A Sermon on John 12:27-50 by Coty Pinckney
Many of you know the story of the Phantom of the Opera -- about this man who was disfigured terribly -- whose mother even rejected him and would not look at him -- who was a musical and mechanical genius, but went crazy in part because of the rejection he felt from so many people. He spent years underground beneath the Paris Opera House. This story became a second rate novel, and was adapted to film several times with moderate success. Then in the last 10 years Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version has achieved extraordinary success in London and on Broadway. The Phantom as he lives under the Opera House takes to heart a chorus girl -- Christine Daae -- who is singing in the opera chorus, and decides that this girl is going to become the prima donna of the opera through his training. He poses as an angel of music, hides on the other side of her dressing room, and gives her voice lessons which then result in her becoming a wonderful singer. And about the time when his plot to have her become the prima donna of the opera is to unfold, an old childhood sweetheart of hers, Raul, shows up. This prompts the Phantom to change his course, and actually to take Christine down to his lair beneath the Paris opera house. While he is down there, in the musical he sings her these words:
Close your eyes, for your eyes can only show the truth
And the truth isn't what you want to see.
In the dark it is easy to pretend
that the truth is what you want to be . . .
Open up your mind,
let your fantasies unwind
In this darkness which you know you cannot fight
The darkness of the music of the night. . . .
Close your eyes and let music set you free
Only then will you belong to me
For I compose the music of the night
So he's singing: "Close your eyes, don't see the truth, let darkness overwhelm you." Then, interestingly, he proposes that this disregard for the truth will set her free.
Later, for a variety of reasons, she comes back up, and is reunited with Raul in a dramatic setting -- they are on the roof of the opera house. She seems to be cognizant of the fact that she is being deceived, and she sings to Raul:
All I want is freedom
A world with no more night . . .
Promise me that all you say is true
That's all I ask of you.
And Raul sings in response
Let me be your freedom, Let daylight dry your tears. I am here.
Thus, in the musical, the Phantom is the call of darkness, the lover the call of light. This going back and forth between darkness and light, this call from darkness and the opposite call from light, this theme of darkness and light appears also in the gospel of John. We've seen this from the very beginning of the gospel. Remember, in John chapter 1 Jesus is said to be the light that came into the world. In the story of Nicodemus, Jesus calls himself the light and talks about men loving darkness rather than light. We had the story of the man born blind, whose eyes were opened by Jesus -- he effectively passes from a world of darkness to a world of light. Jesus actually says in chapter 9, "For judgment I have come into this world so that the blind will see, and those who see will become blind." These images of light and darkness continue in John's epistles.
What we have in today's passage, the end of John chapter 12, is the last public ministry of Jesus recorded in this book. After this we have the story in the upper room and Jesus' discourse in that room, then his arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. So this is the last part, the final chapter, of Jesus' public ministry. And in these last 24 verses in John 12, he recalls many of the themes that have come up throughout his public ministry. In particular, this is the last reference to light and darkness specifically. So what I want to do this morning is to go through these 24 verses and suggest there are three sections that talk about the way of darkness and the way of light. First we will look at verses 27-33 along with verses 42 and 43, where the text suggests that the way of darkness is shrinking from pain and suffering and the way of light is glorifying God in all that we do. Verse 34 alone we will spend a little time on -- this is the second theme: the way of darkness is picking and choosing pieces of the truth and ignoring the whole truth, whereas the way of light is seeking truth in its entirety. And the final theme in the remaining verses in the chapter: the way of darkness is closing your eyes to the truth, and the way of light is walking in the light. Let us pray
Dear Lord, we thank you for these verses from John chapter 12. I pray that you would open my mouth and help me to speak your word clearly this morning. I pray that you would open the hearts of all of here. Help us to pay attention and learn what you would have us from this part of your word. We thank you so much for it. In Jesus' name, Amen.
I: The way of darkness is shrinking from pain and suffering; the way of light is glorifying God in all that we do
Turn with me then to John 12, beginning in verse 27. Remember that we have just had Jesus' statement about a seed dying. A seed does not live unless it goes into the ground and dies, and then sprouts and changes its nature. Jesus talks about us dying to ourselves. Jesus' statement continues now where we are picking up today in verse 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. 28 Father, glorify your name!"
