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. 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.” John 12:48-50 | ESV
You shut yourself off from that, rejecting me and washing your hands of my message and meaning – I’m not going to break through your shuttered hearts and lives to blame you for that – the message of light already shining through those shutters says all that needs to be said at the great wrap-up of all time. Not a word I’ve said has sprung from my own willful agenda; the only cue cards here are the ones being held by my Abba – the one who sent me on this mission to begin with. He’s the One prompting me on what to say and how to say it. His every prompt is a prompt leading to ever-deepening, unstoppable, inexhaustible life– of that I have not the slightest doubt. We are fully synched. Abba speaks, I speak.
MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
This has been another repeated theme through the words of Christ in John: the unique Father-Son intimacies.
They are fully synched.
Jesus wasn’t a rogue agent. There was no loose cannon dynamic, the Son going all grace-happy contrary to the stern Father’s true desires.
“I and the Father are one.”
And while Jesus is presented to us as the “one and only Son in the bosom of the Father, full of grace and truth,” he is also revealed as the “firstborn among many brothers,” as the “last Adam,” the new prototype of a redeemed humanity. The deep wound of creation is finally healed, the rift between the divine and human bridged, genuine fellowship between God and humanity realized.
No more hiding in the garden.
No more hastily assembled fig leaf aprons.
Sons and daughters of God walking in harmony;
humanity in sync with God,
with each other,
with creation –
and within ourselves.
What part of this don’t we want?
Jesus epitomizes it, embodies it, and through his bloody work on that cursed tree, he transmits it; he plants it within us so we can begin to experience it now.
This is what he models for us.
This is what he offers.
The question remaining with us:
Will we look up from our old world religious and political games long enough to see and embrace the new day and his new way?
How “in sync” do you feel with God and Christ? What do you find enhances this connection? What hinders it?
God, lead me into these Father-Son intimacies. Led me into a life that is in sync with yours. Deconstruct the barriers that would bar me from experiencing more of you, more of your heart. Through Jesus.
44 And Jesus cried out 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. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 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.
John 12:44-47 | ESV
Their ears may have been shut and their eyes closed, but Jesus wasn’t finished. He had one more thing to say, and say it he did with the volume cranked all the way up:
When you trust in me, it’s not me you’re trusting but my Sender; to see me, is to see him – it’s that simple. My arrival on the scene heralds the arrival of a new day, and anyone who really believes throws open the shutters and steps out into the daylight – and they’re taking notes on what they hear and see. Anyone who hears the sunrise in my voice but stays wrapped up in the blankets of their dark status quo – I’m not blaming or shaming them. I haven’t come to play the shaming and blaming game with the world, I’ve come to bathe the world with healing and wholeness. MAV
These are Jesus’ final public words before retreating to the seclusion of the upper room, and he serves up a huge reminder of his purpose that, judging from how we too often conduct ourselves in this world, we need to hear as much as anyone who was present to hear it two millennia ago.
He didn’t come to kick at the darkness, he came to turn on the light.
He didn’t come to shame and blame unbelievers, he came to let the light of life shine through their shuttered windows.
He didn’t come to lambast the world and then roast it in his wrath, he came to bathe it with healing and wholeness (aka “salvation”).
It’s so easy for us to reduce Jesus to the latest bad version of a religious reality TV show – “Heresy Hunters.”
Jesus is the sun rising over the horizon.
Darkness does not need to be assaulted or feared by the sun.
It simply retreats before it as everything becomes light.
As Jesus followers we are shaped to be light bearers, not darkness fighters.
We are salve promoting healing and wholeness, not salt rubbed into wounds.
Perhaps this is the most remarkable things about Jesus final words in the face of his total, humiliating rejection: he didn’t pass the rejection back. He words aren’t dripping with bitter revenge or recriminations at their “not getting it.”
At least that’s not what I hear.
Just healing light bathing the world and inviting all who would to step out into his healing warmth.
It’s the Jesus playbook we could all stand to spend more time reading – and executing.
How is God calling you to break with the religious game of “blaming and shaming”? How are you being challenged to simply be light in a world that doesn’t see it – yet?
Abba, let my words, my actions, my very life embody your first spoken word over creation: “Let there be light!” Let your light through me bring healing and wholeness to dark places today. Through Christ.
