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Let’s pray. Our loving heavenly Father, we love what Your Word says in James 4:6, “but he gives more grace.” And so we claim Your promise, that though you oppose the proud, You give grace to the humble. We come now to Your Word with meekness and with confidence, with humility and with boldness. We are hungry beggars; feed us. We are thirsty souls; give us drink. We wander in darkness; be our light. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of John as we resume our series, which we began almost a year about a half ago in John’s Gospel, and we’ve taken some breaks here and there, including the last two weeks at the beginning of the year to talk about the Word and prayer, but here we return, and we pick things up with John chapter 8. I’ll be reading beginning at verse 12 through verse 30. As we pick up with this setting surrounding Jesus’ confrontation in and around the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles. John 8, beginning at verse 12:
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ So the Pharisees said to Him, ‘You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.’ Jesus answered, ‘Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, My judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.’ They said to Him therefore, ‘Where is your Father?’ Jesus answered, ‘You know neither Me nor My Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.’ These words He spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; but no one arrested Him, because His hour had not yet come.
So He said to them again, ‘I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.’ So the Jews said, “Will He kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” He said to them, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but He who sent Me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from Him.’ They did not understand that He had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on My own authority, but speak just as the Father taught Mme. And He who sent Me is with Me. He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.’ As he was saying these things, many believed in Him.”
Now don’t close your Bibles. I want you to look again at verse 24. And it’s always a good idea not to close your Bibles because really what does it matter what I have to say, except that it’s coming from this book, test all things against this book, and focus in on verse 24. Jesus says “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.”
There is propositional content to our faith without which we will die in our sins. Christianity is certainly more than having right doctrinal statements but it is not less than that. This phrase here in verse 24, “that I am He,” is a phrase that appears a number of times in John chapter 8. In Greek it is “hoti ego eimi,” “that I am.”
Now, you could understand it and interpret it in an absolute sense, perhaps with reference to Exodus 3:14 as we’ve seen before, and I think this is more in line with what Jesus is saying in verse 58 when we get there in a few weeks, “before Abraham was, I am.” Same Greek two words there, “ego eimi,” “I am,” and so it could be that here in verse 24 is He is making the same sort of statement you must believe that I am. It could be a statement of His divinity, His eternality, His identification with Yahweh from the Old Testament.
But here I do think the ESV is right to translate it “I am He,” that’s also a legitimate translation. John Calvin argues in verse 24 that the reference is not to the divine essence of Christ, but to the office of Messiah which He fulfills for us. Now both things are obviously true and cannot be really separated, but I think that’s the point of verse 24. Again, Calvin says the phrase “that I am” is emphatic, for in order to make the meaning complete, we must supply all that the Scripture ascribes to the Messiah and all that He bids us to expect from Him. In other words, when Jesus says “you must believe that I am He”, He is saying “you must believe if you are not to die and perish in your sins, that I am the one that the entire Jewish nation has been waiting for. I am the one who embodies millennia of prophecy, of expectation, of doctrinal freight.”
The language, yes, has echoes of Exodus 3, “tell them that I am has sent you to them.” But perhaps just as much, there are echoes of the servant songs in Isaiah 40 through 55. Here’s a few examples:
Isaiah 41:4: “Who has performed and done this? Calling the generation from the beginning, I the Lord the first and with the last, I am He.
Isaiah 43:10: “You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He.”
Isaiah 48:12: “Listen to me, O Jacob and Israel, whom I called, I am He. I am the first and I am the last.”
So though Jesus may not be making this Exodus 3:14 declaration, He is saying something just as important, and just as magnificent about His office and His identity as He is pulling into Himself. These prophetic words from the servant songs in Isaiah, I am He, I’m that One you’ve been waiting for, the first, the last, the servant chosen to come and to set you free.
So verse 24 is a statement about the need we all have to recognize, to acknowledge, and to embrace certain truths about Jesus as the Messiah.
Years ago, over 10 years now, I co-authored a book on the emergent church. None of you have to get it. The emergent church sort of went kaput, but the ideas that were trafficking in that movement are always recurring. There was this cry out saying “we don’t need doctrine, we just need Jesus. We want a relationship, not a religion.” You ever heard that? Perhaps you’ve said it yourself.
