Monthly Archives: January 2017

Gentiles come to Jesus (John 12.20ff.)

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We have looked at Mary anointing Jesus and Jesus’ rejection of a hero’s welcome with the waving of palms, coming to Jerusalem in humility on a donkey. Now we come to the final climax of the life of Jesus before his glorious death and resurrection. In our next blog we shall look more at the significance of these Greek Gentiles coming to Jesus.
Meanwhile we note John’s further use here of the conjunction ‘De‘. After Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the Pharisees, the leaders of Israel, were plotting against Jesus. But now in contrast certain non-Jewish Greeks want to meet Jesus.  The way is opening for Jesus and his salvation to include non-Jews as well as the Jewish people of Israel.  ‘De‘ is used again to mark the contrast between Philip and Andrew speaking, and Jesus himself answering and speaking (12.23).
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In this climactic event of these Greeks wanting to see Jesus, John turns to dramatic present tenses. ‘Philip comes and tells Andrew. Andrew and Philip come and tell Jesus. But Jesus answers them, saying . . . ‘. The quick-fire present tenses highlight the urgency and drama of this event. This is further underlined by the repetition of the same verbs: the Greeks say to Philip, Philip tells (same verb in Greek) Andrew, Andrew and Philip tell Jesus, Jesus answers and says . . . . Likewise the verb ‘comes’ is repeated in the singular present tense: Philip comes to Andrew. Andrew and Philip comes (sic.) to Jesus.
These verses are also full of subtly implied emotions. It would seem that the Greeks were very uncertain whether as mere Gentiles they would be welcomed by Jesus. So they go first to Philip (a Greek name, not a Hebrew one) from Bethsaida of Galilee (an area with many Gentiles). The Greek verb saying that they “came to Philip” has a prefix meaning ‘towards’. Again it may imply some uncertainty as they approached Philip. They then address him with the title ‘Kurios’ which was often used like ‘Sir’ when speaking to people of higher rank. But for John and the readers of his Gospel ‘Kurios’ is the title ‘Lord’ which is used of Lord Jesus. Roman emperors claimed this title for themselves, but it became the affirmation of faith in baptism: Jesus is Lord.
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The Greeks were not alone in their uncertainty. Philip seems also to have had doubts about the reception Jesus would give to these Gentiles. Did the Greeks somehow know how hard it had been for the Canaanite woman to receive healing for her daughter (Matt.15.21-28)? To her Jesus had declared that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel and it was not right to take the children’s bread (Jewish) and toss it to their dogs (non-Jews). Philip will certainly have had this encounter very much in his mind.
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So Philip goes to Andrew and tells him of the situation. I like to picture the two of them, Philip and Andrew, holding hands like two small schoolboys going to see the headmaster. John even uses a singular verb for the two of them going to Jesus, but then moves to a plural verb for them ‘telling’ Jesus.
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I am reminded of the revival movement in East Malaysia in the 1970s. It began with two small boys having a word from God that they were to go to their headmaster and tell him to repent! Not easy at all! And even more difficult in an Asian culture which teaches deep respect for older or more senior people. Children dare not speak like that to a teacher, let alone a headmaster. But God had clearly commanded. When they went to the headmaster with much trepidation and told him God was calling him to repent, he replied that God had also warned him in a vision or dream that he was to expect boys to come to him with a message of repentance. From this event a large revival spread in East Malaysia. So now with the Greeks coming to Jesus we can also  look forward to glory – but that must wait until our next blog!
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The world went after him! (John 12.19)

