The Calvary Baptist Church of Detroit

"Church of the Open Door: Year of the Lord's Favor" Revelation 3.8; Luke 4.18-19

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Glory, Glory, Glory!
Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B (2018)
John 12.20-33

Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but it dies, it bears much fruit. ~ John 12.23-24 (NRSV)

The Holy Spirit and Dr. Fred Craddock inspire today’s lesson.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (v. 23). The glorifying of the Son is this Gospel writer’s way of referring to the death, resurrection, and exaltation to former glory of the one who became flesh and dwelt among us (11.4; 13.3; 17.1-5). By his announcement that the hour has come, Jesus is telling his disciples (and the readers) that the chain of events leading to his passion will now begin. Prior to this time, Jesus’s actions and even threats against his life were “explained” with the expression “his hour had not yet come” (2.4; 7.6; 7.30; 8.20).

Jesus’ comments about his impending death and what it would mean for the world were prompted by the coming of Greeks (perhaps to be understood as Greeks who had embraced Judaism) to see Jesus. The desire of non-Jews to benefit from Jesus’ ministry represents the beginning of the fulfillment of two preceding passages: “He prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God” (11.51b-52); and, “Look, the world has gone after him” (12.19). But how are the nations of the world to be blessed by Jesus Christ, whose ministry was so narrowly confined in time and place? Our text is an answer to that question.

The Greeks approach Jesus indirectly through Philip and Andrew. This could be explained logically by the fact that these two were from Galilee, which had a large Gentile population, and they had Greek names. It could also be the case that at the time of the writing of the Gospel, Philip and Andrew were associated with missions to the Gentiles. In our text, the Greeks are treated symbolically, representing the world seeking Jesus, for once they make their request they disappear from the story. Jesus’ response, “The hour has come,” means that he now must make himself available to the world. That cannot be in his present ministry Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, but as the gloried Christ who abides through his world and through the Spirit with believers everywhere. That promised presence is a dominant theme in the farewell discourses and farewell prayer (chapters 14-17). The Johannine church, separated by time and space from the initial events of Jesus’ ministry, needed very much to hear this word of the presence and availability of Christ. And we, too, need to hear that. We are not second-class disciples at a distance, born at the wrong time in the wrong place, trying desperately to survive on the thin diet of recorded memories of what it was like when Jesus was here. Christ is here. “And when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (v. 32).

But this is the point: Christ’s availability to believers everywhere required his death. His reflections upon his death are here offered in a threefold commentary: (1) there is a law in nature that demands death if there is to be more life. (v. 24); (2) there is a principle of discipleship that demands death to self-interest in order to have life eternal (vv. 25-26); and (3) is the agent of nature’s creation and the master of the disciples to be exempt from this principle of death and life? Jesus responds in a word to God, “No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour” (v. 27). This Gospel’s Christ does not writhe in agony, does not struggle in Gethsemane, does not offer up a cry of dereliction. Rather, he embraces God’s will and a voice from heaven confirms his decision (v. 28). Not all heard the voice, of course; not all of us ever do.

Whatever troubling of soul Jesus experienced (11.33-35, 38; 12.27) in approaching his own death, that troubling is now over. It is as though death were a past experience. The ruler of this has been driven out (v. 31). From this point on, the passion story in John will be without anguish and tears. As Lent moves us in quiet preparation for Jesus’ Good Friday and Easter, perhaps it might also move us to prepare for our own.

Advent Determination…

Lawrence T. Foster