With Guy Fawkes still echoing in our ears last week, it seemed appropriate that we finished our John 1-12 series (Sunday 13th Nov), with a bit of a bang! Our final passage: John 12:35-50, certainly lit the fuse to some challenging and confronting themes. One of which was the irony that, as Jesus’ 3-year public ministry draws to a close, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of real faith around. V37 notes: “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him”. This is fascinating because earlier in this chapter John records that Jesus’ popularity is growing more than ever! People are flocking to see Lazarus who had been raised, and then the whole city turned out to welcome Jesus in His triumphal entry. What’s going on? John is giving us a sobering reminder of the difference between curiosity and real faith, between going along with the crowd, and counting the cost of true discipleship.
John sheds some light on the situation a few verses later, where he explains: “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”, (John 12:42). It was fear that kept them from following! This is an interesting contrast with the challenge Jesus had just given in verse 25: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
This chapter reminds us all of the challenge it is to truly follow Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a summer hobby, or a social club; it is a radical rethink of every single aspect of our lives. Jesus must be at the very centre of it all and we must count the cost, commit and continue. Of course, this can only happen by God’s grace, as we trust in Christ’s death and resurrection and let Him live His risen life within us. But John’s point is clear there is a world of difference between the curious and the committed.
In verse 43, John also gives us an insightful, if not chilling reason for their reluctance to commit to Jesus: “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” Ouch! As repulsive as this sounds, if we are honest, I think this is something we all struggle with at times. Being tempted to trade our citizenship of the coming kingdom, for the comfort of the here and now; valuing the admiration of the people of earth, rather than the approval of the Prince of Heaven. The key word John uses is also interesting: glory! Whose glory do we seek? Whose opinion matters most?
In his essay: The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis helped us consider this idea of glory by revealing that, deep down, we all hope for glory on some level: “We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”
But can I, a proven sinner, a selfish wretch, ever expect acceptance from a holy God, let alone a good report or glory? That’s the wonderful news: only through the One who took my sin, my shame, my punishment, and gave me his righteousness and grace – only through Jesus Christ. If I accept Him, follow Him, regardless of the price, I can look forward to God’s gracious acceptance – and even approval, because, when He looks on me He sees His Son. However, if I reject Jesus, and say no to His sacrifice, I remain in God’s eternal disapproval and will certainly experience the consequences that flow from it. Lewis contrasts these 2 responses for us with sobering clarity:
“In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised. I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God. By God Himself, it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except insofar as it is related to how He thinks of us. It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God … to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”
So, whose Glory is most precious to you?
Grace be with you,