Jesus predicts his death Wikus John 12:20-36
It’s Tuesday of Holy Week, and this is my favourite day. I mean Friday and Sunday are obviously the best, but I love the Tuesday of Holy Week. We’ve just had the triumphal entry, palm Sunday, and the people were cheering for Jesus, they were overjoyed that he was there, and then five days later, on Good Friday, they’re baying for his blood. They want him dead, they rather release Barabbas, a murderer, than him. And it always baffled me how quickly that happened. Jesus went from having a following of thousands, tens of thousands, to being completely alone, in less than a week.
And a huge part of that, a significant step that brought Jesus closer to the cross was the Tuesday. On the Tuesday Jesus preached and he told many parables, and he spoke of his death and his resurrection, and many other things. But very importantly, his opponents start coming for him. The pharisees and the Sadducees start asking him questions and trying to trap him, and his answers infuriate them. Because he answers confidently and with authority. And he makes so many people angry, that the Tuesday of Holy Week is known to scholars and theologians as the Day of Controversy. Imagine making so many people angry, that it goes down in history as “The day Jesus made everyone angry”. And there’s a lot more to it than that, the conditions of their hearts, the expectations of the people. But I just love the fact that Jesus was here and he was speaking the truth, and it was rubbing everyone the wrong way.
But all that’s besides the point, that’s just my 2 cents for the day. Let’s turn to Scripture, and have a look at some of the things he said, but first lets pray. John 12:20-36.
In this passage, Jesus predicts his death. And I’d like to point out a few important things from it.
Firstly- the arrival of the Greeks. Greeks here doesn’t necessarily mean Greeks, it just means non-Jewish, or Gentile, believers, who came to worship at Passover. And they come to Jesus, and immediately Jesus’ answer to them coming is: the hour has come. This is important. Jesus lived and preached among the Jewish people. He didn’t really devote any time in his earthly ministry to preaching to Gentiles. But he came for them too. And his work on the cross was and is for all people. So the coming of the Greeks means that the time for his work with the Jews was over, and it was time for his ultimate work.
Second, Jesus uses a lot of symbolism and metaphor and rhetoric here, and I think its worthwhile to look into these. Grain of wheat- 24. There’s so much packed into this one little sentence- first of all- grain of wheat- bread of life- its very common language that Jesus uses about himself and it links very strongly to manna in the old testament- the bread from God. And then the next part- unless it dies, it remains alone. Jesus’ sacrifice is the thing that allows to enter into God’s presence. If not for the cross, we could not be reconciled, and Jesus would be alone. Well not alone, but you get the meaning. We couldn’t be there, and he wants us there- we are the fruit he bears.
Next, loves-hates-25 Jesus is a master speaker, on top of everything else, on top of his very clear authority, and confidence, he is a really good speaker. And he uses absolutes here to emphasize his point- loves his life- loves his life more than God, takes more joy in the world, in comfort, than in God. Hates his life means, loves God so much more than his own life, that relatively, it looks it looks like hate.
And then this next part, that should take the wind from the sails of prosperity preachers. Where I am, there will my servant be also. In Heaven yes, but where else was Jesus- he was in the homes of the poor, he was in the homes of the sinners, he was in prison. He was on the cross. That’s what serving Jesus looks like, that’s what hating your life looks like.
He goes on, 27. I love this. Jesus is a man. He is fully man. And fully God, but still fully man. And his soul is troubled. And in spite of that, he carries on, so that God’s name may be glorified. And a voice speaks down from Heaven- and 30 Even in the midst of being troubled, Jesus looks to the people first. The voice would also have been a comfort for him, a reassurance, but he makes it about those listening, about his sheep.
