Jesus Explains/Accepts His Coming Death

[]In today's lesson from the Gospel of John, Jesus has been thinking about his upcoming death, knowing what is coming and being troubled by it. Jesus has been continuing to minister to the crowds until some more folks want to see him. But we can tell what is on Jesus' mind and that he is processing, that he is anxious, disturbed, and maybe a little fearful. Jesus' words make the lesson shift from people coming to see Jesus and wanting to learn from him, to something Jesus wants to tell his disciples about what was about to happen. And he shifts to what was about to happen by saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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."

Here in John's Gospel, I see a very reflective and deep-thinking Jesus who is figuring out how to explain his coming death to the disciples, that his time is running out and that the time is imminent. Jesus is aware of what is coming. And to make sense of that to his disciples, he speaks to them in agrarian language. Anyone who is a farmer or has ever planted seeds knows that a grain, as he said, is simply a single grain unless it falls into the earth and sprouts up, and then new stalks of grain appear. And from that grain more seed can drop, and more will grow. Jesus was explaining his understanding that what was coming must happen in order for new life to come, not just for him in his resurrection, but for the many who would follow him, that this would be the roots of a new church that was coming. And Jesus, in his anguish, is trying to explain this to them.

As it seems they start to catch on, Jesus says to those close disciples, "What am I to say, 'Get me out of this, Lord'? No, this is why I came." His actual words were, "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. Father, glorify your name." This is a very humbling moment in the life of Jesus. He is before his disciples and they see him in a different light than they had before. And yet in those moments, just like early on in the Gospel of John when Jesus is baptized, we hear a voice from heaven, and Jesus is affirmed. Much as he was affirmed at his baptism, hearing the voice, "This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased," Jesus hears the voice of God again. And that is not something that is happening throughout the Gospel lessons so this is something for us to pick up on, that God speaks again. And Jesus hears the words from God, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again."

The fact that this time there are people standing around who hear something is significant. Not only is Jesus affirmed by God, but those witnessing this difficult moment as Jesus is explaining to his disciples hear something too. It's not an audible voice the way that Jesus hears it, but they hear it. Some say it was simply thunder, but others who were key disciples understood, "No, that was the voice of God." And the ministry of Jesus in the presence of his disciples takes on a whole new dimension. Things now seem much more serious and grave than they were in the past. And so the disciples start to hear with their ears what it means when Jesus gives his Passion predictions and his explanations.

Now, these are theological interpretations of John given to his community to understand what it meant and what was coming for Jesus. And we hear it a little differently in the other Gospels. So when we look at this and interpret it, and you interpret it in your own ears, you are very much theologians discerning what it is that the Gospel of John is telling us about Jesus and how this makes sense. And each time we read passages like this, it is the voices of these Gospel writers explaining things, giving their theological understanding of what these things were that were happening.

One thing we can understand from John, and one thing John lifts up clearly, is that there was a very human side to Jesus. And we might connect well with how difficult it was for Jesus in those moments to realize what it is that would happen. But we might also know what it is to feel affirmed by God even in the midst of difficult moments. At the times in our lives when prayers seem answered or we feel God's presence surrounding us and we know that God is there, that same affirmation is there for us. It may not be the audible voice that Jesus himself hears in those moments of his anguish in trying to explain what was coming to his disciples, but it is there nonetheless.

The good news for us from this passage as we relate to what Jesus is going through is that God affirms us also, and often in times when we feel most fearful or disturbed. John's Gospel is leading up to the Passion narrative, and we are about to walk that journey next week. We will start with all of the joy and celebration of Palm Sunday as people gathered along the streets of Jerusalem to proclaim their coming Messiah…possibly not understanding that he wasn't the type of messiah they expected, but nonetheless proclaiming him Messiah and recognizing that he is the one who was to come. As Holy Week unfolds, there is more that happens in Jerusalem. Much of what happens with Jesus that we focus on throughout the church year happens in a very narrow window of time, about one week. So Jesus is now making his way toward Jerusalem, and next week the celebration begins. What seems to end in tragedy toward the end of the week will turn into triumph. As we walk that walk of faith as people in Christ, I urge you to read your devotionals, to read over the Passion narratives in any of the four Gospels, and to be present for Palm/Passion Sunday when we will begin with the palms and end with the story of the Passion. We will have a service on Maundy Thursday evening here, and on Good Friday there will be a Cross processional going from church to church around Taneytown beginning and ending here at Grace.

These profound moments help us to see Jesus as human, but also to recognize the divine presence of God in him which brought us so much of God's love and truly touched us with salvation. So I encourage us to move into this season with great intentionality because it is an important time of our faith, to humble ourselves and to really focus and to give God and to give our Savior our attention for a two-week period in a way that is unparalleled. Let us do so in the ways that we are able. And let us remember that, with his death, Jesus brings new life and eternal life to those who follow him.

March 29, 2009

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