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. John 12:42-43 | ESV
Now, off the record, many of the in-crowd were totally convinced Jesus was the real deal – just don’t quote them on that because they would deny it in a heartbeat – the last thing they wanted to do was jeopardize the approval rating from their colleagues! Those voices far outweighed God’s much less tangible endorsement. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
“Am I now seeking the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men I would not be a servant of Christ.”
So announces Paul boldly, defiantly, to the Galatians, who had perhaps been told by religious rivals that he was a bit on the fickle “people-pleasing” wish-washy side. Paul uses the word “eye-service” in his instructions to slaves – that state of working hard when the boss is watching, and slacking when he’s not.
We can be so slavishly devoted to pleasing the eyes we feel resting upon us. We call this phenomenon, “peer pressure” – and, no, it’s not the exclusive domain of teens. We all naturally keep one eye on others and their expectations to make sure we are fitting in – especially when we see those others to be in positions of power.
No need to rock the boat, to stir up trouble with them!
We fit in.
We march lock step with others.
We laugh when they laugh.
We sneer when they sneer.
We kick when they kick.
And we use their labels.
Deep down we may know differently, but what good would it do to ruffle those feathers? So we are quiet in the face of injustice. We acquiesce to wrongs done to others by the group – after all, why draw attention to ourselves? We could be next! Faith loses its voice, fearing reprisal, rejection. Each compromise, each breach of integrity is justified, rationalized. It’s “for the greater good” – namely our own.
No, this isn’t a flattering profile, but before we pile on to these religious leaders who were afraid to stand up or stand out for their moral cowardice and lack of courage, we would do well to remember that they didn’t hold exclusive rights to such flaws.
It’s not, “there but for the grace of God go I” – it’s “there go I.”
But then, by the grace of God, there’s an awakening of courage, of faith to stand, to speak, to come out, to stand up – combined with the wisdom of knowing the how and the when.
Oh elusive gift!
May it find its way into our hearts.
How frequently do you find yourself gauging your words and actions based on how you feel or fear others will react rather than on the inherent rightness and necessity of those words and actions? What is the key to breaking the power of unhealthy peer pressure in our lives?
Lord, set me free from living for the “likes” of others. Let it be your “like” that I seek this day. Let me not be a slave to courting or trampling the favor of others. Let me driven by the deep seated motive of your love, and let it please or displease those it may. Let it be your face that moves me. Through Jesus.
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. John 12:38-41 | ESV
Flashback! God’s ancient mouthpiece known as Isaiah had telegraphed this centuries before, the scenario playing itself out yet again:
Though we spread the news abroad,
No one gets what your hand is doing, God!
They passed the point of no return – faith now an impossibility for them, as Isaiah continues:
The sight of God dazzled them;
Their minds were inward turned;
Though clear as day the better way,
God’s gift of life they spurned.
Isaiah spoke from experience – he witnessed the cascading beauty of God (looking at Christ, he was – though he didn’t know it at the time!) and when he spoke of it, he was only met with groans and guffaws. (And it’s happening again). MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
Isaiah has a vision of God, a vision of heaven itself, “in the year King Uzziah died” (circa 742 BC).
He is dazzled beyond belief.
The mother of all royal courts!
The ground shakes, smoke fills the air as does the deep cry, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, the earth is full of his glory!”
Isaiah is beside himself.
He is ruined.
“Woe is me! A squalid tongue among a squalid humanity!”
His lips are purged with heaven’s fire, and his heart filled with it as he shouts out “Here I am, send me!” as he hears the Lord searching for someone to carry a message. Then he is given the message: “People won’t listen, people refuse to see, people close their hearts and minds tight so I can’t get a word in edgewise.”
Not exactly the content he was hoping for.
“How long, Lord?” he asks. Surely this was a temporary state that his eloquence in relating the heavenly vision would break.
“How long?” God asks.
“Until the entire land is a desolate waste from one end to the other, everything consumed, everything lost – except for the stump of a holy remnant.”
Talk about ministry prospects!
But that was Isaiah’s life and call – as well as that of most of the prophets of old. And now it echoes afresh in the life and experience of the Prophet of all prophets: Christ. It’s an ancient picture we should allow to haunt us, just a bit. We hear and hear, but are we really listening? We watch and watch, but are we really seeing? We think and reason and feel, but are we really getting it? Jesus rides into town on a donkey, some see the Lord, while some see the final religious/political/societal fix, and others yet another messianic pretender, a threat.
