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

John 12:20-33

20Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus." 22Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 23Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me. 27"Now My heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify Your name!" 29Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to Him. 30Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not Mine. 31Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." 33He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.

John sets a new context. Some Greeks were among those who came to worship at the Feast. We don’t know if they were Jew or Gentile Greeks. But the point is that they came from beyond the sea and filed in with a crowd going to worship. Wanting to see Jesus, they found Philip. Why Philip? Why does John go to the trouble to point out that Philip was from Bethsaida in Galilee? This detail had been noted in chapter 1 of John’s gospel. Perhaps Philip looked like a foreigner, and so the Greeks felt comfortable talking to him. Perhaps they were filled with reverence before Jesus, so they modestly made His disciple aware of their desire. And notice in v22 that Philip goes to tell Andrew. Then the two of them together go to Jesus with the news. What’s the reason for that? Whatever the reason, we ought to strive to be the ones people seek out to inquire of Jesus. They ought to see in us something that makes them think we know the answer to their question. We ought to look like we can show people Jesus.

Look at v21. This verse is written on many a pulpit in the churches around the world. “We want to see Jesus.” That’s the job of a preacher – to show the people Jesus. And this verse reminds a pastor before and as he preaches of his role. Do you want to see Jesus? Do you want to show people Jesus? We are lights reflecting the True Light.

Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus has provided many hints and foretastes that the gospel would ultimately spread to the Gentiles (John 4), and He has also made it clear that the hour of His death and following glorification, together with the in-gathering of the Gentiles that should follow, had not yet arrived (John 2:4; 7:6,8,30; 8:20). But now, in v23, the hour has come for glory. One commentator described Jesus in v23 as tenacious. He’s ready and willing. Now is the time to tell these foreigners that His death is close at hand; but just as a grain of wheat, when it dies and is buried, springs forth with much fruit – so His death would be fruitful to produce eternal life (v24). Jesus compares His death with sowing – and remember from previous discussions (John 4), sowing is hard. But the sower and reaper rejoice together, as anyone who shared His death, anyone who “died with Christ” (Colossians 3:1-4; Galatians 2:19-20; Romans 6:5-6), would also reap the fruit of eternal life – even these Greeks from across the sea!

In this way, suffering is sowing, and reaping and rejoicing are guaranteed. In order to gain eternal life, one must hate his life in this world and serve Christ, as God the Father will honor the servant of Christ (v25-26). What does it mean to hate life? To love life? Let’s point out that to love this life is not in itself wrong, provided that we only pass through it as pilgrims, keeping our eyes always fixed on home. The true limit of loving life is continuing in it as long as God would have us stay and being willing to offer it as a sacrifice and being prepared to leave it as soon as He decides to take us out of this life. Whoever carries his attachment to the present life beyond this limit, destroys his life; that is, he consigns it to everlasting ruin. For the word translated in the NIV “lose” does not entail the loss of something valuable, but rather devoting it to destruction.

As tenacious as Jesus is regarding His mission, He is nevertheless troubled in His heart (v27). This seems at first glance to depart from the expected flow of His discourse. But it is perfectly harmonious with the message, and we see the divinity and humanity of Jesus quite clearly in this passage. Looking forward to John 14:1-2, He tells the disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” There He is speaking of the trouble of unbelief; the disciples need not be troubled by unbelief, for they are believers. But here John is revealing to us His contemplation of the work now at hand. The time has come to be forsaken, and the heart of Jesus is troubled over that.

When He says, “What shall I say?” He is revealing both His inexpressibly intense sorrow and His love for His sheep. Shall He avoid the wrath of God and lose His sheep? By no means! He will face the wrath of God, overcoming His troubled heart, for the sake of you and me – His sheep. And He immediately prays that God the Father would be glorified. Notice from v27-28 the four steps of Jesus: First, there is the complaint of His troubled heart. Second, Jesus displays the need for a remedy and, that He not be overwhelmed by this trouble, asks Himself what He ought to do. Third, Jesus goes to the Father, recalling the wish He knows to be inconsistent with His calling and choosing before God to suffer anything other than failing to complete the task the Father has given Him. Fourth, Jesus forgets His trouble and presses on, satisfied with God’s glory alone.

