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John 12:20-36 What is involved in following Christ?

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

What is involved in following Christ?

John 12:20-36

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. -- 36 Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.”          John 12:26 & 36 NIV

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On the last Sunday of February, I started a sermon series from the book of John. Some may call my approach to the book somewhat unorthodox since I didn’t start at chapter 1 and aim for the concluding chapter 21. Rather, I started with chapter 17 where we found Jesus expressing in prayer His deep longings for a lasting impact of His ministry on His disciples.

My intention back in February for jumping into the story of Jesus on the night before His crucifixion was two-fold. I wanted us to have a clear picture of where John’s gospel was headed and I wanted to prepare this congregation for a great celebration on Easter Sunday when our crucified Lord was raised from the dead.

Once we passed Easter Sunday, I then dropped back to chapter 11 which gave us the powerful story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. We then had two resurrection stories that pointed to both the power of God and the love of God.

As we moved into chapter 12, knowing full well that our Lord would be crucified and raised from the dead, we began to follow John’s descriptions of how God was preparing His Son, the Lamb of God, for His sacrificial and redeeming death, to be followed by the ultimate glorification in His resurrection and ascension.

Chapter 12 serves as a bridge chapter between all that has happened in chapters 2-11 and all that will happen in the remainder of the book. Chapter 12 connects the two halves of the book. G. L. Borchert, in his commentary on the book of John, views “chapter 12 to be a singularly significant part of John that stands as a strategic unit at the center of the Gospel and serves as a major focal text for understanding the work.[1] Thus, if we can get a good handle on chapter 12, it may well help us understand the entire book.

What we will soon be focusing on is the center of the centerpiece and it has the potential of defining us and our relationship with Christ.

John chapter 12 is particularly rich in character studies. It presents a cross section of humanity as they respond or react to Jesus. The first 11 verses introduce us to a group of four 1. Very Grateful Followers of Christ, which includes Lazarus and Martha who put on a dinner banquet in Simon’s home to honor Jesus and say “thank You” to Him for His healing and reviving ministry in their lives. At that banquet, Jesus is anointed by Mary for His burial.

In contrast to these four grateful followers, we become sadly aware of the 2. Criticizers and Complainers who, most likely, are filled with envy and jealousy that will stir them to anger, hatred and even murder.

In the second set of 11 verses, John crafts his version of Palm Sunday, that is, Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem in the midst of great crowds of people and John lets us see the reactions to His entrance. John highlights the reactions of five distinct groups of people. First, there’s the great crowd who had come to Jerusalem for the annual feast of Passover. Then, of course, there were Christ’s disciples who came with Jesus. Then there was the Bethany crowd, those who had just recently witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus. Finally, in Jerusalem on the day when Jesus made His final entry, there were the Pharisees and some Greeks. Each of these groups represents even larger groups, groups that are present even in our world today. They are defined by the kind of relationship they have with Jesus: 3. The Great Crowd: The Misguided, 4. His Disciples: The Committed, but Confused, 5. The Bethany Crowd: The Committed, 6. The Pharisees: The Opposition and 7. Some Greeks: The Curious. These were all gathered for what would be the most memorable of all Passover feasts, when Christ offers Himself as the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

This is chapter 12 and it marks the turning point in the Gospel of John. More specifically, in verses 23-26, Jesus announces Himself as the turning point in history. What John is making clear in this chapter is that Jesus came to this world to be the turning point in our lives and in every life on this earth. Listen how Jesus describes Himself in those verses:

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.

In these centerpiece verses, Jesus declares that He is the fork in the road for every human being. Not only has His hour come when He will lay down His life for all of us, but in doing so, Jesus stations Himself right in the middle of our path and creates a crises for each of us. What we do with Jesus will determine our eternal destiny. If our love for our own life overrides our love for Christ, we will lose our life. But, if we chose Christ over our love for our own life, we will keep our life for an eternity with Christ.

By His own demonstration, Jesus shows us that there is a death that leads to life. Gerald Borchert says: “Only by understanding Jesus’ death and resurrection together can one make sense out of what seems to be the senseless waste of life.[2] To die with Christ is to find eternal life.

Folks, this is radical stuff. Jesus stands at the fork in the road and invites us to follow Him into His death.

What happens to the seed that does not die? It remains only a single seed. Now, at first read, that may not sound all that bad. But if verse 25 is a restatement of verse 24, we had better reconsider assigning value to remaining a single seed.

v.24 When a seed does not die, it remains only a single seed. The next explanatory statement comes in v.25 When a man loves his life, he will lose it.

I believe these are parallel statements. Man is like a seed. If he chooses to love his life, he is refusing to let his kernel of wheat die. The net result is that he will remain a single seed, which Jesus says is equivalent to losing his life. Remaining a single seed is to lose your life.

So, clearly, Jesus is making an appeal to us that we act in faith and believe that our lives will be better off in the long run if we will choose to die with Him. But, what does it mean to die like a kernel of wheat? What does it mean to hate our life in this world?

Well, Jesus answers those two questions in verse 26. 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.

Here we have three parallel statements. This third statement in v.26 helps us understand that dying like a seed and hating our lives are descriptions of being a servant who obeys His master. Like in dying, we give up our rights to be in charge of our lives. They are no longer under our control. As someone who is dead, we don’t tell God how to run our lives. Rather, we say to Christ, “we are Your servants. We will do whatever You ask.” Our lives are no longer under our control. They are under Christ’s control. And notice, as Christ’s servants, we follow Him and we go where He goes.

