The last time I reflected on the Gospel of John I was entering what we know as the farewell discourse, a series of chapters (13-20:31) that prepare us for the passion narrative, a definite transition out of the festival cycle that defined chapters 5-10 and a movement towards a discussion of where Jesus is headed and what exactly He is doing as the light of the world.
To which John declares,
“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in the darkness.”
And yet what soon becomes apparent is that there is an existing tension between the light that Jesus promises to be and the Cross that now looms tall on the horizon. The Cross is as difficult for us to understand today as it was a source of confusion and resistance in the life of the disciples and John’s original audience.
Which is why I think actually spending time with this farewell discourse is so important, because by understanding what it is that brings us to the cross we can also understand the ways in which we have misunderstand and misappropriated its meaning in the context of our lives.
For myself, in the season of Lent I have been intentionally trying to sit in the words of chapter 12:44-50, aptly titled “Jesus Came To Save The World” in the translation I am using (ESV), as an appropriated transition towards the farewell discourse. I have been trying to give attention to where Jesus is heading and what exactly He is doing over the course of this farewell discourse, both as a way to better understand what the Cross means in my own life, and to help unmask some of my own misunderstanding and misappropriations.
To which I have found Jesus saying to me,
“… I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”
Rather, it is
“The words I have spoken will judge him (or me, as someone who misses what Jesus is looking to do in my own life far too often) on the last day.”
And what are these words by which I will be judged?
First, this passage tells us these words come from the Father,
“Whoever sees me sees him who sent me.”
and that they come in the form of a commandment given to Jesus as to “what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49)
And it is in Jesus’ willingness to adhere to this commandment, to speak these words, that we find the promise of “eternal life” (John12:50), the nature of the salvation that defines the working title of this passage.
For John this life is not merely about eternity, rather this life is described as the light of humankind (1:4), and this light, as John insists, is the person and ministry of Jesus.
And what are these words that Jesus says? It is the same words he has been repeating over and over again throughout the festival cycle. “I have come” and so “believe” that the light still shines in the darkness (12:46).
Thus eternal life for John is the idea that Jesus as the light gives us hope in the midst of the darkness, a way of seeing forward, a way of knowing “how” to live no matter the circumstance the darkness brings.
These words, which are to be our judgment, words that we tend to naturally resist, arrive not so much as a commandment to do this or be this in order to have life, but rather as a declaration that the light still shines. An invitation to believe there is hope in the midst of the darkness. A call to see a different way of life and then to respond by following Jesus in the way he his heading- to the cross:
1. The cross offers us hope not judgment.
2. The cross is something we both hear and see by learning to listen to the words of Jesus every day.
3. The cross is more than a momentary event, it is a way of life.
4. The cross is a call to enter a new way of life.
A new way of life that we live in the light of the cross.
The same light that sees Jesus tying that towel around his waste and washing his disciples feet (13:1-20).
The same light that sees Jesus giving us the Spirit that does “not leave us as orphans” in the midst of our struggle (14:18).
The same light that sees Jesus prays for us and still prays for us to know the love that the cross represents (John 17).
The same light that sees Jesus given over and arrested, judged and delivered to be crucified so that we may have the promise of new life (John 18-19).
And Now To Love As We Have Been Loved
We don’t have to dig far into any of these textual references to find the primary commandment that Jesus then offers to us is to do likewise. The reason we turn our attention to the cross on Good Friday is to listen and then to respond.
“Now is the Son of Man glorifed, and God is glorified in him… so now I also say to you… a “new commandment” I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
The Cross is a reminder that “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”, and so I have come to recognize over these past few months that the call to take up my own cross is primarily about embracing this new way of living, a life not given towards judgment but towards love, a life lived not in selfishness but in selfless abandonment, a life not spent hiding in the darkness but a willingness to allow the cross to teach me how to be a light to the world in Jesus’ physical absence.
And we do this because at the Cross we can trust there is light not judgment. And in the light we find the commandment God gave to Jesus- the word of love. And in the words of Jesus we find the truth that we are loved and the call to love one another. This is a truth that arrives in a momentary expression on a Cross that intends to breathe light and life into the whole of our lives, a way of transforming the way we see, the way we hear, the way we live.