The last prediction - John 12:20-36

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 16th September 2007.

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Well some of us have recently got back from holidays or other trips.  Last weekend as many of you know, we were in Helsinki for my brother’s wedding.  And if you’ve got children or can remember back to when your children were small, maybe you can relate to what I call the ‘are we nearly there syndrome’.  You know, you’ve set off down Beverley Road;  you’ve not even got to the A63 and a voice pipes up in the back:  “are we nearly there yet”. 

And in a sense, that’s what we’ve had all through the first half of John’s Gospel.  The ‘are we nearly there yet’ syndrome.  Because just like going on holiday’s exciting, there’s been an increasing level of excitement all through the first half of John’s Gospel.  So turn back with me if you would to Jn chapter 1 on p[987/  1645] as we remind ourselves of just how exciting it was.

And in v1 we read that

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.”

And in v14 we learnt that

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

Why did the eternal Son of God become and man and come to visit us on earth?  Well, we’re told back in 12:

“to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”

J came so that we can be born again as he put it in chapter 3.  He came to bring us new life; spiritual life that is;  eternal life.  He was the lamb of God in chapter 1 who was going to take away the sins of the world.  Not just the Jews, but the sins of all types of people, Jews and non-Jew alike.  And all through the first half of John’s Gospel, Jesus performs various signs which prove the claims he was making.  His claim to be the son of God.  His claim to be God himself visiting His people.  And His claim to be the bread of life, the resurrection and the gateway to eternal life. 

Astonishing claims.  As C S Lewis put it:  someone who made such claims couldn’t simply be a good moral teacher as so many would put it.  No, to claim such things, Jesus must have been totally off His trolley;  or even worse:  some of the religious leaders of J's day accused him of being evil.  So Jesus was either mad, bad or of course he could have been telling the truth.    And that’s exactly what the first half of John’s Gospel has been proving for us by recording the various signs of Jesus.  Signs like changing water into wine.  Signs like feeding the 5,000;  signs like healing the sick and most spectacularly in chapter 11, signs like raising the dead. 

But there’s been an unanswered question all through that first half of the Gospel.  How is Jesus going to take away the sins of God’s people.  How does he give His children new birth?  How is Jesus the bread of life, the resurrection and the gateway to eternal life.  Are we nearly there yet?   Come on Jesus.    What are you going to do?   How does it all work?

And all through the first half, when people asked Jesus such questions his stock answer was:  ‘My hour has not year come’.    Like me in the front of the car:  no - we’re not there yet.  You’ll have to be patient. I’ll tell you when we’re nearly there. My hour has not yet come   

But when we get to chapter 12, the answer changes.  So flip forward if you would to our passage and look with me at 12:23 where Jesus states that;  :

23  , "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

We’re nearly there.  My hour has now come says Jesus.  I’m about to do what I came for.    And that’s what Jesus unpacks for us in this central section in v23-33:  The last prediction.

And surrounding this last prediction in v23-33, we’ve got 2 contrasting responses:  because in v20-23, we have some outsiders desperately seeking Jesus.  Non-church goers, or maybe unconfirmed Christmas and Easter people who are seriously seeking answers to the deep spiritual questions of life.    And in v34-36, we’ve got some there-every Sunday religious people who end up rejecting the real Jesus.

1.      Outsiders seeking Jesus (v20-23)

So first of all then, we’ve got some outsiders desperately seeking Jesus.    Look with me at v20:

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus."

And the word see here has the sense of ‘have a meeting with’.  They didn't want to take J's picture, like the hordes of people queuing up to photograph Helsinki’s Cathedral.  No, they wanted to sit down talk to Jesus abut life and death;  about heaven and hell. 

They been attracted by the God of the OT and now they were being attracted to the fulfilment of everything the OT pointed towards:  Jesus that is.    They were what the rest of the NT calls God-fearers.  Non-Jewish people who went to the synagogue and heard the bible being taught.  Non-Jews who went up to the temple, we see in v20, to worship at the Jewish feasts.    But people who’d stopped short of becoming full Jews.   People who’d not been circumcised;  people who weren’t allowed to take the Passover, or communion as we now celebrate.  People who weren’t allowed to go into the inner court of the Temple with the real people of God.    People who were attracted by the Bible’s teaching and the God of the Bible but who were still sitting on the outside looking in. 

