John 12:20-33 – Lingering in the Story
March 21, 2021
John is a remarkable book of the bible. It is great at storytelling and drawing the listener in. Unlike other gospels, John begins with the baptism of Christ and discusses the miracles, healings, lessons, and parables during the life of Christ. The major stories that lead to our gospel reading today is the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and the reaction to this. Then, Chapter 12 begins with the anointing of Jesus by a woman named Mary. This story is told many ways, but is believed to signify Jesus’ coming death as anointing someone with expensive oil was a burial ritual. From this point Jesus then goes to Jerusalem, where he is welcomed like a King, as the people lay their palm branches out saying “Blessed is the King of Israel!” The crowd was growing, and people were going out to meet Jesus, they were beginning to understand who he really was.
Today’s scripture reads:
20 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[g] from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
This passage has stunning imagery, and draws us in to who Christ is and prepares us for the Easter story. At first it feels like a complicated scripture that personally leaves me wondering what is really going on. But then, the heart and inspiration of it really comes through when you look a bit closer and pause to understand. There are 3 main things that happen in this passage where Jesus predicts his death – I believe these things point us to be able to linger in the story of Jesus coming death and be drawn in – seeing him more clearly. The three things are:
- There is desire to see Jesus by the Greeks/Gentiles that magnifies Christ
- Jesus predicts his death through the imagery of a kernel or seed
- Jesus is glorified through a voice from Heaven allowing those around Him to believe —The hope of Glory
ONE: For some reason the desire for the Greeks to see Jesus was his signal that “the hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” This really peaked my interest, why are they here? Why is this the signal? If you read through the passage, you see that Jesus never responded directly to the Greeks who were trying to see Jesus, but if you read forward in the story – Jesus responds to them after the cross with the new life He offers them. There is this long waiting in this sub-story story.
However, the Greeks, have a long history in scripture and are spoken of often, about bringing light to the Gentiles and that they would be brought in by faith. Isaiah 42:6 says, “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the gentiles.” Jesus came for all, there is no distinction – Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Therefore, God is the God of the Jews and the Gentiles as we read in Romans 3.
Back to the story in John, the Greeks/Gentiles came looking for Jesus after raising Lazarus from the dead and being welcomed into the city like a King. By the Greeks looking for him, this was a sign to Jesus that his death was near. He welcomes his death from afar, although he knows the cost!
TWO: After the Greeks signal to Jesus that his death his coming, he is vocal about the prediction of his death. Before the world can experience the resurrection power of Christ, and therefore the fruitfulness of redemption, there must be death. Death is something that is really hard for us to face, and to welcome. Jesus relates his coming death, to the likeness of a kernel that needs to be put into the ground and buried. From there it can reproduce and be fruitful. Jesus’ sacrifice is exactly that – however without the death the fruit would never be experienced.
We have all experienced the gift of New Eden or the beauty of watching a garden grow, or cherry blossoms begin to pop. In the melting of winter and the coming of spring, as we prepare the soil, plant seeds, and watch them grow – there is a deep metaphor for the life of Jesus. He used the example of a seed, that it has to die, be planted in order to bear fruit. Jesus in his graciousness planted himself as the seed so that the world could know Salvation.
Jesus is preparing those listening, and predicting his own death saying that he is willing to lose his own life. Jesus freely gives it up. Our lives, representative of pilgrims and sojourners, are positioned to recognize our heavenly home, not just our earthly journey. In this, we are meant to follow Christ in giving up our lives and prioritize a life that is people-focused, and kingdom-centered. Offering our lives as seeds, to be planted and bear fruit.
Jesus is not afraid to linger in the story. The first signs of spring, or a garden pushing through the soil takes time. New life is not immediate, although we would like it to be. For many of us, we would know the experience of not seeing the fruit of our labor quickly. Like Jesus, I don’t think the rest of Lent is something to be rushed. We know the end of the story – we know that all is redeemed and that Christ restores everything. However, Christ is waiting in the days before his own death – and I think we should join him there.
THREE: After Jesus explains the imagery and purpose of his death, he speaks to God saying, “Glorify your name.” Then there was a loud response that the crowd heard, “I have glorified your name, and will glorify it again!” In this story, Jesus was glorified – When Jesus heard this voice, it was the 3rd time that he encountered this audible Divine voice. He would have heard this voice at his baptism, and at his transfiguration. This is the voice of God. However, this time – Jesus is clear that the voice that spoke, was so that the disciples and those gathered could hear, rather than Jesus. The onlookers could hear the voice and in the hearing of this voice where glorified and convinced that Jesus was the Son of God.
This is such a gracious invitation to those standing around. The news about Jesus would have been so tough, but the security they would have felt in knowing that God would be glorified, and that Jesus was preparing the way to gather people to himself would have been incredible. It is an act of generosity, and lays the foundation to see how Jesus is the Hope of Glory.
To glorify means to praise or honor, to elevate or idealize. I believe that we spend our lives re-focusing on glorifying Christ. Ideally we should always be focused on glorifying Christ but our attention can be drawn elsewhere and we can praise or elevate other things in our life; like success, certainty or image. This passage refocuses our attention to see that Christ is Glorified and that we get to participate in the continued glorification of Christ through praising an honoring him.
FOUR: This passage is a remarkable story, and beautiful imagery, triggered by the desire for the Greeks to seek Jesus. Jesus knew that in that moment, the time was now right for his coming death. He knew this, spoke of it, described it in imagery that made sense to the listener – in order for wheat or a kernel to bear fruit it must be die, and be buried, before it can grow. Jesus is saying the same thing – that in order for him to bear fruit and fulfill the story of salvation, he has to die. In Jesus knowing this, and in him expressing this reality to the disciples and onlookers – God speaks and glorifies Christ.
However, there is still a sharp pain in this scripture if you were there in the moment and didn’t know the end of the story. Jesus is saying, it is time for the Son of Man to be glorified and welcome his death. When we know that death is approaching, I think we listen better, see more clearly, and spend as much time gleaning information from our Savior. We want to be beside Jesus’ and not leave him until he is gone. We want to learn from him, know more of his lessons, and hear more about the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe that this passage is an in vitiation to the Church to linger in the coming death of Christ. To emotionally welcome the sensation of grief as we think about the fact that Christ’s death is coming. Let’s not jump to the end of the story, lets linger in the middle with the disciples, Greeks and all those listening. Let’s feel the wonder and the ache – let’s join the story.
Often, I believe that in joining the story we can see Jesus in a new way, in a way that deeply impacts our life. In this season before Lent, in the quiet wilderness of our lives, may we be focused on spending time by Jesus’ side and glorifying him.
Soon we will see spring come alive on the trees in our city, soon we will witness seedlings popping through the dirt, but we are not there yet. Oh Church, Jesus will soon die – he will be betrayed, beat, sent to the cross and die. May the emotions and the lingering in the story make you emboldened to spend time at the feet of Christ – and to restore something deep within. Jesus welcomes us, he wants to wash our feet, and feast with us. We are welcomed in to the story – to know him better – and be prepared to be sent out – like the disciples. But now, we wait – and we begin to mourn.
My prayer is that by encountering this story and lingering in Jesus coming death, without rushing in our minds to the resurrection – we can see a new side of this story and a new side of Jesus. I pray that we can witness the glorification of Christ, and re-learn how to praise him with our lives. Through this story, through knowing Christ and through welcoming Easter – I hope that we can love all of those around us, despite our differences – and participate in the Kingdom of Heaven. Like the Greeks said at the beginning of this scripture, “We would like to see Jesus!”