You Follow Me – The Conclusion of John’s Gospel

Tomorrow morning it is my aim to conclude a three year long study of the book of John. I leave the study with over 500 pages of notes, a few piles of books and commentaries on the gospel of John, and a mind and heart that have been changed for the better by studying these passages.

It is a very humbling thing to get to the end of such a large book and feel you’ve still got a lot to learn. The depth of John’s gospel is just astounding – it is made all the more astounding when you read how he ends it!

I hope you enjoy these final notes on the 4th Gospel.

PJW

You Follow Me

 Introduction to the End of John’s Gospel

In the final scenes of John’s gospel we find that the author does not follow a strict chronological timeline. John isn’t concerned to give an exact timeline of events in proper sequence, but to give a theological and spiritual conclusion to his book.

This makes sense when we remember that his aim was spelled out like this:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; [31] but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

The pleasure of reading this gospel has been that Jesus is front in center in John’s writing. John displays Jesus in such a way that His teachings speak for themselves. Yet John also adds editorial comments in here and there, guiding the reader toward a fuller understanding of both the circumstances and Jesus’ teaching.

This same modus operandi holds true for the final few verses of John’s gospel.

21:18-19 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” [19] (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

It seems that Jesus is speaking here to Peter about the fact that he will one day be crucified. It took quite a long time (3 decades) for this to materialize, but eventually Peter did die a martyr’s death just as Jesus had predicted (and ordained!).

Carson probably has the best explanation on this and says Bauer had it right long ago:

Bauer proposed long ago that this ‘stretching’ took place when a condemned prisoner was tied to his cross-member (the patibulum: cf. notes on 19:17) and forced to carry his ‘cross’ to the place of execution. The cross-member would be placed on the prisoner’s neck and shoulders, his arms tied to it, and then he would be led away to death. Despite the fact that many reject this explanation (Carson note on Schnackenburg), the most detailed study of crucifixion in the ancient world describes just such horrible variations on this grisly form of execution (Carson footnote on M. Hengel, Crucifixion).

21:20-22 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” [21] When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” [22] Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

Here Peter wants to know his end, and why it is that He should suffer a death that is horrific – why not someone else? What about the other guy?

The first thing of importance in this passage is that Jesus’ power and authority is made manifest when He says, “if it is my will.” Remember Christian that it is the will of this Man that rules the universe. The word of Jesus upholds the universe (Hebrews 1:1-3) and, like the Father, all that He wills to do comes to pass.

Job acknowledged this, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

And certainly this puts the words of Isaiah in mind (these are what I first thought of when I read this):

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isaiah 46:8-10)

Therefore Jesus begins His response to Peter with a reminder of his own authority.

Secondly, He is blunt with Peter, in affect telling him to “butt out!”

I think that John Piper’s blog post on this is just terrific. Below is extended excerpt of his words:

Jesus’ blunt words—“None of your business, follow me”—are sweet to my ears. They are liberating from the depressing bondage of fatal comparing. Sometimes when I scan the ads in Christianity Today (all ten thousand of them), I get discouraged. Not as much as I used to twenty-five years ago. But still I find this avalanche of ministry suggestions oppressing.

Book after book, conference after conference, DVD after DVD—telling me how to succeed in ministry. And all of them quietly delivering the message that I am not making it. Worship could be better. Preaching could be better. Evangelism could be better. Pastoral care could be better. Youth ministry could be better. Missions could be better. And here is what works. Buy this. Go here. Go there. Do it this way. And adding to the burden—some of these books and conferences are mine!

So I was refreshed by Jesus’ blunt word to me (and you): “What is that to you? You follow me!” Peter had just heard a very hard word. You will die—painfully. His first thought was comparison. What about John? If I have to suffer, will he have to suffer? If my ministry ends like that, will his end like that? If I don’t get to live a long life of fruitful ministry, will he get to?

That’s the way we sinners are wired. Compare. Compare. Compare. We crave to know how we stack up in comparison to others. There is some kind of high if we can just find someone less effective than we are. Ouch. To this day, I recall the little note posted by my Resident Assistant in Elliot Hall my senior year at Wheaton: “To love is to stop comparing.” What is that to you, Piper? Follow me.

  • What is it to you that David Wells has such a comprehensive grasp of the pervasive effects of postmodernism? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Voddie Baucham speaks the gospel so powerfully without notes? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Tim Keller sees gospel connections with professional life so clearly? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Mark Driscoll has the language and the folly of pop culture at his fingertips? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Don Carson reads five hundred books a year and combines pastoral insight with the scholar’s depth and comprehensiveness? You follow me.

