We now come to the final “lesson” (but not my final post) in the book of John, which comprises chapters 11 to the end. These are the events that take place near or during the final Passover of Jesus’ earthly life. My title, Through the Lens of Passover, is meant to convey the sense of looking at the text to see what it says about the passage from death to life.
The book of John makes frequent use of the Passover as a means of highlighting this theme, which is a different approach from the books of Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Where the teaching of Christendom, in general, places salvation in the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, the author of the book of John has, throughout this work, pointed people to a living relationship of hearing and following the voice of Jesus today as the source of life and salvation. The original participants in the Passover were to paint the lamb’s life [i.e. its blood] on their door post to signal the angel of death to pass over that household. Jesus said, “the words I am speaking to you,these are breath, these are life.” This life, this “these-words-I-am-speaking-to-you”, we are to paint upon the heart, the doorpost of our innermost being.
Chapter 11 contains the events of Lazarus’ death and how Jesus raised him from the dead. This sets the stage for the rest of the book.
When Martha, one of Lazarus’ sisters, said, “If you had been here my brother would not have died,” Jesus stated,
I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. (11:25-26)
And in proof of the point, Jesus called, “Lazarus, come forth.” Even though he had been four days dead, he came walking out of the grave.
Humanity has dwelt in death, has been a slave to death, and is subject to manipulation by the fear of death. All the tools of power deal in death and the threat of death. But there is something more powerful. Isaiah wrote,
And all your children shall be taught of [by] the LORD; and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established: you will be far from oppression; for you will not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near you.(Isaiah 54:13-14)
Why do you have great peace and freedom from fear? Because the teacher is here. There is no reason to fear death nor to be manipulated by death when the one who is resurrection and life calls you “come forth” and teaches you to walk in life. The power of life is greater than the power of death.
Jesus’ crucifixion is not the source of life. It was a failed attempt to stop life; a double failure. For not only did Jesus demonstrate, “I am the resurrection” but death itself became the captive of life. Death had once been a terminal point, but now the wall is breached. The resurrection and the life surround you as a shield. This is the Passover, the passage to life. This is the substance of the shadow. The Jewish Passover was a celebration of an event in history. “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the death of the world” takes place here and now. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” said the Psalmist, “I will fear no evil. For thou art with me.”
How do we become partakers of this Passover, this resurrection and life?
As recorded in chapter 12, Jesus stated
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (12:24-26)
Let’s be clear about this, because it makes sense when we understand it correctly. If you plant a field of wheat and the seed dies, you get no harvest. The seed contains a living embryo that must stay alive. When the seed is planted and the temperature and moisture of the soil are right, that embryo breaks dormancy and begins to feed upon the resources stored in the seed. It puts roots deeper into the ground and raises stem and leaf above ground. The seed is consumed in this process, nurturing the embryo until it can draw water and minerals from the soil and photosynthesize these raw materials into the food it needs to continue growing and to produce the next harvest.
You can love the seed, but you must love it for the sake of the embryo. The seed is consumed so that life may flourish. He who hordes the seed, refusing to plant it, kills the embryo, destroys the life, and remains in death and darkness.
The life of Christ, the words-I-am-speaking-to-you, is the embryo more precious than anything else. There are many illustrations in scripture of the growth of this embryo: “you must be born again,” “unless a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die,” “he who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” and “take up your cross and follow me.” The embryo grows at the expense of our own fleshly will, pride, and kingdom. These must die that the embryo can develop and mature. The embryo emerges and the life of God is manifest within us. In that life we are made partakers of the Passover, and the resurrection.
Such statements as these caused his hearers to wonder, “Just who is this guy?” In answer to this question Jesus said,
The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light. (12: 34-36)
I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (12:46)
The Greek word used here means literally or figuratively obscurity or darkness, which fits with the text until one remembers that Jesus would not have been speaking Greek. It is much more likely that when he spoke of darkness, he would have been using the Hebrew understanding. If we look at Isaiah 42 where the Messiah is made a light to bring the prisoners out of darkness, that word has the connotations of misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness as well as obscurity and darkness.
These last two quotes from chapter 12 recapture the ideas of this post. They show us the contrast between life, i.e. light, and death, i.e. darkness. We understand that just as light overcomes darkness, so life conquers death. The world deals in the currency of death. I-am-the-resurrection-and-the-life has set that currency aside, making it obsolete and worthless by calling “come forth.” Those who walk in the light and believe in the light become sons of the day and no longer abide in darkness.