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Some Mysterious Answers

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Jesus gives a mysterious answer to Phillip's request for Greeks who wanted to see Jesus

Some Mysterious Answers John 12:20-41 Have you even asked a question and gotten an entirely off-the-wall answer? You expect a simple answer and get something which doesn’t seem to answer the question you asked? This seems to be the case today. Jesus gets asked questions, and the answers He gives are quite mysterious. But He really does answer them. It was Passover time in Jerusalem. This feast was kind of what July 4th means to Americans with an additional religious emphasis. The Israelites were expected to assemble yearly for this feast in Jerusalem. The scattering of the Jews around the empire made the cost impossible for many to take this trip, but even so, every Jew tried to come to the feast at least once. The population of the city increased vastly for that week as pilgrims came to the city. Some would come up from the coast road from Caesarea and others like Jesus came on the Jericho road from the east. It was a time of joy and excitement for the Jews. In the chaos of people, they had to make their way to the shops to purchase a Passover lamb as well as pay their Temple tax. Lodging was also hard to find. Jesus and his disciples seemed to have sheltered in a garden clled Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives where there was an underground olive press. Others rented upper guest rooms. Food had to be purchased, and shops and vendors were busy. But for the Romans, it was a time of great concern. Pilate, who hated the Jews and Jerusalem felt obligated to come up from the coeast city of Caesarea with two cohorts of crack legionnaires to make sure a riot did not break out with the intention of overthrowing the Roman occupiers. So close watch was made from the Roman garrison fortress of Anthony for any sign of trouble. The found at least one incident where a man named Barabbas tried to start an uprising and killed someone in the process. He was arrested with two other men. Crucifixion awaited them, as this horiffic public execution served as a deterrent from others attempting the same thing. They probably kept close eyes on another assembly gathering with great excitement on the east. Jesus was coming to town on a donkey in fulfilment of prophecy. People were strawing their garments on the road before Him as a kind of red carpet. Palm branches, the symbol of the last time Israel was free were waving. The Palm branches were the symbol of the zealots, and at least one of Jesus’ disciples was a zealot. But there was no violence. People who were already in Jerusalem ran out to greet Jesus and those who were following. Everyone was chanting the Psalms of Ascents (112-118), especially the 118th which says. “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. The Jewish leaders were also watching and sent a message to Jesus to shut the crowd up. They were afraid the Romans at any moment would come down from the fortress and start shedding blood. Pilate was no stranger to violence. But Jesus rebuked the delegation saying that even if He silenced them, the tomb rocks in the cemeteries on both sides of the road would start shouting. It was the beginning of a bizarre day. Jesus starts weeping and wailing over Jerusalem. It was His party, and He was crying. The disruption would soon continue as Jesus would proceed and cleanse the Temple, overthrowing the tables of the moneychangers and releasing the doves. The result would even be more chaos, with some of the crowd rejoicing that the crooks in the Temple got what they deserved and others beginning to plot to destroy Jesus. We don’t know at this point in John 12 whether this incident occurs before or after the cleansing of the Temple. John mentions a cleansing of the Temple, but it is at the beginning of the gospel. Whether it is the same cleansing or a different one is hard to tell as John uses time in a highly original way. At any rate, the commotion got the attention of certain Greeks who had come u to the feast. What we know about them is that they were not Greek speaking Jews from far away as another term would have been used. They were ethnically not Jews, but the fact they had come up to the feast indicates some relation to Judaism. They were probably what is called “God-fearers” who were attracted to the Jewisw religion but had not submitted to circumcision. They could come to the outermost Temple court, but no farther under pain of death. These Greeks drew near and found Phillip. As Phillip had a Greek name, He may have spoken Greek. Phillip and Andrew were always bringing people to Jesus, so they brought the request of these Greeks to see Jesus. These Greeks had more than a casual desire to meet someone famous. They were willing to assume the expense of the journey to come to Jerusalem. They earnestly desired to know more. Phillip and Andrew asked Jesus, probably expecting a yes or no answer. Instead Jesus answers in a way which would make some think whether he was answering their question at all. It says, “Jesus told them….” Who is the “them.” It could be Phillip and Andrew. It could have been the crowd. Or did He answer the Greeks. It would seem if He answered the Greeks, He would have had to answer them in Greek, as it is unlikely the Greeks spoke Aramaic. This is not impossible as Geek had been spoken pretty widely in Palestine for over 350 years, since the time Alexander the Great had conquered them. But what is most strange is what He said. Jesus starts by talking about the planting of seeds. The seed has to die in order to sprout and produce a plant that produces more seeds. It is a parable which He will relate to His own death. But first He talks about true discipleship. The true disciple follows Jesus at the real risk of losing his or her own life. The disciple who tries to preserve his own life when persecuted will lose the life that really matters, and the one who loses his or her earthly life will attain eternal life. What Jesus seems to be telling “them” is that if one really wants to come to Jesus, to see Him, they cannot come as a casual follower. The call to discipleship is not