Thursday, April 20, 2023 – John 12

The disciples get a bad rap.

We make jokes about the way they acted without thinking (Peter cut a guy’s ear off), and we denounce their lack of faith (after Jesus calmed the storm, and Thomas after Jesus rose from the dead), but can we blame them? It’s hard to follow Jesus today. Imagine how hard it must have been before he rose from the dead!

In fact, before Jesus rose from the dead, he always talked about dying, and that’s exactly what we read in John 12. Jesus said:

Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. (vv. 23-24)

Can we really blame any of Jesus’ first followers for their second thoughts about him? How would you like to give up all your possessions to follow someone only to hear them preach with certainty that their life would end in tragedy? It only makes sense that when Jesus’ followers heard this, they asked, “We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever. How can you say the Son of Man will die?” (v. 34).

The earliest disciples believed Jesus was the Messiah, and the Messiah was supposed to be their deliverer from oppression and better than Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18), who freed them from slavery. For generations, these people remembered Moses’ Passover meal, hoping that in the same way, God led Israel out of Egypt, he would deliver them from suffering now. Understandably, they assumed that their new leader would look a lot like the head of that Passover table: Moses.

To their surprise and horror, their Messiah and deliverer was not the character at the head of the table but the sacrificed lamb on the table, whose blood would not be painted over their doorposts as it was in Egypt but over their souls in deliverance from sin.

It was hard to follow Jesus then, and it’s hard to follow Jesus now. Sometimes, the most difficult thing about following him is that his ultimate deliverance for us won’t be seen by the naked eye. Perhaps, we must also remember that Jesus is not Moses at the head of the table, but he’s better than Moses. He’s the lamb who would die to atone for our sins. He is the kernel planted deep beneath the soil, producing a plentiful harvest of new lives.

Don’t give up on following Jesus because you can’t see what he’s doing. Like a seed in the soil, that’s the way he works.

Questions for reflection:

  1. What’s most difficult about following Jesus?
  2. What do we learn about Jesus in John 12? How does this challenge our presuppositions about him? How does it give us hope in hard times?