John 12:44-50 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”
Having explained the nature and cause of the unbelief of many (in the previous section), in this final section of chapter 12 Jesus came back to the question of what is at stake in belief and unbelief. It seems likely that He particularly had the wavering believers of v.42 in mind (those who “believed in Jesus,” but were afraid to say so publically). While there’s nothing entirely new in this passage, it provides a number of healthy reminders concerning who Jesus is, why we should believe in Him, and what’s at stake in our response to Him.
With those things in mind, the big idea of this passage is that believing in Jesus is right, good, wise, and necessary. And the main takeaway is to work diligently (in the Spirit’s power and with the means of grace God has given us) to remember these things at all times, in order that we might live in light of them at all times.
JESUS CRIED OUT
Have you ever felt so strongly about something that you yelled it to a crowd? As far as I can remember, I’ve only experienced that once. It was on a plane, on the way back from a TLI trip. While we were waiting to depart, some part of the plane’s engine caught fire and I was awakened from sleep by the flight attendant crying out, “evacuate” over and over.
Our passage opens with the words, “and Jesus cried out.” As with my experience on the plane, there are two key aspects to this. It indicates both the urgency and the public nature of what Jesus was about to say. In this sense, you don’t cry out concerning inconsequential matters and you don’t do so in private.
Jesus’ words were more eschatologically urgent than immediately urgent, but eschatological urgency is always the most urgent kind of urgency—so, along with Jesus’ original hearers, we would all do well to listen carefully.
In the way of context, this is the fourth time John has recorded Jesus crying out like this. Each of them were similarly urgent and public. In chapter 7, at the Feast of Booths, Jesus cried out concerning His heavenly origin in response to the disbelief and animosity of the people. In that same chapter, on the great day of the same Feast, Jesus cried out, offering Himself as living water! And in chapter 11, Jesus cried out for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, having raised him from the dead.
Jesus’ message in vs.44-50 was one He wanted as many as possible to hear because of the eternal urgency of what was at stake.
JESUS CRIED OUT A FAMILIAR MESSAGE
Before coming to the content of Jesus’ cry, I want to point out one more item of critical importance. The fact that in our passage Jesus publically cried out concerning urgent things He’d already spoken of (several times), serves as (another) important reminder of a theme that permeates the Bible: the necessity of remembering the things God has said and done. It is one thing to gain understanding of the commands and works of God. It is another thing entirely to remember them as time passes.
For that reason, the Bible is filled with commands for God’s people to remember…
Deuteronomy 8:18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Deuteronomy 16:12 You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.
Nehemiah 4:14 Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome
Psalm 105:4-5 Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! 5 Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered…
Isaiah 44:21-22 Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. 22 I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.
Isaiah 46:8-9 “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me…
Malachi 4:4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
God repeatedly commanded his people to remember. Likewise, He also repeatedly prohibited forgetting.
Deuteronomy 9:7 Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness.
Proverbs 4:5 Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Further still, because this is such an important idea, and because it’s an idea God knows we are exceptionally prone to neglect, not only are there many commands to remember and prohibitions against forgetting, but God’s Word also speaks consistently of the danger of failing to obey these commands.
Judges 8:33-34 As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. 34 And the people of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side…
Psalm 78:41-42 They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel. 42 They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe…
Amos 1:9-10 Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they delivered up a whole people to Edom, and did not remember the covenant of brotherhood. 10 So I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, and it shall devour her strongholds.”
Grace, as you know, God is God. When He speaks, we must listen, understand, and obey. It is not necessary for God to repeat or explain Himself, much less give repeated warnings and second chances. He does not owe those things to us. For that reason, we must recognize that repeated commands, prohibitions and warnings are expressions of God’s grace.
What’s more, because our God is a God of extravagant grace, knowing that sin makes it such that remembering is hard and forgetting is easy, God has more grace for us still in this matter. He has given things to His people to help us remember. For instance, He gave the feast of Passover (which is where we are in John’s Gospel) to serve as a perpetual reminder of His rescue from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:24). He gave communion to help us remember what Jesus did for us and that He will return to us (1 Corinthians 11:25). He gave rainbows to help us remember the wages of sin and His everlasting promise to be merciful (Genesis 9:13). He even gave tassels to His people to help remind them to obey His commands.
Numbers 15:38-40 “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. 39 And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. 40 So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.
As we come now to the familiar teaching that Jesus’ cried out, I hope I’ve made it clear that when we find God’s Word repeating itself, rather than skim over or tune it out, we ought to lean further in, in the knowledge that we’ve found a gracious warning to remember something important; something God knows we are prone to forget.
JESUS CRIED OUT ABOUT WHY WE SHOULD BELIEVE IN JESUS
If you had a friend ask you, “Why should I believe in Jesus?,” what would you tell them? I came to faith in Jesus at a time when the main answer was because it will make your life better or, at the very least, that it will keep you from going to hell. Today, it seems more likely to hear someone say that you should believe in Jesus because, whether it’s true or not, it will help you feel a sense of purpose and meaning in your life.
