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Part 26

11 Aug 2021

John 12

John 12 is a passage to which I find myself returning again and again. As I read it here as part of my reflections for this current project, I’m reminded of the fact that, so often in our reading of Scripture, we have a terrible tendency to miss who Jesus is, who He is presenting Himself to be through Scripture.

On the one hand, our liberal friends look at Jesus and see a very friendly, loving, inclusive sage, who wanders the deserts, coastlines, and cities of Judea speaking pithy sayings, usually holding a lamb and overshadowed by a rainbow. This Jesus is gentle, mild, inoffensive, wouldn’t hurt a fly - weak as water.

His primary interest is helping the powerless, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry. He teaches people to be kind to each other, that because God loves everyone so we should learn to love ourselves.

In short, Jesus is a nice man who gives us a really lovely example of how we should live.

This ‘liberal Jesus’ is a vast reduction of the Jesus we see portrayed in Scripture. He’s flaccid, spouts sayings you’d be every bit as likely to hear on the lips of Buddha, Gandhi, or in a Hallmark card.

Liberals emphasise the humanity of Jesus while denying (or at best minimising) the divine nature.

That Jesus is emasculated, denuded, and not worth following.

If that version of Jesus were a true and accurate portrayal of the Jesus of history, why on earth did they crucify Him? There would be no reason, no offence given that would lead to the cross.

Liberals must repent of their idolatry. They have created a false Jesus, made after their own image, not to reflect the character and nature of the God of the Bible, but to reflect the character and nature, the ideals espoused by liberals. In worshipping their false Jesus they are really only worshipping themselves.

Now, that being said, we Evangelicals have a tendency to create a false Jesus of our own. We don’t emphasise the humanity of Jesus like those milk toast liberals, reducing Jesus to simply being a nice guy and a good example, no, we emphasise the divinity of Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God come into human history in this man that we know as Jesus of Nazareth.

Now this is right and true and needs to be upheld, taught, and defended. However, all too often in our teaching and discussions about Jesus, I find that we turn Jesus into some kind of superhero, where nothing is impossible, no building too big, no mountain too tall. He’s not touched with and nor does He suffer any form of doubt, pain, worry, fear, or anxiety. He’s on a mission to save sinners from death, Hell, and the Devil, and nothing is going to get in His way.

All too often our Evangelical Jesus look more like the son of Jor-El rather than the Son of God, more like Superman rather than the Son of Man.

The problem is, I can’t relate to that guy any more than I can relate to the wet fish hippy Jesus of the liberals.

The Evangelical Jesus that we often communicate is so far above us that He is out of our reach, in fact worse, he is out of touch with our reality. Sure, I’d love to be a superhero, taking on all comers, saving the world from alien invasions and supernatural threats, but I also know that that is the boy in me, not the male, the boy, the child.

I know that sort of superhero is a figment of the imagination, so do most people. I wonder if that may be a part of the reason that people find it hard to buy what we are selling. I wonder if this kind of presentation of Jesus feeds into folk believing that Jesus is a myth and Christian faith a fairytale for grown ups.

Not only do I find it hard to believe in that kind of superhero Jesus, but I’d also find it impossible to follow him. That kind of superhero knows nothing of my life, nothing of my pain, of my sorrows, of my doubts, fears, anxieties, or worries.

He is utterly untouched by any such emotions. He is untouchable by such things because they are the result of weakness, and Jesus the superhero has no scrap of weakness about him at all. He is a man of steel.

To follow such a hero would be exhausting and would eventually crush me and all that I love. Every time I struggled in life, the rejoinder must come back that I am struggling because of my lack of faith. The solution to my suffering whatever form it may take is ‘Be more like Jesus (The Man of Steel). Eventually the struggle to be untouchable by the things of this world and by any kind of emotion would inevitably crush me leaving me feeling worthless, useless, and a failure.

This all might sound a bit much, like I’m getting a bit carried away here. Nobody thinks like that surely? Do they?

I can tell you that they do, and there are many churches that would call themselves Evangelical who present Jesus in ways that add up to this kind of view, communicate the Gospel and their understanding of Jesus and discipleship in ways that give this impression.

The results are clear. Whenever life gets tough, doubts set in, when the rug gets pulled out from under your feet, how are we to survive? This superhero Jesus has nothing to offer us. People realise that eventually and then they are gone, burnt out, deflated, hopeless, bitter and feeling betrayed.

