Trouble, with the Truth

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
25 September 2016 / Ordinary Time
John 12:27-36

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
– Witches in Macbeth

Listen 

Grace and peace with you.

At the beginning of the week I wanted to call this sermon “Trouble, with the Truth.” But as the week wore on the sermon text took on a life of its own. And as Sunday drew closer, I felt like calling it “Time is Running Out.”

That’s really the theme and tone of the story we will enter today.

In context of John’s Gospel, Jesus has just made his “triumphal entry” into the city of Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey.

Crowds cheered, critics jeered, and Christ veered right into the heart of the fray.

One of the things we learn in this story is that time is running out — not only for Jesus, but also the world and the devil. Everyone is starting to feel pressed for time. Stress, panic, and frenzy are starting to set in.

The clock has been ticking throughout John’s Gospel. Jesus has said things like, “The hour is coming — when worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth…when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and live.”

But here, in context, he says “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” And he starts using the word “now.”

Now is  (Gk. Νῦν) one of the most important words used in this story is the word. It’s as if the time has come to unveil the mystery of mysteries and Jesus says to the crowd, “And now without further ado…” the crisis of the world and the casting out of its ruler at the cross of Christ.

Now that the hour has come everything will change — “everything sad will come untrue” (Tolkien).

Our sermon text is John 12:27-36. If you are willing and able, I invite you to stand and give your undivided attention to God’s Holy Word.

[27] “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. [28] Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” [29] The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” [30] Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. [31] Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. [32] And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” [33] He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. [34] So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” [35] 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.

The word of the Lord.

May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen. You may be seated.

There are Five Things in this story that Point Us to Jesus and help us center our thoughts, feelings, and lives on him.

A troubled soul, a thunderous voice, a deposed ruler, a hanging tree, and a shining light.

Let’s consider these one at a time.

  1. A Troubled Soul – vv 27-28a

[27] “Now is my soul troubled.”

The word troubled means stirred up.

John 5:7 when the water is stirred up

John 11:33  weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

The word soul means life. Jesus’s life is stirred up. Why? Because “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:23)

To us, that seems like an exciting thing.

To Jesus, it was an excruciating thing. Why?

For Jesus to be glorified it means he must be humiliated, tortured, and crucified. It means he must suffer and die all alone.

This is the paradox of the gospel. The way up is down, to go high you must get low; glory comes through shame, power through weakness, life through death.

Like a grain of wheat he must fall into the earth and die that he might bear much fruit for the life of the world.

Here, in Jesus’s words we can hear echoes of the psalms.

Like the Psalmist who said,

[2] Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. [3] My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD—how long?

Jesus said, “Now my soul troubled.”

But notice, unlike the same Psalmist who said,

[4] Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. [5] For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? (Psalm 6:2-5 ESV)

Jesus said, And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? [N0!] But for this purpose I have come to this hour.

This is the hour he had dreamed about—and perhaps even dreaded—all his life. And it had come at last.

The hour of his death on the cross,

and the destruction of his enemy,

and the death of sin and death,

and the deliverance of his people.

The hour of glory by shame, power by weakness, victory by defeat.

Notice that he doesn’t want to be delivered from it; he just wants his Father to be praised through it. He doesn’t want to escape toil and trouble; he wants to enter into it for the glory of God and the good of the world.

Now, if your soul is troubled or in turmoil for some reason today, I counsel you to put your hope in God; that you shall praise him again, the salvation of your face and your God. (Psalm 42:5-6 ESV)

Just as Jesus’s troubled soul moved him to cry out to his Father in prayer, yours ought to move you to cry out in prayer to God and to listen for his reply.

That brings us to

  1. A Thunderous Voice – vv 28b-30

So Jesus prays, “Father, glorify your name.” (To glorify means to praise.)

[28] Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

How and When?

The Father glorified and praised his divine name through the life, times, and signs of Jesus the Word made flesh.

From the incarnation to the crucifixion the Father has glorified his name; and from the crucifixion to the resurrection and beyond the Father will glorify his name.

In our confession, we say the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. No one has ever reached that goal or fulfilled that duty perfectly except Jesus Christ.

We strive to do that as we stumble towards eternity, but Jesus Christ alone glorified God and enjoys him forever.

