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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Don't misunderstand who Jesus is and why he came
Text:John 12:44-50 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 45:1,2

Psalm 130:1,2 (after the law of God)

Psalm 37:1-3

Hymn 67

Psalm 79:5

Scripture reading: Judges 3:12-30

Text: John 12:44-50

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Misunderstandings often happen in life.  Most of them are relatively insignificant.  But some misunderstandings can be fatal.  If you’re driving in a foreign country and you misunderstand a road sign, it could be the end of you. 

Or take that Moabite king Eglon in our reading from Judges 3.  He profoundly misunderstood the situation in Israel.  He thought it was all good, that the Israelites were content with the status quo.  So he thought Ehud was just coming in peace, bringing the tribute as usual.  When he heard Ehud say he had a message from God, King Eglon misunderstood that to mean there were some words from the Israelite God.  Instead, the message was the sword of God’s judgment thrust into his belly.  That was a fatal misunderstanding.

There are misunderstandings that can be fatal in this life, but there are also misunderstandings that can be fatal for eternity.  That’s what our passage from John is about this morning.  As Jesus finished his public ministry, there were those who continued to misunderstand who he was and why he’d come.  If that kind of misunderstanding persists, it’ll be fatal forever.  That kind of misunderstanding leads to eternal death.  You see, this is why it’s so important for us to clearly understand Jesus’ person and mission and trust in him accordingly.  So I preach to you God’s Word from John 12:44-50 and I’ve summarized the sermon like this:  Don’t misunderstand who Jesus is and why he came.

We’ll consider:

  1. His identity
  2. His mission
  3. His appeal

We don’t know exactly when Jesus spoke the words of this passage.  But the way the Gospel of John presents them, it would seem these were the last words Jesus spoke in his public ministry.  These words summarize almost all the important themes of the previous 12 chapters.  Jesus wants to make himself amply clear, leaving no one with an excuse for misunderstanding him.  This is why he shouts the words of our passage.  He wants everyone to hear and understand.    

As part of that, he speaks here again of his identity.  Who is Jesus?  The first thing we need to see in our passage is that he is a revelation of who God is.  Jesus is God clothed in human flesh.  In Colossians 1, the Holy Spirit calls him “the image of the invisible God.”  And “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”  So there’s the closest possible correspondence between God and Jesus.  Jesus is the most potent revelation of who God is.

Therefore if you believe in Jesus, you’re believing in God, the one who sent him.  If you place your trust in Christ, then automatically your trust is in God.  That’s because he is God, but also because he perfectly reveals who God is.

Similarly, if you see Jesus, you see God, the one who sent him.  That doesn’t mean the human body of Jesus shows us what God is like.  Rather, what it means is that when you watch Jesus, when you watch and listen to him, you’re watching and listening to God.  God is revealing himself through Jesus.

When Jesus said this, he was addressing a particularly Jewish misunderstanding of his identity.  As Christians, we believe in the doctrine of the Trinity.  The whole Bible taken together tells us that God is three persons in one being.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the one true God.  While there are hints of the doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament, it wasn’t until the New Testament that this doctrine was completely revealed.  Here in our passage, Christ was speaking to Jews who were monotheists – they believed there is only one God.  That’s true, of course.  But if you were Jewish, you could misunderstand Jesus to be saying that there are two Gods.  There’s God and then there’s Jesus.  But here Jesus is saying, “Don’t misunderstand me.  I am the revelation of who God is.  But it’s not as if there are two Gods.”  Saying this doesn’t come close to a full disclosure of the doctrine of the Trinity, but it’s on that track.

In verse 46 Jesus reminds us of something more about his identity.  He is light.  In the Bible, light represents two things.  Light represents life.  Without light hardly anything can live.  We depend on light for life and for eternal life we depend on Jesus. 

Light also represents security, safety.  When you have light, you can see the dangers around you and avoid them.  When you have light, you feel safe.  Light is security and for our eternal security we depend on Jesus.

