The Fifth Sunday in Lent March 25, 2007
158, 175, 144, 352
Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This He said, signifying by what death He would die.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ:
The bird lived for 500 years then burned itself to ashes in a fire. Out of the burned ashes and death, the bird rose to life, fresh and youthful to live another period of time. This is the legend of the Phoenix and like many legends, it is a story that is unbelievable. The legend of the Phoenix is unbelievable because we know that everything dies. Death is the inevitable end of life. We witness the daily progression of life to death and never death to life.
However, Jesus offers an example in which life does come out of death. In Jesus’ example, death is necessary for the life to come. “Most assuredly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” [v.24] If you keep a grain of wheat dry it will remain a perfect kernel of wheat, but only one. If you plant that seed in the ground it will become soft and mushy and will rot away, but not before a plant grows up out of it and produces a head of grain. One seed dies but from that death comes life and a handful of seeds.
Jesus used the example of a dying seed to teach us that He had to die in order for life to follow. Likewise, a part of us has to die in order for life to follow. Jesus instructs us that THE FRUITS OF LIFE GROW OUT OF DEATH I. Jesus gave Himself for you and II. You lose yourself for Jesus. We ask the Holy Spirit to bless our study.
The Israelites were God’s chosen people and received special honor from the Lord. They were the people to whom God entrusted His Old Testament Word, to whom He sent His prophets, from whom the Savior Himself was born. Salvation from sin was never exclusively for the people of Israel. Israel was God’s special nation with a particular blessing and privilege, but those from all nations who believed in the true God and His promised Messiah were saved without exception.
When king Solomon dedicated the temple he prayed, “Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this temple, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You…” (1 Kings 8:41-43).
At the beginning of Jesus’ life on earth, the Gentile wise men came to Bethlehem and worshipped the young child Jesus. Now, just a couple of days before He was crucified, we hear that believing Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover, asked to see Jesus.
When Jesus sent the twelve apostles on their very first missionary trip He had limited them to going to the Jews. He said, “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). Jesus Himself did His preaching in the Jewish regions of Judah and Galilee. Yet we know that He also ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well, the Gentile woman whose daughter was demon-possessed, and the Gentile centurion whose servant was near death. Jesus spoke to Jews and said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold (Israel), them (Gentiles) also I must bring, and they will hear my voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16).
So we see that through the Old Testament and in Jesus’ ministry there were Gentile believers, but there was no widespread ministry to the Gentiles. God had separated Israel from the rest of the nations for a purpose. God preserved His truth and the true worship of Himself within the separated nation.
Even though the Jews were the caretakers of God’s Word in the Old Testament and were His special people, the Jewish nation fell away from God and when the Messiah came they would reject Him. The Jewish rejection of Jesus prompted God to take the special privilege of His Word away from Israel and give it to the Gentiles. In the New Testament, the nation of Israel was destroyed in punishment for their rejection of Jesus, and God’s Word was spread far and wide among the Gentiles as it continues today.
Several times in Scripture we hear that Jesus was not taken by His enemies because His hour had not yet come. The time that Jesus would suffer and die was in God’s hands alone. When Andrew and Philip told Jesus that the Greeks wanted to see him, “Jesus answered them saying, ‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.’” [v.23]
The Gospel’s spread to the Gentiles would not take place until two things had happened. First, that the Jews showed their ultimate rejection by crucifying Jesus. Secondly, that Jesus would accomplish salvation for the world and send the Holy Spirit to His disciples.
Jesus said that the hour had come for the Son of man to be glorified. Why? Jewish hatred toward Jesus was at a peak. Greeks were coming to see Him. Up until this time Jesus’ hour had not come. Now was the time for Jesus to be glorified and that glory would come from His death. Now was the time for the work to be completed and then the Word would go out to all nations. Like a seed that has to die before the living plant grows and produces fruit, so too Jesus had to die to accomplish what He came to accomplish.
Just because His death was necessary didn’t make it an easy thing. Jesus said, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” [v.27] The upcoming suffering which Jesus would endure stirred up His emotions and troubled Him. Our inclination would be to give it up and get out of the situation while we still could. Jesus went forward. He was willing to suffer it all and give Himself into death for you. He came to the earth to save you from your sins and though it cost Him His life, that was His purpose and that is what He would do. Now was the time for Jesus to die. Now was the time for the fruits of life to come from His death. “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” [v.31]
You and all of the people in the world are sinners. All sinners are under the righteous judgment of God. The judgment which God makes is condemnation to eternal death. The Devil is the father of sin and loves to see us in it. Satan loves to rule over the world with his sin and destruction. He works together with our sinful flesh and the sinful world around us to trap us in sin and therefore in God’s condemnation. If he can keep us in our sin and under God’s wrath then we are dead to God and will spend eternity in Hell, much to the devil’s delight. The Devil delightfully deals death across the world. There are no fruits of life from this death.
Jesus’ death is different. Jesus’ death changes this picture. “Now is the judgment of this world.” The righteous judgment of God’s wrath was carried out on Jesus. He took our sins to the cross and died for them in our place. His holiness is now credited to our account. Where there is holiness and perfection God’s judgment isn’t the condemnation to eternal death but the invitation to eternal life. “Now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” By His death and resurrection, Jesus has defeated the ruler of this world, Satan. He no longer has power and control over us. It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to die before we could have the fruits of life because our sins demanded death.