They’ve been sold a dud Jesus, an idol. a false, weak, and paltry imitation Jesus who is of no use to them in the reality of life.

The problem is that we have divided asunder what God brought together. Christ, as it has been expressed at the Council of Chalcedon is possessed of two natures, one human, and the other divine. The human and divine natures of Christ being

“without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”

We cannot separate or divide out what God has brought together and still consider ourselves to be worshipping the Christ revealed in Scripture.

The Second Person of the Trinity, the Eternal Son of God did indeed enter into human history, but He did so in the form and fulness of one of us, the human, the man, Jesus of Nazareth.

We must hold both lines of thought in that statement to be true, without dividing asunder, otherwise we can only end up with an idol of our own making.

Why has all this come as a result of reading John 12?

Well it is here, as well as in other places, that we see both Jesus divinity as the Eternal Son of God as well as a very human Jesus, in all the frailty that this implies.

Check the scene. Jesus has recently raised Lazarus from the dead, there’s a party in Bethany to celebrate and Jesus and the Disciples stop in on their way to Jerusalem.

Jesus presence at the party attracts a large number of people who have come to see this miracle worker as well as to see Lazarus in the flesh, alive and well after being in the grave for days.

This was causing many Jews to turn and follow Jesus, which does not impress the religious leaders who then plot to kill Jesus and to do away with Lazarus for good measure.

The next day the crowd follows Jesus to Jerusalem, where even more gather to His name.

The Triumphal Entry. Jerusalem welcomes her King! (Vs 12-13)

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

The ever growing crowd swarms around Jesus, looking to get a glimpse of the man who raised Lazarus from the dead and who is now being proclaimed as Lord and King of Israel.

In the middle of the affray, this party, this celebration, the revelry and tumult, we are given the strangest glimpse into the mind of Christ.

Some Greeks want to meet Jesus (Vs 20). They approach Philip and ask him for an audience with Jesus. However, we don’t get to hear what these men wanted, what it was that had caused them to come to be part of the crowd, or what questions they might have had for the Jewish Messiah. Instead we are only told that Andrew and Philip went to tell Jesus (Vs 22).

Jesus responds to Andrew and Philip with, what I’d consider to be, some of the most perplexing passages in Scripture.

Jesus response to being told that some Greeks want to meet Him is to say to His followers

“The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified. Truly truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.” - Vs 23-26

Jesus’ responds to Andrew and Philip by saying that the time has come for Him to be glorified, and how will he be glorified? He will be lifted up at His death.

Jesus is the wheat that falls into the ground and dies so that much fruit would be produced. Jesus loved not His life even unto death.

Jesus responds to Andrew and Philip by talking about His own upcoming, imminent, and brutal death.

In versed 27 there is a turn in the dialogue. Up until that point it is clear that Jesus had been talking to Philip and Andrew, however, at verse 27 His conversation becomes primarily internal.

In a previous life I worked as an actor and had the privilege of performing a number of Shakespeare’s works. This is a real Shakespearean moment. Jesus in verse 27 begins to deliver a soliloquy and we get a brief glimpse as to what’s going on in the mind of the Lord.

You can almost imagine the lights dimming on the set and the people with whom Jesus is surrounded. The din of the crown drops to a mere wash of gentle background noise. The spotlight comes up on Christ, and He begins to reveal the inner turmoil that He is experiencing.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” - Vs 27

Why is Jesus’ soul troubled? Because the hour of His death is upon Him, the very purpose that He has been sent by the Father to achieve is about to be realised, and He is afraid.

“And what shall I say? Father save me from this hour?”

Jesus sees that His time is upon Him. He knows what it will entail. He knows the physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual torment that He is about to undergo and He is filled with fear and anxiety.

We see the same in the Garden of Gethsemane don’t we, where Jesus, in effect, says, Father, if there’s any other way then please, let’s do that. Please let this cup pass from me.

Why does He say these things? Because He is genuinely terrified at the prospect of what He is about to endure, so much so, so terrified in fact that He begins to sweat drops of blood. This only happens when someone is under the most extreme mental, emotional, and psychological torment.

Jesus was terrified in ways that we can never fully grasp. Far from being a superhero with His cape flowing out behind Him in the wind of His glory, He was terrified beyond imagining.

He was suffering fear, anxiety, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual torment, all of which manifested itself physically as the capillaries under His skin ruptured and He sweated blood.

