Read John 12:20-37
John is about to turn the corner on his Gospel account of Jesus’ ministry. This section begins with outsiders, from the Jewish perspective, who are trying to see Jesus. This is the time when Jesus changes the talk from, “his hour had not yet come,” to “the hour has come.” Don’t miss the significance of the phrase.
The first subtle piece of this section points to the inclusion of those who are outside of the Jewish faith and culture, the so-called Greeks as we read in verse 20. They are the “other” people. Perhaps these are the people that live on the “other side of town” and admire the strength of faith these Jews seem to have so they come to see for themselves. I’m guessing they don’t know all the politically correct things to say or customs to follow. They have heard about Jesus, so they make a simple request to see Jesus, to learn for themselves that which was talked about in many circles.
They had to navigate the gatekeepers, that is, they asked Philip who in turn asked Andrew who told Jesus. These rings of protection are practical. I can only imagine that hundreds of people wanted a personal audience with Jesus. Philip was apparently part of the outer ring that fielded such requests.
If I may be cynical for a moment, it seems we do the very same thing in our large churches these days. The senior pastor is far too busy to talk to everyone. To see the pastor means making an appointment or seeing one of the lessor pastors first. I’ve been one of those lessor pastors, so I speak from experience. It’s unlikely that the common folk will gain an audience with the senior leaders. I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind and I’m pretty sure that’s not the point that John is making here, but this is how we have learned to structure our megachurches.
Jesus response was much more important than the hierarchical message passing we read in verses 21 and 22. When Jesus heard that the Greeks wanted to see Him, He made this stunning declaration:
Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified... John 12:23
He wasn’t sitting on a throne filtering would-be guests. Jesus was there among the people and made a significant announcement. After 11 chapters of preparation, the time has finally come, but what is all this talk about death?
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. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:24-25
In a recent podcast interview, Marci Sloan talked about becoming selfless. Her words were not from a self-aggrandizing perspective, in fact, just the opposite. As she told her story, she talked about the pain that is associated with moving toward a selfless heart. She is trying to be more like Jesus. It is simple. In this case, simple is not easy.
Jesus taught the lesson two thousand years ago, a lesson that many heard then and through the centuries.
Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:26
Jesus came to declare the glory of the Father and He did so in human form for all to see. For many, this was far too much to accept. When Jesus calls upon God to glorify His name, the crowd’s mixed reaction reminds us of current events.
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. John 12:28-29
Some heard. Some did not. Nothing new except that Jesus declared this voice was for our benefit, the benefit of those who would choose to hear. The crowd reacts by asking for more definition. It appears that the Greeks are not the focus of this passage; I wonder if they are still on the outskirts listening.
Jesus explains that the prince of this world will be driven out when He is lifted up. Jewish theologians, i.e., the crowd, got the reference and fired back another question:
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’?” John 12:34
The puzzling thing about the gospel record of Jesus’ life is how He seems to avoid answering questions directly, at least from my perspective. They asked “who is this ‘Son of Man’?” and Jesus’s answer is indirect, consistently. See for yourself, how do you read His answer?
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. 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 12:35-36
Some got the message, others did not, but why the riddle? I hope you wrestle with this question thoroughly. I might be so bold as to suggest this will make an enormous difference in the strength of your faith.
Jesus could have answered in clear words, “I am the Son of Man you’ve been looking for,” but didn’t He do that in deeds? If we were listening, watching, and seeing how He cared for the least and the most, we would have already heard the answer. By not using simple words, Jesus demands that we look further, that we dig deeper.
My response comes from the experience of an earthly father. As much as I want my daughters to answer affirmatively, it has to be their response, their conclusion. It’s painful to watch adult children make mistakes or misunderstand the gospel message. I hope one day I can edit this paragraph and say that they all came to believe in their own time; I have faith that they will, but that doesn’t mean it has to happen in my time on earth. Suffice it to say, my words have little effect compared to my actions, but both are important.
Jesus told them. He’s telling us. Are we listening? How much more explanation do you need?