Leaving The Far Country

jesus-teaching-in-templeJohn 12:20–36 (ESV)

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 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. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 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 honor him. 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

This week is the most important week in human history. It’s the week we recall Christ’s death on the behalf of all humanity, even all creation. During this time, I often try to engage myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in the events of the week. What must it have been like to be with Jesus during this week?

After the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the next major activity we see is Jesus entering the Temple and running out the money changers. I find it so ironic that the people are cheering for him as he enters the city, thinking he has come to restore the land, to “cleanse” it from the presence of the pagan Romans Instead, Jesus enters the temple and “cleanses” it of the very religious people who had turned the worship of the one, true God into a raucous, money making opportunity in which they ignored the fact that the Court of the Gentiles was the place set aside for Gentiles to come and worship the God of Israel. How confusing, and infuriating it must have been to be one of the the “good” people Jesus was driving out of the Temple.

You see, God’s purpose was always to call all people back to him. Even in the Old Testament, where God’s activity was focused on the nation of Israel, He left open provision for Gentiles to come and worship.

““Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.” (1 Kings 8:41–43, ESV)

Despite all its failing, the nation of Israel was still used by God as a beacon to those seeking the Creator God. So we see Jesus entering the Temple and purifying it, and at some point after this the Apostle John tells us that there were Greek “God fearers” in the city for the Passover feast and they sought out Jesus. How does Jesus respond to their request to see him? He declares that it is now the time for him to be glorified. Jesus identifies the coming of these people to him as the beginning of the fulfillment of his glory as promised to him by God the Father. He will, in his death cause all people, everywhere to come back to God. The seeking of the Greeks is the sign that his glory is at hand.

But his glorification is not cheap or easy. It comes only through suffering. There must be death before their can be life. This is the great Christian paradox. Ours is a faith built upon suffering, the suffering of Christ’s death, and the harrowing of hell. And yet, it doesn’t end there. The seed must fall to the ground. It must die, and life will spring from its sacrifice. This is the call of Jesus to all who would follow him. We must die to self, to our own plans, to our own self-righteousness, to our own self-preservation, to our own selfishness if we are ever to follow Christ to true life and peace. In the words of Bonhoeffer, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Jesus understands this, and has tried to instill this simple but deeply profound idea in the lives of his disciples. He knows the way of the Father is the way of the cross, and he is troubled. Yet – and this is the lesson for us – Jesus is very clear about his purpose, and he is willing to obey the will of his Father no matter the personal cost. He does not desire to go through the agony of the cross, but he also knows that this is the only way, and for his faithfulness God speaks audibly to those present. This is not the only time we hear directly from God as he praises his son. He speaks his approval at Jesus’ baptism. God promises His Son that his suffering will not be in vain. The name of God will be glorified, and the Son will be glorified too.

Having this confidence, Jesus brings us full circle. Yes, he must be lifted up. Yes, he will suffer, but that suffering will be the final judgment of God on Satan himself. How will we know this judgment is complete? People from all over creation – like the Greeks – will see the Son glorified and start answering the call to follow this Messiah sent by God. They will turn their backs on, and renounce the works of their former master, and they will begin seeking after God, to become like Christ, to die to self, and to find true life.

Jesus’ final exhortation in this passage? Believe in me while I am still here. It is not too late for you to repent. There is a darkness coming, don’t let it overtake you.

But the people did not believe.

And so, here we are considering the events of Holy Week. We see that many millions of people have turned to Christ. The good news has gone out through almost all the world. People who were once far off from God are now being brought close. Yet, the work is not done, and the message is not out of date. Even more, we still need to hear it. We still need to be reminded to walk in the way of Christ. We still need to be reminded to die to self. We still need to be reminded that we will find life and peace only when we stop trying to hold on to and control our own lives. My self-obsession will only lead me to despair, to darkness. It is to Christ we must look.

I am one for whom Christ died. I was the citizen of a far off country. I was an outsider. I was the Greek, third class worshipper of God whose place of prayer was treated as a place of commerce. But this week reminds me that God was not satisfied to leave me on the outside. He was pleased to call me – and you too – out of that far off place to come and praise his exalted Son. Things have never been the same for us, the lost, after the events of this week. We have been given the privilege of becoming the sons of light. We have the privilege of dying to self so that we may live in Christ. May we keep our eyes on him.

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5 thoughts on “Leaving The Far Country

  1. It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
    I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. Isa 49:6

    Reveal your glory to the nations,
    that your cross may stand
    as a sign of the power
    that conquers human pride
    and confounds the wisdom of this world. Amen.

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