Welcome to the floating city! Venice boasts a bustling culture perched atop the water—and a thriving undercurrent outside every door. In John 12, the plot beneath the surface swells from several directions at once: the traitor, the crowds, the enemies, the seekers, the Father, and the Savior Himself. Between Mary anointing Jesus’ feet, the triumphal entry, and Christ’s long-anticipated “hour” finally arriving, a flurry of activity packs this chapter. But watch out: just as Venice is slowly sinking under its own weight, the cross casts an ever-increasing shadow as Jesus nears Golgotha.
Scripture writing: Verses 24-25 were my favorites to copy out from The Message:
“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”
Reckless love, cheerful abandon in how I give myself away—these are traits I need to cultivate. When self-preservation strangles the hope out of me, I can cling to this passage and remember the only perspective that will yield true and lasting life.
Studying: The Gospel Transformation Study Bible juxtaposes two central characters in this chapter’s opening story:
The contrast between Mary and Judas could not be bolder. Mary reclines at Jesus’ feet in adoring love, offering extravagant devotion—anointing Him for His burial. Judas sits in condescending arrogance, not only questioning Mary’s action but judging Jesus’ willing acceptance of such a gift. One is a worshiper; one is a thief. One gives sacrificial honor; the other seeks personal gain. One demonstrates the way of grace; the other, the way of sin.
I had never before seen the two painted with such vivid distinctions. My critical spirit feels safer judging the hearts of others than falling at Jesus’ feet and washing them in scandalous affection. But deep down I long to be more like Mary—completely oblivious to everyone but the Lord.
Commentaries: In typical Puritan fashion, Matthew Henry offers encouragement to my weary soul from verse 27:
This should reconcile us to the darkest hours of our lives, that we were all along designed for them.
The God who thoughtfully fashioned my frame is the same One who authored this particular chapter in my story. Both my frame and my story are perfectly tailored to bring Him praise. Yes, the dark is real. Yes, the road is hard. But my heart can take courage: I was made for this. (And, sweet friend, so were you.)
D.A. Carson’s explanation of a difficult phrase (“the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life”) proved extremely helpful:
This person denies himself … He chooses not to pander to self-interest but at the deepest level of his being declines to make himself the focus of his interest and perception, thereby dying.
Um, does anyone else struggle here? I naturally make myself the center of my world, constantly consulting my thoughts, feelings, and desires. To utterly reject me as my point of reference will take nothing short of the miraculous power of God. Hallelujah, He extends that power again and again with His invincible grace!
Sermons: In Haters, Lovers, Users, and Jesus, Driscoll highlights the fact that
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus all love Jesus in different ways: whether adoration, service, or rest, all are valid.
Ah, the utter relief this statement brings. My response to Christ can shift with the season or the situation; I’m not squished into a box of always having to be like Mary or like Martha or like Lazarus to love Jesus well. Isn’t this great news? We can be ourselves—our fullest, healthiest, most sanctified selves—and enjoy His presence in a way fitting to us. Worship isn’t static. There’s a fluidity to this relationship that I so appreciate.
My favorite quote from MacArthur’s sermons was a truth that grows brighter the more I consider it:
The cross displayed every one of God’s attributes in concentrated form.
I have yet to discover an exception to this claim. Mercy. Justice. Wisdom. Beauty. Patience. Love. Faithfulness. And on and on and on forever. Seriously, just sit and ponder its stunning reality for a while.
Journaling: I really geeked out learning about the political climate that swirled around Jesus’ triumphal entry; the masses were calling their Messiah to come in power and give Rome a good walloping before freeing His people from oppression and taking the throne of David by force. All along, He intended to do spiritually what they demanded He do societally. It struck me that
While the crowd’s political fervor was a misplaced hope, I can be confident that when I wave palm branches and welcome Jesus down the paths of my heart with shouts of ‘Hosanna!’, He is happy to come as my conquering King—my throne is the one He’s interested in, not theirs.
Meditation: Sitting in verse 36 (“While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light”) was so good for my heart over the past few weeks. One of the realizations the Spirit allowed me was this:
Light doesn’t fear the darkness (though the darkness fears the light)—wherever light goes, darkness must instantly vanish. Light wins not because of its size or its strength, but because of its nature. In the words of Robert Alden, “There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.”
Well, friends, that’s about it. Back to the boat… I mean, back to the bus. We have so much more to see! While Venice has been breathtaking, it can’t compare to what lies ahead.
*Following the study schedule right along, my binder is thickening up with doodles, prayers, and tons of background information on the text. This summary is just the condensed version, the highlights of each approach—you can find my full binder notes for John 12 here.