Believe in the Light | John 12:30-50
Brian Hedges | April 1, 2020
Thanks for joining us this evening. Tonight I want us to look at John 12. This is the conclusion of a series that we began earlier this year from John 11 and 12, and we’ve called this the hinge in the Gospel of John. It’s really a turning point in the life of Jesus. Everything up to this point really concerned the public ministry of Jesus, those three years that he ministered in Palestine, in Judea and Galilee. But then in John 11 and 12 you have a turning point. You have a series of events that lead directly to the final events in Jesus’ life, the final week of Jesus’ life. John 12 records for us what we know as Palm Sunday, the entry of Jesus as the King into Jerusalem, and then a series of conversations that follow.
Tonight I want us to look at the last part of that chapter in John 12. In some ways, this passage, which actually in the Gospel of John the last public ministry of Jesus, it’s the last words that Jesus speaks in public as recorded in the Gospel of John; in some ways this summarizes all of the themes of Jesus’ ministry, as John presents it to us. It’s sort of like a great symphony, which has many different themes in the symphony, the different movements of the symphony; but then in the fourth and final movement it all comes to a crescendo as all of these themes come together.
You see that in the Gospel of John, as you have in this passage, in John 12, the themes of light and darkness, of judgment and salvation, of Jesus’ relationship with his Father, and then especially the response of believing or of rejecting his word. All of those themes come together in these verses, so we’re just going to look at them together tonight.
I want to read the passage, John 12, beginning in verse 30, which kind of picks up in the middle of the conversation, just after a voice has spoken to Jesus from heaven, the Father affirming the Son that he is going to glorify his name. Let me pick up in verse 30 and then read to the end of the chapter.
“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.’ 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.’
“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, 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?’
“Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
‘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.’
“Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 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.
“And Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 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. 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. 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. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.’”
This is God’s word.
When we look at this passage, we see these various themes: light and darkness, salvation and judgment, believing or rejecting the Son who has been sent from the Father. I just want to organize our thoughts by taking one of those themes and seeing how the other themes kind of weave in together.
Let’s take the theme of believing, or of faith. I want you to notice four things that this passage teaches us about faith. It shows us something about:
I. The Nature of Faith
II. The Object of Faith
III. The Gift of Faith
IV. The Urgency of Faith
Let’s just quickly, briefly, look at each of those four things.
I. The Nature of Faith
What does it mean to believe? We talk about believing in Jesus all the time. This is what it means to be a Christian; it means to believe in Christ, to have faith in Christ. But that’s kind of abstract. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what that means.
Communicators for years have talked about something called the “ladder of abstraction,” and it’s a tool that communicators use where the higher up the ladder you go, the more abstract you go; the lower down the ladder you are, the more concrete you are. Good communicators move up and down the ladder of abstraction.
For example, if you say something like, “Human beings need nutrition,” that’s an accurate statement, but it’s pretty abstract. Something more concrete that even your child can understand is, “Caden, eat your broccoli.” That’s concrete.
Well, Jesus is a good communicator. He is a master communicator, and he not only says things like, “Believe in me,” but he moves up and down this ladder of abstraction by giving us very striking illustrations and practical examples of what he means.
Just look at some of the statements in this passage. In verse 35 he says, “Walk while you have the light.” Of course, he’s telling us to walk in the light. He’s using the language of walking, our behavior, our way of living, and says we are to walk in the light. That’s pretty much synonymous with believing.
In verse 36 he says, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” He’s using imagery here of light and darkness.
In verse 40 John, who is quoting from the prophet Isaiah, talks about seeing with the eyes and understanding with the heart and turning to the Lord. These are all pictures of what it means to believe.
Then, once again, Jesus in 44 says, “Whoever believes in me believes not in me, but in him who sent me.”
Then just catch this in verses 47-48: he equates believing in him with hearing and keeping his word. He says, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words, that person will be judged by the very word he rejects.” That gets pretty concrete.
What does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means to hear his word, it means to receive his word, it means to keep his word. We might, then, define faith or believing something like this: faith is the whole-hearted response of trust and obedience to Jesus Christ. It involves hearing him, receiving his word, keeping his words; it involves seeing and understanding with the heart, it involves turning to him. That’s what it means to believe in the light, what it means to walk in the light.
