Sermon, September 26, 2021 | Grace Reformed Church
We return this morning to the gospel of John. Thanks for allowing me to be off last week—it was a good, but very compact trip to Georgia and Florida that took me away to visit some colleges with Eva. And the biggest bonus was getting to worship last Sunday morning with the congregation at St. Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, which is the church that R.C. Sproul founded when Ligonier Ministries moved to Florida, as many of you know. It was a blessing to be in that room with those people and worship with them. Coincidentally, Burk Parsons is preaching through John as well. And I’ll have you know, he’s going through it much slower than I am, so I’ll probably catch up to where he is in a couple of weeks.
When I first encountered that church, St. Andrew’s, I wondered of all the saints why R.C. Sproul would have picked Andrew for the name of the church. He’s definitely not one of the more prominent disciples, certainly not like Peter or John. And it’s quite a coincidence that I was just there last week, and now the text we have today is one of the few times that Andrew is mentioned specifically. I learned that they picked Andrew because almost every time we do encounter him in the gospels, he is bringing someone to Christ. We saw that when we first saw Andrew in John 1—the first thing Andrew does when he meets Jesus is to go get his brother, and bring him to Jesus too. So also in today’s text we see Andrew bringing people to Jesus.
Andrew doing this is not central to the message we have today, but I thought it was fun to have that little connection. Today’s passage is primarily about the arrival of an hour, the arrival of a time that Jesus has been waiting for, this time appointed by the Father for him to carry out this great work that is before him. So let’s read that now together, John chapter 12, verses 20-36. Listen, this is God’s Holy Word for us this morning.
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.
27 “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. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the 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.”
The Word of the Lord.
This is another one of those texts that just has a lot in it. Since there is so much, and because it’s sort of in two sections, I thought about dealing with it in two Sundays rather than one, but I think it is good to take it as a whole, and center on what Jesus says first in this passage and view the rest in light of that. In verse 23 Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
These words should sound familiar to us by now, Jesus talking about an hour, an appointed time in history, not a physical 60-minute hour, but a time for something to happen, a right time, a correct time. Three times in this book we’ve heard Jesus say or John mention that Jesus’s hour was not yet here, or had not come. In chapter 2, at the wedding in Cana, when his mother Mary came to him and said there’s no wine, what was his response? My hour has not yet come. In chapter 7 when Jesus was at the Feast of Booths it says that they sought to arrest him but they didn’t, because Jesus’s hour had not yet come. In chapter 8, again there was a plot to arrest him, but it didn’t happen because his hour had not yet come. Several times Jesus has been in danger of arrest or stoning, and to this point we’ve seen Jesus slip away because it was not time. It was not the time appointed by the Father that he carry out this work that was before him. He’s been strategic about timing throughout the book. He slips away from the crowds that he fed by the sea so that they couldn’t make him king, he delays his arrival at the Feast of Booths so that he is not arrested. Most recently, when they seek to arrest him for raising Lazarus, he flees to another town so they can’t.
But all that changed as we saw two weeks ago, with the triumphal entry. Jesus made a bold, public, obvious entry into the city of Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, and we mentioned then that there was no more hiding now. The Pharisees could not ignore him, Jesus had forced their hand at this time.
But now, as we read today, his hour has come. And what signals that hour? What signals the fact that the hour has come? It is the arrival of the Greeks seeking Jesus. Most commentators agree that the Greeks mentioned were actual Greeks, not some of the scattered Jews that happened to live in Greece, Jews of the diaspora. They would be allowed to worship in the Court of the Gentiles, not in the inner parts of the temple, remember that court was the one that Jesus cleansed of commerce so dramatically after arriving in Jerusalem. Perhaps witnessing that event, in the place where they were, was what prompted these Greeks to seek out Jesus, but that’s merely speculation. The point is that some Greeks wanted to meet Jesus, the word here says more than that, actually, that they wished to interview him. They wanted to know more about this man who was the talk of the entire feast.
And this is the signal that the hour has come. Notice that all we read about the Greeks is that they got ahold of the disciples and made a request to see Jesus, we never actually read that their request was granted, never see if they got to Jesus or not. Once they’ve made the request, their job in the story is done, and John turns to telling us what Jesus said in response to that. And he says that his hour has come.
So the question that we need to ask is, time for what? What is it finally time for? Well, the most obvious thing that it’s time for, the first thing that comes to mind is that it is time for Jesus to be betrayed, arrested, abandoned, beaten, crucified, forsaken by, separated from the Father, and to die. It’s actually the hour for a whole lot more than that, but it is time for Jesus to pay for the sins of the elect. And before we talk about all of the many things that the hour encompasses, I want to look at that for a minute, about how Jesus feels about the hour being upon him. Verse 27:
“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. 28 Father, glorify your name.”
Jesus is troubled. There are moments when we see the humanity of Jesus on display, and this is certainly one of them. Jesus looks to the work that lies directly ahead of him, in the next several days, and his humanity is troubled. The word is actually stronger than that, meaning horrified, repulsed, agitated, ridden with anxiety. Even though he knows what is on the other side of this work in front of him, it doesn’t lessen the trouble that it causes his human nature.
