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In 2021, the Fifth Sunday in Lent is March 21.

This particular Sunday in Lent is the beginning of the short season of Passiontide.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent — Year B

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases in bold mine):

John 12:20-33

12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.

12:21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

12:22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

12:23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

12:24 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.

12:25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

12:26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

12:27 “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.

12:28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

12:29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

12:30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.

12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

12:33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Jesus spoke these words after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we remember on Palm Sunday.

He had raised Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother, from the dead just a few days beforehand and spent time with them, His good friends.

Now He is in Jerusalem for Passover and His imminent death on the Cross.

Jews from across the Ancient World went to Jerusalem for Passover. The city would have been unbelievably crowded and noisy.

John tells us that Greeks went up to Jerusalem for the feast (verse 20). John MacArthur surmises that they were Gentiles. However, Matthew Henry thinks they were Hellenic Jews.

Either explanation works. Some Gentiles became Jews and were known as ‘men of God’ if they worshipped with the Jews and followed Mosaic law but stopped short of circumcision.

Henry’s commentary provides more detail on Gentiles who believed in the God of Israel:

Some think they were Jews of the dispersion, some of the twelve tribes that were scattered among the Gentiles, and were called Greeks, Hellenist Jews but others think they were Gentiles, those whom they called proselytes of the gate, such as the eunuch and Cornelius. Pure natural religion met with the best assistance among the Jews, and therefore those among the Gentiles who were piously inclined joined with them in their solemn meetings, as far as was allowed them. There were devout worshippers of the true God even among those that were strangers to the commonwealth of Israel. It was in the latter ages of the Jewish church that there was this flocking of the Gentiles to the temple at Jerusalem,–a happy presage of the taking down of the partition-wall between Jews and Gentiles. The forbidding of the priests to accept of any oblation or sacrifice from a Gentile (which was done by Eleazar the son of Ananias, the high priest), Josephus says, was one of those things that brought the Romans upon them, War 2. 409-410. Though these Greeks, if uncircumcised, were not admitted to eat the passover, yet they came to worship at the feast. We must thankfully use the privileges we have, though there may be others from which we are shut out.

A group of Greeks approached Philip and asked to see Jesus (verse 21).

We do not know why they approached Philip in particular, but there are possibilities to consider.

Henry says that a lot of Gentiles lived in Galilee. (This is one of the reasons the Jews from Judea disliked Galilee. It was not pure enough for them.)

Henry tells us:

Some think that they had acquaintance with him formerly, and that they lived near Bethsaida in Galilee of the Gentiles and then it teaches us that we should improve our acquaintance with good people, for our increase in the knowledge of Christ. It is good to know those who know the Lord. But if these Greeks had been near Galilee it is probable that they would have attended Christ there, where he mostly resided therefore I think that they applied to him only because they saw him a close follower of Christ, and he was the first they could get to speak with. It was an instance of the veneration they had for Christ that they made an interest with one of his disciples for an opportunity to converse with him, a sign that they looked upon him as some great one, though he appeared mean.

‘Mean’ there is a synonym for ‘humble’.

MacArthur gives us more information:

There were more Gentiles in Galilee, a lot more than in Judea.  Between Judea and Galilee was the area called Decapolis of ten cities, which were Gentile populations So there were a lot of interactions with Gentiles in Galilee It may well have been that they knew Philip from business, from activity in Galilee.  By the way, Philip and Andrew are both Greek names, not Hebrew names, and so maybe there was some familiarity there.  We don’t really know. 

Philip went to tell his brother Andrew of the request and both told Jesus (verse 22).

John doesn’t say whether Jesus met with the Greeks, but MacArthur says:

We can assume that because in John 6:37, He said, “Him that comes to me, I will never turn away,” right?  Never cast out.  There would be no reason to assume He didn’t receive them. 

Jesus began speaking to the crowd of His imminent death, saying that ‘the hour had come’ for ‘the Son of Man to be glorified’ (verse 23).