Now, for application that means a couple of things for us. It means, first of all, that it’s not enough to just have faith in something. That is pretty much the mantra of our culture. “You just need to believe! Believe in something! Believe in a higher power, or believe in yourself, as long as you believe in something, as long as you have faith.” That’s not at all the biblical idea. It’s not sufficient to believe in something; there must be content to our faith, content to that belief. We are specifically, according to this passage, to receive what Jesus said. We are to keep his words.
To be a believer—that is, to be a Christian—means nothing less than receiving Jesus as he is presented to us in Scripture, and that includes receiving his teaching, his commandments, his instruction. It means submitting to his authority, it means receiving and obeying his word. If you don’t believe in who Jesus said he was, if you don’t trust in what Jesus said he came to do, and if you don’t follow what Jesus taught, you’re not really a believer in any meaningful sense of the world.
So the nature of faith involves all of this; it involves receiving him, trusting him, and obeying him.
II. The Object of Faith
The second thing to notice is the object of faith. Who is the object of faith? Of course, in the passage it’s clear, isn’t it? It’s Jesus himself. Look again at verses 35-36. “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.”
It’s pretty clear in this passage that Christ himself is the light. In fact, Jesus is essentially repeating things that have been said earlier in the Gospel of John. You remember John 8:12, where Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever believes in me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
Indeed, in this passage, down in verse 46, Jesus says, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” This shows us, then, that Jesus is himself the light. So, to believe in the light means to believe in Jesus, to trust in Jesus, to make Jesus the object of our faith.
Now, what does it mean to believe in the light, to believe in Jesus as the light? I think this imagery of the light, the light of the world, is very powerful imagery that communicates important things about who Jesus is and what he came to do. Let me just point out three, really quickly.
(1) First of all, light symbolizes for us truth and reality. Light, by its very nature, shines. It shows what is there, it reveals, it illuminates. Light shines into the darkness and exposes what once was hidden.
You see this, for example, in John 3:19-21. “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
As the light of the world, Jesus exposes darkness, he exposes what is hidden, he shows what is truth, he shows what is reality. That’s the very reason that so many will reject him. They don’t want to be exposed. Jesus, you see, shows us the very nature of the fabric of the reality of the universe. He shows us the difference between right and wrong, righteousness and wickedness, good and evil. Jesus as the light of the world shows us the truth about God, the truth about man, about human nature, the truth about sin, the truth about judgment. All of these are themes that come out in the teaching of Jesus.
C.S. Lewis one time said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Jesus as the light of the world illuminates an entire world for us, a worldview. I think one of the greatest confirmations of the reality of Christianity, the reality of the gospel, is that when you read everything else in the world through the lens of Jesus’ teaching, the world begins to make sense. We begin to understand why there is evil in the world, why there is suffering in the world, why we have a conscience, why we experience feelings of guilt or sorrow or fear or regret or anger.
I was talking not too long ago with a man I know who at one time was a child psychologist. I was asking about his experiences as a child psychologist, and he began to tell me some of the horrible things that he had to counsel as he was working with children, parents who would do horrible, terrible things to their children.
He confessed that that experience caused him to even question his faith, the faith that he had been raised in. My comment to him was simply this, that when we see such terrible things in the world, it confirms that there is such a thing as evil, and he readily agreed. He said, “Yes, it showed me that there is such a thing as the devil, and not just the devil down there, but the devil in here,” pointing to the human heart.
That shows us the need we have for a Savior, and it confirms what Scripture teaches, it confirms what Jesus himself teaches. Jesus as the light of the world is truth, and he shows us what is true and what is real.
(2) Here’s another aspect of Jesus as the light of the world: goodness and beauty. Jesus is not only the one who brings truth and reality to bear on our existence, but he is the perfect embodiment of all that is good and is beautiful. Hebrews 1:3 says that Christ “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” I think this taps into the beautiful, life-giving quality of light. In fact, the prologue to John’s Gospel tells us that in him was life, and this life was the light of the world.
We all know that we need light physically. We need sunlight. There is such a thing that many people in the midwest and in the north experience every winter: seasonal affective disorder. People get sad, they feel depressed. Why? Because there’s not enough sunlight. We need sunlight, because when we get out into the light, the sun produces that happiness hormone, serotonin, boosts those serotonin levels. We need light because the affect of sunlight on the skin turns cholesterol into vitamin D, which boosts our immune system.