That word landed on me with great joy. Jesus will not judge me according to my superiority or inferiority over anybody. No preacher. No church. No ministry. These are not the standard. Jesus has a work for me to do (and a different one for you). It is not what he has given anyone else to do. There is a grace to do it. Will I trust him for that grace and do what he has given me to do? That is the question. O the liberty that comes when Jesus gets tough!

I hope you find encouragement and freedom today when you hear Jesus say to all your fretting comparisons: “What is that to you? You follow me!”

I find Piper’s analogy or paraphrase or what-have-you, to be perfect – especially in light of the fact that Driscoll just this week resigned in shame from his own church. We often put people on pedestals and puff them up in our minds, but they are just men. They are just as human as we are.

We could all no doubt substitute the names “driscoll or wells” for our own friends and contemporaries. For we often look at our Christian friends and see the grace God has bestowed on them and perhaps feel somewhat inadequate comparatively. Yet this is the very thing Jesus is correcting in Peter.

Carson says that Jesus’ reply to Peter is basically to say, “mind your own business.” Calvin says, “Christ intended to put his hand on his disciple, in order to keep him within the limits of his calling. ‘It is no concern of yours,’ says he, ‘and you leave that to my disposal’ think only about yourself, and prepare to follow where you are called.’”

Herman Ridderbos says, “What applies to both disciples is the call to follow Jesus, each with his own destiny. For Peter it means he will complete his life like the “good Shepherd” in self-offering for Jesus’ flock. For the beloved disciple this means his continuing witness until the coming of his Lord in glory.”

We who are God’s children are dealt with individually. In fact, this says something of the individuality of the Christian walk. We often rightly emphasize the need for corporate worship, corporate sermons, and fellowship. But there is also a part to Christianity that is very individual, very personal. That is what we are seeing between Peter and Jesus here.

Personal Reflection

It is not easy to leave this section without reflecting on God’s call on our own lives, and how often we find ourselves in comparative moments where perhaps we would rather be someone else. Yet God calls us each to walk our own individual walks, and endure our own trial, not coveting those without similar ordeals or circumstances.

But more than this is the great comfort that in our trials, and indeed in every circumstance, it is Jesus who wills these things. It is not left to us to guess whether or not Jesus is allowing this or that, or whether He knows of our trials. There is no room for that loose of an interpretation. Jesus is presented here (indeed He presents Himself by His own words) as the One who “wills” all that comes to pass.

Indeed as Paul has said:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17)

21:23-24 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” [24] This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

Who is this “We”?

A quick textual note is necessary before beginning the final look at these verses. In verse 23 the author seems to be taking some corrective action in order to mitigate the misnomer that Jesus had meant the beloved disciple would not die. Rather, Jesus just said he would “remain” (meno), and in this context it didn’t mean he wouldn’t die, but that he would continue in his work on earth until he died in the way God had thought best.

Many scholars dispute the identity of who the “we” refers to in verse 24. Ridderbos thinks its people who made up those around John, but not John himself (or at least to include John and the apostles with him). But Carson goes through every option and notes that it must refer to John himself, the author and also the “beloved disciple” as included in this and as the one writing it.

Even though this seems awkward, it’s no more awkward than John referring to himself in the third person the entire time! I am convinced that this is the most likely reading of the passage, most especially because in 1:14 John is says, “We have seen his glory.” That seems to fit the same writing style/motif.

More can be read of the comparative views in Carson (pages 681-685).

The Purpose of This Gospel

All of this gets back to the reason John wrote this – to show the greatness of Jesus, and give those who read this book an opportunity to believe and find life – eternal life – with Him.

This is why the author has taken such pains to explain, comment, rebut, and go in-depth in many areas where the other gospel writers did not. John’s mission dominates his narrative and the choice of his excerpts from Jesus’ life and ministry.

21:25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. 

The Greatness of Jesus

To end his commentary on the gospel of John, D.A. Carson frames the last verse as containing matter related to “The Greatness of Jesus” – a very apt header. Carson says:

The Jesus to whom he (John) bears witness is not only the obedient Son and the risen Lord, he is the incarnate Word, the one through whom the universe was created. If all his deeds were described, the world would be a very small and inadequate library indeed.

It is as if John has identified himself (vs. 24), but is not content to focus on himself, not even on his veracity. He must close by saying his own work is only a minute part of all the honours (sic) due the Son.

