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"The Hour Has Come"
John 12:20-33
It was thirty-nine years ago, when I was a graduate student at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas, that there was a program being conducted by the undergraduates, probably through the student council, of a series of what was labeled "Last Lectures." 
    For these, certain faculty members were invited by the students to deliver what they might say if they knew that this was to be their last lecture, their final word, their summing up.      Honestly, I never attended any of these because of schedule conflicts, but I heard much about them from the students.  
    Apparently, some of the lectures were bizarre, many of them were brilliant, and most of them were memorable.  And I can't help but think that if I were called upon to perform such a task, I would be at a loss for words.  Where would I begin?  What should I include?  What do I consider most important to say to others?
    In a sense, in the twelfth chapter of John, it is "last lecture" time for Jesus.  Of course, we can quibble forever over what the last speeches of Jesus were, over which were most important, and even over what constitutes a speech or a lecture. 
    But nevertheless, the twelfth chapter of John must be considered at least ONE of the last lectures of Jesus.  And it's an interesting occasion.  Because we learn in the twentieth and twenty-first verses that it is prompted by a request for an audience from some non-Jews.
    "Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.  They came to Philip, who was from BethSAida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."  Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus."
    Now if this sounds like cloak-and-dagger stuff, that's because it really is!  We have outsiders, not Jews, wanting to see Jesus.  They're being overly polite, and they're not saying why they want to see Jesus. 
    Philip goes, by himself, to tell Andrew, and the two of them, together, go to tell Jesus.  They're not escorting the Greeks; they're just passing the message along through a kind of chain of command.
    And when Jesus gets the message, I think he knows that the wolves are at his door.  Of course, they've been following him for some time, but the final time is drawing near.
    "Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."  And consider what a great response this is!  Jesus does not talk of death, or crucifixion, but talks instead of glorification.  He does not dwell on the earthly events which are to take place, but he speaks of what they will mean. 
    And there is a further bit of symbolism here that I think is significant.  Jesus does not speak of himself in the first person, but speaks of the "Son of Man."  He speaks of himself in the third person, as who he represents, the Christ, the Messiah.
    "Very truly, I tell you, 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."  And he is preparing his disciples for what is to come. 
    He is telling us that without his death, his life will not have meaning; but with his death, his life will be fruitful. 
    And I need to ask, was anyone REALLY listening when he said those words?  What did his disciples understand those words to mean?  Well, they probably didn't believe that Jesus would die.
    But Jesus speaks further of death:  "Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life."
    Now, in the other gospels, in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, the eighth chapter of Mark, and the ninth chapter of Luke, we find, almost word for word except for Mark, "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." 
    And in all four gospels, it is our understanding that to love our own lives, to seek to save our own lives, is to lose them.  But after that, a difference emerges in John's gospel.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we are told that if we lose our lives for the sake of Jesus, we will find our lives.  And therein lies our salvation. 
    But John throws a different slant on it; because John has Jesus telling us that if we HATE our life in this world we will KEEP it for eternal life.  And I have to believe that there is a grammatical flaw in here somewhere.  Do I really want to keep forever a life that I hate?      But I do believe that there is truth here, and that it does not contradict the other gospels. 
    Because I believe that our eternal life is of a different nature than our earthly life; and to hate one’s life in this world is to declare one’s allegiance to Jesus and so to receive his gift of eternal life.   
    And Jesus goes on to tell us that "Whoever serves me, must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  Whoever serves me, the Father will honor."
    And knowing what is to come, Jesus continues, "Now my soul is 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."
    A continuing question I have, both of Jesus' life and of my own, is do we have any choice in the matter?  Obviously, Jesus doesn't feel completely at ease about all of this.  He knows the consequences.  And it sounds like he would like to have a choice. 
    But on the other hand, I hear him saying that he doesn't believe that he really DOES have a choice.  Does that mean that he's trapped, being manipulated by God?  I don't believe so.  He DID have a choice.  He COULD have gotten out of it.  But to do so would have been to totally contradict everything that he believed, everything that he had lived, everything that he had taught.