And no doubt some don’t see anything at all.
The question is, what do we see as he rides through the gates of our lives?
What can we do to help insure that when we see we are really seeing, and when we hear we are really hearing? How do we cultivate a genuinely open heart to the things of God?
Ears that hear and eyes that see. Both are gifts from you, Abba. Let the gift of these reside in me – and let it be a gift not squandered, but used widely, wisely. Through Christ.
Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him. John 12:37 | ESV
And why did Jesus go into hiding? Because they kept hiding their eyes from the facts right before their faces! Sign after sign after sign after sign after sign after sign after sign done right before their eyes and they keep telling him “talk to the hand” because they refuse to buy into any of it; because they refuse to buy into him. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
After coming to the faith, there was an inseparable companion, always found under my arm right next to my Bible – and I wish I could say it was the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was present (the Holy Spirit is always present, I just wasn’t aware of his presence at that point), but what I owned and relied upon was Josh McDowell’s Evidence Demands a Verdict.
I was such an apologetics nerd.
Apologetics is “the discipline of defending a position by the use of information.”
And did I ever use information! I memorized McDowell’s evidence point by point. In my college speech class I made a masterful case for the historical reliability of the New Testament documents. Okay, “masterful” is putting it on just a bit thick. But I thought it was an ironclad case. The information simply makes this a slam dunk conclusion to anyone with half a brain. Who needs faith, it’s just common sense! (I don’t recall ever saying this, I just thought it. A lot.) After making my case, I sat down, and the Jewish student sitting right in front of me turned around and said with her own level of intensity, “I disagree with every word you just said.” The professor quickly reminded us that this was “Speech 101” and not “Debate 101.” But the moment stuck with me.
Information does not equal faith.
If it did, faith would become a mathematical equation – in which case we really don’t need faith. We have fact. We have sight. Faith does interact with facts observed, but it’s more than facts. It bridges the gap from what is seen to what is not seen. And there’s plenty of both when it comes to God and Christ.
“Surely you are a God who hides himself” said the ancient prophet.
“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; the glory of kings to search it out,” adds the ancient sage.
It’s like an eternal game of hide and seek.
God reveals and conceals.
Jesus performs seven signs, but does so, for the most part, away from what we would today consider major media outlets. He didn’t work under prime time spotlights. You had to be paying attention. And when you caught sight of him in action, what you saw and what you did about it depended on your own heart condition.
Faith is more than facts.
Faith is heart.
It is will.
It is a gift.
And it can be ever so elusive.
Which should give us all a very healthy dose of humility and patience with one another as we journey with it and towards it – as well as a deeper resolve not to miss the signs he is parading right before us that would inspire it.
What has your own journey of faith looked like? What role has information and facts played? What other factors have come into play?
Lord, help me to see the signs of your presence and work in the most unexpected of times and places. Lead me into a deeper life experience of faith and trust that absorbs and weighs facts but ultimately transcends them. Keep me from arrogance or ignorance masquerading as faith. Show me anew what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. Through Christ.
He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 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?” 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.” John 12:33-36 | ESV
Did the crowd listening in understand what he was talking about? Not so much. All of this was telegraphing just how he was going to die – and they had no grid for that whatsoever. But they did figure out he was talking about death. Which made them do a double-take. “Wait a minute, we’ve heard it right there from our Scriptures our entire lives: When Messiah shows, he’s here to stay. Forever. Period. So where do you think you’re going? What’s this talk about the ‘Son of Man’ leaving the scene, heading onward and upward? What – or more rather who – are you talking about? Who is this Son of Man character you keep going on about?”
Jesus was ready with an answer: “It’s only light out for you a little while longer. So take a walk and enjoy it while you can, before darkness creeps up on you leaving you with no clue where you’re going. So while that light is shining, lean hard into it. Be day-walkers rather than night-crawlers.”
No sooner had Jesus said all this, than he was gone, concealed from their prying, spying eyes.
MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
Remember the Greeks we started out with this week? As this section draws to a close, I find myself wondering about them – wondering what they were hearing, what they were thinking. Were they as clueless, as gridless, as the crowd seems to be?
And how about us –religious insiders or irreligious outsiders alike – what are we hearing and seeing? Jesus speaks of being “lifted up” clearly signifying death and departure, though clearly they had not a clue as to the full ramifications of that. All they know is that Jesus is bursting the theological, eschatological bubble of their expectations.
