Jeremiah 31:31-34 & John 12:20-33
The New In the Old
By Dr. Randy L. Hyde
This seems to be an appropriate day to talk about time, don’t you think? I said, THIS SEEMS TO BE AN APPROPRIATE DAY TO TALK ABOUT TIME! WAKE UP! Don’t you go to sleep on me now. I know you lost an hour of sleep last night, but God made Sunday afternoons for naps, not Sunday morning between 11:00 and 12:00, whether it’s standard or daylight saving time. So make it up this afternoon, not now… please.
Ahem, as I was saying, this seems to be an appropriate day to talk about time. We’ve discussed this before – you and I – about how the Bible views time. Some things bear repeating…
There are at least two different kinds. One is chronos and refers to linear time, the kind of time you find represented by the watch on your wrist or the calendar in your pocket or purse… the time that tends to enslave us and make us dance to its rhythm and march to its cadence. If you are like me, and live by the watch and calendar, you know exactly what I mean.
I keep a calendar, but I’m not sure I really need to. I can tell you what the next few weeks hold in terms of activity, and not surprisingly, every thing for me is framed by what is happening here at church or in conjunction with this church’s ministry. Just this week I received an invitation to attend a meeting in the northern part of the state on April 10. There’s no way I can do it. That’s a Monday, but not just any Monday. It is the Monday of Holy Week. I can’t sacrifice an entire day during Holy Week to meet with other preachers, certainly not that far from home. The schedule is just too tight. There’s too much to do.
I suspect that many, if not most, of you are pretty much like me. I live by the calendar and this watch I wear on my left wrist, not to mention the cell phone that is always with me. Upcoming significant events are clearly etched in my mind and will determine what I do and how I do it in the weeks ahead. Ask me about anything that is on our church’s calendar, or my personal calendar, for the next few weeks and I can tell you. It’s deeply embedded in my psyche.
It is chronos, linear time, the kind of time that just seems to fly by anymore, especially when it is measured in decades. But there’s another kind of time in the Bible called kairos. It doesn’t refer to linear time… the kind of time that is marked by a calendar or timepiece. And, as you might imagine, it is harder to explain and to understand. It is time as fulfillment, or perhaps even better, events in time that are inevitable and cannot be stopped.
The best example I can give you is when a woman’s time comes to give birth. When that baby is ready to come into the world, nothing can prevent it from occurring. It is time that leads to an inevitable result and does not always happen according to anyone’s preconceived calendar or schedule.
If you were here last week, you heard me tell about my sister-in-law who is deathly afraid of snakes. Well, let me tell you something else about that same sister-in-law (I’ve got to call her and thank her for giving me so many sermon illustrations). During the summer prior to my sophomore year at Ouachita, my oldest brother Hugh and his wife Angie lived in North Little Rock. Angie was expecting their second child and was due near the middle to end of August. August rolled around and passed by… no baby. The calendar moved into September.
I remember coming to Little Rock one day, and since I wasn’t going to be able to cross over the river and visit with them, I located a pay phone out on University Boulevard and called. Angie answered. “Hey Ang, how ya doing?” Wrong question. I discovered that a woman does not take kindly to being asked how she’s doing when she’s full of baby. I should have known how she was doing, but then again I was just a college sophomore and didn’t know much about nothin’.
“If one more person asks me that question,” she spit at me, “I’m going to kill somebody.” She convinced me. I think she would have had her hands around my throat if she could have reached me. Needless to say, I was relieved that I wasn’t going by for a visit.
She had her baby boy October 19 (!) and to this very day she swears she carried him eleven months.
Kairos is the kind of time that cannot be pinpointed specifically on the calendar as a future event, nor can it be determined by mere mortals like you and me. It depends on all the circumstances surrounding it to come into line in such a way that whatever event is going to happen happens. And it happens on its own momentum, and not according to anyone’s prediction. It is the kind of time referred to in the account we read a few moments ago from John’s gospel when Jesus tells his disciples that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
On a number of occasions prior to this statement, Jesus said to his followers that his hour had not yet come. It happened early on in Cana, at the wedding when his mother pressed him into service. A bit later in John’s account of his ministry, Jesus is attending the Festival of Booths in Jerusalem. He is making his presence known and is creating problems for the religious leaders. So, they try to have him arrested. However, as John says, they’re not successful. Why? Because his hour had not yet come.
