Sermon: John 12:20-33
Lent 5 - March 18, 2018 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
You all know what it’s like to have something you have to do but you just don’t want to do it. You wake up in the morning and the first thing that crosses your mind is that task you have to take care of but you’re just dreading it. It might be confronting someone on some matter or being confronted by someone else. It might be something at work you have to do or some chore around the house you’ve been putting off. Maybe it’s doing your taxes or going to the doctor or a test in school. We all know what it’s like to have something difficult to do but we’re dreading it.
Jesus understood what it meant to have to face something very difficult - something far more difficult than we have ever had to face - and he too was very troubled by it. Jesus had to face his suffering and death. In our text today a very interesting encounter triggers in his mind and heart the difficult thing that troubled him.
Today we’re going to consider
DOING WHAT’S DIFFICULT
Jesus was in Jerusalem that last week before he was crucified. Passover was approaching so there were many people in Jerusalem for the festival including Jews who lived in Jerusalem and Judea, Jews returning from surrounding nations, as well as Gentiles who had come to believe in the God of the Old Testament.
Among those Gentile believers were some Greeks. They wanted to talk to Jesus. It’s likely that they had heard about Jesus and his miracles. Perhaps they had heard his preaching. They were intrigued by him probably wondering if he was the Messiah.
They approached the disciple Philip to make their request: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” They probably approached Philip first because he had a Greek name. They may have felt more comfortable with him. But Philip didn’t go directly to Jesus with their request. He went to tell Andrew and then Philip and Andrew went to Jesus with the Greeks’ request.
Why do you think Philip hesitated a bit? It’s probably because they were Greeks, Gentiles. The separation between Jews and Gentiles was still quite important in the mind of Jewish people. The Law of Moses required their separation. Jews would not normally enter the house of a Gentile. In Philip’s mind bringing Greeks to talk to Jesus was a touchy issue.
If you had been Jesus how would you have responded to the Greeks request? I doubt that any of us would refuse to see them because they were Gentiles. We can’t imagine Jesus refusing to see them either. Quite the opposite. We would expect that Jesus would have enthusiastically received them and talked with them. It would have been a wonderful opportunity to tell them that he was the Messiah. He was the Savior not just of Jews but Gentiles too.
But Jesus has a very different response. Instead of immediately speaking with the Greeks he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
Philip and Andrew were likely wondering, “What’s Jesus talking about? Does he want to speak with these Greeks or not?” Philip and Andrew probably thought Jesus’ response made no sense. But it made all the sense in the world. These Greek converts reminded Jesus of the extensiveness of the work that he had to do. He hadn’t come to be the Savior just of the Jews. He had come to be Savior of the whole world, of all nations, Jews and Gentiles.
And for Jesus to be the Savior of the whole world would require his suffering and death. Jesus speaks about his suffering and death in gardening or farming terms that we all understand. You know that a seed all by itself will not sprout. But if it’s buried in the ground, if it dies so to speak, then it will sprout up from the ground, produce a plant, and many more seeds. Jesus would suffer and die and be buried. But he would rise again from the dead. And his death and life would produce eternal life for many more including these Greeks and others from all the nations of the earth.
Do you understand that Jesus was talking about you and me in his response? He was looking way beyond the events of that last week in Jerusalem. He was looking way beyond Passover and way beyond the boundaries of Judea and Galilee. He was looking to a kingdom of believers from every nation on earth, a kingdom of believers from every generation of history.
Here we are 2000 years after Jesus’ encounter with these Greeks, nearly 10,000 miles removed from Jerusalem, in a different time and different land. But Jesus was talking about us as much as he was talking about those Greeks who came to see him. He saved us from our sins as much as those Greeks or his fellow Jews or any other person in the world. We are privileged to be among those seeds who have forgiveness and eternal salvation because the one Seed, Jesus, suffered, died, was buried, and rose again from the dead.
Our salvation comes to us by God’s grace, his undeserved love. Our salvation comes to us by faith alone. We might say that’s kind of easy. But it was far from easy for Jesus. Jesus knew what was coming for him on Thursday and Friday of that Passover week. The work of saving Jews and Greeks and Gentiles like us would require his own death.
Have you ever contemplated your own death - thought about your own death, how you would die, when you would die? I’m sure we have all considered our end in this world, but it’s probably not something we dwell on. We assume it’s not imminent so we don’t think about it too much. We just want it to be a peaceful death.
But someone who is terminally ill certainly thinks about death frequently. A criminal on death row thinks about death. And Jesus certainly contemplated his death. Jesus’ death would not be peaceful. It would be unjust and horrible. It would be difficult, and it troubled him. He said, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”
Jesus would be doing what was difficult. Jesus didn’t want to die any more than any of us would want to die. But he knew he had to die because it was his heavenly Father’s command. It was for the forgiveness and salvation of the world. He didn’t shrink back from this difficulty. He didn’t ask God, “Save me from this. Don’t make me do this.” He knew it was for this very purpose that he had come to the world. He desired nothing more than to save us and glorify God the Father.
Do you think you would have had the same willingness to die as Jesus - to do what was so difficult? You might argue that’s not a fair question or even an appropriate question. God didn’t command us to die like Jesus. Our death would not have atoned for sins anyway.
But Jesus does command us to do something difficult. Now that Jesus has saved us, now that the Holy Spirit has given us faith to believe in Jesus, Jesus tells us to do the difficult thing. He says in this text, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
What does Jesus mean by those words? What’s the difficult thing he’s asking us to do? He’s telling us that now that we are believers we need to have some priorities in life, really important and major priorities. He’s saying that the person who loves his life in this world, who does whatever he wants, pursues whatever he wants, when it’s not what God wants is going to lose his life - he’s going to lose eternal life. On the other hand the person who hates his life in this world, the person who subjects his desires, wants, pursuits, and priorities to God’s will is going to keep his eternal life. All of that is not so easy to do. It’s difficult.
Doing the difficult thing of being a Christian in this world, foregoing what is sin or what God may not want for us, subjecting our priorities to God’s will is difficult. The world is not going to encourage you in your Christian life. Satan is going to tempt you to do whatever you want to do. Your own sinful nature wants to set up its own priorities that are very contrary to God’s priorities for you. It’s way too easy to love life in this world and do whatever you want. It’s difficult to hate your life and subject your will and priorities to God’s will.
Jesus says, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” Jesus is really saying, “Do the difficult thing and follow me. God the Father will honor you.” Jesus said, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Jesus did what was truly difficult to save us from sin. We need to do what’s difficult to follow Jesus and glorify God.
God the Father’s voice spoke from heaven assuring Jesus and us that God the Father would glorify himself by bringing judgment on the world and judgment on the prince of this world, Satan.
But Jesus would bring salvation to those who believed in him. He said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Jesus’ hands extended on the cross would beckon and draw millions to him, Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles like you and me.
We are privileged to be among those drawn to him. So were the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus. Our text doesn’t actually say that Jesus talked to these Greek men. He almost certainly did. A few days later he would do the most difficult thing of all for them and for us. Amen.