Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sermon -- 5th Sunday in Lent (March 18, 2018)

JOHN 12:20-33


In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus Christ said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)  With these words, Jesus highlights that being his is hard work.  It is not hard to be saved; Jesus does the work there.  But serving the Lord is hard because we all have a sinful nature which hates doing what the Lord says is good and right and God-pleasing.  Doing the right thing is usually the hard thing.
     It is easier to cheat than it is to put in the work, to study hard, and to earn an honest grade.  It is easier to cover your tracks by lying than it is to take responsibility for your actions and suffer the consequences for them.  Criminals try to make big money quick through theft.  It is much harder to get an honest job and to scrape and save to earn your living.  Doing the right thing is usually the hard thing.
     Even our Lord Jesus Christ recognized that the right thing was the hard thing.  The hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  But in the face of that hour, Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled.  And what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” (John 12:27)  Jesus knew that the suffering and dying for our sins would be hard.  In fact, the devil tempted him greatly about this both in the wilderness and in the Garden of Gethsemane just hours before his arrest.  And the devil's temptation would not be hard to imagine.  “Jesus, why did you leave heavenly glory to come to earth for these people?  Why didn't you stay and let them have what they deserve?  They have not kept your commandments.  Many will never care that you would suffer the consequences in their place.  The high priest, Caiaphas, not only won't care, he will cheer your death.  Jesus, even the ones who will worship you and follow you won't keep your commandments.  They will still sin and rebel.  Why suffer the torment of crucifixion and damnation for them?”  Satan's temptation was compelling because it was true.  Satan did not make it easy for Jesus to go to the cross for sinners like us.  But Jesus chose to do the hard thing.  It is the purpose for which he was sent.  The hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified, and it was at this hour that Jesus revealed God's glory.  It is the way he saves us.
     Therefore, Jesus' prayer was not that his way be made easy.  Jesus' prayer was that he would be faithful at this hour and that everything would be fulfilled by him.  That prayer was summed up in these words: “Father, glorify your name.”  Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:28)  The Father had revealed his glory before in delivering the Israelites out of Egypt.  In doing that, the Lord revealed himself as the God who saves his people from their slavery, destroys their enemies in the waters, and brings them to the Land of the Promise.  But God would glorify his name again.  The Son of Man would be glorified in delivering you out of your slavery to sin.  He would destroy sin and death in the waters of baptism.  And he will finally bring you into the heavenly homeland he has promised to you.  The glory of God is not that he is holy and almighty.  It is true that he is those things, but no one is saved by them.  God's glory is revealed in this: He loves and saves sinners.  This is the whole reason Jesus came.  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  And his glory is manifested in his sufferings and death for you.
     Jesus described how that glory would be proclaimed: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:31-33)  Though the world will be condemned, you are delivered from it.  Though Satan claims the world as his own because it is corrupt and its people are rebels, he has been driven out of you.  He has no right to you.  Jesus has claimed you.  Jesus indicated how he would do this: He would be lifted up.  That means he would not be stoned to death according to Jewish Law, or beheaded like John the Baptist.  Jesus would be hoisted up on a cross where he would be on public display to the world.  Jesus would be crucified on main road at the Passover where Jews from all around the world would be there to see it.  Jesus' death would be no secret so that the love and mercy of God would be no secret.  In Christ, the sins of the world are paid for.  In Christ, the holy blood is poured out to purify you of all unrighteousness.  In Jesus Christ, God declares his love for the world.  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified in that he pays the price for your sins, covers your guilt, and bestows upon you his own innocence.
     Jesus Christ came to this hour for this purpose.  He came to suffer and die for the benefit of all.  Jesus declared, “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.” (John 12:24)  Jesus' died for sinners, and you are the fruits of Jesus' labors.  You have been snatched out of death and have been given new life.  You are free from the condemnation of sin and free to do the good works God has given you to do.  You have been set free from the fear of death and are now free to live in the confidence of eternal life.  You are even free to serve the Lord in joy.  For, there is no terror of wondering how much work is enough or what work is good enough.
     Jesus promises, “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.” (John 12:26)  And this is where it gets hard again.  While you want to serve the Lord, there is always a part of you—your sinful nature—that will give you every excuse not to.  Your sinful nature will try to convince you that you can follow Jesus without actually keeping his word.  As long as you are comfortable and happy, that overrules anything God has to say.  Or your sinful nature will encourage you to sin all the more, because, “What good is forgiveness of sins if you don't take advantage of it?”  In doing so, you learn to love your sins and to despise God rather than fear and love him above all things.  Or your sinful nature convinces you that it is too hard to fight against sin, and that it is easier to do nothing instead of doing good.  Of course, that is true.  It is hard to fight against your sinful inclinations.  It is hard to do good when no one seems to appreciate it. 
     Repent.  And if your sinful nature gets the better of you, keep on repenting.  Fight, and keep on fighting.  Strive for good, and keep on striving.  The right thing is usually the hard thing to do.  If you struggle to avoid sin and to do good, that is okay.  The fact that you struggle shows your faith is living and eager to serve Christ.  It proves that God is at work in you to do good.  It also proves that you need to continue to run to Jesus as your refuge against the enemies who still want you back.  And Jesus will continue to strengthen you, sustain you, and preserve you; for his love and mercy for you remain constant.
     Among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  So these came to Philip...and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:20-21)  The reply they got from Jesus was this: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:23)  If you want to see Jesus, and if you want to know his glory, it is found in his weakness and suffering.  His glory is found in his shameful death.  By these, he saves you from all that would condemn you.  And while he calls you to follow him and to do the hard work of fighting against your sin and striving to do good, he is also the one who preserves you in the faith so that you will receive honor and glory from the Father.  For, the glory of the Lord is not that he tells sinners what to do; it is that he tells sinners what he has done for them.  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  You are the evidence of his glory; for he has taken away your sins and grants you a place in everlasting glory.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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