I wonder how people in the future will think about the period from 23 June 2016 to now. For that 2016 date, of course, was the date of the Referendum that was supposed to take us out of the European Union on 29 March just past. The way some people talk, it will be seen as a crisis of like proportions to the Cuban Missile Crisis in John F Kennedy's Presidency or the Al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers in 9-11. Whether that is correct, we clearly do not know.
But what we do know is this. The crisis, for such it is called, in the life of Jesus that we are considering tonight, was infinitely more significant. In fact, it is, and will be, the supreme event in the history of the universe until the Lord returns again.
So you will open your Bibles to John 12.27-43. And my headings as we study this passage are, first, The Climax of History and the Calling of Jesus and secondly, The Response of the Crowd.
1. The Climax of History and the Calling of Jesus
Let me begin with some background. Jesus is now in Jerusalem. He is there for the festival of Passover. He had just been staying in Bethany not far from Jerusalem with his friends, Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus - Lazarus, who Jesus had raised from a condition of being dead, to being alive again as a normal human being. Yes – and he really was dead, for Jesus allowed him to be in his tomb for four days. And crowds of people, fully convinced of this reality were flocking to Jesus. So the religious authorities positively planned to put Jesus to death (such was their wickedness). And then there was a plan to put Lazarus to death, because his testimony to Jesus was so effective. All that was the context of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem with crowds out to see him as the longed-for Messiah.
So here is Jesus, probably in the Temple, addressing a crowd of these messianic supporters that included Gentile (non-Jewish) proselytes. And we pick up what he has to say at verse 27 and what follows in John 12. Jesus says:
"'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. Father, glorify your name.' Then a voice came from heaven: 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.' The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, 'An angel has spoken to him.' Jesus answered, 'This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.' He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die [that is crucifixion]." (John 12.27-33)
Jesus is saying he came to die.
So first, and foremost, Jesus' calling was clear – it was to die and by crucifixion for changing the world.
And the Apostle Paul explains why there was such a call in Galatians 4.4-6:
"When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God."
Paul is there saying that Jesus Christ came into the world to solve the world's fundamental problem.
A few years ago I got a Nissan Micra, a demonstration model, containing some electronic wizardry that were to make it economical to run. It seemed a good little car, that was, until this past Christmas. That was when I, on my own late at night, was driving for a short break after Christmas to join the rest of our family and then visit other relatives. The car was loaded down with food and presents for nephews, nieces, brother and sister in law, a host of people's grandchildren and so on. And I was happily, in the dark, speeding along the A1 going north when the engine malfunction light started to appear on my display panel and the engine gradually faded. A key component had totally failed. I won't say more about how eventually I managed to get back to where I had started from and eventually had a (late) enjoyable break. But that is exactly how the world is.
It is not functioning as God intended. It is out of sync with God as my car was out of sync with me and the manufacturer's ideal.
That is so important to understand.
As God created this world and humankind, it is a wonderful and beautiful world and we human beings are amazing creatures. For by technology and by artistic gifts men and women can harness that wonder and embellish that beauty.
Yet throughout history, it has gone wrong. Technology and artistic gifts have been used by men and women for perversion - technology to develop unlawful warfare, unethical medical procedures and fraud: and artistic gifts to glamorize drug addiction, prostitution, and pornography, for a start. But Jesus came to reverse all that and all the respectable ways people knowingly or unknowingly disobey God.
It all started in Eden when Adam and Eve simply decided to ignore God and his word and so destroy their relationship with God. They then related to God like slaves not as sons or daughters (to use Paul's terms). They had a loss of freedom and an increase of unhappiness. And Jesus' clear calling was to change all that.
But Jesus' calling was not only clear, secondly, it was confirmed.
When Jesus prayed (verse 28):
"Father, glorify your name,"
there was an amazing event similar to what had happened twice before, namely at Jesus' baptism and when he was transfigured.
We are told that following Jesus' prayer, "Father, glorify your name" (verse 28-30)…
"then a voice came from heaven: 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.' The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, 'An angel has spoken to him.' Jesus answered, 'This voice has come for your sake, not mine.'"
There are a range of explanations as to what you would have heard had you been there.
But the message was clear and that God the Father had revealed his glory already through Jesus ministry of teaching and healing up to that point. Yet now he would glorify it supremely through Jesus' crucifixion when he bore our sin and defeated the devil. And the glory of the Father, through the Cross, is seen in his love, justice and mercy that results in the true good of individuals and nations, if only people will trust and obey Jesus.
Thirdly Jesus' calling was costly.
Jesus knew that true freedom and a restoration of that primal relationship before the Fall would only come through his death. And it was death not instantaneously but by one of the worst possible forms of execution, death by crucifixion. As he said in verses 32-33:
"'And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.' He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die."
And Jesus explains that this was a truly cosmic event – verse 31:
"now is the judgment [the original word is 'krisis'] of this world; now will the ruler of this world [Satan] be cast out."
There would be a great victory at the cross with Satan defeated, but still active. He is now like the bottom clubs in the Premier League. They know they are going to be relegated but they have still some matches to play and gate receipts to enjoy. That is why we can be confident, as with the strength of the Holy Spirit we seek to resist the Devil's temptations. But that victory was infinitely costly to Jesus in terms of human suffering. That is why he says "now is my soul troubled" (verse 27). No doubt he was conscious of the terrible pain involved from the scourging, the abuse and the general violence that preceded crucifixion.
