For this week’s bulletin, click here: 14th sunday after pentecost 2011
This text has a lot in it — a lot of words, and a lot of ideas. The pictures Jesus uses are so fascinating. I especially like the idea of Jesus being the Seed that bears fruit in His resurrection from the dead. He is the firstborn from among the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, and we will rise too. The next time you drive past a cemetery, think of it not as a cemetery but as a field — where the seeds that are planted there will sprout on the last day.
There are a number of really inspiring statements by Jesus in this text that are worth pondering, like when Jesus describes Himself being lifted up, or His promising that where He is, His servant also will be. It would be well worth the time to just sit and think for a few minutes about what Jesus said and how it applies to your life.
Coincidentally, the Gospel for Holy Cross Day (Sept 14) was John 12:20-33. I didn’t have that in mind when I selected this text; I simply looked at the past few Sundays and chose a text that seemed to fit in with the general themes of this part of the church year. That shows how the themes and ideas that are woven throughout the church year are really there, if you pay attention. Holy Cross Day is one of those examples of something in the church that might not have had such a great beginning, but it can still be used profitably if you strain out the superstition or the less-than-optimal beginnings. (Holy Cross Day originally commemorated the Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena’s, discovery of the “true” cross in the Holy Land. As it’s celebrated now, it’s simply a day to focus on the cross of Christ and give thanks for all His benefits.)
May Jesus, who was lifted up for you, grant you peace and light for your soul. Amen.
“Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 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. 25 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. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “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. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36 Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.” (john 12.20-36 niv84)
Have you ever wondered what Sherlock Holmes did when he wasn’t being a detective? Nearly all of the stories he’s in have him sitting in front of a crackling fire with Dr. Watson. Then the door bursts open. Someone with an unusual problem or request comes in. It took something unusual to get Sherlock Holmes’ attention. He wasn’t going to go after a purse snatcher. Missing lunch money or car keys held no interest for him. But when presented with something really exotic or unbelievable, he jumped at the chance to crack the case. He wanted to go and find out what was going on. He had to see for himself what the solution was. He needed to discover what the truth actually was. Today we meet some Greeks who also are investigating something. They come to Philip with a request: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” They were intrigued by what they’d heard about Jesus, and wanted to know more. They wanted to see what Jesus was really like, and who he really was. They had heard amazing things about him. He’d raised a man back to life who had been dead four days. He was doing things only God could do. They wanted to meet him and see for themselves what he was truly like. Today we have the same request as those Greeks. Show Me the Real Jesus. As we seek the real Jesus, we will discover that Jesus is the life-giving seed. Jesus is the obedient Son. Jesus is the unfading light.
Those Greeks picked a good time to ask to see what Jesus was like. Jesus says as much when he declares, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The time is fast approaching when Jesus will display his greatest glory. The world will get to see most clearly what Jesus is truly like during the coming days. Then Jesus uses a puzzling picture. He says that a seed is nothing more than itself unless it falls and is planted, while it still looks dead. But if the seed dies, then it produces many seeds. What is Jesus talking about here?
Using this figure of speech, Jesus is describing what will happen to him in the next few days. He will die like the seed does. Just as a seed that you plant in your garden or flowerbed looks dead, so also Jesus would die. He’s going to give up his life on the cross. His bruised and abused body will grow cold, his blood will still. He’ll be dead, through and through. But he will give life through his death like the seed does. That dead-looking seed is buried in the ground by the gardener, and then the gardener walks away. But later beautiful sunflowers, or tall corn, or other strong plants grow up from that seed. Jesus is like that seed. He is only one seed. He dies only one death, just like the rest of us. But when he rose from the dead, he bore much fruit. You are that fruit. Jesus died and rose again to give you life. He is the firstfruits from among the dead. He was the first one to rise to life again, but he won’t be the last. You will rise too, because Jesus gives you life through faith in him. Your death is not the end that it looks like.
With that eternal perspective in place, Jesus gives us some encouragement for our lives here on earth. If we always keep the life that Jesus gives us forever first in our hearts, then we won’t get so attached to our lives in this world. It can’t help but affect the way that you live when you can’t see any life past your own death. If all you have is today, then your life is something fragile, easily lost. It becomes so precious, even though you can’t protect it or ever get a really firm grip on it. For example, parents are often concerned about their children’s safety, but can they ever really protect them from everything bad? No, they can’t.
