Last year I was travelling, so I decided to get the bus down to Dublin (from Banbridge) the night before so that I did not have to worry about the car. I arrived at the bus stop in good time, about 20 minutes before the bus was due, and waited. The problem was that 20 minutes came and went and the bus was nowhere to be seen! It was late evening, so I thought he could just be running late, so I sat and waited. Another 20 minutes passed, and I started to worry. Had I got the right time? Was I actually late and had somehow missed the bus? I sat there for the guts of an hour, and the only thing that went past me on that lonely bus stop was the slow drip of traffic driving throw the town centre in the middle of the night. The problem was because of the time of day, there was no one to phone; I was at the mercy of a website that told me the bus had yet to come. Eventually, the bus did pull into the town centre! He flew up the road and came up past me – I breathed a sigh of relief – and then, as quickly as he had come up the road, he turned at the roundabout the come back down and went straight past me. I am unsure if he saw me sitting there under the well light bus stand, but I remember seeing his face and thinking that it looks like a bus driving running late. It seems that while the bus had come, my hour had not yet come to get to Dublin. I had to think fast, and I jumped in the car, drove after the bus to the next stop and eventually got on it – giving the driver a stern look as he glanced at my ticket and looked up at me – making it to Dublin to catch my plane the next morning. Timing is everything; it is what keeps the world in order, knowing the time and sticking to it. It is how we make plans and know what is coming up. Now, with covid, our sense of time has changed, but one of the things I look forward to most in the post-covid world is having a better sense of time!
Timing is everything, and in today’s passage, we see a significant moment in time as Jesus declares that “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”1 Throughout the Gospel of John Jesus had used the constant reframe: “My Hour has not yet come.” He had used it at the first miracle when his mother asked him to help the guests at the wedding, and he had used it ever since. What did he mean? Simply that it was not the time for him to do what God had called him to do. Thus, this change marks a significant moment and one that we must consider. What did Jesus mean by stating that his hour had come? That the moment was coming where he would fulfil his obedience to the call of God by going to the Cross of Calvary.
John 12:20-36 NIV
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.
His Kingdom will Know no End (20-22)
The Passage starts on a strange note, with John referencing some Greeks’ arrival who came to Philip (A Greek Name) because they wish to see Jesus. We know that they were converts to Judaism because they were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, yet, it seems a strange detail to reference. What point is John making? Just before this passage, a significant one is the Triumphant Entry when Jesus enters Jerusalem as King, and the crowds are going wild. It is a scene that finished with the Pharisees saying to one another: “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” – the established Jewish religious leadership, those who claimed to have been appointed by God, do not recognise the Messiah before their eyes. Verses 20-22 is the fulfilment of their fears; while they might not be able to see Jesus, those from outside the faith had recognised something about him and desire to know more of him. It was a foretelling of how far God’s Kingdom would extend – to the ends of the earth, and it was a foretelling of who all God came to reach – everyone.
The news reaches Jesus, and he responds by stating that now the hour has come for him to be Glorified. Now, we read this and know that he means that he must go to the Cross to suffer death and rise again. This is what the glorification of Christ is. Yet, it is an interesting unfolding: The disciples have a request to see Jesus, they bring that request to Jesus, and he speaks of his coming death. Why? Because it is on the Cross of Calvary that the Lordship of Christ will be made known, that all will be able able to truly see him by. You want to see and known Jesus? Then look to the Cross and see the heart of God and power of God as he took the sin of the world upon himself so that they could know him.
The Seed as the Logic of Kingdom Life (23-26)
His Kingdom will Know no end, those from every corner of the earth were attracted to him then, and some 2000 years later, the Kingdom of God extends across the world. In its purest form, the Kingdom knows no tribe, creed or status other than Jesus. How has it advanced? Not by the sword or political triumph (although sadly this has often been tried), but by the inverse logic of Gods Way, a logic that stands in contrast to the world and yet transforms the world as it goes through it. A logic where power is known in weakness, where Glory is displayed in defeat and love and service is the way. A logic where life comes through death. How has the Kingdom of God advanced in the world? Through a people who are willing to lay down their life for it (because in Christ they know life eternal). Thus, there is no better example than the way of the Cross, which is the Kingdom’s way than the seed. Jesus speaks that his hour has come for him to be Glorified; we know what that means as we read looking backwards but to help explain the logic of having to die, Jesus teaches a short parable using a seed. A kernel of wheat must fall to the ground and die to release many seeds, which will bring new life. The logic of the seed that through the falling of a seed into the group, a forest might come: it is the logic and way of the Kingdom that through service and sacrifice, the Kingdom of God would advance.
