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Sermon, October 3, 2021 | Grace Reformed Church

Sons and Daughters of Light
Sermon Series: 
Genesis 1:1-4
John 12:36-50
Date: 
Sunday, October 3, 2021

The text that we come to this morning is in many ways an ending. When I got to this chapter, chapter 12 of John, I mentioned that the end of chapter 11 is a natural division in the book, and that is true. Chapter 11 contained the last of the signs, and the most powerful one, the sign of Lazarus being raised from the dead. That completed the seven signs and their accompanying discourses that John shared with us to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, so a natural division.

Chapter 12 began Holy Week, with Jesus returning from several weeks of obscurity to enter Jerusalem, for Passover, and in many ways, “face the music.” Last week, when we considered the middle of this chapter, it was all about how it was finally time, finally time for the beginning of the end. Even though this end times has been going on for almost 2000 years now, it was then that it began, the beginning of the end. The time when the atonement would be made, the devil would be bound, and the church would grow up like an unstoppable plant.

That was wonderful to dwell on, wasn’t it? But that wasn’t the end of the chapter, wasn’t the end of this episode. What we have here in the closing verses of Chapter 12 are the final things recorded in the Gospel of John that Jesus says publicly. It is the close of his public ministry, the end of it. Just to give you a head’s-up on the outline moving forward—the next four chapters, four whole chapters all record things that Jesus did for and said to his disciples, the twelve, after this, the close of his public ministry. It is for that reason that the end of chapter 12 is about as good of a dividing line as was the end of chapter 11, this time not because of when it occurred, but because of how the audience shifts in the following pages.

So as we read the last things that Jesus said to the world before his arrest and crucifixion, we should take special note of what he says, and what John, inspired by the Holy Spirit says. Here we have both Jesus’s final words to the public and also John’s holy editorializing on Jesus’s words, explaining what they truly mean lest we not understand. In many ways, these final verses are a summary of everything doctrinal that Jesus has said up to this point in the gospel. So, let’s read now, John chapter 12, we will begin at verse 35, even though we read that last week, because it is directly related. John, chapter 12, beginning with verse 35. Listen, this is God’s Holy Word.

So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,

    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes

    and hardened their heart,

lest they see with their eyes,

    and understand with their heart, and turn,

    and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 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; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

44 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.”

The Word of the Lord.

When I said before we read the passage that this was a summary of sorts, I hope you picked up on some of the themes we’ve encountered before as we moved through the passage. And the way I’d like to frame some of these same things today is to identify three groups of people, not two this time, but three that are talked about in this passage, and the doctrines that are attached to them. The three categories are these—within the public, listening to Jesus’s final words to him here, there were three kinds—the Lost, the Scared, and the Sons and Daughters of Light. The lost, the scared, and those in the light. So let’s take them in turn.

The first mentioned is the first that we will consider, and that is the Lost. Jesus has a haunting warning here that we looked at briefly last week. In verse 35 and 36 we read again:

So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

Remember we talked about the person walking in the darkness. The scary thing for them is the scary thing about walking in total darkness. That’s the metaphor, but what we are talking about here is spiritual darkness, really. Those in spiritual darkness simply don’t know where they are going.

I’m sure we’ve all walked in darkness before, I know I have, but usually it’s in my house in the winter from my bed to the bathroom, or through another room I know well. That’s not really walking in darkness, is it? The roadmap in your head, the muscle memory that you’re calling on in that situation gets you pretty far. And honestly, in your house, how often is it utterly dark. But you also know where you are going, do you not? You wouldn’t start walking through the darkness to get to that place unless you already knew where you were going, and had all these extra helps to get there.

The utterly lost don’t even know where they are going. It is total darkness and they have no spiritual aim outside of themselves. They are lost, and they don’t know where they are going and they can see nothing. That’s why I mentioned last week that this image that we get from scripture of a lost person is one that shows they’re never going to stumble into the right approach, they aren’t going to stumble around in the dark and accidentally find Jesus. The picture we get consistently in scripture is blindness, not dim vision, or blurry vision, but blindness.

