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Gaining Life or Losing Your Life?

Sun, Feb 14, 2021
Teacher: Chris Appleby
Passage: John 12:20-50
Duration:18 mins 35 secs
The hour of Jesus glorification has come. He will be lifted up as a sacrifice and will draw all people to him. So act while you have the light he says. If you are one who has believed in Jesus, if you are one in whom the light is shining, be bold in telling others about him.

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Signs of the Time

 I was listening to the radio on the way to church last Sunday and the presenter commented that it felt like an autumn morning. That of course isn’t what you want to hear on the first weekend of February, is it? On the other hand there’s something good about that feeling in the middle of March. The turning of the seasons, the changing colours of our European trees, is one of the attractions of Melbourne that cities further north don’t experience. When I was at Ridley, one of my fellow students had come down to Melbourne from Queensland because he wanted to feel the difference between winter and summer. Even better than autumn is springtime when we feel the days lengthening and the sun developing a warmth that we’ve missed during the winter and we know that summer days are coming up.

A few days before the Passover in Jerusalem, some Greek believers came to talk with Jesus.

When Jesus hears of their request he immediately recognises it as a sign, a sign that the final fulfilment of his mission on earth is drawing near. He says: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The coming of these Greeks to speak with him is like the turning of the leaves in Autumn or the lengthening of days in spring. It’s a sure sign that the end is drawing near. 


But why did these Greeks come and why did Jesus react in this way? Were they drawn by the same sort of curiosity that drew people to Jesus after the raising of Lazarus? Or had they perhaps witnessed the  cleansing of the Temple, described in Mark 11, when Jesus declared the Temple to be a place of prayer for all nations, so they want to find out more about this teacher who seems to be questioning the inferior status of Gentiles before God.

Well we don’t know and John doesn’t tell us anything else about these Greeks. It seems that their only significance lies in what they signify to Jesus.

Perhaps a clue to what that is, is to be found in the contrast between the Pharisees and the High Priests in the previous passage, where they reject Jesus, and these foreigners who come seeking him out. Perhaps too it lies in the prophecy of Zechariah that John mentions in the previous chapter. In that prophecy just before the passage that John quotes we read: “23Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."” In other words, the coming of the Messiah will be accompanied by people from every nation being brought to worship God. (Zechariah 8:23)  Well, Jesus makes it clear how significant their coming is by the way he responds. He says “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

The Hour has Come?

Now up until this point in John’s gospel Jesus’ hour has always been in the future. So in John 2 at the wedding at Cana, when his mother asks him to do something about the shortage of wine he says: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” In John 7 we’re told, “Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.” In John 8 we’re told: “He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.”

The ‘hour’ in John’s gospel is the time appointed by God for Jesus’ death and resurrection, and for his exaltation. And now the coming of these Gentiles to seek out Jesus heralds the arrival of that hour. Now is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Time for the Son of Man to be Glorified

But what does it mean for Jesus to be glorified? How will he be glorified? Let’s look at what it says.

First, Jesus glory will come through his death and resurrection. He likens it to a grain of wheat. There’s not much to a single grain of wheat is there? It doesn’t look much. You can’t do much with it. But put it in the ground so that it dies and comes to life again and you discover its glory as it bears much fruit. So too, Jesus’ death and resurrection will bear much fruit, as we’ll see in a moment.

Second, Jesus’ glory comes about through the Father being glorified. It’s as though with the coming of these Gentiles, Jesus is suddenly hit by the harsh reality of what he’s about to face. So he says “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say--' Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” His glory is totally dependent on the Father being glorified. His glory comes from his willing submission to the Father’s will. Jesus is about to sacrifice his life in order to bring glory to God. Again we’ll see how that will happen in a moment.

By the way, have you ever thought that when you obey God it both brings glory to God and to you at the same time? You might give that some thought next time you’re deciding whether to obey God or not.

Thirdly, Jesus glory will come about as he’s lifted up from the earth. But this exaltation isn’t what we might think at first. John explains for those of us who are a bit slow on the uptake. Being lifted up here is a euphemism for crucifixion. His glory comes about through him being crucified.

