John 12:20-36 9.45 & 11.30 2/9/18
By porthkerryandrhoose, Oct 23 2018 10:16AM
I have in my hand a lovely packet of seeds. The seeds are lovely. I think I'll put them on the mantelpiece in the living room where I can admire them and show them off. A bit mad? But now imagine that I'm a farmer. How long would it take me to go out of business if all I did was put my seeds on a shelf? It doesn't matter how pretty they are, in order for me to get a crop, those seeds need to be planted. They need to die - to be broken open by the new shoot coming through so that the plant can grow. And out of that dead seed comes new life . This was the very picture Jesus had in mind when he was speaking to his disciples in today's gospel reading.
Let's have a look at it. The context, if you remember, is the feast of Passover, and Jesus and his disciples had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate, along with many other people. But it was to be no ordinary Passover. Instead of mingling with the crowds, Jesus had entered Jerusalem on a donkey to cries of Hosanna, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! The people had waved their palm branches and welcomed him - here was their messiah, come to free them! Surely this Passover they wouldn't just be celebrating freedom from slavery in Egypt, but also freedom from the Roman tyranny.
But in the excitement they had missed the real story behind the drama. Jesus was their king, but he was a king on a donkey. He wasn't coming to sweep away the Romans and set up his own government in Jerusalem. His victory would be won, not through weapons but by love, arms stretched out on the cross. But not even the disciples understood (v16).
The crucial moment for Jesus came when some Greeks wanted to see him. They were clearly God fearing Greeks; they had come for the Passover, and they no doubt had heard all about Jesus' miracles and teaching, not least his raising of Lazarus from the dead. We know from v17 that the people who had been at Lazarus' tomb had been going round spreading the word. Whatever their motivation, their intentions were clear "Sir, we would like to see Jesus". It was quite a request. Everyone knew that Jewish rabbis didn't associate with Gentiles, however godfearing they might be. Perhaps that's why they went to Philip as he had a Greek name. Philip wasn't sure what to do, so he went to Andrew and together they went to speak to Jesus. They couldn't have anticipated his response. For Jesus, the Gentiles coming and wanting to see him was the confirmation that that he needed. v23 "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified"
In his next few words we learn that glory comes through sacrifice and what's true for the master is also true for the servant.
Glory comes through sacrifice. v24 "I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." The seed has to die to give life to the plant which can then go on and produce more seeds. Jesus was saying that he would have to die to give life to the people. It must have been wonderful to have heard Jesus teach and to have seen his miracles. I expect all of us, at some time or another, have wished that Jesus hadn't died - we want to see him. We want film footage of him that we could watch over and over again, we want to queue up for tickets for his world tour and have a signed photo on our mantelpiece. We want to put him on the shelf to admire. But if that was what Jesus had allowed to happen, our sins would be unforgiven, the devil would be in control and the only future we would have would be the grave. The beautiful seed needed to die to give us life. That sacrifice would bring glory to God by the fruit it would produce - billions of people cleansed and made new, presented as spotless to the Father. Glory through sacrifice.
This isn't a very popular doctrine today. The Jesus who cared for the poor, we like him. We can strive to be like him. The Jesus who challenged injustice and uncaring legalism. We like him too. He captures the spirit of the age. But the Jesus who died? It seems confusing, unnecessary, brutal. We want to push it to one side and focus on the 'good' things. Yet that's not how Jesus saw it. v27 "Now my soul is troubled, and what should I say? 'Father save me from this hour?' No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Though it was an incredibly difficult thing to contemplate, let alone go through with, Jesus knew that his death was the reason he had come to earth. The other things were important, but without his death, he knew there could be no new life. In response to his cry, God answered "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." God's own voice verifying the words of Jesus for the benefit of the crowd. We simply cannot escape the importance of Jesus' death in God's plan for the world. v31 "Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." For Jesus, glory comes through sacrifice.
Just as this is true for Jesus, so it is also true for his followers.
v25 "Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My father will honour the one who serves me." What's true for the Master is also true for the servant.
Going back to my seeds, I can't both keep them exactly as they are, and plant them. Neither can we expect to stay exactly as we are, if we want to be followers of Jesus. It is very popular today to focus on how much Jesus loves us just as we are, but to forget that in his love he doesn't want to keep us as we are. If we have decided 'This is who I am, this is the lifestyle I have chosen, this is the amount of wealth I'd like, and nothing is going to get in the way of that' then whatever church we go to, whatever hymns we sing, we cannot be classed as Jesus' servant, because we are not serving him, we are serving ourself. Our life is far more important than his. But 'Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.' says Jesus. Being a servant or a follower of Jesus means taking our life and saying 'it's yours Jesus'. As he put us first, so we put him first. This can be costly.
We've seen it through history. Think of Christians like Tyndale who died because he wouldn't give up on his God given vision of having the Bible in English for all to read. Or Cranmer who died because of his brave stance in reforming the church and gave us the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 articles which still underpin our Anglican doctrine and practice today. These are people who knew what it meant to follow their Master and give their lives over to his purpose. Think about the many nameless Christians today in Syria and Iraq and Pakistan and North Korea and NE Nigeria and so many places around the world who have said to God - you gave me my life. I won't keep it as an ornament to be treasured. I give it back to you. I will live for you and I will die for you if that's what's needed. And many of them have died.
But it's not just about living in extreme situations for Jesus or doing great things. It's also about ordinary Christians living their ordinary lives for Jesus. If we are living lives as Jesus' servants that means making hard choices about the work we do, the conversations we have, the causes we champion, the way we spend our time, the priorities we have for ourselves and our families. What's true for the Master must be true for the servant as well.
Does it really matter? Can't we just live our lives the way we want, and then when we've enjoyed our lives, get a bit more committed then? Jesus had a warning for his listeners v35 "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light so that you may become children of light." For the people then, Jesus' time on earth was limited, but for all of us, the time to respond is not open ended. We don't know when Jesus will return or when we will be called to meet him. You might have 60 years or not even 60 minutes. While you delay, you run the risk of darkness overtaking you. But if you believe in the light, if you walk with Jesus as your master, then the joys are astounding. You become a child of light forever. Eternity with the one who loves you.
So here's the challenge. Have you truly grasped why he came to earth? Not to show us God is real, nor to do amazing miracles or to right the wrongs of society, but to die. The Son of God dead and buried in the ground. His life so that you can have life. That's why he came. Not my interpretation, but his own words. And if you've grasped it, what are you going to do with it? Hold on to the seed of your life and polish and display it? Or plant it with Jesus who will raise it up with him.