John does not include an account of Jesus praying in Gethsemane in his gospel. But these are the equivalent emotions that Jesus is going through here, the equivalent temptations, as he experiences later in Gethsemane. Think about what Jesus was experiencing here. Have you ever suffered unjustly? Have you been accused of something that you didn't do? Have you had people that you loved, people that you have helped, people that you have been trying to do good for, turn their backs on you and indeed hate you? Certainly my experience as a father is that one of the ways to most offend your children is to accuse them of something they did not do. That is one of the greatest pains we can have, to be accused of something we did not do. Jesus had all of that, yet how much more was he experiencing here. He was about to feel a separation from God, which was unlike anything that any of us has ever experienced, as he would bear all the sins of the world on his shoulders. So Jesus indeed is suffering and in pain as he thinks about what he is going to go through. He is tempted not to go through with it. Remember his temptation by Satan at the beginning of his ministry was exactly that, that he not go through with God's plan for his suffering and death, that there be an alternative way to fulfill his mission. But Jesus rejects that path, he rejects the path of avoiding pain and suffering. The text is clear here and in the other gospel accounts of Gethsemane that Jesus was torn by this, it was very difficult and painful for him, but he rejects that path. And what does he pray instead? He prays "Father, glorify your name. Glorify your name." Well what happens next?
Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
There are three times in Jesus' ministry when a voice speaks from heaven. The first, at his baptism: "This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased." -- helping us to see that Jesus' earthly life for all of those years for which we have little information was also a sinless one, establishing him at the very beginning of his ministry as God's son -- this wasn't something that Jesus grew into over time. And remember the next one? On the mount of transfiguration, Peter sees Jesus with Moses and Elijah -- these two personages who were so exalted in Jewish history and heritage. And Peter treats them all equally, saying "I'll build booths for all three of you." And the voice from heaven says "This is my son! Listen to him." -- establishing that Jesus is over and above Moses and Elijah, as great as they were. And now here, finally, at the end of his public ministry, once more a voice from heaven sounds. The voice is saying, "Yes, my name has been glorified in the way you have lived and taught; my name will be glorified that much more in your suffering and your death, and your resurrection." Well, Jesus explains this to the crowd:
30 "This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
Others who were there chose to avoid the way of suffering and death. Skip down to verse 42:
42 Yet 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; 43 for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
John is telling us that there were people among the leaders of the Jews who were convinced intellectually that Jesus was indeed the Christ. And yet, when they looked forward and saw the possibility of their suffering as a result of that belief, they shrank back. They were afraid to go forward and proclaim, "Yes, this is the Christ." Instead, they decided to close their eyes to the truth, at least for a while, and not to acknowledge what they knew was true. We are faced with that same choice, frequently: going forward as a Christian and proclaiming Christ in how we live and the way we speak looks to be scary at times. Walking by faith and not by sight can be frightening at times. But we just sang from the book of Isaiah, "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord does not grow tired or weary." This is the same God that led Israel for so many years, this is the same God who turned what looked to be a tragedy in the death of Jesus into the glorification of his own name. We are told again and again that there will be suffering in our lives, and any gospel which preaches that the Christian life is only one of happiness and joy is a false gospel. Every day -- every day -- we are faced with this choice of following Christ in a way that denies ourselves in some way and is in some sense painful. Yet the promise of the gospel is that when we do deny ourselves we find ourselves, our real self, our true self, and we are privileged to be used by God to accomplish his purposes. This is established in many verses in the New Testament. Let me read you some of these verses.
Romans 8:17-18 Now if we are children, then we are heirs-- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Matthew 5, 11-12 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
2 Corinthians 4:17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
1 Peter 1:6-7 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith-- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
So pain and suffering, the denial of self, is part of the Christian life. It is something we need to embrace, something we need to expect, something we need to help each other through. But also we need to know that God will use pain and suffering to make us more Christlike, so that we will look back on it and say, "Yes, those sufferings cannot compare with the joy and the glory and the privilege of being a child of God."
So that is the first contrast between the way of darkness and the way of light. The way of darkness is shrinking back from pain and suffering. The way of light is walking forward through the suffering, accepting it, denying yourself and knowing -- knowing -- that God will provide you with the far greater joy and privilege of knowing him.
II: The way of darkness is picking and choosing pieces of the truth; the way of light is seeking truth in its entirety.
The second area is brought up in verse 34: Jesus has just mentioned being lifted up, and they all understand what he implied, that he would die on the cross:
34 The 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'?"
The crowd had read passages in the Old Testament that talk about the Christ living forever. We can think of some of those. If you come and hear Barb and Beth sing Handel's Messiah on Friday evening with the chorus, you will hear them sing from Isaiah 9, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders. And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end."
But you will also hear them sing another verse found in the same book: "The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed."
