Sermon from John 12:20-36
This passage opens with the arrival of a group of Greeks to the Jewish feast, saying “We wish to see Jesus.” I’m reminded of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. My step-mother is from a Greek family, and so I am familiar with what a Greek party looks like, and that movie does not miss the mark. When Greeks show up, they bring the party! So although commentators debate at whether John meant actual Greeks or just generic Gentiles, I smile imagining a group of Greeks busting into this Jewish feast ready to party. So whether it was Greeks or Gentiles, the disciples of Jesus did not know what to do with them when they arrived.
However, when Philip and Andrew asked Jesus what to do about this group of Greeks, it seemed as if he didn’t even hear their question, for he started talking about what seemed like something completely different! Jesus replied to them with, “The hour has come…” (v. 23). This is actually a recurring theme in the Gospel of John – references to “the hour,” or the divine appointed timing of God. It was first mentioned at the Wedding at Cana when Jesus told his mother, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). There are several other moments in the Gospels when Jesus says things like, “The hour is coming…” and now we come to the end of his life and ministry, and “the hour has come.” It is time for the climax, the denouement, the moment that changes everything.
So what is the hour that has come? “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” At first this might sound awesome to Jesus’ listeners, but he goes on to explain what he means by using two illustrations. First, he compares himself to a grain of wheat. A grain of wheat has to fall to the earth and die in order to bear much fruit. A seed has to be broken apart and destroyed in order to bring forth more life. When Jesus says that this is the hour, he is talking about the cross. Only when he dies can he bring eternal resurrection life from the grave.
Jesus goes on to reflect on the meaning of laying down one’s life. He not only laid down his own life, but he calls his followers to lay down our lives as well. We lay down our fears, our material desires, our concerns of what people think of us, and yes, our physical safety. And in return, we gain eternal resurrected life. What an exchange!
Although this is a wonderful exchange, Jesus knows that it is difficult for us. It was difficult for him! After speaking of laying down his life like the grain of wheat, he directly tells us, “Now is my soul troubled” (v. 27). But he provided for us the example of what to do when our souls are troubled by fear and hardship. We pray for the Father to glorify his name. God hears and he responds, and he will indeed bring about glory through our suffering.
Jesus then switches illustrations and brings up the concept of being lifted up, which is another paradox. When we think of being lifted up, we think of encouragement, light, brightness, and adoration. But Jesus was speaking of the way he was about to die. Just like the death of the seed led to life, the death of Jesus brought about glory. Jesus references being lifted up three times in the Gospel of John. The first is in John 3:14, when he compares his own death to the way Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to save the Israelites from the curse of poisonous serpents (See Numbers 21:4-9). In the same way, looking to our Savior lifted on the cross will save from eternal death those of us who bear the curse of sin.
Isaiah 52-53 gives us a picture of this. Isaiah 52:13 says that God’s servant is wise and high and lifted up, but then verse 14 says that as he is lifted up, we can see that he is marred and disfigured. Isaiah 53 goes on to beautifully express how God’s Suffering Servant bore the weight of our sins in his own body. This is how Jesus was lifted up.
But what breaks forth from his suffering is a new covenant. He brings new life to a dead and dying world. With the cross, Satan is now a defeated foe. The power of our enemy has been stripped from him. The cross has broken the bondage of sin and death. As the Son of Man is lifted up, those who look to him find life.
Going back to the Greeks, these Greeks were a little early for the party that was coming with the resurrection of Christ. May they be representative of the people of God receiving and celebrating the glorious light that broke forth after the suffering and death of the Savior, the glorious salvation and freedom of the children of God, and the eternal resurrected life provided to those who look to him.