Many biographies of famous people are divided into three parts. The first part deals with the individual's early years. In the middle years the person accomplishes most of his or her significant work. In the last years we have a winding down phase.
John's gospel, which is essentially a biography of the Lord Jesus Christ, doesn't follow this format. The entire gospel is in fact built around events from just 20 days in the life of Christ. And 40 percent of that book is devoted to the last six days in His life-the accounts of His crucifixion, suffering, death and resurrection.
One particular incident taken from this phase of Jesus' life is found only in John's gospel and is placed as the very last event in Jesus' public ministry (John 12:20). Because John wrote from a theological perspective, his placement of that incident invests it with tremendous theological significance.
It was Passover time; Jerusalem was thronging with pilgrims from all over Palestine and nearby territories. Among them were Greeks, some of whom came to Philip, one of Jesus' disciples, and said, "Sir, we want to see Jesus."
This request wasn't simply a desire to catch sight of a famous personality by appealing to an influential member of his inner circle. These Greeks were what the Bible calls God-fearers. Tired of the moral deviance that accompanied so much of Greek paganism, they were attracted to Israel's lofty monotheism and the beauty of their moral law. Sadly, they had also been disillusioned by the empty ritualism and the sterile legalism of phariasic Judaism. But as they heard stories about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, they began to wonder if this is what and whom their hearts had been yearning for. So they decided to talk personally with Him.
Interestingly, they came to Philip. One of the two disciples of Jesus who had a Greek name, he was from Bethsaida in Galilee, a Gentile territory. Of all the disciples, Philip would be most predisposed to even talk to a Gentile Greek.
When they came to him, Philip was a little confused and didn't know what to do. How would Jesus receive this request? After all, He had just come triumphantly into Jerusalem. Everything seemed to be going their way. It was hardly wise to risk tarnishing His image right now by allowing Him to speak to a Gentile, and particularly during Passover time.
So he ran to Andrew (the only other disciple with a Greek name, and also from Bethsaida) to discuss the situation. Eventually, they came to Jesus and informed Him of the request of the Greeks. But then John's gospel doesn't tell us what happened! We don't know whether Jesus granted them audience, or whether he sent Philip and Andrew back with a message. The Greeks disappear from the story. This is significant because it suggests John's purpose in telling the story. John's placement of the Greeks' request at the beginning of the last public event of the Lord Jesus, perhaps symbolizes the nations of the world thirsting for Jesus Christ. Verse 19, which introduces the story, further suggests this. The Pharisees were all upset, saying, "See, this is getting us no where. Look how the whole world has gone after Him."
Jesus' reaction is the real focus of John's story. He begins in verse 23 by saying, "the hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified." The phrase, "the hour has come," or "the hour has not come," is used frequently in the gospel of John. The first event John describes in Jesus' public ministry was the wedding at Cana of Galilee, where Jesus' mother came to Him because the wine was gone. But He said, "Why are you troubling me woman, my hour has not yet come." In Jesus' last public event, (according to John's arrangement) indeed, His hour had come. When the Greeks came with their request, Jesus knew that the time for which He had come into this world was upon him. He was now to broaden the Abrahamic covenant to include the nations represented by the Greeks. The tense in the original language implies that "the hour has come and will stay." In other words, for Jesus, this represented the point of no return. The coming of the Greeks reminded Jesus of the cost of fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant, for He says in verse 24, "unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it abides alone. But if it dies then it multiplies and bears much seed."
This analogy relates to a well-known fact from agriculture. If a seed remains on the shelf in a barn, it will wither, rot and die. But if it's planted in the ground, if water gets into it and it bursts and "dies" that way, it will bring forth fruit. Jesus applies this to Himself, for He is the promised seed of Abraham. For that one seed to become many seeds, it must die. The prospect of that death was not pleasant to Jesus because, although He was perfectly God, He was also perfectly human.
So He said, in verse 27, "now my heart is troubled." Again the tense in the original describes a heart that has been troubled for a while and in which the intensity of anguish has suddenly increased. The process began when He came to Jerusalem. He entered in triumph, the people shouting "hosanna" to the son of David. But later He wept over the city because the people didn't understand the significance of His coming.
His troubled heart became even more troubled when He went into the temple and saw the money changers cluttering up the court of the Gentiles, preventing Gentile seekers like the Greeks from coming to quietly worship Jehovah.