Also his soul was troubled, if I may put it this way, theologically. This is unfathomable. But what must it have been like for Jesus to bear the sin and guilt of the entire world, so that every believer can echo those old words:
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood;
Sealed my pardon with his blood,
Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
Jesus was not praying to avoid the cost.
We need to note that "Father, save me from this hour" (verse 27), literally is "save me out of this hour" – that is to say, "help me to come safely out of this hour" – with salvation achieved.
But how do people respond to that salvation?
2. The Response To The Calling of Jesus
There are five things to say about the responses recorded here to Jesus predicting he would go the way of the Cross.
First, there were the hard-hearted people with closed minds.
Look at verses 34-36
"So the crowd answered him, 'We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?' 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. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.'"
The crowd who had been following Jesus seems to have thought he was a Messiah who would defeat their Roman overlords politically or by rebellion. When he said he was about to die, they were horrified. They thought the Law (or the Bible, as the Law stood for all the sacred Scriptures – the Law … ) taught the Messiah would live for ever.
For example in Psalm 72.17 there was a prayer that the Messiah's name was to
"… endure for ever, his fame continue as long as the sun!" (Ps 72.17).
But like so many with intellectual problems then and now, they only faced half of the facts. They could not conceive of Christ's resurrection from death. So how does Jesus respond to such people with such problems? Look at verse 35 and 36a:
"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. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.'"
Jesus doesn't argue. He simply uses the metaphor of light and darkness to make his point. For the light is self-evident to most people. You know the difference between light and darkness without arguing for it. He taught, and many great Christian teachers have taught since, that the way to solve your intellectual problems is to trust and obey the Lord (on such evidence as you've got and with much of it being self-evident). And then as you follow him, you will understand and know the truth with your intellectual problems resolving themselves, en route as it were. The famous formula is "I believe in order to understand." Jesus himself had taught that simple truth earlier in John 7.17:
"If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority."
So, verse 36…
"While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light [and with an intellectual clarity of which you never dreamed]."
And, secondly, there is an urgency of responding to Christ.
It was certainly true for this crowd and it is still true today. To every generation, verse 35 comes as a challenge. It comes as a challenge to individuals and nations:
"The light is among you for a little while longer. [So] walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. [For] the one who walks in darkness does not know where he is going."
Christ, by his Holy Spirit, is not shining directly for ever in the lives of individuals or nations. Death is an ever-present reality for individuals when darkness overtakes them as relatives and friends of people killed in the 737 Max plane disasters, and Cardiff City fans well know. And for nations, some say the Death Knell sounded for Europe when the Christian faith was deleted from the Lisbon Treaty. So corporately Europe (including the UK) lacking the light of Christ is surely like …
"the one who walks in darkness [and] does not know where he is going."
Certainly, that was true nationally for Jesus' audience. For their light went out in AD70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army under Titus, the future Emperor.
Be all that as it may, who here tonight [or watching on ClaytonTV] knows that somehow Christ by his Holy Spirit is shining into your life, and you know that Jesus is saying to you:
"While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light?"
If so, why not start to believe and walk in the light of Christ straightaway?
But, thirdly, what is the root cause of not accepting the good news of Jesus, as sadly they were not accepting it on this occasion?
The answer is in what John says next.
Look at verses 36b-37:
"When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him."
Signs or miracles are not enough. They encourage believers but people with hard hearts are not open to conviction. Take a student who once said to me, "I can believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, but he was the first one who got away!" And take Richard Dawkins, the atheist. He was challenged not so long ago over "intelligent design" being the best hypothesis for explaining some biological phenomena. His answer was that, if so, this universe could have been seeded by highly intelligent extra-terrestrial beings, for whom there has to be a rational evolutionary explanation! So anything but the God of the Bible!
However, John says "don't be surprised at such a response" because Isaiah predicted this would happen. People hadn't believed the prophet Isaiah in his day. And his original visionary prophetic call in Isaiah 6, where he saw our God in all his holiness (whether he realized it or not), was none other than the vision of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So John reports (verse 41),
"Isaiah said these things because he saw his [Jesus the divine Son's] glory and spoke of him."
And Isaiah's message was quoted in John 12 verse 40, that God
"… 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."
So the root problem was then, and is now, hardness of heart. For God hardens those who harden themselves, as happened with the Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. So prayer for new hearts is what is required.
But, fourthly, there were not only hard hearts and closed minds, there were also the half-hearted.
So look at verses 42-43:
"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; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God."
Here are people in the establishment, who are convinced by Jesus teaching and believe his signs confirm its truth. No doubt they try to walk in the light, but the love of honour, reputation, the good opinion of others and social position means they keep quiet. They do not have a belief that shows itself in a public and an irrevocable commitment to Jesus. They love …
" … the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God."
But Jesus said on another occasion (Mark 8.36-38):
"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
But fifthly the half-hearted shouldn't be the last word, but the good-hearted.
In verse 32 we saw that Jesus predicted:
"I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
And since that first Good Friday the good-hearted people drawn to Christ crucified and risen have numbered billions. So all that suggests a final question – and let's be honest how we answer it, are we hard-hearted, half-hearted or good-hearted?