First, “When I am lifted up from the Earth, I will draw all men to myself”
Jesus first alludes to what his death on the cross would do. It would be the time for judgment, drive out the prince of this world, and draw all men to himself. Even though Jesus’ death on the cross appeared to be his own judgment by mankind, it was actually God’s judgment on this world. God allowed his One and Only Son to be nailed to a wooden cross and lifted up for all to see so that God could show the world how serious and terrible sin was.
In high school, I thought smoking cigarettes was cool. And I did so freely with my friends. But when my grandmother developed stage 4 lung cancer and slowly faded away right before my eyes, I was disgusted with cigarettes. No D.A.R.E program or anti-smoking brochures could do what seeing my grandmother in a coma on an oxygen machine did to me. Although a very weak comparison, I see that this is what God was doing through the death of his Only Son. Except in this situation, my actions were directly related to Jesus’ death. My own smoking did not cause my grandmother to die, but my own sin did incite the punishment that was laid on Jesus. Sin was serious—devastating—fatal. Many people did not believe it. They didn’t think their sin was so bad, especially because they believed in God and were zealous for the law. But through this event, God was making it clear that even their sin was bad enough to nail the Son of God to a cross.
At the last two conferences, I started to see the seriousness of my own sin. As we wrote our sins on a small scroll to be nailed to the cross, I felt ashamed. Seeing my sins written out on paper was painful. But at the time, I didn’t really understand what sin meant. The first time we did it, I remember struggling to fill up the whole scroll. I made sure to include things related to my sexually immoral lifestyle, excessive drinking, and partying. But that was it. And then when we did it again at the second conference, I saw that my sin was broader than those obviously wicked things. So I included more—like pursuing my own idea of marriage and some of the deeper sins in my heart that I still struggled with. But I still didn’t quite get it. However, since then, the depth and width of my sin has become more and more real to me. I see that my sin was not just some dishonorable actions or heart problems, but an entire life outside of God. Every decision I made, even “good ones,” was sin. Every plan I made—every thought or idea I had—every word from my mouth—all of it was sin. And all of this is what drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet. If I were to write my sins on a scroll today, I would need hundreds or thousands of papers.
And just because I’m a Bible teacher now, it doesn’t mean that I am no longer directly related to Jesus’ death. Thinking that I am now righteous enough or worthy enough to serve God is sin in itself. The cross is God’s sign to the world—believers and unbelievers—of the seriousness of sin. I must not take sin casually because I believe in Jesus, go to church, and study the Bible. His death does not give me a free pass to take it easy. But his death is a reminder of how hard I should fight against sin.
Also, because of Jesus’ death, the prince of this world is being driven out. Before, Satan was the ruler of this earth. As C.S. Lewis puts it, the earth is enemy-occupied territory. And Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed in disguise and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. Jesus’ death on the cross was the start of this sabotage through the establishment of his kingdom on earth. His kingdom has been growing over the past 2,000 years. And it will continue to grow, one citizen at a time, until Satan’s rule is completely destroyed.
Jesus was confident about the expansion of his kingdom, even saying, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Despite the fact that people had rejected and run away from God over and over again, Jesus saw his death would draw all people to himself. It’s interesting that even though Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s sign of judgment, it was also his proclamation of love for the world. Because the punishment that was meant for all people on earth was placed upon God’s Only Son. There’s no doubt that God really loved his Son Jesus. But God loved the terrible, rebellious, ignorant people in the world so much that he sacrificed his beloved Son for their sake.
All people desire to be loved. But they settle with someone sacrificing some time to be with them, saying nice things to them, doing something for them, or buying stuff for them. Meanwhile they have no idea that the Son of God died for them. And not just because they asked for it or gave him thanks for doing it, but he even did this while they rejected and ignored him. When I finally understood this, I no longer felt unloved, abandoned, or neglected. And I realized that I didn’t have to fight so hard to be loved in the world. Because any love or affection I could secure from people was cheap, filthy, and empty compared to the love Jesus displayed for me on the cross.
Second, “Walk while you have the light”
Jesus just told this crowd some pretty amazing things. Judgment on the world, driving out the enemy, and drawing all men to himself. They should have been curious about his message, what it meant, and why he was telling them. But instead, they focused on some little things like terminology and a vague understanding of the scripture.