But here in John 12, the whole world was going after Him. The Greeks were seeking audience with Him; yet He knew that for the Greeks to see Him the way they needed to, He would have to die.
So what does He pray? He said, "Shall I say, Father save me from this hour?" In John's gospel, as one writer put it, "Gethsemane was not just a one-hour struggle on one particular evening. Gethsemane represented Jesus' frame of mind all the way to the cross." His humanity recoiled at the cross-not at the physical pain it involved, but at the anguish of becoming sin and being forsaken by his loving Father, for your sake and mine. But from impulse, however legitimate, look at how Jesus moves to purpose. For He says, "Shall I say, save me from this hour? No! It was for this very reason that I came to this hour." Therefore, He says, "I will pray, Father, glorify thy Name." Then He continues in verses 31 and 32, "Now is the time for judgment on this world, now the prince of this world will be driven out; but I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself." By "all men" here, He doesn't mean every single human being, because all people are not drawn to Jesus Christ. He is saying that it's only through His death on the cross that Satan's tyranny over the nations can and will be broken. Not only Jews, but men and women from every nation will be drawn to Him. In a primary sense, the analogy of the seed falling, dying and bearing fruit applies only to Jesus. Only Jesus' death can break the power of Satan over the nations; only Jesus lifted up on the cross can draw men and women unto Himself.
But in a secondary sense, in keeping with our attempt to re-draw our "world view" maps, this analogy applies to you and me as well. In John 12:25,26, Jesus says, "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." This was a recurrent theme in Jesus' preaching. Sometimes His references to loving and keeping life or hating and losing it applied to salvation, to our earthly and our eternal destinies. But here, it goes much further and in fact contrasts two attitudes. If, as a Christian, we love our life in the sense of keeping it to ourselves, we will remain alone, fruitless and unproductive. But if we're willing to "hate" our lives, in the sense of being willing to follow Jesus into the gap, even though life in the gap may be painful, then we will multiply and bear much fruit. If we are honest, upon hearing and understanding this, we, like Jesus, have to say "My heart is troubled."
As I studied for and prepared these messages, preached them to my congregation, and now prepared them for this book, I was troubled, again! If we're honest, we want to pray like Jesus, "Lord save me from this hour. You know I want the nations to see you, I want all the Greeks to come to you! but, Jesus, can you do it without me somehow?"
But to pray that way is to die, to shrivel up and abide alone. The issue isn't whether we are going to die-that's already determined. But will we die outside the gap and be fruitless or will we die inside the gap and bear fruit? That's a choice we all have to make.
That's when I began to focus on the rest of Jesus' prayer-"Father, for this purpose I came to this world." I looked at my own life-how He plucked me out from 700 million "Greeks," as it
were, in India, how He watched over me during my undergraduate education, how He watched over me when I went to Boston, how He brought mere here to Canada and the Christian and Missionary Alliance (a denomination I'd never even heard about in India), and opened my eyes to the centrality of Global Vision in the life of a Christian. I reflect how, in these last few years, He has given me opportunity to travel and preach in several countries of the world. As I considered all these things, I've come to realize that for this purpose he has brought me thus far-in order to go further and deeper into the gap.
The same is true of every Christian who is reading these words right now. Review your own salvation history. Consider how God has progressively opened your eyes and how He has enabled you to read up to this point so that you can go further into the gap. Together, you and I can say that we have come into this world for this hour. With fear and trembling we can also pray, "Lord save me from this hour; but, Father, for this purpose you have brought me thus far; so glorify thy Name."
How will the Father respond to such honest praying? Look at verse 28: "Then a voice came from heaven. I have glorified it and will glorify it again."
The crowd present had a very interesting reaction. They said, "Oh it's just thunder." Someone else said, "It's an angel." But the biggest mistake they all made was to think the voice spoke primarily for Jesus' benefit. And we think so, too. But Jesus says to all of us in verse 30, "This voice was for your benefit, not for mine."
That encourages me. When we honestly pray to God about the difficulties of dying in the gap, and go on to ask Him to glorify His name through us, He says to us, "Look, I have brought you thus far. Haven't I glorified my name in your life so far? I'm going to continue to do so." He draws our attention away from our own impotence and fear of dying in the gap and focuses it on His ability to lead us into the gap and His ability to teach us how to die so we can bear much fruit.