I’ll never forget that when our oldest son was born, he was born with jaundice. His skin was yellowed, and he certainly was in need of light. I remember we would lay him on this Billy Reuben blanket so that he would get a certain quality of light. We’d set him in his crib by the window so the sunlight could come in. He needed that light to help him towards health.
In the same way, you and I need light spiritually. We need that which is good, that which is life-giving, and it comes from Christ, who is the light of the world, who is the perfect embodiment of all that is good and is beautiful and is righteous.
(3) There’s a third way in which Jesus is the light of the world and therefore the object of our faith, and that is in his glory and in his deity, his divinity.
You see this especially in verses 37-41, where John, narrating this story for us, gives us two quotations from the book of Isaiah. I won’t read it all again, but I do want to just read verse 41, where John says that “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.”
Now, he has just quoted from the end of Isaiah 6; we’ll come back to that in a moment. But do you remember the beginning of Isaiah 6? It’s when Isaiah was in this throne room. King Uzziah had died, and Isaiah is in the temple, and what does he see? He sees the Lord, high and lifted up! He sees the glory of the Lord! He hears the cherubim who cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory!” He saw Yahweh in all of his majesty, in all of his glory.
Did you notice that when John quotes from Isaiah 6, he says that “Isaiah said this because he saw his glory,” that is, Jesus’ glory. This is a not-so-subtle way of the apostle John telling us that Jesus was himself the embodiment of the very glory of God, that Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh, that he is God in the flesh. In fact, he says it in the opening of his Gospel, doesn’t he? John 1:14, “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” It’s Christ, the embodiment of the very glory of God. The word became flesh, God manifest in the flesh. This is the one who is the object of our faith.
Never forget that the supreme demonstration of the glory of Christ is actually at the cross. This very passage that we have just read in John 12, and the preceding verses, talk about the glory of Christ. Now was the time in which he had come, the hour to be glorified and to glorify his Father. How would he do it? He would do it by being lifted up from the earth. The Son of Man is lifted up; he will draw all people to himself. And he is lifted up, John tells us, through crucifixion. The cross is that moment of the exaltation of Christ, where he is glorified, lifted up physically from the earth, as he’s hung on that cursed tree; but also lifted up and glorified by his Father as he embodies there for us the very heart of God, his love for the world, his love for sinners; and it is this Christ who is the embodiment of the glory of God. This is the one who is the object of our faith, the one to whom we look.
Therefore we should always remember that faith is not an inward-looking quality. It’s not so much that we’re looking at our hearts, that we are looking at ourselves, that we are looking at our experiences. That’s not the heart of faith! Faith is, rather, looking outward; it’s looking to Christ, it’s looking to the cross.
I love those words of Spurgeon (and I’ll just sort of paraphrase him), where he said, “Remember, sinner, it’s not your hold of Christ that saves you; it’s Christ. It’s not your hope in Christ; it’s Christ. It’s not even your faith in Christ; it’s Christ, the object of your faith.” Look to Christ. Don’t look to yourself. Christ is the object of our faith.
III. The Gift of Faith
Then, thirdly, notice the gift of faith. Where does faith come from? How does a person come to believe? This passage, consistently with the rest of the Gospel of John, I think, shows us this. It shows us this in something of a backhanded way in verses 36-40, as it gives an explanation for those who do not believe. But by showing why it is that some do not believe, it reminds us of other things in the Gospel of John that show us why some people do believe. Look at these verses, verses 36-40.
It says, “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.” It’s just amazing. Jesus does these signs, these signs recorded in the Gospel of John that point to the reality of who he is, the reality of what he came to do; and yet, in spite of the many signs he does, people still do not believe. Why do they not believe? Look at what John says in verse 38.
“...they still did not believe in him, 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?’” Isaiah 53:1, right at the beginning of that fourth servant song about the suffering servant who bore the iniquities of God’s people.
Notice, then, John’s comment. He quotes this verse, and then verses 39-40, “Therefore, they could not believe, for again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they see with their eyes and understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’”
Those are astounding verses. Those are confusing verses! They could not believe! They could not believe; that’s that John says. “Therefore they could not believe…for ‘he [that is, God] has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they see with their eyes and understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’”
These are amazing verses that give us John’s theological, biblical explanation for why so many of his fellow Jews did not believe. It’s almost exactly the same theology that you get from the apostle Paul in Romans 9-11, where he’s looking at the same problem: Why is it that so many of his fellow Israelites did not believe? In their answer, they point beyond and through mere human response to the sovereignty of a God who is working out his purposes.
