Reading: John 12:20-50
As we reach verse 20, certain Greeks come to Philip, looking for Jesus. Quite possibly, this was in the Temple and as the Gentiles were not permitted unrestrained mobility within, they would not have had access to Jesus directly. They come to Philip, which possibly implies that he spoke Greek, which would be fitting to such a Greek name as he bore. There were also many Greek speaking Jews at the time, which has been used by some as an alternative interpretation. However Greek converts to Judaism seems more plausible, as the author seems to refers to the former as the dispersion in a previous text (ch 7).
Jesus response to the Greeks is interesting, in that it is certainly unusual. The fact that the Gentiles are looking for him triggers an outpouring of anguished, and rather deep truths. He states that his hour has come. He realizes that the Jews are about to reject him, even as the Gentiles try to seek him out.
Notice that he doesn't speak in the first person. Clearly, what he is saying will be true about himself, shortly, but he speaks as if to others (v25). The instructions seem to be that others need to lose their life, too, in order to gain life in eternity. This is no accidental twist of translation, followers of Christ do need to lay down their own lives even as he laid down his. Only when a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, will it yield its fruit. Where does the power of the church lie? Too many of us have yet to learn this simple lesson -- the grain must first die!
Jesus seems to have some inkling of what lies before him, as he speaks (v27); even while he provides instruction, he is nearly overcome with anguish. He, recognizes the Father's will for his life, as revealed here: the things that he has just said, these are the very purpose he has come. How many of us have this sense of understanding of the Father's will for our own lives? Where does he say that his will for our lives is any different from that of the lamb?
And yet, there is a difference. The man who speaks here, has led a blameless life. When we get trouble, often it is because you and I deserve what we might get. Often, it is because of the many times we failed to do the good and the right thing; for the many times we intentionally did the wrong thing; and for our failure to measure up to even the most modest standards of morality.
God said that the only price that can be acceptable for the sin of mankind, is the life of a sinless man. When Jesus suffers and is executed, in an agony that makes the modern electric chair seem humane, there is no system of morality that modern man can contrive which will make him out to have deserved what he received. As the shed blood of countless generations of animal sacrifices points to, only through the blood of the perfect man can forgiveness be bought from a righteous God. This is the atonement. This is the ransom that he paid. Though we are called to follow Jesus, our death, though significant, will never be comparable to what he was able to achieve. This is why it says that he will be 'glorified' in his death. Through his death and resurrection alone, comes the right for us to choose the path of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Where he is, we his servants, will also be -- he just told us he is going to die, now he says that we need to go to him! This Scotch whiskey is not watered down, it is pure and it burns going down.
This is the point that is apparent in this passage, that the price of our salvation is not cheap. The agony, the revulsion of this coming hour makes this plain: our forgiveness was bought at a very high price.
Jesus acknowledges the voice speaking, although nobody sees who the speaker is (v30). Judaism prevalent at the time was split into two distinct world views. The Saducees, did not ackowledge the supernatural, to them it thundered. The Pharisees, on the other hand, did; to their adherants an angel spoke. Rabbinical writings of the time refer to the bat-kol, the 'daughter of a voice'. It is said that after the death of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, God continued to speak to his people in this manner.
Interestingly, Jesus does not often offer us more than we are willing to accept. To them that said an angel spoke, he said it is for their benefit. What about those who only heard thunder? How often does our own unwillingness to accept something, something that God might provide, how often does it prevent us from receiving the understanding, the wisdom, the blessings and the power, of God?
The prince of this world is now cast out (v31). Who is this prince? How is it that he gets cast out? How is it related to the crucifixion of Jesus? How is it that Jesus realizes that it is by crucifixion that he will be put to death? Afterall, crucifixion was a Roman execution, the Jews would have used stoning as the means, as he nearly was stoned on several occasions already.
The crowd is confused. How can he at one point be speaking of his eternal reign and at the next, speak of his demise on a Roman cross? The author quotes from the prophet Isaiah (Is 53, Is 6) in which he predicted the lack of insight of his people, having stood in the presence of the light of the world, and yet having the resistance to conversion that they now demonstrate. How do we respond when confronted by Jesus? There is a time when each and every one of us can come to him and accept him -- with some there may have even been a second chance. These people have personally made the choice to reject him, and therefore do not understand. When we act on what we hear, when we accept him, little by little we begin to understand what he is saying. Without us having taken those baby steps, the words will remain confusion.
One of the reasons people reject Jesus is because of the opinions of others. Who are we trying to impress? Some of the rulers who believe in Jesus refuse to come out with it, because the social and economic cost is high. Sometimes people are private to protect their tiny faith from certain onslaught, and eventually it is nurtured into maturity. We saw in chapter 3, one such example in Nicodemous. Other times this silent faith becomes sidelined, and dwarfed by the other things in our lives. As followers of Christ, we need to be ready with a turn of phrase, a chide, a work of encouragement, irrespective of consequence, to follow him. We need to lay aside all aspects of our lives, and surrender to the will of God. He may ask us later to pickup what we drop, but let us not be presumptuous. For the rulers John writes about, they were unwilling to set aside their social positions in the church, literally the synagogue, in order to follow Christ. Is there anything in our lives that prevents us?
Take note, the words that Jesus has spoken are the words that will be used to judge all mankind at the end of the age. Back in Deuteronomy 18, it says: "And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him" (v19). Jesus is speaking on behalf of his Father, God. He is in fact restating something that they already should know. The miracles weren't a freakshow, God was providing evidence so that the people could understand that Jesus was speaking on God's behalf; that he was, in fact, authorized to do so. Someday, these words that you have read will be used to judge you personally, Jesus says.
Re-read the entire account found in John 12. Then answer the following questions on verses 20-50.
Copyright © E. J. Ritzmann.
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