And maybe that’s you.  Maybe something’s happened in your life, or you have a feeling you can’t explain.  You're attracted to the Bible’s teaching, the God of the Bible is growing on you; you’re being drawn towards Jesus.   You may have started coming to church recently or have been coming for years, but in your heart, you know that you’re still on the outside looking in.  You don’t understand it all, but you sense there’s something in it.    And if that’s you, then what do you do?

Well the Greeks in v20 went after Jesus.    Because Jesus is the answer and we need to understand what Jesus is saying by having a mtg with Jesus.   But notice they didn’t go straight to Jesus.  They went to Philip, who was one of the disciples.    He was one of the disciples who had a Greek name.  Someone they thought they could relate to.  One of us. 

And that’s human nature isn’t it.  If people have got spiritual questions, then most people don’t ring up the vicar out of the blue.  Especially if the vicar’s a southerner who looks half their age.  No, they talk to their mate whose brought them to church.  Or they talk to their friend who lives up the road they know goes to church.    They talk to people like you.    And when they do, you need to be ready to answer their questions about Jesus.  Or you can do what Philip did in v22:  you bring them to a meeting with J;  you bring them to an event like the Harvest Festival or to church on Sunday or to a Christianity Explored course or whatever.    

So if you’re an outsider here this morning looking in and seeking to meet Jesus, then you’re in the right place.    Because today, we meet Jesus in His word;  in His word the Bible that is. 

2.  The Last Prediction (v23-33)

So what does Jesus say in His word then?  Well in v23-33 we have J’s last prediction.  The last prediction.  Look again at v23:

 23Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

What does that mean?  What’s about to happen that would glorify Jesus.  Was he about to replace Herod as the King of Israel?   Was he going to start a revolution and kick out the Romans?  Well look down to the end of the section in v32:

[And] I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."

Being lifted up was a euphemism, like when we say we’re going to spend a penny.  And just in case we missed the subtly of it, John spells it out for us in v33:

33 [J] said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

J is supremely glorified as his hands and feet were nailed to a wooden cross which was then lifted up causing him to bleed and suffocate to death.    Before the introduction of the more humane long-drop hanging in the late 19C, it often took 15 minutes or more for prisoners hanged in Britain to die.  They were left dangling on the gallows for an hour just to make sure.  But Jesus spent 6 hours dieing on the cross.    Crucifixion was the most prolonged, painful and horrific form of execution ever invented.  And deliberately so. 

But Jesus insists that this is his greatest hour.  The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.  Now maybe we’re so familiar with the story that it no longer strikes us as slightly strange.  How can being killed in such a horrific way be someone’s moment of glory? 

And the answer's in the allusion to that passage we had read from Isaiah, which was a prophesy pointing forward to Jesus.  Surely he took up or lifted up our infirmities and carried or bore our sorrows. 

He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

That’s why John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world back in chapter 1.    In the OT lambs were scarified in the place of God’s people;  as a sacrifice for sin.  But the NT tells us that this was just a picture;  a picture of what was to come.  A picture of the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world;  A picture of Jesus who died in the place of His people, taking the punishment so they could be forgiven.    This is the heart of Christianity.  This is the centre of what it means to be a Christian.  Because, as Jesus says in v27, this is central reason why he came.  To be lifted up;  to die on a cross?  To take the punishment his people deserved so that they could be justly forgiven. 

If you’ve been a Christian for many years, then this may be totally obvious to you and you think, yeah yeah, we know this.    But we need to be absolutely clear on this and be careful we don’t become complacent and drift away.  Even people who have been Evangelical pastors are now denying this central aspect of the Gospel and in some cases are writing books against it. 

People like Steve Chalk who’s the chairman of a Christian trust which is sponsoring 2 new academy schools that opened this term in North Lincolnshire.    Maybe you’ve seen him on the local news recently. 