Or “we worship a person, not propositions on a page.” I bet you wouldn’t have to go very far or very long on your Facebook feed or your Twitter feed. In fact, I saw a statement from somebody that I like, in fact, this morning to those very points. You hear that kind of language all the time.
Here’s a paragraph from a church leader that I noted several years ago that really gives voice to this sort of sentiment which you’ve probably heard, maybe some of us have even expressed. He says: “We have come to see that it is all about Jesus and not just a methodology. It is not about mission, not about church, but it’s about Jesus and His glory, His life. To know Jesus is not an event, a ritual, a creed, or a religion. It is a journey of trust and adventure. We don’t believe in any religion anymore, including Christianity, but we do believe in following Jesus. We no longer need religion with its special buildings, dogmas, programs, clergy, or any other human invention that displaces genuine spirituality. Why do we need a name and an address to be a church? We’ve come out of religion and back to God.”
Now, if you were just coming across that paragraph, I wonder if some of you might circle it and think “oh, I kind of like that.” And of course, you can hear many phrases that we would warm to: Yes, it is about Jesus, and about His glory. It’s not so much the things that are affirmed as it is all the things that are denied in that paragraph. Well, we don’t need dogmas, we don’t need clergy, any other human invention… Well, actually pastors are in the Bible. Doctrine is taught in the Bible.
But it’s very popular, and I think especially in this country, you see it all over and over again and we’re never going to get rid of it, this sense that a real genuine spiritual relationship with Jesus does not have all the baggage of a church, and pastors, and theology. Theology just sort of clogs up your, your head and your heart. It’s like plaque on your arteries and it prevents you from really worshiping God, right?
Well, I hope that you know well enough and are discerning enough to come across a paragraph like that and say “Now wait a minute.” Besides betraying a rank chronological snobbery as if we have nothing to learn from anyone who’s gone before us or the history of the church or the things that Christians have wrestled with, and betraying an ultra-individualism, it’s just me and Jesus and I don’t need any sort of program, I don’t need a church, I don’t need pastors, I just need me and Jesus. Besides all that, the Jesus of this paragraph is no more than a mantra. Oh, it sounds very good to say “it’s all about Jesus,” but then you have to ask the next question: “What sort of Jesus is it all about? And why are we all about Jesus? And what does it mean for us to be all about this Jesus?”
Well, then you have to start talking about theology, and content. A content-less Christ does not save. You’re not saved merely by having warm feelings in your heart about the word Jesus.
Verse 24 tells us “unless you believe that I am He,” suggesting you must understand something about the person and the nature and the work of Jesus Christ insofar as you are given mental faculty and ability to do so.
I’ve used this illustration before, perhaps, but it bears repeating. Suppose I were to tell you how great Trisha is. She loves this illustration. [laughter] As I put out on my Facebook last week during the Patriot’s game, you know that Tom Brady and I have a lot in common: We’ve both lived in Boston, we’ve both lived in Michigan, we were both born in 1977, we both married supermodels. [laughter] A lot in common.
If I were to tell you how great Trisha is and all that she means to me and how I wish everyone could get to know her and just say “oh, she’s just amazing and wonderful” and then you said “that’s great, I’d like to meet this person, I’d really like to meet her, too, tell us some more about her.” I’d say “well, I’m not really into propositional truth, I’m not into statements, I’m just into the relationship.” “Well, that’s great, but I’d like to meet her in the lobby afterward. Can you tell me the color of her hair?” “Man, why are you into religion? I don’t do statements. I just do feeling. I just do heart.”
See, if I can’t give you some propositions about the color of her eyes or her hair or the sound of her voice or where she’s from or what she’s like, then you cannot have a relationship with her, you can’t even spot her in the parking lot.
Knowing Christ is similar. To know Christ, to believe in Christ, to belong to Christ, well, it’s certainly more than embracing right truth about Him. But it is not less. For if you cannot say anything about this Christ, give some propositional statements to His work and to His person, then how can you actually know Him? Then you just know a feeling in your heart, or you just know a mantra that you repeat.
We read here that “unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins,” and the sins very much in view are the sins related to unbelief. In fact, that’s what it’s given in the singular, if you look up at verse 21: “I am going away and you will see Me and you will die in your sin.” There given in the singular because the sin that is chiefly in mind in John chapter 8 is the sin of unbelief.