Another theme that John has emphasized throughout his gospel is also brought up in this summarizing chapter – and that is, the reliable testimony to the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. Just as the Father spoke audibly from heaven to authenticate the ministry of Jesus at His baptism (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22), and also at His transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36); so now He speaks audibly again, and confirms that He will glorify His name through the ministry of Jesus. It is as if He had said, “I will finish what I have begun.” Of course (as we know now), the way in which Jesus would glorify the Father’s name would be unimaginably difficult for Jesus, who took upon Himself our sins, and willingly accepted for them the just wrath of God, so that we might be saved – and for this cause, Jesus was deeply distressed, as He was in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). But nevertheless, He was resolutely determined to continue in His appointed path. Jesus offers the greatest example we could have to embrace suffering for the glorious name of God!

But ultimately, this audible testimony from the Father was not for Jesus’ sake – not to make Him ready for so great a sacrifice, as He already knew what He had to do, and was determined to do it; it was for the sake of the listeners, so that they might believe, and be saved. God speaks plainly enough in the Gospel, in which is also displayed the power and energy of the Spirit, which ought to shake heaven and earth; but many are unaffected by the word of God, as if it only proceeded from a mortal man, and others consider it to be loud and even barbaric, as if it were mere thunder. But in order to be saved, they must believe in Jesus, having faith that comes from the word of Christ. Ever since the Fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, mankind had been deserving of wrath. But through what Jesus was about to do, men from all over the world would be delivered from Satan’s power. Thus Jesus declares in v31, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” The word “judgment” might better describe conformation and restoration to proper order from the state of confusion and deformity caused by the devil’s government. Calvin says, “When Satan has been cast out, therefore, the world is brought back from its revolt, and placed under obedience to the government of God. How was Satan cast out by the death of Christ, since he does not cease to make war continually? This casting out must not be limited to any short period of time, but is a description of that remarkable effect of the death of Christ which is daily manifested.”

The means to this end of “judgment,” or restoration, was the lifting up of Jesus Christ, as His death and resurrection (and exaltation) would successfully propitiate God’s wrath and enable Him to draw His people to Himself – all kinds of men from all over the world. The word “men” is not in the Greek text. The phrase indicates drawing all kinds, or even all things, to Himself. We might perceive this pronouncement as His having all things put under His feet (Ephesians 1:22).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

John 12:17-19

Now the crowd that was with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18Many people, because they had heard that He had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet Him. 19So the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after Him!"

This is becoming way more than the Jewish leaders can handle. They essentially rebuke their own laziness and inactivity regarding this “Jesus situation.” The exaggeration of the Pharisees, saying that the whole world had gone after Jesus, provokes them to action. In reality, a small minority of people had genuine faith in Jesus at this point, but the crowds that were superficially following after Jesus had them so concerned that they had to put a stop to His ministry. Thus Jesus’ statement in Matthew 23:37 proves true, that the Pharisees were unwilling to lose any more of “their children” to Him (see John 8:31-47). This remains Satan’s plan, not to lose any more of his children.

Monday, January 28, 2008

John 12:9-16

9Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of Him but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in Him. 12The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"[Psalm 118:25, 26] "Blessed is the King of Israel!" 14Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, 15"Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your King is coming, seated on a donkey's colt."[Zechariah 9:9] 16At first His disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.

Throughout John's gospel, the enormous impact of Jesus' miracles and the opposition to them has been very clear; in no case is this twofold reality more clear. The resurrection of Lazarus from the dead was the pinnacle of Jesus' sign-miracles. So we see now the climax building as Pharisaical opposition to Jesus rises to its final extreme. They are not only trying to kill Jesus, but they are so jealously opposed to Him that their murderous rage is spreading even beyond Jesus, focusing on a person whose only fault was that, although entirely passive (dead!), he was the object of Christ's miracle. Lazarus is on the verge of martyrdom, being killed on account of Jesus.

