This week we started a new series on the book of John with our Church youth group. The series started with me leading a session on John 12:20-36, and my prep notes ended up being long form, so I though I’d stick them on the blog:
John was a first-hand witness of the life of Jesus, one of his 12 closest mates. They journeyed together like brothers, and John particularly had a deep and emotionally intimate relationship with Jesus. John’s version of the story of Jesus was written with one purpose in mind, that it’s readers would “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] might have life in his Name.” (John 20:31)
…“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, 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. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:23-26 NIV)
Imagine we’re watching a superhero movie. We’re about half-way through, we’re well familiar with the backstory of the hero. He or She has gathered quite a following, and has already performed a few incredible feats, and what remains is to defeat the evil villain, Prince. Prince is a vicious and evil tyrant who rules people with an iron fist.
The scene is set and we are waiting for the final battle. Now the camera zooms in and our hero gives his or her solitary monologue before the epic ending, and their tactic is – I’m going to be mocked, humiliated, beaten and murdered, and Prince will think he’s gotten away with it. WHAT??????
That’s probably how Jesus’ followers felt during the conversation we read:
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” (John 12:31-34 NIV)
The nation of Israel, where the encounter took place, believed they were God’s special chosen people, picked out from all the other nations. But for many years now they had been occupied by an evil and tyrannical foreign nation whose culture deeply offended them – the Romans. They believed the prophecy that a saviour was coming, the Son of God, to defeat their occupiers, to rescue them and turn their hearts back to God. By this stage many of them, especially the 12 disciples, believed Jesus was that saviour, the great King who would overthrow the Romans. They rightly understood the political nature of this coming King, of whom it was prophesied in Isaiah chapter 9:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6, 7 NIV)
Sound familiar? It’s a popular reading at Christmas.
So for Jesus to say his mission was to die seemed madness to them, as they said they believed that the “Christ will remain forever” (v34)? The Jews were expecting a mighty military commander, a warrior King who would overthrow the Romans and lead them to an eternal victory. They were totally fixated on the idea of Israel as God’s special chosen nation-state, and sadly so are many Christians today.
But the great enemy Jesus was to overthrow was not just the Roman Empire (which, he actually did through his seed the Church) but Satan, the prince of this world. For another image of this conflict, we can look at the time when Jesus was tempted in the desert in Matthew 4:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ” (Matthew 4:8-10 NIV)
Jesus didn’t take the easy route, he didn’t give up his integrity in exchange for the keys to the kingdom. He rightly understood that Satan’s rule over the nations of this world is by the power of sin. And, so this was the great enemy Jesus vanquished.
Jesus didn’t come to make Israel the mightiest nation in the world, but to “Draw all men (and women) to [Himself]” (v32). Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, have the power to overcome our sin and separation from God, and will ultimately restore all people, and all nations to relationship with God, and to justice and righteousness.
And this is how Jesus sowed the seeds of a love revolution, a different kind of Kingdom. The seed is sown in self-sacrifice – dying to the self that others might live, a loving ‘slap in the face’ to how most kingdoms and governments are extended in the world.
Unlike the prophets of some other religions, and the princes of earthly kingdoms, the only blood Jesus shed was his own. This important truth is so poignant a times such as these.
How then should we live?
Servants of Jesus live such a radical life of sacrifice in this world that to onlookers they appear to “hate [their] life in this world.” (v25)
As Jesus explained in this passage, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and wherever I am, my servant also will be.” (v26)
So where was / is Jesus? –
Among the poor, destitute and marginalised. Befriending sinners. Speaking out against injustice and proclaiming truth in the high places. Comforting the challenged and challenging the comfortable.
And that’s where we need to be too. That’s how we’ll see what Jesus accomplished in the spiritual finished here on earth. Step by step, day by day, always with His help and for His glory and His Kingdom. And one day we will whisper with Him, “it is finished”