Remembering the Lord of Glory (Jn 12:27-28a)
Some comments will help us prepare for this communion message.
1) This is a command. We come to do what Jesus commanded, "do this in remembrance of me."
2) He is the center and focal point of our reflections in a special way each time we come to communion ("in remembrance of me"). Just as this is a special day because it is the Lord's Day, likewise, this is a special table because it is the Lord's Table.
3) To remember Him we must do some forgetting; we must forget ourselves, even our sinful selves. This is why I like to emphasize the fact that self-examination is not the essence of communion. It is a natural by-product but not what occupies our attention.
4) We remember along the lines of God's reminding. His "remindings" are found in all of Scripture but especially in the Gospels (the remembrances). Today, I want to direct your attention to a section in the Gospel of John (12:27-28) where Jesus speaks of His exceeding trouble of soul as the cross of Calvary draws closer and closer. It is one of the rare passages that lets us peer into the emotional life of our Lord. This is a revealing passage because it gives us a glimpse into the inner life of Christ to see His glory and how He manifests the glory of the Father. We can thus remember the Lord of glory.
We will look at this passage as to its clarification, its impact, and its application.
To get the full impact of this text we need to clarify a matter of translation. The NIV has two question marks in verse 27 whereas the KJV has only one. The NIV has "what shall I say?" as one question and it has "Father, save me from this hour?" as a second. In other words, it has Jesus saying, "in light of the nearness of the cross, what shall I say, shall I say, Father, save me from this hour?" And the answer is in the NIV is an emphatic no.
The KJV has only the one question, "what shall I say?" It then reports Jesus as giving two answers: 1) save me from this hour and 2) glorify your name. To clarify, let me give some reasons for adopting the KJV rendering.
We can begin with some comments on the punctuation present in the text. I refer to the question marks. Where do we get these marks? In the Greek NT the question mark is a semi-colon. One source of the question mark in the translation is the semi-colon in Greek. That is not the only source. You know a question mark is to be used in English translation when an interrogative pronoun is used in the context (i.e. who? what? - it is the Greek ti with the accent on the iota, the i). Just think of how we know that a sentence is a question when we are talking to one another. It is by the use of the interrogative pronoun and by word order. Note the difference between "what do you mean?" and "O, that is what you mean." We know it is a question by the presence and location of the word what. In writing we use the question mark for clarity because thoughts are picked up differently by eye than by ear. The use of question marks is especially helpful in written translation from one language to another.
But some translations (KJV) have one question mark and others have two (NIV) in John 12:27. Is it because of the presence of the semi-colon in the Greek text? The answer is no for the following reasons. 1) If you compare Modern Greek texts you will find that there are three distinct uses of the semi-colon. Some have no semi-colon, some have one, and some have two.
So the punctuation mark in Greek is not going to settle the issue. All the Greek texts have the interrogative pronoun so at least one question, the first one, is indisputable. 2) Second, the use of punctuation marks in Greek did not begin until roughly the 5th century AD and the full system that we now have actually dates from the printing press in the 16th century.
Both of these facts show that the first question mark is unquestionable but the second is a matter of interpretation. In other words, both copying manuscripts (up to the 16th century) and formatting them for printing (in the 16th century and since that time) involves various subtleties of interpretation. We have a virtual history of interpretation reflected in the choices made by copyists and translators.
What we have in the KJV versus the NIV is a difference of interpretation as to what should follow the interrogative pronoun or what should follow the question asked by Jesus (what shall I say?). Thus, the two-question view (NIV) is not settled by the Greek text as to its punctuation. Actually the burden of proof lies with those who find a second question in the text (or who find a "?" after the first address to the Father). Such proof must come from the flow of thought.
2B. Flow of thought
Now consider the flow of thought in order to find support for a single question in two ways. 1) First, we need to weigh the argument for a second question based on v. 27b. It is said that it must be a question not a prayer because of the purpose of Christ to suffer ("for this purpose of suffering I came unto this hour"). Some claim that it cannot be a prayer for deliverance from suffering in the first half of the clause ("Father, save me from this hour") because of the resolve of Christ to suffer stated in the last half. For Ridderbos, a prayer here would show "that Jesus still wants to withdraw fromů. death," but such a desire is denied by the rectification or correction given when Jesus states His purpose to suffer (John 435).
However, this amounts to saying that a desire to withdraw from suffering cannot coexist with a determined purpose to submit to it. But this is a false disjunction. We know both can exist at the same time from the Gethsemane accounts (cf. especially, Mk. 14:36).
Carson calls this false disjunction a tyranny of the dominant, that is, of the dominant theme such as the deity of Christ. Some scholars remove fear, second thoughts, and a Gethsemane agony from the experience of Christ either because of the dominant theme of His deity or because of the dominant theme of realized eschatology. However, "a tyranny of the dominant fails to listen to the minor chords, and descends to reductionism" (John 439-40).
