Such Reasonable Temptations
Meditation on John 12:20-27 by Cris Cramer
John 12:20-27 (NIV):
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, 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. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his 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 honor the one who serves me.
“Now my heart is troubled, and 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!”
Jesus and his disciples are back in Jerusalem. The ostensible reason is to celebrate the Passover, but Jesus knows this Passover is going to be like no other. The symbolic feast is about to come to fruition; the Lamb is finally going to be slain.
There are some foreigners among the Jews gathering in Jerusalem, including the Greeks John mentions at the beginning of this story. Somehow they have heard of Jesus and they come to one of his disciples, respectfully asking if they can meet him.
Philip's reaction seems to indicate this is an unprecedented event. He consults with Andrew first, and in the end they both go to Jesus with the request. He responds in metaphorical terms, foreshadowing his coming death, but he also speaks in very human terms, admitting his own heart is troubled. I have to wonder if this is a moment of deja vu for him, hearing this chance to speak God's message to people from a far-away country. He had been given a similar opportunity to reach distant lands and peoples, at the very beginning of his ministry. But the person who offered it to him was the devil himself.
John doesn't record it, but the other gospels tell us that after Jesus' baptism he went out into the desert for 40 days, ending in a series of temptations by Satan. One of the things Satan offered Jesus was to give him authority in all the kingdoms of the world. Satan was as much as saying, "You want this world? You can have it. Just think of it; you could teach everyone about God, spread the Law everywhere. You can show these people how to live right again. Just offer me worship, and we'll call it yours. A little lip service to me, and you can skip all the suffering and go straight to the goal." Matthew records that Jesus responded immediately and harshly, declaring that only God himself is to be worshipped. So he resisted the temptation in its early, blatant form. But here it comes back again, in a much more subtle way.
When Jesus faced down Satan in the desert, he was weakened by hunger and weeks of desert wandering, but strengthened by prayer and the newly-given gift of the Father's benediction at his baptism. He was at the very beginning of his ministry; beginnings have a special kind of energy that carry us through difficulties and push us onward.
When the Greeks make their request to see Jesus, he has been traveling, teaching, and healing for years. He has experienced rejection, misunderstanding, violent hatred, and simple, heart-sinking indifference. He has been worn down, as we are all worn down, by the day-to-day grind of plodding through a human life in a hard world. When he spoke to Satan in the desert, he didn't know yet what his ministry would cost him, what it would feel like to live through his experiences. Now he knew first-hand. And the worst was still to come: the focused, distilled torment of his capture, trial, and execution, only a few short days away.
So many of the temptations we face are so reasonable. Sometimes they look like good things; sometimes they are good things. Some of the most dangerous temptations to face are of this kind. Humans are world-class rationalizers, we talk ourselves into accepting all kinds of absurd things as right and good. How much easier is it when the thing we're considering really is good -- except that it just happens to go against God's particular will, in one particular occasion?
The Greeks in this story are just people, not devils; they're probably totally sincere and curious, just like many other people who wanted to meet Jesus. They give Jesus an opportunity to do something good, to teach God's word. Except, the time for teaching was over. Jesus knows it isn't his time to spread God's word to the Greeks. It's time for him to offer himself up to die. Time to fulfill the ultimate reason he stepped into a human body in the first place.
Jesus admits his troubled heart, but immediately accepts that he is facing what he was always intended to face. He rejects the reasonable temptation and clings to the unreasonable demand of God, that he lay down his own life so God's greater plan and purpose can be fulfilled.
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