John’s gospel is truly unique. It is a theological gospel – and perhaps no one captures that theological (and even philosophical) thrust better than Ridderbos in his own summary of the book:

What we are confronted with in this Gospel, as a matter of faith, is the salvific breaking down from above of the boundaries by which our thinking and acting are circumscribed (cf. 3:5). The confrontation, however, is not with a “higher reality” as such, one that would merely relativize our reality. The confrontation is with the entry into our reality of the glory (“the name,” 17:6, 26 etc.) of God and with the “signs” of the “life” for which God once created and still continues to destine the world (1:4) – just as he who was “in the bosom of the Father” revealed that name and that life to us by his words and deeds (1:18) so that “by believing in that name” we may have life (20:31).

Surely this is the case. The breakthrough, indeed the “invasion”, if you will, of the kingdom of God in the lives of mankind is significant in John’s gospel. It is the telling of the sovereign God breaking into our reality/our consciousness in a way He had not done to fore. He physically walked and dwelt among us. Not as a pillar of fire, a burning bush, an angelic vision, but as a man born of a virgin, growing up as a boy under the law, and coming to maturity as a human being.

The wonder of this increases ten-fold when we realize the goal of God was to save men. The lengths He went to do this, and the wonder we feel when these truths come into focus is the permeating reality that soaks every sentence, every graph, and every chapter of John’s gospel.

He began by ushering us into the presence and purpose of God:

The Word Became Flesh In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 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. (John 1:1-5)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14-18)

And left us to worship:

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)

William Hendricksen ends his own commentary by quoting the familiar words written by a Jewish poet named Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai in 1050 A.D. and later put to music by F. M. Lehman:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made; Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade: To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry, Nor could the scroll contain the whole Though stretched from sky to sky.

Calvin says God used men to make a careful selection of the material from Jesus’ life in order that (He) “might make known to us all that God knew to be necessary for us, who alone is wise, and the only fountain of wisdom; to whom be praise and glory for ever. Amen.”

I hope your study of this gospel has been as profitable as mine. It has left me humbled, and appreciative of all God has given us in His word.

 

Practical Implications of Union with Christ

The Practical Implications of Union with Christ

I wanted to write a short blog post about the nature of “union with Christ” and its practical ramifications.  The doctrine is so profound that I’m not sure it is possible to write a short blog post about this and do it justice!  But my goal is not to lay out a complex doctrine, but rather offer encouragement to the saints, because I agree with John Owen when he stated:

Our greatest hindrance in Christian life is not our lack of effort, but our lack of acquaintedness with our privileges.

My brief thoughts fall under two headings:

  1. Because of Union with Christ we have lost everything
  2. Because of Union with Christ we have gained everything 

We’ve Lost Everything

Jesus makes it pretty clear that when we follow Him we are leaving everything behind (Mark 8:36, Luke 9:60) – and that “everything” may seem like a lot at first blush.  But the Spirit clearly gives us eyes to see that what was formerly “everything” is really rubbish.

As Paul said, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).

That “rubbish” is first and foremost our sin.  We leave that behind when we’re saved – we’ve lost all the guilt of our past deeds.  We have nothing of that past life to hang onto and have been completely freed from the punishment due to us (Romans 6).

We’ve also, secondarily, lost our desires for the things the world has to offer. This is not the instant transaction that occurs at justification, rather it is part of the slow process of sanctification. It is the change of our desires.  It is the subordination of all other earthly goals to one higher goal: the know Christ – as Paul mentioned above.

By nature of our union with Christ, we begin to have His mind because we are filled with His Spirit.  The practical upshot is that the football game may not seem as exciting or worthwhile as reading Scripture or spending time at church.  Wow…that seems odd.  Pretty much.  But after a few years I guarantee that you’ll look around at your life and begin to see a fundamental reorganization of your priorities – not because you “feel it’s the right thing” from legalistic duty (I hope not!), but simply because your own desires have changed.  This comes from the Spirit and from beholding Christ (2 Cor. 3:18) – you are united with Him…and that has implications.

We’ve Gained Everything

By nature of our union with Christ we stand to gain everything.  Jonathan Edwards remarks upon this eloquently (though its old English so bear with him):

By virtue of the believer’s union with Christ, he doth really possess all things. That we know plainly from Scripture. But it may be asked, how [doth] he possess all things? What is he the better for it? How is a true Christian so much richer than other men? To answer this, I’ll tell you what I mean by “possessing all things.”