The Father seeks people who will worship him in spirit and truth, and he found what he was looking for in Jesus — a true worshiper who praised and glorified the Father body and soul.

Now, when the Father answered Jesus’s prayer, [29] the crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

There was one voice, yet it was heard by different people in different ways. The crowd misunderstood and mistook the voice of God for noise. But Jesus understood it was his Father’s voice.

There are two ways to take this: Theologically and Pastorally.

Theologically, we might say that not everyone who hears God’s word actually hears God’s voice speaking his word.

To a natural man without the Spirit, the voice of God sounds like noise, perhaps something natural sound like a thunder clap, or something supernatural sound like an angel’s voice.

To the spiritual man with the Spirit, the voice of God sounds like a father speaking to his children.

Pastorally, we might say that Jesus did not need to hear the Father to speak to him with a thunderous voice, but sometimes we do. After all, Jesus said, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.” God thunders his word for you.

Sometimes we need to hear the voice of God speak to us out of a sermon, through a preacher who thunders his word. As Job’s friend Elihu said,

[1] “At this also my heart trembles and leaps out of its place. [2] Keep listening to the thunder of his voice and the rumbling that comes from his mouth. [3] Under the whole heaven he lets it go, and his lightning to the corners of the earth. [4] After it his voice roars; he thunders with his majestic voice, and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard. [5] God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. [6] For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour. [7] He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he made may know it.” (Job 37:1-7)

Sometimes we need to hear the voice of God speak to us out of the storms of life, to remind us that he is sovereign over all things, even the whirlwind, and that we must repent of our sins, whatever they are, for we are but dust and ashes.

That brings us to

  1. A Deposed Ruler – vv 31

[31] Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.

The word judgment comes the Greek word krisis. Our English word crisis comes from that word.

The ruler of this world is the devil, the prince of darkness, the god of this age.

On the one hand, the judgment of this world will fall on Jesus. He will be arrested, tried, mocked, scourged, and crucified as a heretic and a revolutionary.

On the other hand, through the world’s judgment of Jesus, Jesus will confront the ruler of this world and cast him out of this world.

As I pointed out earlier, now is a key word in this story.

Now, after all this time, now, after all these years, now the seed of women has come into the world to crush the serpent’s head.

So, in a mysterious plot twist, now the crisis of the world and the casting out of its ruler occur simultaneously at the cross of Christ.

What the world intends for evil, God intends for good, so that many peoples might be saved. Not in spite of the evil, but because of all the good.

Jesus came to destroy the devil and his works.

That brings us to

  1. A Hanging Tree – vv 31-34

The show-down between Christ and the devil is at a crooked tree on skull-shaped rock. The story centers on the cross. That’s why Jesus says, [32] And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” [33] He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

In the grand scheme of things, “lifted up” means crucified on the cross; resurrected from the grave; ascended into heaven.

In the narrow scope of the story, lifted up means crucified on the cross.

John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be  lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

John 8:28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am Yahweh, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.

He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:31-33)

Jesus knew the doctrine: Unless a seed fall to earth and dies it abides by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.

He knew the discipline: Whoever loves his life loses it; and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

And he knew the drill: When I am lifted up from the earth, suspended on the cross between heaven and hell, I will draw all to myself.

That is not a revolutionary fantasy, it is a redemptive reality.

Jesus was the seed that fell into the heart of the earth for sinners like you and me.

Now, imagine the scene: Here they are, people from all over the country, gathering for holy week, on Palm Sunday.

“Everybody having a good time — except [Jesus who] was talking about the end of the world” (U2)

Just one cryptic mention of the cross and the crowd is stunned.

The enthusiasm fades, the cheers die down, the palm branches cease to wave.

One mention of the cross and political hopes are shattered; revolutionary zeal is quenched.

Why?

The man they believe to be the one true king of Israel just announced that he believes that he will be lifted up on the cross in the near future.

In other words, he expected to be crucified as an enemy of the state.

The crowd responds: Now wait just a minute! [34] “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up?”

They knew that lifted up meant crucified.

They knew that crucified meant cursed.

They knew that cursed meant condemned.

They knew the scriptures say that the Christ will abide forever.

Christ crucified just didn’t seem to go together.

We feel the same way about the cross.

Like them, we say, “The cross is a buzz-kill.

