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"Time's Up"

When Jesus talks about the hour having come for the Son of Man to be glorified, about seeds and death (and life), about losing your life and gaining it, it is as if all the scattered pieces are finally coming together! And the picture that is revealed is of a Messiah whose time has come at last

Image of an hourglass with all the sand at the bottom

John 12:20-33

March 17, 2024

Dr. Todd R. Wright


Do you remember the giggled countdown from your childhood? “10,  9,  8,  7,  6,  5, 4,  3,  2,  1,  Time’s up! Ready or not, Here I come!”


John paints Jesus’ ministry as just that sort of countdown to today’s passage. Let me show you what I mean:


10 – At a wedding feast in Cana, Mary asks her son to miraculously intervene and Jesus resists, not with the familiar, “MOM!”, but the unusual phrase, “My hour has not yet come.”


9 – Jesus cleanses the Temple and when asked for a sign to justify his actions, he cryptically  predicts his death and resurrection, but since his time is not yet fulfilled, the clock keeps ticking.


8 – Jesus has a long discussion with a Samaritan woman at a well about living water, and twice says, “the hour is coming …”


7 – Jesus heals the nearly dead son of a royal official and the man believes before he even sees the proof, but this is not yet the climax.


6 – Called into question for healing a man on the Sabbath, Jesus says, “The hour is coming … when the dead will hear the voice of God and those who hear will live.”


5 – Jesus feeds the 5,000 and the people began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”


4 – Peter proclaims that Jesus is “the Holy One of God!”


3 – Jesus tells the Pharisees that he is the light of the world but “no one arrested him because his hour had not yet come.”


2 – Mary, having seen Jesus raise her brother, Lazarus, from the dead, and perhaps having heard whispers of plots to arrest Jesus, anoints his feet with nard as if for a burial. Time is growing short.


1 – According to John’s chronology, Jesus enters into Jerusalem to the shouts of Hosanna and the waiving of palm branches and still we wait for the minute hand on the great clock to reach the appointed hour.


With each tick of the clock, Israel’s finest have been setting up parade barricades, slowly closing off every alternative route on the way to the cross. The way John tells the story, with the coming of the Greeks, the hour we have all been waiting for chimes and bells begin to toll.


Edgar Allan Poe captures their warning sound in his poem, “The Bells”:

“How they clang, and clash, and roar!

What a horror they outpour

On the bosom of the palpitating air!

Yet the ear it fully knows,

By the twanging,

And the clanging,

How the danger ebbs and flows:

Yet the ear distinctly tells,

In the jangling,

And the wrangling,

How the danger sinks and swells.”[2]


 

But what is it about the Greeks’ request to see Jesus that proclaims this momentous hour?


Is it because they are Gentiles, Greeks, with hearts made for wandering and minds wired to seek the truth? Is it because they come on stage wearing the color coordinated school uniforms of pupils who have come to learn the ways of the God of Jacob, as the prophet Isaiah predicted? Or is it because they carry themselves with enough international flair that the Pharisees’ complaint might have applied to them: “Look, the whole world has gone after him!”?


I think it is because they ask to see Jesus. They probably just mean they want to meet him, but without knowing it, their phrase points to something important about Jesus’ ministry. How do people see Jesus?


The first few years of his ministry have given ample opportunity for people to view Jesus. They know a lot about him, but do they really see him?


If all the Greeks see is that Jesus is a great teacher, a miracle worker, a healer, then they’ve missed something important. (We may have too.)


If they want to meet the rebel leader, the hero on the white horse, the star of a spiritual movement, their cloudy vision will be disappointed.


If they came expecting a wise philosopher, a desert ascetic, a stirring stump speaker, then they can’t yet see him. They must wait a while longer.


The problem is not that his schedule is clogged or they left their glasses behind, but that bits and pieces are not enough to reveal the whole picture.


 

You know what that’s like, right?


Whenever our family is on vacation, we take advantage of the free time to put together a puzzle. This past summer, the one we worked on recreated vintage posters of the national parks. On the surface, it looked easy, but many of the parks shared similar features. So one piece might have a buffalo, but that could belong to three or four parks! The same was true of pine trees or sand dunes, horses or clouds, waterfalls or waterfowl! And then I stumbled on the key: each park had its name printed in a unique font. Suddenly, I knew what to look for! What had been scattered made sense! The individual pieces came together to produce a bigger picture!


I think that is what John says is going on here. When Jesus talks about the hour having come for the Son of Man to be glorified, about seeds and death (and life), about losing your life and gaining it, it is as if all the scattered pieces are finally coming together! And the picture that is revealed is of a Messiah whose time has come at last; a Messiah whose death will unlock a future God has been building for ages; a Messiah whose followers will receive the gift of eternal life!


 

We may not live as close to the land as the people in Jesus’ day, but we still get the image Jesus employs. We know about seeds growing into things, whether the crop is blueberries or sunflowers or dandelions. And we see people losing and finding their way and losing and finding their lives, too. We know about the intersection of following God’s footprints in the sand and serving our Lord in the world, even when it sometimes takes a while to see the whole picture.


One of my favorite films came out nearly 30 years ago. It was called “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”[3] It begins with a man sitting at a piano composing a symphony. He and his wife are about to have a baby and to make ends meet, he finds a job as a high school music teacher. Gradually his teaching responsibilities force him to make choices between his students and his symphony. His dream withers and is put in the ground, as good as dead, but the fruits of his decision are revealed in the finale. His great work is not the music scratched out on sheets of paper, but a brilliant symphony composed of the individual lives that he encouraged and nurtured through his teaching.


Jesus life is like that – bits and pieces, triumphs and disappointments, the twisting journey toward fullness and final meaning. Maybe our lives are, too.


If we want to see Jesus, really see him, then we must see what Jesus sees –

though he will be abandoned by those he loves, he will draw all people to himself;

though he will suffer humiliation on a cross, it will bring him ultimate glory;

though death appears to do a victory dance, in the resurrection, God has the last word!


If you want to see Jesus, the hour has come and in the next few weeks the picture that John has been piecing together will come clear! Amen.


[1] While I have reworked it, I preached the basic form of this sermon on 3/29/09 for the PNC that brought me to VC!
[2] From the poem “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe

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