Simply, they were looking for ways to invalidate Jesus’ message so they could justify their rejection. The problem was not the terminology Jesus used, but the message altogether. They did not want to accept the message. People do this all the time. When God’s message and direction is revealed to them, they start to feel uncomfortable. “Hey, I only signed up for weekly Bible study, not life direction!” Or they focus on the church location. They say Gardena is too far. Or they don’t like the church style or the music. Or they don’t like the word “shepherd,” saying, “Jesus is the only true shepherd!” They say many things. But just like this crowd, they completely miss the message—or they don’t want to accept it. Jesus could have answered all their questions no problem. He could have corrected their understanding and explained his terminology. But instead, Jesus pointed out their real problem. They were all talk but no walk.
It would be really strange for someone to go through police training, wear an official police uniform, and have great knowledge of law enforcement but never put any of it into action. Such a great privilege and responsibility would be totally wasted. And if all police officers acted this way, the country would fall apart. It was just as strange and frustrating to Jesus that these religious people diligently studied the scriptures and heard amazing Bible studies from the world’s best Bible teacher, but failed to do anything with it. As God’s chosen people, they had such a great privilege to be leaders among their people and a light for the Gentiles. But they threw all that away. Jesus warned 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.” The theme of light and darkness is used pretty consistently throughout Jesus’ teachings. Jesus says the word light 17 times in John’s gospel. So it must be a pretty important theme.
Outside of God, life was very dark indeed. I went to school to become a nurse. And less than one year in, I lost my motivation to pursue nursing. So two days before the next semester started, I changed my major. And a month into that semester, I changed it again. And a month after that, I changed it again. I had no direction or motivation. I started having panic attacks because college started to seem meaningless. I remember one day thinking about my future and not being able to see anything at all. So I assumed that I would probably just die by some accident or disease before I graduated from college. But even that terrified me. One time I had a panic attack on a dark ride at Disneyland because I suddenly realized that my life was only a ticking timer. So I pursued partying, drugs, and romantic flings to distract me. Eventually I settled with a major that seemed safe, and also because they probably wouldn’t let me change my major anymore. But even graduating and getting a job on campus did not give me any direction or purpose. I felt even more lost than before. Life was really dark; and my hair, clothes, and heavy makeup were all an obvious sign.
But hope came into my life when God sent me a Bible teacher. Each week, light was shining right in front of me. I always felt so good and refreshed after Bible study. But then I went home. And it was only a matter of minutes or hours before I descended right back into darkness. I did this for over a year, until one day God backed me into a corner. I could choose my friends and my self-directed life. Or I could choose to accept that God had sent me his messenger to guide me in the right direction. Both of these choices were very troubling to me. I wanted to stay in my comfortable life with my friends that I loved, but even that life didn’t feel the same anymore. It was like waking up from the Matrix and realizing that nothing about my life was real or meaningful. But at the same time, God’s direction seemed scary and uncomfortable.
This was a very pivotal moment for me. Everything was clear to me, and I actually saw and knew that my life was wrong. I had the light right there in front of me. And if I chose to actively ignore that understanding, then I honestly don’t know where I would be today. Who knows if that understanding ever would have come to me again. I truly believe that the darkness I was living in would have overtaken me.
And this warning still applies to me today. Each week I am given the Word of God in Bible study. I write testimony and come to realize a lot of things about my life and God’s direction. Sometimes I’m inspired to write a lot in my testimony. But realizing deep things and writing many pages means nothing if I don’t walk the walk. If I really trust Jesus and his direction, I will walk by it. Just like you’ll let yourself fall backwards if you trust that there’s a person waiting to catch you. So far, in this Christian life, walking by the light has never failed me. When I hold onto Jesus and his teachings, my life is really good and I always have a clear purpose and direction.
Jesus did a lot for these people. But despite everything Jesus did, the people’s response was not good. Most of them rejected Jesus and his message. And the leaders who did believe in him hid their faith out of fear of losing their synagogue citizenship. It seems there is no distinction between these two responses. Both were terrible. For anyone to reject Jesus, especially after his many miraculous signs, was purely illogical. Just as illogical as watching a surgeon perform an operation in a hospital, with scrubs and the proper equipment, and refusing to believe he is a surgeon.
But their strange behavior was not a surprise or anything new at all. The author John actually saw this as a fulfillment of what Isaiah spoke about in his own time. When Isaiah suffered and struggled a lot to reveal God’s good news to them, the response was the same. People refused to accept, and they even persecuted Isaiah and the other prophets. In pain and frustration, Isaiah cried out, “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” This is the same pain and message I cry out in my heart, and sometimes out loud, as I struggle to teach the Bible on my campus. Every time a growing student discontinues Bible study or students on campus reject my Bible study invitation while saying “God bless you,” my heart aches and I have to fight against the discouraging reality. It often seems that no one will accept this message. And I ask God, “Why?!”
