Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon ’s son, which should betray him, why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always. Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.
We are now approaching in our study the closing hours of our Lord’s ministry here on earth. He had come to Jerusalem for the last time to give His final testimony, knowing well that rejection and crucifixion awaited Him, for none of these things took Him by surprise. He had come from heaven for the express purpose of dying for lost men. We read that very definitely. He said, “The Son of man [is come] not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45 ). He had declared this from the very beginning. He is represented in Psalm 40 as saying, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God” (vv. 7-8; see also Hebrews 10:7).
The doing of that will meant His going to the cross. But as He got nearer and nearer to the cross, because He was perfect man as well as true God, the horror of it all grew upon His own soul until at last we see Him (recorded in other Gospels, not in John in the same full way) bowed in agony in Gethsemane’s garden, praying, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39 ). And yet He says, “If this cup may not pass… except I drink it, thy will be done” (v. 42). And a little later we hear Him saying to Peter, who had cut off the servant’s ear, “Put up thy sword… the cup that my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).
That cup was the cup of wrath, the cup of divine judgment that our sins had filled, the cup that was overflowing with the indignation of a holy God against iniquity. Jesus could not have been perfect, holy Man if He had not shrunk from the drinking of that cup. To be made sin meant to be dealt with by God as though He were the one great sinner of all the ages. All our iniquities were laid upon Him. It meant a horror and darkness of soul that our poor finite minds cannot understand. It meant bearing there upon the cross, in the depths of His own spotless spirit, what lost men who reject Christ will have to endure in the pit of woe for all eternity.
He realized the awfulness of sin, the dreadfulness of having to do with a holy God in regard to it. In Psalms 69:20 it is written, “I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.” He was so intensely human that He longed for those who could enter with Him into His sorrows. We feel like that. We look to our dear ones for comfort to express the love that they feel for us. And Jesus longed for human fellowship and was glad when He found it. We have a beautiful picture of that in this twelfth chapter.
He had come to Judea, and He and His little company were now at Bethany, the city of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. We have already considered His raising of Lazarus from the dead. We read here, “Jesus, six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper” (vv. 1-2a). In Mark’s gospel we read that it was actually two days before the Passover that this supper was given to Him. He came to Bethany six days before the Passover. Four days went by, and then they made Him this supper. It was a testimony on the part of His loving friends, an evidence of their affection for Him.
We learn from Matthew 26:6 that this took place in the house of Simon the leper. He could not have been a leper still, for then it would have been impossible for him to have dwelt there. “[The leper] shall dwell alone,” the Scripture says (Leviticus 13:46 ). He was to have “a covering upon his… lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean” (v. 45), if anyone drew near. This must have been the past state of Simon the leper-for how long we do not know. But we gather from this Scripture that one day a wonderful event occurred in Simon’s life. He met with Jesus and everything was different. Have you had a meeting like that? Have you been affected with the leprosy of sin, utterly lost and ruined? Have you had a meeting with Jesus? That changes everything! To hear Him say, “Be thou clean” (Matthew 8:3; Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13), to have Him speak peace to the troubled heart, to know He has cleansed the guilty soul-what an experience that is! Simon must have had an experience like that; otherwise, he would not have been there in Bethany.
Among those who were participating that evening besides the blessed Lord and His apostles, there are three who stand out prominently-the three who had so often entertained Jesus in their home. We read, “Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus” (vv. 2-3a). These set forth three aspects of the Christian life. We see in Martha, service; in Lazarus, fellowship; in Mary, worship. Service, fellowship, and worship-how much do we know of these aspects of the Christian life? Service here comes first-“Martha served.” When we are saved we are no longer our own. How natural it is to yield ourselves to Him as those alive from the dead, that we may serve the Master who has done so much for us. I do not understand those who profess to be saved but give no evidence of a desire to be of service to the Lord Jesus Christ. That should be the first proof of the new birth: “He saved me. Now what can I do to show my love for Him?” We are not saved by our service. Salvation is not of works, lest any man should boast. No effort of ours can cleanse our guilty souls.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfil Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone:
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
But does that mean that we make light of service or that we are indifferent to good works? Not at all. We recognize that when one is regenerated, when he has been justified from all things, when he has become a child of God, he is responsible to work and labor for the One who has done so much for him.
And we serve Him as we minister to those for whom He died. Service for Christ is not some mysterious thing that is not practical. If I give a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus, I am serving Him. And if I refuse to give the cup of cold water, then I am drawing back from service for Him. If men are in distress and I minister to them, giving clothing to the naked, food to the hungry, sharing the troubles and sorrows of others, I am serving Him. When He shall sit upon the throne of His glory when He shall return to this earth, the standard of judgment will be this: “I was sick, and you ministered to Me; I was hungry, and you fed Me; I was naked, and you clothed Me.” Some say, “When did we see you sick and hungry and naked?” And He says, “Inasmuch as ye [did] it unto one of the least of these,… ye [did] it unto me” (Matthew 25:40 ). And others say, “But when did we ever see you in such circumstances and did not minister unto you?” “Inasmuch as ye did it not to the least of these, ye did it not unto me” (v. 45).
Do not let us overlook the importance of that Scripture by seeing only its dispensational aspect. It has a very practical lesson for all ages. It sets before us the standard that every one of us will have to face when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ. He is going to credit us with all service done for His own as service done for Himself. This is a very serious thing. Do you treat coolly some fellow Christian? Do you call on some poor, needy ones whose distress you might alleviate, or do you pass them by indifferently? Do you harden your heart against the needy? Then listen! He says, “Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these, ye did it not unto me.” But when you share what you have with those in trouble, when you minister to those afflicted, when you try to manifest the grace of Christ to those who are suffering, He accounts it as done unto Himself.
Do not let us make light of service. It is very important. It comes first here. “Martha served.” It was not grudging service now. There was a time once before when Martha was cumbered about her service, but it was not so on this occasion. Martha served, and evidently she did it gladly. Only a few days before, her brother lay cold in death. Then she had gone with Jesus to yonder tomb and heard Him cry, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43 ). And he that was dead came forth bound hand and foot with the grave clothes. Martha had seen all that and her heart swelled with gratitude to the Lord, and she was so glad to be able to serve. I imagine that if somebody had said, “Let me serve,” she would have refused and said, “He has done so much for me that I want to do everything I can for Him.”
I heard once of a dear old brother who belonged to a group who ran a little mission hall. He wanted to preach but had no gift for it. He helped open up this mission hall. This man used to go down there after his office closed on Saturday noon. He would roll up his trousers, take a bucket of water and a brush, and clean the chairs and scrub the floor. No one of the rest of the company knew of his service. You know how careless people are. They never thought to ask who did the cleaning. But it happened one day that a couple of the young men went over in the afternoon to get some song books. Just as they opened the door they saw the old man scrubbing away. They threw up their hands and said, “Oh, we never knew you were doing this! You must not do this. We will scrub this floor.” “Oh,” he said, “please let me do it for Jesus’ sake.” He pleaded not to be robbed of the privilege of doing it for Christ’s glory, so they had to leave it to him.
