(There is also a Dialogue Sketch on this gospel passage, which you can read here.)
If you watch films classified as “Thriller”, or read paperbacks, you expect a Climax: chase, showdown. But you don’t know how it will start, or what form it will take. This week, Passion Sunday, we find out how the gospel will climax. Jesus will die.
The arrival of “Greeks” (John 12:20-33) – probably not Jews – seems to make Jesus aware of what is coming, and he talks of the death of a grain of wheat, and recoils in horror, (verse 27), before seeing the glory of God in this.
This is the climax of the gospel. This death, unjust, inhumanly cruel, marking the apparent victory of all that is against Jesus and the Kingdom he announces – this is the glory of the Son of God. That is exactly what they mean. Jesus is not going to march into Jerusalem as King and replace Herod, or Pilate, or even the High Priest. He will allow himself to be captured, condemned, flogged, and crucified. Then he will rise. No wonder he hesitates.
We still find this odd, and also recoil. How can this be? What sort of success is this? The answer is history – history we prefer to forget! Jesus’ Kingdom does last, and offer better hope to all, than any other.
And then there is this odd verse about judgement. John 12:31 “Now is the time for this world to be judged; now the ruler of this world will be overthrown.” How can the cross bring judgement? Remember John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its saviour”. What does this mean? John seems to be saying that the cross brings, not a judgement of demons carrying you away to the furnace, but – well compare
- John 12:47 “If people hear my message and do not obey it, I will not judge them. I came, not to judge the world, but to save it.”
- John 12:48 Those who reject me and do not accept my message have one who will judge them. The words I have spoken will be their judge on the last day!
- And John 9:39 Jesus said, “I came to this world to judge, so that the blind should see and those who see should become blind.”
There is judgement for those who fail to see in the crucified Lord the Saviour – Messiah, Suffering Servant, Son of God. That the judgement is a missed opportunity, a continuing in darkness, makes it no less terrible. It does not make Jesus a punitive figure, the main actor in a “Sting” operation to catch the unwary. He remains the sign of God’s love, the costly opening of the door to life. But to refuse the life he offers is to take a dark and terrible way, and represents a most terrible judgement, equal, and greater, to the terrors he endured for us.
The Gospel is a thriller. Its climax comes at the Cross. At one and the same time, the Cross brings freedom, and judgement to those who will not take it.