It’s a familiar expression, “you will die in your sin or in your sins,” and it can refer to fallen humanity in general, or all manner of human rebellion, but in John it’s usually connected to the failure to believe in Jesus and recognize Him as the Christ. So the sin in view here is that sin of unbelief.
So there is a lot at stake here. Do not think you can just waltz your way into heaven, I don’t really know who waltzes anymore, but if you did, you could just waltz your way into heaven because why? I went to church. And I was nice. And I had church clothes. And I put something in the offering once. I looked in my wallet and I was so glad I only had ones and no 20’s, and I put something in. The central question on that day will be just as it is the central question on this day, “what have you done with this Jesus?”
There are four things we are told about Jesus in this passage. Certainly there are 400 other things we could say, but there are four things that we must recognize, believe, and embrace about Jesus in this passage.
Number one, He is the light of the world. You see that, verse 12, “He is the light of the world.” That word again picks us up from chapter 7, specifically at the end of verse 39 as Jesus stands up at the last day of the feast, the great day of this Feast of Tabernacles, and He declares that the Spirit will be given and come when Jesus is glorified, or rather, that’s John’s commentary, but Jesus speaks of the living waters coming out of Him. He’s engaging in this speech at the Feast of Tabernacles and then again, so picks us up the same timeframe, the same context, He’s going to say a little bit more, and as we’ll see, the context here with the Feast of Tabernacles is still important.
Verse 21 has another “again” because we’re dealing with a related episode, whether it came directly on the heels of the last one or maybe some time, but it’s all in this Feast of Tabernacles discourse.
We have here in verse 12 the second of seven “I am” statements. Remember the first one in chapter 6: “I am the Bread of Life.” Here’s the second one: “I am the light of the world.”
Do you see part of what Jesus is doing, there is a definite wilderness, Exodus theme going on. Remember the bread from heaven, it’s like the manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness, and the rivers of water streaming forth like the water that gushed forth from the rock that was struck, and now here we have the light that will lead you in the midst of darkness, just like the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night to lead the Israelites, the manna, the water, the light. This is a new kind of exodus, a new kind of freedom, a new Moses giving a new law to lead us into freedom.
The Bible often depicts God as a light and as the giver of light. We see this with the cloud and the pillar in Exodus, or Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” Psalm 119 “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path,” Isaiah 49:6 “He will be a light to the Gentiles.”
But there’s an even closer parallel than these familiar verses. This entire scene in John 7 and 8 is a precursor to the end times vision that is given in Zechariah. So I want you to turn back to the Old Testament to the back of Zechariah. Zechariah is the second to last book right before that Italian prophet, Malachi. We have Zechariah, chapter 14, and look here, because the setting is a kind of eschatological Feast of Tabernacles.
Zechariah 14, verse 16… It’s speaking about the coming day of the Lord, a day of judgment upon the wicked and salvation for God’s people, and it says in verse 16 “then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths.” What’s another word for the Feast of Booths? The Feast of Tabernacles.
And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them, and if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain, there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths, this shall be the punishment to Egypt, and as punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.
Sort of interesting that this end times kind of vision would reference the Feast of Booths. It’s not one of the feasts we tend to think a lot about. We might expect maybe the Passover or the Day of Atonement, but here it’s the Feast of Tabernacles, and specifically there is reference to here to what we’ve already seen in John 7 and 8: Water and light.
Look up at verse 6: On that day, so again this, this coming day of the Lord, there shall be no light, cold, or frost, and there shall be a unique day which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light, so it’s no ordinary day and night, but even at evening there is a perpetual light. On that day, living waters… Sound familiar? Living water shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea, half of them to the western sea, it shall continue in the summer as in the winter.
So now you go back to John chapter 7, and remember what Jesus said in verse 38: “Whoever believes in Me as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
And then in John chapter 8, again in this setting of the Feast of Tabernacles, He says “I am the light of the world.”
