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“‘The Hour Has Come’”

March 17, 2024 Preacher: Minister Thomas Houston

Scripture: John 12:20–33

 March 17, 2024 Fifth Sunday in Lent Text is John 12:20-33.


20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.


May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”.  This request from some “Greeks” provides the opportunity for Jesus to engage in what is known as his final public discourse in John’s gospel.  We’re not quite sure who these Greeks were; perhaps non-Jewish gentiles, since any non-Jews were referred to as Greeks by the Hebrew people.

Or, they may have been Jewish people who spoke Greek and had returned from the diaspora, having heard about Jesus and all that he had done and taught.  But either way the fact that those from outside of the local Jewish population were expressing a desire to “see”, that is, to “meet and understand” what Jesus was all about, well that indicates that the gospel has truly begun to spread. 

In the verses just prior to this morning’s reading Jesus has triumphantly entered Jerusalem, an event that we will celebrate next Sunday, along with his passion.  This happened just a short time after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and as things are progressing toward the cross and the resurrection, Jesus has determined that now “the hour has come” for him to be glorified.  And this is when he proclaims what “seeing” Jesus encompasses; he speaks of glory, servanthood, and of being lifted up.  The time is right for Jesus to now give his final public preaching, and he doesn’t hold back.  It wasn’t only the raising of Lazarus that likely prompted Jesus to fully expound on discipleship, glorification, and his pending “lifting up”; his death upon the cross, and his resurrection from it.  The tension and the anxiety surrounding Jesus’ entire ministry have reached the point where the Greeks wishing to see Jesus was the catalyst that opened the door for him to proclaim the things he does this  morning.

His popularity among Jew and Greek alike has built to a point where his entrance into Jerusalem has caused a frenzy among the populace.  Lazarus’ raising was undeniably the zenith of Jesus’ many miracles.  All that is happening now is occurring during the Passover, a time when tensions in Jerusalem are at their highest, and when the authorities, both Hebrew religious and Roman civil are anxious to avoid the chaos that may happen.  When thousands upon thousands of faithful Jewish people stream into the city to worship at the temple, the priests and the Roman occupiers find themselves alert for anything that might easily erupt into anarchy in the streets.  It’s during the Passover that the faithful Hebrew people tend to most remember, that as they celebrate the long-ago exodus from slavery in Egypt that they are now under the heel of the boot of Rome.  Things could turn real ugly, real fast.  Jesus is well aware that the situation pretty much ensures his arrest, trial, and execution.  He has decided that now, “the hour has come”.

And right after declaring that he is to be glorified through his death and resurrection, we read that Jesus speaks about how loving one’s life will result in its loss and that hating it earns life eternal.  While this declaration is momentous as it is read, the truth is that the translation from the original Greek into modern English has somewhat distorted Jesus’ words.  And that is unfortunate because the intent of Jesus’ original statement is much more significant than how it is presented in the NRSV bible translation.  Hear again the passage as it appears in our lectionary: Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  The issue is how the word “life” is rendered three times in this verse versus how it appears in the original Greek that John wrote in.  The first two times “life” is written, the Greek word is “psuche”, and the final time, when referring to eternal life, the word is “zoe”.  Yet the translators rendered both simply as “life”.  

If we use the original words the verse reads like this: Those who love their psuche lose it, and those who hate their psuche in this world will keep it for eternal zoe.”  I’m going to assume that when the translation was done it was for expediency or simplicity, but the fact is that it seems lazy to me.  And this is because the two different Greek words for “life” are in fact quite distinctive, and the understanding of this passage is immensely important; for what Jesus is declaring to the crowd as he finds his time growing short is at the core of what his entire ministry was all about.  As he declares that “the hour has come” for him to depart from this world his final message to the crowd deserves an accurate understanding of what he intended for them, and us to learn.

I’m thinking that already you might be finding this deep dive into what seems trivial a bit boring, but I beg your indulgence.  “Psuche” is transformed into English as “psyche” and we encounter this word in many instances.  It’s meaning in the Greek is “soul-self” and means one’s distinct identity, not merely noting that the person is alive.  It’s the way of referring to abiding within our own selves, of describing that which defines us.  For lack of a better term, “psuche” is a person’s soul, mind, emotional state, the seat of our affections, and our will.  On the other hand, “zoe” is the accurate definition of “life”.

If we keep this in mind and restate Jesus’ proclamation substituting the distinctly different original Greek words, the verse might sound more like this: Those who love their own self or soul more than they love God and others lose it, and those who regard the love of God and of others before their own soul or self in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Quite a bit different when the nuance is restored to Jesus’ original declaration. 

He follows this statement by saying, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”  And perhaps surprisingly, I don’t plan to take any issue with the way this verse was translated; it is faithfully rendered.  But when Jesus says these words right after the verse about loving God and others more than our own soul-selves, therefore inheriting eternal life, his intent for how we are called to act is made abundantly clear.  For this admonition to follow Jesus is the same one he made to Peter and Andrew, and James and John, the rest of the disciples, and us.  The Greek word for “serve” is the root of the English word, Deacon.  And the Greek for “follow” gives us Acolyte.  “Whoever acts as a Deacon to me, must be as an Acolyte to me”.

Jesus is not calling us to follow along, simply accompanying him on is mission.  In the truest sense, an acolyte is expected to follow step by step the words and actions of the one being served.  Jesus’ followers are expected to be vitally engaged in his ministry, actively learning and participating in the spread of the gospel.  Jesus’ final public proclamation isn’t about loving or hating one’s life, it’s a passionate call to follow Jesus and to serve him; it’s an invitation to discipleship.  As he is coming to the end of his earthly mission, Jesus is addressing the crowds in the holy city of Jerusalem, telling them, and us that we are to place the love of God and others before ourselves.  We are to serve Jesus, to follow the Son of Man, imitating him in his words and deeds.  The language may be awkward, the translation a bit shaky, and the religious and cultural traditions alien to us.  But the message, the invitation, the calling, the mandate is as straight-forward as can possibly be.  Jesus declares that God the Father will grant eternal life to those who love God and neighbor, put others before themselves, and live according to the message of the gospel.  And all this we can understand, in plain, simple English.      


Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and holy God, help us to declare by our words and deeds that we love you and our neighbors more than we love ourselves.  And strengthen us as we seek to serve your Son as willing deacons and engaged acolytes.  And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One whose hour has come and who has called us to accompany him on his journey.      Amen.

God is Good, all the time.  All the time, God is GoodAmen.