Now, I’ve got to ask, how do we define the Christian life? How do we describe what it means to be a Christian? Do we view ourselves as God’s servants or do we more often view God as our servant? Think about it. Let’s review our last ten prayers. What did we say in those prayers? Those prayers will answer the question as to who is whose servant?

As we examine Jesus’ life, we see servanthood modeled. In just a few Sundays, we will hear Jesus say to us, John 13:13-14 (NIV) 13 “You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. Jesus is saying that Christians are servants in the likeness of their Lord and Teacher. Christians have died to their own will and found true and lasting life in and through their Savior Jesus Christ. Being a Christian is not an add-on to our lives. It is an exchange of our sinful life for a whole new life in Christ.

So, here in chapter 12, Jesus stands as a turning point. He creates a crisis for each of us. Will we die with Him? Will we freely exchange our agenda for His?

As Jesus asks us those questions, He is telling us that we will be exceedingly far better off to go with Him to the cross, die with Him and live in the new life of His resurrection.

Not only do we discover life eternal when we die with Christ, but our heavenly Father honors us as we live out our new life as servants of Christ following Him where He leads. 26 Whoever serves Me (Jesus says) must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.

So, what kind of battle do we face at this fork in the road that Christ creates for us? Consider this: Until we are ready and willing to turn our backs on the things of this world to follow Christ, we will miss out in the multi-dimensional, fruit filled, eternal life with God. Jesus wants us living in the fullness of His life now. He never intended to be perceived as simply a ticket to heaven that we hold onto while we live our lives as we choose. So Christ stands as the great divide where choosing Him now begins our eternal life now.

It’s the great principle of the cross. Christ died that we might live. But, He insists that we join Him in His death in order to join Him in His life. It’s the great exchange of the gospel where Christ gives His life so that we can enter into His death and gain the riches of His resurrection.

This is the greatest paradox of life. To surrender to Christ in our sinful condition, without anything to offer Him, to willfully replace our dreams and our goals with Christ’s dreams and Christ’s goals, such a dying will result in our discovering life beyond our imagination.

Sadly, we hold on to the stuff of this world as though it will bring us satisfaction. We seem afraid to let Jesus open our eyes to the riches that will be ours if we release our grip on the stuff of this world and exchange it for Christ Himself.

Paul said in Philippians 3:7-11 (NIV) 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

The enemy of our souls will try to make us cynical about the power of living in Christ’s death. But those who embrace Christ’s death find an amazing empowering to spread the good news of Christ.

When George Muller, pastor and provider for thousands of orphaned children, was asked his secret, he hung his head and said, “There was a day when I died.” Then he hung it lower and said, “Died to George Muller.”

Jesus said, 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.

The dying process is not easy. It wasn’t for Jesus, so what would make us think it would be easy for us.

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!”

Truly, it is a continuing act of faith to die to ourselves and obey Christ. Call it counter-intuitive; choosing death in order to find life. Even Christ faced the choice. 27 . . . ‘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.

The dying that Jesus calls us to is not easy. It can only be accomplished by faith in Christ’s promises. And we need the empowering of the Holy Spirit to walk in faith. By following Christ we place our trust in Him. We express confidence that what He has said is true. We trade in our sinful lives for His righteous life. It is no longer about us but about Him. Thus, we order our new lives by His instructions, by His commands, by His promises, by His intimate relationship with us. We live as servants of Christ. Our view of life is through our Master’s eyes. We walk through the valleys of discouragement with our faith embracing hope in Christ. Our communion with our Savior allows us to be at peace in the midst of turmoil because He holds on to us with a much stronger grip than we are holding on to Him.

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.

Jesus has set before us an opportunity. He wants for us to become sons of light. Such an opportunity calls for us to act. Jesus said, “Walk while you have the light.” Jesus is that light. When Jesus spoke these words, a very dark moment in history was about to occur. The fork in the road becomes a cross roads in the greatest battle of all time. The prince of darkness is defeated. Our bondage to sin is broken. Our estrangement from our Father is ended and we become God’s sons and daughters and brothers and sisters in His family. Gratitude springs up within us like a fountain that sends showers of blessing to everyone around us.

If only we could see that the things of this world that we hold on to so tightly will gain us nothing in eternity. Compared to the multiplied fruit of the kernel of wheat that dies, all that this world offers is nothing.

Would you ask the Holy Spirit of God to open your eyes to the riches of Christ that awaits you as a free gift when you enter by faith into Christ’s death on the cross?

As our preparation for communion, I would like us to think on the words of this song by Matt Redman.

ONCE AGAIN - by Matt Redman

Jesus Christ, I think upon Your sacrifice
You became nothing, poured out to death
Many times I've wondered at Your gift of life
And I'm in that place once again
I'm in that place once again

And once again I look upon the cross where You died
I'm humbled by Your mercy and I'm broken inside
Once again I thank You
Once again I pour out my life

Now You are exalted to the highest place
King of the heavens where one day I'll bow
But for now, I marvel at Your saving grace
And I'm full of praise once again
I'm full of praise once again

Thank You for the cross
Thank You for the cross
Thank You for the cross, my Friend


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[1]Borchert, G. L. (2002). Vol. 25B: John 12-21. The new American commentary, New International Version (30). Nashville: Broadman & Holman.

[2]Borchert, G. L. (2002). Vol. 25B: John 12-21. The new American commentary, New International Version (51). Nashville: Broadman & Holman.

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