What He Said Week 5

TO THE CURIOUS

Study Five: HOPING TO SEE JESUS

TAKING IT IN

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.  John 12:20-36

GETTING AT IT

What makes people curious about Jesus?  One possibility is intellectual curiosity.  They may have studied philosophy and realized that life makes little sense without a God; so investigating Christianity is the logical next step.  They may be serious students of science.  The order of the universe and the intricacies of the cell scream intentional design; so they explore the possibility of a Creator and meet Jesus along the way.  Intellectual curiosity is what St. Paul counted on when he addressed the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17).

Another possibility is religious curiosity.  Maybe you’ve met people who are on a “religious journey,” studying the world’s great religions in the hope of finding something to believe in.  As they do, they realize how different Jesus is from Mohammed or the Buddha.  Nicodemus, in John 3, is an example of religious curiosity.  He believed God’s promise of a Messiah and had to learn whether Jesus was that Messiah. 

Relational curiosity is common.  People who have no faith see in a friend, a relative or a spouse the impact that Jesus has made on their life.  It could be the sense of peace they notice in a Christian, or maybe the values and integrity, or the certainty with which they approach life and death.  They want to know why.  It was the relationship of Andrew with his brother Peter, and Philip with Nathanael (John 1) that brought these men to Jesus.

One more possibility might be termed desperate curiosity.  When there are no medical answers to a serious illness or the consequences of addiction bring a person to the bottom of a spiral, when divorce has left a person devastated or joblessness has turned into homelessness, people may search for hope in Christianity.  Jairus at his rope’s end and the woman with a 12-year medical history in Mark 5 are examples in the New Testament.

More important than the nature of a person’s curiosity is the response of Christians to that curiosity.  Those who are close to a searcher will recognize when God has prepared that person to listen.

Jesus’ words in John 12 were triggered by the curiosity of some “Greeks.”

DIGGING INTO IT

Who were these Greeks?  The Jews used that term “Greeks” for Gentiles in general because Alexander the Great’s conquest of the middle east had made Greek culture and language universal. These men may have been living in Galilee or the Decapolis region east of the Sea of Galilee.  They were probably not proselytes who had fully converted to Judaism, including circumcision and the dietary laws.  The Bible uses the term “God-fearers” or “worshippers of God” for Gentiles who believed in the true God but had not embraced fully the laws of Judaism.  (Cf. Lydia in Acts 16:14.)  That they were serious about the faith is apparent in that they had traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover. 

The reason these Greeks approached Philip may have been his Greek name (many Jews in Galilee had adopted Greek culture) and perhaps a previous acquaintance in Bethsaida.  They wanted an introduction to Jesus and may have been wary because Jews religiously avoided Gentiles.  Philip seems a bit uncertain, so he got his buddy Andrew from Bethsaida to approach Jesus with him.  St. John tells us no more about these Greeks, so we are left to conclude that they were among the people who heard what Jesus said following their appeal through Philip. 

 

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Earlier in John’s Gospel (7:30 and 8:20) we’re told that Jesus’ hour had not yet come.  In God’s timing and Jesus’ awareness, the focal point of his life had arrived.  Jesus had been preparing his disciples for his impending death; now he foretells his death clearly.  It may sound strange to hear that Jesus is to be glorified in the most degrading of all deaths, yet that death for sinners was God’s plan all along; and Jesus is glorified in obeying his Father’s will.  That you have a cross in your home or jewelry testifies to how Jesus is glorified in his crucifixion.  Of course, Jesus is looking ahead also to his resurrection and ascension when he speaks about his “hour” and being glorified. 

Often Jesus used analogies from nature.  The “death” of a seed to produce a harvest is the perfect illustration of what Jesus’ death accomplished.  You are among the “many seeds” resulting from his death for your sin.  Life from death is a recurring theme in the Bible.  “Dead in sin” is how the apostle Paul describes human beings by nature.  “Made alive in Christ” is his description of how the Holy Spirit brings people to faith in Jesus.  Jesus’ resurrection is the model for your own physical resurrection from death at his return.

The love/hate contrast Jesus used is a common idiom in the culture of that world and time.  It’s about choices, and the words emphasize how stark and serious is the choice between life in this fallen world and life with God forever.  “This world” describes everything that opposes God and his will since the fall into sin.  “Hate” describes how the Christian feels about what sin has done to his world, his life, and his “old Adam.”  Certainly, Christians appreciate the beauty of God’s creation and the blessings of family, friends, and material prosperity which God may grant; but they cannot “love” that life more than their God and the eternal life Jesus died to earn for them.

To serve Jesus means more than acts of kindness and right beliefs.  Serving Jesus is following him; it’s what the word disciple means.  Followers stay with their Master no matter how difficult.  Followers imitate their Master after closely observing what he does and says.  The goal of a disciple is to become more and more like Jesus.  Author Bob Goff put it this way: “Jesus didn’t call us to agree with him, but to follow him.”  What a challenge!  What a privilege!  The world won’t honor Christians for serving Jesus, so don’t try to please the world.  Doing what’s right to gain praise from human beings isn’t following Jesus, and it often backfires. Your heavenly Father honors Jesus’ followers with a “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Thinking about the suffering that lay ahead, Jesus gives voice to the truth that he is true man.  His soul was troubled, agitated, anxious.  That he is also true God is expressed by his commitment to giving his Father glory by seeing the plan of salvation through to the end.  Here Jesus anticipates what becomes more intense in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his passion (Matthew 26:38-39).  How do we wrap our heads around the fact that our heavenly Father loves us so much that he finds glory in sacrificing his dear Son to rescue us from eternal condemnation?  How do we comprehend the love of Jesus that pursues our salvation through horrific suffering and death?

