Unless a grain of wheat falls. 12:20-36


John's record of a group of Gentile Godfearers trying to get to speak with Jesus is quite unusual. The incident occurs during the final days of Jesus' Jerusalem ministry and serves to round off his public ministry to Israel. For John, the desire of these Gentiles to seek out Jesus is what is important. For Jesus, their approach signals the end of his earthly ministry and the gathering of all peoples, Jew and Gentile, together under the cross.

The passage

v20-22. The impact of Jesus' ministry is beginning to move beyond his own countryman, such that a group of Godfearers try to get to speak with him. They obviously feel uneasy about approaching Jesus directly so they tackle one of the disciples. Philip, with a Greek name, may well be a bit more approachable, a bit less Jewish. Interestingly, Philip discusses the approach with Andrew, the only other disciple with a Greek name.

v23-24. The approach of the Gentiles prompts Jesus to speak of his coming death, the coming "hour". Jesus illustrates the purpose of his dying in a short parable. Although it is without explanation, it obviously refers to Jesus' lifting up from the earth to draw all people to himself, v32. In the synoptic gospels, Christ's glorification is identified with his ascension and heavenly rule. For John, Christ is glorified in his crucifixion, for the cross draws lost humanity to God.

v25-26. These words seem to parallel the synoptic gospels where Jesus follows up a prediction of his death with a word on discipleship. Yet, hating life does not necessarily mean dying to the world, cf. Lk.9:24, but rather dying to self in the sense of resting in Christ for our salvation. Similarly, being where Christ is does not necessarily mean cross-bearing, cf. Lk.9:23, but rather identification with Christ in his glorification.

v27. Jesus is quite disturbed by the shadow of the cross now before him and so prays for this "cup" to be taken from him, yet at the same time he obediently accepts that the cross is the reason for his coming.

v28. Jesus prays that the Father be glorified. The Father responds audibly saying that he is already glorified in the revelation of Jesus' life and will be glorified in the cross.

v29-30. Jesus says that the theophany (a manifestation of the divine) is more for the crowd's benefit than his. Since the theophany requires the ears to hear, few, if any, in the crowd, understand the words or the identity of the source.

v31-33. The focus of the episode abruptly moves to the day of judgment. Those who seek the darkness will share the fate of the Devil, while those who seek the light will be drawn to the lifted up, crucified, messiah.

v34. The crowd is confused since they know that the messiah is immortal. "What sort of messiah is this who will die by crucifixion?"

v35. Jesus warns the crowd that the time is short and the moment of decision is quickly passing them by. If, at this moment, they fail to come to the light they will be left to walk in darkness.



v36. So, the decision of the crowd is urgent. If they wish to be children of light, children on God, and so inherit eternity, they must receive the one who is the light of the world. And so with this call to faith, Jesus' public ministry comes to an end and he moves away from the gaze of the maddening throng.

The way to glory

In the final days of Jesus' public ministry, he is approached, indirectly, by a group of Gentiles, Godfearers. You would expect Jesus to be beside himself knowing that his ministry is now attracting people from beyond the Jewish faith, but Jesus is anything but pleased. Their approach draws the shadow of the cross over him. Gentiles will come to the light, but first Jesus must travel to Calvary and be "lifted up." In this moment he will draw Gentiles to himself, along with the Jews; he will draw all those who receive (believe in) the light.

The coming of the Gentiles to Jesus brings with it a very subtle temptation, a temptation empowered by the shadow of the cross. The temptation is evidenced in v27 where Jesus says "what shall I say (pray)?" At this point he puts forward a hypothetical prayer point, something obviously on his mind, but then immediately counters it; "Father, save me from this hour - no way, rather, .... glorify your name." If only the kingdom could be realized apart from the cup of suffering. In the end, Jesus submits to the father's will.

Christ will win his kingdom via the cross, but in the approach of the Gentiles, Satan suggests an easier way. Satan can give Christ all the kingdoms of the world if only he will worship him. The possibility of another way, a way apart from "the cup" of suffering, is a serious temptation for Jesus and drives the agitation evident in this passage.

Every believer, every minister and congregation, is tempted to realize the kingdom of God apart from the cross of Christ. Although the gospel is the "power of God unto salvation" we are constantly tempted to win the world by evangelistic methodologies, group dynamics, management systems, institutional agendas and the like, as if there is a better way, a more effective way than the cross. The message of the cross, by itself, seems ineffective, weak and foolish, and so needs our marketing initiatives. Yet, it is not the dynamic welcoming congregation that draws people into the kingdom, but rather the Son of Man lifted up.

Let us lift high the cross and trust its power to save rather than be tempted to rest on strategies of human devising.


How is our temptation different to, and the same as, the temptation Jesus faced?

[Seed logo]  
[Printer icon]   Print-friendly: Sermon Notes. and Technical Notes

Index of studies: Resource library
[Pumpkin Cottage]
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources
Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons