“We live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7
Read John 12:20-50
Let’s continue in the footsteps of Jesus along the path that leads to the cross. The gospels are full of the teachings of Jesus in the temple, and those He taught privately to His disciples in the days following His entry into Jerusalem. It’s hard to tell the exact timeline of events leading to the crucifixion after He entered the city. Matthew’s account is by far the most detailed, taking 228 verses to document Christ’s movements. Luke is second with 120 verses, followed by Mark’s 113 verses. I was particularly intrigued by John’s account of the days leading up to the Last Supper. He sprinted through the triumphant entry to the Last Supper in only 38 verses! John takes us through a couple of unique interactions Jesus had first with the Gentiles, and then with the Jews.
The Gentiles (John 12:20-36)
Some Greeks who were in town for the festivities came to Philip asking for some face-to-face time with Christ. They wanted not only to get a glimpse of Him but they wanted to experience Him. They wanted to have a conversation and get to know Him. So, they network a bit. They approach Philip, and knowing they can catch more flies with honey, they call him “Sir” to show Him respect, and then they get right to the point. “We would like to see Jesus” (v. 21). I love Matthew Henry’s observation on this event: “…the great desire of our souls should be to see Jesus; to have our acquaintance with Him increased, our dependence on Him encouraged, our conformity to Him carried on; to see Him as ours, to keep up communion with Him, and derive communications of grace from him: we miss of our end in coming if we do not see Jesus.”[i] Oh, precious Savior, I pray that we would continually have this attitude when we approach you. May all of our energies be focused, not on this world because it is not our home, but on knowing and experiencing You. I pray that we have a special encounter with You during this Holy Week.
Philip listens to the request and discusses it with Andrew. They both agree to approach Jesus. Jesus doesn’t really answer them, but it’s evident that He begins to have a conversation with the Gentiles. Jesus is clearly addressing a crowd in verse 30. Maybe he just couldn’t resist two or more of His children coming to Him with a request (see Matthew 18:19). Jesus reveals His death to the crowd beginning with, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” That is certainly an interesting way to look at being beaten, spit on, stripped naked and nailed to a cross. But “what we see as disgraceful humiliation, Jesus saw as being glorified.”[ii]
What would our world be like if we looked at humiliating or frustrating circumstances and considered it as glorifying to God? That’s a pretty radical concept, but isn’t that what Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 4:17 when he wrote, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all”? Ponder Matthew Henry’s comments for a moment: “Christ was now troubled; now in sorrow, now in fear, now for a season; but it would not be so always, it would not be so long. The same is the comfort of Christians in their troubles; they are but for a moment, and will be turned into joy.”[iii]
Jesus then begins relating His death to that of a wheat seed. I did some reading on the lifecycle of a seed. You would think that I would remember this from my “Organic Gardening” class at Auburn (yes, it’s a real class and yes, I took it). Despite my higher education in gardening, my thumb is so black that I could kill a fake plant. I discovered in my exhaustive research on the internet that only when a plant dies can it release a seed to the ground to produce offspring. In addition, a seed’s outer shell has to be buried in the ground, softened by water, and eventually peeled away before the life inside can begin to grow and blossom. So, when Jesus’ body died and was buried, it enabled Him to produce spiritual seed. There are so many spiritual correlations that I can get from this one analogy, but I’ll move on. I do encourage you to meditate on this passage and ask God to reveal something new to you.
The discussion of Jesus’ death opens up a door for Christ to talk about those who focus on things that are worldly and those that focus on eternity (vs. 25-26). To paraphrase, if you love your life on Earth what you get is separation from God. If you hate your earthly life and focus on spiritual things, you will have community with God. For Jesus says, “…where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (v. 26). Your seat as a child of God is waiting right next to Jesus at the right hand of God. I don’t know about you, but that is certainly something to get excited about! We get to rub elbows with the Almighty and sit on thrones in God’s presence!
We transition from Jesus talking about His death to realizing the time was at hand. “Now my heart is troubled…” (v. 27) Jesus begins. How sad those words are to me. Jesus knew the torture and agony he was going to have to endure, but He rejoiced in the fact that “for this very reason” he came to us. Jesus was reaching the culmination of His purpose on Earth: to save us from our sins so that God could live within us.
