Mailed out for: Sunday, April 19th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Isa 66:15-24 ESV] 15 “For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. 16 For by fire will the LORD enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many. 17 “Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares the LORD. 18 “For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, 19 and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20 And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. 21 And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD. 22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. 23 From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD. 24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
New Testament reading:
[2Pe 1:1-2 ESV] 1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
Gospel reading and sermon text:
[Jhn 12:20-26 ESV] 20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
Continuing in our series on John’s Gospel we find Jesus now in Jerusalem for the festival of Passover in the last week of his life and ministry. He had just been welcomed in by the crowds cheering “Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”
Passover is a great festival of the Jews. There would have been hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people there for the festival. Jews from near and far were came to Passover. Most of them would have been Hebrew or Aramaic-speaking peoples from the region around Jerusalem. But there would have also been many Greek-speaking Jews called Hellenists who had traveled from further places to attend the festival. In places like Egypt there were large Jewish communities but they mostly had lost their original language and instead spoke Greek, the lingua franca of the ancient world at that time. These Hellenists, despite their lack of speaking Hebrew or Aramaic, were fully welcomed as Jews as they continued advocate the Law of the Old Testament and were ethnically Jewish.
But, as our passage relates, there were some at the festival who were not merely Hellenists, Greek-speaking Jews, but were entirely non-Jewish. They were Greek-speaking Greeks! (Not “hellenistes” but “hellenes.”) These Greeks were Gentiles (ethnos) of course, but even more specifically they were Gentiles that came from the native Greek-speaking lands. Linguistically and ethnically they were Greek.
And so it is these outsiders who tell the Apostle Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Now there isn’t a specific reason mentioned as to why they want to see Jesus, but it is certainly not for any ordinary reason. It is not that they wish just to physically see him, but that they wish to talk to him and to even to follow him. They must be intrigued about what they are hearing about Jesus; that he is the messiah. And they likely were proselytes, Greeks who had given up their polytheism and worshipped the one God of Israel. So they knew of the Old Testament prophecies.
Now, the text does not tell us why they spoke to Philip. But it does note that he (who had a Greek name – Philip) was from Bethsaida in Galilee. It is possible that Philip spoke more Greek or better Greek than some of the other disciples because he was from that far north area of Israel where perhaps more Greek was spoken. But whatever the reason that he was chosen, it is of note that these Greeks at the festival did not come directly to Jesus. They spoke to Philip instead.
Philip then tells Andrew and they go together and tell Jesus.
There are three things that I want to focus on in Jesus’ response. Let’s first re-read that response.
23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
The three things I want to focus on from Jesus’ response are the meanings of each of these:
1. The hour has come.
2. Life and death.
3. Whoever and anyone.
Those will be our three headlines.
I. THE HOUR HAS COME
When, in John chapter 2, Jesus’ mother tells him the wine at the wedding has run out, he responds “My hour has not yet come.”
And when, in John chapter 7, Jesus’ brothers old him to go to the Feast of Booths in Judea that his works may be seen more openly, he responds, “My time has not yet come.”
But Jesus has continued to promise that the hour, the time is coming.
In John chapter 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan women “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.”
There are even statements earlier in John’s Gospel that the hour has arrived.
Again to the Samaritan woman Jesus says “But the hour is coming, AND IS NOW HERE, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”
And Jesus says to the Jews in John chapter 5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, AND IS NOW HERE, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”
That hour – that time has now come. In a more narrow sense the hour or the time refers to Jesus’ impending death. But in a broader way, the hour or the time is referring to the great change which is coming about because of Jesus. It is an end to the world as it is known, and a beginning of the world as it is to be. And just as the old world is dying and a new world coming to life, so too does each person who is in Christ lose their old life and gain new life in Him.
II. LIFE AND DEATH
This is the real meat then of Jesus’ response. The fact that the “hour as come” is almost said in passing. It if important of course. But now Jesus says
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” And this is how he is going to be glorified. Jesus explains with this analogy: “24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
From his death, much life will result! This is the Gospel! Now, I was taught in seminary to emphasize the Gospel in every sermon. And I’ve thought at times that this might be a difficult task. Perhaps with some Scriptural passages it might be. But what I’ve found in John’s Gospel is that the Gospel is plentiful. It is nearly everywhere. And here it is again. Jesus dies so that you can have life! That is the good news of the Gospel in a nutshell. Jesus died so that you can have life!
