Whenever we begin to focus on God’s particular work of overcoming the deadness and blindness and rebellion of specific people, we must never lose sight of God’s broader, general offer of salvation to the world and his readiness to forgive and to save all who believe.
For example, in the Gospel of John, we have seen John 2:19: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And John 4:42: “We know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” And John 6:33: “The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
The Gospel Is Global
It is absolutely crucial that we keep this clear. God is not parochial. And Jesus is not a tribal deity. Christianity is a global faith cutting across all ethnic, racial, cultural, geographic, socioeconomic, and educational barriers. God’s offer of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus Christ is a universal offer. John drives this home again and again, lest we miss it.
- “Whoever believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:15).
- “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
- “Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:18).
- “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36).
- “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24).
- “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
- “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
- “Whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47).
- “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58).
- “Whoever believes in me, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).
- “Whoever believes in me will not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).
Christians should be lavish with the offer of salvation. We should fill the Twin Cities with the news and the teaching of what God has done in Jesus Christ (Acts 5:28).
God Both Desires All and Draws Some
So when we focus from time to time in this Gospel on God’s particular work of overcoming the blindness and rebellion of particular people, we are not forgetting this, and we are not contradicting this, and we are not minimizing this. We are honoring other things that Jesus said that are also enormously important.
It is an awesome thing that we are sent to the whole world with the greatest news in the world — with a free offer for all who believe. And it is an awesome thing that as many as are appointed to eternal life believe (Acts 13:48).
“It is an awesome thing that God grants repentance to whom he will.”
It is an awesome thing that God commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). And it is an awesome thing that God grants repentance to whom he will (2 Timothy 2:25).
It is an awesome thing that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). And it is an awesome thing he acts decisively to draw particular people to the truth (John 6:44).
God’s Drawing Is Decisive
That’s what we focused on last time in John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” And I gave five reasons why this does not mean God draws everyone and leaves it with us to provide the decisive impulse to come. Rather, I argued that the drawing of God is the decisive impulse that brought us to Christ.
When you chose Christ — when you are awakened spiritually to the compelling truth and worth of Christ — it was because God gave you eyes to see. God awakened you. God gave you eyes to see the irresistible greatness of Jesus.
Two Tasks in This Message
Today there are two things I hope we can do together. One is to raise the most serious objection to this interpretation in John’s Gospel, and the other is to then explain from the context of John 6 how God draws us to Christ.
1. Raising the Most Serious Objection
First, what is the most serious objection to last week’s interpretation? It comes in John 12:32. During the last week of his life, Jesus says in John 12:31–33:
Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
The word “draw” in verse 32 is the same word for “draw” in John 6:44. In John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” And in John 12:32, Jesus says, “I will draw all people to myself.” So John 6:44 teaches, I argued last week, that the Father draws people triumphantly to the Son, and all whom he draws come, because the drawing is decisive. And John 12:32 teaches that Jesus draws all to himself.
How Do These Fit?
How do these fit together? There are at least two ways to try to solve the problem. One is to say that the word “draw” means less than “decisively cause to come” in both 6:44 and 12:32. For example, some suggest it means “woo” or “beckon” or “invite” or “give everyone a liberating boost toward faith.” So if God does that to “all people,” he is not decisively drawing any. He gets them started, and they provide the decisive impulse to come to Christ.
The other way to solve the problem is to say that “all” in 12:32 refers to all of Christ’s sheep, or all of the children of God, rather than all human beings in the world. In this case, I think this second solution is very likely. Here’s why.
“All” Refers to Jesus’s Sheep
First of all, the word translated “all people” is simply “all” (Greek pantas). There is no word for “people.” Jesus simply says: “When I am lifted up, I will draw all to myself.” Now we have to ask from similar contexts what this “all” probably refers to.
One similar context is in the previous chapter — John 11:50–52. Caiaphas the high priest is speaking more truly than he knows, John writes:
“Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
From Every Tribe, Tongue, People, and Nation
These last words describe the scope of Jesus’s death as John presents it in this Gospel. Jesus died not just for one ethnic group, but “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” This is a reference to Gentiles, whom God will effectively draw to himself when they hear the gospel. They are called “children of God” because God has chosen them to be adopted, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:4–5.
So if this is a good parallel, then the all in John 12:32 is not all human beings, but “all the children of God.” “When I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all the children of God to myself.” From every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9).
The Sheep Hear His Voice
Or you could say, “I will draw all of my sheep,” because Jesus says in John 10:15, “I lay down my life for the sheep,” and in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Or you could say, “I will draw all who are of the truth,” because Jesus says in John 18:37, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Or you could say, “I will draw all who are of God,” because Jesus says in John 8:47, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” Or you could say, “I will draw all that the Father gives to me,” because John 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me.”