This is the way of God, the way that has shaken the order of things for an age, and will continue to do so until the day Christ comes again as King, to claim that which is his and to Jude the sins of the world. Thus, the Kingdom’s logic comes with a warning to the world: You might not want to follow Jesus now because you have believed the lie that to follow him is to lose something of your life; such an attempt to keep it will actually cause you to lose it! Why? Because Jesus is the source of Life, the one who gives life to all things, the one who by his power sustains life, and the one through which eternal life is known. Thus, those who hate their life in this world (because they long for life to come) will be those who will know the fullness of life forever. This does not mean that we have to hate living now to truly follow Jesus; no, it means that as we live now, our focus is the Kingdom of God and bringing glory to the king above all else, thus everything of this world we hate because it distracts us from that goal and purpose.
This is the Way
Often, the life of prosperity is sold in the message of the church, whether it is the blatant life of the prosperity Gospel or the more subtle lie of those who tell us of seasons of blessings ahead if only we have the right faith and the right confidence to step into what God has for us. God wants to bless us, of that there can be no doubt, yet, as disciples of Jesus, we are those who through faith have received the fullness of Gods blessing already (in Christ) and known it. Yet, equally know there is, even more, to receive when he shall come again to restore the world and bring us to himself. This is the tension of living in the Kingdom of God that we are a people who exist in the preputial ‘now and not yet.’ Thus, promises of material blessing now or suggestions of seasons of blessing’s to come are somewhat of an oxymoron when we consider how often discipleship and life in the Kingdom of God are presented. We do not need to ‘step into the blessing that God has for us, nor do we need to ‘seize by faith’ the things of heaven. No, we need to follow Jesus and walk his way. Jesus speaks in verse 26 that his servants will follow him and be where he is: this is the way of discipleship. In this case, Jesus is speaking of the cross.
The cross was his way, and the cross will be the way of all who will follow him; now, this does not mean that all must die to show they are true disciples. Yet, it does mean that we love him above the things of this world, and we trust him above the wisdom of this world. It means that we go where he goes, and we do what he did, and we lived as he lived. Knowing that as we live out the way of the Kingdom, we live with the logic of the Kingdom: through our weakness, his strength will be made known; through our service, his love will be made known; and through our Sacrifice, His Glory will be lied high. This is true now and in every season of life, whether we find ourselves blessed by the standards of the world or moving from one difficulty to another. What matters in every season and every place the disciples finds themselves in is that they follow him. Why? Because in Christ, we have already received. Thus, we do not slave for worldly blessings, and we know that there is more to receive still in Christ. Jesus assures of that when he says: ‘My Father will honour the one who serves me.’
There Was No One Else (27-30)
There was nothing easy about what Jesus had set out to do, nothing pretty. Hence, like the image of His agony in the Garden (Mark 14:34), we see the weight of what Jesus is carrying here as he speaks of his troubled heart. Literally meaning that his heart was disturbed, perplexed, terrified or disquieted. There was nothing easy for Christ in considering his work on the cross. This was not another day at the office, nor was it an act with little consequence. Thankfully, where we would bulk, he stood firm because he knew there was no one else for this work. He was faithful because we were faithless. Thus, Jesus speaks that it was for this hour he had come, and Jesus prays that through all that he was about to do and take on himself, the name of God would be glorified. This is the way of the Kingdom and the logic of God’s working that he would take the more gruesome means of death invented by human hands and use it for his purpose. That he would take that which the world meant for shame to bring Glory and Honour to his Name. The Father speaks to assure what the son has declared: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The Cross was always the plan; it was not an after through – it would be the place where God would display in duality to the world the fullness of His Wrath, Love and Mercy. A display that would bring glory to his name. Through the Cross of Calvary where all people (the greeks) would come to know the name of God, extol it and praise it.