But maybe this is new to you.  Maybe you thought Christianity was all about being good enough for God;  about how you can earn enough brownie points to get into heaven;  maybe you thought that Jesus was just a good moral teacher to help us lead a good enough life to pass the test with God and get in heaven.  And if that’s you, then reflect on J’s glory;  the glory of the cross;  the glory of Jesus dying in agony taking the Father’s punishment for all the sins of His people.  Because that’s the heart of Christianity.   And that’s what the last prediction was all about.  And that’s what communion’s all about which we’ll be celebrating in a few moments.

As J’s explains it in v24:

24I tell you the truth, 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.

It’s an illustration which would immediately have struck a chord with J’s first hearers because of their farming background.  In one sense, when we bury a seed in the ground it dies; we’ve haven’t got it anymore;  we can’t eat it.  But dead and buried in the ground, it produces a bumper crop some time later.  And it’s the same with J’s death.  We can’t have the fruit of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins that is, unless Jesus goes ahead and dies.  Because otherwise, we still all face the punishment for our own sins.  Jesus knew this.  He know that’s why He’d come.  He knew it was the eternal plan of God.  And he knew that the cross was the road to glory.  And his hour had come.  He’s into his last week.  He’s in the condemned cell, contemplating the noose.  And contemplating what it will achieve. 

An example to Follow (v25-26)

And then in v25& 26, he uses what he’s about to do as an example for us to follow. 

25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.

J death on the cross is an example.  An example of self-sacrifice.  Of putting the interests of others first.  And an example perhaps of doing something you’d rather not, because it’s got benefits, even eternal benefits, for other people.  That’s the pattern Jesus has laid down for us.  Self-sacrifice;  living other-person centred lives.  And that means sitting loose to life in this world. 

Now we can’t dies for the sins of other people like Jesus did.  But it should mean that we’d be prepared to risk out lives for the sake of someone else, someone else who was drowning for example in a lake.  Or perhaps someone who’s spiritually drowning because they’re drifting away from Jesus.  So for us, it might mean noticing who’s not here and ringing them up or visiting them.    It means being committed to be in church regularly, not just because it’s good for our own spiritual health;  but because we need to encourage and build others up. 

We follow a crucified Lord who put himself out for the sake of others.  Indeed, a Lord who went to the cross for the sake of his people.    And who says to those who claim to follow him in v26:

26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.

An example to follow then.

Discipleship isn’t easy (v27-28a)

But maybe you’re thinking, that’s a tough call.  I’ve got a job to hold down – and it's not exactly 9-5.  I’ve got ageing relatives to look after.  I’ve got the kids to mange, with the school run, homework, after-school clubs and all that.  I need to get away from it all at the weekends or maybe I’m so exhausted that I need a rest on Sundays.     And Jesus says, I know.  I didn’t promise anyone that it’d be easy.  Look with me at v27:

 27"Now my heart 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. 28Father, glorify your name!"

As Jesus sits in the condemned cell contemplating his death, it’s hard.  Just because he knew it was God’s will, didn’t make it easy.    His heart was troubled.    He’s not saying, Oh bother I forgot to buy some milk on the way home. 

No, the word troubled has the sense of revulsion, or horror, or anxiety or agitation.    In the other Gospels, we read that Jesus was so stressed out as he contemplate the cross that he sweated blood, a condition thanks to modern medicine we now know to be a symptom of acute stress.  So stressed that he was tempted to pray:  Father save me from this hour”.  Yes Jesus suffered temptation just like you and me.  But Jesus was perfect, so he never gave in,.  As soon as he’s tempted to pray that prayer he says;  no:  I will go through with it:  I will be obedient to my Father’s will.  Father glorify your name. 

And if Jesus was that stressed out, why are we surprised when the Christian life seems tough and hard.  Jesus never promised it would be anything else.  We follow a crucified Lord who said:  follow me.  Yes it’s tough, but it’s worth it.  Because we follow a crucified Lord who was raised to the Glory of God the father.    As he puts it in v25:

25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

The Christian life is tough for us as it was tough for Jesus.  But the rewards are out of this world.  Sins forgiven that is and eternal life. 