The next line is brilliant-31. In the fallen state of the world, Satan is ruler. But he is defeated at the cross. He’s cast out. He’s decisively defeated. I don’t want to say anything else about this verse, because it amazing on it’s own. 1 Corinthians 15:55: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Verse 32- this has a double meaning. Firstly, when Jesus is lifted up on the cross, he draws all people to himself, meaning he draws all their sin to himself. He takes it upon himself and he pays the price for it. It is finished. The wages of sin are paid and paid over a thousand fold. And then when he is lifted up from the earth on Sunday, when he is lifted out of the earth, death is defeated, and he lives. And he draws us to that new life. He draws us to the resurrection, to be resurrected. And when he’s lifted up to heaven, he draws us with him there, to live out the life he has given.
And the crowd does the thing they do to Jesus the whole time- they misunderstand- they don’t see what he’s saying, they don’t see what he’s doing. They’ve grasped the absolute tip of the iceberg and asked why it’s so small. They get that Jesus is saying he’s going to die, but they haven’t quite gotten the resurrection thing down yet. And this is part of where people start turning against him. He said he was going to die, but the Christ is supposed to live forever, so then logically, he can’t be the Christ, he has to be an imposter. Except we know that he rose again, and we know that he is raised to glory, and sits at the right hand of his Father. We know he was the Christ and he did die, and then he also remains forever.
Verse 35 and 36. Walk while you have the light- I’ve seen more people jogging these past two days before the lockdown than ever before. Jesus is the light of the world, and he’s urging people to believe. It’s a warning- it became much worse to be a believer in Christ after he left this world. And Jesus is saying- believe in me while I am here, so that when I go, you will not be left the dark. When he goes, those who believed in him- the disciples, become sons of the light- they receive the Holy Spirit, and they can carry on his work. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that when it goes, you will have a part in the light. These people had an amazing opportunity- to be part of the first church, to be followers of the Christ while he was on earth, and they were wasting it.
There’s a lot in these passages, I could dig much deeper into most of these points, but I want to say something else also. Christ new all along that he would rise again. The people didn’t. They should have, but they didn’t. And yet, when he was buried, the disciples came together. They didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, but they stayed Christ-followers. And he came back. And they followed him.
There’s a line in one of the Narnia books, which by the way, are an allegory of the story of Christ, written by one of the greatest theological minds of the 20th century. And basically the heroes are stuck underground and the bad guy is trying to convince them that Narnia doesn’t exist, that there’s no such thing as the sun, and that Aslan (who represents Jesus in the books) doesn’t exist, because if he existed then he’d surely be there to help them. And she’s evil, so she’s using some magic or something, but she convinces them, and then Puddleglum says, “maybe you’re right, maybe there isn’t a Narnia or a sun, maybe Aslan doesn’t exist, but I’d rather live my life as if he does. I’m on Aslan’s side, even if there’s no Aslan to lead it.” And long story short, they win, because Aslan was busy doing some other stuff that they didn’t know about. And the point that I’m trying to make here is. This is a tough time. I don’t know what the world looks like from where you’re sitting. You’re two weeks in, our town, our country, the whole world could look completely different. And maybe we can’t see what God is doing. Maybe we can’t reconcile what’s happening. I hope that we can. But even if we can’t, even if we’re like the Jews, misunderstanding completely what He is doing. I pray that we will still walk in the light. I pray that we will still follow Him, that even though we may not see Him, we will still believe and know that He is working through all this. That He is in control, and if it looks to us like He isn’t, then that’s just because we don’t understand yet. 2000 years later we know that Jesus was going to be resurrected. In 2000 years, people will understand what God was doing here.
I’ll finish with this. It’s the day of controversy. Jesus angered people, not because he was wrong or rude, but because they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand what God had told their fathers, and they didn’t understand what God was doing then. And we look back at them, and we think they were a bit silly, weren’t they? Even if they couldn’t understand, neither did the disciples, they should still have believed, they should still have followed. The day of controversy is not about a new message. It’s about people being dumb. Let’s not do it again. Let’s not mess up so badly that historians give it a specific name. Let’s follow Christ, and hope in Christ, and trust in Christ, even when we can’t see what he’s doing.