Pastor Eric Schroeder

Text: John 12:20-33

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We all have strengths and weaknesses. I don’t think any of us disagree. And as we go through life, part of the challenge is trying to figure out where we fit within society, and trying to find a way to glorify God with the particular combination of gifts that he has given each one of us. For instance, a young person might realize that he or she excels in math and science, but doesn’t do particularly well in literature and art. Such a young person might consider a career in engineering or medical research. Another student might struggle with numbers, but has a gift for writing and communicating. This student is encouraged to look at journalism or marketing. Still another teenager might seem to be average in school, but is able to accomplish great things in being creative and working with his hands, so he goes into a career in custom cabinetry or another trade. You get the picture. No career is “one size, fits all,” none is objectively better or worse than another, but there can be great satisfaction if you find the one that is just right for you.

But enough about us. We spend enough time all week thinking about ourselves. Now, like the Greeks who approach Philip at the beginning of our gospel reading, “We would like to see Jesus.” As we listen to what he says in these verses, we can appreciate all the more how Jesus carried out the career—if we call it that—that was just right for him. The good news is that his career as the Savior of the world was just right for us, too, because Jesus is the perfect combination—he is the only one who could have done this kind of work, and he fulfilled the role perfectly.

Now, we don’t know a whole lot about these Greeks. Some Bible scholars suggest they are Greek-speaking Jews from far away; others say they are Gentiles (non-Jews) who were in the process of converting to Judaism…but it doesn’t really matter who they were. What does matter is that they were in town for the upcoming Passover festival, and the word of Jesus’ big entrance was quickly spreading (we now call it Palm Sunday). Philip happens to have a common Greek name, so they start with him, and when the request makes its way to Jesus, he knows exactly what to say.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Jesus has the perfect combination of a perfect plan and perfect timing. If we read John’s entire gospel account, we would come across five or six times before chapter 12 where Jesus had done extraordinary works and had the opportunity to tell everyone who he is and exactly why he came to earth….but he doesn’t, at least not openly and publicly. There are even times when Jesus performs great miracles, and he tells the witnesses not to tell anyone. Why not? In each of those instances, either Jesus says or John explains that “the hour had not yet come.” In other words, it wasn’t the right time for Jesus to die.

But now that time had come. Jesus here compares himself to a kernel of wheat, and he knows that it is just about planting time.

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.

I have no doubts that if I were one of Jesus’ disciples, I would have had the same attitude they did. The last thing I would have wanted would be for Jesus, my teacher, my friend, to die. But Jesus knows better. Jesus knows that the only way to make sinners perfect is to die for their guilt. The only way to make mortals immortal is to set aside his own immortality, give up his own life, and be buried in the ground. Only then could he multiply the harvest as the firstfruits raised from the dead.

He goes on…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. As Jesus so often does, he points out a truth in what sounds like an offensive way. Is Jesus calling us to misery? Is he calling us to poverty? Is he calling us to abandon our relationships and the rest of our earthly blessings so that we end up in despair and depression?. . . Not primarily. If we listen closely, Jesus is pointing out that what we think we want is not what we really want. We think we want a nice life, an easy life, a happy life. So what do we do? We spend so much of our time and effort chasing after earthly comfort, earthly pleasure, earthly success and happiness. . . and so often that presents a conflict between what God commands and what we want. And far too often, we choose ourselves and our own immediate desires over God’s will for our lives. In other words, we functionally demote God and promote ourselves, setting him aside until we think we might need his help. Every sin we commit is idolatry, because it is choosing our will over God’s. And by living our own version of our lives, we confirm the truth that we are naturally rebellious against what our sinful nature sees as God’s interference. We want what we want, not what God wants.

But Jesus wants more for us than we want for ourselves, because he wants eternal life for us—eternal life with us. He also knows what it will cost him. 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.

Jesus is the perfect combination. He is in the world, but not of it. He has perfect knowledge of the plans of those who threatened his life, and the willing submission to give in. He knows the need of a world full of sinners, and he has the ability to do something about it. He has access to infinite power, and he has an infinite mercy that leads him to take on our weakness and sin as he is nailed to and then lifted up on a cross. He will die in place of sinners, and then he will rise again to set us free from death. His death and resurrection satisfy the demands of God’s law, the punishment for our sin, and the price of our forgiveness. Jesus is the perfect combination, the Son of God and the Son of Man, the perfect Savior for you and me.

And now, in the way we follow Jesus, we have the opportunity every day to glorify his name. Now we don’t just live for ourselves, we live for the one who died and rose for us. Now we don’t just live for our own earthly desires, we live to draw others closer to Jesus. That means that we don’t have to run from suffering and sacrifice, because we know that quite often earthly struggles give us understanding and experience that we can then share with others who are suffering. Sometimes we are blessed with the chance to look back and see how God has brought us through the times we couldn’t get through on our own, and we grow in our trust of him instead of going on trusting ourselves and our own abilities. Other times, we can’t seem to see an end to our suffering, but we trust that when Jesus comes back to take us out of this world, all of our hardships will come to an end.

The season of lent helps us to see Jesus like he wants to be seen, the perfect combination of God and man—our perfect Savior, who loved us and gave himself for us. As Isaiah foretold, our Savior would be familiar with suffering. He knows what it’s like to live in this world of struggles. He knows what it is like to be weak, and lonely, and rejected. He knows what it is like to see death approaching. But he also knows what it is like to seek God’s will above all, and trust that God knows best. Best of all, he knows what it is like to rise from the dead, and he promises that because he lives eternally, we will too.

We all have strengths, and we all have weaknesses. We see them daily. But after seeing Jesus once again, after seeing him have the strength to take on our weakness, we look at ourselves differently. May God guide us to use every strength we have in service to him and to one another, and may our weaknesses remind us to trust that God will provide the perfect combination of blessings and times of testing, all to draw us closer each day to the eternal life that Jesus has won for us. AMEN.