It happened again, as recorded in the eighth chapter of John. You remember the story of the woman taken in adultery, the one where Jesus said that he who was without sin should cast the first stone? Oh, how the religious leadership seethed at him. They wanted to arrest him then, but, as John tells us, his hour had not yet come.
John is not referring merely to linear, calendar, Timex time. He’s also talking about kairos, that moment when circumstances collide and whatever is going to happen happens. What John is telling us is that there will indeed come that climactic moment when Jesus’ time will come. It just hasn’t happened yet. And we all know what that is, don’t we?
It is during Jesus’ last week before his death on the cross. He and his disciples are in Jerusalem for Passover when some Greeks approach Philip. Why Philip? The clue is found in that John makes it a point to tell us Philip was from Bethsaida in Galilee. That was very near the Decapolis, a heavily-populated area for Greeks. Because of having lived near them, Philip would no doubt know their language and be at least somewhat familiar with Greek customs.
When we lived in Florida, we were just a few miles south of Tarpon Springs, the largest Greek community in the United States. It was impossible to live there without becoming aware of the Greek culture. The same was no doubt true with Philip. He then went and told Andrew. Why Andrew? Well, every time Andrew is mentioned in John’s gospel he’s introducing someone to Jesus, so evidently he was very good at it. Together, they bring the Greeks to Jesus and Jesus begins talking about the inevitability of what is going to happen while they are in Jerusalem.
All this seems a bit strange, since the Greeks are suddenly dropped from the story, never to be heard from again. But it is at this point that Jesus finally — finally — says, “The hour has come…” “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
Why now? What’s the deal with the Greeks since they are introduced and then forgotten entirely? What is John’s point? The answer is found in the verse that just precedes this story. Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and never, at any point in his ministry, is he more popular than right now. So popular, in fact, that the Pharisees say, “Look, the whole world has gone after him!” “The whole world.” And to prove just how true that is, these Greeks, who represent the whole world, come to have an audience with Jesus.
And that is exactly what Jesus wanted. The point is clear, according to the way John frames this story. The gospel embodied in the Nazarene is not just for the Jews but for the whole world. John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world” — is finding its fulfillment at Calvary. “The hour has come,” Jesus says, “for the Son of Man to be glorified.” “The hour has come.”
The same was true for the prophet Jeremiah. He finds himself standing at the crossroad of his life and ministry. One road is marked chronos, the other is marked kairos. Let’s consider the chronos first.
Israel is in trouble. The year is 587 B.C. and the operative word is exile. For the next seventy years the brightest and the best, the strongest and the smartest, will be living in a foreign land under the watchful and wary eye of the enemy. You would think the only thing coming from the prophet would be despair. But not so. You see, his eye is not on the calendar. Time, as far as the prophet is concerned, is not measured in terms of chronos. It is kairos, and his sense of kairos tells him this…
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord (that expression, ‘says the Lord,’ literally means ‘the whisper of Yahweh’1)… the days are surely coming, whispers Yahweh, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days (chronos!), whispers the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest, whispers the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more (kairos!).”
You see, when God whispers into the ear of the prophet, his words really do form a love letter from God. It is the closest thing to the New Testament in the Old. Like a lover whispers into the ear of his beloved, the Lord whispers into the ear of his people. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts (not on tablets but on their hearts!); and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
“The hour has come,” Jesus says, “for the Son of Man to be glorified.” “The hour has come.” “They shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest, whispers the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
Here’s the deal… Whenever you encounter kairos, whether it is in the Old Testament or the New, it is there you will find the deep and eternal love of God.
In terms of chronos time, this is April 2, 2006, what the church calls the fifth Sunday in Lent. As we make our journey with Christ to the cross, God continues to whisper in our ear. And if we listen very carefully, what we will hear are words of love. When our time is fulfilled, whatever and whenever that may be (kairos time), we will find ourselves wholly and completely in the presence of the One who loves us beyond all others.
Seems to me, that’s a good word for us to hear. Let us hope and pray that indeed God will whisper in our ear in God’s own good time.
Lord, whisper to us your will, and find us willing and receptive to hear what you have to say. Better yet, find us faithful in taking your hand and walking with you into a time and place we have yet to know. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
1Clifton J. Allen, General Editor, The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 6: “Jeremiah,” James Leo Green (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1971) p. 152.
Copyright 2006 Randy L. Hyde. Used by permission.