If we take all this together, who is Jesus?  He is God come for our eternal life and eternal security.  Since we’re called to believe in God, we’re called to believe in Jesus.  The salvation that he was sent to bring is an essential part of his identity, one which we ought not to misunderstand.

In history there have been numerous misunderstandings of Jesus’ identity.  For example, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant said in the 1800s that Jesus was merely “a model of morality and a teacher of virtue.”  Today if people around us give any attention to Jesus, it’s exactly like that.  Jesus is just an example of morality, particularly an example of unconditional love and acceptance.  Jesus has even become a champion of the morality of the Sexual Revolution.  They say that if Jesus were on earth today, he’d definitely march in a Pride Parade.  There are two things we need to understand. 

First of all, Jesus didn’t come approving of anything God calls sin in his moral law.  Remember:  he is a perfect revelation of who God is.  Therefore, whatever God says in his Word, Christ also says.  Jesus was loving and compassionate with sinners, but in doing so he never approved of their sins.  He never celebrated anyone’s sin.  He never compromised his holiness.  He never said or did anything contrary to what God had revealed in his Word about sexuality or anything else.

Second, there’s a sense in which Jesus is our example.  If we’re Christians, we’re his disciples.  That means we’re his followers.  We follow his example.  We want to be like Jesus, our Master.  However, Christians don’t believe that Jesus is merely our example.  No, he’s far more than that.  Christ is our Saviour, our Redeemer, our Mediator, our only High Priest, our King, our Chief Prophet.  Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.  He is our Good Shepherd, our Immanuel, he is the resurrection, and our true bread from heaven.  Christ is our Elder Brother, our Righteousness, our Holiness, our Lamb of God, and, as our passage says, he is our Light.  Jesus is all that and more to Christians.  Loved ones, we can’t fall into this worldly trap of shrinking Jesus down to a “model of morality and teacher of virtue.”  He’s far, far more than that according to what the Bible teaches.  And above all, he is God come in the flesh as our light, our life and safety forever.  When we believe in him, we have eternal life and we’re safe forever from what would otherwise destroy us.

There were also misunderstandings about the mission of Jesus.  Jesus had a mission – he clearly had a purpose in what he was doing.  That raises a few issues.

One issue is: who gave Jesus his mission?  Many among the Jews thought that Jesus’ mission was self-initiated.  He got to be 30 years old and then suddenly out of the blue he decided he wanted to be a somebody.  He wanted to be a religious teacher.  But it was entirely his choice, his idea. 

Against that, Jesus says in verses 44 and 45 that there’s someone who sent him.  That’s said in verse 49 as well.  There Christ identifies the one who sent him – it was the Father.  God sent him into this world.  The image there is of an emissary or ambassador sent by a King.  In the ancient world, an emissary would be sent by a King with the King’s authority.  He represented the office and authority of the King.  Similarly, Jesus was sent by God with divine authority.  So when Jesus spoke, he didn’t speak on his own authority, but on that of God who sent him.  When you listen to Jesus speak, you’re listening to God speak. 

The Father gave Jesus a commandment to say certain things.  As it turns out, these things Christ was commanded to speak are about eternal life.  His whole mission is geared towards that.  That’s emphasized in verses 46 and 47 too. 

In verse 46, our Lord Jesus says he came as light, “so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”  Light is life and safety, but darkness is death and danger.  If you’re stuck in spiritual darkness, you’re headed for eternal death.  You’re under the threat of eternal torment of body and soul.  Darkness symbolizes judgment, specifically the judgment of God against our sins.  Think of those parables Jesus tells where people are cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It’s a picture of judgment, separation, and suffering.  That darkness is what we deserve, but Christ has come to pull us out and away from the darkness, away from the judgment.

So he also says that he didn’t come for judgment.  What he means there is that the purpose of his first coming wasn’t judgment on the world of unbelief.  When Jesus took on our human flesh and came to this earth, he came for the salvation of sinners.  He was on a rescue mission.  That was his driving purpose:  to save. 

The legendary Reformed teacher R.C. Sproul used to tell the story of how he was once approached by someone on the street.  This guy randomly came up to him and said, “Hey man, are you saved?”  Sproul responded, “Saved from what?”  And this guy didn’t have an answer to that.  In verse 47, when Jesus says that his mission was to “save the world,” we should be asking, “save from what?”  What is it that the world of sinful people needs to be saved from?  What’s the danger threatening us?

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day had a profound misunderstanding of that.  They believed they needed a Messiah to rescue them, but most of them saw that rescue in political terms.  They believed they need to be rescued from Roman tyranny.  They saw their need for rescue in purely worldly terms.  They wanted to be rescued from Caesar so they could have their land back under Jewish control.  To correct that misunderstanding, Jesus speaks in verse 47 about his mission to save the world.  His mission was for the world, not just for the Jews.  He’s about saving Jews and non-Jews. 

He’s about saving them from the wrath of God against sin.  God is holy.  That means he’s separate from sin and cannot stand to have sin near him.  God is holy and so he hates sin with an intensity we can’t understand.  He considers all sin to be a personal affront to his infinite majesty.  God is just and so he must punish sin.  That’s what hell is about.  Hell is where God punishes sin forever and ever.  In Matthew 25, Jesus described hell as “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and as “eternal punishment.”  Jesus came to rescue us from that, from God’s wrath in hell.  When we place our trust in Christ, that he took our hell on the cross, we’re rescued from the threat of hell.  Jesus’ mission was to bless us with salvation from the worst destiny imaginable. 

Sadly today there are many churches which misunderstand Jesus’ mission.  There’s this thing called the prosperity gospel.  You can often detect these churches from their name:  they use words like “victory,” “abundant,” or “conquerors.”  When you hear their preaching, you’ll hear phrases like “releasing your faith,” “speaking your faith,” or “believing God for” things.   They won’t talk about suffering as part of the Christian life.  You won’t hear anything about denying yourself and taking up your cross.  Instead, you’ll hear a lot of talk that’s centered on what you want.  You’ll hear about Jesus, but he’ll be the means to your earthly wealth, health, and prosperity.  Jesus’ mission was to make you happy here on this earth.  He’s like the genie.  You just have to rub the right way – name it and claim it in faith – and this genie Jesus will give you what you want.

I did a Google search for “Can faith in Jesus give me a new car?”  The first result in the search was an article from Kenneth Copeland ministries.  The article says consistency is the key.  You can’t just speak words of faith every now and then, you have to be persistent.  You have to keep saying, “We believe we receive a new car.”  It’s like a mantra which magically makes things happen.  And eventually you’ll get your new car, just like the author of the article.  She released her faith in God’s promise – in other words she rubbed the right way with enough persistence and the genie gave her what she wanted.  So, you see, Jesus is very useful.  But of course, these are all lies from the pit of hell.  This isn’t the biblical gospel.        

Still, I wonder if we might ever be tempted to look at Jesus in a similar way.  Maybe it’s not that he’s the key to unlocking earthly prosperity.  But perhaps we look at him as useful on our terms.  Identifying as a Christian, as a church member, as a follower of Christ is useful because it brings certain benefits, certain connections, power, influence.  If that’s the case, then we’ve misunderstood the mission of Jesus.  Look, he didn’t come for you on your terms, but on his.  His mission was to do for you what you truly need – to live a perfect life of obedience and to die on the cross in your place to pay for your sins.  Loved ones, don’t misunderstand why he came.           

When we understand why he came, then we’re also in the right place to hear his appeal.  That’s the last thing we want to look at in this passage.  There’s an explicit warning and an implicit invitation or call. 