I think again of my own past, how almost nine years ago he helped me to make what many people thought was a foolish decision-to leave the relative security of a government job and a house and to enter the pastoral ministry "full time." But when I look back upon those nine years, I have to confess that if I had stayed in the relative security of my former job, I would not have had any of the fruit God has multiplied in people's lives in my congregation. It's then I seem to hear Jesus saying, "If I helped you make a difficult decision nine years ago which enabled you to have more fruit, if there are more difficult decisions ahead that will call you to travel deeper into the gap, will you not trust me? I'll do the same thing for you in the future that I've done for you in the past."
The same is true for all of us. Consider how the Lord has worked in your life in the past; how He has led you out from relatively safe but fruitless positions into difficult situations where you are beginning to bear fruit.
I sat in my office one day rehearsing these truths with a young man who was having trouble going deeper into the gap. I said to him, "If I had told you nine years ago that you would one day be as committed to Jesus Christ as you are today and had asked you to set that as a goal, what would you have said?" He replied, "I would have said, 'No way! Impossible!'" "But aren't you sitting here now?" I asked. "Isn't your family with you in this?" "Yes," he replied. "Can He not do that again?" I asked. That's what He's saying to us. I will glorify my Name.
That promise of God to Christ is the only real basis of any confidence we can have. In spite of our initial troubled reaction at the prospect of costly involvement in the gap, He will take us further and deeper into obedience to Global Vision. One of my favourite hymns asks, "Who is on the Lord's side; who will serve the King?" Then it answers, "By Thy call of mercy, by Thy love constraining, by Thy grand redemption, by Thy grace divine, joyfully enlisting, we are on the Lord's side." If His mercy is going to come upon us, if His love is going to constrain us, why should we worry? Joyfully we can enlist because of His divine grace.
Finally, look at the response of the crowd. Unlike the Greeks, those who were already seeing Jesus and hearing Him speak missed the point altogether; instead, they threw a theological question at him: "Our Scriptures and our teachers tell us that Messiah, when he comes, is going to be eternal. You're talking about dying. What kind of a Messiah are you? Who is this "son of man" that you keep calling yourself?" That was the spirit behind their question.
But Jesus bypassed the theological question completely. He wouldn't even accept it. Instead, He spoke to the wrong spirit that prompted their question and focused on the crucial issue of their response to Jesus, the light of the world. In verse 35 He said, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer" (meaning Himself and His words); "walk while you have the light." In other words, respond properly to the light. And what is the right response? "The man who walks in darkness does not know where he is going; put your trust in the light while you have it so you may become sons of light." The proper response to Jesus is not idle curiosity or passing interest; rather, it's a willingness to see Him as the light of the world, putting your trust in him (the central word here), and being so radically transformed on the inside that you can now be called a son or daughter of the light.
There is an urgency for this response. He said, "You will not always have the light with you." Respond when He is here, for darkness is coming when you cannot respond.
Some who are reading may feel a strange detachment from this emphasis on Global Vision. One possible reason is that you've not yet become a son or a daughter of the light. You've become curious about Jesus; like the Greeks, you have a passing interest in him. But to you, Jesus says, "If you really want to see me, you have to see me crucified in your stead, you have to trust me for your salvation and your spiritual regeneration. Then you will become a son or a daughter of the light and I will take you into the gap." Then you also can live and die in the gap and bear fruit so other "Greeks" from other nations can come to know Jesus Christ. Oh don't be like the crowd, if Jesus is calling you! Don't look just for natural explanations and say, "That was just thunder." Don't spiritualize it by saying, "It was an angel." And above all, don't say, like the crowd, that God is speaking to somebody else. He's speaking to you.
He is also speaking to those who are already children of light, reminding us that death in the gap is a prerequisite for fruitfulness in the gap. In all honesty, we can pray, "Lord save me from this hour." But we can also go one step further and say, "Lord, I have come into this world for this hour." So reach out in faith-faith that this God, who said to Christ, "I have glorified my name, I will glorify my name through you," is saying it to you, too. "Put your trust in me." The decision to commit ourselves to fulfilling Global Vision is not because we suddenly become more confident of our own abilities, but because the Holy Spirit causes faith to well up within our hearts so we say "Yes! You have glorified Your name in my life in the past. I believe You are going to do it again. Now that I have re-drawn my "world view" map to reflect the way You see the nations and my part in it, I am ready to pull up the anchor, hoist the sails and get moving!"