john davies
notes from a small curate

updated regularly
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    John 12 - "I will draw all people to myself"

    Good Shepherd Morning Communion 2/4/2006

    Hebrews 5.5-10, John 12.20-33

    "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself."

    These words of Jesus were a mystery to his disciples when he spoke them. There's still a lot of mystery about them for us today, even with all we know about what happened afterwards.

    "When I am lifted up from the earth...."
    Why should a condemned man in a grotty corner of the Roman Empire hanging alongside nameless criminals become so celebrated for so many centuries afterwards?

    "... I will draw all people to myself."
    What was it about what Jesus did which has caught the attention, the imagination, of people throughout the world?

    "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself."
    - this is a bold claim for this man to make. What other condemned man, awaiting his grisly execution, could predict that his death would be just the start of an astonishing human history?

    But the striking and undeniable fact is that history has proved him right. Jesus on the cross has been a draw ever since the day it happened, and we can safely assume, always will be.

    Think how astonishing it must be to have a knowledge of events before they take place. The gospel writer John predicted that the crucifixion would have the most sweeping effect on human history. We have the hindsight of two thousand years. And we know that he was right.

    The last words of Jesus in John's gospel, spoken from the Cross, are: "It is accomplished." A more accurate translation would be, "It has been brought to completion" But what exactly is accomplished? What is brought to fulfilment? What is brought to an end?

    Let's hear again what Jesus said:

    "Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself"

    The coming of the cross heralds the judgement of the world - when the powers of darkness will have Christ's light shone on them, when the demonic powers will be overcome. And as more and more people see the weakness and emptiness of evil in comparison to the strength and completeness of good, then the Crucified One gradually draws all of humanity to himself.

    As Rudolf Schnackenburg put it, "The ruler of the world encounters the final rejection, loses his sphere of influence, becomes powerless - over those who look up in faith to the crucified Jesus and let themselves be 'drawn' to him"

    According to John, the crucifixion begins a slow, slow movement which will eventually fill the world with the light and love of Christ. And the driving force of this movement is the "Spirit of Truth". [2]

    This Spirit of Truth changed the hearts of Jesus' disciples at the crucifixion and in the days that followed it. They were a frightened, scattered group of people, but the Spirit brought them back together and replaced their fear with eternal joy. And that same spirit gradually made that same change throughout the whole of history, over and over again, in the hearts of men and women everywhere who were drawn to Jesus.

    The word John uses for the Spirit means a "counsellor" or "advocate." More precisely, it means one who defends the "accused one." This is the Spirit who exposes the myths spewed out by Satan, the perennial "Accuser." Remember my talk the other week when I spoke about God the chooser, and Satan the accuser...? The Spirit helps us to understand what this means.

    Jesus, speaking of the Spirit, said:

    . . . unless I go,
    the Advocate will not come to you;
    but if I do go,
    I will send him to you.
    And when he comes,
    he will show the world how wrong it was,
    about sin,
    about who was in the right,
    and about judgement. (John 16:7-8)

    Jesus knew that, to hold itself together, the world would continue its violence towards disposable victims. People in the grip of the "father of lies" would continue to drown out the victim's voice with their myths and chants and slogans. Crucify him! Crucify him! Stop their benefit! Lock them up! Send them all back home!

    But from the moment of the crucifixion onward, the Spirit would be at work in the world, slowly giving the victim's voice the ability to speak above the language of violence which Satan makes sound like righteousness. From the lips of Jesus speaks the victim's voice.

    However strong these lies continued to be, in their influence on our behaviour, bit by bit, day by day, John was convinced that the Spirit would "show the world how wrong it was," gradually leading humanity to "the complete truth"

    Jesus' crucifixion loosened the grip that the lies of Satan had on the human imagination. Without the crucifixion we would still be living under the spell of 'the father of lies'.

    After the first astronauts showed the world the pictures of this planet they had taken from the moon, some myths about our planet just could not be believed any more. It's not flat, it's round, for instance. The continents are different shapes and sizes than the ones we usually see on our maps.

    The crucifixion had exactly the same effect as those first photos from space, only with even greater significance. Jesus said that once he was raised up on the Cross he would draw all humanity to himself; John made it clear that gradually the sight of this innocent man on the gallows would become the greatest story ever told - greater than all the lies that Satan has poured into human ears since the beginning.

    "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself."

    Clearly Satan's lies still have influence in our world. The Accuser is still making us condemn others as a way of solving our own problems, just as Caiaphas and Pilate, encouraged by the crowd, condemned Jesus as a way of solving theirs.

    But greatest thing is that the Spirit is still at work, gradually, slowly but surely, drawing all people to Jesus. On the cross Jesus defeated death. Afterwards, and now, for all who come to him, there is only life.


    [1] Based on an extract from Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled p. 226, as quoted in the
    [2] Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel according to St. John, 2:392