MacArthur says that the words ‘Son of Man’ would have meant something significant to the crowd, who would have learned Scripture through oral tradition:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Why would that ignite a firestorm?  Because “Son of Man” is a Messianic term found in Daniel 7 In Daniel 7 – and they are familiar with that passage – you have the opening verses of Daniel 7 identify all the powers of the world, all the great nations: Babylon, Medo-Persia, all of the great powers of the world It shows how corrupt they are, how beastly they are.  They are represented in beastly image All of the sudden, onto the scene in this vision in Daniel 7 comes the Son of Man, and He has power and dominion and authority, and He crushes all His enemies, and He sets up His kingdom.

So when He said, “Son of Man” and by the way, it even says, “The Son of Man will be glorified in His kingdom and establish it forever and ever,” that’s Daniel 7So when they hear that, I suppose there would have been some kind of cheer coming from somewhere.

Jesus gave them an analogy of a single grain, which isn’t much use unless it dies, having been planted in the ground to grow as a fruitful plant (verse 24).

MacArthur says the crowd would have been shocked by the notion that the prophesied Son of Man was going to die:

He has to say, “Truly, truly,” because this just can’t really be true.  This is too shocking

“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.”  What?  There can’t be a kingdom unless I die There can’t be a kingdom unless I die.  There can’t be anybody in a kingdom unless I die.  There can’t be any conquering unless I die.  The divine … timetable has come, the hour has come for Him to be glorified, the Son of Man to be glorified, but He will be glorified not in triumphant conquering, but in substitutionary death.

He didn’t come to smash His way to an earthly kingdom or earthly empire He turned their conquest dreams into visions of death, and He did it with an analogy.  He explains it such a graphic way.  As long as a seed remains in the granary, it is preserved by its outside shell.  Only when the seed is put in the soil does it begin to decompose and rot away, and when the shell decomposes and rots away, the life inside begins to flourish.  It gives life to a huge plant, which produces more seeds and more seeds and on and on it goes. 

Jesus continued with another statement that His audience must have found shocking: those attached to their current life will lose it and those who hate their life will live forever (verse 25).

Henry explains:

[1.] See here the fatal consequences of an inordinate love of life many a man hugs himself to death, and loses his life by over-loving it. He that so loves his animal life as to indulge his appetite, and make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, shall thereby shorten his days, shall lose the life he is so fond of, and another infinitely better. He that is so much in love with the life of the body, and the ornaments and delights of it, as, for fear of exposing it or them, to deny Christ, he shall lose it, that is, lose a real happiness in the other world, while he thinks to secure an imaginary one in this. Skin for skin a man may give for his life, and make a good bargain, but he that gives his soul, his God, his heaven, for it, buys life too dear, and is guilty of the folly of him who sold a birth-right for a mess of pottage.

[2.] See also the blessed recompence of a holy contempt of life. He that so hates the life of the body as to venture it for the preserving of the life of his soul shall find both, with unspeakable advantage, in eternal life. Note, First, It is required of the disciples of Christ that they hate their life in this world a life in this world supposes a life in the other world, and this is hated when it is loved less than that …

Jesus then spoke of service. Anyone who follows Him must serve Him and those who serve Him will be honoured by God (verse 26).

Henry says:

The Greeks desired to see Jesus (John 12:21), but Christ lets them know that it was not enough to see him, they must serve him. He did not come into the world, to be a show for us to gaze at, but a king to be ruled by. And he says this for the encouragement of those who enquired after him to become his servants. In taking servants it is usual to fix both the work and the wages[;] Christ does both here.

Jesus spoke of His personal state. He was troubled, yet He must fulfil what He came to do: die for our sins (verse 27).

People think that Jesus was a good man who lost in life, that He was supposed to be a temporal king bringing justice to the oppressed. No, His death was His mission in order for us to be reconciled to God.

