“Jesus’ Ministry: Getting the Job Done“ – John 12:20-33
Introduction: Starting and not finishing
Did you ever start something and not finish it? Maybe it was a building or renovation project and you ran out of money. Maybe it was a spring cleaning project and an hour after you got started, it just seemed so daunting that you lost your motivation and quit – although a lot of those cleaning projects actually got done last spring when Covid hit, and last summer when Covid stayed, and last fall, and this past winter!! Maybe it was reading a book or a series of books, but the book got rather boring and you lost interest, or the series of books was too long and you just didn’t have the determination. Four years ago, I set out to read all 50+ volumes of Luther’s Works before I retire. I got almost half-way done, but now I’ve been distracted by leading the Front to Back Bible reading group, and I can’t do both or I’d be reading all day EVERY DAY!! I might not finish my reading of all of Luther’s Works.
I am actually not an avid reader… of novels. I do a fair amount of reading (and writing) in my work as a pastor, so reading for pleasure isn’t my number one past time. In my younger years, I liked to be active, and I had three kids to be active with, and I worked two or three evenings a week, so reading novels was just not a priority. But about 25 years ago – we lived in Winnipeg at the time – I found myself not falling asleep at night because I got this idea for writing a novel. Now, remember I don’t read novels, so why would I write one! But the thought didn’t go away easily. While Deanna was sleeping soundly beside me, I was developing the characters in my head and writing the plot – ALL without putting anything on paper. It was only after it occurred to me that the story could be considered a parable, with a spiritual meaning behind it, that I finally crept out of bed one night, went down to the kitchen table, and wrote the outlines for about 40 chapters before crawling back into bed at 1 A.M. Then I would spend some time in the evenings writing the story called “Death at Sundown.” It sounds like a western, but it is set in 2062 when some scientists discover that the sun is dying and humanity has six weeks to figure out how to survive. After a few months of sporadic writing, I received a call to a church in Calgary and we were moving. The writing of the book got put on the back burner, and I didn’t pick up the writing again until about 5 years later. Finally, finally, I finished that project, and it felt good.
1. Lenten Series Review
During these Sundays of Lent, we have been looking at the essence of Jesus’ ministry between the bookends of Jesus’ temptation and His crucifixion. We have heard about:
– Getting Things Straight – about Jesus’ identity, His mission and purpose, and our discipleship
– Getting the Temple Clean – both the Jerusalem temple and the temple of our bodies
– Getting the Prophecies Fulfilled – prophecies about His birth, His death, and being lifted up on the cross for our salvation, like the ancient serpent on the pole, and last Sunday…
– Getting Attitudes Adjusted – replacing pride and greatness with humility and service.
Today, we will see that Jesus had a passion for “Getting the Job Done.” And what job was that? We heard the answer very clearly in last Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark 10. Jesus said, “I have come not to be served, but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many, for all.” Today’s Gospel reading introduces the context for and language describing the completion of that mission – getting the job done.
2. John 12 context
John 12 begins with these words, “Six days before the Passover,” and it describes a dinner at the home of Lazarus, where Lazarus’ sister, Mary, anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. Jesus’ remark was that she did that to prepare him for his imminent burial. Then verse 12 continues with “the next day” and tells the account of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, with people shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” That was what we know as Palm Sunday, for the people who witnessed that impromptu parade also waved palm branches to welcome Jesus. Then our Gospel reading begins, “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.” So, taking all that context into account, we know that the feast was Passover, and this would be – as our Bible Camp this past week taught – the Week that Saved the World.
So, these Greeks in Jerusalem for the Passover Festival express a desire to see Jesus. What a great prayer that is! “We wish to see Jesus.” What a great prayer that is for us to pray daily… “God, I want to see Jesus… in Your Word, in the waters of Holy Baptism, in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, in the expressed love of your people.” I kind of wish we knew more about that story. We only hear that the Greeks talked to Philip, who incidentally had a Greek name. Philip told Andrew, and the two of them went to Jesus, but we don’t hear any more about the Greeks. Did they actually get to talk to Jesus? Were they God-fearers, or had they just heard about this miracle-working healer named Jesus, and they were curious? We don’t know anything else, but we do have the red-letter words of Jesus that followed the request of the Greeks and that take us into that “Getting the Job Done” topic that stretched through the entire rest of that week.