A seed is buried in the ground. Jesus died and His body was buried in a tomb. A few days after a seed is planted, a sprout grows and a new life begins. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead and a new life began. Jesus was glorified and exalted and He returned to heaven. We have the assurance that Jesus’ death was not in vain, because life came out of His death.
Jesus describes another death which is necessary in order that fruits of life may grow. This second death is in you. It is not a death of the body but a death of your “self”—your sinful self and its desires. “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” [v.25]
Remember the sinfulness that brought us under God’s wrath in the first place? We are born with that sin and it is an inescapable part of us. Our sinfulness wants to be satisfied and filled up with its pleasures. The desire for our self satisfaction works well with Satan’s schemes to tempt us. It works well because our selfish desires will lead us away from Jesus and because there are so many things in this life that appeal to those desires.
One such desire is the desire for wealth—If only I had the money to go out and buy everything that I wanted instead of just scraping enough together to pay the bills. Oh the things I could do with money. Oh the pleasures of self-satisfaction in which I could indulge myself if I were wealthy. If you had more wealth where would it go? What would it buy?
Our society is driven by a desire to be rich so that we can do the things we want to do and satisfy our desires. The desire to gain this wealth has become so great that no longer does society even want to work for this wealth but wants it for free. One example is the ever-growing number of lotteries and other forms of gambling. More and more people are foolishly wasting the gifts God has given them with the hope that they can get much more to satisfy the desires of self. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Wealth is not in itself sinful. The danger of wealth is that it becomes our life and that we live for it.
Wealth is just one of the distractions that may tempt us to follow a love for this life instead of a life which loves and follows Christ. We may become distracted by a love for the Sunday morning sporting events or sleep or recreation instead of a love for God’s Word. Weak prioritization puts God wherever He fits instead of fitting everything else around Him. Everything we have in this life is a blessing from God, but it is the very nature of our sinful selves to abuse what God has given us: to put confidence in the gifts instead of the giver, to work for and treasure the things in this life as if we were responsible for what we have, as if this were the ultimate goal, and as if there were nothing more valuable than our happiness in this world and this lifetime.
Jesus said whoever loves his life in this world will lose it. This world becomes the love of your life when for convenience or whatever other reason, you listen to your self instead of to God. Our citizenship is in heaven (cf: Philippians 3:20), but our sinful flesh stands in the way and says, “This life is what matters. Satisfy me.” To that Satan adds, “Yes, satisfy your self. It isn’t going to hurt just this one time.” Our sinful nature has to die so that it does not stand in the way of our goal in heaven. As Luther said, our sinful flesh should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance and is to die with all sins and evil desires (Small Catechism, Baptism)
Our life needs to be one of self death, self denial. We lose our life for Jesus. He becomes our life. The Apostle Paul once loved this life. He was a Pharisee proud of his ancestry, proud of his education and the life he led. He lived to satisfy himself. After he was brought to faith and learned that this life was not his true treasure he said, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
Your sinful nature doesn’t give up easily, in fact it doesn’t give up at all because it continues to tempt us. If it were up to us we wouldn’t be with Christ in the first place. We don’t by nature believe a word God says. It is necessary that we be brought into the life which Christ offers because we would not enter it on our own. Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself. This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” [v.32-33]
Jesus draws sinners to Himself. We didn’t come on our own. God’s Word shows Jesus lifted up on the cross for all the world of sinners to see. The Gospel shows Jesus, the sinless Son of God, lifted up and killed for the redemption of the world. Jesus sends His Holy Spirit through the Word to call people from every nation and causes them to look up at Christ on the cross and to believe what He accomplished there. When sinners are drawn to Christ through His Word, a new life in Christ begins and rules where once our sinful flesh and Satan were king. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
There are fruits of life which come out of this self death. Jesus said, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” [v.26] Christ’s death accomplished forgiveness of sins for everyone. If the sinful self and this world stand in the way and continue to rule, then Christ and His life are rejected. You follow Christ and are His servant because you have been led to see your sin and look to Him for help and as the love of your life. You are redeemed by Christ and He has drawn you to Himself. In Jesus you have complete forgiveness. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there the Father bestows honor and gives His children life. Jesus has promised that He will return and take you to the eternal fruits of life. “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am there you may be also” (John 14:3).
The assurance that all of this is true is given to us in the works and wonders of God. Jesus prayed, “’Father glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven saying, ’I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.’ Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it thundered. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to Him.’ Jesus answered and said, ‘This voice did not come because of Me but for your sake.’” [v.28-30]
Every example which we have in Scripture of God’s power, of His mercy, grace, and patience (both with Israel and us) are all examples of glory to His name. The greatest glory is due to God for sending His own Son as a man to this earth to die and then raising Him to life on the third day. God has glorified His name among us so that we too might believe and be saved.
Jesus draws us to Himself on the cross and there we find death. There Jesus died and with Him our sins. Out of that death comes life. It is a life which He gives us and which no longer lives for our selves but for Him and will live with Him forever.
Drawn to the cross which Thou hast blest
with healing gifts for souls distrest,
To find in Thee my life, my rest,
Christ crucified I come.
Thou knowest all my griefs and fears,
Thy grace abused, my misspent years;
Yet now to Thee with contrite tears,
Christ crucified I come.
Wash me and take away each stain;
Let nothing of my sin remain.
For cleansing, though it be through pain,
Christ crucified I come.
And then for work to do for Thee,
which shall so sweet a service be
That angels well might envy me,
Christ crucified, I come. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.