27"Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!"
Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." 29The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." 33He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
34The crowd spoke up, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this 'Son of Man'?"
35Then Jesus told them, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light." When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.
Our oldest son is thirteen now and he’s a very wonderful, outgoing young man but when he was younger, he could tend to be a bit shy at times. At five years old, he wanted nothing more than to play basketball on a real team. He loved sports and basketball was his favorite. Everyday he would get up early on his little indoor hoop and would shoot for hours. He would especially relish the times when we would go up to the park and play on the real hoops. It seemed that everything in his little life was leading up to the YMCA basketball league. He wanted special basketball shoes and insisted on wearing a real Milwaukee Bucks jersey and shorts so that he would look like a real basketball player. On top of that, he told everyone who would listen that he was going to be a real basketball player, he was going to play in a league. He was ready too, he was a pretty good player for his age. Finally, after weeks of waiting, the big day came. It was the first day of the league. He got up early and got himself dressed in all of his basketball gear, for the time had come. When we got to the gym, he bounded out of the car and ran ahead of me, only stopping when he got to the big glass door that he couldn’t open himself. When we went inside the gym it was full of parents, referees and the other players. Here was his moment. He responded by looking around at all of the people, bursting in to tears and running behind my legs. When the moment came for him to take center stage and play basketball, the very thing he wanted, he suddenly wanted another way. He wanted to be a real basketball player without anyone looking at him. He wanted to avoid the very thing he had been preparing for all along. For those who are wondering, he never did collect himself and did not play in that league that year.
The question is, though, is this what happened to Jesus? Did Jesus plan his whole life around doing the will of the Father and know that that mission culminated in the cross, only to desire to back out at the last minute. When the hour actually came, was he trying to back out of the Father’s will and find some way to avoid it? Is your picture of Jesus and God big enough to handle that if that was the case?
Many Christians surrender to a form of docetism in their thinking without even realizing it. This might not concern you, because more likely than not, you have no idea what docetism is. It is important, though, trust me. Docetism was a very early heresy about Jesus that taught that he only appeared to be human. He was really God, though, so he wasn’t really human, it just looked and seemed that way. Passages like this, however, show us that this is just not the case. The Word had become flesh, real flesh. Flesh that was complete with all of it’s inherent weaknesses and temptations to seek out its own comfortable will rather than God’s. This troubled feeling that Jesus expresses wasn’t something that just came over him in the moment. It was something that was with him all along. We see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene dealing with this struggle once-and-for-all as he resolves himself to do nothing but the will of the Father as he had all along. Just because Jesus did the Father’s will perfectly doesn’t mean that he wasn’t tempted to do otherwise. He was tempted in every way (Heb. 4:15) because he was fully human, and there is no area in which we are more tempted than to do the will of our weak flesh rather than the Father’s will. That is why when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, a central aspect of that prayer was that God’s will be done in our own lives (Matt. 6:10). Jesus wasn’t going to back out of doing the Father’s will but if there was another way to fulfill it, he sure was listening.
Jesus’ suffering was going to be very real suffering. When I was a child, I used to think that the crucifixion was no big deal because Jesus was God and so it wouldn’t have been that bad. What I didn’t understand was that Jesus was every bit as human as I am. His flesh did not want to suffer. If there was some other way, then this would be a great time for God to reveal it now that the time had come. Perhaps the Father would change the plan at the last minute the way he had caused Abraham to stop his sacrifice of Isaac. But no, Jesus knows better than that. The entirety of the Father’s will for Jesus was to go the cross. All of history hinged on this moment and the Father’s name would be glorified.
The Father doesn’t just leave the Son wrestling with this momentous struggle on his own, he speaks audibly. The Father also spoke audibly at Jesus’ baptism and his transfiguration, so this is the third time that the Father’s voice was heard aloud. The Father confirmed that he had glorified His name through everything that Jesus had done in his ministry and life and He would certainly be glorified at the death of His own son.
The crowd isn’t sure what they heard. Some thought it was thunder, while others credited it to angels. It is curious that John doesn’t report anyone who correctly surmised that it was the Father Himself. In that respect, the crowd wasn’t much different from people today who seem ready to attribute the things of the Almighty God, whether it be the resurrection of Christ, the Bible, Creation, or something else, to anything other than God.
The voice of the Father, though, wasn’t necessary for Jesus. Struggle as he might in his flesh. The Spirit within gave him constant testimony to the fact that he was doing the Father’s will. There was no mistaking it and no voice from heaven was necessary for Jesus. The quiet leading of the Spirit was more than enough. So, what was the purpose of the voice? It was so that those around Jesus would recognize that everything Jesus did came from the Father and had the intent of glorifying the Father. It was for their benefit, not his.
The voice from heaven signified that everything Jesus had done and said was, in fact, the work of the Father. The time had come. The world and the evil in it would be judged. The prince of this world would be driven out from his throne of temporary rule. Now this is more like it. This was the kind of talk that the Jews wanted to hear coming from a potential Messiah. Some were no doubt scrambling for their swords, ready to follow him into battle at the slightest sign that he was ready to take on the Romans. But no, that’s not how all of this would happen. It wouldn’t be that obvious. The new covenant would be a different and spiritual covenant rather than a physical one. The prince of this age wasn’t Rome but Satan and evil itself, that’s what would be judged and dealt with. The way that this would happen was that Jesus would be lifted up, meaning he would be crucified. This is how he would draw all men out of the slavery of sin and to himself. He must, in other words, die in order for the world to be freed.
This was pure, confusing nonsense to the crowds. They simply could not compute the idea of a Messiah that was talking of his own death. How would that be glorious? How would that defeat anything? He should be talking of killing Romans, not talking of them killing him. If anything, that sounded like an excuse. That sounded like someone who knew he was going to fail and was trying to come up with reasons for his failure. The Jews had understood the Scriptures that talked of the eternal kingdom of the Messiah (cf. Gen. 49:10; Dan. 7:18) that would never end. How could this happen if the Son of Man was going to die? Could it be that the Son of Man was someone other than Jesus? Would that person suffer and die while Jesus would rule forever?
Jesus, as he so often does, doesn’t appear to answer the question directly, instead talking about something that seemingly doesn’t relate to the question. As is always the case, though, his enigmatic answer is the exact answer to the question if they will only listen with spiritual ears. They want to know who the Son of Man is? He is light of men (Jn. 1:5), but there is no time for extravagant explanations. This explanation is as succinct and to the point as his initial explanation to the Greeks concerning who he is. He is the light, but they will have that light for just a very short while. In the meantime, they need to stay with that light, walk in the light, and believe in that light. If they do that, they will soon know how to enter into that light permanently and become sons of light. With that said, Jesus acts brilliantly in what seems to be an acted out parable. He left and hid himself from them, showing them in very real terms what it would be like if they do not stay in the light. If they don’t follow and believe in his word, they will not be able to find the light at all once he has been lifted up. Then the darkness truly will overtake them.
If we’re not careful, we can slip into the same sort of thinking that the crowd here had. We can expect God to always work powerfully and victoriously in our lives rather than working and molding us through struggles and trials. When a trial comes into your life, do you embrace with thanksgiving as the means through which God is teaching and training you or does it make you doubt and question whether God is really in control? Look at some of the recent trials in your life and consider how God has or will use them to His glory in your life.