3. “The hour has come” and waiting
Those red letters documenting Jesus’ own words start with “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” “The hour has come…” It’s frustrating, and seems so wasteful to be waiting, or waiting for something to happen, for the hour to come. We’ve all experienced the frustration of waiting in line at a doctor’s office or at the grocery store or on hold on the telephone. Maybe you’ve waited patiently, or impatiently, for a surgery. You might watch the seconds tick by as you wait for a family member to be ready to go… anywhere – to church, to the dentist, to a sporting event or concert.
The Bible is filled with examples of regular folks like you and me who asked God for something only to feel like they’ve been put on a heavenly hold indefinitely. If you have an earnest desire, you might identify with ancient Abraham. He was already an elderly man without a child, an heir, and he felt a void in his life. When he was 75 years old, God asked him to pick up and move to a new land, and God promised him a son, who would inherit his possessions, carry on the family line, and extend God’s blessings through the ages. It was already years later when Abraham said, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless… You have given me no children.” You can hear the ache in his soul in the words that he spoke. He had to wait longer still – maybe another 15 years – before God finally answered Abraham’s prayer and gave him a son.
What about Elijah? God had sent a severe drought. The land, the crops, the people were desperate for water. Elijah had a contest with the prophets of the false god Baal to determine whose God was the true God. After Elijah’s God won that contest in dramatic fashion by sending down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice that Elijah had prepared, Elijah was still waiting for rain. He kneeled down on the ground, put his face between his knees and asked his servant to go look to the Mediterranean Sea for clouds and rain. Six times the servant went to look, but each time came back with the report, “Nothing is there.” Elijah waited, but sent his servant a seventh time. The servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” Not long after, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, and a heavy rain fell on the land.
And in the New Testament, Jairus the synagogue ruler had a very sick daughter. She was near the point of death. Jairus had heard of Jesus and believed that Jesus could offer a cure for his daughter. He found Jesus, and pleaded with Him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put Your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” Jesus agreed to go with Jairus, and together they hurried to the worried father’s home. But the journey was not without interruption. A woman tried to inconspicuously touch Jesus so that she might be healed of an illness that she had had for some time. While Jesus took time to visit and talk with her… Jairus had to wait. While he was waiting, some friends came with bad news… the worst news – his daughter had died. Maybe you know the story. They kept going, all the way to Jairus’ house, and Jesus restored the dead girl to life… but only after Jairus had to wait.
4. Jesus – the redemption hour HAS COME!
Jesus knew that He was the long-promised Messiah who was to redeem the human race. The people of Israel were waiting for hundreds of years for that Saviour to come. But He had to wait, too. He waited through challenges and threats from antagonistic religious leaders. He waited through three years of equipping His apprentices. He waited through times of teaching and healing and doing miracles and casting out demons in the various towns and villages that He visited. When would that redemption time come?
Here it is… in John 12… during Passover week… Palm Sunday and the days that followed. Jesus’ response to the inquiry from the Greeks through Philip and Andrew began: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The waiting was over. The redemption event was just around the corner. There were several other times in the Gospel of John where we hear either a narrative comment “His time had not yet come,” or Jesus’ own words “My time has not yet come.” But now He says “The hour has come.” – the hour to which everything else led – his conversations, His predictions, His teaching, His actions… they were all boiling down to this moment when the Son of Man – that’s Jesus’ subtle way of talking about Himself – when the Son of Man would get salvation’s job done. He says, “for the Son of Man to be glorified” – and that’s Jesus’ subtle way of talking about His death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection and ascension back to heaven. In fact, the entire account of Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection in the last chapters of each of the four Gospels is the real Gospel – the good news of God’s grace and redemption provided freely to you and me through that sacrifice of Jesus. The mission to save and redeem the world would not be complete until Jesus had died in our place. A mark of “incomplete” would not accomplish our forgiveness, and would not open heaven’s doors for us. His passion was for getting the job done.
