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Lesson 68: Christ Lifted Up (John 12:27-36a)

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October 5, 2014

If you’re like me, you hate to trouble someone on your behalf. I don’t like to ask for help or inconvenience another person unless it’s absolutely necessary. But in one instance, I’m very grateful that another person was troubled on my behalf. I’m not glad that he had to be troubled, but I am glad that willingly he was troubled for me when I didn’t even know that I needed his help. I am speaking of the Lord Jesus, for whom the thought of going to the cross to bear my sins caused Him to say (John 12:27), “Now My soul has become troubled ....” You and I were the cause of Jesus’ trouble. As He states, He came for the very purpose of being troubled by being lifted up on the cross to die for our sins.

We’re in the last week of Jesus’ life before He was crucified. He is in Jerusalem at the Feast of the Passover. Some Greeks came seeking Jesus, which caused Him to say (John 12:23), “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” That hour was the hour of the cross. The gospel would now go out from Israel to all peoples. As Paul explains (Romans 11), Israel’s rejection of their Messiah resulted in the good news going out to the Gentiles.

The main theme of our text is the uplifted Christ, by which Jesus meant, as John explains (12:33), Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus used the same term as He spoke to Nicodemus (John 3:14), “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” He used it again (John 8:28), “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” Usually the verb means to exalt someone (e.g. Acts 2:33), and I think John wants us to see a double meaning: Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross, which was the ultimate in shame, resulted in His being exalted as the Savior of the world. It resulted in God’s glory and Satan’s defeat. The cross became the watershed event in human history and it’s the watershed in your history. How you respond to Christ lifted up on the cross determines your eternal destiny. So the message applied is:

Christ’s being lifted up on the cross should cause you to believe in Him while you still have time.

We see here the anguish, the aim, the aftermath, and the appeal of Christ’s being lifted up on the cross:

1. The anguish of Christ’s being lifted up was because He would bear God’s wrath for our sins (John 12:27).

Jesus said (John 12:27), “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” As Jesus thought about the approaching hour when He who knew no sin would become sin on our behalf, His soul was deeply troubled. This causes Him to ask hypothetically, “And what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’?” This is similar to His agony in the Garden when He prayed, (Luke 22:42), “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me.” But there He added, “Yet, not My will, but Yours be done.” Here He adds (John 12:27b-28a), “But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”

Here we peer into the deep mystery of the two natures of Jesus Christ. Being one with the Father from all eternity (John 10:30), He had never experienced even a split-second break in their perfect fellowship. As a sinless man, His time on earth was marked by that same unbroken fellowship. But when He went to the cross, there was that humanly incomprehensible moment when He cried out (Matt. 27:46), “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” At that moment, God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21). He bore the awful punishment of God’s wrath that we deserved. That’s why Jesus’ soul was troubled as He thought about the cross. Consider three applications:

First, the doctrine of justification by faith alone means that our sins were imputed to Him and His righteousness was imputed to us the instant that we believed in Him. We stand totally forgiven and righteous before God, not because of any works that we have done, but only because Jesus’ blood and righteousness have been imputed to our account through faith alone. Because Jesus was troubled for our sins on the cross, we don’t need to be troubled on judgment day! He bore all our guilt on the cross so that we can enjoy peace with God!

Second, since our sins caused our loving Savior so much anguish and pain, we should hate our sins and fight every day to kill them. All too often, we flirt with our sins or we try to manage them. But you can’t flirt with or manage an enemy that seeks to kill you. It would be like our country trying to flirt with or manage the Islamic extremists who want either to convert us or kill us. The only way to deal with such an ominous threat is to fight it to the death. The only way to deal with your sins is to put them to death by the Holy Spirit’s power (Rom. 8:13).

Third, when you’re struggling with powerful emotions, it is always right to submit your feelings to God’s purpose to glorify Himself. Our Lord is our example here in how to deal with our feelings. Jesus had human feelings, but He was free from all sin. Here, He honestly expresses His revulsion at the thought of the cross, but He quickly submits to the will and glory of God. We should do the same. If you’re facing a difficult trial and you’re overwhelmed with powerful feelings so that you don’t even know what to pray, you can always pray, “Father, glorify Your name.” Your aim, like Jesus’ aim, should be to glorify the Father in all that you do.

The Psalms offer a lot of help here. Often David was overwhelmed with anxiety or fear or despair over some life-threatening situation. His enemies were hot on his trail, threatening his life. But he honestly poured out his complaint to God and then cried out (Ps. 57:11), “Be exalted above the heavens, O God; let Your glory be above all the earth.” So, you can be honest with your feelings before God as long as you submit them to His purpose to be glorified through all that you endure for Jesus’ sake. Follow our Savior’s the example, who felt such powerful anguish as He faced the cross.

2. The aim of Christ’s being lifted up was to glorify the Father (John 12:28-30).

Jesus prayed (John 12:28a), “Father, glorify Your name.” John adds (12:28b), “Then a voice came out of heaven: ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.’”