MacArthur explains:

This is why He came, and through His death much spiritual fruit would come.  He understood that He had come to die.  From His birth, He had been called Jesus because He would save His people from their sins.  He knew that salvation was to be through His death.  He knew He was God’s chosen sacrifice.  The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.  Yes, but how?  Has come to give His life a ransom for many.  He was born to die a sacrificial death.  He knew that.  This was not a surprise.  This isn’t a good plan gone wrongThis is the plan.  

Revelation 13:8 says, “He was the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.”  Before He ever came into the world, He knew He would come into the world to be slain.  Peter tells us He was the sacrifice to God who would redeem His people with His blood and that this sacrifice was pre-determined from the foundation of the world.  He appeared to accomplish what had been planned.  The cross and the subsequent resurrection from the dead is the theme of Scripture.  The cross and the subsequent resurrection is the great theme of Scripture. 

In many powerful ways, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ reigns over all other issues in Scripture.  When you go to the Old Testament, you’re struck very soon by the reality of sacrifice.  It happens early in the third chapter of Genesis.  As you flow through the Scripture, sacrifice goes on through the whole Old Testament. It goes on all the way into the New Testament until 70 A.D.  None of those lambs, none of those millions of goats or lambs or bulls could ever take away sin, but they all pictured one who would: the Lamb of God.

It is important to discuss the word ‘troubled’, which MacArthur explains:

What does the word “troubled” mean?  It’s a Greek word tarassō, tarassō.  It literally means “to shake or to stir up.”  That’s what you would use if you were doing something in the kitchen.  You’d use that word.  But it had figurative significance as well.  In a figurative sense, it could be translated anguish.  He was anguished.  He was agitated.  He was deeply disturbed.  He was upset.  He was unsettled

Sometimes it can be translated terrified, frightening, horrifiedA very strong word, very strong word.  It’s so strong that it’s used, for example, in Matthew 2:3 of the troubling of Herod, who was so profoundly troubled by the thought that a king was being born in Bethlehem, that he ordered his men to go there and massacre every baby boy/child in the area.  That’s being seriously troubled when you become a mass murderer. 

It’s the same word used in Matthew 14:26 for the attitude of the disciples when they see Jesus walking on the water.  Some of the translations say they were terrified.  It’s a highly disturbing emotionIt is the word that is used to describe Zacharias the priest when an angel came to him in Luke 1 to tell him that he and Elizabeth who were barren and in their 80s certainly, had never been able to have children.  An angel comes and announces that they will have a son, and Zacharias is terrified by an angel.  Angels didn’t appear to people. 

It is the same word used to describe the attitude of the disciples who were in the upper room the night of the resurrection, Luke 24:38, and Jesus comes through the wall with the door being shut, stands in their midstIt says they’re terrified.  Jesus actually used this word on Thursday night in the upper room with His disciples when He said in John 14:1, “Stop letting your heart be troubled.”  How can He be troubled?  How can He be so agitated?  How can He be so distressed?  Isn’t He less than a martyr?  Why this distress?  Many martyrs seem calm facing death.  Why is this going on?  Was this weakness in Him?  Was this sin?  No, no … 

Listen, His trouble came not from anticipating physical suffering, but anticipating divine wrath, spiritual suffering. That was a terrifying reality. Though the nails must have gone through His hands and feet thousands of times as He thought about it, the agony of the sinless Son of God was not that He would be nailed, but that He would be judged by the wrath of God. Not that He would be stained with blood, but that He would be condemned for sins He did not commit, the sins of all who would ever believe. Those tortured His soul with a fierceness.

Let me tell you something, if He didn’t become troubled by that, He wouldn’t be God. God should be troubled by the prospect of bearing sin. The Son of God should be troubled by the prospect of divine wrath and alienation from His eternal Father. Yes, He’s troubled, but it’s not the physical part that troubles Him. It’s the spiritual reality.