5. Jesus – not going to quit
In verse 27, Jesus expresses a truth that He repeated in His Thursday night prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. There He would earnestly pray, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” According to His human nature, He was looking for a way to save the world that did not involve the extreme torture that came by crucifixion. But He was willing to do whatever it took. Here in John 12, Jesus admits that His soul, His very being is troubled by what was to come. And, like in the Garden, He talks about a ‘plan B,’ but this time it is a question: “Shall I say ‘Father, save me from this hour’?” And then, in explanation, He answers His own question: “For this purpose I have come to this hour.” This purpose… that’s further detailed in verse 32, when Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” “When I am lifted up” takes us back to what we heard a couple of weeks ago – the reference to the snake lifted up on the pole and its foreshadowing of Jesus lifted up on the cross. This was certainly a prediction of the kind of death Jesus would die – the Roman torture of crucifixion. And after He suffers and dies to save the world, He will draw people to Himself in faith for everlasting life.
It’s kind of like Jesus is saying, “I know that I have come to redeem and save the world. Should I quit / give up when I’m this close, but before I have finished? Should I try to find another way? Should I just abandon these sinful human beings to their deserved condemnation?” His answer is a resounding “NO!” Jesus knew what His purpose was. He knew the time had come, the hour was getting closer. He knew it was the Father’s will, and that it was in His own heart, too. He had a passion for getting the job done. He didn’t take a detour. He didn’t give up. He didn’t quit. He didn’t look for another way. He didn’t leave the redemption job incomplete. Jesus saw His purpose all the way through to the end.
On Good Friday, we are going to hear that Jesus did complete His mission – fully and finally. When we read the account of Jesus’ crucifixion from John’s Gospel, we will hear Jesus’ own comment on His mission: “It is finished!” There was nothing left to do. Salvation was complete. You are redeemed! You are forgiven! There’s nothing left to chance. There’s nothing left for you to do. Jesus did it all. In His great love and grace, He draws you to Himself in an eternal embrace, for which we say nothing but “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jesus!”
6. Your mission, and God’s commendation
What about you? Do you know what your mission and purpose is? If you are married, one of your purposes is to love your husband or wife with dedicated and life-long love. You don’t quit part-way through and say, “I’m done loving you. I’m going to find someone else to love.” No, you continue loving your husband or wife until one of you takes their last breath. If you have children and grandchildren, you provide for them, protect them, support them, care for them, offer wisdom to listen to and a shoulder to cry on. That role doesn’t end when they reach an age of accountability or become adults. You never stop the ‘job’ of loving your kids. If you are a neighbour, you likewise love your neighbour as yourself continually – even if someone new moves in next door, even if you’ve had a little run-in with those Joneses across the street, even if they don’t speak English. There is no expiry date on loving your neighbour. There is no sense of “I’ve completed the ‘loving my neighbour’ command.” God has put them there where you live, God has put YOU there where they live for you to be a God-presence for their lives. That role continues even when your neighbour is the person next door in the care home or in the next bed in the hospice. You’re never done the job of loving your neighbour. Be passionate about carrying out those roles with everything you’ve got. As you do, you express your love not only to them, but also and more importantly to God, Himself.
Jesus once told a parable about servants who were entrusted with the property of their master as he went away on a journey. When he came back, two of his servants had proven their wise stewardship of what they had been given, and he commended them, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Jesus started writing the book of our salvation on the day He was born. It wasn’t completed until the day He died.
Although we don’t hear a specific word from God the Father as Jesus got the redemption job done on the cross, earlier in His ministry we do hear God saying on two separate occasions, “This is my beloved Son, with Him I am well pleased.” We can transfer that divine satisfaction ahead in time to Jesus’ Good Friday completed sacrifice for us. And we, like the servants in Jesus’ parable, can look forward to those welcome words of God when we have lived our lives genuinely trusting in Jesus’ grace and forgiveness to our dying breath: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter the joy of your lord and master.” Amen.