Hello, and welcome to a new week of the STC podcast. My name is Casey Strine, I’m a member of the STC staff, and I’m excited to be sharing a few of my reflections on the Gospel of John with you this week.
This week we will be looking at materials from chapters 12, 13, and 14 of the Gospel according to John. This section of the Gospel of John is unique among the four gospels. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there is a short description of Jesus’ last meal with his closest disciples and his institution of what you may know as Holy Communion, sometimes called the Eucharist, in which bread and wine represent Jesus’ body and blood so that people can remember his sacrifice for them. John, by contrast, gives us a lengthy recollection of Jesus’ final conversations – plural – with his closest disciples during his last night with them. Our passages this week include Jesus’ final public conversation (in chapter 12) and a small portion of the conversations he has with his closest disciples that begin in John 13 and run all the way to the middle of John 18. These passages are filled with the ideas Jesus wants to ensure his closest followers understand before his death because they are the concepts on which God will build a movement of people following Jesus and seeking to complete his mission.
Today, we will look at John 12, verses 20 to 50, and we’ll see two things: first, how Jesus responds to pressure, and, second, how Jesus wants his followers to continue his public ministry.
This passage begins with some people wanting to see Jesus. In a way that is typical of John’s depiction of Jesus in this Gospel, Jesus doesn’t respond to that question, but denies the request by changing the topic. Here, Jesus openly wonders about how he should respond to the threat his life was under from those in Jerusalem who did not like what he was doing. Jesus says out loud for all to hear, “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. Father, glorify your name!” Jesus, in short, does not ask for relief, he asks for God to be glorified.
That is an astonishing thing. Jesus says without any room for confusion that it is more important that God is glorified than that his life go well. For those of you listening to this podcast that have been Christians for some time, that might not strike you as terribly shocking. It is unfortunately true that Christians can grow immune to the surprising ways that Jesus reacts to the trouble he faces – that certainly is the case for me at times. There is a certain fatigue that sets in when we are regularly reminded that Jesus put God’s glory before his own safety. We must do what we can to read this passage, and others like it, with a fresh naïveté, a sense of coming to it for the first time, and being surprised by its radical message of service to God’s mission.
For those of you listening to this podcast who aren’t Christian, your response might be that Jesus’ statement is somewhere between reckless and ridiculous. Who would say that? He can’t actually be serious? It might be nice-sounding rhetoric – the sort of thing someone says to make themselves feel better when they know some sort of pain is truly unavoidable, but not a sensible attitude to the situation. I can appreciate that. And yet, what the Gospel of John tells us is that Jesus believed so deeply that God would reconcile humanity with God through his life, death, and resurrection that this attitude made sense. As Christians, we believe that the events around Jesus’ death, the community of people who followed him after that tragic death, and the way in which this message has changed peoples’ lives for thousands of years demonstrates that Jesus was entirely sensible in this attitude – even if it remains hard to fathom.
That is a hard message to accept. Indeed, the good news that Jesus has made it possible for people to be reconciled to God and live their lives to the fullest – what we refer to in shorthand as the gospel – has always been hard for people to believe. That is one of the reasons why Jesus goes on to speak about the time that people have to accept this message. In verses 35-36 John recounts Jesus saying that there is still time for people to accept his message, but that this won’t go on forever. That image would have been especially powerful for a 1st century Jewish audience, which is what John has in mind, because it was very near Passover. Passover is the annual festival when Judaism remembers the story of the exodus, including Moses going to Pharaoh repeatedly to ask him to let Israel go. In essence, the Passover story begins with an example of someone (Pharaoh) being given multiple chances to accept a hard message from God, but failing to do so in the end. These words about the light remaining for a little while longer before the darkness takes over allude to the plague of darkness that occurs in the Passover narrative, as well as to the way that Jesus often refers to himself as the light in John’s gospel.
As Christians, we believe that people have a limited time to respond to Jesus’ message: their one lifetime. Up until that period ends, anyone can place their faith in Jesus, be reconciled to God, and experience a fullness of life that is unsurpassed. For those of us who are already followers of Jesus, we are called to keep presenting the good news that God wants to put creation right, the way it was created to be, through individual people reconciling with God via Jesus until the very end of a person’s life. We are the mechanism through which the possibility of belief remains present right up until each person runs out of time.
Lord, thank you for the example that Jesus gives us for responding to the challenges we face in a way that glorifies you. Help us to know what this requires in our own life, and grant us the strength and courage we need to do it. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
READING: John 12:20-50
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a grain 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. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.
‘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. Father, glorify your name!’
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.
Jesus said, ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
The crowd spoke up, ‘We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain for ever, so how can you say, “The Son of Man must be lifted up”? Who is this “Son of Man”?’
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.
Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word of Isaiah the prophet:
‘Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’
For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:
‘He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn – and I would heal them.’
Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.
Then Jesus cried out, ‘Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
‘If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.’