The Power of Last Words – John 12:44-50

The Power of Last Words

Nick Esch, 1/7/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

Last words are powerful, because last words leave a lasting impression. Last words often display a person’s hopes and a person’s heart. Some of my favorite last words come from John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, who just before he died said, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” Some of his final words laid out the glories of the gospel… They displayed his hopes and his heart…

Today in our passage we are going to look at the last words of Jesus’ public ministry, before He goes to the cross. Our text is found in the last week of Jesus’ life. Jesus has done many miracles at this point and has clearly taught that He is indeed the Messiah, that He is the Son of God come to earth as the Son of Man to make men sons of God. Yet mankind in their sinfulness have been hard of heart and have rejected Christ again and again. In fact, that same hardness of heart is what leads the Jewish leaders to have Jesus crucified. They feel threatened by Jesus, and so they will soon have Him put to death. So what we find in our text today is Jesus using His last words before finally heading to the cross, to tell of His sufficiency and His glory—to point them to their need for a Savior, and to show them that He is the Savior they need. With some of His final words before He dies, He’s telling them that they are great sinners, but He is a great Savior; and in so doing He’s displaying His hopes and His heart for His people. So with that in mind look with me at John 12:44-50

John 12:44-50

Our passage begins by telling us in verse 44, “And Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.’” First notice that it says He cried out. The idea is that He gave an emphatic plea… And what is His plea about? It’s about belief… This is an emphatic evangelistic plea… In His final appearance before the cross Jesus is crying out for people to believe in Him…

Think about that… These people have rejected Him time and time again… Right before this we’re told that even people who are claiming to believe in Him love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God… In other words, they loved man and creation and stuff more than they loved Jesus… They keep choosing other things over Jesus… And this has been the story from the beginning… Man has loved and served the creation rather than God… God is infinity glorious and lovely in every way, yet we constantly turn to lesser things. Over and over again it’s like we just spit in God’s face, and soon quite literally these people will spit in His face… Yet here we see God in the flesh pleading with people to believe… He would be perfectly just to destroy everyone, but instead He seeks and saves, He gives evangelistic pleas, He points to the glories of the gospel again and again and opens the eyes of the blind… Again He would be just to condemn the world, yet here He’s heading to the cross to be condemned for the world… What an amazingly gracious God! Even when we were at our worst, rebels against Him, spitting in His face, even then Christ loved us and gave Himself for us… And here He’s calling all with ears to hear to realize this…

This reminds me of our calling as Christians. In 2 Corinthians 5:20 we’re told that we are ambassadors for Christ… That God now makes his appeal through us. We are to implore—to plead with unbelievers on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God. Just as Jesus is passionately evangelistic here, so should we be… His crying out here is evidence of His deep love for humanity… The short time He has left before He dies is given to telling people of their great need of a Savior and His sufficiency as a Savior… His love is demonstrated here through His concern for their eternal wellbeing… And in 2 Corinthians—along with many other places throughout Scripture—we’re told that we are called to this very same thing…

So, how are you doing at that? Are you actively evangelizing the people around you? Do you delight to tell others of the glories of Christ?… If you find you have no zeal to tell others about Jesus then that may be a sign that you aren’t seeing Jesus rightly. You see, this is not only an emphatic evangelistic plea by Jesus here; but this is a plea for all, even the Christian, to believe in Him rightly, to see Him for who He is… So often the reason we don’t share the gospel with people is because we’re afraid of what they might think or what they might say or do… I heard someone say once that we fear the raised eyebrow more than the raised fist. If that’s where we are then ultimately that means we are just like those people who love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God… And the only reason we would love anything more than Jesus is because we’re not seeing Jesus for who He really is… Ultimately the motivation for sharing the gospel is joy in the gospel… We won’t give ourselves to telling people about the glories of Christ until we delight in Christ… We won’t love man enough to tell them about Jesus until we love Jesus enough that we don’t care about what man thinks of us… We must fear God more than man… We must love God more than man… But truly loving God leads to truly loving man… Because the greatest way we can love our fellow man is to help them come to know, love, and live for Jesus… But if we are to help others come to know, love, and live for Jesus then we ourselves must know, love, and live for Jesus… We must believe rightly…

