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John 12:20-26 - The Painful Path to True Glory

Palm Sunday 2020  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:15
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Lasting glory is not threatened by suffering; lasting glory is established through suffering.

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Introduction

These past few weeks have seen our lives change in some fundamental ways because of the threat of COVID-19. A couple of weeks ago a series of videos were making the rounds online of a British sportscaster who, since he had no more organized sports to announce, began filming everyday moments in his south London neighborhood and providing sportscasting voiceovers—two boys kicking a soccer ball in a park like a Premier League match, pedestrians crossing the street announced like a footrace, and so on.
He chose an amusing and lighthearted way to deal with his frustration at not being able to pursue his career, but there are many people for whom all of these restrictions and quarantines are anything but amusing and lighthearted. It is very instructive for us to look around and see just how easily so many people are being thrown into fear, anxiety and depression by this pandemic. Not just because of the threat to life and health—that is a part of the stress, to be sure. But people are also anxious and fretful over the loss of their livelihoods, their social lives, their recreations and hobbies—all of the upheaval and uncertainty that we have witnessed over the past month has demonstrated just how fragile this world’s treasures are, hasn’t it?
All of the glory of this world—its wealth, its industry, its commerce, entertainment, government—even individual liberties like the right to go where you want when you want!—collapse like a house of cards at the mere possibility of suffering. I don’t know whether our nation will learn this lesson or not. When this crisis passes and things return to normal, I would like to think that it will cause us as a people to turn away from the false promises of this world’s empty glory of money, sex and power.
But for you and I as Christians, this crisis has created an unprecedented opportunity for us to speak to this culture that we live in, as it struggles with the loss of everything it treasures, everything it thinks is worthwhile and glorious. This is our opportunity to declare—not just with our words but with our actions—what Jesus demonstrated with His own life:
Lasting glory is not threatened by suffering; lasting glory is established through suffering.
Our text this morning takes place directly after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday—it’s written for us a few verses up from our text in John 12:12-15:
John 12:12–15 ESV
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
It’s very important to note that this moment—when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, when the crowd rejoiced at His coming as the coming of their King—this was the moment of Jesus greatest public celebrity in His entire three-year ministry. All of the glory that the world could bestow on Him was right here at His fingertips. But what did He do? Did He use that celebrity and all that “star-power” to proclaim Himself the Messiah, thwart the assassination plots of the Pharisees and drive the Romans out of Jerusalem?
No—because Jesus knew that the path to true glory meant that He had to

I. Reject the cheap glory of the world (John 12:20-22)

Look at verses 20-22:
John 12:20–22 ESV
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
The “Greeks” here were Gentiles known as “God-fearers” (cp. Acts 10:2)—they were not circumcised Jewish proselytes, but Gentiles who wanted to come and worship Yahweh at Passover. They came to Philip (because he had a Greek name, and probably spoke the best Greek, since he lived in the Greek-speaking city of Bethsaida) and asked for an audience with Jesus. His fame had spread far beyond just the confines of Jerusalem and Judea—a fact that the Pharisees had reluctantly acknowledged one verse above our text:
John 12:19 ESV
So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
The Pharisees were so desperate to stop Jesus that they were plotting to have Him assassinated (John 11:53), but they realized that it was going to be impossible to carry out a “hit” on Him now—too many people were watching His every move!
Jesus knew that the Jewish leaders were trying to kill Him (cp. John 11:54), and He had to know that He could use this new-found celebrity to save Himself from their plot. Think of how easy it would be for Him to use that celebrity to protect Himself from the assassination plot the Pharisees were planning? Think of how easy it would have been to parlay all of that “good press” into making a real bid to overthrow Rome, put the Pharisees in their place and proclaim Himself as the Messiah!
You and I would be tempted to ride the wave of that popularity and goodwill all the way to the throne room—but
Jesus walked away from popularity
, didn’t He?
Jesus didn’t trust the cheap glory of the world (and good thing, too, because just a few days later the crowd outside Pilate’s balcony would be screaming for His blood!)
Notice—this moment is a repeat of the same temptation Jesus endured from Satan when He fasted in the wilderness at the beginning of His ministry, isn’t it? When Satan took Jesus up on a mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, saying, “Worship me, and all this will be yours!” (Luke 4:6-7). And here at this moment of His greatest popularity and celebrity He had the same temptation—to have all the glory of the world’s kingdoms given to Him without having to suffer on the Cross!
This moment in John 12 isn’t presented as a Satanic temptation per se, but you can see the same dynamic at play. He could have just done an “end-run” around the pain and agony of the Cross and gone straight to the glory of ruling the nations. But He didn’t--
Jesus walked toward suffering
and away from comfort. He walked towards risk and away from safety. He walked into hardship and trial and darkness and death and away from security and safety and peace. You and I (and the world around us) are living in a time when everyone is desperate to avoid risk and sickness and loss; we are so afraid of risking illness that we have shut down our nation’s economy, and we are so afraid of the economic ramifications of that shutdown that we have mortgaged our great-grandchildren’s future rather than risk losing our money in an economic recession—and all for the sake of hanging on to the cheap, fading and empty glories of this world!
But lasting glory is not threatened by suffering; lasting glory is established through suffering. Jesus rejected the cheap glory of this world, and instead set Himself to

