20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 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. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”
41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. (John 12:20-43 ESV)
The story behind the writing of the Gospel of John is that he is probably the last apostolic eye witness alive and he has written his account of Jesus – not a biography so to speak – but more a sermon, a message with themes so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing you might life in his name (John 20:31). Reading John means meeting Jesus. And John has painted a picture of Jesus from chapter 1 until now in chapter 12 that Jesus is God, the Word made flesh, and he reveals God because he – and God – are full of grace and truth – but Jesus is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – so we have light in the darkness which the darkness cannot snuff out but Jesus is rejected by the people he came to save. Throughout these twelve chapters we hear that Jesus’ ‘hour has not yet come’ but now in Jerusalem on the eve of the footwashing and the institution of the new covenant of Holy Communion, with Greeks – Gentiles – wanting to see him – and Jerusalem abuzz about him – many rejecting him no matter how many signs he did – but others believing him – the scene is set because his hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
And this is where one expects power and angelic armies and the beginning of an eternal Messianic kingdom. Hyped up by what we call today Palm Sunday – the procession into Jerusalem with all the makings of a liberation event to kick out the Romans and inspired by the fact that if Lazarus could be raised after 4 days dead, then the crowds – national and religious popular movements – can bring it to the Romans and Jesus will have more than enough time to bring them back too when the Romans strike back. The excitement and fervour, however, is that Rome will lose.
We don’t know specifically why the Greeks want to see Jesus. But they are part of Jesus’ work of rescue and life with him. Jesus’ behaviour in his public ministry shows that Rome is included too. What we don’t expect is that Jesus seems to be spiking his own moment which should be the prelude to victory by mentioning on numerous occasions – seeds dying in the ground, being troubled and wondering whether he should dodge the moment, being lifted up, and with life there is also judgement, with light there is also darkness, with faith there is also fear and rejection.
John records the sign given to Jesus – the voice from heaven – thunder to others – which Jesus says isn’t for him but for them – almost a last ditch moment to draw them to him. But still so many wonder, equivocate, evade, wait, resist, reject him – as they had rejected the prophets of old – as they so often rejected God. And John then places Jesus in a wider context because the people of Israel have always been rejecting prophets as Isaiah mentioned hundreds of years earlier.
There is a theological truth which we sense throughout the Bible – beginning in a garden and running through the history of Israel – a truth we can find around today in the world – and it was definitely evident with Jesus – that God comes among us in grace and truth, in mercy and kindness, and people flee from him, fear him, or worse turn around and gather themselves and advance on God or his messengers with the aim of destruction – destroying them – so that they can be ‘free’ on their terms.
God comes to rescue and where people reject that rescue, then it doesn’t happen. So the rescue, the presence of God can also reveal the loss of life and the rejection of God. And it can appear – we say this is logical – that it is then God who has zapped, judged, condemned, rejected, and killed people – but that is not the case with Jesus! The whole point of his hour coming is that now God is acting and Jesus is drawing all people to him – to give them life with him – but the reality is the tragedy that people then – and now – can reject Jesus and the life he gives. Note I said ‘gives’ freely, graciously, mercifully – not ‘offers’ which can imply it is up to us to accept the offer.
And the only way it seems to get through to people that God is seriously genuine about wanting us to live is for Jesus to die in the ground, to be lifted up which a few days later happens with his crucifixion and subsequent burial – as John points out. John’s account of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem is his message that God has come close to us to bring us life – that it will come about because of Jesus’ subsequent death – and this is his glory so that all humanity – every person – may live a new life with God.
Sadly, humanity rejected Jesus then and many people still do today. Whether it is because of fear – immobilised by having to trust someone and wondering who is true in the supermarket of religions; or whether pride – I do not want to be accountable to anyone let alone an unknown deity; or anger because God didn’t answer my prayers and there are hurt and betrayal resulting – or God is the target when we are really angry with ourselves or another person but cannot bring ourselves to be honest about that; or unease because we don’t know what being a follower of Jesus means in our behaviour and we don’t really want to find out; or whether it is some other reason – the reality is that there are many people who are bystanders keeping Jesus at a distance or antagonistic towards Jesus and he can ‘go to hell’.
The mystery of Christianity is that Jesus did go to hell – where he broke its power as well as that of death and the demonic to control or even hold – so that every person might be free, be forgiven, and live a new life – it is never too late in this world to be drawn to Jesus as he is lifted up.
And you and everyone is drawn to Jesus when they hear Jesus or about Jesus or read John – or other parts of the Bible – and God’s Word – Jesus – can meet them and take hold of them. When that happens people discover that they have moved from darkness to light, from fear to love, from uncertainty to security – and the former desire for safety, health, and wealth is no longer the main drivers of life but knowing Jesus, following Jesus into whatever terrain we have to walk.
The mystery of this Jesus is that he gives life in the troubles of this world not from the troubles of this world.
- John 12:20 - 43