one to “Come and dine” but as Bonhoeffer put it “Come and die.” This is certainly not the expected or even the desired answer. But it is the true answer. After Jesus says this, He Himself has a human moment. The other gospels put more emphasis on the humanity of Jesus. They record Jesus’ groaning in agony at Gethsemane. The other gospels do show his divinity as well. But John puts great emphasis on Jesus’ divinity, but here the humanity of Jesus comes out. He knows why He had come. He knew He would be arrested, beaten, mocked, scourged, and crucified. When He reminded his disciples of the cost of following Him, He was reminded of the cost He was about to pay. Some leaders send their soldiers to their deaths in battle while preserving their own lives at the back of the battlefield. But Jesus was not one of those earthly generals. He would be first to die. He was asking nothing of them that He would not do first. Jesus cries out to the Father and submits to the bitter dregs of the cup. He instead asks the Father to glorify the Father’s name through Jesus’ upcoming death. To this, He hears a voice from heaven of affirmation that this will indeed be the case. It is interesting to note here, that everyone else hears a noise like thunder. Others, who are more perceptive see it as is called in Hebrew, a Qol-Gadol or a voice from God. But no one understood the message apparently, but Jesus. This brings out the truth that no one can either see God or understand His voice unless God opens eyes and ears. The people did not even realize the person of Jesus who stood before them was the person of God, the Son. Nor did they understand that the voice of Jesus which they heard was the voice of God. This is made explicit by John at the end of chapter 12 where He quotes Isaiah 6 which says “Seeing, they did not perceive; hearing they did not understand.” While they were perplexing about the sound, Jesus tells them the voice they could not understand was not meant for Him, but for them. Perhaps Jesus had told them what the voice had said, or perhaps what He says now is a roundabout answer to it. He talks about the impending judgment of Satan that would happen at the cross. Jesus is condemned by man to the cross, and in it Satan is condemned instead by God. He makes another mysterious statement that if he is lifted up from the earth, it will become the means of drawing all peoples unto Him. But what is meant by lifting up? The word has a double meaning, and John loves double meanings. It can mean to exalt, to lift up in glorious praise. But it also can mean to lift up on a cross, to crucify. Here the theology of glory and the theology of the cross meet. The most humiliating and painful death imaginable would become the means of the glory of God and of Jesus Himself. If Jesus is lifted up on the cross, it will become the means of saving all who will come to Him, bot Jew and Gentile. Finally, Jesu gets around to answering the inquiry of the Greeks to see Jesus. They can come; they can see Him. But if they are to see Him, they must see Him through the cross. Jesus was telling those who heard why He must die. But they did not get it, at least not yet. Their eyes could not see it. All they could see was the theology of glory. The Christ is for ever and cannot die. They seem to have seen in part that Jesus was talking about crucifixion, but they could not put a suffering Messiah and a Davidic Messiah together in one person. They had just escorted Him into town as king with the idea that He would overthrow the kingdoms of the world as seen in Roman rule over them. They could see Him overthrowing Satan. But to die on the cross? No way! So they ask Him. Jesus gives another mysterious answer. He tells them that He the light would only be there a little longer. They needed to walk in this light or darkness would overtake them. They need to decide now to follow Him. Then it says He went out and hid Himself. The people were left in the dark. We have the same difficulties today in trying to understand Jesus. And this is after the cross. We should be the more enlightened, but we are not. People can see an earthly Jesus, a great teacher and a martyr of religious intolerance. They see the tragedy of Jesus’ death but not the glory of the resurrection. They see that maybe in a world enlightened by the teaching of Jesus that someday we might have a more just world. We have had the teaching for 2000 years. Every effort has been made to apply His teaching, but the world is as dark as ever, and becoming even darker. Do we still not understand what Jesus is saying or what He has done? Others follow a political Jesus. They think if we can just take over the world for Jesus by force that we can set up His Kingdom. We can then force His teaching on everyone upon fear of death for disobedience. We have tried Christendom too, and it has been found wanting. How many have been burnt at the stake in the name of Christendom or suffered other great privations? Whether through activism or passivism, the Kingdom we are expecting has not come. We need to pray the Lord lift the scales from our eyes and unstop our ears to hear what Jesus is really saying to His church, not what we think He is saying or should be saying. This is the only way we can truly see and hear. Jesus says He will return and at that time the Kingdom will be fully realized. But this is in the Lord’s timing and by the Lord’s means. We don’t make a Kingdom for God but wait patiently for the Kingdom of God. For the moment the world is in deep darkness and it seems that we too would be swept away in this darkness. But the truth of the matter is that we are in the light of Jesus who believe on Him. We are still in Egypt, but there should be a distinction between the people of God and the people of the world. We are in Egypt, but we are also in Goshen. We are still under the taskmaster’s lash in bondage to the world, but we have already been set free. We are just waiting for that last great Passover day. We are in the Kingdom, suffering even as Jesus said we must. We do know the day of suffering will end. The day of the cross will be over, and glory awaits. Let us console each other with this sure hope and press on.
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