John 12:27-36 Why the Christ Must be Lifted Up
Sunday, May 25, 2008 – Memorial Day Weekend
Why the Christ must be lifted up!
34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” John 12:34 NIV
The Israelis had just been victorious over king Arad of Canaan. As they journeyed to their next destination on their wilderness wanderings under the leadership of Moses, they became impatient and discouraged and started to crumble and complain. They complained about the manna God was daily providing for them. They complained about a lack of water. They complained to Moses, asking him why he had led them out of Egypt. Complain, complain, complain.
Well, if you ever wonder what God thinks about complainers, check out the story in Numbers 21.
Numbers 21:6 (NIV) 6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
God takes complaining seriously. If complaining comes easily for you, I would strongly suggest you chart yourself a new course and develop a habit of expressing gratitude as often as you possibly can. And, I’m speaking to myself on this, as well.
The Israelis did a wise thing in response to the snakes. They confessed their sin of complaining and asked Moses to pray that the Lord would take away the snakes.
Numbers 21:7 (NIV) 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
The Lord answered Moses’ prayer, not by taking the snakes away, but providing a means of healing:
Numbers 21:8-9 (NIV) 8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
The solution seems simple enough. If someone is bitten by a snake, they were to believe that by looking to the bronze snake raised up on a pole they would be healed and live.
From this story comes the phrase, “be lifted up.” Jesus referred to this story in His conversation with Nicodemus, the Pharisee that came to Jesus by night. Jesus was astounded that Nicodemus didn’t understand the concept of being born again or being born of the spirit. So, Jesus explains it to him by taking him back to the story of Moses in the wilderness.
John 3:12-15 (NIV) 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.
Looking to the pole with a bronze snake provided through faith life as opposed to the death from the venom of the snake, the wages of sin. Jesus said that He was going to be the snake on the pole. He would be sin for us. He would die so that we could live.
And, did you notice the reference? It’s John 3:12-15. What comes next? The famous John 3:16 (NIV) 16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Anyone then, who knew the story of the venomous snakes biting the Israelis and the opportunity they had to be healed of the snake bites by looking up at the bronze snake hanging from the pole, would understand what Jesus was saying. It would take faith to believe when looking at the lifted-up-Jesus that they would be healed of their sins because Jesus had become sin for us.
In our text for today in John 12, Jesus expands on the meaning of His being lifted up. This is what we will focus on this morning.
First, let’s look at the effect that being lifted up on the cross is having on Jesus. Second, let’s look at the effect that Jesus being lifted up on the cross is having on the world.
So, [A.] first, what effect is the anticipation of the cross having on Jesus?
John 12:27-31 (NIV)
27 “Now My heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to Him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not Mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.
The first effect we see that the cross is having on Jesus reveals His humanity.
27 “Now My heart is troubled, and what shall I say?” Jesus is overwhelmed by His emotions. These were human emotions. Most of us can relate to these kinds of emotions because most of us have experienced dreadful shock at some time in our lives. We felt a loss of breath and a terrifying fear and could see no way out. So, we can at least begin to understand what Jesus was feeling as He anticipated the cross. His humanity was traumatized by the thought. So the cross reveals His humanity, and His identification with us in our humanity. Besides being God’s own Son, Jesus was also truly human.
The second effect we see that the cross is having on Jesus reveals the intimacy of relationship He has with His Father. He was in painful anguish at the thought of what His death on the cross was going to do to His relationship with His Father. He was going to feel the separation from His Father as He took upon Himself the wrath of God that was intended to be directed at sinful humanity. This has to have been the most dreaded feeling anyone could ever have, like being alone in the middle of the ocean during a winter storm at night in shark infested waters. The cross was going to separate the Son from the Father. Jesus would be abandoned and forsaken and would have to endure the ultimate of pain that comes when punishment of sin is levied on Him.
We see Jesus wrestling with this trauma in the context of prayer. 27 “Now My heart is troubled, and what shall I say?”
One can make a choice. But, it’s not until the consequences of that choice start bearing down on him or her that the feelings really start kicking in.
His feelings tempted Him to beg His Father to rescue Him. He was tempted to bail out. But, He would not do that. So, the third effect we see that the cross is having on Jesus reveals His conviction of obedience to His Father. 27 “No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”
Jesus had a mission to fulfill and He would not let the temptation of ease and comfort unravel the plan He and His Father had designed to redeem humanity. He understood His purpose. He knew the rewards it would bring to all who would place their hope in Him. He would turn His back on the temptation and not on sinful, rebellious humanity.
The fourth effect we see that the cross is having on Jesus reveals His dependence on His Father’s promises. God the Father reminds Him that He had glorified His Son in the past and promises that He will do it again. Such trust in God’s promise puts Jesus at rest.
28 . . . Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”
So, as Jesus anticipates dying on the cross just a few hours away, we see that the effects of the cross on Him is what is revealed. The cross reveals His humanity.
The cross reveals the intimacy of relationship He has with His Father.
The cross reveals His conviction of obedience to His Father.
The cross reveals His dependence on His Father’s promises.