I mean that God three in one, all that he is, and all that he has, and all that he does, all that he has made or done—the whole universe, bodies and spirits, earth and heaven, angels, men and devils, sun moon [and] stars, land and sea, fish and fowls, all the silver and gold, kings and potentates as well as mean men—are as much the Christian’s as the money in his pocket, the clothes he wears, or the house he dwells in, or the victuals he eats; yea more properly his, more advantageously more his, than if he [could] command all those things mentioned to be just in all respects as he pleased at any time, by virtue of the union with Christ; because Christ, who certainly doth thus possess all things, is entirely his: so that he possesses it all, more than a wife the share of the best and dearest husband, more than the hand possesses what the head doth; it is all his.

But it is certain, so much shall the true Christian possess all things; ’tis not a probable scheme, but absolutely certain.[i]

I think that the reality as well as the practical outgrowth of this is difficult for us to comprehend.  But we know that because Christ rules over all things, we have assurance that we too will one-day rule with Him.

The idea of ruling with God’s Son is so far removed from the daily beat-down that life offers emotionally, physically, spiritually and so forth, that I think its worthwhile on a Saturday morning to step back and rejoice in these realities, and the hope which is to come.

The practical implications are not all future, however.  They extend into the present day.  The one I’d like to leave with you is that because of our union with Christ we are completely unassailable before God’s throne.  The Devil may accuse all he wants to no avail.  This morning this was brought home to me powerfully once again by Tullian Tchividjian.  Tchividjian quotes Luther and then adds on an eloquent rejoinder:

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’” (Martin Luther).

Well may the Accuser roar, of sins that I have done; I know them all and thousands more, Jehovah knoweth none![ii]

Study Notes 7-7-13: Following Christ

Today’s passage takes us from the 26th verse of John 12 through verse 30, although we didn’t get much time this morning to discuss verses 29 and 30 and will do so next week.

This week we will be meditating on verse 26, and asking ourselves questions about the verse and asking God to help give us insight into its meaning. How, for instance, does it speak to our need to obey Christ? What does it tell us about where Christ is? What does it remind us of in terms of Christ’s own character? What does it really look like in my life to “follow” after Christ? And, perhaps, we ought to ask ourselves “where is Christ that I should follow Him to?”

John 12:26-30

12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

The Cost of Discipleship

When Christ says that those who serve him must also follow him, we can see plainly enough in the context of this passage, and the view to the cross he had, that this is a call for us to take up our cross. This conclusion is simple based on the fact that “where” He is can plainly be seen as suffering and death. Although there can also be a secondary meaning which I will explore in a minute.

The idea that we would be called by Christ to follow Him even to death had been enumerated at other times in Jesus’ ministry. For example Matthew 16:24-26 says explicitly, and ties well in with what Christ says in John 12:25:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

What Jesus is saying here and in the John passage, is that we must obey His Word even if it doing so comes with difficulty. Obedience is not without cost. The life of a Christian is not promised to be easy. For one, we are constantly being put to the test, and molded by our Father into the likeness of His Son. This is a grand, albeit painful process. For two, we are identified with Jesus, which in this world can mean anything from snarky comments to the death sentence.

But what is wonderful about what Jesus is saying here is that the there is a real, tangible benefit to all of this difficulty – not only life itself, eternal life – but also honor from the father.

The Reward for Following Christ is Christ Himself

And so, that leads me to explore the flip side, if you will, of what it means to be with Christ where He is, because in a very real sense the verse above shows us that the reward of God’s people is God Himself. It says, “and where I am, there will my servant be also” and this, to me, seems to indicate that Christ Himself and His presence with us will be a great portion of our reward. For we follow Christ not only into the battlements of war here on earth, but also into the blessedness of heaven to come.

In his book ‘Holiness’ J.C. Ryle explains that our striving toward holiness on this earth is as much to please God here on earth, as it is to prepare us to enjoy heaven.  For heaven will be a holy place, and for those who imagine heaven as otherwise are quite mistaken.

“What could an unsanctified man do in Heaven, if by any chance he got there? No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not congenial to his tastes, habits, and character.” – J.C. Ryle

In his short discipleship book ‘In Our Joy’ John Piper talks about this, and its worth quoting him on this extensively due to the impact his own thinking has had on mine, and millions of others in this area:

Jesus bases our present joy explicitly on the hope for great reward. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23). He does not define the reward. But in the whole context of his life and message, the essential reward is fellowship with Jesus himself and with God the Father through him (John 17:3, 24).