You know, both are found in the Old Testament, but this crowd listening to Jesus along with most of the Jews at that time chose to focus only on the prophecies of the Christ that told what they hoped would happen: That a king would come, who would restore Israel. And they interpreted this by thinking that they would be able to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression. That is the Messiah that they wanted. And it would then be a Messiah who would reign forever: "Of the increase of his government there will be no end." But they ignored the clear prophecy of scripture that the Messiah would suffer also. They were picking and choosing what they wanted to hear, what they wanted to listen to. Now this is natural for us.
Yesterday I was playing hide and go seek with two of my children. Now the rules of hide and go seek are pretty simple: One person is it, he tags another person, that person becomes it. Well, I was playing with Andrew and Matthew -- I was it, I tagged Matthew, so Matthew was it, then Matthew tagged me and I was it, then I tagged Andrew. But Andrew didn't want to be it. He fussed a bit, but finally agreed to be it. He then tagged Matthew and as soon as he did so, he called out, "You're it! You're it!" But then the next time he was tagged he said, "No! No! I'm not it!" He wanted the rule to apply in certain circumstances and not in other circumstances. He wanted the rule to be, "when 'it' tags anyone other than Andrew, that person becomes 'it.' But when 'it' tags Andrew, Andrew is not 'it.'"
Well this is a little bit like what these people in the crowd were doing with the scriptures: they were picking and choosing. And we are tempted to do the same. We are tempted to read and reread the parts of Scripture that we really like, that make us feel good, that give us nice feelings inside -- and avoid some of those other parts of scripture that are tougher to deal with, that may talk about topics that we don't want to hear. In 2 Timothy Paul says this is exactly what is going to happen. He tells Timothy that there will be people who bring in preachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. And then he says this: "They will turn their ears away from the truth and they will be turned aside to myths." They will actively turn their ears away from the truth; but once they actively do that, the result is passively to be turned aside to myths. When you close your ears to part of the truth, the end result is that you yourself become deceived. That is what we need to avoid. That is why in this church we make an effort to preach the entire Bible. We keep a record of what we have preached and what we haven't preached. When we come to a passage which isn't particularly comfortable to preach, we still present it, because we firmly believe that the entire Bible -- all of God's word -- is there for our benefit. We do not pick and choose; we do not say, "This part is inspired, but this part is not inspired." We don't use some other criteria to say "This part we should listen to, but we should ignore this other part." We wrestle with the Scriptures, and sometimes it is tough. Sometimes it is hard to see how one passage is consistent with other passages -- but we keep on wrestling, because we firmly believe that God has revealed his truth in his entire Word. Jesus tells us, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The truth that sets us free is the entire truth of God's word. So let's follow that.
III: The way of darkness is closing your eyes to the truth; the way of light is walking in the truth
The final comparison of the way of darkness and the way of light is closing your eyes to the truth versus walking in the light,. Let's pick up in verse 35. Remember, the crowd has asked Jesus a theological question: How can it be that the Christ is going to die and be lifted up, if also the Christ is going to reign forever? How is this possible? As is so often the case, Jesus answers in a roundabout way. He doesn't answer the question that they ask, but instead gives them an answer to a more important question.
35 Then Jesus told them, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. (remember, his public ministry is right at its close.) Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36 Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light."
Jesus is saying, "This isn't going to last forever. My public ministry has been going on for three years and it is coming to an end, NOW. You have the light just a little while longer, THIS is your chance, This is your opportunity." Think about the Middle East at this time. If you were out on the road, and you were delayed for one reason or another, and darkness came, what was your situation? You were in great danger, right? There are no street lights, there are no police patrols. If you are out on the road after dark and there is no moon, you cannot see where you are going, you might get lost, you might stumble, you could easily fall among thieves and robbers. Jesus is saying, "I am here! I am the light of the world! Darkness is about to fall!" In one very important sense, darkness was about to fall. "This is your chance!" He is warning them -- and us -- that we do not have the opportunity forever. We cannot put off and put off and put off the decision to follow Christ. There comes a time when the opportunity ends, after which there will be no more opportunities. Let's continue reading in verse 35:
When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and was hidden from them.
And that's it. That's the end of his public ministry. He finished speaking, saying "Walk while you have the light" -- and then it was over. Then they couldn't find him.
37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This 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?" 39 For 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." 41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him.
