Trusting God is complicated: Red Letter Year 11/27

John 12.37-50

It’s Complicated by ANTONELLA PAVESE

37 But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not trust him. 38 This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted: “Lord, who has trusted our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”

39 But the people couldn’t trust, for as Isaiah also said,

40 “The Lord has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts — so that their eyes cannot see, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and have me heal them.”

41 Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he said this, because he saw the future and spoke of the Messiah’s glory. 42 Many people did trust him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. 43 For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.

44 Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. 45 For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. 46 I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. 47 I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. 48 But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. 49 I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.”

Comments

Trusting God is complicated. I think that’s the main takeaway here. Despite all the miracles, some people did not trust Jesus. Isaiah predicted that would happen and further predicted that God would actively prevent some from trusting (there really is no other way to read that second quote). Doesn’t that seem harsh and unfair? John is quick to point out that many did trust Jesus, though some did so secretly because they were afraid. But doesn’t fear indicate a lack of trust? Jesus caps his public ministry off by shouting at the crowd about trust, light and darkness, and judgment. Was that supposed to be some sort of altar call? Like I said, complicated.

But it also rings true to how we see faith working in our lives. Some people won’t trust God no matter what evidence or argument you set in front of them. More than that, no one is able to trust God until – and to the extent – that God enables that person to trust. As much as I want to push back against our individualized culture, there is still a primary aspect of each person’s relationship with God that is personal, one-on-one, and that relationship always begins with God, who relates to each of us and moves each of us as is best for us. Never one to be insecure, God often takes the long view in these relationships, letting it flow at a pace that is best for us. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we see a good example of this with Nebuchadnezzar, who took a circuitous route in his relationship to God. We’re so harsh on each other (and ourselves) that we read this harshness into God. Even here, the fear of people getting kicked out of the synagogue sounds like an indictment to us. But have you thought about how hard it is to be willing to give up every single member of your family and all of your culture to follow Jesus? Sometimes it comes to that, but it’s hard, and can take time to trust enough to have the courage it takes to do such a thing.

And the truth is, this is where we all are. We only trust to the extent that God has enabled us (and not an ounce further) and even then we are beset with fears, self-interests, petty complaints, and a variety of other trust-inhibiting foibles. We see this most clearly in what Jesus shouts there at the end, where he makes the direct connection between trust and obedience. This is why we have not been using the word “believe” in our John readings, because we think believing something is one thing, while doing something about it is something else. For Jesus, they are one and the same. The person who trusts is the person who obeys. Once we think of it like that, and think about how far we have to go in really being obedient to this radical life of discipleship Jesus has called us to, then we realize how we’re right there with the not-trusting, barely-trusting, totally-depending-on-God-to-be-trusting people this passage talks about.

Like I said – trusting God is complicated. And in a wonderful moment of serendipity, just as I finished writing this, my cousin Kimberly sent me a link to a poem she just posted that says all this much more eloquently. You should click here and read “To do a thing.”

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

It’s Not About Jesus: Red Letter Year 11/26

John 12.20-36

20 Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration 21 paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They said, “Lord, we want to meet Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels — a plentiful harvest of new lives. 25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. 26 Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me. 27 Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! 28 Father, bring glory to your name.”

Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.” 29 When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him.

30 Then Jesus told them, “The voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. 32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate how he was going to die.

34 The crowd responded, “We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever. How can you say the Son of Man will die? Just who is this Son of Man, anyway?”

35 Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. 36 Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”

After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them.

Comments

I made one change to the NLT today. It has the Greeks address Philip as “sir,” a polite way of showing respect, but the word in the original is Kurios – which we most often translate as “lord” in the NT. I get what the NLT was doing, but I think it works better with what is going on here to go with the word we normally use. The Greeks are showing Philip a great deal of respect, treating him like a gatekeeper to Jesus, as someone who gets to bask in the reflected glory of Jesus’ celebrity. 

What Jesus says next doesn’t seem like much of a response (more like he ignores Philip), but it is actually a direct response, and a rejection of, what Philip is up to. Jesus didn’t do celebrity. As we’ve already seen in John (and even more in Mark), Jesus went out of his way not to bring glory to himself. Both Jesus and the voice from heaven make it clear that the goal is to bring glory to the Father. Jesus is essentially saying, “Look, this is not about me. It’s about bringing glory to the Father.” That’s right, it’s not about Jesus.

Let that bake your noodle for a minute.

Jesus completely resists all efforts to make him into something else. He refuses to accept the false worship that comes when we worship our skewed idea of who he is instead of who he is. So who is he? What is his glory? He is the crucified God and his glory is the cross. This is his response to people calling his followers “lord” and wanting to get an autograph from the celebrity: “let me tell you about the cross I am about to die on.” Then as soon as Jesus gets done telling them about that, he leaves.

As I was thinking about this passage, it reminded me of stories I’ve heard about John Wimber. I never had a chance to meet him, but it is very common to hear stories from those who did about Wimber leaving services, leaving prayer ministry (sometimes even preaching) to others, about some people going away disappointed because they had come to see Wimber, come to see the show. Wimber wasn’t interested in that because he knew that is not how the Holy Spirit operates. Celebrity and the inflation of ego that goes with it are incompatible with the Holy Spirit doing actual stuff in actual people’s lives. The Spirit isn’t interested in playing church or in stroking the pastor’s ego. Wimber got out of the way and ducked the celebrity collar so everyone could experience giving and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit.

So I say this to all Christian leaders: it wasn’t about Jesus and it certainly isn’t about us. If it starts being about us, time to disappear for a bit.

And to everyone: think about the view you have of Jesus. Can you imagine Jesus saying, “it’s really not about me?” Can you imagine Jesus disappearing into the crowd? Can you imagine Jesus being a marginalized, invisible person? Pray about that and let the Spirit help you see what Jesus is up to in this passage.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.