But now the next one. “But Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.” That means fellowship. Lazarus, the risen one, sits at the feast with Jesus and enjoys hallowed communion with Him. Get together with people of like mind and how they enjoy a great repast together-not merely because of that which is set before them, but they delight in the exchange of thoughts in regard to the things that are precious to them all. Sometimes we speak of the Lord’s Supper as the Communion. We meditate together upon His loveliness. So here they were occupied with Him whom they loved. I am sure that wherever Jesus sat was recognized as the head of the table. It was in Simon’s house, but He would be the Host.
So Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus-Lazarus, who had been dead, and lived again! You and I, who are saved, are men and women of the resurrection, and it is our blessed privilege to have fellowship and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ as our glorious Head. It takes two to have fellowship. One speaks and the other responds. We have fellowship with Him when we get before Him over His own Word and He speaks to us, and when we draw near to Him in prayer and pour out our hearts to Him.
Worship is the next thing. “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12:3 ). I wonder if she was thinking of the verse in the Song of Solomon, “While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof” (1:12). She looked at Jesus and said, “Oh, He is my King, and I must show Him how much I love and adore Him.” She remembered that she had a pound of spikenard, very precious. It would have taken one year’s labor to pay for it. She may have kept it for a long time, perhaps using a little of it on special occasions. But now she knows Jesus is going out to die. He tells us that a little later. She says, “I want to give Him the best I have.” And she broke the alabaster box and poured its contents on His feet. In Matthew and Mark we read it was, “on His head.” There is no contradiction. She did both. It was the expression of her heart’s adoration, for that is what worship is. We worship as we give back to Him of that which He has given to us. In the Old Testament God is worshipped as the Creator. That is very precious, but oh, it is when you come over to the New Testament that you will find the Lord Jesus the object of the worship of His beloved people as they cry, “Thou art worthy… for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9). How Jesus covets that! How He loves to have the hearts of people lifted up in worship before Him!
But the unsaved cannot understand that. The one who was to betray Him said, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Had Jesus ever been indifferent to the needs of the poor? Had Mary? Not at all. Give Christ the first place, and everything else will come out all right. He who worships and adores the Lord Jesus Christ as the preeminent One will not forget the poor and needy.
But Judas cannot understand. “This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (v. 6). Jesus and the disciples had appointed Judas to carry the bag, and we read he “bare what was put therein.” Literally it is, “he bare away.” He was a covetous man. He felt Mary was wasting her treasure on Jesus.
But the Savior understood and knew what was going on in the heart of Judas. And He said, “Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (vv. 7-8). We do not want to forget those words of His. In Mark He says, “Whensoever ye will ye may do them good” (14:7).
Now in the closing verses we read, “Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death” (John 12:9-10 ). They said, “We would rather he were dead once more than that people, through him, should believe in Jesus.” “Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus” (v. 11).
Oh, the evil of the human heart! Listen, if you will not believe in Jesus because you know you need a Savior, if you will not come to Him through the Holy Spirit, you would not come to Him no matter what miracle was wrought.
On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass ’s colt. These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him. And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: the same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.
There are really two distinct incidents recorded in these verses, either of which might serve as the theme for a complete address, but I want to try to combine the two incidents. First, we have the Lord riding into Jerusalem and hailed as the Son of David, and then we have the Greeks coming with their quest, “We would see Jesus” (John 12:21).
Our Savior’s mission is rapidly drawing to a close. For three-and-one-half wonderful years He had been moving about through the land of Palestine doing mighty works of power, bearing witness to the testimony that He came to give. Now He had come to Jerusalem in order that He might die, that He might give Himself a ransom for our sins there. At the first it looked as though the people were ready to receive Him as King and that He would not be rejected as He Himself had predicted. But this proved to be just an ephemeral movement, largely participated in by children and those who had been especially benefited by His ministry, who loved Him because of what He was and what He did. On the next day, the day following the visit in the house of Simon the leper, many people had come for the feast of the Passover, which was soon to be celebrated. When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem they went out to meet Him and took branches of palm trees, the palm being the well-known symbol of victory, crying “Hosanna!” or, “Save now.” That is quoted from Psalm 118, which is a Messianic Psalm, setting forth the Lord Jesus as the blessed Son of David. “Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13).
One might say, “Well, at last the Savior is being recognized for what He is, and will be able to take the throne and reign in righteousness, overthrowing all iniquity.” It was just a little remnant of people who really acknowledged Him. The majority of the religious leaders had combined to refuse His claims, and it was not very long after the cries of “Hosanna” before these same leaders stirred up the people in Pilate’s judgment hall to cry, “We have no king but Caesar” (19:15). And so He was definitely rejected when He came as king.
He entered as predicted in the prophetic Word. We are told, “Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon, as it is written” (12:14). Step by step, from His birth right to the very last, the Lord has moved on in exact accord with prophecy. This very last week there were scores of prophecies fulfilled, made many hundreds of years before. In Zechariah’s prophecy we have Him depicted riding into Jerusalem upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass. It is from this book that the Spirit of God now quotes: “As it is written, Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt” (vv. 14-15). There was something striking even in that. Why? We are told in another gospel that the Lord was seated on a colt on which man had never ridden, an unbroken colt. It is not the easiest thing ordinarily to ride an unbroken colt, but this colt seemed instinctively to recognize its Master. Jesus was the Creator of all things, who had stooped in grace to become Man. So He took control of the colt and rode triumphantly into the city as the people spread their garments before Him and shouted their welcome.
Neither were these things understood by His disciples at first. But when Jesus had been glorified, when He had come through the agony of the cross, when He had been raised from the dead and ascended to God’s right hand in heaven, and the Holy Spirit had come, as He did at Pentecost, and opened their eyes to an understanding of the truth they never had before, then remembered they that these things were written of Him and that they had done these things unto Him. It is the work of the Holy Spirit of God to bring to mind the things that God has written in His Word for our instruction, for He wrote the words: “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). And so it is a very simple thing for the Holy Spirit to take these things and open them up to the people of God, calling to mind prophecies and promises that have been long since forgotten until He brings them back to the sphere of consciousness.
“The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle” (John 12:17-18 ). The raising of Lazarus seemed to have a greater effect on the people than any of His other miracles. We need not wonder at that, for it certainly was His greatest physical miracle, as that of stilling the tempest was the greatest in connection with inanimate nature. By calling forth that man from the grave, who had been four days dead, Jesus demonstrated Himself to be the Resurrection and the Life. The people who had never considered His claims before began to wonder if He were the promised Messiah who was to come when He rode into Jerusalem on this occasion. But there were those who dissented and who eventually succeeded in alienating many of these people from Him. “The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him” (v. 19). And so Isaiah’s words, spoken seven hundred years before as he contemplated the coming of the Messiah, were now being fulfilled: “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (53:1). Those who should have believed, who should have been the first to receive Him, were actually the first to reject Him.