Do you remember a couple months ago when we were in John chapter 7 I mentioned to you this, this Jewish book the Mishnah, which is a collection of rabbinical sayings and teachings that dates to probably the second century, but it seems to have captured much of what religious life might have been like even in the first century and they have an entire book on Sukkot, on Booths, and it deals with, in part, this festival. And there is great detail about the pouring out of the water, but there’s also great detail about light.
Here’s what it says, Sukkot chapter 5: “At the end of the first festival day of the festival, the priests and the Levites went down to the women’s courtyard.” So that’s that outer courtyard there surrounding the temple. “And there were golden candleholders there with four gold bowls on their tops and four ladders for each candlestick and four young priests,” good idea to have the young priests climb up the tall ladders, “with jars of oil containing 120 logs would climb up the ladders and pour the oil into each bowl.” So these are, these are giant bowls, candles that the priests are going up to light. It says “out of the worn out undergarments and girdles of the priests they made wicks,” so they took of their undergarments and set them on fire. [laughter] “And with them they lit the candlesticks, and there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem which was not lit up from the light of Bet HaShoevah. The pious men and wonder workers would dance before the Lord with flaming torches in their hand and they would sing before them songs of praise.” That’s a description of what would happen at the Feast of Tabernacles, at least as recorded in the second century, it seems to be accurately reflecting what they would have done in Jesus’ time as well. It was a festival of water and of light.
So this is no small thing for Jesus to have already said that “out of Me will come living water then when the Spirit comes, out of you will flow living water,” and now He has the audacity to say “I am the light.”
Sukkot 5 says not a courtyard in the whole city of Jerusalem would fail to be lit by these giant candles lit there in the women’s courtyard, and Jesus says, perhaps even looking around on that day, “I am the light of the world.”
Yes, light is familiar imagery in almost every religion. But there’s something more going on here than just a spiritual platitude about light and darkness. He is claiming to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He is claiming that this great feast which Zechariah points to as the kind of end times fulfillment, that Jesus is the embodiment of it. He’s making the astonishing claim that if you follow Him, you will not walk in darkness, but you will have the light of life. No longer walking in the darkness of sin, no longer the darkness of wandering as they did in the wilderness for 40 years, no longer fearing the darkness that will come upon the impenitent and the unbelieving on the last day.
It’s the “I am” that was so audacious. It would be one thing to say “I can show you the light of the world,” or “I can teach you about the light of the world,” or even “I could reveal to you the light of the world.” You know, one of your pastors might stand up here and say today I want to teach you about the light of the world, and I’m going to point you how you can know the light of the world. But if any one of us said, [clears throat] “I am the light of the world,” I hope you would be calling the Presbytery very soon, start taking some sort of action, because that’s not a thing that any man should say unless He is the God-man. “I am the light of the world.”
Here’s the second thing we see about Jesus in this passage. Not only He is the light of the world, but He was sent by the Father, verses 13 through 20. By now you may be familiar with this argument because this happened before in John’s Gospel. This argument about the two witnesses. This rule comes more or less from Deuteronomy 19:15: “Only on the evidence of two witnesses shall a charge be established.”
Even though this was not a formal trial or legal setting, it was still well in keeping with Jewish tradition that you don’t accept testimony, especially something as crazy as this, except on two witnesses. Now Jesus says, “well, I am my own witness,” which was sort of a bold thing to say, but “Okay, well, Jesus, even if we count you as witness number one, where is there anyone else who can testify that you are the light of the world? You are living water?” That was my Boston accent there. “You are living water. You are manna from heaven. Where can anyone testify to this?”
He says “well, it’s not just Me. It’s my Father. He bears me witness.” Verse 18. Notice in verse 17 Jesus appears to be distancing Himself from the law because He says “in your law,” okay, your law, and some people think well, Jesus doesn’t want anything to do with their law and He is setting Himself over against it. Well, not exactly. What He is doing is reminding them “Look, this thing about the two witnesses? That’s your law, remember? And what you think is actually going to silence Me in reality only strengthens the case that I’m trying to make. The law is not on your side,” He’s saying. Now He wants nothing to do with the twisting of the law, but He says here “If you really follow the letter of your law, I’ll tell you who my second witness is. It is My Father.”