We have the clearer view of our lives because of the eternal perspective and the gift of life that Jesus gives us. We don’t have to accept the dirty tricks and setbacks that the world deals us as “that’s just the way it goes,” because we know our lives will be perfection one day. Even the passing joys and cheap pleasures of this world don’t entice us. We know that the eternal life God gives us is so much better than life in this rotten sinful world. We can even go as far as Jesus says and live like we hate our lives in this world. That’s how thoroughly Jesus has changed us with the message of his divine love. We don’t have to live for ourselves because nobody else will look out for us. We don’t need to resort to the kind of lying, selfishness, and other tactics of self-preservation that the world advocates. We can trust God totally to care for us, not fearing to give him our best. Jesus is the life-giving seed.
This kind of peace and eternal bliss didn’t come for free. Jesus understood what he was going to have to suffer. He knew that the price for sin is death. He grasped the enormity of the sacrifice he was going to have to make. It was weighing heavily on his heart. He was all stirred up inside. Strong and conflicting emotions churn inside him. He wonders if he should pray for God to take him out of this. Let’s just skip this, maybe? Do I really need to do this? But despite his inner turmoil, Jesus isn’t going to back out now.
Jesus knows the bigger purposes behind his upcoming suffering and death. It’s for us. Jesus isn’t relishing the thought of crucifixion. He knows how much wrath the sins of the world have earned. But that’s not as important to him as you are. He’d rather pour out his life so you can see life, than have you go to hell when he could have done something about it. Love for you helped Jesus make up his mind all over again to go to the cross. It’s because of you that he wanted to undertake what the next few days would bring him. It’s also to fulfill God’s plan. God had planned to save fallen mankind from the first. That’s why Jesus is here. His time is approaching when he will fulfill the purpose that he’s on earth. Everyone will see the fullest expression of who Jesus is and why he’s here in a few short days, when he’s beaten, mocked, spat on, hung on a cross, and cursed, before God and all the world. Because Jesus will undergo what he will at God’s behest and command, and will do so with perfect obedience and humble willingness, he will earn glory in the way that God intended from the creation of the world.
He’s going to do exactly what he’s supposed to. He’ll humbly take everything God will dish out as retribution for wickedness. He’s going to succumb to the ultimate penalty for sin: death. And then he’s going to rise again, to the glory of God the Father – the seed the bears much fruit. Everything will happen just the way it’s prophesied to, just the way God’s planned it. When it all comes to pass, and when it becomes known to all the world that God has worked salvation for us in our lost and pitiful condition, then God will be acclaimed. He will be acclaimed on account of Jesus. Jesus will bring endless glory to the Father by willingly doing everything it took to save us from hell. Jesus is the obedient Son.
This is plainly God’s plan. You can tell that here. God the Father voices his support for Jesus. He speaks from heaven. This is one of three occasions that God endorses Jesus from heaven. The other two were at his baptism and at his transfiguration. People heard the sound of the voice on this day, but not everybody understands what it was. Some thought it was thunder. Some say it was an angel speaking. Jesus spells it out for them – this voice was for their benefit. The hour of decision was coming. Jesus was about to enter the biggest battle anybody’s ever had to fight. But he is confident of the outcome. He declares that the world’s sins will be judged, found guilty, and the sentence of death passed and carried out – on him. Satan’s power will be smashed and his work will be destroyed. He will be thrown out of this world, powerless and defeated.
Jesus is very specific about how he’s going to do this. He says he’ll be “lifted up.” You can hardly get more specific about crucifixion than that! He says that by his death he will draw all people to himself. The crowd who’s listening has a problem understanding him. They want to know who he’s talking about. Jesus gives them a warning that their question is far more urgent than they might know. He says, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.”
Jesus calls himself the light. He is telling them that he won’t be among them much longer. If they want to know God, if they want to see the true light, they should pay close attention to Jesus. They won’t have an opportunity like this ever again, to hear teaching directly from Jesus’ mouth and ask him questions. Soon he would be arrested and killed.
Jesus’ words are so urgent because of the darkness around those people, and the darkness within them. His words also apply to us. He warns them that if you’re walking in the darkness, you don’t know where you’re going. If you pay no heed to Jesus and his message, then you have only one destination – eternal darkness. The light was about to go out, and their time to know the light was running out fast. Jesus urges them to trust in the light, so that they can become sons of it. That’s the only way they’ll escape the darkness. The darkness claims everyone who does not trust in Christ, the true light. Apart from him we don’t understand where we’re going.
God has made us sons and daughters of the light. He’s caused the light of the glory of his gospel to shine in our hearts. Now we are children of the day, not of the night. The darkness does not control us any longer. We are free to serve God and be witnesses to the light wherever he’s placed us – in our families, our jobs, among our friends. In him we are the light of the world.
In his light we see light. We’ve seen the real Jesus. He is the seed that produces much fruit, the firstborn from among the dead. He is the Son who obeyed despite all the pain and the terrible price of sin. He is the light that makes us children of God. The real Jesus is God’s Son, the light of the whole world – and our life and light forever. Amen.