We pass on to the next incident. When the Pharisees were thus deliberately and willfully rejecting the claims of Christ, it must have been a great joy to His heart to meet this first token of interest of the Gentile world in Him and the message He came to bring. We read in verse 20: “And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast.” Now, sometimes when in our English Version we read of Greeks the word is one that means not people who were actually Greeks by nature, but Jews who were born out among the Greeks in the Gentile world. But here it is really Greeks that are mentioned. These Gentiles had come up to the Jews’ feast, the Passover. They were perhaps proselytes. They may have recognized in Judaism a much purer, holier, and better religious system than that to which they had been accustomed among the pagan peoples of whom they formed a part.
There were a great many at that time who were dissatisfied and who were turning away from the gods their fathers had worshipped. Their hearts were yearning for something better, nobler, purer, and truer. And so as the Jews were scattered over all the world, where they had their synagogues and places of prayer, many of these inquiring Gentiles visited the Jewish meeting places and learned something of the one true and living God, and the promise that He had made to Abraham that a Seed was coming through whom the world should be blessed.
These Greeks may have been among them. They had come up to the Passover. They came to worship, we are told, and when in Jerusalem they heard about Jesus. They heard of this marvelous One who had lived among the people three-and-one-half years, who had gone about doing good, healing the sick, and opening the eyes of the blind. Doubtless they put many questions to those who had heard Him, and they would be asking themselves, “Could He be the promised One?” As they listened to the stories about Jesus, one can imagine them comparing notes and saying, “Could this be the Logos for whom Plato longed? Could this be the One that the Jewish Scriptures, which we have been reading, promised, testifying of the coming into the world of the Messiah?”
And so, learning that Jesus was already in the city, they sought out the company of the disciples. They came to Philip, who was of Bethsaida. Why to Philip? Well, his very name would appeal to them. Philip was a Greek name meaning “a lover of horses.” A great Greek king, Philip of Macedon, had made a wonderful name for himself, and this Philip, they may have thought, would have some link of understanding with them. They did not go to Peter, John, James, or to the other disciples. They went to Philip, who bore a Greek name, and they said, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” The thing they desired must have delighted Philip’s heart, for these Greeks were strangers. Gentiles from the outside who longed to see and know Jesus. Philip must have felt, “Oh, the day of our Lord’s triumph must be near. The Gentiles are already coming, just as the Old Testament said, to recognize His claims.”
Philip called Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to the Lord Jesus. I fancy they were most eager as they said, “Master, will you come and meet some Gentiles who are here, who want to see and to know You, and who are interested in the message You give?” I have no doubt Jesus revealed Himself to these Greeks, but we are not told that He did. We are told that He answered saying, “The hour is come, that the Son of Man should be glorified” (John 12:23 ). He recognized in this request of these Gentiles a kind of first-fruits of the great harvest from among the nations. He was about to be rejected by His own people, but the Scripture had said that if Israel rejected Him, He should become a light to lighten the Gentiles. So here is the first evidence of it in these Greeks with their request, “We would see Jesus.”
He saw in their request an evidence of what will take place in the whole Gentile world in the years to follow. He then told the disciples very seriously and very solemnly that He could not fully reveal Himself either to Jew or Gentile until He had passed through death and resurrection. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (v. 24). What does He really mean? Well, He was the corn of wheat, and if He did not die there would be no salvation for any poor sinner. Jesus did not come to save men by His instruction. He did not come to save men by His example. He is not saying to men: “If you will try to live in the way that I live, and follow My steps, you will be saved.” Let me say again-as I have said many a time before, and that at the risk of being misunderstood-no one was ever saved by following Jesus. It is after we are saved that we begin to follow Him. He left us an example that we should follow, but we need to know Him as Redeemer. We need to receive divine life from Him before we can follow Him.
Jesus is not simply the great Teacher or Example. Jesus must suffer and die in order that men and women might be saved. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Apart from His death, the beautiful life of Jesus could not have saved one poor sinner. Instead of that, it would only condemn men. If there is anything that would show men how sinful they are, it would be to line up alongside the Lord Jesus. If you are pretty well satisfied with yourself, and want to see how wicked and corrupt and sinful you are in the sight of God, read these four Gospels, consider the life that Jesus lived, and you will soon see how far short you come. “He abideth alone.” He was the sinless One, the spotless One, the only begotten Son of the Father, and the One who could say, “I do always those things that please him” (8:29). He was the only Man who could turn to His worst enemies and say, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” (v. 46). His humanity was absolutely holy, and so He abode alone in His life here on earth.
He added, “But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” He went to the cross, and upon that cross He gave Himself a ransom for our sins. He died that He might redeem us. He poured forth His most precious blood that we might be cleansed from all our iniquities. And now think of the millions down through the so-called Christian centuries who have found life and peace and salvation through His atoning death. The corn of wheat has indeed fallen into the ground in death, and there has been a great harvest. “If it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
Notice the challenge to those who trust Him in the verses that follow. If we profess to receive Him and take Him as our Savior, naturally we follow Him, and we become His disciples. And so He tells us, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; but he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (12:25).
To the worldling it always looks as though a Christian is throwing away his life when he gives up worldly follies and pleasures and devotes himself to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. But he who does throw away his life in this respect actually finds it. The worldling thinks he knows life at its best, but it is only the Christian who really enters into and enjoys the more blessed, deeper life. He enters into life at its highest, its richest, and its best.
Jesus said, “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be” (v. 26). There is a promise for every believer. You and I are given the privilege of not only believing in His name, but suffering for His sake, following in His steps, bearing shame and ignominy for Jesus’ sake, and some day God the Father is going to honor all of those who have borne shame for the name of His blessed Son.
Now, having spoken of the work of the cross, it would seem as though the soul of Jesus already began to enter into the dark shadow that was involved in His being made sin, for He said, “Now is my soul troubled” (v. 27a). What troubled Him? The fact that there on the cross He was to endure the pent-up wrath of God, that He was to be dealt with in judgment in order that we might be dealt with in grace. And all that disturbed His soul. He could not have been man in perfection and holiness if He did not shrink from being made sin for us. “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I [into the world. I came into the world to die, to give myself a ransom for all]” (v. 27). And so instead of asking to be saved from that hour He prays that the Father’s name might be glorified. Then, we are told, there came a voice from heaven, and this is the third time in the experience of our Lord Jesus that there came such a voice from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again” (v. 28).
When Jesus passed through the cross, God glorified His name by raising Him from the dead. He has glorified His name by setting His own Son at His right hand in highest heaven. He will yet glorify His name when He sends Jesus back into this scene to reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die. The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.