And fourthly, his glory comes about because his being lifted up has a profound effect: “32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Jesus’ death isn’t just an act of sacrifice with some vague inherent value. It isn’t some vague dying for the sake of others. No, he dies for a purpose: to draw all people to himself. He dies in their place so that all might come to the Father on the grounds of his saving death, irrespective of race or gender or social standing. In his death he takes on himself all the shame and guilt of the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike, and in the process drives the prince of this world from his throne.

Here’s the significance of the Greeks coming to see Jesus at this moment. They’ve come to seek out the salvation he’s bringing for all the world. But notice that when he’s raised up, what will happen isn’t that people will seek him out. Rather he will draw all people to himself.

So we see it all coming together. Jesus’ glory comes about as he dies and rises again to bear much fruit to the glory of God. The fruit that he bears is the lives of men and women from everywhere who are drawn to him as a result of his saving work on the cross, where he takes on himself all the shame and guilt of the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike, and in the process he drives the prince of this world from his throne. And God is glorified in this because by it the promise he made to Abraham all those years ago, that through his descendant all the peoples on earth would be blessed, has now been fulfilled.

But having said that, we immediately discover that although Jesus came to draw all people to himself, individuals don’t necessarily respond.

Life or Death? Light or Darkness?

Those in the crowd who have heard what he’s just said are a bit surprised by it; especially when he says: “25Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” That doesn’t sound like much fun! Their understanding was that the Messiah was going to come to restore the kingship to Israel and establish his reign forever. Israel was going to be great again! That was why they welcomed him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the way they did. But here he was talking about being lifted up on a cross; and about us giving up our lives for him? That didn’t seem like the sort of Messiah they had in mind. Who wants a leader who’s going to give himself up to death; who expects you to do the same? No, they wanted a conquering King. And so in the end, just as Isaiah had foretold, most of them reject him.

But first Jesus gives them this warning: “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” They needed to take advantage of Jesus’ presence with them while they had it. This is in fact the third time he’s given this warning in the last few chapters, but this is the last time they’ll hear it. In fact this is the last they’ll see of Jesus in his public ministry. Their opportunity has gone. The hour has come. The light is about to leave them and they’ll be left in darkness. And so John, as he so often does, makes a simple but profound statement that carries a huge load of meaning. “After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.”

Jesus public ministry is over, and they won’t see him again until his public trial and execution. The suddenness of his going is like an acted parable showing just how short the time is.

For us too, the warning is here: time is short. You don’t know how long you’ll have to respond to Jesus. So act before it’s too late. Don’t be like those whose eyes are blinded and whose hearts are dead. Instead turn to Jesus for healing, for cleansing. Ask him to give you his light to show the way through the darkness. Believe in the light, so that you may become children of light. You know, for all our education and advanced knowledge of science and medicine etc. we’re still surrounded by darkness. The world around us tries to convince us that there’s no hurry, there are lots of ways to come to God, as long as we have the right attitude to others we’ll be OK, God will accept us. But Jesus’ claims are far stronger than that.

Look at vs44-46: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” The darkness may try to overwhelm us but there’s no need to live in the darkness when Jesus offers us the light of the knowledge of God.

So let me encourage you if you are one who has believed in Jesus, if you are one in whom the light is shining, to be bold in telling others about him. And notice there’s just a slight rebuke, and perhaps a hint of disappointment in the report of v42. There were some who believed in Jesus, even some of the leaders of the people, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue. Our problem today isn’t that we’ll be put out of the synagogue, it’s rather that we’ll be shunned by the cancel culture, by the secular world we live in who don’t want to acknowledge the exclusive claims of Jesus to be the Son of God and the only source of salvation.

Notice too Jesus’ final public statement in vs 47-50. It’s similar to the words of John 3:17-21. He hasn’t come into the world to condemn anyone. He’s come to save people. This final warning isn’t meant as a judgement on people. Rather it’s to make sure they understand the seriousness of their decisions. He’s saying you can’t just listen to Jesus’ words and ignore them. They don’t allow that. You either believe them or you reject them. And in the end that decision determines whether you live in light or in darkness. “48The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. 50And I know that his commandment is eternal life.” The choice is to believe or to reject. It’s to be in the light, to know where you’re going, or to be lost in the dark. It’s to enjoy eternal life or lose your life forever.

I want us to pray now first that at every point in our lives we might choose to believe Christ’s words and so walk in the light and second that the light of Christ would fill our lives to show us the way to serve him better, so that we too might bear much fruit to the glory of God.