The following day (after Mary anointed Jesus), Jesus rode into Jerusalem, in what has come to be known as "the triumphal entry" (see Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40). Perhaps more than any other event in His life, this day symbolized exactly what sort of ministry Jesus had on this earth. It was a glorious ministry, deserving of and resulting in the exuberant worship of the multitudes. However, this glory was accomplished and displayed far differently than might have been expected. Instead of a magnificent white horse (Revelation 6:2; 19:11), en route to a genuine group of devoted followers, Jesus humbly rode on the colt of a donkey, to a crowd that lacked authentic faith in Him. In the same way, the most glorious event in all of history was His crucifixion. Yet this most glorious event in all of history was also the lowliest and most shameful.

We see here the fickle, false faith of the crowds, who, because of His signs, line the street to honor Jesus, hailing Him as their King and Savior - but their faith is not genuine and will soon turn against Him (see John 6:15). But regardless of their sincerity or depth of knowledge, this event was a fitting and necessary accomplishment in the ministry of Jesus - so necessary, in fact, that if the multitudes had been silent, the very rocks would have cried out in worship and testimony to who Jesus truly was (Luke 19:37-40)! Jesus was declaring the commencement of His reign - by marching to His death! This very event had been prophesied in Zechariah 9:9, as John tells us, though he adds the phrase "Do not be afraid" to the quotation. This addition is fits with the spirit of the text: even though Jesus would be a mighty and glorious King, He would be humble and lowly, so that even sinners might approach Him without fear.

First, the crowd gathers to see Him; this is nothing unusual. But they gather palm branches and wave them and lay them down for Him as He comes to the City of God. That's a bit strange. The palm was the emblem of victory and peace among the ancients, but tradition was to employ branches of palm trees when bestowing kingly power on anyone, or when humbly submitting to a conqueror. It appears here that the crowd is using the palms as a token of gladness and rejoicing at receiving a new king. "Hosanna" means "save," or literally, "Give salvation now!" Used only once in the Old Testament (Psalm 118:25), the Hebrew and Greek texts translate it the same. The following phrase, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord," is from Psalm 118:26; this reference is significant because it was always sung during the Feast of Tabernacles, in expectation of the Messiah. David wrote this Psalm speaking of himself, but he knew, as did the Jews, that Messiah would be one from the line of David, coming in the Lord's name, which is no small thing (coming in the name of Lord was synonymous with representing the Lord fully - which of course is exactly what Jesus proclaimed to be doing (Hebrews 1; Colossians 2))! Thus it was proper to sing this psalm thinking not of David, but of the Christ. In fact, it was customary to wave palm branches in celebration at the mention of the word "Hosanna," just as the crowds were doing here. So, in essence, the people were saying, "We recognize that You are the Messiah who should bring salvation, the One whom we have been awaiting. Salvation is here!" The whole crowd - a mass of people in town for Passover - is shouting, and everyone's attention is focused here on Jesus. Though often used and known by all, this phrase was put into the mouths of the crowd (they were unknowingly made heralds) by the Holy Spirit to announce the coming King. And when we recite the phrase in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy Kingdom Come," we are saying a similar thing. Do we even know it?

Some make much over the apparent inconsistency regarding the donkey. Was it a donkey? Or was it the colt of a donkey? Well, plainly and fitting with Zechariah 9:9, Jesus rode on the colt which was brought alongside its mother, as Matthew's account declares. Also, the address is to the daughter of Zion, by which Zechariah meant the Church. This admonition is for us. "O Church, do not fear for Your King is coming!"

As we've already mentioned, v16 tells us that only later did the disciples realize the significance of this event. Just as the seed does not spring up as soon as it is planted, so the result of the works of God is not immediately seen. The disciples were the servants of God to fulfill the prophecy, but they did not understand what they were doing. They heard the shout of the multitude, a distinct salutation of Jesus as Christ the King, but they did not perceive what it means. To them, it was a meaningless exhibition, until the Lord, after His glorious resurrection, opened their eyes.