    And he says, "Father glorify your name."  Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."  And in that verse we hear Jesus stating that purpose for which he lives and for which he will die. 
    And we hear God responding in a way that speaks powerfully to me, for it is an eternal message.  God has glorified the name of God, is glorifying it, and will continue to glorify it.
    "The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder.  Others said, "An angel has spoken to him."   
    I think that when God truly speaks to us, much the same thing happens.  Others, if they hear anything, hear only thunder, a rumble, a dull roar.  Because God speaks to us as individuals in uniquely individual ways.  Others won't hear God as we hear God.  But that does not mean that THEY cannot hear God.  It just means that the language, the approach, will be different.
    And Jesus answered the crowd, saying, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine."
    But he doesn't mean that the voice spoke for them to hear.  Rather, he means that the significance of the message was for THEIR good. 
    Because when God speaks of glorification, God is not speaking of the glorification of Jesus for Jesus' sake, but the glorification of Jesus, the Son of Man, for the sake of humanity. 
    The elevation of Jesus to the cross is the elevation of humanity.  The degradation of the crucifixion is for the salvation of all those who have not had to face that humiliation.  When Jesus says, "for your sake, not for mine,"  he knows that he is not an end in himself, but a means to a higher end for all those at the foot of the cross.
    "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out."
    And we know that when he speaks of "this" world, that there IS ANOTHER world.
    And we know that the immediate judgment is only of "this" world and not of a possible other world.  When Jesus speaks of "ruler," he is speaking in a symbolic prophetic sense; for on the cross, HE was identified for his so-called "crime." 
    And the label, "King of the Jews," was placed on the cross, mocking him.  And I am sure that the Roman soldiers took great delight in crucifying a so-called king.
    But Jesus continues, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
    What a dramatic, seeming contradiction from the previous verse!  The ruler who is cast out draws all to him!  But that isn't the only seeming contradiction, for we can find different ways of looking at "lifted up." 
    Jesus was lifted up on the cross, but also lifted up in the resurrection.  And we are drawn to him in both senses. 
    For the lifting up on the cross was both the ultimate sacrifice for others and also the ultimate example of what our lives should be, while the lifting up of the resurrection demonstrates the reward for our following of that example. 
    And when Jesus speaks of drawing all to himself, he is speaking on the one hand of doing this for all of us, but on the other hand of doing this as an EXAMPLE TO all of us.
    And John tells us, almost redundantly and anticlimactically, "He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die."  But we have to wonder, again, how did anyone at that time understand all of this?  What sense did they make of it?  Was it at all believable to them? 
    If they had difficulties, I don't think that we can really blame them.  It's so much easier to make sense of it all after the fact; but had we been there at the time, we might have been rather befuddled ourselves. 
    And I think a good sense of where their heads were at the time can be seen in the next verse.
    "The crowds answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever.  How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up?  Who IS this Son of Man?
    And the law did not let them down.  The Christ does remain forever.  The person of the historical Jesus may no longer be with us, but the Christ, the promised one, the Messiah, is with us. 
    But the notion of "Son of Man" was confusing to many at that time, because Jesus was constantly referring to himself in the third person.  And for all people knew, the "Son of Man" was somebody else.  I often wonder how I might have responded at that time.
    "Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer.  Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.  If you walk in the darkness,  you do not know where you are going."
    The light was obviously himself, and he is once again prophesying, pointing out that his time on earth is short.  But he is also telling people to take advantage of that light while it is available, "so that the darkness may not overtake you."
    But is the darkness merely the absence of Jesus the person?  No, I believe that it is the absence of the truth of Jesus the Christ.  To "not know where you are going" is to be without purpose, without understanding, without truth, without the knowledge of good and evil.
    "While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light."
    And Paul reminds us in the eighth verse of the fifth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, "For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light."
    We no longer have the light of the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth with us.  But for those who believe, the light of the Christ, who lived and died for us, is still with us.
    "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Father, glorify thy name.  I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."  Amen.   

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