So these people that Jesus is addressing, what is their reaction? Are they blind or not? Verse 37:

Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,

We’ve been incredulous at that before in the scriptures, haven’t we? I think last time we picked on Pharaoh, talking about someone who we just couldn’t logically understand why he just didn’t get it. There are so many examples. How could you not believe that this guy in front of you who turned water into wine, who fed five thousand, who healed a lame man, who healed a blind man, who raised a guy from the dead—how could you possibly not believe that he is the Messiah? Why? Well, John, in a summary statement about the doctrine of unbelief, appeals back to the words of Isaiah.

Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,

    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes

    and hardened their heart,

 

Hardened their heart. This is a difficult doctrine on the surface, the doctrine of unbelief. That those who don’t believe are incapable of believing and that’s why they don’t. But this is what we are told over and over in scripture. Those who are not given to see, will not see. Those who are not given to believe, will not believe. Only those who are given faith will have faith, only those who are awakened by the Spirit and given faith are those who have faith, that’s it.

Difficult doctrine, right? Our natural selves recoil, we want to say “that’s not fair!” What about that person who lived their whole life in an uncontacted village in Papua New Guinea who will probably never hear the gospel? What about that person? Dwelling on this a little bit this week I caught a few minutes of a movie about the Trojan wars. What about them? Whole armies, whole nations of people who lived before Christ came? Is it fair to leave them in darkness?

What is fair? Fair isn’t the right word. When we look at this situation and think it’s not fair, we are analyzing the entire situation from a false premise, the premise that anyone has a record of behavior that would obligate God to give them anything.

Sproul, when preaching on this issue said:

“The theological question I hear most often is this: “What happens to the innocent native in Africa who has never heard the gospel?”…. I always give the same answer: “The innocent native in Africa doesn’t need to hear the gospel. Don’t worry another minute about the innocent native in Africa who’s never heard of Christ.”

Now of course he jokingly points out this fallacy—true, no innocent man needs to hear about Christ, but since the Bible says, we believe, and we confess that there are no innocent men, then all men need to hear about Christ. That’s why I said it’s not about fair, it’s about what is just. God’s justice is perfect, and it is just and would be just if he saves no one. That is what is just, no one saved, all sin punished.

That default position doesn’t change unless God does it himself, unless God makes a change in you, and so it is wrong for us to call God unfair in this way. Because when we read this “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,” that isn’t God taking a good person and making them bad, that’s God allowing the default course to continue. The lost person doesn’t become lost because God makes him, he is lost, and what’s more, he likes it. I think that’s a point we miss often when we think about this, the theology, the doctrine of unbelief.

The people are walking in darkness because they love darkness. It’s not an accident, it’s not something they slip into, they love it. We’ve heard this throughout John, it is the truth. Right at the beginning, “He came to his own, and his people did not receive him.” Chapter 3: “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light…lest his works be exposed.” So, back to this particular passage—why don’t the people believe when they see all these signs, witness all these wonders? Because they don’t want to.

These are the lost. The lost are doing exactly what they want to do, and they don’t believe because they don’t want to. It reminds me of that theologically inaccurate evangelism technique—“everyone has a God-shaped hole in them, and if they don’t have God, they try to fill it with other things that don’t really fit, and that’s why they are despondent…” or something like that. No, that’s not how it works. They aren’t looking for God, Paul makes that clear in Romans. The lost are doing what they love, and though it does hurt them, they (as we’ve said before) love their slavery to sin. They love their slavery to sin. It is only by the grace of God that he restrains the full extent of the evil in every man’s heart, lest we see the terror that would be. These are the lost. And we see them again here, summarized here at the end of Jesus’s public ministry. We see that it is not about knowledge, they saw the signs, it’s not about knowledge, it’s about heart.