There are several pointers to this understanding. For example, Jesus says to his disciples just before his death, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). The indomitable joy that Jesus promises is based on his own presence: “I will see you again.” Similarly Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). This fullness of joy is mentioned by John the Baptist, and he bases it on the presence of Jesus, comparing Jesus to a bridegroom and himself to his friend: “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29) John’s “complete” joy is based on the presence of Jesus.

Therefore, I conclude that the essence of the reward that we count on to complete our joy is the fullness of the presence of Jesus experienced in the age to come. The reason that we can rejoice now is not only that we taste that future fellowship in hope, but also that Jesus is with us now by his Spirit. He promised us, as he left to return to the Father, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He said that the Spirit of truth would come and make Jesus gloriously real to us even though he is physically absent. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will . . . glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14). Therefore, even though we can’t see Jesus now, we hope in him with great joy, and he sustains that joy by his continual presence.

Honor from the Father

There seems to be a second part of this reward, which Jesus says is “honor” from the Father. It would be really easy to simply pass by this and not really think much about it, but I think we’d do well to linger here just a bit, if only to marvel at the revelation we’ve been given.

I honestly can only make a few educated guesses as to what “honor” from God might look like, but I know that in relative contrast to being honored by men, it must evoke awe from the honoree!  What I’m saying here is that so often we love the praise of other men – I know that I enjoy a good “attaboy!” from friends or colleagues. In fact I think we often seek the praise of men to the detriment of what God would have us do.

Many times in the past I have been convicted about how often I relish the praise of men, and each time my mind turns to this weakness, the third stanza of ‘Be Thou My Vision’ often brings me to my knees. The words are as follows:

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,

Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,

High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

Notice how man’s empty praise is here contrasted with God being our inheritance. Samuel Rutherford once said, “His well done is worth a shipful of good-days and earthly honours.”

I would ask you to examine yourselves and see if this is your mindset.  Can you agree with the hymnist and with Rutherford? Can you truly say that your reward is an imperishable one?  And if so, is your mindset such that the praise you receive on earth is not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed to us?

12:27 “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.

Troubled in Soul

His human psyche must have been overwhelmed by the painful thought of that death. Why? Because He knew what pain was. He had spent the last 33 years on this earth and knew physical and emotional pain.

But more than that, He knows that what He values most is about to be ripped away from Him –His communion with the Father. During His time on the cross Jesus will suffer something He has never faced – separation from His Father. When the Father turns His back on the Son, the Son in agony cries out “why have you forsaken me!?”  The anguish that the Son goes through at this moment is pure Hell.

The word “troubled” here is significant. Carson says, “The verb is a strong one, and signifies revulsion, horror, anxiety, agitation.

I do not suppose to know whether Jesus truly knew in His humanity that this would happen as it did, but I do not doubt for a moment that Jesus understood the ramifications of what He was undertaking. And this is why John records for us Jesus’ words and we must ponder them carefully if we’re to understand the sacrifice and the depth of pain that our Savior endured on our account.

Not My Will, But Thy Will be Done

Now, as to the latter part of the verse, and whether Jesus is asking a true question, or actually praying a prayer (Carson), I do not know entirely and am not wholly convinced of Carson’s argument that this is not a question in the true sense, but rather a prayer asking for deliverance as in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Nevertheless, because of the fact that Jesus was in constant communion with the Father, and was filled with the Holy Spirit, He knew His purpose, and He knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant end. You can see the human and the divine nature here so clearly. He is troubled in the weakness of His flesh. His souls is shaken. He is probably greatly afflicted with intense emotion and perhaps anxiety of a kind that shakes you to the core. Yet, at the same time, He knows what He has to do. He says, “And what shall I say?” It is as if we are witnessing here an internal discussion, almost as if Jesus is thinking out loud and we see the back and forth.  Carson aptly quotes Bengel, “The horror of death, and the ardour of His obedience, were meeting together.”

Note that in His flesh He acknowledges the painful proposition ahead, but then He answers it by saying that will not pray something that He knows is outside of God’s will.  As Carson remarks, “This request is nothing other than an articulation of the principle that has controlled his life and ministry. The servant who does not stoop to his own will, but who performs the will of the one who sent him – even to death on a cross – is the one who glorified God.”

More than Restraint

So Christ restrains Himself from asking something of God that He knows will displease Him and run counter to the purpose for which He came to this earth. But it is more than simply restraint, as Carson argues, it is an active passionate obedience.  Carson says, “But the focus of the prayer transcends mere acquiescence; it betrays acquiescence that is subsumed under the passionate desire to bring glory to God, in much the same way that the petition ‘hallowed be your name’ in the Lord’s model prayer presupposes the active obedience of the one who is praying.”

