Chapter 9: When We Are Troubled

In This Chapter

Scripture
A Quick Dip
Reflecting
Diving Deeper
The All-Star Game
The Setting
Troubled
“What Shall I Say?”
Kawbed
God’s Answer
An Invitation

Scripture

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour‘? No! For this reason I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
–John 12:27–28

A Quick Dip1

Troubled: This Greek word means to be stirred up or agitated. In John 5:4, this same word is used to describe the pool of Bethzatha, where it was believed that from time to time an angel would come down and trouble or stir up these waters. (The first person to step into the pool after the water was troubled would be healed from his or her illness.) Following this line of thought, someone who is troubled has been agitated or thrown into confusion.

Save: This Greek word conjures up vivid images of one person rescuing another from a dangerous situation. In my mind, I picture a firefighter carrying a person from a burning building, or a lifeguard dragging a drowning person out of a riptide’s death grip. This is a very active verb. It is also important to note that this particular verb is an aorist verb. We remember that the aorist is used in Greek to indicate something that happens once in time. Here Jesus refers to being saved once from a particular situation versus being kept safe over a period of time.

Hour: For John, this hour refers to Jesus’ time of death and his glorification. John portrays both of these events as interwoven within the exact same moment in time.

Come: For John, this is the coming of the Messiah, the coming time of salvation, and the coming time of Jesus’ passion/death/glorification. In this passage, come is another aorist verb, again signaling a one-time event: a single moment in history when salvation dawns for humankind. This understanding is very important in John.

Glorify: This is another active verb. To glorify someone means more than giving lip service to another; it involves bringing praise and honor to that person in a way that everyone around can see this person’s importance. To glorify can also mean to magnify someone — to enlarge this person’s noteworthy traits for others to examine. Perhaps the most active definition of glorify is to clothe another in radiance and splendor. Scripture links this Greek word, doxazo, to a Hebrew term, kawbed. Kawbed is also translated as glory in the Old Testament, but its original meaning was to weigh heavily.2 In ancient times, the one who possessed the most “weight” received the greatest glory.

Reflecting

  1. What causes your soul to be troubled? When you feel this way, how do you pray?
  2. Why does Jesus refuse to pray, “Save me from this hour?” Have you ever refused to pray for your own safety? Are there ever times when you should make such a refusal?
  3. What does Jesus want God to do when he prays, “Glorify your name”?
  4. How has God glorified his name to us?

Diving Deeper

The All-Star Game

We have all watched it on TV; perhaps you have been lucky enough to attend one in person. The arena is darkened. There is a quiet, expectant hush. Suddenly, the announcer’s voice booms, introducing the first player of the game. As the superstar runs out into the spotlight, his name explodes in lights all around the stadium. Cameras flash, the crowd thunders, and fireworks burst brilliantly overhead. We glorify our cherished athletes with a spectacular display of light and sound.

Is this what Jesus seeks when he prays in this passage, “Glorify your name”? Does he want us to stand up and cheer as the name Father flashes in lights around a stadium and fireworks erupt overhead? Or does Jesus’ prayer point us to something different?

The Setting

When we examine this prayer, the first detail we need to note is that it is recorded by John. And John is, well, different. As we will discover, John’s Gospel has a unique slant. Matthew, Mark, and Luke — known as the Synoptics or Gospels with the same eye — share many of the same stories and teachings from Jesus’ life. For example, these three writers all recorded Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, but John did not.

Why does John’s Gospel differ so radically from the Synoptics? Part of the reason could be that John had access to different sources — different stories from different witnesses — than the Synoptic writers. Still another reason is that John writes from a distinct perspective; his Gospel presents a unique understanding of God’s work though the life of Jesus Christ. As a writer, John has chosen stories, teachings, and events and recorded them in a way that emphasizes what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection meant to him as a disciple of the risen Lord. John interweaves many themes and images into his Gospel — love, salvation, light, eternal life, revelation — to name a few. Two of these themes, salvation and revelation, are emphasized in this prayer. With this in mind, let us turn to John’s account of Jesus’ last public prayer.

Troubled

It is Palm Sunday — the beginning of Passover week in Jerusalem — and Jesus has ridden triumphantly into the city amidst the cheers of the masses and the fears of the religious leaders. After this scene, some Gentiles ask to see Jesus. Their visit seems to be some sort of signal to Jesus — a signal that the end is near — because Jesus suddenly states, “The hour has come,” and proceeds to predict his suffering and death.

