Sermon on John 12:20–33 for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 18, 2018
- How do you define “glory”? Glory can mean praise. “Give glory to God” means the same thing as “Give praise to God.” But there’s more to “glory” than praise. “Glory” also means giving credit where credit is due. God said, “I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isaiah 42:8). Glory also has to do with fame, and when we use “glory” in a secular sense, that’s usually what we mean. Long ago I remember seeing TV commercials for video tapes: “Relive the glory days of the Packers, super memories of the Super Bowls, and the glory days of Vince Lombardi and the ‘Ice Bowl.’ Only three monthly payments of $19.95.” Fame and awesomeness. That’s what we mean by “glory.”
- Our Sunday Gospels are out of order so we can have Palm Sunday on Palm Sunday. Today’s Gospel is really from Palm Sunday afternoon. Jesus has just entered Jerusalem. He just rode into Jerusalem with the crowd shouting “Hosanna” and waving palm branches. He may be near the Temple or in the Temple courts, and he says “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” I would imagine that got the disciples attention. They were probably thinking, “This is it! Now Jesus is going to bring about that kingdom of God he’s been talking about.” But what does he say next? He talks about death. His death. His suffering, and suffering for his disciples. “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” It can’t be by human or worldly standards of glory, can it? Jesus is defining his glory. Not the praise from the crowd. Not visible success. Not wealth. Not a constant stream of food being multiplied for the masses. Not a visible kingdom of an invincible Israel. None of these are the glory he has in mind. Other people are thinking about these things, but Jesus is thinking about a glory that is much higher.
I. Glory in Dying for the World.
- He talks about death, his own upcoming death, with a parable—a short parable, so short that you really can’t call it a story. “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it continues to be one kernel. But if it dies, it produces much grain.” A single seed remains a single seed if it isn’t planted. If you plant it, bury it, it then ceases to be a seed and grows into a new plant that produces many seeds. Jesus is illustrating what has to happen to him before his glory. He had been wandering through Judea and Galilee, teaching and healing and feeding thousands and doing many more things. If he would continue doing things that way, he wouldn’t achieve his higher glory. Like the grain of wheat, he has to be buried, and after he rises, the preaching of One, Jesus, becomes the preaching of the eleven disciples—a preaching of the risen Christ, and then becomes the preaching hundreds and thousands and millions. For Jesus, an earthly glory would be limited and stagnant. After his resurrection, Jesus would say, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and to enter his glory” (Luke 24:26). Mocking? Whipping? Crowning with thorns? Nailing? Dying? …all as glory? Yes—the glory of giving himself in love.
II. The Glory of Leading His People to a Heavenly Focus.
- If talking about his own death surprised the disciples, listen to what he talks about next. He says, “This is what it means that you follow me. You follow me even in this, in selfless love, in suffering, even in dying. “Anyone who loves his life destroys it. And the one who hates his life in this world will hold on to it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, let him follow me. And where I am, there my servant will be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” Living life with selfish goals leads to loss. Jesus told a parable about a rich man who had a good crop and built new barns to store all his grain. He sat back and thought—“Now I’m all set for many years.” …but then he died that night. He loved his life. He loved what he had done. He loved the future he had built for himself, but in a moment, it was all gone. (Luke 12:13-21). That’s what Jesus means when he says “Anyone who loves his life destroys it.”
- “And the one who hates his life in this world will hold on to it for eternal life.” There are many people who “hate life.” We see it in the way people express their anger at life and at other people. We see the tragedy of those who end their own lives. Jesus is not talking about hating life that way. Sometimes the word “hate” is used to talk about a comparison or about giving something a lesser value. “The one who values his life in this world as a lesser thing will hold on to it for eternal life.” Jesus endured Good Friday because he knew Easter and Ascension were coming. What Jesus says harshly here, Palm Sunday afternoon, he says very gently on Maundy Thursday night. “Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that you may also be where I am.” (John 14:1-3).
III. The Glory of Doing His Father’s Will.
- When Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, one of the petitions was “Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” That petition is about God doing as he pleases, but the last part is really a prayer for obedience—our prayer that we would be just as obedient as the angels in heaven. If all Jesus did was teach his disciples to pray “Your will be done,” that would have been good because we all need to learn obedience. But Jesus did more than that. He prayed that himself. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). And he prayed “Your will be done” when he knew exactly what doing his Father’s will meant—his own suffering and death. Palm Sunday afternoon he says, “Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, this is the reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!”
- 2. Then the Father speaks from heaven. At Jesus’ baptism and at the Transfiguration, the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Here he answers Jesus, “I have glorified [my name] and I will glorify it again.” That was the Father’s approval of what Jesus had done and what he was about to do. The glory of Jesus life, death and resurrection is God’s glory too—expressing his love by giving his best—by giving of himself.
Conclusion: So when we think of glory, think of Jesus glory, even in the midst of suffering. Think of Jesus glorifying his Father and doing his will by laying down his life. Since Jesus death was painful, tragic and shameful, does that mean that God was not glorified? Far from it. It had the Father’s stamp of approval. He was doing what his Father wanted, and after his Good Friday, Jesus had his Easter and Ascension. The Father’s glory came first—Jesus’ hidden glory would come as he suffered, and a greater glory would come later. As the disciples went out proclaiming the gospel, some lost their lives. Did that mean that God was not glorified? No—quite the opposite. They hallowed God’s name, helped his kingdom to come, and did God’s will. When they lost their lives, they received the crown of glory that will never perish spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:4). When we think of our glory, we should remember what we pray for every day—that God’s name would be hallowed and that his will would be done. We may see some rewards and benefits in this life. Or we may see few. But obedience to God’s commands and glorifying him by giving ourselves to him and to our neighbors comes first. That should be our glory—our goal. Greater glory will come later. A heavenly reward will come later. That is Jesus’ pattern that the apostles were called to follow—and that we are called to follow. It is also his promise. “If anyone serves me, let him follow me. And where I am, there my servant will be also.”
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Festival. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22Philip went to tell Andrew. Andrew came with Philip and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Amen, Amen, I tell you: Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it continues to be one kernel. But if it dies, it produces much grain. 25Anyone who loves his life destroys it. And the one who hates his life in this world will hold on to it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, let him follow me. And where I am, there my servant will be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. 27“Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, this is the reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!” A voice came from heaven: “I have glorified my name, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said it thundered. Others said an angel talked to him. 30Jesus answered, “This voice was not for my sake but for yours. 31“Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be thrown out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate what kind of death he was going to die.