The story of the Passion of Christ is like a journey into darkness.
And like all dark roads, it is easy for the traveller to get confused and lost. Think of those who journeyed with Jesus.
Judas must have been thinking about whether to go along with Jesus or not. Thomas said “let us go up and die with him.” And Peter? Jesus had told them repeatedly that he was going to suffer and die. Peter had the revelatory insight that Jesus was the messiah but stopped short of understanding that the messiah would “suffer many things”. Remember that other people, even after the resurrection (the guys walking to Emmaus in Luke 24; the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8) had to be taught via scripture that suffering was the given role of the messiah.
And Jesus set his face like a flint towards Jerusalem. There was a magnetic pull upon him. He knew what had to be done and he set his will to do it. “No one takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own free will. “And yet knowing what the right thing to do, and doing it, are sometimes very different things. And so in John 12 we see that resolve being tested, like hanging a weight on a bar to see how strong it is. And the strain shows.
And with those who went with him, there was a growing darkness of doubt.
Ever been unsure as to what God is doing? Maybe that’s what they were experiencing. “Are you sure about this suffering business?” Are you sure that pain has to be involved? But doesn’t Messiah mean “Hero”? Doesn’t it just mean that you are going to restore Israel to Top Nation status, like it sort of was under David. Aren’t you the Son of David? Isn’t that what you are doing here? We heard from God’s Law that the Messiah lasts forever. How can it be necessary, as you put it, that the Son of Man ‘be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
There’s always a tendency to localise and trivialise when God wants to universalise and create significance. He is not willing that ANY should perish. His concerns are not local, they are global. Just like the tithe stands for the whole, the nation stands for the nations. Israel is God’s beloved possession, but it is a tithe of the whole. Abram’s promise was that the whole world might be blessed through him, to be a light for the gentiles.
But the tithe must be paid. The one for the whole. Even Caiaphas understood that (John 11:49f). And Jesus is the tithe of Israel.
And that’s why the darkness is gathering. John 12 is John’s picture, in a sense, of Gethsemane. Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’”
Glory on display? Such a paradox! How is the suffering of Christ the glory of God? How do those things run together? No wonder that those that heard Jesus speak were confused. Peter refused it point-blank. Judas –presumably- began to operate according to his own agenda. And in the event, “They all forsook him and fled.”
And it’s in this passage that Jesus explains the centre of this gathering darkness; how the one leads to the other, how the death of Israel is the life of the world and how Jesus takes the payment upon himself. Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.
Why does he speak like this, all of a sudden? There doesn’t seem to be any connection between the statement and what preceded it. There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?”
22-23 Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Why did Jesus respond so powerfully to a simple request for a conversation? Nicodemus had come by night to talk to him. He loitered by the Samaritan well to talk to a local lady. He was –it seemed- always ready to talk and listen and offer God’s grace. But now something has shifted. The Greeks had come to worship. They represent the seeking world that has come to Jerusalem where Jesus knew that the huge world-change was going to happen. Yes it’s local, historical, recordable history. This is where it happened. With Jews. At the heart of Jewish society and religion. But it’s not going to stay there! This historical event –a lynch mob and a kangaroo court, a squalid execution and a borrowed grave- this is going to be a fault-line that forms a San Andreas split across the world. And when the Greeks come, Jesus hears the sign of the times! Times up. Now is the hour when the glory of God is going on display in the most unexpected way!
God is full of surprises.
The seed has to die. When the husk breaks down and decomposes into the soil, it provides the nutriment for the kernel to sprout and give forth new life. Now is the time. The old has to die. It’s good for you that I go, so that the new expression of God in the world comes!
And what is the glory of God on display? It’s the coming of the outsiders becoming insiders. It’s the judgement of satan At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me
A present judgement
The bookends are going to be pulled away and everything is going to change its position. And I will gather them around me.
But what did Jesus do -in this passage-that we must do with our lives?
Three things. He surrendered his will. He submitted to God’s timing. He sought God’s glory.
And as the darkness gathered, the glory began to shine stronger than ever.