Daily Family Worship

John 12: Jesus, the Great King

by | Mar 22, 2024

john 12

This 12th chapter of John contains the account of the last days of the public ministry of our Lord. In the five chapters which follow, He is alone with His disciples – revealing Himself more fully to them in private fellowship. Three incidents are beautifully sketched in this chapter, which depict – against a background of unbelief – the faith in Christ which His public ministry has developed. The first of these three incidents is Jesus’ anointing at Bethany, where He is shown to be devotedly loved by His followers; the second is His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where He appears as the popular hero of the Jewish multitudes; and the third is His final ministry in the Temple, where He is the object of interest to some inquiring Greeks, who stand as pictures or representatives of the Gentile world. However, the discontentment of Judas which is depicted in the first scene, the anger of the rulers in the second, and the reply of Jesus in the third, all prepare us for the coming tragedy of unbelief. Thus this chapter serves to close the narrative of our Lord’s ministry, and to introduce the account of His death; and its concluding words – from the pen of John and the lips of Jesus – summarize the results of the ministry of Christ and the essential theme of His teachings.

The life of Mary of Bethany is painted for us in three memorable pictures in the Gospels – in each of which, she is found at the feet of Jesus. In the first, she is seated at His feet, listening to His words; in the second, she has fallen at His feet, seeking His sympathy and help; and in the third (verses 1-11), she is anointing His feet to express her devoted love. She is the same pure, gentle, sensitive, loving friend who was depicted as entertaining the Lord in her home in Bethany, where she was contrasted with her sister Martha. Here, however, it is not with Martha that Mary is contrasted; but rather, with Judas. Her pure and loving motive sparkles like a jewel, as it is set against the black backdrop of the thief and traitor’s deceit and greed.

It is only six days before the death of Jesus. A feast is being given at Bethany in His honor, very possibly as an expression of gratitude for His raising Lazarus from the dead. The latter is one of the guests. Martha is serving, and surely she is now doing so in a spirit of peaceful gratitude and reverence. As Jesus sat at the table, Mary takes a pound of expensive ointment, and she lavishly pours the perfume on His feet; and then, in deepest humility, she wipes His feet with her hair. But Judas utters a cruel protest. How greatly does his hypocrisy and greed stand out against the pure, passionate devotion of Mary! Of course, we ought to always be kind to the poor. But in His rebuke of Judas, Jesus forever vindicates the most extravagant gifts which are made in devotion to Him, and He condemns the spurious kind of philanthropy which is not animated by love for Him. True gifts to the poor are those which are given to them in the name of Christ, and for the sake of Christ, and in order to win their souls to Christ. Let us beware of attempting to perform acts of social reform and charity in a spirit that is divorced from our Christian witness of the Gospel; for if we do so, we may be spending the treasure of Mary according to the direction of Judas.

In Mary’s act of devotion, Jesus seemed to see that she had unconsciously rendered a greater service than she had supposed. Her gift was no purposeless waste. It was, in reality, an embalming of His body for burial. His words suggest Divine foresight; and since they were spoken to Judas, they are a hint that the cruel greed of that infamous traitor is about to cause the death of Jesus – while the deed of Mary, on the other hand, shows how He is “embalmed” in the hearts of His followers; and it is also a prophetic picture of the devotion to Him which will fill the world with the true perfume of self-sacrificing love.

Mary was rebuked by Judas, but her brother Lazarus became the object of more deadly hatred. He was a living proof and witness of the power of Christ; and because of his testimony, many of the Jews became believers in Jesus. The story of this feast in Bethany is followed by the statement that “the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus also to death.” Do we wonder that witnesses for Christ are still hated by His enemies, even today?

In His Gospel-narrative, John has produced many witnesses to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah; but there are none more picturesque than the multitudes who pay their homage to Jesus as He enters the holy city on the day following the anointing at Bethany (verses 12-19). And none of the other Gospels record more plainly the testimony of the festal throng to their belief that their predicted Messiah has appeared, in the Person of Jesus. They attest their faith, both in symbol and in song. They wave palm branches, which are the emblems of beauty, triumph, and joy; and they cry, “Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord!” – thus quoting a Psalm which all the Jews regarded as a prophecy of the coming Messiah (Ps. 118:26).

Jesus meets their confession of faith by a claim that was equally as definite. He fulfills – in the minutest details – the prophecy relating to the coming Messiah, as He enters the city riding upon a donkey! (Zech. 9:9) This was His final and most open offer of Himself to the nation as their King. The “hour” had come which His mother and brethren had impatiently desired – namely, the “hour” of His royal manifestation to Israel. But it was to be followed by the “hour” which He knew so well – the “hour” of His rejection and death, and the “hour” of His resurrection and exaltation.

From among all the memorable incidents of Passion Week, only one is selected by John (verses 20-36); it is recorded by no other Gospel-writer, but it is distinctly in accordance with the purpose of John’s Gospel. Certain Greeks request an interview with Jesus; and in His reply, our Lord gives testimony to His Divine nature. By His foreknowledge of the future, He speaks of the self-sacrifice involved in faith; and He testifies to the glory of that eternal life, which is a result of faith.

These Greeks stood as representatives of the whole Gentile world. Their request – following the story of the devotion of Mary, and the account of the Hosannas of the multitudes – is the supreme proof of the love and faith and interest which was aroused by the public ministry of Christ. It also gave occasion for a prophecy of the universal blessings that would result from the mission of the Savior, which – in the view of John – always concerns the whole world. This mission, however, would only be accomplished by death and resurrection. Therefore, in His reply to the request of these Greeks, our Lord emphasizes the supreme character of the “hour” which has struck.

We are not told whether or not these Greeks were actually brought into Jesus’ presence, but His words are a real reply to their request. “You wish to see Me,” He seems to say; “and you have arrived at exactly the right time, for the hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.” In His death and resurrection, He was to be revealed in His true character as the Savior of the world. These Greeks did not need to hear His words or see His miracles; His death was what they needed to witness. His cross would be the attractive power which would draw to Himself all those multitudes of the Gentile world, which were represented by these inquirers.

Jesus illustrates the absolute necessity of His death by a reference to nature (verse 24). A grain of wheat, He explains, must first be buried; its coverings must decay, and it must perish as a grain before it can produce a multitude of grains like itself. He applies this great law of life through death, and of service and influence through self-sacrifice, to Himself (verse 25); and He declares that if He were to selfishly seek to avoid the cross, He would forfeit all that was worthy of the name of “life.” But by yielding up His life, He would secure and bestow blessings that are eternal. This same law, He also applies to His disciples (verse 26). In contrast to the Greek ideal of self-gratification, Jesus’ servants must follow Him in the path of self-denial – not merely with a view to self-fulfillment, and not exclusively for the sake of others; but rather, for the sake of Christ! The result will be a broadening life, an enlarging influence, an abiding fellowship with Christ, and the Divine approval of His Father.

Jesus continues: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (verse 32). “All men” refers to the Greeks, and to those of all the nations of the earth, whom they here represented. Not only would Jews be drawn to Christ, but also Gentiles – that is, “all men” without distinction or discrimination. And what is the great attractive power? His cross! The lifting up

of Christ was fulfilled in His death; “this he said, signifying by what manner of death he should die.” The cross is still the supreme moral magnet of the world. It is not primarily the teachings of Christ, nor His example, but chiefly His cross that is attracting multitudes and making them willing – as His devoted followers – to take up their own cross and come after Him!

The people, however, were puzzled by Jesus’ plain prediction of death. They expected the Messiah to assume political rule, and to abide in endless power; they did not understand the prior necessity of His death. And even in spite of all the blessedness that Jesus knew He would secure by His death, He still trembles at the sight of the cross. “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour.” All the agony of Gethsemane is embodied in this bitter cry; and the words which follow contain all its victory, too: “But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” Then “there came a voice out of heaven, saying, I have both glorified it” – that is, in the ministry of Jesus – “and will glorify it again” in His death and resurrection and their results. This voice, the people could not understand; but Jesus declared that it had been uttered for their sakes. It was designed to make them realize the supreme importance of His death. By it, the prince of this world would “be cast out” to receive his defeat and final overthrow.

Jesus does not now linger for explanation. He gives the world one final warning and promise: “While ye have the light, believe on the light, that ye may become children of light.” He Himself is “the light of the world.” We must believe in Him, follow Him, and commit ourselves to Him; otherwise, we shall be like people stumbling along in a pathless night. But faith in Him will transform us more and more into His likeness! “These things spoke Jesus, and he departed and hid himself from them.” His public ministry was now at an end.

John now pauses to glance backward over the ministry of Jesus (verses 37-50); and as he does so, he aims to emphasize the causes and the consequences of the people’s unbelief. This he does in two brief paragraphs – in one of which, he largely employs the words of the prophet Isaiah; and in the other, the words of Jesus Himself. The main theme of the two paragraphs, however, is a condemnation of unbelief. In the first paragraph (verses 37-43), John refers to the miracles of Jesus as sufficient to produce faith in Him. And the terrible consequences of unbelief are stated in the second paragraph (verses 44-50). Jesus claimed to be a personal manifestation of God, and to have proclaimed the very will of God. Therefore, to reject Jesus is to reject God Himself. During His earthly ministry, Jesus refrained from pronouncing judgment upon men. But by their refusal to believe on Him, men were continually judging themselves; and “in the last day,” they will be convicted by the very words which He spoke. How can anyone hope for acceptance with God when they willfully reject Jesus?

Lord Jesus, we praise You for coming as a light into the world, so that whosoever believes on You shall not abide in the darkness of sin and death! Amen.

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