I just want to add a footnote here -- this last verse is an amazing verse. The quotation is from Isaiah 6, the chapter that begins with Isaiah saying, "In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord!" "I saw Jehovah -- I saw Yahweh." John is identifying that glory that Isaiah saw with the glory of Jesus himself. Jesus IS Jehovah, Jesus is Yahweh. If you're confronted by someone from a cult, this is a good verse to use.
But for our purposes this morning, the earlier part is more relevant. What happened to these people? Why does verse 39 say, "For this reason they could not believe," they COULD NOT believe. It is exactly what Jesus was saying to them earlier: they had the opportunity -- it wasn't that they lacked the opportunity. The opportunity was there, the light had come into the world -- but men chose darkness rather than light. And after they chose darkness again and again and again, there was no turning back and choosing light. If you tie your arm to your side and leave it tied to your side for six months, and then untie it -- that arm is not going to be of much use to you. The muscles will have atrophied, you will lose the coordination you had in the arm -- You lose it! That is God's natural law! Unless you use it, you lose it. That happens with the opportunity of hearing truth: You ignore truth again and again and again, you hear truth, you are convinced that it is true, and you ignore it -- you eventually lose the ability to respond to truth. That is the warning Jesus is giving here. If you close your eyes to the truth, eventually you cannot walk in the light.
Let's read verses 44 to 50. We do not know exactly when Jesus said this. I tend to agree with those who argue that this is something Jesus said at another time, but John places it here as the summation of Jesus' public ministry. He is bringing up themes of authority that we have been discussing for the last several months as we have been going through the book of John, and he brings up the theme of light one last time:
44 Then Jesus cried out, "When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46 I 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. 48 There 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. 49 For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say."
Jesus' whole public ministry is speaking forth what God has told him to say. And believing in Jesus is believing in God the father. He is the light -- and no one who believes in him should remain in darkness. That is the opportunity, the opportunity to get out of darkness, to be set free by the truth. And judgment is there -- not because Jesus came to judge the world, but because the word has been spoken. We respond to it, or we don't. The word is the opportunity for life -- but it is also the judgment if we fail to respond. Jesus' message to us is that HE is our light, HE is our shelter, HE is our strength. HE is faithful.
But the question remains: What about us?
Like the Phantom to Christine, the world calls out to us, "Close your eyes, don't see the truth, let darkness overwhelm you." And like the Phantom to Christine, the world promises us freedom.
Are we giving in to these lies? Are we shrinking back from the pain and suffering that might accompany following Jesus? Are we accepting some of the truth, but ignoring other parts of it that might tell us that we need to change something that we do that we don't want to change? Or telling us that we need to change our attitude towards something or someone, or telling us that we need to leave what we are doing and answer a call to another field? Have you seen the light, and have you responded? Or are you wavering? Are you delaying? We need to realize our present condition. If we know the Lord, if we are confident in him, then our prayer needs to be "Lord, what am I ignoring from your word? What do I need to change in order to follow you more closely?" If we do not know the Lord, we need to realize our present condition -- that we are in darkness. And we need to obey the word which we have heard, which we have received, and not dally with sin, nor dawdle with making a decision. There comes a time when there is no more opportunity. There is a rhyme that goes like this:
There is a line by us unseen that crosses every path
The hidden boundary between God's patience, and his wrath.
The clear message of this passage is that there comes a time when Jesus' ministry ends. So if you've heard God's call, don't delay. Make that decision, even now, even this morning, to follow him. You know we sang "And Can it Be" earlier. The third verse is right in line with this passage:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast-bound in sin and nature's night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray (God's eye shot out a burst of light which gives life -- a life-giving light)
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off; my heart was free.
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
That can be true of you too. God's eye has shot out that life-giving ray of light, and it is here. This is your opportunity. The light is here. Will you follow it? Will you walk in truth? Or will you choose to walk in darkness?
Let us pray:
Lord, you are the light of the world. You are the light of the world. You have chosen us who know you to be the way you show your light to those around us. And yet, Lord, how often we fail to do that. Forgive us Lord, but thank you for the privilege of being your agents of change in the world. Thank you for your forgiveness. Thank you for your body spread all over the world, your people of so many different nations and colors, who are united in their love for you and their following you. But Lord, there are others who do not know you. Our hearts go out to them, and we thank you that your light is there, offered to them. Help us to offer it. And, Lord, those who are here this morning who don't know you, we pray that they would make that decision to follow you, to walk in light, and to walk in darkness no longer. Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, be glory, majesty, power, and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore, Amen.
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 11/26/95. This sermon draws even more than usual on the wisdom of Ray Stedman; see his sermon on this passage at thePBC web site.
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