He then extends that theme. Still on the subject of life and death, Jesus says,
“25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
The old world is dying and your old life is dying. If you hang on to that, you’ll be brought down to the pit of hell. Whoever loves the old life, the life of sin, will lose his life eternally. But if you hate the life of sin you will have eternal life. But it is not merely hating sin that brings eternal life. As Jesus continues, he says “26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
So you must not only hate sin, but you must follow Christ. This is repentance. Turning from the life of sin and turning to follow Jesus Christ. Losing you old life and finding new life. Your life in this world then changes to one in which Christ is at center, and your eternal life is guaranteed in Him who bears much fruit! YOU, Christian, are the fruit of Jesus Christ. His death, like a grain of wheat falling to the earth, has resulted in your life. You are the fruit.
III. WHOEVER AND ANYONE
Coming then to our third heading, we see that this is life for “whoever” and for “anyone.” We’ve read these verses already, but now I want to do with so an emphases on those two words.
“25 WHOEVER loves his life loses it, and WHOEVER hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
“26 If ANYONE serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If ANYONE serves me, the Father will honor him.”
And here is where we come full circle. The WHOEVER and the ANYONE is an answer to the Greeks. Jesus is saying, “whoever,” “anyone,” “even the Greeks,” those who are not Jewish, all can have life in Jesus Christ.
And here we see such strong evidence in our understanding of what “all” refers to in the Scriptures when they are speaking of salvation. Salvation is not only for the Jews, but it is for people of every tongue, tribe, and nation.
This is the same point being made in John 3:16 – WHOSOEVER believes in Him shall have eternal life. That WHOSOEVER is “all nations.”
There is Life for All.
“All” in the Scriptures, with respect to salvation, does not refer to each and every person as in a universalism where none go to hell. For we know that some do go to hell, and Jesus warns about that more than any other person in the Scriptures. In our very passage we read of that terrible fact that some will lose their life. Nor should we speak of a universal atonement, where Christ merely made it possible for people to be saved rather than actually saved them.
On this passage and to that point R. C. Sproul well says “Away with this doctrine of the atonement that says Jesus died to make salvation POSSIBLE. As if our Lord went to the cross and when he was raised from the dead he returned to heaven and there he got a seat on the 50-yard line to observe the consequences of his action and he wrung his hands in anxiety saying ‘Oh, I hope somebody takes advantage of this and is saved.’ I don’t think so. But the Father gives Christ’s sheep to him as his inheritance. It is not possible that the atonement of Christ could do without fruit. The Father makes certain that that wheat that dies bears fruit. And, ladies and gentlemen, if you indeed are in Christ and have tasted of the bread of heaven, you are that fruit. And that fruit is given not just to Israel but to his church which includes Greeks.”
“All” in the Scriptures refers to people of all nations. All peoples. It is not for each and every person, for then there would be none who would “lose their life.” Christ’s death is for HIS PEOPLE and he succeeds in gathering in his people from all nations.
This fulfills the prophecies like that of Isaiah that we read as our Old Testament reading that
“the time is coming to gather ALL NATIONS AND TONGUES. And they shall come and shall see my glory.”
And that Old Testament verse seems to be most in mind here in our passage in John’s Gospel. For not only is Jesus speaking of “all nations and tongues” but he also says “the hour has come.” And he even says “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” So we have three points of very close overlap between this passage from John and the verse Isaiah. (1) all nations, (2) the hour has come, and (3) to the glory of God.
When in the New Testament then when we have salvation in Christ spoken of, it often will make the same comment about “both Jew and Gentile.” And in other places, like our reading from 2 Peter, the text is prefaced with the fact that it is written to Christians, to believers. Thus when in the same letter we read that God does not wish that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9) he is speaking about His own people, not each and every person. God choses His people from all nations and none of his people will perish, but have eternal. Not so the wicked. The wicked lose their life when they try to keep it.
So we have these Greeks wishing to see Jesus. And Jesus by his words bids them to follow him. All people are bidden to follow Jesus.
So I ask, do you wish to see Jesus? If you do indeed wish to follow Jesus then you have been reborn; for you would not seek him if you had not been regenerated by him. Following the Lord then you have the promise of eternal life. And with that promise, our passage gives two more promises. It promises that “where I am, there will my servant be also.” You will be with the Lord. He will be with you. What a great comfort. And, we are promised, “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” You will even receive honor from the Father for following Christ. Jesus dies in your place, giving you not only eternal life, but faith in him and honor from the Father. Sometimes we complain about things not being fair. But this situation, which is not fair, is something not to complain about, but to rejoice in. ANYONE, WHOEVER, follows the Lord Jesus Christ is promised Life.
Anyone, even you, even me.
You have been given new life in Jesus Christ.
Praise be to God, you and I are of the abundant fruit of Christ.