I can see Jesus looking toward heaven, arms raised and saying, “Father, glorify Your name!” I love God’s response in this scene. He says, “I have glorified [My Name] and will glorify [My Name] again.”(v. 28) [emphasis mine]. He doesn’t whisper it to Jesus, he shouts it out loud. The voice was so loud that it was described as thunder. In fact, God’s voice is described as thunder multiple times in the book of Revelation. Jesus makes sure that the crowd understands why God spoke aloud — for our benefit. While some described it as thunder, others described it as a voice, but not the voice of God, but of an angel. Seeing that the angels are God’s messengers, perhaps they understood that it was from God, or perhaps not. Note that God’s voice is only recognizable to His true followers (see John 10:14). Do you hear God’s voice? Sometimes it’s a whisper and sometimes it’s a shout, but make no mistake, he does speak, we just have to stop and listen.
The Jews (John 12:37-50)
After Jesus addressed the Gentiles, He left them and hid. John then begins to talk about the Jews. He begins, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe Him.” (v 37) Seeing isn’t believing. Sometimes we think it would be easier to believe if we could see it and touch it; however, the Jews had the knowledge and all the evidence they needed, but they refused to see. He had just healed some beggars in the temple right before their eyes, but they were so stubborn in their unbelief that it blinded them to the Truth. Matthew Henry writes, “…every new miracle confirmed the reality of what went before” but they were so stubborn that they “would not” believe.[iv] They were in denial. Can you relate? Is there a time in your life where you clung stubbornly to something that it blinded you to the reality of the situation? May we be careful not to get so set in our ways that we miss God revealing His Truth to us!
The next few verses are so exciting to me. John quotes Isaiah’s prophecy in verse 40 that “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn…” This sounds oddly similar to the experience that Moses had with Pharaoh when he was assisting God in rescuing Israel from the slavery of the Egyptians. If you aren’t familiar with the story, you might want to take a look at Exodus 5-13. There were times when Pharaoh hardened his own heart (stubbornness) and there were times when God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Now, I don’t understand all of it, but I do know that God can do whatever he chooses. Isaiah 46:10 says, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” Matthew Henry’s commentary gives a good argument for why men harden their own hearts, “The reason why men believe not the report of the gospel is because the arm of the Lord is not revealed to them, that is, because they do not acquaint themselves with, and submit themselves to, the grace of God; they do not experimentally know the virtue and fellowship of Christ’s death and resurrection, in which the arm of the Lord is revealed. They saw Christ’s miracles, but did not see the arm of the Lord revealed in them.” [v]
You are probably wondering why these verses excited me. I’m excited because this means that God has chosen us as His children! He chose to reveal Himself to us. He opened our hearts so we would see Him as He really is. We believe in Him only because He called us. It’s true. He picked us out before the creation of the world. Read Psalm 139. There is no one like you. Never has been and never will be. Jesus picked you! Not everyone makes the cut. I can’t think of one good reason why he would pick me. But I do know that He picked me so that I could glorify His kingdom and His name. What an honor we have and what a responsibility!
John then marks the last public appearance of Jesus (other than His trial and crucifixion). What were the last words Jesus speaks to the public? They were pleading words! “Then Jesus cried out…” (v 44) Doesn’t your heart break to hear this? He gives them every opportunity, every evidence of who He is, and then, the Son of God, pleads with them. But He also levels with them. He comes right out and says, “When he [a believer] looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.” It’s like He’s saying everything but, “Hey. Heads up, I’m God in case you haven’t figured it out. I’m the King you’ve been waiting for. When you look at me, you are looking at God.” Then, he tells them what happens to those that don’t believe. They will be judged on the last day by the very words they have chosen not to hear.
So, what was Jesus’ last sentence in public before His “trial?” Of course, they were words pointing to the Father, “I know His commands lead to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”
May our actions and words always point to the Father so that we cry out, “Father, glorify Your name!”