I set out to do this series basically about one verse at a time but here we have a small structure that, being a lover of structures, I must bring to your attention. It is what is called officially a chiasm, but I prefer to call it a reflection for reasons that should become obvious. It is a series of clauses which go ABCB’A’, the second part being a reflection of the first half with some significant changes. Such things are surprisingly common throughout both the Old and the New Testaments. This one goes:
Verse 36 A you have seen me and still you do not believe
37 B All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away
38 C For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
39 B’ I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
40 A’ everyone who looks to the Son and believes … I will raise them up at the last day
The 2 outer verses are about seeing and believing – the first negatively, they see and do not believe, the last positively about those who see and do believe. The 2 inner verses are both about what happens to those that the Father has given to Jesus. The central verse explains why Jesus has come down to earth and the consequences, which are that the last 2 verses are both more positive than the first 2.
We cannot see Jesus in any literal sense as they could and the first verse therefore does not make any direct sense to us. But I think we can reasonably change it into the parallel idea of listening and hearing and get the sense that way. You most probably know someone who is very good at listening but doesn’t seem to hear anything much! You talk to them; they give every appearance of agreeing with you; you are sure you have convinced them that what you are saying is right – perhaps some change in the way things are done at work or in church, which they are in a position to make.
But then you discover that absolutely nothing changes. They listened, but they did not hear. So it can be with the way people fail to hear what they are told about Jesus. They read the Bible; they attend church regularly; they enjoy the fellowship; there are all the signs that they are Christians. But nothing really changes in the way they behave; the things they do; the statements they make about faith. They listened but they did not hear, in exactly the same way as the people Jesus was talking to could see him, listen to him, see what he did, but it all made no change in their lives. Be careful. I do hope you are not one of those people who go to a good church to get their regular dose of listening but never really hear anything!
In his second and second last statements Jesus moves on to say that the reason for this is that it is the work of the Father to select those who will truly hear Jesus and follow him. That is both a reason and a promise. If indeed we have set out to follow Jesus we are secure for it was not really our choice but the work of the Father. That does not mean that we do not choose to follow or not. Later on in this chapter we read that many of those who listened to Jesus ‘turned back’. They decided not to follow him. And that is the way it is. From our perspective it is something that we do; from the greater perspective of the Triune God it is something he does. And we shall never be able to make those 2 perspectives meet up and sound the same. Like many of the best things of life: the love of a man and a woman, the things we see beauty in, the joy we can get from many an apparently trivial pursuit; the step of faith is not entirely logical – and none the worse for that.
The second last verse in this structure points out that the true benefit of that is that we are held securely in the Father’s arms and cannot be lost. (Although being frail human beings we always have the potential to walk away ourselves, as most of those listening to Jesus on this occasion seem to have done.) Not only shall we not be driven away in the first place, we are securely in forever, for this life and for the life to come. WOW!
The most important verse is, as usual in these reflective structures, the middle one. All this is possible because Jesus came down to do the will of the Father. We are totally secure in him. Triple WOW!