A phone call from Heaven (28b30)

Now some people would laugh at this and say ‘it’s all pie in the sky when you die’.  ‘Live for now’ they say.  And it’s because we live in a world that’s constantly squeezing the faith out of us, we need constant encouragement.  And so God the Father himself gives us a phone call in v28b:

 Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." 29The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.       30Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine.

The Father speaks directly to encourage us.  Yes this is all true.  You can trust your very life with it.  It is worth suffering now because of the glory to come.    Be reassured, be strengthened, stand firm in the faith.    Yes it’s tough in this life.  But there’s glory to come and it’s guaranteed by God the Father himself. 

The religious Reject J  (v34-36)

Back in v20-33 we saw some Greeks, some outsiders, seeking Jesus.  They wanted a mtg with Jesus, they wanted to be with Jesus.  They wanted what Jesus was offering.  Eternal life.  But in v34-36, we see the religious rejecting Jesus.    We know they’re religious because of what they say in v24:

“We have heard from the Law that the Christ[f] will remain forever,”

They knew their Bibles and they knew what it said about the coming Christ.  That his rule would endure for ever.    They had put 2 and 2 together from v23 and 32 that Jesus was claiming to be the son of man; that Jesus was claiming to be the Christ and that he was going to be crucified.   

But that didn’t fit with their understanding of the OT.  How can you be killed when the OT says that the Christ will rule forever?  They know who this Son of Man is:  Jesus.  So what they’re saying at the end of v24 is really this:  what kind of Christ are you?  A suffering dieing Christ;  don’t be ridiculous.    That’s not the kind of Christ we want.  Take him away and let’s get someone to do the job properly. 

And that’s what religious people have done ever since with Jesus.   They make up a Jesus to their own liking;  a Jesus in their own image and reject the real Jesus in the process.  Why?  Because the real Jesus doesn’t fit their expectations of what he should be like.    So we have Jesus the baby in the manger who never grows up and make no demands on us.  We have Jesus the social worker or even Jesus the communist.  And perhaps most commonly, we have Jesus the great moral teacher who helps us live a better life so we’ve got a better chance of passing the minimum pass mark for getting into heaven. 

But what about you?  What’s your Jesus like:  Is he the real J?    A suffering servant whose greatest hour was a painful six hour death on a cross.  A death that you deserved because of your sin.  And a death that was the only way your sins could be forgiven?   

Because if not, then you might be religious, but like these Jews in v34, you’ve rejected the real J; 

And if that’s you then Jesus says in v35:

You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes [or masters] you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light."

When I was examining the claims of Christ and weighing up becoming a Christian, one of my friends at university was doing the same.  We both come to the conclusion that Jesus really was God;  that the historical evidence for His resurrection was solid;  in short Christianity was true.  But my friend had a girlfriend at the time and he knew what the Bible said about sex and marriage.  So he put off becoming a Christian until after he’d split up with his girlfriend.  But they never did split up and eventually they got married.  And today, well he’s totally hardened to the Gospel.  He had the light, but he rejected it, and so the opportunity appears to have been taken away from him. 

And that’s the pattern throughout the Bible.  If people reject God, then he withdraws from them and hands them over to their sin and unbelief.  And we’ve got an acted parable of that at the end of v36:

When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

He was taking the light away from them.  He was judging them for their unbelief.  So if you’re on the fence, be warned that it’s a dangerous place be.  Especially if you've been there for some time.  Because the light you have won’t last for ever.  And if you don’t embrace it while you have the opportunity, it will be taken from you. And so if that’s you, then the message is clear.  Be like those Greeks back in v20:  seek after Jesus.  Desire a mtg with Jesus.  Come to Jesus today before it’s too late.  And if that’s you, then come and speak to me after the service.    Let’s pray. 


Closing Prayer

Dear heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to be glorified, to die on the cross for us and thank you he left us an example of self sacrifice to follow in our lives help us to obey his command to repent and trust in Him and help us to follow His example in our live, for the rest of our lives, for your Glory and our eternal comfort we pray. Amen.

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