9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
Jesus has just been summoned to Bethany, where his beloved friend Lazarus lies dying. The disciples warn Jesus not to go, because the last time they visited that region the Jews tried to stone him to death (John 11:8). Jesus however derides his disciples’ timidity with this challenging question: “Are there not twelve hours in the day?”
No doubt there are many layers of meaning in this mysterious rhetorical question, but one thing is clear—Jesus is laying down a challenge. It’s as if he is saying, “You don’t get it, do you? My work is not done; I have to work a full day.” Jesus is pressing the point that he must go, because his work is unfinished. As long as there is life in him, he must do the job God has sent him to do. There are twelve hours in a day, after all.
And what is his work? It is to glorify God [v. 4].
In mentioning “the light of this world” Jesus is making a veiled reference to himself. He himself is the true light that has come into the world [John 1:4-9; 3:19-21]. Because Jesus is the light of the world, which gives light to everyone [John 1:9], he knows he cannot refuse this plea to save Lazarus. Although the journey will be dangerous in ways his followers do not yet comprehend, Jesus knows he must go because of who he is: he is the light of the world. And his followers must go with him, because of who they are. They must overcome their fear, and go where he leads. So must we, if we would be his followers.
Our real job is the same as his—to bring glory to God. As long as there is life in us our job is to walk by faith. As long as the light of day is shining, we must walk in it. Since he is alive we can take heart and have the courage to make the journey. Because he lives in us, we have the light of the world with us and we can walk without fear of the darkness. Ironically, the only way to stumble is to stop walking and sit down.
The “twelve hours” refers here to the whole length of time we have been given in life. It includes everything—working, resting, eating and sleeping. We are called to put it all on the line, including our business and career, whenever and wherever necessary to walk the walk. Jesus challenges us to live boldly. Not recklessly, but courageously.
Playing it safe for the sake of a career is like staying behind in the dark, a sure path to stumbling. “There are twelve hours in the day” means we can’t hide when the Lord calls. We are never “off the clock,” and there is never a time when our business is “off duty” when it comes to serving God. There’s no such thing as a time-out. Every moment of every day, as long as there is breath in us, we are called to follow and do the work he has given us to do.
© Bruce D. Baker, 2013