John 12 Crowd Pleaser?

Questions: Whom are we trying to please? How much are we willing to pay? What does it mean to welcome Jesus? To reject Him? What price will He pay?

“Read More” to pursue answers in the Gospel of John.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.

John 12:1-50

Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.

I find it amusing that they’re all reverting to type: Martha is serving, Lazarus is still, and Mary is relating:

Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s [son], which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

I have to say, I used to always sympathize with Judas’ comment, despite John’s editorial. This only really made sense to me after I got married, when I realized you it is both virtuous and irresistible — even if irrational — to shower blessings upon the one you love.

Conversely, the drive to destroy those you hate is just as inexorable:

Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.

I’m struck by how much I’ve underestimated the significance of Lazarus, perhaps because I’ve always seen it eclipsed by Jesus’ own resurrection. To the people at the time, it was not just a powerful sign but a highly visible one, due to the number of people present when Jesus called him forth — as well as Lazarus himself. I wonder if my friends who mock Christianity as irrational would think those who saw Lazarus were unjustified in their faith…

The buzz surrounding Lazarus fed directly into what we now call Palm Sunday:

On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed [is] the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.

I can’t help but wonder what caused people to make such a dramatic (and presumably dangerous) declaration. Did someone in the crowd recognize the sign that the disciples overlooked?

And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and [that] they had done these things unto him.

Or did they extrapolate based on what happened to Lazarus?

The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle.

Regardless, the breadth of support (even if it lacked depth, as we’ll see later) dismayed his foes:

The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.

And attracted the curious:

And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.

Jesus — as seems to happen a lot in John — replies with what looks like a non sequitur:

And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will [my] Father honour.

If there’s any connection between the Greek’s question and his answer, it might be that if they truly want to see Jesus, then they need to follow in his footsteps. Or, perhaps Jesus is telling them that now is the time for Jesus to be seen in all his glory — even if they have no clue about what that will cost.

Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, [saying], I have both glorified [it], and will glorify [it] again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard [it], said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes.

Okay, so Jesus chooses glory over saving himself. What does that mean?

Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all [men] unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.

Sure, in retrospect it is obvious he is talking about crucifixion, but I can sympathize with the crowd’s consternation:

The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.

Again, the maddening metaphorical indirection of John. It is like Jesus is incapable of giving a direct answer.

Or, more probably, that we are incapable of hearing it:

But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with [their] eyes, nor understand with [their] heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.

It is like Paul Byer used to tell us — or rather, help us realize from the Gospel of Mark — the kingdom of God belongs to those who are willing to ask questions. That is, we have to actively seek the truth, and invest in it, in order to be able to grasp it. Otherwise you get a mere notional Christianity, based on cheap intellectual assent rather than costly emotional and volitional commitment.

Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess [him], lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

Perhaps it is out of that (frustrated) desire to see God’s truth revealed that Jesus cries out:

Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.

I think John’s gospel makes it pretty clear that it is not the (rather confusing!) words Jesus said, but He Himself who is the light. As we’re choosing paint for our house, I’ve noticed that we have to be careful what light we trust — otherwise, we may end up with something quite different from what we thought. In a somewhat similar vein, Jesus is basically saying the he is the Faithful Light that can help us see what the Father truly looks like. The question is, will we trust or reject Him?

And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day

Because if we refuse that light, we deny that Jesus life can teach us anything about who God really is:

For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.

For it is only in seeing the Father that we can have true life.


Father, open my eyes that I may see Jesus. Unplug my stopped ears, and soften my hard heart. Fill me with the wonder and awe that those who saw Lazarus knew, of your infinite power and unfailing love. Let me seek your praise and glory above all things, even my own. May my worship not be as fragile as a palm leaf, but as enduring as the cross, as costly as a pound of spikenard. I ask this in Jesus blessed name, Amen.