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“See, you (not ‘we’ as in NIV) didn’t gain/profit at all”, the Pharisees point out to each other. Does this indicate some divisive criticism among them? We cannot tell, but at least it shows that they had expected to make headway in their plots against Jesus when he came into Jerusalem. They evidently sensed that they would soon succeed in putting Jesus to death.
But at that time they were disappointed. “The world went after him”. The verb form seems to refer to the one event of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. On that occasion when they had expected to be able to capture Jesus, they were temporarily disappointed. He was enthusiastically welcomed by “the world”. This word may convey various truths.
a) “The world” could just be taken as a synonym for the crowds, the multitudes. Throughout the Gospels Jesus was trying to win the crowds of ordinary people. He frequently addresses his teaching to the masses and his miracles also draw the crowds to believe in him. As we have seen in earlier blogs, the raising of Lazarus was a case in point (see 12.17). But the multitudes are a fickle lot and swither between faith and mob opposition. In our modern day too we have witnessed how mass demonstrations can some times lead later to sad disappointment. ‘The will of the people’ may be like a pendulum swinging from one side to the other.
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b) “The world” is some times used in John’s Gospel to convey the general cultural world-view that prevails in society. As Jesus’ disciples we are expected to be ‘in the world’, but not ‘of the world’. Public opinion generally stands against true discipleship of Jesus. For relationships’ sake we should not cut ourselves off from the prevailing culture, but we remain critical of it and follow Jesus’ patterns of life.
But the Pharisees complain that the crowd followed Jesus at that time. To follow Jesus had become the popular thing to do. It is our prayer that even in our time public opinion would support faith in Jesus. When my wife and I worked as missionaries in Indonesia, we saw how this could be. Faith in Jesus was the central topic of gossip and chatter in the coffee shops. Positive attitudes and talk of Jesus lay at the heart of popular public opinion. Let’s pray and work for this in our country today! We long for the day when people in the pubs will be discussing positively about Jesus and what he can do in our lives if we put our faith  in him.
c) In John 1.9-11 the word “world” relates not only to Israel and the Jews, but also more widely to all nations and peoples. Of course the Pharisees in John 12 were not aware of this international sense of their observation, but later the followers of Jesus saw the almost prophetic nature of the Pharisees’ words. By the time John is writing his Gospel later in the first century the Christian faith had already attracted large numbers of Gentiles/non-Jews. Already the church had accepted the reality that it was now no longer the preserve just of Jewish believers, but Gentiles of various ethnic backgrounds had also become an integral part of the Christian church. Already in the first  century the Gospel was reaching out into Armenia, Babylon and other nations to the east and north east of Israel. Mark had begun the mission of the church to North Africa, Paul had moved around the northern coast of the Mediterranean and Thomas had almost certainly used the trade winds to travel to southern India and plant the church there. Now in the past two thousand years the good news of Jesus has been carried to every country and the church has spread most amazingly worldwide both among Jews and others. Indeed in our 21st century we can praise the Lord as we observe the huge growth of the church in so many countries. Thus China now has the largest Christian population in the world with huge fast-growing churches. This should come to us as a call to be fellow-workers with Christ in Jewish evangelism and in international worldwide mission.
The world went after him” – not only at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but on through history and very particularly in our day. Hallelujah!
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PS Prayer request – Our much loved grand-daughter Chloe is undergoing a major operation today (16 January) to try to remove a large tumour at the base of her brain – an unusual and dangerous position for a brain tumour. We much value prayer for her.
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Jesus’ Death is coming soon! Entry into Jerusalem (John 12.12-19)

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“From that day on they plotted to to take his life” (John 11.53). When Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave, the crowds followed him. But the leaders of Israel could not tolerate this. In sharp contrast Mary then anointed Jesus with costly perfume for his burial and the crowds gathered to see Jesus and Lazareth. Now we are told that the chief priests “made plans to kill Lazarus as well” (12.10/11). What an impact the raising of Lazarus was having (see also John 12.17)! So we move on to our passage for today with Jesus’ popular welcome from the crowds as he makes his way to Jerusalem. Again the Pharisees hate his popularity with the crowds following him, but wonder how they can deal with him. The plots are thickening. Hatred burns increasingly hotly in Israel’s leaders’ hearts. Jesus’ death is obviously coming ever closer.

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Unlike the other three Gospels’ account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, John divides the story into two sections which also lead into the resultant bitter opposition of Israel’s leaders.

1. Palm Branches
Luke’s account of this event does not mention palm branches at all, while Matthew and Mark record how the crowds laid their palm branches on the road. John merely mentions that the crowds “Took palm branches”. None of the four Gospel writers suggest at all that the crowds waved the palm branches triumphantly to welcome Jesus. In those days a king or triumphant general might be welcomed with palms waved before him, but the Gospel writers are emphasizing their welcome of him which is not as a triumphant king or general. He comes in humility on a young donkey. Unfortunately the common practice of waving palms triumphantly on Palm Sunday has no biblical warrant! The NIV’s heading to this story, “The Triumphal Entry”, is misleading.

 
In John’s Gospel the crowd welcomes Jesus as the Saviour – Hosanna is the Hebrew for ‘Save us’. They welcome him with honour as the one who “comes in the name of the Lord”. And they acknowledge him as the Davidic “King of Israel”, but the Gospel writers would not have interpreted this in the common worldly sense of a king. In the Gospels Jesus frequently rejects any such thought that he might be the sort of Messiah who would use military power to overthrow the despotic rule of Rome.

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2. A Young Donkey
John 12.14 in the Greek has a conjunction which shows that we are moving to the next part of the event. This conjunction (‘de’ in the Greek) is a mild word which has a meaning somewhere between ‘and’ and ‘but’. So it conveys a continuity with what comes before it, but it also shows a contrast. The old Authorized Version translates it as ‘and’ which rightly gives validity to the crowds’ enthusiastic welcome of Jesus as the Saviour, the one who comes in the name of the Lord and as the true King of Israel. But ‘and’ does not convey the contrast in the story. Jesus rejects any welcome which makes him out to be like a victorious general or king in royal splendour. The Greek ‘de‘ shows the contrast. Sadly the NIV does not notice this conjunction at all in its translation! It is this same conjunction which John also used in 12.8: “You always have the poor among you, but me you do not always have.” So, in contrast to any welcome in splendour, Jesus “found a young donkey and sat upon it” (12.14). John’s Old Testament quote in 12.15 comes from the prophecy in Zechariah 9.9 which stresses that the messianic king will come with gentleness, with salvation and with righteousness. He takes away all emblems of power and victory in battle. Indeed he comes to proclaim peace and his peace is not only for Israel, but also more widely for “the nations”, the Gentiles (Zech.9.10). Little did the Pharisees realise the truth of their despairing words which have proved prophetic: “the whole world has gone after him” (John 12.19). So we rejoice in the spread of the gospel all over the world as we too welcome Jesus as Saviour and King, coming in the name of the Lord.

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