John 12:20-33 Glory and covenant

Lent 5, Passion Sunday)

Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33


Some questions, for individual or group use:

1  (Jeremiah)  The promise of a new “covenant” is important – but how would you explain it to someone who knew little of Christian faith?  Would you use the language of relationship?  or forgiveness?  What expectations change as a result of the new covenant?

2  (Hebrews)  Does Jesus claim his place of honour, or is it given to him?  Why does this matter? – does it affect us, who are not glorious, or honoured?  Do you agree that only a suffering Christ could really sympathise with suffering Christians?

3  (John)  What is the link between v23 and v24?  How does the suffering (passion) of Jesus “glorify” God?  v25,26 hint at gloomy consequences for Jesus followers – how would you explain to new believers that this is part of the Good News?


A sample dialogue sketch on the gospel reading, for 3 voices: A, B, C

A. I don’t know about you, but I can’t make any sense of that gospel reading.

B. It starts off easily enough.  Some Greeks – I suppose they were Greeks who had been converted to Jewish faith – came to hear Jesus, and approached one of the disciples with a Greek name for an introduction.

A. That’s fine, but they don’t seem to get it!  Phillip and Andrew go to Jesus, but he seems to be in another world.

C. Perhaps he is.  You see, the gospel can only go to non-Jews with the replacement of the Old Covenant by a New.

B. Can you spell that out a bit? I don’t quite understand.

C. OK.  You know that all through Jesus’ ministry, while he has been doing miracles and healing people, he has also been making enemies?

B. Yes, it’s odd, but there seems no doubt that quite a few people didn’t approve of what he did. Some were jealous, some just didn’t seem interested – but the opposition was real.

A. John has just told us about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and that chapter ends with the leaders plotting to kill Jesus to avoid a revolution against the Romans.

C. Right.  And do you remember how Jesus limited his ministry to Jewish people?

B. Yes, he told the disciples to keep to Jewish towns when they went out on mission –

A. and although he did heal that woman’s daughter – you know the one from the Gentile lands to the north of Galilee – it seemed he might refuse.

C. So Jesus has been perfectly fair.  The people who were given the Old Testament, or the Old Covenant, have had the first opportunity to hear the promised Messiah.

B. Yes, that’s true.

A. Some of them have become his disciples, but at the same time the leaders have made up their minds against him. There’s a split.

C. So what happens next is that Jesus recognises the arrival of the Greeks as the announcement that the climax is coming.

B. Perhaps the Greeks followed Andrew and heard what Jesus said.

A. But what did he say? This bit about seeds dying, and being “glorified” doesn’t seem to link up with what goes before.

C. Jesus must know that the climax will be his death, everything is leading up to it.

B. Wouldn’t it be better to say that the climax was Easter morning? Jesus death looks so much like victory for the other side – his enemies.

C. But that’s where they are wrong.  The New Covenant – the way the Greeks will be included, and the gospel will go international – is made by the sacrifice of Jesus life. That’s why he talks about a seed dying to become a fruitful ear of grain, and losing life to find it.  Failure would be Jesus deciding to avoid death, and compromising his message; or perhaps Jesus falling into self-pity and losing his love for people.

A. I think I understand, but Jesus talks about being glorified by dying, which you say is the whole point and good, and then he seems troubled about it. He almost wants to pray to escape

B. That’s a bit like his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.  He struggled there with waiting to be betrayed. I don’t think John tells that story; perhaps he is telling us that Jesus always faced temptation – the possibility of an easier life.

A. So that’s why the arrival of these Greeks makes Jesus talk about glory – because their arrival is a sign that it’s all going to happen soon.

B. And inevitably the reminder of his approaching death brings the temptation to escape, and then the new decision to go through with it and glorify God.

C. Yes. I think we all find it hard to see the cross as Jesus’ victory. We are so used to stories working out the other way – “winner takes all”, or “living happily ever after”

B. I suppose that says a lot about what Jesus did for us. He dies, and we take all the benefit. That helps a lot when we have to follow him and it’s hard going!

A. and hopefully we get to “live happily ever after”! The story of the Passion isn’t an easy story, but thank you for helping me sort it out a bit.

(740 words. about 8 minutes)                                      (Click here to return to the Index of Sketches)