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We would see Jesus

19 April 2009 - David Nicholls Gorseinon ecclesia, Wales

John 12

It must have been a stirring occasion when the humble carpenter from Nazareth rode into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of an ass. There were scenes of jubilation and rejoicing amongst the multitudes attending Jerusalem for the Passover Feast and the disciples. They anticipated that the Kingdom of God was about to be set up. Surely no-one could have failed to perceive that this was a deliberate enactment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9: “And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.” (John 12:14-15).

The Lord was not enacting Zechariah 9 as some kind of publicity stunt. He was actually making a very profound statement about his work of salvation. If people looked carefully at that passage from Zechariah the King described there would bring peace to all nations and that the covenant that would release prisoners from the pit of death would be made in his blood. Very few understood the deep significance of Jesus’ actions – Their King was riding in to his death! “These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.” (John 12:16).

All four Gospels record this dramatic entry into Jerusalem. But only John records the approach, shortly afterwards, of certain ‘Greeks’ who respectfully asked to see Jesus (John 12:20). These Gentiles had come to worship at the Feast. They had been converted to the Jewish Religion. But, as Gentiles, they would not be allowed full access to the Temple Courts. They were limited to the ‘Court of the Gentiles’. Jesus’ response to their request makes it clear that he regarded it as a foretaste of what his sacrifice would achieve � not just for Jews, but including Gentiles also.

John has already drawn attention to the inclusion of Gentiles in the purpose of God. In chapter 11:51-52 he adds his comments to the words of Caiaphas: “And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.”

The group of Gentiles approached Philip first. Philip is a Greek name, so perhaps they felt he would be sympathetic towards them. Their request was very respectful: (v21) “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Their interest was personal and genuine. Philip found Andrew and together they told Jesus of the request. It invoked an immediate and enthusiastic response from the Lord: (v23) “The hour is come.” What ‘hour’ � The time to die! In human terms this was a paradox. But in the infinite wisdom of God, Jesus' sacrifice, and subsequent resurrection, would gather together in one all the children of God ' Jew and Gentile. Verse 23 finishes with Jesus’ statement “that the Son of man should be glorified”. It was going to be an extremely difficult ‘hour’ (v27) but the Lord could see beyond the suffering to the joy of the ultimate outcome.

Jesus uses the significant title 'Son of man' of himself. There is an interesting link with Hebrews 2:6-8 where the writer quotes from Psalm 8. The verses quoted present a prophecy of the saving work and glorification of the ‘son of man’. The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear who this ‘son of man’ is: (Hebrews 2:9) “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Notice the echoes from John 12>: “We would see Jesus” the Greeks said. We Gentiles have been granted this privilege. “The hour is come” Jesus responded. He knew it would be the ‘hour’ of his suffering and death. “That the Son of man should be glorified” Jesus continued. After his resurrection, His Father crowned him with glory and honour. His death was not just for the Nation of Israel, but for every man – without distinction of Nationality. Hebrews 2:10 refers to 'many sons' that would be brought to share his glory, and v11 emphasises the truth that there is one God, whose purpose is to gather together in one all His children.

Then, in the hearing of his disciples and the group of Gentiles, Jesus talked about a corn of wheat falling to the ground and dying (John 12:24). It is a very appropriate figure, drawn from agriculture, of his death and resurrection. The power of the seed to reproduce its own kind is held captive by the husk, the outer shell. When it is sown in the ground this outer husk is destroyed and the power of the seed to multiply itself is released. Ultimately it results in a harvest – “it brings forth much fruit”. The constraint of his mortality (the outer husk) was removed through Christ’s death and resurrection. The power to bring forth much fruit (people who have grown to be like him) was released. Christ is the firstfruits. He will be followed, after his return, by faithful disciples from all nations.

In v25 the exhortation becomes personal. The principle set out in v24 is that things associated with natural life have to die before the rewards of a spiritual life are gained. This was powerfully demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It must also be applied in the lives of every one of us who follow the Lord and hope to benefit from his work of salvation. Through baptism we associate with him in his death. The old man (our previous way of life) is crucified with him. This is not achieved easily! There are things from our ‘natural’ life we find very hard to ‘put to death’. If we sincerely try to do this and follow the example of our Lord he gives us this promise in v26: “where I am (i.e. in fellowship with the Father), there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour”.

In v32-33 Jesus uses the phrase 'lifted up', which obviously referred to his crucifixion: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.” The first time this phrase is used in John’s gospel is in chapter 3. In his reply to Nicodemus, Jesus reminds him of an incident that occurred during the wilderness journey of the Children of Israel and links it to his own death: (John 3:14) “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”

The people of Israel had sinned, complaining against God. As a punishment God sent ‘fiery serpents’ amongst them. Anyone who was bitten by a serpent knew that he, or she, was going to die. God, in His mercy, provided a way of salvation. He did not ask for an animal sacrifice, which would have been the usual requirement under the Law of Moses. He said to Moses: “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” (Numbers 21:8-9)

This demonstrated two vital principles:

1) The basis of salvation is faith (belief). (If you or I had been bitten by a deadly snake would

we believe that we could be cured just by looking at a brass serpent on a wooden pole?)

2) Salvation was offered to anyone who was bitten, without distinction of nationality.

Notice how these principles are brought out in Jesus’ words: (John 3:15-16) “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” We do not just ‘look’ at the Lord Jesus ‘lifted up’ on a wooden cross. We must believe that this is God's way of salvation and commit our lives to following our Lord.

Sadly, many in Israel failed to appreciate the import of those wonderful words: (John 12:34) Who is this Son of man? They asked, failing to understand this puzzling idea that Christ, their expected King, would be crucified before taking up his crown. “Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” His departure was imminent. Their opportunity was fading fast. Significantly John records at the end of v36: “These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.”

A little later the Apostle Paul recorded these words: (Romans 11:25) “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.”

As that little group of Gentiles were brought to Jesus by two of his Jewish Apostles, the Lord saw a miniature picture of the age to come and an assurance that the benefit of his sacrificial work would spread far beyond the boundaries of the Nation of Israel.

We thank our God and His Son for their unbounded love. Although we are Gentiles, once without hope and without God in the world, we have been brought into the one family of the Father by the blood of His Son. We remember that the Son of man was lifted up to save us from the serpent sting of death. Do we need to ask – Who is this Son of man? “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (Hebrews 2:9)

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