As we closed the previous address we were considering those words of the Savior recorded in verses 24-28: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (v. 24). He was speaking of Himself, for He came into this world, the incarnate Son of God, a Man of a different order to any other, absolutely sinless, holy, and without blame. Had it not been that in grace He went to the cross and died for us, He must have remained alone as Man for eternity. But as a result of His death there is now a glorious harvest of redeemed men and women. The corn of wheat fell into the ground and died, and millions have been saved through His death.
To those who are saved there comes the challenge, “If any man serve me, let him follow me” (v. 26). Then our Lord, realizing that the cross was just before Him and that on that cross He was to drink the cup of judgment that our sins had filled, said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?” (v. 27). No, He did not ask that. He said, “But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven [in immediate response], saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again” (v. 28). God was glorified in the perfect life of the Lord Jesus Christ. He would be glorified in His sacrificial death and in His wondrous resurrection.
The people heard the noise of the voice, but they could not make out the words, and so they said it thundered. There are only a very few who have an ear for the voice of God. It is just the same today as it was then. When God is speaking in power, possibly through one of His servants in some great gathering where the message is gripping individuals who are in earnest about spiritual realities, the great majority say, “It’s only a noise, just thunder; nothing to it.” They don’t hear the voice of God. Other people rise a little higher. There were those who said, “An angel spake to him” (v. 29). But it was neither thunder nor an angel; it was the Father Himself.
Long before this, after His baptism in Jordan, the Father’s voice was heard, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22 ). And again on the Mount of Transfiguration that same voice may be heard authenticating the works and the message and the perfection of the Son, in almost the same words: “This is my beloved Son: hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35 ). And now He speaks of Jesus in connection with the glory of His name, and says, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again” (John 12:28 ), that is, through the work that He was about to accomplish on the cross. Jesus answered and said, “This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes” (v. 30). And then He made the tremendous statement, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (vv. 31-32).
There are really four parts to this great statement of His. He speaks of a judged world, a vanquished prince, a lifted-up Savior, and a coming Judge. The first thing is, “Now is the judgment of this world.” What was He referring to? The judgment of this world was expressed in the cross of Christ. The world said of the Lord Jesus, “We don’t want Him.” He came and presented Himself as the King who would have set everything right if men would have received Him, but they cried, “We have no king but Caesar” (19:15), so they refused Him, and in refusing Him they brought judgment upon themselves, and the entire world has been under judgment ever since.
Do you wonder sometimes why God permits certain dreadful things to happen in this world? It is because people rejected the Prince of Peace. Think how different it might have been if Jesus had been received, had the men of His day accepted Him, had He set up His kingdom in power and glory. Then wars would long since have disappeared from the earth, sorrow and sighing and sickness would be done away with, and millennial blessings would have been enjoyed during these past centuries. By rejecting Christ men brought judgment on themselves, and so no one need be surprised at the dire things that are coming on the world. The surprise, rather is, that God holds back His wrath and does not deal in summary judgment with men because of their sins. The world is like one condemned to die, but still permitted to live on until that sentence will be executed. Soon the day of God’s red heavens will come; soon the vials of the wrath of God will be poured out upon this world, and then indeed will men know its judgment to the full.
But now grace is mingled with judgment. God is sending out a message of mercy. He is calling upon people to repent and to receive the Savior they once rejected. Have you done that? Have you accepted the Lord Jesus? Do you remember those striking words of the apostle Peter to the Jews: “Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:40 )? What does he mean? Somebody might well ask, “We cannot save ourselves, can we?” No, we cannot save ourselves, so far as salvation from hell is concerned. We can only be saved from that through the finished work of Christ on the cross. “For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (4:12). What, then, did Peter mean when he said, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation”? It is just another way of saying, “Break with the world that is under judgment, step out from that world and take sides with the One who is now rejected. If you do that, then you are secure from the judgment that is coming upon the world.”
One often grieves to see Christians who seem to enter so feebly into this. Why is it that some Christians are not interested in separation from the world? It is because they have never realized that the world is a judged scene, that all that men delight in will soon be burned up in the day of Jehovah’s wrath, and that God is calling His people to walk in separation from the world. Sometimes our dear young people think their godly pastors and teachers and parents are too severe and strait-laced because they try to warn them against things that are of a worldly character. Remember, from this blessed Book of God they have learned the end of all these things, and it is in order that youth may be spared the sorrows of the coming judgment that they call upon them now to separate themselves from the world. “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” One thing I know, in that day when the seven vials of the wrath of God will be poured out upon this world, nobody will be sorry that he lived a separated life and that he walked apart from the world that God is going to judge. “Now is the judgment of this world.” It is already judged, but the judgment is not yet executed.
The second thing the Savior says is, “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31 ). Who is the prince of this world? Satan. How did he become the prince of this world? He is a usurper. God put this world under the charge of our first parents. He said to Adam, “Have authority over the world; I have given it all to you, and you are to take charge of it for Me.” But Adam gambled away his title as prince of this world to the Devil, and ever since then Satan has been the prince, and not only the prince but the god of this world.
But you remember the promise when the Lord said, in pronouncing judgment upon the serpent, “The Seed of the woman shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel” (see Genesis 3:15 ). In the cross of Christ the heel of Jesus, the Seed of the woman, was bruised, but in that same cross the head of the serpent was bruised. And so Satan is now a vanquished prince, and yet there are still thousands and millions of people who own his authority. In the coming day when he is to be cast down from heaven into the bottomless pit, and at last into the lake of fire, God’s full judgment will be carried out upon him.
Now notice the third thing. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth” (John 12:32 ). What was the Lord referring to there? The sentence as a whole reads like this: “And I, if I be lifted up…, will draw all men unto Me.” I think this verse is often entirely misapplied. I have frequently heard it used in this way: “If the preacher lifts up Jesus, all men will be drawn unto Him.” We all believe that the only way to draw men to Christ is to preach the gospel, and that is our mission-to preach the gospel. But did one ever know all men to be drawn to Jesus through the preaching of the gospel? I have had a continual sorrow in my heart for fifty years because men are not all drawn when I lift up Jesus in preaching.
I remember over fifty years ago when I accepted Christ on my knees in my own room in Los Angeles, and how three nights later I stepped out with a group in the open air to give my first testimony for Christ. Some way or another as I began to speak I forgot all circumstances. I hadn’t studied any sermon, but I found I had preached a half-hour when the leader of the meeting stopped me and said we should have been in the hall twenty minutes ago.