If I were to ask, “Why did Christ die?” you would probably answer, “Christ died to save us from our sins.” That is correct, of course. But that isn’t the main reason Christ died. He died first and foremost to glorify the Father. Jesus was willing to endure the awful agony of the cross in order to glorify the Father’s name. The cross showed the angels and principalities in heavenly places, along with the whole world, the unfathomable riches of the love and grace of God. Jesus was willing to bear that horrible punishment because He loved us even while we were yet sinners.

The cross also displayed God’s infinite holiness and justice. He could not just brush away our sins without the penalty being paid. His righteous wrath has to be poured out on sinners. The wages of our sin is death, or eternal separation from God. That penalty is either on you or on Jesus because you have trusted in Him. Through the cross, God can be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).

John (12:28b) reports that a voice came out of heaven, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” God had glorified His name through Jesus’ life and ministry to that point; He would be glorified again through Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and His second coming in glory.

But then John (12:29) adds, “So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, ‘An angel has spoken to Him.’” John added this verse to illustrate what he will explain further in verses 37-40: the spiritual blindness of those who reject Christ. Some took a naturalistic approach to the voice from heaven, saying that it had thundered. Others took a spiritual approach, saying that an angel had spoken to Jesus. But they all missed the point that God was authenticating Jesus and His ministry.

Then John (12:30) adds, “Jesus answered and said, ‘This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes.’” There were three times in Jesus’ ministry that the Father spoke out of heaven: His baptism, transfiguration, and here. Each time He endorsed Jesus and His ministry. Jesus didn’t need the Father’s approval, because He knew that He always had it. The voice was for the sake of those who heard it. They should have realized that God set His seal of approval on Jesus.

But, you may wonder, how could the voice from heaven have been for the sake of the crowd if they couldn’t understand it? I take it to be similar to Jesus’ admonition, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15). In other words, if Jesus’ hearers would ask God to open their ears and give them a heart to obey, they would know the truth. But, tragically, most of them shrugged off Jesus’ words and missed their Messiah.

But it’s no different today: God has spoken clearly through His Word, giving testimony to Jesus as the only Savior. Yet some explain Christianity in completely naturalistic terms, like those who said that it thundered, while others launch off into mystical spirituality, like those who said that an angel had spoken to Jesus. But both sides miss God’s testimony to His Son. They don’t have spiritual ears to hear spiritual truth, even when God speaks clearly.

We’ve seen that the anguish of Christ’s being lifted up was because He would bear God’s wrath for our sins. The aim of His being lifted up was to glorify the Father.

3. The aftermath of Christ’s being lifted up was that the world is judged, Satan will be cast out, and Jesus will draw all people to Himself (John 12:31-33).

In these verses, Jesus elaborates on the aftermath or results of the cross: The world is judged; Satan will be cast out; and all men will be drawn to Jesus. But at first glance, these do not seem to be true. The world has gone on in its sinful ways for two thousand years without judgment. Satan seems to be alive and well on planet earth. And obviously, all people are not being drawn to Jesus. So, what did Jesus mean?

A. The world is judged.

In one sense, the world has been under judgment since Adam’s sin. Except for Jesus, every person has been born in sin, under God’s wrath, headed for eternal condemnation unless God’s grace breaks into his life. But the death of Christ represents a decisive judgment on this sinful world. I understand this to mean that now that Jesus has come, He is the absolute standard of judgment. He is the Light to which people either come for salvation or run from because they love their sin (John 3:19-21; 12:35-36).

The purpose of the light is not to cast shadows, but light inevitably does cast shadows. Jesus’ purpose for coming was not to judge the world, but to save it (John 3:17). But His coming drew a line that divides all people. What people do with Jesus determines their eternal destiny. As John 3:18 states, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

The Jewish leaders thought that they were judging Jesus by crucifying Him, but by rejecting Jesus they pronounced judgment on themselves. Even so today, people judge themselves by how they judge Jesus. If they trust in Him as Savior and Lord, they will be saved. But if they ignore Him or demote Him to being just a great religious teacher, they do so to their own condemnation. As 1 John 5:9-10 makes clear,

If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son.

B. Satan will be cast out.

By “the ruler of this world,” Jesus was referring to Satan (John 14:30; 16:11). The cross seemed to be a victory for Satan, but it actually was the moment of his defeat, because Christ triumphed there over sin and death. Satan is active today, as Paul shows when he says that we must put on the full armor of God so that we can withstand Satan’s attacks (Eph. 6:10-20). Peter warns us that the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking to devour us through trials and persecution (1 Pet. 5:8-10). My understanding of Revelation 20:1-9 is that Satan is not bound now, but he will be bound during most of the millennium. At the end of that time, he will be released briefly to deceive the nations. Then his final judgment will come, when he is cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev. 20:10).

