As always, the weeks leading up to a sermon find me so engrossed in that sermon things here can get ignored for a time. This time, when you add to that the start of the new school semester last week, and youth kickoff next week, things are crazy. Never-the-less, as i have done in the past, here is the manuscript for the sermon i preached this morning. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or make a comment afterwards. I appreciate hearing from my readers. Just a note for those who are curious, in my manuscripts, i always use bold font at certain points for one reason. If i lose my place during the sermon, i know that i have either gone over that bold point, or not, and so can find my spot quite easily. This avoids long drawn-out periods of silence while i try to find my place. Now you know.
Sermon Title: Follow the Leader: Die Like Wheat
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Open in prayer.
The story is told of a little girl who suffered from a rare disease, and the only way she would be able to live is through a blood transfusion. Her five-year-old brother had beaten the same disease when he was little, and as a result, his body held the antibodies needed to fight off the disease. The doctors and parents explained the situation to the young boy; that his blood would help his sister beat the disease; and they asked him if he would consider giving his blood to his sister. The boy hesitated for only a moment before deciding he would go through with the procedure. After both brother and sister were hooked up to the machines and the transfusion was underway, the boy turned to the doctor and asked, “Will I start to die right away?”
Being so young, the boy misunderstood what the transfusion meant, and thought that he would be giving his sister all of his blood, and that he would die as a result.
In his book Save Me From Myself, Brian “Head” Welch tells the story of a trip he took to India, in the summer of 2005, only a few months after his conversion. A pastor at his church had told him about the work that an organization called Good News India was doing in building orphanages for the children in the poorest places in India. Seeing the despair, Welch donated enough money to start a new orphanage, and so Good News India called it “Head Home”. One day they were preparing to visit his new orphanage, and in his own words, “I felt the Lord’s presence… and I heard… I’m sending you to the Untouchable. Nobody wants them, but I do. Don’t be afraid.”
Welch shares how he was unsure of what this meant, and thought it had to do with the children in need of orphanages. Later that day, the group he was with got a call from a pastor working in the orphanages who had been approached by a tribe in the area called the Loadi Tribe. The Loadi people had asked the group to come and talk to them about helping their children. “Head” writes, “The Loadi were a very poor people, but there was something else: they were also murderous cannibals.” One of the people in the group shared how he had heard that the Loadi were, “ferocious headhunters!”
Not exactly something someone with the nickname “Head” wants to hear. Welch describes how frightened he was of the entire situation. The first thing the leader of the Loadi people told this group was, “If you don’t help the kids like you say you will, we will hunt down and kill pastor Tarroon.” The government of India had promised all the things this group was promising, but those turned out to be empty promises. The reason the Loadi people had turned to cannibalism was because the government had not helped in the first place.
The whole situation turned out well though, so don’t worry. An orphanage was built to provide help for the Loadi people, and Good News India continues to minister in that region. Only a few months after becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, Brian “Head” Welch faced death as a result of his faith.
On this day, September 11, 2001, the world, and specifically the U.S.A was shocked by the terrorist acts that happened at the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. However, also on that day, a fourth plane had been hijacked and was destined for a fourth destination. On board United 93 were thirty seven passengers and seven crew members. After the hijacking, twelve people on board were able to make phone calls to loved ones using the air-phones or cell phones. The passengers were made aware through those phone calls of the attacks that had taken place, and realized that they too would suffer the same fate.
Several of the passengers aboard United 93 that day decided to stage a revolt and retake the plane, to see to it that it did not reach its destination. Their bravery and sacrifice saved the lives of countless others.
You may have seen the title of this morning’s message on the sign outside, Follow the Leader, but since then I have added the subtitle, Die Like Wheat! As we are moving through the series in John, our passage this morning is found in John 12:20-36, so if you have your bibles, please turn there with me.
While pastor Abe originally assigned me verses 12-36, I will only be making a few comments regarding verses 12-19 to give us context, for it is in verses 20-36 that I would like to focus our attention this morning. John does not linger on the event of the Triumphal Entry itself, but rather, he concentrates on the conversation that took place during the event. In our case here, verses 12-19 simply provide us context for the remainder of the passage.
John shows us in verses 12-19 that the Triumphal Entry takes place the day after Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with the perfume, as we heard pastor Abe speak about last week.