Before we move on, I want us to feel a bit of the emotion Jesus felt as He anticipated the cross. Feel the human side of the crucifixion
In World War II, Ernest Gordan was a British captive in a Japanese prison camp by the River Kwai in Burma, where the Prisoners of War were forced to build a “railroad of death” for transporting Japanese troops to the battlefront. They were tortured, and starved, and worked to the point of exhaustion. Nearly 16,000 died.
Gordon survived the horrors of that experience and wrote about it in a monumental work, Through the Valley of the Kwai, published in 1962 and later made into the movie To End All Wars. He describes an occasion when five prisoners were accussed of killing two Japanese guards and their punishment was to be execution by firing squad.
As the men are forced to position themselves for execution in front of their comrades, four of the five are shot. But Major Campbell, the leader, was to be beheaded by sword instead. Just as the executioner raised his sword, a soldier, who served as the chaplain of the P.O.W.s, by the name of Dusty, calls out, “Ito,” the name of the commander in charge. Then, for a moment, everything seems to be on hold. Dusty and Ito whisper their conversation. Major Campbell doesn’t understand what is going on, but is helpless to do anything about it.
Suddenly, Ito declares, “Take this man instead, over to the graveyard.” Major Campbell is dumbfounded by what just took place. The Christlike Dusty had just negotiated his own death so that Major Campbell could live. What makes this scene even more powerful is that Campbell was guilty of murder. He had been acting in self-interest in trying to escape and endangered the lives of his entire company of soldiers. This was not a trumpted up charge against Campbell. He was guilty. Furthermore, his scheme had already caused the death of 4 fellow soldiers. Now someone was going to die in his place.
We pick up the scene as he awaits his execution, presumably by firing squad. Here is a short clip from the movie, To End All Wars. [DVD 1:28:40 to 1:33:38]
We can make commitments and say the words, but when the moment of truth comes we are struck with the weight of our words.
The reality of Christ’s mission was beginning to grab onto His emotions. The reality would test Jesus as He had never been tested before. But, He would be found to be a man of conviction, undeterred from His calling and mission.
[B.] But the cross will also have a profound effect on the world. [What effect will the cross have on the world?]
31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.
The first effect the cross will have on the world will be to begin the process of final judgment. For Christ to go to the cross was a declaration that all humanity has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Sin needed to be punished and purified. Thus, the cross would declare the devastating and damaging nature of sin. Jesus said, 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; . . ..
You see, the “lifting up” of Jesus was the decisive event in all of history. It means that everyone, every person who has ever lived, will be judged in light of this event. That is how significant the cross is for all of us.
The second effect the cross will have on the world will be to unseat Satan as prince of this world and convict Satan of the evil heart that he has. For Christ to go to the cross sealed the fate of Satan. After the cross, Satan’s judgment was confirmed. Jesus said, 31 . . .; now the prince of this world will be driven out.
The third effect the cross will have on the world will be to lift up Jesus so that in His death He will bring healing to humanity and to all nations and thus draw all men to Himself.
32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.
Our Lord was saying, “If I am lifted up on the cross like that writhing serpent, as a sin-bearer, the sin-bearer, I will draw all who believe in Me to Myself.” What draws people to Jesus is His being lifted up as our atonement. He is the One who took upon Himself our sins.
Is there some other Jesus that can forgive sins and heal the soul of guilt? Only the Jesus who goes to the cross can breath life into our dead hearts, deadened by the sin of disobedience and an unrepentant heart.
Our crucified Lord will draw all men to Himself. Some will come willingly, humbly, repentantly, drawn by their need of a Savior and confident that His promises are true. Others will resist Him as long as they can, and wait until it’s too late.
Jesus’ hour had come, but so it had for those whom He had presented Himself. Would they come to the light while the light was still with them? Or, would they remain in the darkness and find themselves forced to the cross for judgment?
34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36 Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” When He had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid Himself from them.
From the argument the crowd has with Jesus, it is clear that they understood what Jesus was saying about the kind of death He would die. What was not clear was how He could be the Son of Man and die such an ignominious death. For so many of these folks, it was impossible for them to integrate the crucifixion of Jesus with His eternal kingdom. Uniting the Lamb of God with the Messiah of God was too great a hurdle for them.
Jesus wanted to shock them and wants to shock us with the short amount of time we have to welcome His gift of forgiveness and new life. Jesus said, Put your trust in the light while you have it. But, would they recognize the gravity of the situation and believe, or would they simply be swallowed up in the darkness?
Jesus’ concluding word to the crowd was not a statement of judgment. Rather, it was an invitation to believe and become sons of the light.
Folks, evil is real and so is the message of the gospel. For Jesus to be lifted up was not His defeat, but our victory. Jesus has condemned evil and set us free to live with Him and for Him in the fullness of life.
Look to Jesus and live – today – for eternity!
Hughes, R. K. (1999). John : That you may believe. Preaching the Word (307). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
Borchert, G. L. (2002). Vol. 25B: John 12-21. The new American commentary, New International Version (61). Nashville: Broadman & Holman.