A downer. A cone of shame. A death machine.

The cross is a scandal — a stumbling block.”

But Jesus says, The cross is salvation!

A suspension bridge between life and death.

The cross is a stairway to heaven from hell.

An altar of sacrifice and service.

Now, the crowd was partially right. The scriptures do say that the Christ will abide forever; but that’s not all they say. They also say that the Christ will be lifted up. When God spoke through Isaiah the prophet he said,

[13] Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. [14] As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind— [15] so shall he sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. (Isaiah 52:13-15 ESV)

All these things were about to be fulfilled. That’s why Jesus said the Son of Man must be lifted up. To fulfill the scriptures.

Now, after their rant, the crowd asks, Who is the Son of Man anyway?

The Son of Man is a mysterious figure in the OT. We could devote a few sermons to exploring and explaining who this fascinating person is.

But today I am just going to follow Jesus’s lead and not go there.

Notice that Jesus did not answer their question. He could have pointed to Psalm 8, or Daniel 7:14, or the Book of Ezekiel. Yet he offered them no Book, Chapter, or Verse. No theological explanation.

Instead he gave an urgent exhortation to walk in the light. Why? Time is up. The hour is here. The time for debate and discussion is over.

Now there are more urgent things to tackle.

That brings us to

  1. A Shining Light – vv 35-36

[35] 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.”

Jesus is the Light of the World, who was about to enter into the upside down — a dark echo and dim reflection of our world; the light of the world was about pass through the gate into the Vale of Shadows — a place of decay and death, a plane out of phase. There, in the dreadful darkness and dust of death, he will confront the Monster and crush its head once for all.

To walk in the light does not mean try to stay inside the tractor beam shining down from heaven. It means walk by faith in union and communion with Christ. It means whatever time you have left in this world, in your life, to trust and follow Jesus out of darkness and death.

As the prophet says,

[10] Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. (Isaiah 50:10 ESV)

Why? Because to Believe in the Light is to Become like the Light. Likewise, to believe in the darkness is to become like the darkness.

If you are in the darkness, fix the eyes of your heart on Jesus, and he will light your way.

A troubled soul, a thunderous voice, a deposed ruler, a hanging tree, and a shining light: Five Things that point us to Jesus and help center us on him.

That brings us to

A Hidden Message

[37] When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

In other words, the incarnate Word encrypted himself. Why?

This seems like a strange thing to do, especially after warning people that now is the crisis of the world and the casting out of its ruler; and calling people to walk in the light.

Perhaps some of you feel like Jesus has gone away and hidden himself from you. Like, he spoke his word, dropped the mic, walked off stage, turned out the light.

Like it or not, there is a method to the madness.

The Law and the Prophets all use the graphic imagery of God departing and hiding from his people as a judgment figure.

Deuteronomy 31:17-18 says, “I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.”

Deuteronomy 32:20 says, “I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness.”

Isaiah 64:7 says, “There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.”

Ezekiel 39:23-24 says, “And the nations shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity, because they dealt so treacherously with me that I hid my face from them and gave them into the hand of their adversaries, and they all fell by the sword. I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their transgressions, and hid my face from them.

When the Lord is seeking you, you are blessed, for he will find you. But if the Lord hides from you, you are cursed, for he cannot be found unless he reveals himself to us.

Jesus departed and hid himself to show that God was bringing judgment against his covenant people.

This was a sign to God’s people that the Lord’s face would no longer shine upon his people; that he was bringing curses upon them, turning his back upon them, and leaving them in darkness.

It was also a sign to God that his people were cursing him, turning their backs on him, and leaving him in darkness.

Now, sometimes it feels like we are stuck playing a never-ending, high-stakes game of cosmic hide and seek with God. But let’s remember that we started this game. We hid from God first, and he came looking for us and calling for us.

And he still does. He still seeks and saves the lost.

But for some of us, time is running out.

As AW Tozer said: What we need very badly these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God as completely now as they know they must do at the last day… It would be better to invite God now to remove every false trust, to disengage our hearts from all secret hiding places and to bring us out into the open where we can discover for ourselves whether or not we actually trust Him. That is a harsh cure for our troubles, but it is a sure one. Gentler cures may be too weak to do the work. And time is running out on us.

Pastoral Prayer based on Psalm 27

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