I had to stop, but my heart was full. I thought, “These people only need to know about Jesus, and they will all be saved.” I remember my text as though it was yesterday: “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 ). Oh, how I preached with all the fervor of my young heart, and I thought, “They only need to know, and they will come to Jesus.” But they didn’t come. There was a great crowd gathered around and some of them looked on curiously and said, “What’s that youngster talking about? What does a lad of fourteen know about this?” And they turned and went away and only one came to me and said, “My boy, you seem to have found something that I have been looking for all my life and never been able to get.” He was an aged black man with snow-white hair crowning his face, and I led him to Christ-my first convert. But the rest passed on and seemed totally indifferent, and for fifty years I have been trying to lift up Jesus. I hope I can say before God I have had no other message. I recognize there are a great many different lines of truth in this blessed Word, and my commission is not merely to preach the gospel but to preach the Word, for all these different lines of truth center in Jesus. I hope I can say with Paul, “Whom we preach” (Colossians 1:28).
I trust the day will never come when I will be found preaching “what” instead of “whom.” But I testify to this, that after fifty years of trying to lift up Jesus in preaching, I haven’t seen all men drawn unto Him. Sometimes as I look out over the audience here on Sunday night with thirty-five hundred to four thousand people present, my heart trembles. I say to myself, “What an opportunity!” And again I think that in that great multitude there are only about two hundred or three hundred who do not believe in Jesus-the great majority are already Christians. But the others, where are they?. The people you would like to reach. They are on the streets, in the theaters, in other places of worldly amusement, and don’t care. Lift up Jesus? Yes. But that does not draw all men to Him. You say, “Well, then, is the Bible wrong?” No, but sometimes our interpretation of it is wrong. It does not say here that if the preacher lifts up Jesus all men will be drawn unto Him. Note carefully what it does say, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” And then look at the Holy Spirit’s explanation in verse 33: “This he said, signifying what death he should die.”
There you have it. The lifting up here is not referring to preaching. That lifting up is a reference to Calvary. It’s the same thing as that which was brought before Nicodemus when Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14 ). When the people of Israel were bitten by the fiery serpents in the wilderness, God said to Moses, “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8 ). And Jesus practically says to Nicodemus, “That serpent of brass is a picture of Myself.” A writhing, twisting serpent a picture of Jesus? Yes, of Jesus made “sin for us,… that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). You see, it was the serpent that caused the trouble. They were bitten by the fiery serpent, and the serpent is the recognized symbol in the Bible of Satan and sin, and that is how all the trouble began in the world. We are all infected by the poison of sin, the poison of asps is under our lips. Every one of us has been infected by the serpents poison, but Jesus came and when He was lifted up on the cross He was made sin for us.
He took the guilty’s sinner’s place,
And suffered in our stead;
For man-oh, miracle of grace!-
For man the Saviour bled!
The serpent in the wilderness was made of brass, and brass is the symbol of judgment. It spoke of Christ bearing our judgment. It was a serpent that had no poison in it. It could not injure anyone, and Jesus-holy, harmless, and undefiled-has been lifted up. He says, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth [that is, on the cross], will draw all men unto me.”
Jesus is the uplifted Savior. Of course, the preacher is to tell all men that Jesus died for them. Of course, he is to point to the crucified One.
There is life in a look at the Crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner, look, unto Him and be saved.
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
Oh, why was He there as the Bearer of sin,
If on Jesus thy guilt was not laid?
Oh, why from His side flowed the sin-cleansing blood,
If His dying thy debt has not paid?
“And I, if I be lifted up…, will draw all men unto me.” But it is not now that all men are drawn to Him. The great majority pass on their way unheeding. The Son of God seems to cry, as it were, to mankind: “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger” (Lamentations 1:12 ). What is your answer? Do you go on your way, saying, “It’s nothing to me.”
I’ll live for myself, for myself alone,
For myself and none beside-
Just as if Jesus had never lived,
And as if He had never died.
You can turn away from Him if you desire. You can refuse His grace and spurn His love and trample on His gospel, if that’s what you want to do. Nobody is ever going to force you to accept Christ. You can go on in your sins and be lost forever. But one thing you can’t do-you can’t evade Him at the end.
“If I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Some day the One who was lifted up on the cross will sit on the throne of judgment. Some day the One who took our place in grace on the tree will be the occupant of the Great White Throne, and then all men will be drawn to Him. The word translated “drawn” here suggests compelling power. It’s exactly the same word that is used in the last chapter of this gospel, where it speaks of the net enclosing one hundred and fifty-three great fishes, and they came, we are told, dragging the net to the land. You see, the fish were helpless; they were dragged in the net to land. “I, if I be lifted up…, will draw [drag] all men unto me.” Men may say, “But I don’t want to come to Him. I don’t want to face Him. I don’t want to give an account to Him.” But you will not be asked if you want to or not. You will have to face Him and stand in the presence of Him who says, “If I be lifted up…, I will draw all men unto me.”
Oh, how much better to be drawn by love divine and come to Him in the day of His grace, than to wait to be drawn to Him in judgment when it will be too late to be saved!
But now we must notice our responsibility in view of all this. We read, in verse 34: “The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?” They practically say, “We don’t know what you are talking about. We are looking for a Messiah who is coming on earth to destroy our enemies, and the one you are talking about is the Son of Man. We don’t understand that. You speak of the Son of Man. Who is this Son of Man?” It is Jesus, who is “God over all, blessed forevermore,” who became man in grace for our redemption. Jesus said to them, “Yet a little while is the light with you” (v. 35a). He had told them before, “I am the light of the world. I am only going to be here a little while and then I am going out to die. ‘Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them” (vv. 35b-36).
These words should come home to our hearts today. We have every evidence that we are getting near the close of the present dispensation of the grace of God to be succeeded by the darkest night this world has ever known. Our Lord’s words may well have a special message for all of us. “Walk while ye have the light.” Accept the truth of God while you have the opportunity. Believe the message while it is still being proclaimed, for darkness is coming, and “he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” We are told that “thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalms 119:105 ), and again, “the entrance of thy words giveth light” (v. 130). And so the light is shining today, and all men who will may walk in the light. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee,
Sweetly the light has dawned upon me;
Once I was blind, but now I can see,
The light of the world is Jesus!
But it is not only to men outside that the message comes: “Walk while ye have the light,” but oh, Christians, this Word was given to shed light on your path. Yet how many believers there are who are opposing the light, who are going on in ways of their own devices, refusing to submit to the truth of the Word of God. We only have a little while longer in which to be faithful to the Lord who saved us. Let us yield ourselves wholly to Him to walk in the light while we have the light. “The night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, he hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him. Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
The first part of this passage suggests truth that is exceedingly solemn, something we are very apt to forget. It reminds us that God ’s Word has a softening or hardening effect upon the souls of those who hear it. It has been well said that just as the same sun softens the wax and hardens the clay, so the same gospel message may soften the heart of one and bring him to repentance and to definite faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, or it may harden the heart of another and put him into that condition of soul where he will never yield or break down before God and receive Christ, but will die in his sins and be banished from the presence of God for all eternity. It is not a question of the purpose of God nor even of the method in which the truth is presented. It is not that God has designed that some men should accept it while others reject it, that some should receive it while others refuse, that some be softened and others hardened, but it is a question of the individual’s own attitude toward that truth.
When God spoke to Israel of old the words quoted here, “ [Lord], who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1; John 12:38 ). He drew their attention to the fact that He had given them clear instruction concerning the wickedness of idolatry. He had pleaded with them to give Him the first place in their hearts as the one true and living God. They turned away. He sent His prophets to call them back, but the testimony was spurned, and the time came when the message had no effect upon their consciences at all. So God gave them up to hardness of heart because they themselves preferred it. They chose to disobey God. You have something like that in 2 Thessalonians 2 where we have that awful picture of the man of sin yet to arise in this world in the dark days of the Tribulation just ahead of us, which may be much nearer than any of us realize and which, however, cannot break upon the world until the church of God has been taken up. We read of people then who will be left behind in this scene. Some who have heard the gospel over and over again but only to refuse it. And we are told that, “For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie [that is, the lie of the Antichrist]: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
God s heart goes out to all men everywhere. He does not desire the death of the sinner but that all should turn to Him and live. He cries, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11). But if men refuse to heed His word they will be given up to hardness of heart. The conscience, stirred by the Word, may respond at first and one may feel in his very soul that he should yield to Christ, but it is possible to stifle the voice of conscience, to refuse to heed, until at last conscience no longer speaks but becomes seared as with a hot iron and men are hardened in their sins and die without hope.
Our Lord Jesus Christ had been ministering in grace for about three-and-a-half wonderful years, and had given evidence through signs and wonders that He wrought and the marvelous message He brought to man that He was the Messiah and Redeemer of Israel. But we read though He had done so many miracles, yet they believed not on Him. Miracles alone will never convince if people refuse the Word. No signs, no wonders, no miracles, will ever reach their consciences if they are determined to go on in their sins and refuse to repent.
Abraham reminded “a certain rich man who died and was buried” of this, when he said of his still-living brothers: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
What a solemn responsibility that puts upon every one of us who hear the Word of God as recorded here in His blessed Book. If men reject this testimony, signs and wonders and miracles will not convince them. They become hardened in their sins. These people refused to hear the word Jesus brought, and so the saying of Isaiah was fulfilled when he cried out, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (53:1). He was implying that the great majority would reject the testimony of Jesus when He came, and they did. Only a little group received Him. And today that question still comes to us, “Who hath believed, and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” Have you believed, dear friend? Have you opened your heart to the Word of God? Has His mighty saving power been revealed to you? Do you know Him as the One who has delivered you from going down to the pit and has given you a place in Christ, free from all condemnation? If you spurn the Word, God has no other message for you.
Thus we read that they could not believe because “he hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them” (John 12:40 ). Was it that God was not willing that they should be converted? Not at all. He yearned for their conversion. He entreated them to return to Himself, but they refused the message and hardened their own hearts against Him. God said, “Very well, you can remain hardened in your sins,” and the day came when the Word made no more impression on them.
Years ago, I was talking to a little group of boys and girls in a Sunday school in San Francisco. I was trying to illustrate like this, “How sad to know, dear girls and boys, each time you say ‘No’ to the Lord Jesus, your heart gets a little harder. If you keep on saying ‘No,’ the heart gets harder and harder and harder until by-and-by God calls it a heart of stone. You no longer care about the things of God, but persist in spurning His grace. You will, therefore, die in your sins.” So I was pleading with those boys and girls to give their hearts to Jesus in their early days.
There was one dear little tot there, only five years old (and we sometimes think these little folk take nothing in), whose eyes were fastened on me as I spoke. Her mother brought her to Sunday school and then took her home, and on the way home she had not a word to say. She was thinking of her own dear father who never went to church or Sunday school, who never went to hear the Word of God. When she got to the house, there sat the father smoking his cigar with the Sunday paper spread around him. The little girl darted in ahead of her mother and up into her father’s arms she leapt, and said, “Daddy, Daddy, feel your heart! Is it getting like stone?” He said, “What are you talking about?” She said, “Well, the man at Sunday school said if you say ‘No’ to Jesus, you are going to get a stone in your stomach! Have you got a stone there? Oh, Daddy, I hope you haven’t, for if you have, you can’t be saved.” The father turned to her mother and said angrily, “What have they been telling this child, anyway?” Then the mother explained a little more fully. When he saw the tears in the wife’s eyes and felt the arms of his little girl about his neck, and heard her saying, “Oh, Daddy, don’t go on saying ‘No’ to Jesus,” he looked up and said, “Well, I think I had better settle this thing.” He got down on his knees and yielded his life to Christ. What a mercy he came in time! What a solemn thing it is to say “No” to the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
That explains the strong delusion of the last days, and why men and women are given up to hardness of heart. They turn away from God, and at last the time comes when God says, “[Very well], Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone” (Hosea 4:17). God grant that this may not be true of any to whom these pages come. If you are still in your sins and you hear the voice of Jesus calling today, will you not bow before Him in repentance and faith and tell Him that at last you yield your heart to Him and come to Him in all your sin and need, that you will trust Him as your Redeemer?
Isaiah gave this special word of warning, we are told, when he “saw His glory.” “These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him” (John 12:41 ). When was that? Well, you remember the incident recorded in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, when he said, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (vv. 1-3). Do you realize who it was whom the seraphim adored? The Holy Spirit says, “[Isaiah] saw his glory and spake of him.” Our Lord Jesus Christ was with the Father there in brightest glory. He who was yet to come in to this earth to save sinners was the object of angelic adoration, and Isaiah looked on through the ages and saw Him coming down to die on Calvary’s cross. He cried, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Isaiah saw Him in faith, and that blessed One stood in the midst of Israel and His own people did not recognize Him. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). What about you? Have you received Him? Has the message gone in one ear and out of the other? Or has it bowed your heart in repentance before Him? The trouble is, you know, many do believe, but they do not have the courage to come right out and confess their faith.
We read in verse 42, “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” What a foolish thing! Men’s praises will pass away. What difference does it make whether men praise or not if one does not have the approval of God? Men cannot do anything for you along spiritual lines. How foolish for people to be concerned as to what others think about it, and yet how many people have refrained from taking a definite step for Christ because the thought comes of some friend or companion, some pal whose good will they esteem. They say, “Oh, I am not prepared to commit myself definitely. What will this one or that one think?”
I remember when I was a little boy how my mother would draw me to her knee and speak to me so solemnly of the importance of trusting the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior. I would say, “Well, mamma, I would like to do it, but the boys will all laugh at me.” Mother used to say, “Harry, remember, they may laugh you into hell, but they can never laugh you out of it.” And oh, how that used to go home to me, and it stayed with me all through the years! Yes, men may sneer and ridicule and not understand us as we come out for Christ, but after all, His is the only approval worth having.
Long years ago I read of a conflict that took place between two Indian Rajahs. The one defeated the other and took captive the son of his rival, and the day he was to return to his own palace he prepared to march into the city in triumph. There was a great procession of elephants, cavalry, infantry, and a long line of captives. Among them was the young prince. He was told that he was to walk barefooted and bareheaded. He was indignant and said, “What! Go in like that! What will the people think? What kind of faces will they make?” The rajah said, “You haven’t heard all yet. You shall carry a bowl of milk in your hand, and if you spill so much as a drop, you will lose your head at the close of the procession.” In a few minutes they had brought that bowl of milk, and two guards walked with him, one on either side, and the procession started to move. On and on they went, for perhaps a mile or more, into the presence of the rajah. And that young prince walked along, holding the bowl of milk. It seemed as though he would never finish without spilling some of it, but he completed the ordeal safely. Finally, he stood before the rajah, “Well, Sir Prince, what kind of faces did the people make?” He looked up and said, “Your majesty, I did not see the faces of the people. I saw only my life, which I held in my hands, and I knew one false step would make me lose my life.”
These people of old loved the praise of men more than the praise of God, and because of that they did not have courage enough to confess the Lord Jesus Christ before their fellows. They knew He was the Sent One of the Father. They knew He was the Shepherd of Israel, Redeemer of sinful men, but the good opinion of their companions meant more to them than the favor of God. How is it with you today? You remember the Word says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9 ). And again, our Lord Jesus has said, “Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
If you do believe in your heart that God gave Jesus for you, if you have trusted Him, oh, then, do not hesitate to confess Him openly before men. I believe a great many secret believers are without the peace they might have because they do not confess Christ openly. You say, “Do you think there really are secret believers?” Yes, the Word tells us that Joseph of Arimathea was one, but oh, how much he lost! He came at the last and offered his new tomb that they might bury the body of the Son of God there. Nicodemus was a secret believer. He once he tried to speak out but did not say definitely, “He is my Lord and Savior.” But he sent a hundred pounds of spices for the burial of the body of the Lord Jesus, and thus identified himself with the Christ who had died. But how much more blessing would he have enjoyed if he had come right out with it while Jesus lived! I believe that many people today, deep in their hearts, believe in Christ and in their homes tell Him they love and trust Him, but they are not honoring Him by making confession before men. They do not have the joy and victory in their lives that they might have if they came out openly and let others know.
Jesus, and shall it ever be,
A mortal man ashamed of Thee?
Ashamed of Thee, whom angels praise,
Whose glories shine thro’ endless days?
Ashamed of Jesus! sooner far
Let evening blush to own a star;
He sheds the beams of light divine
O’er this benighted soul of mine.
Ashamed of Jesus! Yes, I may,
When I’ve no guilt to wash away,
No tear to wipe, no good to crave,
No fear to quell, no soul to save.
Till then, nor is my boasting vain,
Till then I boast a Saviour slain;
And oh, may this my glory be,
That Christ is not ashamed of me.
Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.
There are some very important truths brought before us in these few verses. They give the conclusion of our Lord ’s presentation of Himself to the world. We have already pointed out that the book really divides into two parts, the first twelve chapters giving the presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ to the world, and in this part He is set forth in every possible way that unsaved men could apprehend Him.
Then beginning with the first verse of chapter 13 and going on to the end of the book, we have His presentation to the hearts of His own beloved people. In these first twelve chapters we have, “He came unto his own,” but we read that “his own received him not” (1:11). As we open chapter 13 we read, “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” In the first instance the term “His own” applies to all those whom He Himself had brought into the world by His power. “He came unto his own-but his own received him not.” But in the thirteenth chapter, “His own” refers to a distinct company taken out of the world who had received Him as Savior and owned Him as Lord.
We have seen Him as the Eternal Word, as the Light come into the world, as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, as the great Sin offering, as the Giver of eternal life, as the Living Water, as the One who has power to quicken the dead, as the Truth and the Life, as the Bread of Life come down from heaven, as the Judge of living and dead, and in many other aspects. And in concluding His presentation in these various aspects, He says, “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. and he that seeth me seeth him that sent me” (12:44). In these words our Lord Jesus Christ seeks to turn the attention of the people away from His mere humanity. He would not have men and women simply occupied with that, blessed as it is. If Jesus is only a man, it is impossible that He should be the Savior of sinners. He did become true Man. The title that He delighted to use was “The Son of Man.” As Son of Man He came to seek and to save that which was lost, but He could not have saved the lost if He had not been more than Son of Man. He was true Man and true God. In Psalms 146:3 it is written, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom is no help.” Even though He were the best of men, if Jesus were not more than man He would be powerless to save sinners.
Therefore, He turns our attention away from His humanity and fixes our minds upon the fact that He was God manifest in the flesh. He says, “Put your trust not in Me only, but in Him that sent Me.” “He that seeth me seeth him that sent me” (12:45). The Old Testament insists upon this in the book of Isaiah. After that wonderful promise in chapter 7 that a virgin should conceive and bear a Son, and His name should be called Immanuel, which is, God with us, we read in 9:6: “For unto us a child is born [that is His humanity], unto us a son is given [that is His Deity].” He was the child of Mary, born by divine generation, but He was also the Eternal Son of God who came into this world as Man through the gate of birth. “The government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” It seems to me that every enlightened Jewish reader, pondering these words, could not fail to see that the promised Messiah must be a supernatural being. These words could not apply rightfully to some great man, a prophet who came to do Jehovah’s bidding. They tell us clearly that the Son given is “The mighty God.”
And then again, in the announcement of His birth, as found in Micah 5:2 , we have the insistence upon His eternity of being as the Son of God, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” How could these words ever find their fulfillment in one who was simply man and not also God? He was born in Bethlehem as man, it is true, but His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. And the Lord Jesus Christ insisted on this. In 10:30 of this gospel we hear Him say, “I and my Father are one.” When Philip said to Him, “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus said unto him,… He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake” (14:8-10). That is, His works proved that He was the divine, eternal Son of God. Who else could have had power to still the waves, or who else could have robbed the grave of its victim? Only One could say, “I and my Father are one.” And from the beginning this has been the confession of the church of God-the Lord Jesus has ever been recognized as God manifest in the flesh.
In 2 Corinthians 5:18 we read, “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” Now what is that ministry? “That God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the [ministry] of reconciliation” (v. 19). God was in Christ, not in the sense simply of empowering Christ or taking possession of Christ, but in His very nature, He was God and Man in one person.