The first thing we should observe here is the use of palm branches for the praise of Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. The palm tree has always been a symbol of victory and triumph. The people were waving the palm branches because they recognized Jesus as the ruler that would end the tyranny of the Roman government. When we consider this together with the proclamation of the people, reciting Psalm 118:25-6, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel,” there is no mistaking that the people were ready to accept the fact that Jesus was the Messiah.
Next we see that Jesus makes his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. William Barclay notes, “With us the donkey is lowly and despised; but in the East it was a noble animal… A king came riding on a horse when he was bent on war; he came riding on a donkey when he was coming in peace.” This is true of Jesus as well. The contrast to the Triumphal Entry can be found in Revelation 19:11, where John writes, “I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.” At Jesus’ second coming he will appear on a horse to make war against evil, but at his first appearance we see that it is as a king of peace that he reveals himself.
The final contextual observation I would like to make is found in verse 19. John refers back to this same chapter, verses 9-11, and the plot to kill Jesus and Lazarus, and then in verse 19 he writes, “The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!” All of the plots and attempts by the Pharisees at trying to get rid of Jesus and Lazarus fail, and they are actually arguing over this. And then they see a most disturbing sight; “The world has gone after Him!” And this is where we pick up the narrative. Follow along in John 12, starting at verse twenty:
20 Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. 21 Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. 23 But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 “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. 25 “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 “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.
According to commentators this portion of scripture is the first instance when Gentile people first ask to see Jesus. When the Pharisees used the word “world” in verse 19, they were referring to people that were not of Jewish descent. The Gentile people were openly asking for an audience with Jesus. We see here the first indication that the salvation Jesus brings is not only for the Jewish people, but for all people.
G. Campbell Morgan gives a word of caution about misinterpreting who these Greeks were. These were not Greek speaking Jews. These Greeks are referred to as Hellenes: Gentiles. These are the same sort of Gentiles that we see in Acts 17, when Paul is in Athens. The Gentile people chased after education on all the religious sentiments that the world offered during their time, and we see through the history of the Greek people, they assimilated a lot of the various religious sentiments into one large ideal.
So when, in John 12, the Greek people come desiring to see Jesus, it is because they have heard rumors about him and the things he has done. The fact that they approach Philip is also significant. The Greeks in our passage must have thought they had a small connection to Philip, because Philip is a Greek name. He turns to Andrew, another disciple with a Greek name. Remember Andrew is the one who brought the boy to Jesus during the feeding of the 5,000. William Barclay reminds us, “Andrew had discovered that no one could ever be a nuisance to Jesus. He knew that Jesus would never turn any seeking soul away.”
And we see how Jesus responds in verse 23: “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” Let me point out that the first time Jesus made a reference to time in this way was at the wedding in Cana in John 2:4, when he said, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” Again in John 7:6, when Jesus’ own brothers reject him he says, “My time has not yet come.” Up to this point in John 12, anytime Jesus refers to time in this respect, he always says, “It’s not my time yet.”
Which makes our passage so important: The first time people outside the Jewish community approach Jesus to discuss religion and faith, he declares that his time has come. And what does he tell them? He declares, “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.”
As a farming community, many of us are familiar with what happens to a seed when it is planted. One farmer writes, “You cannot see what happens, but it happens with every seed that gets planted. Once that seed is placed in the ground and as it receives water, it begins to die. That seed begins shedding its outer shell. It then swells up and bursts open. From this death, something amazing happens. New life begins. Something living comes from something that died!”
When Jesus refers to the death of a seed, I believe he was speaking about more than a physical death. We know from history that physical death may be required of an individual if they choose to follow Christ. We know it to be true because 11 of the 12 disciples met a martyr’s death. We see it in the history of the church and the many martyrs that gave their life as a sacrifice for their faith.
But Jesus’ words point to much more. His words speak of a life of sacrifice here on earth. They speak about giving up the creature comforts we enjoy so much. They speak about “putting off, concerning the former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,” as Paul declares in Ephesians 4:22. In Matthew 19 Jesus alludes to this type of death when he is confronted by the rich young ruler. Jesus struck at the core of this young man’s reason for being when he told him to “sell what you have and give to the poor.” The young man simply could not let go, he could not sacrifice the things that held him back from following Jesus fully.
Jesus says, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
How many of you have seen the television show, Canada’s Worst Driver. We get it on Saturday’s on farmer vision, so I sometimes watch it as I wake up. One of the challenges they often have for the drivers is to drive through stacks of blocks that are just narrow enough for the vehicle while driving at 60 km/hr. It is interesting to see that whenever the driver hits the blocks it is almost always on the passenger side of the car. The natural human tendency is to ensure our own safety and comfort, which can often come at the expense of others.
