“Houston, we’ve had a problem.” These infamous words were uttered by Jim Lovell as a catastrophic explosion jeopardized the lives and mission of the crew of Apollo 13. The “large bang” they reported resulted in a mind-blowing example of ingenuity and innovation as the ground and space crews worked together to create a carbon dioxide filter and then operate and return their spacecraft with very little electrical power. Several agonizing days later, they miraculously splashed down safely as a captivated America watched and prayed.
Today’s passage harkens back to an earlier time of danger, when Jesus’ time on earth was drawing to its inevitable end. Greeks had come to see what all the fuss was about, and they approached Philip to ask to see Jesus. Like the Apollo mission, this passage begins with excited onlookers and high optimism:
John 12 (Common English Bible)
20 Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and made a request: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus.
But rather than revel in the potential evangelism of the moment, Jesus begins to forecast what will be a downward trajectory that will define all of them in ways no one could suspect at the onset:
23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. 24 I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.
This “large bang” concerned a wheat grain falling to its death in order to bring forth life. Surely Jesus is projecting his own death on the cross in order to bring the resurrection to the people. The downward spiral continues with words about hating life in this world and losing life if it is loved too much.
But the tone changes when Jesus invited the listeners to follow him. Even if the path sloped down, Jesus promised to be with them and stated that the Father will honor all who follow Jesus.
Yet as he embarks on this path, his own heart is troubled. Listen to his prayer in this difficult time:
27 “Now I am deeply troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Jesus’ prayer was one of assured obedience. He knew that the way he had to go would involve pain and hardship, yet his willingness to accomplish it is summed up with “Father, glorify your name!” In saying this, Jesus reminded us that in order to be glorified, i.e., “lifted up,” he would have to fall down hard first.
And God confirms it:
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
29 The crowd standing there heard and said, “It’s thunder.” Others said, “An angel spoke to him.”
30 Jesus replied, “This voice wasn’t for my benefit but for yours.31 Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out. 32 When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (33 He said this to show how he was going to die.)
His prayer is answered right in front of the crowd, and he explained what will happen next.
34 The crowd responded, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Human One must be lifted up? Who is this Human One?”
35 Jesus replied, “The light is with you for only a little while. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going.36 As long as you have the light, believe in the light so that you might become people whose lives are determined by the light.” After Jesus said these things, he went away and hid from them.
Are you on a downward trajectory right now? Do you believe that God can glorify your journey? Are you following Jesus even in this darkness? Ask God to lift you up.
Jesus is the light in your situation. If you stay on the path of obedience, he surely will lift you up and return you to solid ground. There is NO problem that he can’t overcome!
Thanks be to God.