But Jesus’ death and resurrection sealed Satan’s doom. He is now a defeated foe in the sense that through the gospel, the worst of sinners can be delivered from his domain of darkness and transferred to Christ’s kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). Because of the cross, Satan can no longer successfully accuse those who are in Christ (Rev. 12:10). Through the cross, Jesus robbed Satan of the power of death, so that we who believe are freed from the fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15). We can resist the devil and overcome him through Christ’s victory on the cross (1 Pet. 5:8-10; James 4:7).

C. Jesus is drawing all people to Himself.

Sometimes preachers use Jesus’ words in verse 32 to mean that if we exalt Jesus (“lift Him up”), He will draw people to Himself. That is true, and as I explained, John probably intended a double meaning. But in verse 33, John makes it clear that by “lifted up,” Jesus primarily was referring to being lifted up on the cross. His death on the cross would draw all men to Himself. But, what does that mean? Obviously, not even close to a majority of people who have lived since the cross have been drawn to Jesus.

The context helps us interpret this point. The Greeks have just come to Philip asking to see Jesus. At this point, Jesus announces that the hour has come for Him to be glorified. Part of His glory (as I explained in the last message) is that after the cross, the gospel would now go out to the whole world. So by “all men,” Jesus does not mean all without exception, but all without distinction. As Paul put it (Rom. 1:16), “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

The word “draw” is the same word that Jesus used in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” This points to the fact that people lack the spiritual ability to come to Christ unless God powerfully works to open their blind eyes and soften their hard hearts so that they can believe (John 12:39-40). But when He does draw them, they will come to Jesus. As He said (John 6:37), “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

We’ve seen that the anguish of Christ’s being lifted up on the cross was because He would bear God’s wrath for our sins. The aim of His being lifted up was to glorify the Father. The aftermath of His being lifted up was that the world was judged, Satan was cast out, and Jesus would draw all people to Himself. Finally,

4. The appeal of Christ’s being lifted up is that we should believe in Him while we still have time (John 12:34-36b).

(By “appeal,” I mean “entreaty,” but that doesn’t alliterate with anguish, aim, and aftermath!) We should understand the crowd’s response in verse 34 to be a defiant challenge, not a sincere question. (Their “we” and “You” are emphatic in the Greek text, pitting them against Jesus.) They answer Jesus, “We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?”

Apparently, they understood Jesus’ words about being lifted up to refer to His death. Their challenge to Jesus could have been based on several Scriptures. Psalm 110:4 says that Messiah is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Daniel 7:13-14 says that the Son of Man will receive an eternal kingdom. It’s interesting that Jesus did not call Himself the Son of Man when He referred to being lifted up, but perhaps the crowd had heard Him say that the hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified (John 12:23) and connected the dots.

Jesus realized that answering their question would not get to their root problem. If their problem had been theological, Jesus could have replied, “Haven’t you read Isaiah 53, about Messiah dying for His people’s sins? Haven’t you read Psalm 22 about Messiah’s death or Daniel 9:26, which says that Messiah will be cut off?” But the Jews’ problem was not theological, but moral. They were walking in spiritual and moral darkness. So Jesus replied (John 12:35-36a): “For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.”

Note that Jesus emphasizes “light” five times. He is the Light of the world, but in just a few days, He would be gone. They had a narrow window of opportunity to give up their preconceived notions about Messiah being a political savior and to act on the truth that He had given them about Himself. But that truth centered on the fact that they were sinners, walking in darkness, and they needed to come to Jesus as the Light, which implied turning from their sins. The main issue was (and still is), “While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light” (John 12:36a).

Conclusion

I conclude with three applications:

First, be careful how you ask questions of the Lord. Don’t be like these Jews, who challenged Jesus defiantly. Their minds were made up: “We know, based on Scripture, that the Christ is to remain forever.” And so they missed the Light who was standing right in front of them! Ask your questions submissively, prayerfully, and with a heart to obey the truth.

Second, believe in Christ while you still can! There is an urgency about the message you have just heard. Tomorrow may be too late! The second half of verse 36 says that after Jesus spoke these things, He went away and hid Himself from them. That is a great tragedy, to have Jesus withdraw from you! Now is the day of salvation!

Third, be willing to let God change you by confronting your sins. I’ve seen Christians who love to debate theology, but they don’t allow the light of God’s Word to confront their sins. While it’s good to gain more theological light, we need to focus on living by the light that we have. Come to God’s Word with the prayer, “Lord, where do I need to change?”

Application Questions

  1. Some say, “Emotions aren’t right or wrong; emotions just are.” In light of Jesus’ emotions here and the rest of Scripture, is that statement valid? Are some emotions sinful?
  2. Some argue that we should “be honest with God” about how we feel, even to the point of raging against Him. Agree or disagree? Support your answer with Scripture.
  3. What are the practical implications of Satan being “cast out”? Should we command evil spirits in the name of Jesus?
  4. Roman Catholics and evangelicals differ over the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Is this doctrine essential to the gospel? Is it significant enough to divide over?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Faith, Glory, Hamartiology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation)