The set Gospel reading for today from the lectionary marks the beginning of what is known as Passiontide, the last 2 weeks of Lent. If we have been following the readings each week on our journey through Lent so far, the build-up of tension is palpable as we approach the time of Jesus’ death, which he predicts in this reading.
We see that in the number of events which unfold in rapid succession. Earlier in the chapter of the Gospel, we are told that it was 6 days before Passover, that great pilgrim feast and festival when people from all over the known world would come to Jerusalem. Jesus was anointed with pure nard by Mary at Bethany. The next day we find Jesus on his way to Jerusalem – not a long journey, but apparently giving sufficient time for the gathered crowds to meet him in an encounter we will be looking at together next Sunday in our Palm Sunday service.
In today’s passage the narrative continues with what happened immediately after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Sometimes we need to look at what happens next, what happens after an event, to better understand the event itself. That’s why it is helpful to look at Jesus’ birth, life, earthly ministry and death in light of his resurrection and exaltation.
We are told that some Greeks who were among those who went up to worship at the festival approached Philip and asked if they could see Jesus. It is quite likely they approached Philip because he had a Greek name and coming from Bethsaida, near the Greek territory of Decapolis, he could probably speak Greek too. It wasn’t just the Jews who wanted to see Jesus – it was the Gentiles too. Jewish unwillingness to accept Jesus as the Messiah is contrasted by Greek zeal; once Judaism fails to embrace the signs of Christ, Gentiles are given the opportunity. In this way, the ‘whole world’ had the opportunity to see Jesus; the time was right, the time had arrived. The cross and death are all that remain.
Jesus’ reply which acknowledges that is quite astonishing, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” There is a hard truth for us here…sometimes something needs to die for new life to begin. Do you believe that? Do you embrace that truth in your heart? Are there things that you have allowed to become an idol in your life that you need to let go of, that you need to allow to die so that Christ can be Lord of all? We tend to excel at making idols, idols of money, position, power and so many other things. In this time of Lent, as we journey together to the foot of the cross, what better time to lay these idols down and allow Christ ascendancy in our life?
The words of Jesus continue with “Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.” If we choose to follow Jesus, we must follow him unreservedly and unconditionally, not on our terms, not by allowing idols in our life to get in the way, but on God’s terms alone. In that, we give him all that we are, all that we have, all that we might be and say, “YOUR will be done, YOUR kingdom come.” Self-effacement and denial are the only pathways to finding the company of Jesus or the honour of the Father.
We then capture a glimpse of the weight of the sacrifice Jesus knew he had to make, and the full measure of his obedience. We see Jesus in the fullness of his humanity, Jesus who laid aside his majesty, Jesus who “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, made himself nothing by taking the very nature or the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8) No wonder his soul was troubled and we see him sacrificially pouring himself out, “…what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” It would have been very tempting for Jesus to allow glory to come from the crowds, to crave their adulation, and to take up their all too human expectation. Yet Jesus knew that this kind of glory is at best fleeting – here today and gone tomorrow – after all, it was the same crowd who shouted ‘crucify him’ when Jesus was on trial! Jesus wanted to bring glory to his Father, not to himself. Jesus did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest.
Then for the third time, we are told how his Heavenly Father spoke to him “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” Jesus’ submission, obedience, humility, reverence and sacrifice – not calling for himself to be glorified but instead his Heavenly Father – ushered in that moment, that time for judgment on this world, that time when the prince of this world will be driven out. No wonder God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” We begin to see something of the victory of Christ emerging on the horizon of Easter. Jesus became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, leading us to the cross and beyond, and became for us a high priest in the order of Melchizedek – not some temporary, earthly high priest – but a “priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
What was the ultimate outcome of Jesus’ action? We are told in Philippians 2:9-11:
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” When we engage with Palm Sunday next week, let’s try and remember these words and consider the true glory bestowed upon Jesus by his Father in Heaven and come before him with reverence and humility with a willingness to follow him even to the cross. Amen