If Jesus genuinely suffers anxiety, fear, doubt, and real mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual trauma, what does that tell us about what it might be to live as followers of Christ?

All too often we have this view that Jesus was a superhero so we should be like superheroes too. So in the face of adversity, suffering, persecution etc we often give the impression that true Christians shouldn’t suffer fear, anxiety, doubt or mental distress of any kind.

What if we saw Jesus as He really was and is, both fully divine and fully human? What if we took His suffering of every kind seriously? How would that change the way we dealt with our own suffering and the suffering of others?

I suggest it would not result in sweeping such experiences under the carpet, or telling people to get over it, or that true Christians shouldn’t suffer those things, or that we just need to have more faith.

Those answers, those responses can only communicate to believers who are suffering in these ways that they are not very good Christians, not true Christians, that they are either failing in their walk with the Lord or that they are not really believers at all. It puts the emphasis on us which always becomes a burden under which we will eventually be crushed.

For me, the question isn’t do Christians suffer these kinds of afflictions, because I think that such suffering is inevitable, not simply the suffering that comes from persecution etc, but the internal suffering that comes with the dying to self and living for Christ.

On one hand we are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, as such, when we come to follow Christ He reorders our identity, which in turn reorders our priorities and results in us living lives that look different to those of the folk around us.

This will inevitably cause tensions, strain, broken relationships and pain. However, after coming to Christ we will also experience mourning over the sinful state of the world, and more intensely, the sinful state of our own hearts.

You see, just as it is essential to understand that Christ has two natures, we also need to understand that on coming to Christ we (temporarily) experience having two natures, the old man, the flesh, our old sin nature, and a new nature that comes through faith in Christ by the new brith given by the Holy Spirit.

Of course, for the believer it won’t remain this way. There is coming a day when we will finally be set free from the flesh, our victory over it being guaranteed in Christ. However, until the consummation of all things at the return of Christ, we will wrestle with the flesh and its desires which wage war against our souls.

There is an inner warfare going on in every believer, and we are called to win that war by continually putting to death the flesh and the deeds thereof.

This ‘putting to death’ of the flesh, its’ desires, and deeds can be painful. It calls us to put to death some of the hopes, dreams, and desires that served our ego but not the Kingdom of God. We are continually being conformed to the image of Christ as, by the power of the Spirit that dwells within us, we wage war against the flesh, having our characters shaped, and moulded, so that we look more and more like Christ Jesus.

This process comes at a cost. It is painful, it can cause anxiety and doubt,

There is an inevitability to suffering from multiple fronts when we come to Christ, but we need to learn the truth that we grow most through our suffering not in spite of it.

However, our entire world is built on the premise of my success, my prosperity, my comfort, and suffering cuts deeply against the grain of all that is promoted and pursued in this world.

Suffering is inevitable, fear is inevitable, doubt is inevitable, anxiety of some sort is inevitable for the true follower of Christ. The question is, what do we do in the face of it?

As ever, our answer is found in Christ Jesus. His response to his inner turmoil, fear, and anxiety was to pray.

It has been said that it is prayer that carries the faith of the Christian, if it is not prayer, then you will have to carry that faith on your own, and the weight of that faith will crush you. Prayer is essential. However, we need to pay close attention to what Jesus prayed, not just that He prayed. We must pray like Jesus. His prayer must become ours.

‘Father, glorify your name’ Jn 12:28

Or in His prayer in the Garden

“not my will be done, but thy will be done.”

Jesus was afraid in ways that we will never fully comprehend, however He never let His fear trump His faith in the Father. Jesus was anxious, but He never let His anxiety undermine the certainty of all that the Father had promised.

Jesus was not ruled by His fear, nor was He dominated or motivated out of His anxiety. Neither should we be.

Instead, in the depth of those realities He pressed on in faith, not looking at things seen, but focusing His mind on the joy set before Him; the joy of completing His Fathers will, completing the mission He had been given and the eternal plan set in motion before the foundation of the earth was laid, to bring glory to the name of the Father and to win a people for eternal life in the presence of the God who made us.

We must have in us the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, not denying the reality of suffering, but pressing on towards the goal, the upward calling in Christ.

When in the face of adversity of every kind we learn to pray that the Father would glorify His name as Jesus did, we will surely see the Father respond in the same way he responded to our elder brother.

“I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” - Vs 28

Father, may your name be glorified in and through us as it was in your beloved Son Christ Jesus in whose name we pray.


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