Monthly Archives: March 2017

Walk while you have the Light (John 12.35-50)

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The crowds try to side-track Jesus’ wonderful declaration that he would draw all people (not just Israel) to himself when he was lifted up from the earth. They ask him two very interesting and important questions. Will Jesus really be lifted up from this world? And who is this Son of Man? But Jesus refuses to allow himself to be deflected from what he wanted to teach them, so he does not answer their questions – some times we may be wiser not to try to answer someone’s questions. Rather, he warns them that they will not have the light among them for much longer, so they must be active now before darkness overtakes them. He exhorts them to believe and thus become children of light. In Jewish thought a child should reflect the very character and nature of the parent, so Jesus wants us as children of light to demonstrate God’s light in our character and life-style.

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Following the Light
In these verses we are strongly reminded of the introduction to the Gospel in John 1. Firstly, in John 1.9 the light was coming into the world and in John 12.46 Jesus says that he has come into the world as the light. Then also,¬† in John 1.5 “the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood/overcome it”. Likewise here in John 12 the light shines so that people should no longer “stay in darkness” (12.46). In reference to John 1.5 Jesus also exhorts people to get working while they still have the light (John 12.35), before “darkness overtakes you” (the same verb as in John 1.5). In John 12.47-50 Jesus emphasizes the vital importance of his words for those who believe in him; this links in with the teaching in John 1 concerning the Word which was God and was coming into the world in flesh.
So we clearly observe that Jesus is the Light of the World (see also John 8.12; 9.5). He desires to shine not just in Israel among Jewish people, but also more widely in “the world”. So in John 1 the four-fold repetition of the word “world” underlines the amazing truth that the Jewish Messiah, the Word and Light of God, has come for the salvation of all people, Jew and non-Jew alike of every ethic background all over the world. Because Jesus is himself the light there is a close association¬† of following the light and following Jesus in faith

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Jesus obeys the Father
In these verses Jesus also makes it plain that actually his purpose is not to glorify himself, bur rather to bring people to his Father. He declares, “When a person believes in me, they do not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me” (12.44). His words are also not just his own teaching, but what the Father has told him. He strongly asserts that it is the Father who has sent him. And what the Father has given him is “what I have spoken and will say” (12.49). In 12.49/50 Jesus declares that the Father gave him a “command” and it is this command which brings eternal life. Knowing the equality and love which exists between the Father and the Son, we might have expected the Father graciously to give Jesus a request. But the repeated use of “command” underlines the absolute authority of the Father. In today’s world we tend to downplay concepts of authority, command and total obedience. But faith in Jesus demands such obedience to his commands.

Consequences of the Light
Through walking with Jesus as the light our eyes can be opened, our hearts enlightened and we can be healed. As children of light we have eternal life. Jesus as the light of the world brings us to the Father in glory. What a privilege that we can actually know the Father personally and relate intimately to him in all his glorious splendour and burning holiness. Many of our compatriots may say that they believe in the existence of God, but the idea of knowing him personally through faith in Jesus is largely alien to them.
As we talk of the light, we have to remember too that this is a two-sided coin. Jesus teaches also that rejection of the light means walking in darkness (12.37-41 and 47-50). Jesus did not come in order to judge, but rather to save. Nevertheless his word brings condemnation to those who do not believe in him and follow what he says. In our world today it is not fashionable to talk of the final judgement “at the last day” (12.48), but Jesus warns us that failure to follow him and his word will inevitably bring judgement now in this life on earth and also eternally. Some were rejecting Jesus and even after witnessing his miraculous signs would not believe. With reference to them Jesus quotes some really hard words from Isaiah (John 12.37-41). The second half of verse 40 is introduced with the Greek ‘Hina‘/’in order that’. Isaiah is saying that such people’s eyes have been blinded in order that they may not see. This is not just the consequence of the blinding, but is its purpose. Some times God does not want people to see his light lest they either profess to believe but without heart-felt faith or they understand, reject and then act violently against the messenger of God.

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As a Christian worker among strong Muslims in Asia, I had this experience. Some young men well understood what the message of Jesus meant and rejected it. As a result they ganged together, surrounded us in the market and then pelted us with stones. After two such occasions I began to think through this quote from Isaiah and the New Testament teaching that we should not cast our pearls before swine (Matthew 7.6) lest the good news of Jesus be trampled into the mud and his messengers be torn to pieces. As a result we were more careful to whom we should explain the beauties of the good news of Jesus. Rejecting Jesus is also a heart-hardening experience and makes it even more difficult in the future to turn to him in life-giving faith.
Happily this passage in John’s Gospel also states encouragingly that many of the leaders of Israel came to believe in Jesus (12.42). As an elderly Russian Babushka once said to me, “When you preach the Gospel the result is always the same – some will believe and some won’t”! Sadly the statement here that many believed is counter-balanced by the negative comment that they were afraid to declare their faith openly because they might be excommunicated from the synagogue. They were keener on enjoying the praise of other people than receiving the praise of Almighty God. Fear of other people’s rejection still today stands before us as a huge hurdle to overcome. As a public speaker and preacher I confess also how strong the temptation is to seek and enjoy the praise of other people rather than looking for the name of the Lord to be uplifted and glorified.
As we conclude this blog, let us again glory in the positive good news that with faith in Jesus we can walk in the light, know where we are going, rejoice in his wonderful gift of salvation and eternal life, coming to know and relate to the Father. So let us follow Jesus and what he says, obedient to the Father’s commands.

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Lifted up to draw all people (John 12.32/33)

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The ‘and’ (Greek ‘kago’ = ‘kai ego‘ = ‘and I’) at the beginning of verse 32 links it inseparably to Satan’s overthrow in the preceding verse. Likewise the repeated and thus emphatic ‘ek‘/’out from’ in the ruler of this world being thrown ‘out’ is matched by Jesus being lifted up ‘out’ from the earth. It is by the death of Jesus that judgement has come upon this world and the ruler of this world has been cast out. The cross of Jesus has defeated Satan and brings this world to judgement.
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In verse 32 Jesus uses the word ‘earth’ to distinguish it from the previous ‘world’. Jesus is not being removed from ‘this world’ or escaping from its corruption. So John points out that Jesus was signifying how he would die. Jesus was lifted up from the earth on the wooden cross. In this we see a parallel with the life-giving bronze snake which Moses put on a pole (Numbers 21.8/9). All who lifted their eyes with faith to look on that bronze snake received life. Now Jesus declares that when he is lifted up from the earth he will draw all people towards himself. So it is in Jesus and his cross that we find the reality of eternal and abundant life.
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Jesus’ promise is for “all people” (12.32). In the New Testament “all people” does not normally indicate every individual, but rather people of all backgrounds. Of course Jesus as the Jewish Messiah is for his own Jewish people, but now he is lifted up also for non-Jews of every ethnic background and from every continent and country. His cross draws to him highly educated men and women, but is equally available for those who are less educated and less esteemed in society. Slaves and free, workers and management, old and young, morally fallen and outwardly good people, men and women – Jesus delights to draw “all people” towards himself and so to life in its fullness. What a wonderful medley of believers will finally be gathered together in love around Jesus’ throne in glory! We can look forward to it with eager anticipation – and work to bring people of all sorts to faith in Jesus. Our Hallelujahs therefore go together with a renewed mission zeal.
John’s Gospel frequently uses the prepositions ‘pros’/’towards’ and ‘eis’/’into’ which indicate movement. Paul in his letters commonly uses verb forms which underline that justification and salvation come to us at a particular moment of time. But John stresses our movement towards Jesus. Faith in Jesus often comes gradually and we are called to move bit by bit towards Jesus and eternal life. Amazingly John shows that even the very Word was ‘towards’ God (John 1.1). And even in our ordinary everyday human relationships we tend to move closer and closer to people as we grow in friendship and love. So Jesus’ cross sets us in motion towards Jesus. He is so amazingly wonderful and his cross brings us such glory that we are attracted towards him like bees to honey or moths to the light. So we long for all people everywhere to have the opportunity of seeing the glory of Jesus and his cross. Then “all people” will be drawn towards him.
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Now this world is judged (John 12.31)

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Now
It is often said that World War II was won at the Russian victory at Stalingrad or the western victory at El Alamein and then the beach landings in Normandy. From then on victory was assured, although fierce fighting still lay ahead and even some defeats.
Jesus declares in the context of his death on the cross where he was glorified (cf. 12.23, 28/29) that ‘now is the judgement of this world’ and ‘now the ruler of this world will be cast out’.
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The repeated ‘now’ underlines the reality that the last days with the fall of Satan and the judgement of this world have now already started. The battle has been won. Victory is achieved through Jesus’ death for the sin of the world. Now Jesus’ followers can live with confidence in the assured hope of his kingdom. We now have eternal life and Jesus is Lord. Satan and sin may still appear to have tremendous power in this world, but we know that the devil’s days are numbered. Jesus now reigns and even death has lost its sting.
This world
We have seen before that ‘he who hates his life in this world will keep it unto eternal life’ (12.25). So Jesus assures us that the judgement of this world has begun. How sadly true his words are! As this world rejects and opposes Jesus and his followers, so sin prevails with its terrible consequences. Pride and violence lead to what we see all around us today – the fearful sufferings of war, water shortages, ecological tragedies, man-made natural disasters, broken relationships, wide-spread child abuse, marital breakdown, loneliness, alcohol and drug abuse. . . . The horrifying list of this world’s sufferings typifies the judgement of this world.
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Satan
So we are not surprised to find that Satan is still called ‘ruler’ of this world. The Greek word for ‘ruler’ has the same root that we find in the English ‘mon-arch‘ or ‘olig-arch‘, which signifies authority. It is Satan who has authority in this world, but his authority is always subject to the King of kings, Jesus himself. We can observe this in the Book of Job where Satan can only afflict and tempt Job with the permission of God. But as we look out onto this world around us, we can only shudder at the authoritative power of Satan and sin. However, we need at the same time to recollect the greater truth that despite his apparent authority Satan will be cast out. Literally the word used in 12.31 means ‘throw out’. It is a violent word which was used in those days of throwing smelly rubbish out as far as possible from one’s house. Inoffensive rubbish was dropped delicately from the window, but for evil-smelling stuff one’s muscles were flexed to throw it as far away as possible. This verb is used when Jesus exhorts us to ask God to ‘send out’ (literally ‘throw out’) labourers into his harvest fields (e.g. Luke 10.2). Just as Satan is unwilling to lose power in this world, so also Christians are very hesitant to be sent out for Jesus’ sake into the world’s harvest fields. In both cases Jesus uses the rather violent word ‘throw out’.
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Hallelujah!
The end times have begun. Satan is defeated. This world’s judgement is already here. We have eternal life. In his death for us Jesus is already glorified. Let us thank God for the immense privilege of being sent out into his harvest fields so that Jesus may indeed be honoured as he deserves.
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