II. Seek the costly glory of suffering (John 12:23-24)

Look at verse 23:
John 12:23 ESV
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Throughout John’s Gospel you see Jesus saying over and over, “My time has not yet come:
John 2:4 ESV
And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
John 7:8 ESV
You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.”
And in other places John says the same thing about Him
John 7:30 ESV
So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.
John 8:20 ESV
These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
The whole way through the Gospel, Jesus is waiting for His “hour” to come—the moment when He would step into His glory. And now, as the Greek God-fearers come to worship Him, He announces the time has come! “It is time for Me to be glorified!”
But then in the very next breath He begins talking about death!
John 12:24 ESV
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Again, we have had two thousand years of the Gospel leavening our worldview—and so it is very difficult for us to understand how shocking Jesus’ words would have been to His hearers. In the ancient world, glory came as a result of power and might and dominance—you won glory by making the streets of the city flow red with the blood of your enemies! The ancient perception of glory was much more akin to the quote attributed to General George Patton in World War II, that you don’t win a war by “dying for your country”, but by making the other poor sap die for his!
Jesus is seeking glory here—not the cheap fleeting glory of the world, but the costly glory that comes through suffering, glory that
Cost Jesus His life
It’s not the picture of a victorious tyrant crushing his enemies, it’s a picture of a seed going “into the earth” and dying. He says that as long as that seed doesn’t go into the earth and die, it “remains alone”—there is no gain (as He says in the next verse) by clinging to your life.
But it is important to see here that, in saying that He was ready to give up His life, Jesus was not reckless with His life. Notice in the verses from John 7 and 8, when it says that the people who were trying to kill Him didn’t lay a hand on Him because His hour had not yet come. What Jesus shows us here is that there may be a time and place where we have to be ready to lay down our lives, and we have to be ready to lay down our lives—not out of recklessness or heedlessness, but out of obedience.
So seeking the costly glory of suffering does not mean, for example, that we recklessly ignore every safety precaution and flaunt the directives of our state and federal officials—like the church in Louisiana a couple of weeks ago that directly contravened state orders and held a massive faith-healing service, laying hands on thousands of people (and risking their lives as well).
Jesus was not reckless with His life. But He knew (as we see here in verse 24) that He knew that when He died,
Jesus bore glorious fruit
John 12:24 ESV
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
The cheap, fading glory of the world could promise Jesus fame and fortune and celebrity for His own life, but if He took that easy path, if He rejected the costly glory that came through suffering and loss, He would have “remained alone”—He would not have brought anyone to salvation! His life would have meant ease and comfort and glory for Himself, but it would have been a barren and fruitless life of self-centeredness.
But He did not cling to His life, did He? He did not “consider equality with God a thing to be grasped”, He did not hide from the suffering and agony and death that was before Him—Jesus freely chose suffering, and as a result He brought salvation to the world! The “seed” of His life that fell into the grave produced a glorious harvest of hundreds and thousands and millions and billions of His people, calling on Him for salvation in a glorious harvest.
The Apostle John that wrote these verses also wrote the book of Revelation, and in that book he describes the scene of the redeemed worshipping in Heaven:
Revelation 7:9–10 ESV
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Think of it: The entire human population of Heaven—every last redeemed soul—is a harvest that springs from the death of one seed! Because Jesus sought the costly glory of suffering, laying down His life in the pain and agony and isolation and horror of the Cross, you and I and everyone who calls on His Name for salvation have eternal life with Him!
Lasting glory is not threatened by suffering; lasting glory is established through suffering.
Jesus shows us here in this passage that we must reject the cheap, fading glory of this world and seek the costly glory that is established through our suffering. And as we do, Jesus gives us two steadfast, mighty reasons to