And you might think “well, how does the Father bear witness to the Son?” Well, it’s right before you that you may have missed it. At His baptism a voice from heaven says “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” At His transfiguration, again the Father says from heaven, “This is my beloved Son.” And then supremely so at the cross, does not the Father bear witness? There’s an earthquake, there’s darkness, the curtain of the temple torn in two, and finally the resurrection itself is the great testimony confirming in the Spirit that yes, Jesus is He.
My Father bears Me witness. This is why we must not worship Jesus as simply *a* way to the Father, or as one decent approach to being religious. That’s what many people think of Christianity. That’s fine, you can be a Christian. Jesus is your cultural way of being religious, and some people have maybe Allah or Mohammed as their cultural way of being religious, and other people have Buddha and other people have golf and all sorts of things you have as your way of being religious.
But that’s not Jesus. That’s not the Jesus in the Gospels. That’s not the Jesus who speaks here in the temple. One of the major themes in John’s Gospel is this inextricably close relationship and identification between the Father and the Son. You cannot have one without the other. Think about it: They receive the same worship, they share the same purpose, they give the same witness, they come from the same place. So it’s no wonder that Jesus says in verse 19: “You know neither Me nor the Father. If you knew Me, you would know My Father also.”
Calvin says whoever aspires to know God and does not join with Christ must wander as it were in a labyrinth, a maze. How many people, maybe even some of you, you’re going through this life seeking out some sort of religious fulfillment, wandering in a maze, do I turn here or here or this path, and everywhere you go seems to be a dead end. For a time, sort of finding your authentic self seems very meaningful and then you realize that’s not fulfilling. And then you try to have some sort of spirituality and that just ends up very vague and then you maybe watch old reruns of “Touched by an Angel” and that doesn’t quite do it for you and you just follow dead ends, dead ends, a maze, until you find Christ. Or better, I should say, until Christ finds you.
None of us found our way out of that maze. Christ came, took us by the hand and said “Let me show you the way, for I am the way. I am one with the Father and the Father is in Me and I am in the Father. If you know the Father, you know Me. If you know Me, you know the Father.”
You see this reference in verse 20, these words He spoke in the treasury. Okay, well, John, why are you telling us that? Well, he tells us that to highlight that all of this took place in a busy public setting, near the treasury, in the temple, at one of the high holy days. He didn’t say this thing in a corner. This is not somebody finding golden plates somewhere. This is Jesus in a public place declaring these things. And yet, though they wanted to kill him, many, wanted to arrest Him, John records “His hour had not yet come.”
All things would go according to God’s perfect timing and His providential plan. Just one more indication that He and the Father are co-operating in this mission together. He was sent by the Father, He is the light of the world.
Here’s the third thing we see about Jesus in this passage: He is not of the world.
So verse 21, Jesus says I’m going away and you cannot come. He said this once already. Turn back to chapter 7, verse 33: “Jesus said ‘I will be with you a little longer and then I am going to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and you will not find Me. Where I am you cannot come.’ The Jews said to one another ‘where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?”
So the first time He said it, they stroke their chins and say “Where is he going? He must be going out to among the Gentiles with some sort of teaching mission there.” Now when He says it, they suspect even worse—He’s going to commit suicide.
But of course, He isn’t talking about that sort of death, though He is talking about laying down His life. He is speaking of going back to the Father. And so He lays out this contrast between them, these Jewish leaders, of the world from below and Himself, from heaven, above.
Now, the contrast is not between some spiritual world and some material world that’s evil, but rather between the realm of God in heaven and the realm of fallen people on earth.
And did you notice there’s another interesting contrast. Look at verse 12: “I’m the light of the world. Follow Me and you’ll not walk in darkness.”
So in verse 12 He gives an implicit exhortation: Follow Me. If you don’t want to walk in darkness. This is where I’m going. Follow Me.
Verse 21 just the opposite: I’m going away, and you cannot follow Me.
So which is it, Jesus? Come or don’t come? Well, He’s making two different but related points. He’s saying in verse 12 we can come if we believe in the One whom the Father has sent, but in verse 21 we cannot accomplish what the Father has given the Son to accomplish. And even more so, He’s saying to these leaders insofar as they are dead and remain in their sins that they will not find their way to the Father, but they will find themselves under judgment. They’re the opposite of Jesus, below instead of above, of the earth instead of of heaven.
