Sermon for 21st March from Phil Horscroft

John 12: 20-33

Lord God, may the words of my mouth and from my heart be acceptable in your sight and I pray that those who are listening today hear not only my voice but Yours also.

Our Lord Jesus is in the Temple not long after His raising of Lazarus from the dead.  A miracle which has caused astonishment in the world and dismayed the enemies of the Christ; we can see in verse 19, if we care to turn back for a moment, that the Pharisees are distraught.  They say to each other “you see how futile your efforts are and how you accomplish nothing.  See! The whole world is running after Him.” 

This is demonstrated by the first two verses of the reading, which tells us that some Greeks were there and were asking to speak to Jesus.  The writer doesn’t tell us who these Greeks are but some things can be deduced.  They are probably proselytes, converts to Judaism, come to the festival of Passover, a huge event and the largest festival in the Jewish calendar, research tells us that every year over a quarter of a million lambs were sacrificed in the Temple during the Passover festival.  The blood of the sacrifices would drain, like a river, out of the Temple into the Kidron valley, which runs between the Temple Mount and the garden of Gethsemane.   

So Andrew and Philip go to tell our Lord Jesus that there are some Greeks who wish to speak to Him.  But our Lord Jesus apparently ignores this and goes straight to what is on His mind; He is totally focused upon His mission; absolute tunnel vision on the target. Worldly matters are no longer of any importance to our Lord Jesus. “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified and exalted”.  Exalted means to praise highly but what does glorified mean? I hear you ask.  The word for glory used in the Old Testament was the Hebrew Kabod, which would be understood to mean worthiness, splendour, reputation.  The word used in the New Testament was the Greek doxa, which would be understood to mean opinion, reputation, honour. To glorify someone is to increase or highlight the glory of that person. In the Old Testament the Glory of God, of Yahweh, could be seen, as the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites through the wilderness.  The Glory of Israel was not her wealth, not her power or her armies it was God, Yahweh.  I wonder if this is what Simeon was referring to in the last line of the Nunc Dimittis in Luke 2:29-32.  The historical books of the Bible tell us that the Glory of Yahweh was to be found especially in the Temple at the hour of sacrifice.  But in the New Testament we see a shift.  The Glory of God is to be found in and through the person and the ministry of our Lord Jesus the Christ. This is what our Lord Jesus meant when He said in verse 23 “the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified and exalted”; if the Son of Man is Glorified then God is glorified because when we see the Christ we see the Father and when the Father looks at us He sees our Lord Jesus. 

Our Lord then goes on, in my view, to explain the whole game plan, the whole Christian story in a nutshell.   He starts at the beginning by saying that unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just one grain, sterile, useless.  But, if it dies, it transforms and produces many others and yields a rich harvest.  There are many ways we can interpret this lesson.  The early church interpreted it to mean martyrdom, and that may well have been correct for the church at that time.  But as we grow, both as humans and as servants of The Lord, the context changes and therefore so must the interpretation.  I would put forward the theory that we can take into account the fact that we are the adopted children of The Lord, but we are no longer the newborn, the toddlers, of the Lord.  We are the teenagers of the Lord. We have the privilege and advantage of two thousand years of experience and teachings and study to help us on our journey towards God through our Lord Jesus the Christ.  We no longer have to throw ourselves under the bus to prove our faith and earn our place at The Lord’s table.  We do have to die in order to progress but we no longer have to die burning on a stake.  We have to die to our own self.  We have to die to our small inner self that we construct as children from the teachings and influences of our parents, our siblings, our teachers, our televisions and our fears.  We have to die to our false self, our ego, and live in Christ so that we may draw from the deep well of our soul and from God through the Holy Spirit in order to grow in Christ; easy to say; extremely hard to do, especially on your own.

Our lord Jesus tells us how to do this in the next verse.  “Anyone who loves his life loses it”. Anyone who stays in their child state of selfishness, arrogance, falling in love with yourself, fails to mature enough to become a fruitful servant of our Lord.  Choosing the path of least resistance, avoiding risks, not sharing, not giving, making it all about the quality of your life here on earth instead of the quality of your life in Heaven, will ensure you never have to worry about your life in Heaven because you probably aren’t going to get one.  Our Lord is completely clear about that.   You have to ask yourself, whose opinion matters to you the most?  Be honest with your answer because this is important, this is life or death.  If your answer isn’t ‘God’s opinion matters the most to me’ then you need to sit yourself down and have a rethink about what path you’re on.  It’s never, never, never too late to try again; to get yourself back on track. God loves us without restraint, without limit, without condition; God wants us to be successful but looks at how hard we try not how far we get.  He will look into our hearts not into our history or our achievements.  We Know our Lord Jesus loves us; perhaps we need to work on being someone He might like?

Our Lord Jesus then closes this circle “He who has no regard for his life here on earth will preserve his life forever and ever”.  If you choose to serve our Lord Jesus you must serve Him to the absolute best of your ability, through thick and thin; and there will be both.  Those who choose to be a servant of Christ will almost without fail face a time of challenge; a time of darkness; a tempering of their steel.  But be assured that we have the promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13, that God will not allow you to be tempted beyond your endurance and ability to resist.  But you will be tested and tempted.  Even so, though the path be stony and difficult the destination is beautiful beyond our imagination and having arrived we will not remember the journey.  The rewards are incomparably marvelous.  Our Lord tells us that wherever He is there we will be with him; if we last the course; if we endure to the end; and The Father will honor those who, by doing so, deserve it.   

