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July 17 lesson: The Word Saves

July 05, 2022
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The Word Saves

Summer Quarter: Partners in a New Creation
Unit 2: The Word: The Agent of Creation


Sunday school lesson for the week of July 17, 2022
By Dr. Jay Harris


Lesson Scripture: John 12:44-50

Understanding the Mission of Jesus
 
Once Jesus began his public ministry, we see a person who was guided intensely by his mission. His mission gave his life focus. We see this focus in all four gospels. In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus’ mission is stated using the language of the kingdom of God. Jesus came to urge people to repent and believe the good news of the kingdom of God. Jesus wanted people saved from the corrupt systems of the world and begin living according to the reign of God.
 
The emphasis is different in John’s gospel. The term “kingdom of God” is rarely used in John’s gospel. Think about that. The term used in its place is “eternal life.” Now the very fact that Jesus talks about eternal life in place of the focus on the reign of God leads us to believe that eternal life refers to the reign of God. Nevertheless, the difference in the use of words adds to the layers of meaning. We will explore this in today’s lesson.
 
The backdrop for Jesus’ mission is saving people from darkness and bringing them into the light. There is always this more cosmic dimension to John’s gospel. Cosmic does not, however, mean impersonal. The appeal Jesus makes is very personal. It gets personal because it is about what each person believes or chooses not believe. The stakes have to do with eternity.
 
In today’s lesson, we are digging down into this rather short discourse to come to a deeper understanding of Jesus’ saving mission in John’s gospel.
 
The Father Sends, the Son Reveals
 
In the synoptic gospels, we get plenty of glimpses into the relationship between Jesus and his heavenly Father. We see this, for instance, in the many references to Jesus’ habit of praying. Jesus often makes references to “my Father in heaven.” John’s gospel goes a step further because the relationship between Son and Father is a frequent subject of conversation. Then Jesus cried aloud: ‘Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me.’” (John 12:44)
 
Jesus started by saying that to believe in him is not really about believing merely in him. In other words, you cannot believe in Jesus in just any way you like, detached from the story of his origins. To believe in Jesus is to believe he was SENT. Others have been sent by God: the prophets and John the Baptist, for instance. None of these were sent, however, in the same manner that Jesus was sent. John’s gospel is the one that draws back the curtain for the reader and reveals that before the Son took on flesh, he existed with the Father from eternity past. Then, when the time was right, he was sent into the world – from his divine form in eternity past to human form in the womb of a human mother. Although we are let in on this mystery, we do not know how much Jesus revealed about all of this to his audiences. Jesus simply stated in no uncertain terms that he was SENT. This is an article of faith that a believer was and is required to embrace.

To believe Jesus was sent is to believe in the One who sent him. To believe in the one is to believe in the other. We cannot understand the Son without the Father, and we cannot fully understand the Father without embracing the story of his Son. Something vital goes missing without understanding both the Father and the Son and the relationship between the two.

“And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.’” (John 12:45) Jesus was not only sent, Jesus REVEALS. Whoever sees the Son, sees the Father who sent him. In this way, Jesus reveals the Father. The Word became flesh so we could see the Father. The First Letter of John amplifies this point: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.” When the Son was sent into the world, the Son revealed the Father in a way that was accessible to the human senses of sight, sound, and touch.

I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” (John 12:46) The metaphors in John’s gospel often have multiple meanings. Light often refers to righteousness and darkness to sin. When Jesus said however that he comes as light into the world so that believers may not remain in darkness, light means revelation and hope. Darkness means ignorance and despair. Jesus is God’s revelation and light, but it is when we believe that we are delivered from darkness. Jesus was SENT, and Jesus REVEALS – and this calls forth a response.
 
The Gospel Calls for a Verdict

We do not come to God in a vacuum. We do not come to God on our own power. God’s action precedes our own. Our action is always in response to God’s action. Believing is our faithful response to the light that has come into the world. What about when we do not respond to the light God offers through his Son? “I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47) Jesus came to save, not judge.

This echoes John 3:16-17. According to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God loved and God gave. The gift of God’s only Son is the supreme expression of God’s love. In case we are not clear where the Lord stands, we hear these words: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus came to save, not judge.

There is more however: “The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge.” (John 12:48) The word of Jesus, which is a word of invitation, calls for a verdict. We are called to believe or reject his invitation. Jesus stands over his invitation not as a judge, but as our loving defender. We know that Jesus soon would give his life for us on the cross after saying these words. At our judgement, Jesus takes the role of our defender.

This is so important for us to comprehend. Guilt and shame are crippling. Because of the guilt and shame that people experience, they feel unworthy of being loved by God. People who feel this way often view God as a distant, unfeeling Judge. This causes some to reject God – or the very notion of God. They do not understand that God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved. Jesus came to save, not judge. It is as if Jesus on the cross is seeking to bar the way to darkness so that we might come with him to the light.

Unfortunately, some people have heard more judgment than grace from those who represent the church for them. It is true that the gospel, the good news, calls for a verdict, but Jesus stands on our side that we might believe in him and put our whole trust in his grace.

When we say that the gospel calls for a verdict, we are saying that we must choose to believe or reject the good news of Jesus Christ. There is a famous quote by C.S. Lewis in his book, “Mere Christianity.” He writes, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Jesus calls us to believe or reject him. We must decide whether or not he is the Son of God and truly represents the God and Father of us all. What happens when we step through this open door of believing?

The Gift of Eternal Life

Jesus said, “for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49) And what is this commandment about which Jesus speaks? Jesus said, “And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.” (John 12:50)

This ought to settle things in terms of how we view God. Jesus is the Father’s ambassador who is under the Father’s command to speak into our lives the gift of eternal life with the Father. Whatever Jesus said and did in his gracious life on earth was authorized by his Father. We see the character of the Father in the character of the Son. This is what we know therefore: God wants us to spend eternity with him. The source of all love wants to love us for eternity. This invitation calls for a verdict. Will we believe in him or reject his offer? The sooner we begin believing, the sooner we begin enjoying the eternal life God offers.

Remember what we said last week about John’s gospel. In John’s gospel, seeing is believing, but more than that, believing is seeing. When we begin believing, we begin seeing and experiencing more to life than we knew was possible. A whole new world opens up to us. Life becomes an adventure.
 
Prayer
 
Loving God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son Jesus revealed your nature through his gracious life. Help us to believe Jesus through his words and deeds so we might see more and more of you as we walk each day by faith and action, through Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever, Amen.

Dr. Jay Harris serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Ministerial Services for the South Georgia Conference. Email him at jharris@sgaumc.com. Find his plot-driven guide to reading the Bible, the “Layered Bible Journey,” at www.layeredbiblejourney.com.  

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