Sermon: Lent 5
It Looks Like Dying
JOHN 12:20- 33
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’
The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
• • •
The Lord be with you.
I can’t imagine too many places other than here in the farm country of central Indiana where people would be more familiar with the concept Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel text. He uses a simple agricultural metaphor that is simple to understand, but which challenges all of our expectations about God and his Kingdom.
Let’s set the scene…
We have reached the turning point in the Gospel as John tells it. All throughout the Gospel, Jesus has been saying, “My hour, my time has not yet come.”
But today, in John 12, he announces, “Now the time has arrived. Now the hour has come.”
- Now is when the Son of Man will be glorified, Jesus announces.
- Now I have reached the moment for which I came into this world.
- Now it is time for the ruler of this world to be judged and cast out.
- Now it is time for me to be lifted up.
- Now it is time for me to draw all people to myself and to God.
I’m not sure what his disciples and others thought when Jesus said that, but perhaps they imagined it was time for him to claim the throne as Israel’s rightful king, the Messiah. Perhaps they thought when he said he was going to be “glorified” that it meant it was time for him to receive the true honor and public accolades that he deserved. Perhaps they understood that when he was lifted up and that all people would be drawn to him, it meant that he would replace the Romans who were ruling at the time, be hailed as King and Lord of all, and everyone would bow before him in allegiance.
It would have been perfectly natural to interpret his words like that. After all, this speech takes place right after Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly, with people shouting his praises.
However, right in the middle of his pronouncement that his hour has come, Jesus introduces a metaphor that turns all of those expectations upside down.
Look at it and listen to it, right there in verse 24:
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
I think everybody here has a pretty good grasp of what Jesus is talking about here. At planting time, we put seeds in the ground. We have learned that life and food and nourish-ment and abundance come about through a process. And the process, at first, looks like death. We bury seeds. We plough up the ground and put the seeds down in it, down in the darkness, down in the quiet. It looks like we are consigning the seeds to death.
But we wait. And in days to come, as the rains come and the sun shines and the nutrients in the soil do their work, the seed germinates, and life begins to grow silently, secretly. Then one day, a shoot of green breaks through the soil. Over time, it grows to maturity, produces its crop, and gives life to us.
Life comes to us through a process that, at first, looks like death. It looks like dying.
And so it is with the Kingdom of God. And so it is with Jesus becoming King and bringing eternal life to the world.
- Yes, Jesus will be glorified. But surprisingly, it won’t look like a King being honored with a robe and crown, it will look like dying.
- Yes, Jesus will accomplish what he came to do. But surprisingly, it will involve dying a criminal’s death.
- Yes, Jesus will overcome evil and defeat the powers of sin and death. But surprisingly, he will do it by submitting himself to their power and suffering their violent attacks.
- Yes, Jesus will be lifted up. But surprisingly, it not be on a throne. It will be on a tree of crucifixion.
- Yes, Jesus will draw all people to himself as King and Lord, but it will be by dying for their sins, which will draw them and reconcile them to God.
This is how Jesus becomes King. This is how he is lifted up. This is how he accomplishes what God sent him to do. This is how sin, evil, and death are defeated. This is how people all over the world are drawn to Jesus in faith to receive eternal life. It looks like dying.
Jesus goes on to say that this is how his followers will continue to live and bring life to the world: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”
As you and I live each day, we are called to live cruciform lives. We bring life to the world in the same surprising and counter-intuitive way that the seed does. It looks like dying. It looks like laying down our lives for others. It looks like sacrificing our own self-interests so that we might serve the interests of others. It looks like committing ourselves to the small, humble, and often secret acts of love that nourish and enhance life for those around us.
This is life the way God designed it. Jesus’ life and our life follows the pattern of the seed. It brings life to the world. But it looks just like dying. Amen.