III. Hope in the glorious promises of God (John 12:25-26)

Look at verses 25-26:
John 12:25–26 ESV
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
Just as Jesus did not cling to His life but gave it up for the sake of our eternal life, so we must follow Him in embracing suffering as He did. Bearing the name of “Christian” means that you must do as Christ did. You cannot serve Him without following Him, and following Him means following Him into suffering. What servant says to his master, “You go on ahead, I’ve got some things to do over here. I’ll catch up with you afterwards!”?
Being a servant of Christ means you “must” follow Him. Jesus moved away from comfort and towards suffering, away from safety and towards risk. Is it risky to go out and spend time with people most vulnerable to this pandemic? Yes, of course—but where would Jesus be at this time? At home, staying away from fearful, weak, anxious people? If your Master would be there, Christian, that’s where you belong as well!
In July of 1854, a terrible outbreak of cholera swept through London. Charles Spurgeon was a young minister who had been there at his church for barely a year when the disease broke out. His response to that epidemic captures perfectly what Jesus says in verse 25::
“Fear to die? Thank God, I do not. The cholera may come again next summer—pray it may not. But if it does, it matters not to me. I will toil and visit the sick by night and by day until I drop. And if it takes me, sudden death is sudden glory.”
Christian, you have the promise from God here that if you “hate” your life like that—if you go out to minister as a servant of Jesus Christ to those who are most vulnerable, you have the promise that “sudden death is sudden glory”—your eternal life is waiting for you!
And notice also that you have
The promise of Jesus’ presence with you
— “Where I am, there my servant will be also!” He does not just send you into risk and suffering, He leads you there! He will not call you to a place where He is not already present! Our world is so utterly risk-averse that we will do anything to avoid risk—but here, Christian, you have a promise that when you move toward risk and away from comfort for the sake of ministry in Jesus’ Name, He is present with you in a marvelous way! He knows what it is like to suffer alone—He suffered alone in the Garden, He suffered alone on the Cross—and He has sworn that He will never allow you to suffer alone like that!
There is no suffering that you undertake for His sake that will leave you isolated from Him! You may be separated from your job, your friends, your spouse, your children—you may find yourself utterly cut off from every human contact—but nothing will ever separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus! So as you move towards risk for the sake of ministering to those who are most vulnerable to this pandemic, do it in the strong, unbreakable promises of God that "where I am, there my servant will be also!”
There is one more glorious, life-sustaining, risk-rewarding promise here at the end of verse 26—Jesus says that “If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” You have the promise of Jesus’ presence with you, and you have
The promise of the Father’s honor for you
Christian, as you reject the cheap glory of this world and seek the costly glory of suffering, you have the promise that God sees your risk, He sees your loss, He sees what you are willing to give up for the sake of His Kingdom, and He remembers! There is nothing that you have lost for the sake of the Gospel, there is no risk you have taken, no debt you have incurred, no relationship you have lost, no disease you have borne, no financial hardship or loneliness or isolation or pain or anxiety that has befallen you that He will not reward!
When you follow your Master Jesus Christ into uncertainty and risk and hardship and loss, you are gaining for yourself a weight of glory that this poor world’s cheap imitation glory can never match! As Paul puts it in Romans 8:18:
Romans 8:18 ESV
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Christian, we are living through an unprecedented time of anxiety, fear, suffering and loss in our world—and our world is utterly ill-equipped to survive apart from the life-saving message of hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our friends and neighbors and co-workers and family members are being forced to confront their mortality. They are having every false pretense of worldly glory stripped away—their government can’t help them, their life savings can’t help them, their careers can’t help them, even their own efforts at “social distancing” and hand-washing doesn’t guarantee their safety. There are people who, two months ago, would have laughed in your face if you asked them about spiritual things, but who are now desperate for some kind of sure hope in the face of this catastrophe.
Earlier in our service we read from Luke 19, where Jesus tells the story of a nobleman who entrusted his property to his servants to manage while he went away. To the servant that used the opportunities he was presented with, the Master said,
Luke 19:17 ESV
And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’
Christian, you may never again have an opportunity to speak the hope of the Gospel to receptive hearts the way you do right now—use it! Even if you have to move away from comfort and towards risk, even if it means exposing yourself to disease, even if it means voluntarily taking on suffering. Jesus did not cling to His life but gave it away for the sake of His people, and if you are His servant, He calls you to be where He is—with the sick, with the suffering, with the anxious and lonely, speaking comfort and hope in the message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and for the promise of their eternal life!
Lasting glory is not threatened by suffering; lasting glory is established through suffering. While all of the false and fading glories of this world are being swept away by this pandemic, you have hope of an eternal glory in heaven! Glory that is not threatened by death, but glory that was purchased for you by death! Jesus Christ died and went into the ground so that you might live forever in Him! He bought your redemption from your sin with His blood, and He calls you as His servant to follow Him into suffering for the sake of the people He is calling to Himself.
He promises to be with you through all of these dark and challenging days, He promises that you will never be separated from Him, and He promises that everything that you risk for Him, everything that you lose (even your own life) will be the seeds of a great harvest of eternal honor that God Himself will bestow on you on the Day of Judgment.
And if you are here this morning apart from hope in Jesus Christ, can’t you see how hopeless you really are in this world? Can’t you see how fragile, how empty and worthless all of this world’s promises of glory are? Finances, careers, relationships, even your own health—none of it is guaranteed to last. There is nothing and no one else that you can put your hope in than the One Who has died to purchase life for you—life that you cannot gain on your own. So turn away from all the false promises of this world’s cheap glory, turn away from your sin and rebellion against Him, come to Him for forgiveness and the only hope that will endure in these days—hope of your salvation from sin and hope of eternal life with your Savior Jesus Christ!
BENEDICTION
1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 ESV
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:28 ESV
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:

In what ways do we see people around us clinging to their own kinds of “glory” for protection and hope? Why is trusting in those sorts of things a vain hope?
How would you respond to the kind of “international celebrity” status that Jesus found Himself surrounded by in John 12? How does His response help you understand how we are to relate to that kind of popularity?
What are some areas of your life where God is calling you to “move toward risk and away from comfort”? What promises do you have from this passage that strengthen you to step into hardship and loss for the sake of the Gospel?
Think of someone you know who is being particularly hard-hit by this current crisis. Take time to pray this week that God would show you how you can “lay down your life” for them in some way.
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