So again in 1 Timothy 3:16 we are told, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” And in the opening verses of Hebrews 1, we are told, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1 ). Could that ever be said of a mere man? “By whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:2-3 ). Let me read those words in a slightly different translation: “Who being the effulgence of His excellence and the exact expression of His character, and sustaining all things by the word of His might, when He had made purification for sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” This is our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore, he that believes on Him believes not only on the Man, Christ Jesus, but also on Him that sent Him, God, our Father, for Jesus could say, “He that seeth me seeth him that sent me.”
And then He goes on to tell us, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46 ). That is one of the outstanding things of John’s gospel. It is the gospel of the light and life of man. We read in the first chapter, “The life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (vv. 4-5). Light is that which makes manifest, and we are told that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (8:12). Therefore to turn away from Him is to turn away from the light. To follow Him and listen to His Word is to walk in the light. We read that, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Our Lord Jesus Christ is not only the light of the world, but He is the light of heaven. In Revelation 21, where we have that glorious description of the new Jerusalem, the city that has foundation, whose Builder and Maker is God, we read in verses 22-23, “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” Jesus is the light of all heaven as well as the light of the world. And, thank God, many of us can say that “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
I am wondering if there is someone among my readers who is perplexed by present world conditions-troubled and distressed as you think of the misery and sorrow that are all about you. In doubt and perplexity you are asking continually, “Why, and what, and wherefore?” Oh, dear friend, the answer to all your questions may be found in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, for when you know Him, He opens everything up, He explains everything. In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Listen to His words again, “Whosoever believeth on me shall not abide in darkness.” When you put your trust in Him, when you receive Him in faith as your own Savior, when you yield yourself to Him, recognizing Him as your Lord, when you take Him as your divine Teacher, He opens up all the mysteries that perplex you. His light shines upon the darkness and drives it away. In Daniel 2 we read, “He knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him” (v. 22). And when you trust Him, you come into the light and His light makes everything clear. “The darkness is [passing],” says the apostle John in his first epistle, “and the true light now shineth” (2:8).
In verse 47 the Lord says, “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” The Lord Jesus Christ came into this scene as the expression of God’s matchless, sovereign grace. He bore all the shame that men heaped upon Him. He permitted them to turn away from His testimony. Some day He is going to appear as the Judge, and then if men have spurned His grace they will have to know the wrath of the Lamb. When the sixth seal is broken, as set forth in Revelation 6, John sees the collapse of what we call civilization in the day of tribulation that is going to follow this wonderful dispensation of the grace of God. We read in verses 15-17, “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
What a remarkable expression, “the wrath of the Lamb”! We do not associate the thought of wrath with a lamb. We think of a lamb as the very symbol of gentleness and meekness, and it is right that we should. We read, “As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7 ). He allowed sinful men to blindfold and buffet Him with their hands, to cause Him intense anguish, and at last nail Him to a cross of shame. But the days of His lowliness as the rejected One on earth are over, and He sits exalted on the Father’s throne. He is now speaking peace to all who will trust in Him.
But if men persist in refusing the message, if they will not hear, the Scripture speaks of the wrath of the Lamb as that which succeeds the day of grace. Oh, how foolish it is for people to turn away from Him. He tells us in verse 48, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” Oh, the folly of rejecting Christ! If men would only realize that in rejecting Him they are sinning against their own best interests!
In Proverbs 1 we hear Wisdom pleading with man to leave the path of folly and hearken to her voice. Who is Wisdom? It really speaks of our Lord Jesus Christ, for He is the wisdom of God. Will you turn away from that which is wisest and best? Wisdom says, “If you turn away from Me, the day will come when you will plead in vain for mercy, for I have called, and you have refused.” In verses 26-27, He says, “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.” When will this be? When at last the great day of God’s wrath has come. Now, in this day of His grace, Wisdom pleads with men to take the path of repentance, to receive the message of grace, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But if men reject Him and His Word, then the very message that they have heard will rise up against them in judgment in that coming day.
There is another very striking verse in Proverbs 8:16-17 (Wisdom is speaking): “By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth. I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.” Wisdom, that is Christ, says, “I love them that love me.” “Well,” you say, “does He not love those who do not love Him?” Yes, He loves all men and gave Himself for them, but in a very special way He loves them who love Him. But in righteousness He must judge those who spurn His grace. “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). When we reject Christ we are really sinning not only against Him and God, but against our own souls.
In Luke 7:30 , we read, “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.” And when, today, men refuse the full, clear gospel message sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit, concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, they are sinning against their own souls. If you, my reader, have been thus acting toward Christ, I plead with you to turn to Him and find a satisfying portion for your soul, lest someday you will be found among them who cry in vain for mercy. “When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying Lord, Lord, open unto us; and He shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are” (Luke 13:25).
And now the last two verses, 49 and 50 of chapter 12: “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me” (v. 49). Our Lord Jesus Christ, when He left the Father’s glory and came down to this world, did not cease to be God. He did not cease to be the omnipresent One. He did not cease to be the omnipotent One. He did not cease to be the omniscient One. But He chose not to use His divine omniscience but to learn of the Father. He chose to be localized in a given, definite place as a Man here on earth. And He chose not to use His own omnipotence, but to take His place as Man, subject to God.
Therefore, we are told that the works that He did, He did in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the words that He spoke, He spoke as the Father gave them to Him. This was predicted of Him long years before He came to the world, for Isaiah 50:2 sets Him forth as to both His Deity and His humanity. We read, “Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? When I called, was there none to answer? Is My hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst.” Who is the Speaker here? Anyone reading it must recognize the fact that it is! God Himself. It is the Creator of all things, for it is only God who can say, “I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering” (v. 3). It was God who caused the blackness to fall upon Egypt. It is God only who can say, “At My rebuke I dry up the sea [the Red Sea].” God only could say, “I make the rivers a wilderness.” No one but God could do these things.
But notice the next verses. It is the same Person, but how different the language! “The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned” (v. 4). In Leeser’s beautiful Jewish translation it reads, “The Lord GOD hath given Me the tongue of the disciple.” Notice, there is no change in the Speaker. The One who could say, “I clothe the heavens with blackness,” now says, “The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.” Here you have His humanity. The Creator has come unto His own creation. Oh, how many millions of weary souls have heard His voice! How many have heard Him say, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28). And they have come and have proven how wonderfully He can fulfill the promises He has made.
Continuing the reading in Isaiah 50:5-6 , “The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” It is Jesus speaking through the prophet seven hundred years before He came into the world.
And so He says, “I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak” (John 12:49 ). Day by day, the blessed Lord learned of the Father what He should say to those who heard Him preach. “He gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.” Thus, life everlasting is found in receiving the Word. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (5:24).
“And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak” (12:50). And this concludes the Lord’s presentation of Himself to the world. If men refuse the testimony of these first twelve chapters of John’s gospel, God has no more to say to them. He has given His full revelation. Have you received Him, or are you still rejecting Him?
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on John 12". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Easter