John further realized that, also spoken by Isaiah, the people could not believe because they had some fundamental problems. These Jews were living, breathing, zealous church-going people. Yet, they were spiritually blind and their hearts were dead. Being the most dedicated and efficient accountant means nothing if you’re dead. And owning a fast hot rod doesn’t do a lot for a blind man. For these Jewish people, their spiritual condition completely nullified their religious deeds and accomplishments.
So how is my heart condition? Is it connected and responsive to God? Or is my heart deadened by a routine and busy shepherding lifestyle? I know during the busy times, I tend to follow a cycle of hard work and immense pressure followed by disconnection from Jesus and inevitable burnout. But this is not good. Above everything, I must seek God sincerely—especially in prayer, which I have been struggling with lately. Sometimes my prayers end up sounding like, “Dear God, thank you for this, this, and that. Please help me with this, this, and that. Amen.” These religious people would have never claimed to be those who reject God. But they did reject God, all the while thinking they were okay. I don’t want to end up like this. I want to be real and sincere before God and pursue him alone, like a deer panting for water. This description by the Psalmist is really accurate. When I get busy-minded and neglect to pursue God in everything, I become like a deer running around endlessly, trying to escape my problems, fears, and anxieties. I become so thirsty and exhausted—my soul longs for the nourishment, refreshment, and safety in God.
Third, “His command leads to eternal life”
The crowd’s rejection of Jesus was more serious than they thought, as Jesus was not merely representing himself and his own ideas. At my job on campus during finals week, I have to pick up and drop off student exams at various departments. And I can always tell how the professors feel about the department I work for based on how they treat me. Sometimes they are very kind and receive me warmly. Others are very grumpy or make some snide remarks. In a similar way, Jesus came as God’s messenger and representative. But their rejection reveals their attitude and heart towards God, who sent him.
Ultimately, their problem was that they did not believe—which is why they remained in darkness. As a result, they would always be wondering, confused, and hesitant about their direction and purpose—never able to figure it out. Their unbelief was obvious because they did not hold to and live by Jesus’ words. So the standard by which God measures our belief is whether we hold to Jesus’ teachings or not. And there’s no fake-it-till-you-make-it with God. It’s very black and white. Jesus describes those who hear but do not keep his words as no different from those who outright reject him. And those who reject and do not keep Jesus’ words will be condemned by the very words they rejected.
God gave his commands to and through Jesus—even exactly what to say and how to say it. So the world has an obligation to accept and live according to them. But not just to be a bunch of law-abiding people. Jesus also shared his confidence in God’s command leading to eternal life. But how could he be so confident? Well, I can tell you that there’s a McDonald’s on the corner of Normandie and Artesia because I’ve been there before. And Jesus could confidently say that God’s command leads to eternal life because he did it himself.
The problem is that many people consider God’s commands as a burdensome set of style-cramping rules. This was my understanding for a long time. I saw the way my shepherd lived his life—hopping around from a full-time job to campus in rush-hour traffic or to the Del Taco, Coffee Bean, and Denny’s for Bible studies. That life looked crazy and highly unappealing. But what I failed to realize was that despite his strange and burdensome-looking lifestyle, my shepherd was actually enjoying eternal life—something that I definitely did not have. I looked for this eternal life—a life that was truly satisfying and fulfilling—but failed to find it anywhere. But Jesus knows exactly where to find it. And he doesn’t keep it a secret. He shares it freely, saying, “I know that his command leads to eternal life.” When my eyes were finally opened and I believed this, then I began what would be my lifelong pursuit of obeying God’s commands.
Because Jesus understood this with confidence, he lived his life carefully and meticulously obeying God’s commands—even to the point of what to say and how to say it. This shows me that obeying God’s command is no joke. It’s not casual, but very serious and difficult. Denying myself is painful. Taking care of sheep is hard. Taking up all my crosses daily is exhausting. This is why Jesus says, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Jesus’ whole life revealed just how difficult this is. But at the same time, Jesus’ life also reveals that he had and enjoyed eternal life. And even though I dreaded obeying Jesus’ commands and living like my shepherd at first, I now deeply enjoy this life. Not because it is so comfortable, convenient, and pleasant all the time. But because I am enjoying fellowship with God and Zoe life.
One Word: Walk while you have the light