The Crowd murmured at the sound of the voice, perhaps wondering just who or what it was. Some thought of thunder, others thought of an angel. Jesus tells them that it was for them, so they would know that what was about to happen was from the throne room of Yahweh. The Fathers speaking is another visible reminder of the Authority and Sonship of Jesus, the might have missed it, but let us see it.
Look to the Light of the World (31-33)
In the darkness, what we long for is a source of light; in the darkness of this season, what we need is a light of hope that will shine brighter than anything of this world. In Christ, we have that light, and it is the job of the church and the followers of Jesus to make that Light known. The Cross was not just about the forgiveness of sin; it was the moment in which God would drive from the world the darkness that covered it; it was the judgment and defeat of Satan. Thus, Jesus foretells one of its results that the prince of this world (the devil) will be driven out as he is lifted High. It is the contrast of the images that I love here as we picture the devil being driven out of the world and Jesus being lifted above it because he accomplished what he came to do and that all might see him. Through the work on the Cross, God would judge the sins of the World, grant forgiveness through faith and drive out the darkness. This is the way of God’s Kingdom that that which was meant for shame would bring the ultimate Victory. Thus, now we realise fully how the whole world would come to Christ; through his death and being lifted up, all people would be drawn to him (verses 32-33).
Conclusion: Believe in and Shine out the Light (34-36)
They still struggle to understand, the crowd has heard Jesus speak, and the voice of God from Heaven validate all that he had spoken. Yet, they still are not sure of these things. The minds of the world cannot bind themselves to the logic of the Kingdom of God. Thus, the reason and ask (based on their understanding of how the messiah would reign and redeem):
“We have heard form the law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is the Son of Man?”
It seems a strange question, these are people who knew the Old Testament, it is not that they were acquainted with it, they were intimate with it! They knew knew that in Isaiah 53 the promised messiahs death was foretold, they knew the vision of Daniel that the Son of Man would be ‘Cut off’2 and they knew the warning of the Prophet Zechariah:
“ Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who stands next to me,”
declares the LORD of hosts.
“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
I will turn my hand against the little ones. – (Zec 13:7).
It is a strange question and one that seems to point more to an attempt to confuse Jesus in this strange exchange rather than a true searching for the messiah. They are not really concerned with God’s things, for their question reveals not searching but the pride of their knowledge and trusting in what they know over knowing to trust in the one God sent. Jesus’s response ignores the question because its answer is simple – the Messiah will reign forever because the messiah is God, thus even in his lifting up, he remains. Jesus responds with another warning, look to the light and walk in it while you can. At the beginning of Johns, Gospel, Jesus had declared himself the light of the world (1:4), that those who follow him would never walk in darkness again and would know the light of life (8:12). While he was speaking in a way specific to that moment, he was literally there; we must also hear the challenge today. The light will not always be known, even after the Cross as he is lifted up to draw all people to himself, there will come a time when he will come down again to judge the world in finality. Thus, the same warning applies to us. It was as RC Sproul commented: “The window of opportunity was closing for the people to hear the gospel from Jesus Himself.”3
This Tuesday of Holy Week, let us make sure that our hope is in the light of Christ and that we walk his way. This is our only hope no matter the season of life we find ourselves in; we are the people who know that no darkness of the world can darken the light of Christ. Thus, even in Covid, Christ shines bright, offering us hope and guidance! Our delight is to hope in it, and our duty is to make it know. As Children of light, we do not keep the light to ourselves; we carry the light into the world so that the hope of Christ is made known in the darkest of situations. Remember Jesus said: “where I am, there will my servant be also” and though he was the Light while he was with us, he desired to make the light known. His desire, ethic and way modelled the mission for every lifestyle. So today, let us hope in the light and then go to where Jesus was in seeing to make the life of the light known by pointing to our hope through the cross of Christ; that God will take the most desperate of situations and use it for His Glory. Where is Jesus? Everywhere – so let us join him in those places living lives of sacrifice to make his way, love and hope knew. The Hour is now to live lives that bring Glory to God.