Appearances can be deceiving. Jesus did not look like the Messiah they expected or desired. Now you know that, but you, we always have to remind ourselves of this because we have, many of us are so familiar with, you know, Jesus and we know the stories and we think of Christ as like His last name or something, just on His mailbox. No, no, no. This is a title that He has been given and which He is owning as the Messiah, that’s simply “mashiach,” “Christ,” it means the same thing, “the anointed one.” So we always have to remember He did not look like the Messiah.
It’s not that they had a sketch, you know, up on the, you know, the back of milk cartons: Have you seen the Messiah? Where is He? No, but He just looked so like them. Ordinary. “I knew his mom and dad and his brothers and sisters.” And yeah, they were, they were, some of them were, were pretty amazed by the things that He was doing, but He, He didn’t come with a, a royal scepter that they could see and a crown, until He received the crown of thorns. He wasn’t marching in on a valiant steed, He didn’t have a whole army amassing behind Him to get those nasty Romans out of their land. What kind of Messiah was this?
Strangely enough, one of the first steps in following Christ is perhaps recognizing that He may not be who we thought He was, and we may not be the sort of people we think we are. Because He came in with no regal fanfare, He came instead to suffer and to die, to suffer and to die for sinners, and so they did not recognize Him.
And we will not recognize Him, and we will not follow Him, until we understand that He came in humility and condescension as a suffering servant, and we will not follow Him until we embrace the same condescension and humility.
The first step in following hard after Jesus is realizing just how far away you are from Jesus. It’s not what they thought. He’s not of the world like we are.
So we must realize that He is the light of the world, He is sent from the Father, He is not of the world, and here’s the fourth and final thing we must see: He will judge the world.
Now if you were listening carefully as I read the text, you may have some question marks going. That’s good. Because how do we make sense of this. Verse 15: You judge according to the flesh, I judge no one. Okay? I don’t judge people. But then verse 16, well, maybe I do judge, but if I do, my judgment is true, and then verse 26, finally He says I have much to say about you and much to judge. So you want to say “okay, which is it, Jesus? I don’t judge; well, I might judge; I gotta lot of judging.” [laughter]
Well, of course, Jesus understands what He’s saying and in the span of a few paragraphs here in John’s Gospel, there is a way for these three statements to cohere. His simple point is that I do not judge the way you do. He does not mark people by fleshly criteria or superficial appearances, that’s what He means. You see that in verse 15: You judge according to the flesh, I judge no one. Implied there is “I judge no one like you judge people.” You judge people according to the flesh.
You heard in Pastor Dave’s prayer about these two holidays, as it were, that tend to overlap on the same weekend: MLK Day tomorrow, and Sanctity of Human Life today. And isn’t it in God’s providence the two come together to remind us of some of the very same things, and they’re related to this text. For the opponents of Jesus were the ones who judged by appearances, and these two days, today and tomorrow, remind us not to judge based on mere appearances, who your mommy and daddy are, where you grew up, kind of accent you have or don’t have, the sort of color of your skin, or how small you are, or how dependent you are, or whether your life is inside the womb or outside the womb. Didn’t even Dr. Seuss teach us that a person’s a person no matter how small?
Do not judge by appearances, that’s Jesus’ point. But that doesn’t mean He doesn’t judge in any sense. He says in verse 16, “If I do judge, I do it rightly,” and then finally, in verse 26, He embraces His role as a coming judge. His office is not to judge, the Father did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but by the very nature of His ministry and mission, there’s bound to be division, and because there is division, there will be salvation and condemnation, and Jesus will stand at the end of time as a judge.
One of the themes going on in John’s Gospel is that there’s a reversal from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Now, they’re all true, obviously, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke often present Jesus, especially in His passion week, and John does a little bit, as the one who will stand trial. Jesus is the one on trial, and the Sanhedrin is issuing a judgment upon Him, but here in John the roles are reversed, and it’s not so much that Jesus is the one who will be judged, but He is the one who will judge the world.
You see verse 27? They did not understand that He had been speaking to them about the Father. They did not know who He was. Jesus, as the Son, is one with the Father whether they recognized it or not. Jesus is not up for election. He didn’t have to campaign. He is King whether they know it, I know it, you know it, or anyone recognizes. It is true, always will be true, and He is coming again to judge the living and the dead.