There’s some measure of truth in each of those answers, but it’s always safer to go with Jesus’ own words in these matters. With that, let’s consider again the repeated teaching of our Lord concerning the rightness, goodness, wisdom, and necessity of believing in Him.
Believing in Jesus is Right Because He Is One with the Father
The first and main reason Jesus gave to the question of why those who hear of Him should believe in Him was because He is One with the Father. Believing in Jesus is right in the same way that believing in the Father is right.
Today, that might not get you very far. In our culture, the same people who struggle to believe in Jesus almost certainly also reject God the Father. In Jesus’ day, however, it was different. The Jews who heard Jesus cry out would have entirely acknowledged God as God and His right to command as supreme. Their question/struggle was in deciding whether or not Jesus was right with God as He claimed. It they could have been sure that Jesus was from the Father, they would have believed in Him for sure (probably). For that reason, Jesus described His oneness with the Father in five ways.
- He informed the crowd that believing in Him was believing in the Father (44 and 7:16; 10:37-38).
44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
To the skeptical and faithful, to those who were near enough to hear Jesus as well all who read this Gospel, Jesus made clear that there is no distinction between believing in Him and believing in the Father. In that way, it makes no sense to claim to believe in the Father and not believe in His Son. This, of course, blows out of the water the possibility of Jesus being merely a prophet or wise teacher or even the greatest prophet or teacher. Jesus will explain more fully what that is, but for now, hear Jesus clearly say that “whoever believes in [Him], believes not in [Him], but in [the Father].”
And in this (along with the rest of this sermon), we have a reminder of the importance of the triune nature of God. We will either believe in God as Father, Son, and Spirit or we do not believe in God. All manner of atheism, cultism, and misproportioned Christian theism come from minimizing, overemphasizing, or denying one of the persons of the godhead. With God’s help, let us stand firm on the Trinitarian nature of God and give each person their proper place. Indeed, the unique and infinite glory of God’s triune nature is one significant reason we ought to believe in Jesus.
- Jesus informed the crowd that believing in Him was right because He was sent by the Father (44).
The second aspect of Jesus’ relationship with the Father, and part of the reason why believing in Him is believing in the Father, was that He was there because He’d been sent by the Father. He was there as an emissary for God. He was not there of His own accord or for His own purposes, but according to the will and for the mission given to Him by God.
Believing in Jesus is right because He is one with the Father and His oneness with the Father is seen in the fact that He was crying out to the crowd because He’d been sent by God to do so.
- Jesus informed the crowds that to see Him was to see the Father (45).
In v.45 we read, “And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” Jesus will repeat this idea again in chapter 14. It seems clearly to be what Paul had in mind when He wrote Colossians 1:5, “He is the image of the invisible God…”. To look upon Jesus is to see the essence of God incarnated. Of course it is right to believe in Jesus, because He is one with the Father and, therefore, perfectly bears the image of God.
- Jesus spoke only on the Father’s authority (49)
The fourth aspect of Jesus’ relationship with the Father that testified to His oneness with the Father and demonstrated the rightness of believing in Him was the simple fact that everything Jesus said, He said on the Father’s authority. He never spoke on His own authority alone.
49 For I have not spoken on my own authority…
Kids, have you ever tried to tell your younger brother or sister what to do? How do they typically respond? Do they usually jump to obey?
In my case, my sister really didn’t like it when I bossed her around. And she especially despised it if she suspected that my motives were selfish. If she was playing the Nintendo and I told her to get off because my friends and I wanted to play it, it was really frustrating to her.
It’s different, though, if you tell your brother or sister what to do because your parents told you to do so. In that case, you aren’t speaking on your own authority (which you probably don’t have a lot of), but on that of your mom or dad (who do have authority). Your sibling still might not like what you say, but at least they are likely to recognize your right to say it when it comes from your parents.
Jesus always spoke on the authority of God. That’s a good reason to believe in Him.
- Jesus spoke only the words given to Him by the Father (49, 50b)
Believing in Jesus is right because He is one with the Father. In this short passage, His oneness shows up in the facts that to believe in Him is believe in God, that He was sent by God, that He was the image of God, that He spoke only on the authority of God, and finally, He only spoke the words given to Him by God.
49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 … What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”
To be honest, often times when I spoke to my sister on my parents’ behalf, I would add to what they said to either get something I wanted from my sister or just to mess with her. I would go to her on the authority of my mom or dad, but I sometimes wielded that authority for my own purposes as well as theirs. (My parents would send me in to tell my sister that she needed to be done on the Nintendo in 10 minutes so we could eat dinner and I’d tell her she needed to be done now so I could play for 10 minutes.)