Thus, there is no need to make the "save me" clause into a question. There is no second interrogative pronoun and the flow of thought does not necessitate removing the desire to avoid death because of Christ's commitment to die. We should also note that there is likewise no necessity to translate the word for "but" (alla in Greek) with "no" since this usage is possible but unusual and depends on how the "save" me clause is interpreted.
2) Second, a single question ("what shall I say?") is supported by the fact that if you add a second question you must also add a third. Jesus gives two statements after the interrogative "what shall I say?" Both begin with an address to the Father (the second address to the Father is found in v. 28a). If you make one address to the Father a question then consistency demands that you make the other address to the Father a question also. To test this idea of consistency, we can remove all punctuation marks, express the question indicated by the interrogative pronoun (what shall I say?) and then ask why we should make the first address to the Father a question but not the second? Since both addresses to the Father emerge from the "what shall I say?" question then it seems fair to say that consistency demands that if one is a question to the Father then so is the other.
But a third question (or two questions to the Father) goes too far, proves too much, and leads to a very unnatural flow of thought. Consider what we have with a second question to the Father. It would mean that Christ expresses doubt regarding glorifying the Father in a way similar to the doubt He expresses about withdrawing from death: "Shall I say, Father, glorify your name?" But this side of the equation is totally unacceptable (it found nowhere in the history of interpretation past or present).
F. F. Bruce (John 266) criticizes the "two question" translators as being guilty of "studied artifice" or studied cleverness, ingenuity, and thus inventiveness (it is thoughtful or intellectual artifice). He also says it may be histrionic, which has to do with actors or acting that is unduly dramatic or emotional. I take this in the sense of artificial emotionalism without losing the truly powerful emotions that emerge in the words, "save me from this hour."
Therefore it is best to translate with one question (v. 27b) followed by two petitions to the Father (v. 27c and v. 28a).
Outline of the text with one question:
Now my heart is troubled (v. 27a)
What shall I say? (v. 27b)
Father, save me from this hour but for this purpose I came to this hour (v. 27c)
Father, glorify your name! (v. 28a)
Now consider the impact of this passage in its context. The key to its impact is found in the references to the hour of glory that has come (12:20-23). There are two notable things here.
1B. The hour of glory is the hour of death
The glorification of Christ is by death like a kernel of wheat (12:24). It sounds paradoxical (glory by death!). It is for many seeds (v. 24b). He will be glorified by the cross, which will secure His effectual call of people from all nations (12:32).
2B. The hour of glory is the hour of immense suffering
When we read the text with only one question, it turns out to be one of the most emotion-filled expressions of the entire Bible. Jesus speaks to two deep passions of his heart and life and mission on earth. On the one hand, he reveals his true humanity and his instinctive desire for self-preservation. On the other hand, he reveals his great purpose for coming into the world as the Son of God who became the incarnate Son of man. Listen to the Lord in the hour of the cross as he prays in this Johannine Gethsemane:
Now is my soul exceedingly troubled and what shall I say? With every ounce of self-preservation in my being I must say, Father save me from this hour! But I came for the purpose of suffering of soul, I have come unto this hour for the cross, so, Father, with every ounce of determination in my being I must say, Father glorify thy name!
Some applications leap out to us from this text especially in light of the fact that we have a remarkable glimpse here into the inner life of Christ and His trouble of soul. What do we see?
1) First, we see our Lord in His true humanity. He is the Son of man and Son of God. The one who is fully and truly God is fully and truly man. This is evident in His deep-seated desire to preserve Himself from suffering and death.
2) Second, we see our Savior in His commitment to save us. The hard road to Calvary is taken because of His love for us. It stands in relief against the backdrop of the immense suffering.
3) Third, what a comfort to be loved with such determined purpose: "for this purpose I came to this hour." His purpose reaches back to eternity past and His covenant with the Father to become the sacrifice necessary to "bring many sons to glory" (Heb. 2:10-14). He had you specifically in mind in this purpose.
4) Salvation is His work not ours.
5) We have an example of determined obedience to the will of God with the great goal of glorifying God. He is the obedient Son of God on a mission from the Father in full obedience with one supreme goal: to glorify the Father. We are given an example to follow. Jesus is our great high priest and the lover of our souls. In going to the cross to glorify the Father, he purchased our salvation. His seeking of God's glory as His great end is of great benefit to us.
In loving us he is glorifying the Father. In glorifying the Father, he loves us. In love to him we must aim at that which was most important to our Savior. We must have one great and consuming goal before us in everything we do; in every area of our living; and that is to glorify God! This ought to sustain us as it sustained our Lord in his time of greatest suffering. This ought to be our prayer as it was His. "Father, in me, in this and that, every day, in tranquility and in suffering, glorify thy name! Is this not what Jesus himself told us when he taught us to pray? Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
We can teach this principle with all of its profound depth to our children. We ask in the language of the catechism, "Why did God make you and all things?" And the answer flows with eloquence: "for his own glory." "What is the chief end of man?" is given a profound foundation in the work of Christ who set His head like a flint to endure the suffering as the way of glorifying the Father.