Jesus asked His Father to glorify His name. A voice came from Heaven saying that His name was be glorified and would be again (verse 28).

MacArthur interprets this for us:

… when the Father says in verse 28, “I have both glorified it,” He means throughout your whole ministry I have put My power and glory on display through You. “And will glorify it again,” meaning I will glorify My name through your death. I did it through your life. I will do it in your death. I did it through your life. I will do it in your death.

It must have been an incredible moment for the crowd. Some said the divine voice was an angel and others said it was thunder (verse 29).

Both would have been applicable in a scriptural sense, although those who thought it was thunder might have had a spiritual bypass:

You can understand why they were saying those kinds of things.  This is the mixed crowd, which would be some Jews, maybe still the Greeks who came to Jesus.  Maybe, of course, including leaders in the temple.  They were trying to figure out what had just happened.  They had no capacity to know the voice of God or hear the voice of God, and they weren’t about to acknowledge the voice of God if He did speak.

Thunder, often in the Old Testament, is the voice of God.  Exodus 19, “God thundered.”  Second Samuel 22:14, “The Lord thundered from heaven and uttered His voice.”  Job 37:5, “God thunders with His voice wondrously.”  You see that also in Psalm 18, Psalm 29.  Job 40:9, “Can you thunder with a voice like His?”  So thunder was associated with the voice of God, but for them, this was just a weather event.  They weren’t thinking of it in a divine way.  Then for the others, it was an angelic event, which gets a little closer to reality, but in both cases, they missed the point.

Again, the natural man understands not the things of God, right?  Jesus says to them, “You don’t get the truth, and because I speak the truth, you don’t understand what I’m saying.”  Remember that back in chapter 8So they have a way to explain it that is short of the realityThe bottom line is that God had spoken, and God had validated, authenticated, affirmed the death of His Son. 

Jesus confirmed that it was a divine voice, because He said that it came for the crowd’s sake, not for His (verse 30).

Henry explains:

Why it was sent (John 12:30): “It came not because of me, not merely for my encouragement and satisfaction” (then it might have been whispered in his ear privately), but for your sakes. (1.) “That all you who heard it may believe that the Father hath sent me. What is said from heaven concerning our Lord Jesus, and the glorifying of the Father in him, is said for our sakes, that we may be brought to submit to him and rest upon him. (2.) “That you my disciples, who are to follow me in sufferings, may therein be comforted with the same comforts that carry me on.” Let this encourage them to part with life itself for his sake, if they be called to it, that it will redound to the honour of God. Note, The promises and supports granted to our Lord Jesus in his sufferings were intended for our sakes. For our sakes he sanctified himself, and comforted himself.

Then, Jesus changed His tone from troubled to triumphant. His death would be a judgement of the world, and it would vanquish Satan (verse 31).

MacArthur provides this analysis:

Now, rather than viewing the suffering of sin-bearing on the cross, He focuses on the salvation through that suffering and He turns from being troubled in verse 27 to words that are triumphant in verse 31.  He goes from troubled to triumph He states the consequence of His death, the accomplishment of the cross, the mystery of the cross unfolded in three massive far-reaching statements

Number one, “The judgment is on the world.”  Number two, “The ruler of this world will be cast out.”  Number three, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to Myself.”  These are sweeping, far-reaching realities.  He goes from that very personal, intimate agony of verse 27 to this global, historical reality of verses 31 through 32.  Three anticipated accomplishments in the cross.  Number one, the world was judged.  The world was judged.  Sin’s empire was judged.  Sin’s system was judged.  The crisis had come.  The probation of the world was over.  The doom was sealed by the rejection and murder of the Son.  This flips the whole event on its head. 