Jesus declares if all you think about is your comfort and your life, in the end, you will lose your life.
But then he declares, “He who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The word “hate” here is a bit misleading, and should not be understood in the same way we use the word today. The Greek word used here is the word “miseo (mi-se-o)” which has the meaning of hate, but more so, in this context, means “indifference”, or to “love less”. Jesus was saying, “If you view your life with indifference and sacrifice the comfort and security of this world for the sake of the kingdom, you will gain eternal life.”
With this revelation that Jesus gives the people, his true heart is exposed in verse twenty-six, “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.” Jesus points all of the attention to the Father. He seeks nothing for Himself, but reveals that it is God who will honor those who follow him, Jesus, and live a life of sacrifice for him. By making this proclamation, Jesus is saying that all of our efforts, regardless of what we are doing, should point to God.
And then Jesus does something that I’m sure caught everyone off guard, and we see this in the remaining verses. John 12:27-36,
27 “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. 28 “Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” 29 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” 30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. 31 “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” 33 This He said, signifying by what death he would die. 34 The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’ Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. 36 “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.
First as we saw, Jesus tells the people, “You have to put off the old ways and religious attitudes. You must be prepared to sacrifice your comforts and maybe even your lives,” and then he says, “To show you what I mean, so you have an example of what I am talking about, I will show you. As the Messiah, I will offer up my life as a sacrifice, and in doing so,” look at verse 32, in doing so, Jesus says he, “will draw all peoples to Myself!” As an example of a life that will multiply and produce much fruit, Jesus lays down his life to be lifted up on the cross.
Remember, Jesus would not say this and ask this of us, if he had not first experienced it. Jesus knows what it’s like to think his life indifferent. He gave up the splendor of heaven to come to earth and be a man. All of the temptations, all of the heartaches, all of the pains, would be realized when Jesus became a man.
But as Morgan is quick to point, “That does not say that all will yield, but it does say that he will be the gathering point for people, that people will be drawn towards him.”
The people surrounding Jesus during this conversation would have known what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of being lifted up. They knew he was talking about the cross. But they couldn’t see past their present situation to the eternal implications. Being lifted up is a proclamation of Jesus’ death on the cross, but also of His resurrection, ascension, and ultimately the exaltation to the right hand of God as well.
Jesus concludes by warning the people that the light will not always be with them, and the caution to follow the light while they have it. It is almost fitting that, as he concludes speaking about the light, verse thirty-seven says, “These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.” The passage opens in verse twenty with Greeks seeking Jesus; declares the life of sacrifice that must be lived as a follower of Him; contains within it a warning that the light will not always be among them, immediately followed by Jesus departing and hiding from them, effectively ending his earthly ministry.
I would like to conclude with two quick stories and a challenge:
- I recently had a conversation with a friend who lamented the situation their church is facing. My friend said, “Jason, God has blessed our church in so many ways. We have gifts of the Spirit that are aching to manifest themselves in ways we could never imagine. But our congregation is so focused on those gifts that they are forgetting to worship God. They are hoarding the gifts God has given them, expecting everything for themselves. Faith,” he told me, “and gifts, are not to be hoarded. They are meant to be shared, but if we keep them to ourselves, ultimately we will gain neither.”
- One Sunday morning when Jason and Pam, pastor Abe and Kathy’s kids, were here, I had an opportunity to visit with them for a little while. As we were talking, I asked them, “So what did you do with your house? Are you renting it out?” To which Jason replied, “No, we sold it. It was one of the major issues in our life that kept us hesitating, and we knew we needed to fully give everything up so that we could focus all our attention on the ministry God called us to.”
- What are the things in your life that keep you from producing fruit?
- What are the things in your life that keep you from being like the grain of wheat? What do you need to give up to live a life of sacrifice?
- Is it a comfort that you have grown attached to?
- Are you afraid of offending someone, or feel the need to be politically correct?
- Is it life itself?
- A five-year-old boy prepared to die so his sister would live!
- Brian “Head” Welch faced death at the hands of the Loadi Tribe because of his faith six months after becoming a Christian!
- Brave airplane passengers surrendered their lives so that others would live!
- What do you need to die to so that seeds of faith can be planted and nurtured to full maturity, in your own life, and for the community of Niverville?
- Will you follow Jesus, the leader?
- Will you die like wheat?
Matthew Henry’s commentary, page 1577.
Barclay, William. Commentary on John, page 118.