Remember also, and this is very important, you’re never alone on your journey, although that voice in your head will constantly try to convince you that you are.  As a side issue, how do you deal with that voice in your head.  Every time the enemy whispers into your mind just say “I reject you Satan.  Get out of my head”.  It works for me, it will probably work for you.  The Holy Spirit will be with you every step of the way and every time you pray you strengthen that connection.  We will be there with you.  Probably not every step but someone of us will be there for you if you reach out, because that is an important part of being a servant of our Lord Jesus.  We are a church; we are a body; although we are many we are one body because we all share in the one bread, which is the Body of Christ.  I want to be there; I want you to be there (and not just because I don’t want to be stuck with the washing up); we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and that means something; that means a lot if we’re doing it right.

Our Lord Jesus then goes on to tell his disciples that His soul is troubled and distressed.  Now this to me is truly inspiring and my admiration and love of Christ is very much based upon this facet of His passion.  He forged ahead despite his evident dread of what was about to happen; a true hero of God.  It is clear to me from the evidence of scripture that although our Lord the Christ knew he would have to die and He would return, He wasn’t really all that keen on undergoing the process.  I also believe He hadn’t been told the whole story; the plan had not been completely revealed to Him.  There was no cheating; our Lord Jesus was fully aware how much it was going to hurt and how long it was going to last but He had to be a true sacrifice; He had to pass the test without knowing the answers beforehand.  Our lord Jesus obeyed the will of God trusting in Him completely; not fully knowing where it would lead Him or what it would truly cost; could this be a model for ourselves and our service?  We know from scripture that when praying in the garden of Gethsemane our Lord Jesus was distraught to the point of needing the support of an angel.  We can deduce that he had not been told everything that would happen from his dying cry, “My God My God, why have you forsaken me?”  But this passage tells us that our Lord Jesus was willing to give everything while trusting and believing in God completely, solely in order to Glorify God.  I tell you now that, for me, this demonstrates how wonderful our God truly is.  Our God came back for us and stuck with us even though He knows we can never even come close to achieving what our Lord Jesus achieved on the cross and on the approach to the cross; but He will continue to love us and accept our attempt, regardless of how far we get, judged only on how hard we try; truly the perfect father. 

Now the ministry of the Christ is not only a model for us; it is also a warning for us.  If we don’t try to serve God in the same way that our Lord Jesus served His Father then our service will fall short in the test of fire.  If our motivation for our service is anything other than to glorify God, then we will receive our reward on earth from men and not in Heaven from God.  In everything we do we must first ask ourselves where and how will this bring glory to God?  If we are motivated by the attitude “what’s in it for me?” we are in big trouble and we don’t know it.   Our Lord Jesus has warned us in Matthew 7:22-23

Many will say to me on that day, Lord Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name and driven out demons in Your name and done many mighty works in Your name? And then I will say to them openly (publicly), “I never knew you, depart from Me, you who act lawlessly, disregarding My commands”

So these people still achieved great things on a human level; prophesies were made, demons were driven out, but their achievements were based upon the power of the Name of The Lord.  They acted to make themselves look good not to glorify God.  It’s a very fine line, but one we should all do everything we can do to stay on the right side of.  If your motivation is not to glorify The Lord then those who witness your actions will praise you and not The Lord.  The Americans call it stolen valour. 

We must also make sure that what we do is the will of the Lord and not our own will.  We must not become a law unto ourselves and we must always, by prayer, ensure that we are truly obeying the Word of God.

We must also remember always, what is the Power in which we work, which is the power of the Holy Spirit.  On our own we can only achieve a display.  In the power of the Holy Spirit we can achieve God’s Will for the Glory of God and that right there is our job description and we need to keep a check on how we’re doing.  We need to ask ourselves

1 Is this my idea or God’s? 
2 Am I working in obedience to God or am I doing my own thing? Am I a law unto myself?
3 Am I working in the power of the Spirit or under my own steam?

You will only get the answer through prayer.

So we know how Jesus obeyed the Will of God, and what it cost Him, but not why.  The last of today’s verses tell us why He did it.  He did it to save us from the consequences of our actions and deliver us from the hands of the adversary into the Hands of God our Father in Heaven.  The sins of the world would be placed upon the shoulders of our Lord Jesus that He might make expiation for them in our place, because we are not capable of doing it for ourselves, and the debt would be paid.  The Prince of this world, the father of all lies, is cast out and all men will be drawn to God through our Lord Jesus the Christ. 

But why?  Why are we so important to God?  This question can be, in my belief, one of the major stumbling blocks on our path towards God. Some of us just have a problem believing that God could love us this much. But He does.  I have heard many ministers say that there is no plan B, and this is very probably true.  But why is there no plan B?  What was to stop our God from just abandoning us to our own depraved self-destruction and going somewhere else in the universe to start again?  Because let us make no mistake, without God we are doomed to descend into depravity and become worse than beasts. How can we know this?  Well, we have the story of Noah in which The Lord became so angry and disappointed in mankind that He decided to “make an end of all flesh” Genesis 6:13.  We have the evidence of history.  We don’t have to go back too far in our history to find societies where one in four people died a violent death. 

So why is there no plan B; why does God stick with us through thick and thin?  The answer is as always in Scripture.  Our God is Righteous. Our God is love. Our God loves us and will never forsake us or leave us.  But there is also the important detail that God created us to be the stewards of His creation on earth.  What does this mean?  If you would find the answer to that question then I suggest you spend a day in the wilderness or a jungle then spend an hour in a park.  We are up there with the angels in God’s plan.    We should accept that position, that duty,that privilege, that love, and step up to the plate. If God thinks we’re capable of being good enough then so should we. We are meant to be, we were created to be, the stewards of God’s creation over and above all other Earthly creatures. An important part of God’s plan.  If we can accept that and believe that and strive together to live up to that, without getting ideas above our station, we are a little bit closer to Heaven.  May it be so through our Lord Jesus and the Grace of God. 


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