Jesus never did that. He spoke only on the Father’s authority and only what the Father gave Him to say. He never freelanced or embellished or mishandled the authority or message entrusted to Him. When we couple this with the fact that God is all knowing, all powerful, and all good, it is east to see that it is entirely right to believe in Jesus.
Believing in Jesus is good since He is light and reveals the path out of darkness (46)
When I was in college my roommates and I went spelunking in a system of caves just outside of Bloomington, Indiana. It was unlike anything I’d experienced before and unlike anything I’ve experienced since. It’s hard to explain the sensation of being so far under the earth. What really stood out to me, however, was how absolutely dark it was once we got a ways in. At one point we all agreed to shut off our flashlights to experience the darkness in its fullness. That was one of the eeriest feelings I’ve ever had. The realization that if our cheap flashlights went out, we were entirely lost, was profound.
What I didn’t realize then, is that that’s what all of life is like in a far more profound sense. It is good to believe in Jesus because He is the true light of the world and reveals the path out of darkness—ignorance, folly, and death. The vulnerability I felt in the way of physical darkness absolutely pales in comparison to the spiritual darkness we’re all born into. That is what Jesus had in mind in v.46.
46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
I have no doubt that we would have died apart from the light from our flashlights to guide us out of the caves. But again, far more serious still is the fact that we are all born blind on account of the sin we’re born into, with no way to come to the light on our own. Jesus came to be that light and to lead us out of spiritual darkness and death, and into light and life.
Believing in Jesus is wise since by it we will escape judgment (47-48; 3:17; 8:15)
Third, believing in Jesus is wise because by it alone will we escape certain judgment.
47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
You may remember from our time in chapter 3 that Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, but (He came) because the world the world already stood condemned. In that same way, Jesus did not come to judge the world since the world was and would be judged by God. Jesus came to rescue the world from judgment.
Grace, let us all settle on the fact that no one is condemned or judged and no one will go to hell because they reject Jesus. We are condemned, judged, and hell-bound because we are born into and choose sin. Not believing in Jesus is not the source of our problems, it is the symptom of our problems. In vs.47-48, Jesus taught that failing to believe, delight in, and obey His words is evidence that will be used against the unrepentant on judgment day, for the crime of cosmic treason. As Jesus said here, believing in Him is the way of rescue God provided, not the source of judgment.
As a quick pastoral plea, hear Jesus’ words and keep them, Grace Church. Read your Bibles consistently. Pray through what you read, seeking the Spirit’s help to understand and obey. Share them with one another. Keep them by memorizing them, treasuring them, and living in light of them. Jesus spoke here primarily concerning those who do not hear and keep His words, but embedded in that is a call to do otherwise. Let’s heed that call!
Believing in Jesus is necessary since His obedience to the Father’s command is eternal life (50a; 8:31, 52)
Finally, the fourth reason why we ought to believe in Jesus according to this passage, is that believing in Jesus is necessary since His obedience to the Father’s command is eternal life. We see that at the beginning of v.50.
50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life…
As we just saw, in v.49, Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak”. And again, according to v.50, that command—what to say and what to speak—is eternal life.
In those few words of Jesus, we have a summary of all we’ve seen so far. Jesus is eternally one in essence with the godhead. At the proper time, He came to earth according to the will of God. He spoke and worked not on His own authority, but on God’s. The things He said, when He said them, how He said them, and to whom He said them, were all straight and only from God. And Jesus’ obedience to all of those things—Jesus’ perfect obedience to the command of God—was the means by which God granted eternal life to those who would believe.
Our disobedience to the Father’s command is unto our own death. Therefore, believing in Jesus is necessary since Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Father’s command, even unto His own death, is eternal life for all who believe.
How awesome are these things, Grace?! At the same time, I hope the reality of disbelief is also increasingly obvious. Because belief in Jesus is right on account of His oneness with God, disbelief is wrong for it is a rejection of the One who made you. Because belief in Jesus is good on account of the fact that He is light, disbelief is bad because it leaves us in darkness. Because belief in Jesus is wise on account of the fact that by it we escape judgment, disbelief is folly for by it we remain condemned. And because belief in Jesus is necessary for through it alone do we gain eternal life, disbelief is a possibility only because we are spiritually dead and blind.
For all these reasons, Grace, I cry out to you, “Believe in Jesus” today and be saved.
You may remember from my introduction many months ago that John is divided neatly in what theologians call the book of signs and the book of glory. As you can probably imagine, the book of signs is called that because it contains the many miraculous signs of Jesus, demonstrating that He is from God. And, in a similarly transparent manner, the book of glory is so-called because in it Jesus’ glory is most fully revealed at the cross and empty tomb.
We’ve now come to the end of the book of signs, which means that next week we will begin the book of glory. Let us give ourselves, therefore, to asking the Spirit to prepare our hearts and minds to behold the glory of God we are about to encounter.