As we have looked closely at this, it has humbled me greatly. I think of how often I have thought that merely acquiescing to the Lord’s will or my life’s circumstances was pleasing to God.  As if my formalist obedience was a sacrifice of some great magnitude. But Christ here shows us something more. He didn’t go to sulking to the cross with a drooping head. Christ does not model stoicism or begrudging obedience, rather He models for us a passion for God’s glory that completely subsumed His mind.  Like the angels of Zechariah 3 were consumed with glorifying God through the dressing of the high priest, so we too much be like Christ and His angelic creations and be completely subsumed with the thought: how can I glorify God in every action, every thought, every breathe I take?

So often we think the least common denominator will please God, we think of how much we can get away with and how far we can stretch His law and His patience, when we ought to be thinking, “Is this reflective of holiness? Or: Does this please God?”  In his book ‘The Hole in our Holiness’ Kevin DeYoung points out that this is a frequent mistake we make – especially seen in our dating/pre-marital relationships.  We think about our physical interaction with our fiancé and ask the question “how far is too far?”  When we ought to be asking, “How can we best tailor our actions toward holiness and righteousness?” Or, “Is this pleasing to God?”

Let us also seek to do more than simply curb the sinful impulses of our nature, or bow begrudgingly under the rule of God’s law; let us seek to develop holiness in our character, mind, and actions. Let us always be seeking to please God – for if we love Him, we will certainly seek to please Him!

12:28-30 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.

The fact that Jesus had his prayer answered so quickly by an audible voice from heaven may not stun us, the reader, living 2000 years later and reading this in black and white type. But to those around him it must have been a shocking, and even scary site to behold. The fact that some in the crowd thought it was an angel that spoke, while others thought that it was simply thunder, has not been fully understood by several theologians except to say that some seemed to be more discerning than others that there was an audible voice of some kind, though they misinterpreted its author as an angel. Though it didn’t seem as though any of them really understood what was said from the way the text is laid out, so Christ must have told them the thing after the fact (Carson).

Taking Measure of Our Desires

Now Jesus ends His prayer showcasing His strongest desire: that God’s name would be glorified. I think its fair to say that very often our strongest desires bubble up in our prayers. We secretly let God know what it is that we want most in the world. Some of these things are very noble and good things.  But I think of the times I have prayed to God, and I can hardly recall very many instances wherein I truly desired for God’s name to be magnified and glorified in the way that I imagine Jesus desired it to be. To hear Jesus pray is so humbling – it’s a heart check for us.  Hearing Him pray ought to cause us to ask ourselves this: what are our greatest desires?

I am reminded of Psalm 37:4-6:

Delight yourself in the LORD,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD;

trust in him, and he will act.

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

and your justice as the noonday

How is He Glorified?

If one cross references the last time such an instance had occurred in the life of Jesus one would think immediately of two instances, the baptism of Jesus and the Mount of Transfiguration. In both of these two other scenes Jesus had been in the midst of several people when a voice had come booming from the heavens.  What is the purpose of these events? I believe it is to attest to the deity of Christ and to point us to the event of the cross, which would be the one place where Christ is most glorified.

John MacArthur explains why:

God receives glory when His attributes are manifested, and nowhere was His magnanimous love for helpless sinners, His holy wrath against sin, His perfect justice, His redeeming grace, his forgiving mercy, or His infinite wisdom more clearly seen than in the substitutionary, propitiatory death of His Son.

For Your Sake

Finally, look at verse 30 and we’ll see that Jesus has directed us to turn our attention to the fact that the voice was not for his sake primarily, but rather for “your sake.”

As I mentioned above, all of these supernatural events were happening in the life of Jesus as a way to point us toward the realization of who Jesus is.  You have to ask the question: who is this man, and what is He all about?

What makes me shudder is to see that a voice literally spoke from heavens attesting that this Jesus is who He says He is, and yet there are still people who remain in their unbelief. The old joke of people not believing a thing even if it was “written in the sky” comes to mind. I don’t know how you can get much more plain than this. This man Jesus had done super human miracle after miracle from healing people, to casting out demons, to walking on water and calming a sea. He seems to know their thoughts and their hearts, and their pasts (John 1:48-49; 4:16-19), and now, to top it all, he is the subject (for a third time) of a literal voice addressing Him from heaven.  At this point, you continue in your unbelief at your own peril.