In other words, running straight through the Gospel of John is the truth that God the Father and God the Son decisively draw people out of darkness into light. And Christ died for this. He was lifted up for this. What John 12:32 adds is that this happens today in history by pointing the whole world to the crucified Christ and preaching the good news that whoever believes on him will be saved. In that preaching of the lifted up Christ, God opens the ears of the deaf. The sheep hear his voice and follow Jesus (John 10:16, 27).
2. How Does God Draws Us to Jesus?
Which leads us to the second question today, which, remarkably, will confirm our understanding of John 12:32. So second, how does God draw people to Christ?
How did he draw you? Here our focus is on John 6:45–47. After saying in verse 44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day,” Jesus says,
It is written in the Prophets, “And they will all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me — not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
Drawn by Being Taught
The answer John gives to how the Father draws people to the Son is by teaching them. “No one can come unless the Father draws him. . . . It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’” So the connection between drawing and teaching is clear. The drawn are the taught. They are drawn by being taught.
“No one is truly taught by God and then decides not to come.”
And the connection between being taught and coming to Christ is unbreakable. No one is taught and then decides not to come. The teaching produces the coming. You see that most clearly in the second half of verse 45.
Verse 45 says, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (This is why I said this verse confirms our understanding of John 12:32.) Not some of them come. All of them come. So Jesus uses at least three phrases to describe how the Father draws people to Jesus. He calls it “being taught,” and he calls it “hearing from” God, and he calls it “learning from” God. “‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”
It’s in the Prophets
Now how does this happen? How did it happen for you? How were you taught by God? How might it happen for those you love who have not come to Christ? How does God teach a person so effectively that he comes to Christ? “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” That’s total effectiveness. No school dropouts. Everybody graduates into a saving relationship with Jesus. How does this happen?
In verse 45, Jesus quotes Isaiah 54:13: “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’” I think he uses the plural “prophets” because this is Isaiah’s way of giving the promise of the New Covenant which is also found in Ezekiel and Jeremiah and elsewhere. We are most familiar with it from Jeremiah 31:33–34.
Know the Lord
Both Isaiah and Jeremiah explicitly promise the day when the God’s teaching will no longer merely be external on tablets of stone, but will be internal written on the heart. God will teach us in the New Covenant first by sending Christ as the sum of all truth, the fulfillment of the law, and then by making that truth real to our hearts. So God says it like this in Jeremiah:
This is the covenant that I will make . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. . . . And no longer shall each one teach [as in Isaiah 54:13] his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:33–34)
Jesus: The Fullest Revelation of God’s Glory
So Christ has come into the world as the fullest revelation of the glory of God. To see him as true and glorious and to come to him is what the world needs more than anything. What everyone needs, as Jeremiah says, is to “know the Lord” — that is, to know that God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth and the king of Israel and Lord of the universe, is incarnate in Jesus Christ. We need to be taught by God that Jesus is who he says he is.
Jesus offered himself to us in his person and work, and now he offers himself to us through his word. But to see him as he is, to know him for who he is, we must be taught by God. That’s what happens for those who are brought into the New Covenant, and that’s how Jesus is saying the Father draws us to the Son.
Teaching Our Minds, Humbling Our Wills
Here’s how this happens. The Father does not add new information to our hearts that we don’t get from the Scriptures about Jesus. Rather, he overcomes our rebellious will and makes us willing to see Christ for who he really is. He teaches our minds by humbling our wills.
Look at John 7:16–17 for an illustration of this:
So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”
“When our rebellion is overcome, we see the compelling truth and beauty of Christ and we come.”
It is astonishing to realize that when our will is bad, there are things we cannot know. “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know . . .” And if he stays in his rebellion, he will not know. Therefore, one way God teaches is by overcoming our blinding rebellion. And when it is overcome, we see the compelling truth and beauty of Christ and we come. That is how the Father draws us to the Son — by teaching us, by sending the Son and by overcoming what blinds us to the truth of the superior value of Christ.
Overcoming Our Resistance, Opening Our Eyes
When Peter answers Jesus’s question, Who do men say that I am? with the words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:16–17). The Father taught Peter who Jesus was by overcoming his resistance to the truth.
And Paul taught the same thing in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Make the Gospel Known
That is how you were drawn to Christ. That is how those whom you love will be drawn to Christ. God taught you. He did so externally by bringing you into contact with Christ in the word. And he did so internally by overcoming your rebellion so you could see Christ for who he really is. And when you saw him for who he is, you came to him, you received him. That is how you were drawn. And that is how those you love will be drawn.
Our job is to make the word known. To display Christ and his work on the cross as clearly as we can. And to pray that God will do his humbling, teaching, drawing work. May we see a great outpouring of his power in these days.