The Jewish people thought they had judged Him.  In reality, He had not only judged them, but He had judged the entire world.  They thought that they had brought Him into their court and rendered their verdict on Him.  In reality, He had brought them into His court and rendered His verdict on them.  The cross would condemn and judge the world, meaning the Jewish people who rejected Him, the leaders who condemned Him, Judas who betrayed Him, the Roman soldiers who mocked and executed Him, Pilate who sentenced Him, the whole society of evil men alienated from God who crucified Him.  And extending beyond that, all the world of people who are caught up as children of Satan in an anti-God, anti-Christ attitude.

What looked like the judgment of Christ was, in fact, the judgment of the world because at the cross, He won the victory and was ascended and at the right hand of the Father became the Lord and Judge of all.  The whole Christ-rejecting world was judged by the cross of Christ.  The verdict is in.  The sentence is waiting.  Every time a person dies, that sentence is executed, but for the whole world, that sentence will be fully executed in the day that He appears a second time to judge, Acts 17:31The world said, “We tried Christ and judged Him.”  How wrong they were.  He condemned the world.  The world, every man in it from now on, is condemned.  They’re born condemned to death unless they repent and embrace Christ.

Second thing, massive effect: the ruler of this world will be cast out.  Who’s that?  Satan, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this world.  Satan was dethroned at Calvary.  Again, this is a reversal of what you might think.  It looked like Satan won.  It looked like Satan triumphed, and the devils of hell thought there was a triumph.  Satan had conquered Christ at Calvary, but in reality, Christ had crushed his head, dealt him the deathblowNow, Satan fights from death row.  He is a vanquished enemy.  He had nothing on ChristHe has nothing on us.  He is a conquered, defeated foe. 

Jesus further confirmed His triumph by saying that when He is lifted up from the earth, He will draw all people to Himself (verse 32). That means Jew and Gentile alike.

The words ‘lifted up’ were known in His era as a synomym for crucifixion. MacArthur says:

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth,” if I am crucified. That’s what that means. He’s not talking about preachers lifting Him up, which we should do. He’s not talking about people who should point to the cross and lift up Christ, which we should do. That’s not what this is about. He is saying, “If I am crucified, I will draw all men to myself.” All men, meaning all Jews, Gentiles, people from every tongue, tribe, nation of the planet. I will draw them all to myself. He, at the cross, provides the work by which all can be saved. Children of God from all over the world.

John says that this was how Jesus described His imminent death (verse 33).

We know that ‘lifted up’ meant crucifixion, because after Jesus spoke, people asked Him how this could be (John 12:34):

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?”

MacArthur says that this was the turning point, which would continue through the days that followed, the events of which we remember during Holy Week:

Ah, this is a turning, folksOn Monday, they were hailing Him as the Messiah That begins to go downhill on Tuesday when He attacks the temple It’s really going downhill now because they all know He is saying, “I will be crucified,” and they are saying, “Wait a minute.  The Son of Man?” that Old Testament term from Daniel chapter 7, the Son of Man, the Messianic term.  “The Son of Man is to remain forever.”  And they were right about that.  He is the everlasting Father in Isaiah 9.  He has an everlasting kingdom in Daniel 7.  So who is this Son of Man who will be crucified?

Because they don’t understand Isaiah 53, they don’t believe Isaiah 52They don’t understand Daniel 9, that He would be cut off, Zechariah 12:10, that He would be pierced.  They only see a Messiah who sets up an everlasting kingdom, and so the cross, Paul says 1 Corinthians 1 is to the Jews a what?  Stumbling block, stumbling block.  “What Son of Man is this?”  So we’re starting down from Monday to Friday pretty fast, aren’t we?  This is Wednesday, maybe even ThursdayBy Friday, they’re convinced this man needs to die.  Perhaps, they didn’t even think about the fact that in His crucifixion, He was fulfilling exactly what He saidThis is the scope of the death of Christ in His own simple words before the crossStaggering.

I hope this explains more about Christ’s death. The Crucifixion was no sign of loss, rather, it was one of victory over sin and our reconciliation with God through our Saviour’s ultimate, all-sufficient sacrifice. Jesus came among us to give us eternal life.

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