 

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

At least twice earlier, at his baptism and his transfiguration, God the Father spoke his affirmation of Jesus and his ministry audibly.  With Jesus’ resurrection, his Father would glorify him again.  How the crowd responded is instructive.  People don’t know what to make of the miraculous, so they reinterpret it in terms of their own experience.  Thunder we understand; God speaking to us from above we don’t.  Do you wonder how many miracles we may have missed for just such a reason?  Perhaps we can also understand, then, why God chose to speak to us in the Bible rather than in a series of audible revelations which we would probably misinterpret.

The voice from heaven, Jesus said, was for the benefit of the crowd.  He knew how his Father felt.  Still, the benefit was lost on those in the crowd who didn’t get it, who would lose sight of Jesus as their Messiah when their religious leaders condemned him to death.  God has given us so much truth and so many spiritual gifts that are lost on us when we fail to appreciate them and their Giver.

“Lifted up” was apparently a crude and ironic expression for crucifixion.  By Jewish law, Jesus should have been stoned to death for what the Sanhedrin labeled blasphemy.  But Jesus gives another reason for people to reflect on who he is after the nature of the death he foretold came true.  Jesus adds to the irony in the term “lifted up” by prophesying that with his death he would lift up from spiritual ignorance and death the world he died to save.

We typically see Jesus’ death as the time for salvation of this world.  Jesus describes his death as the time for judgment on this world.  In one sense, his horrible death proclaims God’s judgment upon sin.  The price for sin is death, separation from God.  The world that rejected God and his will is judged and punished in Jesus, the world’s substitute.  In John 3:18-21 Jesus described “judgment” as the consequence of rejecting him, his word, and the redemption he earned with his death for sinners. 

The “prince of this world,” Satan, is driven out of the power position he usurped in the Garden of Eden.  The Gospel, spread throughout the world, ends the tyranny of evil, spiritual ignorance, guilt and fear that is Satan’s hold on people.  What Jesus voiced here seems an echo of his words in Luke 10:18, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.”  In Revelation 20:1-3 John saw Satan “bound” so that he could no longer “deceive the nations” until the time of Jesus’ return.

 

34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

By “Law” the crowd meant the Old Testament Scripture, where in passages such as Psalm 110:4 and Daniel 7:14 the Messiah is foretold as immortal, undying.  Jesus most often used the term “Son of Man” to describe himself.  That little used title for the Messiah is drawn from Daniel 7:13 and avoided the false Messianic hopes for a military and political ruler.  The crowd in Jerusalem understood that Jesus was proclaiming himself the Messiah with the title “Son of Man,” but they couldn’t connect his identity as the Messiah with his foretelling his death.  What was missing in their logic was the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the rest of the story.

So often Jesus seems not to answer a question directly, especially when the question comes with a note of challenge or disbelief.  To their query about “this Son of Man” he offers one of the “I AMs” in John’s Gospel.  Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12).  There is a note of urgency when Jesus warns that they would have the light only a little while longer, for after his resurrection he appeared only to his followers.  That urgency Jesus conveyed to his disciples in John 9:4-5, where he explains that his mission (and theirs) as the Light of the world was on the clock.  “Walk while you have the light” is the encouragement to live out your faith and your purpose with a sense of urgency.  “Believe in the light” is the call to a faith that is all in, the faith of a follower, the faith of a member of God’s family.

Like the love/hate contrast, the light/darkness contrast is frequent in Jesus’ ministry.  Darkness is a description of spiritual ignorance and unbelief, as well as an unchecked life of sin.  How fitting is Jesus’ characterization of such darkness as not knowing where they are going.  Contemporary culture has embraced the idea that life has no real purpose or meaning, an inevitable conclusion if there is no Creator who governs our world with his purposes.  People in darkness, therefore, do not know where their life is headed, both now and at their death.

John lets us know that after this episode, Jesus no longer appeared in public; he spent the remaining time until his passion with his disciples.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Scripture challenges us to think deeply about the death-to-life theme.  Here is a passage from the apostle Paul to wrap your head around:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.  Romans 6:1-7

How does this deepen your appreciation for your baptism?

What does this say about the “I can’t help it” excuse for pet sins?

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

The love/hate contrast Jesus talked about, together with his call to follow and serve him, challenges us to do an inventory of our life.  What’s important and what’s not?  What can we do without and what must we do without?  What do our daily schedules and budgets say about our priorities?  What habits ought to be re-evaluated?  Our affluent culture confronts us with choices and temptations, often without our awareness.  Luke 12:13-21 can be a discussion starter.

Talk about areas of the Christian life today that need more serious thought; and don’t let the conversation create guilt trips or legalisms that would rob us of the peace and joy of forgiveness in Christ.

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT

Pick one area of your faith-life that you want to work on with God’s help.  Ask him for that help.

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT

Who needs to “see Jesus” in your circle of acquaintances.  Game plan a way to launch the conversation.

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY

Read Ephesians 4:12 – 5:21 for an extended study of the light/darkness metaphor.


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