Now that’s from the Apostles’ Creed, the creed repeated more often than any other creed in the history of the church and across the global church today, and I wonder how often you think of it. Do you really believe it? That Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead. I doubt many people outside the church think that about Jesus –that’s not the Jesus they want. But I even wonder how many people inside the church recognize that sort of Jesus.
He will come again, and He will judge. And the basis of His judgment will be verse 24: Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.
These are amazing claims that Jesus is making for Himself. We have a glimmer of hope in verse 30: As He was saying these things, many believed in Him. But if you’re a careful reading [sic] of John’s Gospel, you’ll pause right there with a little bit of caution because we’ve seen this before.
Go back to chapter 2. There again another feast. Verse 23: Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing.
So there at the Passover feast they see miracles and many believe. Here at the Feast of Tabernacles they hear His teaching, many believe. But, if we’ve paid attention to chapter 2, we’ve learned to have a bit of a cautious spirit, because verse 24 tells us Jesus on His part did not entrust himself to them because He knew all people, and He needed no one to bear witness about man for He Himself knew what was in man.
In other words, their faith was not lasting, saving faith. It was, in chapter 2, the faith of a carnival enthusiasm. Jesus got talent! Give ’em the golden buzzer, I like that guy. [laughter]
Well, here in chapter 7 and 8, we wonder again, what is this faith really like. And so it’s no wonder that in verse 31, right after we read that many believed in Him, Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, if, if you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. In other words, Jesus isn’t ready to say “ah, yes, they’ve got it.”
You see, this isn’t about just getting some doctrinal formulas correct. The doctrine matters because it gives expression to the person and work of Christ. Again, to use my earlier example, if I told you how amazing my wife was and you said “yeah, yeah, I have a relationship with her, I know her,” but then you couldn’t tell me anything about her, you couldn’t really affirm any statements or you really weren’t all that impressed with the things that I was impressed with, then I would conclude that one, you had not really met her or two, you did not have the eyes to see what you should have seen.
And it’s the same with Jesus.
Have you met this Christ? Do you have the eyes to see what is there to behold?
I do not know what you believe in your heart of hearts about Jesus, but I am quite sure of this one thing: That you think too little of Him. It’s true for all of us. No one in this room thinks too highly of Christ.
Is your Jesus a mere mantra? A cultural way of being religious, or is He the heavenly Son of the divine Father, the light of the world, and the judge of all people?
Do you see at the very end, the proof that is coming? That the Son is one with the Father, and indeed Christ is who He says He is? Jesus gives it to us in verse 28: When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He. There’s the same phrase: hoti ego eimi. You want to have proof that I am He? This will be the proof that I am He, when I am lifted up.
And of course there’s a double meaning to this lifting up. It is physically when you lift Me up on the cross, but it is at the same time amazingly, wonderfully, that when you do so, you will lift Me up into my greatest glory.
There is a supreme irony. They are the ones, together with the Romans, who will crucify Christ. And by extension theologically, we, because of our sins, are the ones who crucify Christ. And yet, in this moment of great irony, as they lift Him up thinking that they’re killing a common criminal, they are lifting Him high to His greatest glory. Where the Father in that moment and in the resurrection and together with the Son in the sending of the Holy Spirit, will bear unmistakable attestation that I, Jesus, am He.
That’s the kind of Messiah I am, Jesus says.
And so perhaps this is the best question with which to leave you. If you’re asking yourself how do I know if I am following Christ, if I believe that Jesus is He? I’ve learned a lot of things in church, I have some doctrine down. Well, here’s a starting place. Ask yourself this question: Are you there, worshiping, at the foot of the cross? Because it is there at the foot of the cross that we see Jesus lifted up. In their thinking the moment of His bitter defeat, but in God’s eternal plan, the moment of His great glory and greatest triumph.
And that’s where we see who He really is, what He’s really done, and where we worship.
Let’s pray. Gracious heavenly Father, we give thanks for sending your beloved Son to be as one of us, a human being, to suffer and to die and finally to be lifted up. And so draw us, we pray, for we know that we cannot come unless you draw us, and we know that as we come, You will never cast us out as we gather to worship in light at the foot of the cross. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.