John 12:36-43

When Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem and celebrated as a savior, he told the people there that he had come to be raised up and crucified to draw all people to himself, that he would be a beacon from the brokenness of this world, from the darkness of this world, that everyone walking in the darkness could now see his light. Then John writes that he left and hid himself from the people.

Even though he’d done so many signs before them, even though he had raised a beloved friend, a local, Lazarus, from the dead, they still really didn’t believe in him. John writes that this happened so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled. Then he quotes the first verse of a famous passage about God’s suffering servant, Isaiah 53: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” This is a word-for-word quote from the Septuagint text of the Old Testament, an ancient Greek translation from the original Hebrew text. The main difference is that the Greek translation adds God as the addressee. In Greek, as is seen here in John, it begins “Lord,” which isn’t in the Hebrew text. Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us? And John comments here saying, therefore they couldn’t believe. They couldn’t believe Jesus. Who could at that point? The question is posed to God himself: Lord, will anyone believe us?

He then quotes another section from, Isaiah from chapter 6. This time, it’s not a direct quote from any text. In Isaiah 6, the prophet writes what God is going to do—in the future tense. But John quotes it and modifies it—paraphrases it—to show that this something that God has now already done. John writes: “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.” The people can’t see. They can’t understand, because the glory of God hasn’t been revealed to them yet—at least not in a way that brings full clarity. In the absence of God revealing himself, the people remain blind.

John writes that Isaiah said these things because he saw God’s glory, and he spoke about it. Isaiah had an experience that very few would ever have. He wrote these things after he himself stood in the throne room of God. He recounts this event himself, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two each covered its face, and with two each covered its feet, and with two each flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory’!” And Isaiah writes, “the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts! [That is: Yahweh, commander of the heavenly army] Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’” That’s Isaiah 6! And then just a few verses later, the section that John references, Isaiah’s saying: nobody’s going to believe this!

That’s the same concern we see here. The people had seen the signs and still didn’t believe. But they hadn’t been in the throne room of God. They didn’t experience his glory the way Isaiah had. John also writes that many of the authorities did believe in him, but didn’t confess it to anyone for fear of the Pharisees. They were afraid of being denied a place in the synagogue, a place in the assembly. He says that they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. If only they knew what the glory of God was really like.

Two examples of this in the Gospel of John are Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus by night—in hiding—back in John 3, and also Joseph of Arimathea, who requests the body of Jesus from Pilate after the crucifixion at the end of John 19. John writes that he does this secretly out of fear of the Jews. Nicodemus and Joseph both go on to prepare Jesus’ body for burial together and together place him in the tomb.   

Before the crucifixion, the people hadn’t seen the glory of God yet. Even after seeing the miraculous signs of Jesus, they hadn’t yet seen him give up his life for the world out of love. They hadn’t seen him defeat death itself. Isaiah stood in the throne room of God, a vision of heaven itself, and he was tantalized by it. He wanted God to send him to tell the world, but it would be centuries before God would reveal his glory openly to the world through Jesus. Jesus has just said that this event—the crucifixion—is the event in which God will be glorified, when God will draw all people to himself. Now we’re in a similar position as Isaiah. We know God’s glory intimately, because, through the cross of Jesus we know his love. God has called us to himself through the cross of Christ. He forgives us of our sin and welcomes us, embraces us as his very own. There’s nothing in this world that’s comparable to that.

Sure, earthly glory, worldly glory can be attractive at times. Who doesn’t want to be liked? How often are we drawn to the glitz, the glamor of what our society says it has to offer us? But it doesn’t take very long to see that it’s really just a very thin veil. We could all name countless examples of this. We dress them up in the latest fashion trends, make them look spectacular, and when they do something we don’t like, support the wrong movement or policy, we tear them to pieces. After a moment of praise our society chews people up and spits them out. That’s what the glory of man looks like. I can be pretty frightening.

Our God would never do that to us. He sent his Son to die for us which reveals his unending love and his commitment to us—something no earthly authority would ever do for us. Our God is the one who consoles us in every trouble. The glory of our heavenly Father is made known—revealed—in his love for us. We don’t need to fear the rebuke of the world, because nothing compares to the glory that comes from God. Through Jesus, we have direct access to God’s glory, direct access to his throne, because Jesus sits on it. We get to call our God Father and call on him any time. In his love, Jesus made that happen for us. As holy week progresses in the Gospel of John, that becomes increasingly clear up until the moment that Jesus gives his own life for us.

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