At this point, Jesus becomes upset by his own words. He declares, “Now my soul is troubled.” Although these words remind us of Gethsemane, it is important to note that the Greek word translated troubled here in John is not the same Greek word we translated as troubled in the garden narratives. In Gethsemane, the Greek word used is ademoneo3 and means to be intensely anxious or distressed. The fear factor looms large in the garden. However, in this passage from John, the Greek word is tarasso, which means to be stirred up. Tarasso indicates that, after speaking of his death, Jesus felt stirred up, agitated, and thrown into confusion. Confusion, not fear, is the primary emotion here. For a moment Jesus becomes uncertain; his focus blurs.

I remember a time when my husband came home from hunting a little late one evening. I did not think much about it until I noticed how agitated he was. I asked him what had happened. He said that as dusk was falling, something had moved below his deer stand. Not wanting to scare away the prey, he stayed in the stand longer than usual, and it had grown quite dark when he finally climbed down out of the tree. His small flashlight was weak, he had no compass, and cloud cover made the forest pitch black. He had hunted those woods from boyhood, but in the darkness he “got turned around” and could not find his way back to the main road. The confusion and agitation he had felt were still apparent even after he had arrived safely home. It was a troubling experience.

We all face troubling times in our lives. Sometimes we become confused by the enormous responsibilities of our jobs; uncertainty shakes our confidence when we struggle with parenting issues; stress washes over us whenever important relationships get all mixed up. Worse still, spiritually troubling times can shake our souls. We all experience doubt and uncertainty in our faith from time to time. Something happens and our whole belief system is called into question: Is God real? Does God care? Can God protect me and my family? Is there really life after death? How can I believe in God’s goodness when all of these terrible things are happening to me? Suddenly we find ourselves in the darkness with a weak light and no compass, and once-familiar surroundings now appear unknown. How can we get back to the main road?

Something similar happens to Jesus. In the middle of a crowd, in the middle of his last public sermon, Jesus loses his way. Darkness moves in. As he speaks about his own death, Jesus becomes confused. He becomes uncertain. He becomes troubled. What does Jesus do at this moment? What else would he do? He prays.

“What Shall I Say?”

Jesus turns to the crowd and asks, “What shall I say?” This is the question of the hour. You know, it is very likely that some of the people in this crowd of listeners had also recently heard Jesus’ prayer at Lazarus’ grave, where they watched a dead man walk out of his tomb. Jesus now declares that he himself is facing impending death, so what will he pray this time? Jesus suggests aloud what the crowd expects to hear: “Father, save me from this hour.” But Jesus abruptly rejects such a prayer, saying that he cannot pray for his own safety at a time like this. Why not? Because, he declares, “for this reason I have come to this hour.”

And here we encounter John’s slant, John’s “take” on the crucifixion. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ suffering and God’s triumph are seen in the same moment in time. Jesus’ hour of death is also his hour of glorification. Our salvation history will come to its climax in the hour that Jesus is victoriously lifted up on the cross because this will be the same hour when God will redeem us. Right now, however, Jesus cannot see the victory part. Speaking to the crowd about his suffering, Jesus can only see the pain. Yet even though he is deeply troubled, he is not going to ask God to abort his mission. He will not pray, “Save me.”

In John 16:21, Jesus likens his hour of suffering to a woman’s hour of childbirth. Those women who have borne children without the aid of medication or nerve blocks know that there comes a point in labor known as transition. It is a time when the woman becomes confused and disoriented. She loses her focus and cannot concentrate on delivering the baby. At this moment the woman usually screams for drugs or attempts to strangle whoever is close by, but there is one thing she will not do. She will not ask the doctor to destroy the baby. Get it out, maybe, but not to terminate the mission. The goal — new life — is at hand. To ask for that life to be ended at this moment is unthinkable. So it is with Jesus. The goal — new life for us all — is at hand. To pray, “Save me from this hour,” would be to abort that new life. This is unthinkable. Jesus, like an expectant mother, does not seek to escape from the hour at hand, but rather to be helped through it. So Jesus turns his eyes toward heaven and prays, “Father, glorify your name.”

So now we are back to the light and sound show. But if we are to understand how Jesus’ request, “Glorify your name,” will ease his feelings of confusion, we must pause for a moment and turn back to the Old Testament. A little Hebrew lesson is very enlightening at this point in Jesus’ prayer.

Kawbed

The meaning of the Greek word for glory in the New Testament can be traced back to the Hebrew word kawbed in the Old Testament. Kawbed originally meant to weigh heavily, but also later developed the meanings wealth, importance, honor, and glory. I myself had a hard time understanding what weight, wealth, and glory had to do with one another until I examined two passages from Genesis.

