John 8:21-32 (ESV)
21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I’m going to reread two of the statements that Jesus makes in our second reading. The first is found in verse 21 and the second statement is found in verses 31 and 32.
Verse 21 says, “So he said to them again, ‘I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin.’”
Verses 31 and 32 say, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”
Did you notice the progression? Jesus goes from telling the people they will die in their sins to telling them in the end of the passage that if they abide in his word, they are truly his disciples. The question I’d like you to consider is this: what changed? Think about that for a second. At the start of the passage, Jesus flatly tells them that they will die in their sins. By the end of the passage, at least some of them are disciples.
Here’s what changed. Jesus told them about the cross. Verse 28 says, “So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he.’” Then in verse 30, John writes, “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.”
We need to take a moment to get the context of this passage. From the very beginning of the book of John, John emphasizes who Jesus is and what his mission from the Father is. In John 1:1, John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” verses 4 and 5 say, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Verse 14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Immediately prior to our passage, Jesus has just identified himself in his preaching as the bread of life in chapter 6—true food and true drink that does not perish, but endures to eternal life. In chapter 8, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” He says, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Here again in our passage, the people ask, “what does he mean when he says he is going to a place where we can’t follow?” Then they question him about his identity—“Who are you, anyway?” Jesus answers them, “I am exactly who I’ve been telling you all along.” but he says to them in verse 28, “You’ll know that I am he when you have lifted up the Son.”
Here, Jesus uses language that would have been very familiar to the Jewish people he was speaking to. Earlier in John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus in verse 14, “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.”
Remember the story? It’s found in Numbers 21. The people became impatient as they traveled away from Egypt and began to speak against the Lord, saying that he led them out of Egypt to kill them. They even spurned the Lord’s provision of the manna from heaven! So God sent serpents to bite the people. When the people repented of their sin and prayed to the Lord for help, he told Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole. Whenever the people would look at it, they would get better and live.
Then John 8:28-30 says,
28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
The cross—the post on which the Son of Man was lifted up—is the turning point, both of this passage and of the universe. Look on Him, believe in Him, and have eternal life.
So what now? We’re at seminary, so this is probably a very familiar concept to you. But I do have two points of application.
The first point is this: keep looking to Christ. Looking in faith to the Son of Man is certainly not a one-time event. Martin Luther wrote—helpfully I think—that when Jesus calls you to repent of your sins, what he is calling you to is a life of continual repenting and looking in faith to Christ—looking to Christ to save you from your sin and from God’s judgment. Christ, as he says in verse 28, is the one who does nothing on his own authority. Instead, he’s the one who always does what is pleasing to the Father. He is acceptable in God’s eyes, and you will be found to be acceptable too, if you are found in Christ. The gospel is not a thing that you do and then get out of the way. The gospel informs your Christian life day in and day out. You have to preach the gospel to yourself every day, or you’ll be completely blindsided by the fact that you are still a sinner, still in need of a Savior. To connect this to our passage today, the gospel is the message that Jesus Christ was crucified and was raised in order to give salvation and new life to all who would repent and look to him in faith. So that’s application number 1: keep repenting of your sins and keep looking to Christ to save you. And he will most certainly keep you.
The second point of application, then, is to abide in God’s word. Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, then you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The Psalmist writes “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by streams of flowing water, which yields its fruit in its season. Its leaf will not wither. In everything he does, he prospers.”
The word of Christ is your life. It is very easy to think of our studies as a path to a job in ministry. It is very easy to aim for a better grade, or the skill to write a thrilling sermon, or maybe the approval of family or friends. But as we study, we must instead apply ourselves to know God’s word and abide in it. As you’re here at Southern, don’t neglect your own hearts. This passage calls you to abide in God’s word. That means to let God’s word so permeate your thoughts that with it, you start to take your thoughts captive. Let the word of God fill your Heart so that the Bible is always exposing your sin, and always exposing the spots where you’re vulnerable to temptation, and always building you up so that you can walk in holiness. Our studies of the Church, or of Missions, or of the languages, or of History should point us always back to the Word of Christ, so that we may know it, and live in it.
Let us pray that God would help us in this.
Date: 31 March 2011
Text: John 8:21-32
Title: When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you shall know
Location: Dillard Chapel, SBTS
Event: Evening Prayer (with Paul Nesta)