by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca)
"Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks" (John 12:20). These were Jews who had been raised in a Greek speaking environment in the Mediterranean world. They found one of Jesus' twelve apostles named Philip and said "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."
They would have heard about Jesus and the Christians in Ephesus or Tarsus, or wherever they came from. These days press reporters would want to ask about Jesus' political program, marriage plans, or the next Olympic games. But the supreme interest of Greek speaking people was philosophy. Four hundred years before the time of Jesus there had been a group of famous philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. That golden age of Greek philosophy had faded long ago. But Greek speaking people still loved to ask philosophical questions. "What is the nature of Being or the Absolute? What is the relationship between mind and body? What is truth?"
But Jesus did not wait for their first philosophical question. He just spoke some very mysterious words. "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified?" (John 12:23). What did he mean by being glorified?
In the Old Testament something was glorified when its nature was fully revealed. Do you remember the ice storm two years ago? An old fashioned oil lamp had sat for years on a shelf in your basement. Suddenly when the hydro electric lines collapsed and the power went off for several days the true glory of that lamp was revealed. It saved your home from total darkness.
The glory of the Sifto salt on your shelf is not the design of the packaging. The salt has to be mixed in with your cooking, and its glory is the tasty food that is enjoyed by your guests.
That is why Jesus said "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). A seed is not glorified until it is sown and grows to produce an ear of wheat. You didn't spend much time admiring your crinkly old daffodil bulbs last September. You just put them into the cold earth. Now they are appearing in their glory.
Notice the words "dies" and "if it dies." Imagine a big oak tree in a forest. It began as an acorn, and went through many seasons. The buds came out in the spring, there was luxuriant foliage in the summer, the leaves changed color in the fall, and the tree was stripped bare in the winter. Life is a bit like that, as the hymn reminds us: "Through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy." And then the day comes when the magnificent oak is told "tomorrow a chain saw will cut you down and only then will your glory be revealed."
The glory of an oak tree is in the planks that will be made into a sailing ship that can withstand the worst of storms. We love the beautiful solidity of an oak table. Look at the oak carving in the sanctuary of this church. But when the oak tree is flourishing, covered in leaves and birds nesting in its branches, being cut down is not easy to accept. And Jesus captures the feeling. "Now is my soul troubled. And what should I say - 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour" (John 12:27).
The alternative to being cut down for furniture or ship building is to rot away till the oak tree falls uselessly to the ground. As Jesus explained, "Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world keep it for eternal life" (John 12:25). Hating one life's is comparatively in contrast to the ultimate purpose of our life which is its glorification.
The glory of Jesus was not his earthly human body. It does not seem to have been particularly striking. We are not told whether he was tall or short, dark or fair, whether he had a mustache or beard, blue eyes or brown eyes. The disciples were impressed by the miracles of healing, but they would turn out to be trivial compared with his work of perfecting us and raising us for the perfect love for heaven. Jesus gave some wonderful teaching, but certainly nothing to impress his Greek speaking philosophical friends.
After his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension the Son of God would become "The head of the body, the church; he is the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything" (Colossians 1:18). As head of the worldwide church he is in direct touch with every one of us. He works in and through us. And there is wonderful fruit in every country of the world. That is his glory.
But his ultimate glory also includes the fact that "through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth and in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20). In our world there are quarrels, family hatreds, memories of abuse, racial prejudice, nations and groups at war. In each church there are people who will not speak to each other, those who refuse to forget, people who cannot forgive those they have disagreed with. This massive cesspool of wrongs that have never been righted must be reconciled. There will be "peace through the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20). And that is the ultimate glory of Jesus, not the beautiful oak tree that was cut down so cruelly in its prime.
To a lesser extent that is also true of us. We enjoy our life which seems to flourish like an oak tree. People admire us and sit under our shade. Birds make their nests in our branches. We naturally want to hold on to that. We fear a painful death but our ultimate glory has to be revealed. We are not yet what we are meant to be. And philosophy has nothing to say about that.
Jesus finishes his message to the Greek philosopher inquirers with some more enigmatic words. "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out" (John 12:31). Here the Greek word for 'judgment' is krisis, from which we get our word crisis. The crisis is the cutting down of the great oak tree.
Throughout Jesus' life Satan had wanted to cut him down. He got Herod to kill off all the baby boys in the area of Bethlehem, but God made sure Joseph and Mary and the baby left in time to go down into Egypt (Matthew 2:3, 16). When Jesus preached in his own hometown of Nazareth Satan moved the people to thrown him down from a cliff, but he escaped through the crowd (Luke 4:28-30). Throughout his ministry the Pharisees watched his every move to find a way to have him put to death by the Roman occupiers of the land.
Now the enemy thinks he has achieved his devilish object. And that by
the humiliation of his victim, nailed to a cross in excruciating agony,
hanging naked as the blood dripped out, and people stood around mocking.
But to Satan's horror the perfect love of the Son of God absorbed the enormity
of human sin, and still said "Father, forgive them for they know not what
they do" ((Luke 23:34). The tables are turned and it is Satan who
is exposed and condemned. "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler
of this world will be driven out" (John 12:31). As a result of his
imminent crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension Jesus could already declare
"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself"