By Dr. Ben Stubblefield
Visiting assistant professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
If It Dies
So many important moments in Jesus’ ministry were “interruptions.” Our passage this week is a similar kind of interruption. Jesus transforms this simple introduction to some new friends into an astonishingly larger implication for His life and ministry.
At this point in John’s narrative, Jesus’s ministry has exponential momentum, fueled in particular by the Bethany miracle. In fact, it is so dynamic the Pharisees remark, “The world has gone after Him” (v. 19). It is no surprise then to see the world (non-Jews) in pursuit of an audience with Christ in verse 20.
The passage does not tell us exactly who these people are, but they do not appear to be Greek-speaking Jews (Acts 6:1). They are Gentiles, presumably admirers of Judaism fascinated by Jesus. Most likely, they approach Philip to tell him they want to see Jesus because the name Philip is Greek in origin.
It’s a simple request, but it is at the heart of all our ministry. We exist to introduce people to Christ and to do all we can, like Philip and Andrew, to let people see Jesus.
We do not know exactly how the meeting went. It seems the request of the Greeks triggered in Jesus the knowledge that His death was imminent. One commentator points out the parallel to Paul’s observations in Romans 9–11. At the point when Israel rejects the Messiah, Gentiles begin to clamor for His attention.
Jesus adopts the metaphor of a seed’s burial in the earth and its death and subsequent multiplication as illustrative of His own ministry. The pattern of self-sacrifice for future fruitfulness, blessing and honor is so central to Christ that it becomes the test of discipleship for all who follow Him. Will we, like Him, surrender our will to the Father and lay our life down for the good of those around us?
This moment in John’s Gospel gets compared to other Gospels’ Gethsemane moment, a moment of prayer and agony. Jesus is troubled. He struggles to ask the cup to pass from Him, asking “What shall I say? … ‘Save Me from this hour?’” Yet He remains vigilant to pray “not My will” for this is His purpose. Here the prospect of death and the determination to obey the Father were enjoined.
Doesn’t it minister to you to know that our Christ agonized over the high cost of obedience and yet was faithful? We have a Savior who was like us “in every way” (Heb. 2:17). He has shown us the path forward of faithfulness to the finish.
A voice comes from heaven that affirms Christ but serves also as a harbinger for the climax of redemptive history, the crucifixion of the Son of God. The world will presume to sit in judgment upon Jesus, deeming Him worthy of death. But it is His death that will serve as God’s judgment upon the world. He came to redeem, but the world saw fit to kill.
Of course, the death of Jesus appears to be a satanic victory, but in God’s wisdom it is his undoing. What hell meant for evil, God meant for good. The Lord, soon exalted or “lifted up,” will draw through His death and resurrection both Jew and Gentile to Himself. The Lord will not be simply the God of Jacob, but the God of all nations.
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