Let’s start with the implicit invitation or call.  The main purpose of John’s Gospel is to call people to faith in Jesus Christ.  The word “believe” appears over and over again.  Here, when you hear about Jesus, who he is, and why he’s come, you’re implicitly being called again to place your trust in him alone for your salvation from sin.  No one can guarantee you a future with eternal life and safety except Jesus.  So believe in him.  Rest in what he’s done for you.  Rest in him alone.  Don’t think to yourself that you’ll somehow earn your way into God’s favour.  Stop trying.  Rest in what Christ has done.  He’s perfectly obeyed God’s commandments for you.  Jesus has perfectly paid for all the times you’ve broken God’s commandments.  So trust in him and not in yourself and in no one or nothing else.  Only Jesus.  Rest and trust in him.  Not just once, but keep on doing that.  Keep on resting and trusting in Jesus for as long as you have breath.

This is something we’re all called to do.  That includes the smallest children here this morning.   All the children here too are called to rest and trust in Christ alone.  God has publicly signed and sealed his covenant promises to them.  Those promises include rescue from sin, salvation from hell through Jesus Christ.  As they grow older and are able to understand, their parents have to teach them about the gospel they’re called to believe.  Every covenant child will have to believe this gospel message for themselves.  As covenant children, they’re called to, just as all of us have been called as God’s people to do. 

If we refuse God’s calling, then there’s judgment.  As part of his appeal in our passage, our Lord Jesus speaks explicitly about judgment.  It’s in verses 47 and 48.  There are people who hear what Jesus has to say and they refuse to believe.  It’s reality.  It was reality when Jesus walked on the earth.  It’s still reality today.  And many of those who heard Jesus’ words back then were God’s covenant people.  Many who hear Christ’s words today are also covenant people.  Whether then or now, the reality is that some don’t believe.  And for them, there will be judgment. 

We noted earlier how Jesus said his mission was salvation, not judgment.  That was referring to his first coming.  But he is going to come again a second time.  And when Christ does, it will be for judgment.  There will be judgment on the last day.  Unbelievers will be judged by Christ, including those from God’s covenant people. 

People will be judged according to what they heard.  If people were exposed to the truth about who Jesus is and why he came and yet rejected him, they’ll be held accountable for that.  Christ will say, “You heard my Word, you heard who I was and why I came, you heard the call of the gospel.  Yet you rejected me.  That adds to the judgment that already rests on you as a sinner.”   

The truth is that Jesus is coming back and he will judge righteously.  The guilty won’t be shown clemency.  There’ll be no mercy anymore.  It doesn’t sound nice for me to say it, but this is what the Bible says and it’s in the Bible for a reason.  God warns us about the coming judgment because in his love he wants us to go the better way.  God wants us to hear warnings about judgment for unbelief and say to ourselves, “Oh, I’d never want that.  What a terrifying thought!  O God, please help me to believe in Jesus and keep on believing in him.”

Loved ones, if we’ve understood Christ correctly and if we’ve rested and trusted in him, then his second coming isn’t something to dread.  If you’re fully trusting in Christ as your life and salvation, there’ll be no need for you to be afraid when he returns on the last day.  With Christ as your Saviour, he’s not coming for your judgment, but for your full measure of salvation.  If you’re around when he returns, you’ll be glad and welcome him.  This is why we pray and sing, “Come Lord Jesus, Maranatha!”  AMEN.         


Father in heaven,

Thank you for who Jesus is and why he came.  Thank you that you sent him in your love to be our rescue from sin and its consequences.  We worship you because he is the light, he is our life and our security.  Please help us all with your Holy Spirit to fully rest and trust in him alone.  We pray that everyone here this morning, both young and old, would have a true and living faith in the one and only Saviour Jesus.  May we all joyfully look forward to his return with the clouds of heaven.  May none of us be fearful and afraid on that day. 

We do pray for those who badly misunderstand our Lord Jesus.  We pray for those who see him merely as a moral example.  Open their eyes to the reality of who Christ is, that he’s the Saviour for sinners.  We pray for those who believe the lies of the prosperity gospel.  We pray that with your Word you would help them too understand the glorious reality of why our Saviour came.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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