Messiah doesn’t die.
He doesn’t go anywhere.
He’s destined for a throne in that House, right there.
How can you die?
How can you leave?
Jesus isn’t much kinder with our expectations, either. “I have come that you might have life to the full,” but that means falling like a seed into the ground and dying. Most messianic wannabes before Jesus and after ended up on a cross of shame that left him dead and any and all followers scattered to the winds. Watch me be “lifted up” – scattering my honor, my life, to the four winds – and watch everyone flock to me.
The God economy.
Not in our plans at all.
But to discern and embrace it is the difference between walking forward in the daylight and stumbling aimlessly in the dark.
And with that enigmatic word, Jesus’ public testimony in Jerusalem draws to a close.
And while I imagine the locals squinting in the dark, I think I see a flicker of revelation in those outsider hearts…and in mine.
How open are you to having your expectations of God and life rewritten – to have your philosophical or theological “bubble” burst? What can help prepare us for this?
Abba, rewrite my expectations, re-envision my dreams. Burst the bubble of my assumptions that truth might remain – that you might remain. Yes, let me walk in that light, your light this day. Through Jesus.
“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 judgment 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.” John 12:27-32 | ESV
“Now we come to it. My whole inner world is in motion, topsy-turvy in a chaotic rumble – and what is my response? ‘Father, get me out of this!’? Wait – this moment is the very reason I’m here! No. ‘Father, display through this the rich tapestry of who you are, of your nature!’”
And no sooner had Jesus said the word than a voice boomed from above, “It’s happened before, and it will happen again.”
The crowd stood there, a bit confused. “What was that?” Some shrugged their shoulders. “Just a bit of thunder, that’s all.” Others were less sure. “That was no thunder, it was an angel talking to him.”
Jesus quickly clarified, “This voice wasn’t for me, it was all for you. Now this whole creaking, corrupted world system has been put on notice: Your time is up. It’s judgment day. And the hot-shot ruler of this world system has been kicked out on the street. Out he goes and up I go. And when I go up, suspended above this earth, I will draw people to me from every direction. Everyone will come.”
MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
Without form and void.
It’s the expression used in Genesis 1:2 for the unsettled, chaotic upheaval that was primordial creation. It’s what first comes to mind when I read Jesus’ words: “Now is my soul troubled.” The Prince of Peace awash with internal turmoil. The Word made flesh conflicted, recoiling against the boundaries of rejection, sorrow, pain, and suffering – and death.
Truly he has indeed been made like us in every way! Truly this was incarnation and not mere imitation or facsimile. He was moved as we are moved, he knows what it is to be upended internally, to be out of sorts.
We need to remember this when we find ourselves focusing on statements like “he set his face like a flint” to the degree that we forget that, oh yeah, he really was just like us. He felt the pull of discouragement too. And he faced the same choice that we do when that pull comes: do I seek a way out or press for the way through?
Jesus verbalizes the struggle of us all: “I am in crisis; what to do? Seek the nearest exit? Ask Abba to bail me out? But wait. This is why I came here in the first place. This is the point. No. Forget the exit sign. Abba, display your beauty in the ugliness I’m about to weather!”
And just as the Spirit of God brooded over – literally “caressed”– the face of those chaotic waters of Genesis, just as he descended upon Jesus at the waters of his baptism accompanied by the Voice, so the Voice breaks the silence again now.
At least three times in the Gospel accounts the Father breaks the silence and speaks over Jesus so others can hear: at his baptism, at his transfiguration, and now at the approach of his hour of trial. Jesus makes clear he didn’t need the voice to “screw his courage to the sticking place.” It ultimately wasn’t for him, but for them, for us.
This also is a good thing.
If we all needed the Voice like thunder cracking over us to reassure us for the trial before us, we would be in a sorry state, for Scripture bears witness that his voice is heard on different frequencies and more usually in the sound of a thin silence.
And to that Voice Jesus was attuned, even – especially – as he entered the vale of shadows.
How have you heard the voice of God in your hour of trial and distress? How has that voice come to you? What did you hear? How did you respond?
Abba, show me how to feed on the reality of your presence, the reality of your voice, in my times of distress and need. Lead me into greater trust in your beauty to shine through the ugliness in and around me this day. Through Christ.