Knowledge versus heart, or belief—how does knowledge ever become belief? It’s a work of God. Which is a good segue into our next group of people we encounter here, those talked about in verses 42 and 43, right after John gets done talking about the lost, with their hardened hearts, he says:

42 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; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

Who are these people? Well, the category that I mentioned before, they were the Scared. We had the lost and the scared. Who are they? He’s talking about Pharisees—within the group of the Pharisees, or “authorities” as they are referred to here, there are some who have not completely written off Jesus. It says that they believed in him—did they have a saving faith? It’s only for God to know, but with the evidence here in the text I think it’s most convincing that John is talking about people who do not have a saving faith, and it is because it says they “believed in him, but for fear…they did not confess it.”

That alone wouldn’t be enough to convince me that we’re talking about inauthentic or incomplete faith here, because fear is real and when Christians are put in the position of having to lose something, especially something valuable, like their entire place in society, it’s a very difficult thing to take that leap, and many of us fail in that. Did Peter not truly believe in Jesus as the Messiah when he denied him the night of the trial? Or was he scared and failed to act out his faith in that instance. So we can’t make blanket statements based solely on that.

But, the phrase that follows clarifies it a bit—why didn’t they confess? Because they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. That heart is the one that gives me pause, that sentiment is the dangerous one. That is the one that makes me think perhaps these are people with a head knowledge, but it has not made it that eighteen inches from their heads to their hearts. And I believe we can look later in the book and see that the granting of true faith does come to some of them, I think mainly about Nicodemus, but for right now, the hindrance to these people from truly believing in Jesus is based on their where they value their glory.

This is instructive for us. The glory of man is so desirable. We love being praised by our fellow man. We love to stand in approval of those around us, approved by society. This is not a call to be universally hated by everyone around you. But when the two things are set against each other, whose glory do you value more? Would you take the glory that God bestows on you for being a good and faithful servant over the glory that comes from being praised by your peers? This is a difficult matter, and I think one that individuals face hugely, every day more than any other time in my life, and the pressure on the church at large is massive also—whose offer of glory do you value most highly?

The most obvious situation of these two things being set against each other in our day is the moral standards of the bible. If we are firmly convinced by sacred scripture, as individuals and as a church, that the bible teaches a specific stand on a moral issue, then it shouldn’t matter what the culture says. We need to be willing to sacrifice the glory that would be granted to us by the culture if only we would compromise, in order to be true to God.

I think of the first Europeans that settled on this continent. We remember they sailed across the water, dangerously, why? Because they wanted religious freedom. A vast majority of them were Calvinists. They would have only had to compromise a little of their theology in order to be faithful members of the Church of England, but they couldn’t. They were convicted by scripture that they could not faithfully do that so they gave up far more than just glory. They gave up everything they’d ever known to go to this wild continent, and many of them would die along the way. Because they valued their standing with God above all else.

Or go back even further. Luther was a very smart, up and coming priest, very talented, climbing the ladder, then he lost it all because he so little valued the glory of man and so highly valued the favor of God. At the Diet of Wurms he’s told to recant of his writings, or be killed, likely. And he says unless I can be convinced by scripture, show me that what I’ve said is not biblical, not true. Unless you can do that, here I stand, I can do no other.

This is another caution here in these closing remarks. Don’t stop at head knowledge, ask God for the faith that would give you the confidence not just to believe in your mind, faith that compels you to confess it with your lips no matter the cost. We are called to confess Jesus always, on his terms not our own.

We will take that lesson and more on to the third category, the Sons of Light.

44 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.

Those who truly believe in Jesus believe not in him, but believe in him who sent him. This goes directly at what we were just talking about—the people who it says “believed” in Jesus but did not have faith, what did they believe, then? Perhaps they believed in the signs, but not in Jesus. Perhaps they believed in Jesus insofar as he was a great and powerful teacher or prophet. But did they believe in him who sent him.

The point is, because Jesus and the Father are one, if you truly know Jesus, you truly know the Father. If then you have a faulty idea about Jesus, you will not know the Father. Many people listened to Jesus’s words, the words, but they did not see the Father in them.