So Jesus here cries out for people to believe in Him, and He says that whoever believes in Him believes in the Father who sent Him… And this is because our God is triune. Three persons, one God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each truly God and equal in every divine perfection, yet executing distinct but harmonious offices in the great work of redemption… Jesus Himself is God written into History. I mean this is what John has already told us in John 1. He said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth . . . . No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:1, 14, 18). Jesus is God in the flesh… He is the image of the invisible God; He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). If you want to know what the Father is like, look at Jesus… If you want to see God, you must see Jesus… If you want to behold the glory of God, you must behold Jesus…

This is why Jesus says next, “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.” Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father. Now these people were looking at Jesus, but that’s not what He meant. It wasn’t about seeing Him with their physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith… They needed the eyes of their hearts enlightened. And that’s partially what’s meant by light here. To be in the light is to be in the know, to be enlightened; light is knowledge… In this case it’s to not only know about God, but to know God… Again, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Jesus is making God known that we might know Him, that we might be in communion with Him… And that’s also what He’s getting at when He speaks of light. As 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Jesus is God come to earth, so it’s no wonder that He came into the world as light… But, God is light because God is holy… The light and darkness contrast is a contrast between holiness and sin… And in God there is no darkness at all… And because Jesus is God, though He came to earth as a man, He was still holy; as the Scripture says, He was tempted like us in every way, yet without sin… But we are sinners, and we are by nature in darkness… And that’s why we are separated from God. But that’s also why Jesus goes to the cross. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18)… As in bring us into right relationship with God; that we might know Him, love Him, and live for Him and with Him forever…

Jesus calls His people out of darkness into his marvelous light—the marvelous light of fellowship with God and a life of holiness lived for His glory… He says whoever believes is not to remain in darkness… In other words we are not to go back to the way life was before we knew God… We are not to be content with the ways of the world; our lives should be about knowing God and making Him known… Our lives should be all about Jesus—the one who came to bring us out of the darkness… We must never be content to remain in darkness. We should joyfully give ourselves to the things that bring us into greater fellowship with God; we should run from the dark into the light again and again.

Now we live in a broken world full of temptations, so fleeing the darkness and running to the light—following Jesus isn’t easy, but it is fairly simple… Biblically one of the first things that a person does when they decide to follow Jesus is link up with a local church; the Christian life is a community project, a gospel-community project. And being a faithful church member is really what being a faithful Christian is. We should be church members who are desperate and faithful in prayer for ourselves, our family, our church, the church, and the nations. We should be faithful in attendance at church gatherings, coming in expectation of what God might do, gathering with God’s people to pray God’s Word, read God’s Word, sing God’s Word, hear God’s Word preached, and see God’s Word in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Alongside that we should give ourselves to the study of God’s Word, and with that open up our homes and our lives to other people, to get to know them and to share God’s Word with them. We should allow others into our lives so that we can disciple them and they can disciple us. We should reach out to our neighbors, coworkers, and the lost around us and get to know them, love on them, and share the gospel with them, and invite them into our lives and to church.

Prayer, the study of God’s Word, evangelism, and community; these are the basic things that make up the Christian life, and these are at least some of the things we can do to flee from darkness and stay in the light… Yet even as I say that I can’t help but think of how neglected these things are… So many people who claim to be Christians seem to be apathetic towards God at best… And while I recognize that we all go through seasons of life where we can give more or less time to these things, friends if we are in a pattern of apathy towards God it may very well be that we are still in the dark…

Notice what Jesus says in verses 47-48. “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” Those who believe in the Word keep the Word… Now understand, that doesn’t mean that Christians are perfect… Far from it actually… Christians keep the Word by clinging to Christ… We all struggle in one way or another… We are all sinners; but Christians are a special kind of sinner… We are repentant sinners…

God is holy… God is light and in Him is no darkness… Jesus came into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Him will not remain in darkness… And understand that we are not just in the darkness by nature, we are the darkness… Our foolish hearts are darkened… We aren’t sinners because we sin, we sin because we’re sinners… Outside of God’s grace it’s who we are… But God’s grace came… God’s grace came in the person and work of Jesus… Jesus came into the world as light, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… On the contrary, He overcomes our darkness… He shines into our hearts, giving us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and enables us to flee from the darkness and run to the light… He actually makes us light… He transforms our identity… But the lingering effects of the darkness are still there, so we must keep our face towards the light of Christ always…