Now, we must not over-interpret this. It does not negate the responsibility of each individual person to respond to the invitation of the gospel. In fact, we will see the urgency of Jesus’ invitation in just a moment. But it does show us that God himself is the ultimate source of saving faith. This is confirmed in many other places in the Gospel of John; it’s a running emphasis through this Gospel. Let me just give you a couple of verses.
John 6:37, where Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me shall come to me, and him who comes to me I will never cast away.” To come to Jesus in John 6 means to believe in him.
Or verses 44-45, “No one can come to me unless the Father who has sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and has learned from the Father comes to me.”
How is it that people believe? How do people come to Christ? John says they have to be given to the Son by the Father. They have to be drawn to the Son by the Father. They have to be taught by the Father. It’s a gift! It’s a gift of God.
Now, I know that this is controversial theology. It’s controversial between the Reformed side and the more Arminian side. Set that aside for just a minute, because I think both sides of that debate have to acknowledge that behind every single person who ever believes is somehow the mysterious work of the grace of God. In fact, two of the great Arminians in church history, two people whom I love, essentially said the same thing.
C.S. Lewis. Listen to what he said. He said, “Before God closed in on me, I was offered what now appears a moment of holy free choice; but I feel my decision was not so important. I was the object rather than the subject in this affair. I was decided upon.” That’s C.S. Lewis.
Or do you remember those great words of Charles Wesley?
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light!
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”
How did it all begin? Here’s someone who is locked up in the darkness of sin, and it’s only when the quickening, life-giving ray of the light of God’s eyes look down into that dungeon that he comes to life, and the chains fall off, and he is free. That’s grace, and that is the story of every person who ever believes. The gift of faith.
IV. The Urgency of Faith
Now, that does not negate the urgency of every single one of us personally responding, and you see that in the final paragraph. We’re almost done. Look at the urgency of faith in verses 44-50.
“Jesus cried out—” he cried out! It’s an emotional word; he cried out. These are the last words that Jesus speaks in public as recorded in the Gospel of John. Everything else after this, leading up to his trial, is only with his disciples. So it’s Jesus’ final message before he is crucified. He cries out, and listen to what he says.
“‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.’” He’s looking to his Father, the witness, the authority behind his entire ministry. “‘And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.’”
Then this warning in verse 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.’” He’s speaking here about his first coming, essentially repeating what is said in John 3. He didn’t come in his first coming for judgment; he came for salvation.
But listen to what Jesus goes on to say. This is verse 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. 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. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.’”
In those verses there is so much theology, more than we can uncover. But just notice this, that Jesus gives us two stark alternatives. We can either believe him, and if we believe in him we will not remain in darkness. That’s the path to life! Or we can reject him. If we reject him we reject him, we reject his word, we hear but do not receive his words, and Jesus says those who reject him will be judged by the very word that they reject, on the last day.
That means that there is an urgency to faith. The apostle Paul says essentially the same thing, doesn’t he, in 2 Corinthians 6. He says, “Today is the day of salvation.” Now is the accepted time!
Listen: whoever you are, wherever you stand with Jesus, if you hear this invitation from Jesus tonight, don’t delay. Don’t turn your back on Jesus. He is the light of the world, he is the source of everything good! He will show you yourself, he will show you the glory of God, he will show you the glory of God through his death on the cross, he will show you the way to all that is good and true and right in the world.
He promises that if you believe in him you will become a son of light, you will be one of the children of light. You can be changed from someone characterized by darkness to someone who is characterized by light. How? By looking to Christ! But don’t delay. The message is urgent; the invitation is for now. Look to Christ, the crucified Lord of glory, the light of the world, who faced the ultimate darkness on your behalf; look to him and be saved. Let’s pray.
Our gracious God, I thank you that you so loved the world that you gave your only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. Thank you for the gospel, we thank you for this good news that Christ is the light of the world, that he freely invites sinners to come to him, to believe in him, to trust in him, to hear and to receive and to keep his word, to walk in the light rather than in darkness, and to become a child of light.
Father, my prayer is that each person who hears this message tonight would respond with true saving faith, looking to Christ—not looking to ourselves or anything that we can do or have done, but looking to Christ, who was crucified and risen for us. May we hear the urgency of this invitation, and may we respond with faith. I pray it in Jesus’ name, Amen.