In Genesis 13:2, we read that Abram “became very heavy [kawbed] in livestock and in silver and in gold.” Most English Bibles translate kawbed here as wealthy because the heavier one’s possessions are (especially silver and gold), the wealthier one is. Furthermore, in ancient times — as it is in many places today — the weight of one’s wealth determined one’s importance in society. Abram’s vast wealth made him important to his neighbors, and this importance brought him honor and glory.

In Genesis 45:13, Joseph — prime minister to Pharaoh — said to his brothers, “You must tell my father of all my glory [kawbed] in Egypt.” In Egypt, Joseph’s weight or importance came not from his wealth, but from his position of power as second-in-command to the king. So here in these Old Testament stories, we learn that glory or kawbed is whatever makes a person important and brings him or her honor. Abram’s glory was his wealth. Joseph’s glory was his power. Following this line of thought, we also understand that to glorify someone means to give the proper weight, importance, and honor due to that person.

And what about God? Is this what Jesus is requesting when he prays, “Glorify your name”? Absolutely. In this prayer, Jesus is asking God to give the proper weight to his name; Jesus is asking his Daddy to reveal his importance and his significance to his Son in this troubling moment of darkness. Jesus’ prayer is indeed a prayer for light, for a brilliant burst of revelation and understanding to shine. Lost for a moment in the darkness of confusion, Jesus prays, “Let me see your glory, your magnificence, your weight, your wealth, your importance, your power, your life-giving light.” And it is interesting to note that God immediately responds to Jesus’ prayer out loud, with a voice from heaven that rumbles in the sky like thunder. The Scripture may not specifically mention light, but there is definitely a sound show! God speaks for all the crowd to hear: “I have glorified it [my name], and I will glorify it again.”

Imagine! God speaking from the heavens in a voice we can hear with our ears, not just with our hearts! What a dramatic answer to Jesus’ prayer! However, when I stop to consider it carefully, I find that I am unsure about what God’s answer really means. How has God glorified his name? And in what way does this statement serve as an answer to Jesus’ prayer? Let’s take a closer look at God’s response.

God’s Answer

“I have glorified my name.” In this statement, glorified is an aorist verb and can be translated this way: “I have glorified my name once in the past.” Here God is saying that he has already demonstrated his significance and his power to the world during one particular moment in time. And when exactly did God do this? When God used his wisdom and love to fashion the heavens and the earth. When God created life, God revealed his magnificence. The very existence of this world teeming with millions of different life forms serves as a testimony to God’s significance. Without the Creator, not one thing in this vast universe could survive except the darkness. Yes indeed, when God brought forth life, God glorified his name.

Then the Father goes on to tell his Son, “And I will glorify it again.” In the very near future, God will once again demonstrate the weight of his power. In Jesus’ upcoming death and resurrection, God will reveal his ability not only to create life but to redeem it and to give it life again. Eternal life. It is in these two acts — creation and redemption, life and eternal life — that we behold the glory of God.

And the darkness disappears. The doubt dissolves. There is no more confusion because the light of understanding has swept it away. Jesus hears his Daddy’s voice. He sees again the weight of his Daddy’s power, the wealth of his Daddy’s love. In an echoing rumble, God has brought his Son back to the main road. The prayer is answered.

In John 12:30–50, we witness the result of this answered prayer. Jesus returns to his sermon. With resounding confidence, he again predicts his own death, explains its meaning for his followers, and ends by emphasizing his mission as the Light of the world who was sent by God not to judge the world, but to save it. With boldness and assurance, Jesus concludes his public ministry.

An Invitation

Wow! What a turnaround! From confusion to confidence in a matter of moments. This is the lesson that we need to hold onto from this prayer, because there will be times in each of our lives when our souls will become troubled and the darkness of doubt and confusion will overshadow us. So the next time we find ourselves shaken, we can remind ourselves that such a state of agitation need not last for long. Jesus has shown us what to do. When the darkness comes, Jesus invites us to pray for the light to shine. He encourages us to ask God to show us his weight, his wealth, his worth. If we will ask him, God will reveal to us the brilliance of his power — that power which has already given us both life and eternal life. When we see again the limitless wealth of God’s riches, when we again feel the depth of God’s unending love, when we experience the awesome splendor of God’s eternal goodness, then the doubt will disappear, the darkness will be overcome, and our faith will be renewed. All we have to do is pray like Jesus did, “Father, glorify your name.” And immediately our Daddy will lead us back to the main road.

>> Chapter 10: Why?


Chapter 9 Footnotes

1 The original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic words referred to in this section are listed in the Appendix, found in the free PDF download.
2 G. von Rad, TDNT 2:238.
3 This original Greek word can be found in this footnote of the free PDF download.

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