And this is what repentance is… Running from the darkness and running to the light, each and every day. Repentance is turning from our sin and turning towards Jesus, and going after Him—the light—with all that we have… And again, it’s not a one time decision, it’s not a one time thing; repentance is a posture of life until Christ brings us home. As Martin Luther put it, “When our Lord and Master said, ‘Repent,’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” And as I pointed out, the Christian life is a community project; in order to walk out repentance rightly, in order to keep God’s Word we need the help of other believers. We need to encourage and rebuke one another; we need to call one another to repent and help each other repent; we must link arms together and run towards the light always… It’s not easy to call people to repent, but just as evangelism is loving, so to is ongoing discipling, where we help each other fight sin… Anything that brings us closer to Jesus is loving… Sometimes love is saying a hard word.

So we must believe in the person and work of Jesus—that He is who He says He is and has done and will do all that His Word says; but we must also keep His Word, we must fight sin and pursue holiness, seeking to be faithful to Christ always. We must repent and believe… And Jesus came as a loving, merciful act of God to enable all of this, to make this happen. He came in grace to save, not in wrath to judge… But, if we do not repent and believe, if we do not believe and keep His Word, if we do not receive His Word we bring judgment on ourselves, and we will be held accountable for our rejection of Jesus… Because in rejecting Jesus we are rejecting God… What we do with Jesus we do with God… This is what Jesus has just said, and this is what He emphasizes in verses 49-50…

He says, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” Jesus speaks under the authority of the Father; indeed He was sent to earth under the authority of the Father. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Jesus sacrificed Himself to save sinners. His sacrifice absorbed the punishment due every sinner who would ever repent and believe in Him. And God showed His acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice by raising Him from the dead after three days in the grave… But in order to partake in all of this, we must receive His Word, we must repent and believe… We must not only trust in Jesus as our Savior, but we must surrender to Him as Lord.

Jesus is God… And He has come on God’s authority… Every Word He speaks is the Word of God… So that means that all of the red letters in the Bible are the Word of God; but it also means that all of the black letters in the Bible are the Word of God… And it means that the red and black letters are both the Word of Jesus… We can’t pick and choose what we like and don’t like in the Bible… If we are Christians we are followers of Jesus, and if we are followers of Jesus we must believe, keep, receive all of His Word: from Genesis to Revelation… The whole Bible is the Word of God, and Jesus is God, therefore the whole Bible is the Word of Jesus…

But now notice how Jesus doesn’t only speak of the Word, but focuses in on this idea of a commandment. He says, “the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment…” And then He says, “I know that his commandment is eternal life…” Well He says this after pointing out that judgment comes upon those who reject Him; and if we think about that alongside the whole of Jesus’ ministry this makes sense. When Jesus first began His ministry in the Gospel of Mark in Mark 1:15 He says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Elsewhere God’s Word says, “he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30b)… And later on in 1 John 3:23, John says, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

Jesus is closing out His ministry the way He began it, by calling people to repent and believe in the gospel. That’s the command He’s speaking of: that we believe, that we keep, that we receive, that we turn from our sin and trust in Him daily… And He says He knows that this is eternal life… As in, He knows that this is how we are brought into eternal life… And I love how He defines eternal life… In just a few chapters in John 17:3 when He’s praying to the Father He says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Again, all of this is done to bring us into right relationship with God… All of this is done in love…

Conclusion

Friends, in the final words of Jesus public ministry here, He’s showing us His hopes and His heart for His people. In calling us to believe rightly, to receive and keep His Word, He’s seeking to bring us into eternal life; and eternal life here is eternal communion with God. Jesus wants us to know Him, love Him, live for Him, and to live with Him forever. He loves His people that much that He came and did everything necessary to enable this to happen, to bring people out of darkness into the light. He wants His people with Him that bad… And notice that He addresses all of this to whoever, as in whoever has ears to hear. This is not a call for the elite, for the strong and powerful, or for those who have or can get their act together… This is a call for all who are in darkness, for all who struggle, for all who are willing to acknowledge their great need of a Savior… It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what you look like, what you’ve done, how much money you have or don’t have… Jesus says believe, keep, receive… Jesus gives eternal life to all who will repent and believe, and the point of eternal life is to be with and to enjoy Jesus forever… Friends, we are great sinners but Jesus is an even greater Savior. May the Lord help us to really believe this…