We’ve said this before, that all things are what Jesus says they are, not as we want them to be. When he shines his light onto the world and into our lives, when we become the Sons of Light that he is talking about here, we can finally see the world for what it is, we can finally see the sin in our lives for what it is. This whole process of sanctification that we are engaged in as Christians is a process of gradually becoming more reflecting of him, more like a son or daughter of light. We who believe in Jesus are no longer in darkness, and if we link that back to the beginning of the passage, contrasted to what we know about the people who are in darkness—they can’t see and they don’t know where they are going—so what is a son of light? Someone who not only sees who they are, what the world is, illuminated by the light, we are also people who know where we are going, without a shadow of a doubt.

That brings me back to what we were talking about before, about God’s justice. Maybe you thought I left that topic a little unfinished. Maybe you didn’t, but if fact I did.

Where we left it was that all people deserve justice, and that justice is punishment. The lost are lost because they want to be, God didn’t have to turn them to that, they already were there.

But, there are the sons of light. God chose to save some, not to let all perish, not to let all receive what they justly deserve. They receive mercy. We, here, if we believe in Jesus Christ, if we have faith in him we will receive mercy. Great news, right? Some receive mercy. But then follow me for a second here because we don’t always think about this reality in its totality. So if we, as believers, don’t receive the justice that we deserve, and God’s justice is perfect, then is God unjust in how he deals with us? Would not punishing our sin be just? No, it would be unjust.

That’s why there’s a cross. That’s why there’s an atonement. All sins must be punished, so if it’s not going to be me, it’s got to be a substitute. That’s Jesus’s work.

Some churches, quite a few churches, when they sing “In Christ Alone,” don’t sing the second verse, they skip it, because it says:

Upon that cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied

The wrath of God? God isn’t wrathful, he’s loving! They don’t like to think of God as wrathful. But God must, because of his perfectly just character, must punish all sin. So unless Jesus carried your sin to that cross with him and died for it for you 2000 years ago, you will die with it and it will be punished on the last day. That’s the truth! Is that frightening? It may be. What if Jesus didn’t die for my sins that day?

Well that’s the beautiful thing. When Jesus went to that cross to die, he did so carrying every sin of every son of light past and present, that he intended to save. There are many who deny this, that say he died for all the sins of the world, or just made it possible for people to be forgiven, but that’s wrong. Jesus did an intentional act that day, his will and the Father’s as we’ve heard so many times, was one and the same. They knew what they were doing. He was dying for the sins of the elect, not the sins of everyone.

So why is that good news, if you were suddenly worried that he might not have been holding your sin that day? Because he doesn’t lose a single one of his sheep. He will gather them all in. He saved you long before you even existed, long before you even knew you needed to be saved. That’s why you can run to him, throw your arms around him, put your faith in him to save you. When you do that in faith, you are merely coming to a realization of what he’s already accomplished and planned for you. You don’t have to do it because he’s already done it.

So this is the big call, the application for those of u who are sons of light. We get to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone, all the time, knowing that Jesus is working his intentional plan and it doesn’t depend on us. Just like we can confess the name of Jesus and all that he is to our neighbor because the glory of man is worthless anyway. It’s all him, not us. Like I’ve said many times, isn’t it wonderful, isn’t it amazing that you have a God that loves you so much that he didn’t leave anything to chance, he didn’t provide you an opportunity to screw up your salvation. Jesus died for you, so that you might become a son or daughter of light. Take your inheritance, because it is freely given. Amen. Let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father,

As we read and dwell on these words, the last that Jesus spoke publicly before his death on the cross, we thank you for once again showing us the beauty of your plan for our lives, your plan to prosper us as your sons and daughters of light on the earth. May everyone we meet see the light of Christ shining straight through each of us, unhindered and unshaded. As your humble servants, your hands and feet here on earth, we pray, in the name of Jesus, amen.

 

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