When I reflected on this a bit, I tried to find something similar and contemporary. And the thing I think comes closest to it in our lives today is the anxiousness we feel when a baby is going to arrive. I was excited, all six times, looking forward to the birth of one of our kids, absolutely. I know most people here can relate to that. But there was a piece of me each time that was troubled, that was filled with anxiety, because even though a beautiful child was on the other side of that, a new, exciting child, I knew that once labor began, my wife was going to go through a dangerous time. We have gotten very good at caring for mothers while they are giving birth in this day and age, but that doesn’t change the fact that once labor began, my wife was going to be in a potentially life-threatening situation, that she was going to go through an amount of pain I will never know. So, joy on the other side, joy you can see, but a valley in between. There is a reason that we use that term in other ways, we talk of pregnant moments.
And that, like all illustrations, falls completely short of what Jesus is experiencing here. He feels the weight of the cross, and all of the sins that he will carry with him to it. And he is troubled. But how does he respond?
He prays. A beautiful, brief prayer he lifts to the Father. He goes to the Father, admits that his soul is troubled, and then says “What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’” And I don’t believe he says this as if he’s considering it. No, he couldn’t say that. He’s asking it rhetorically. No matter what trouble he feels in his soul, the idea that that torment would keep him from his task is utterly ridiculous. It’s impossible. It’s not an option. He is there to do the Lord’s will.
This is sort of a preview of the pain he feels at Gethsemane. There he does say “if it is possible, have this cup pass by me,” knowing that it can’t, because in the garden then he immediately says, “but not as I will, but as you do.” His human nature pushes back on the idea of the cross, on the pain in front of him, but he knows, as he’s said throughout this book, that his will and the Father’s are ultimately one will, and in that is his resolve. So here, at this first crisis point he says it is for this purpose that I came, to do this, to do the Father’s will, so there’s no way that I could not. So recognizing that, the Father’s will, in the end, how does he pray in our story here? “Father, glorify your name.”
There’s nothing else to do but to pray to the Father that in this also, as in everything, that the name of the Father would be praised. That is instructive to us as we consider how to walk as sons and daughters of God. Jesus, faced with pain we can’t imagine, relies on the will of the Father, and rests in that. He looks beyond death and looks to the life on the other side. So should we look beyond earthly death to the glory that is beyond. And that’s what I want to focus on for the remainder of our time this morning, as we ask that question again, what is it time for? The hour has come for what?
Well, a lot of things. Like I said, we focus on the impending cross quite easily, but there is so much more. And that’s what Jesus spends the rest of this passage talking about, what the hour really means. This is not just the hour of the cross, this is the hour of the next phase in history.
Let’s take the “things that it’s time for” in three categories. The first is glory. In verse 23 it says that the hour has come for Jesus to be glorified, and in verse 28 Jesus says that the Father will be glorified in these things as well. Is there glory in the death on the cross? Not humanly, but look at the other side. It is time for the second half of the great parabola from Philippians 2:
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
That’s the first half of the parabola, the humility, the Son of God being brought so low to the point that he died on a cross. But -
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It is time for Jesus to be glorified for this work, and for the Father to receive glory in it also. On the other side of the cross is glory, glory for Jesus, glory for the Father, and glory for us as his adopted sons and daughters. Death is the path to glory, for Jesus and for us. We know that we will die in this life, in this world, and that is our path to glory just like it was for Christ.
What else is it time for? The second category. It’s time for there to be a judgment. Verse 31:
Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.
It is time for the next phase in history, Jesus says. This is the hour when the ruler of the world will be cast out, bound, and will rule it no more. This is when Jesus conquers death and binds Satan. The rule of the world has been death since the garden. Satan has had dominion on earth from the garden until this point, and now the hour has come for that reign to come to an end. He is being cast out.
Satan is bound—death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory? No, in this hour, the hour that has arrived in our text, Satan loses. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” This is a fundamental change in the course of history. This hour ushers in a new era, an era where King Jesus is reigning and the old ruler of the world is cast out. The cross of Jesus Christ is the central moment in all of history, everything before looks forward to it, and everything beyond looks back, because it is on that cross and in the resurrection that Satan was bound and life was secured for the elect.
And this is related to some other things that Jesus says it’s time for. Verse 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.
And then verse 35:
The one who walks in the 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.”
What is it time for, related to the judgment of the world from verse 31? It’s time for a dividing line to be cast on the world. It’s been said before that the cross divides. There are only two sides of the cross. Your sins are either paid for by Christ, or they are paid for by you. That’s it. The cross divides, and it is time, the hour is here, when a dividing line is being cast on the earth.
There are two kinds of people in the world, those who love their life here and are perishing, and those who hate their life here because they are in Christ. Or as he says later sons of darkness and sons of light. The sons of darkness have no idea where they are going because they cannot see, meanwhile the sons of light, who have light inside them and are walking in the light of Jesus, they know where they are going because they can see.
There is no neutrality with Jesus, and we should never forget that. The dividing line, as Jesus says here, is cast by the cross. I’ve said before that our view of evangelism would radically shift if we truly thought about our unbelieving neighbors, family members, and friends as people who were literally dangling over a fiery pit, because they are. Only two paths, only two kinds of people, those being saved and those who are perishing, but we often live our lives as if there is such a thing as a person who is not in Christ, but is a good person. The hour has come for the judgment of this world, Jesus says. Verse 35 is a stark warning: The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. He has no chance of finding what he’s looking for accidentally because he doesn’t know where he is going.
So that’s three – It is the hour for the Son of Man to be lifted up on the cross, it is the hour for glory, it is the hour for death to be conquered and a dividing line to be cast. And then lastly, I saved the best for last. Fourthly, it is the hour for Jesus to shine his light in the world and draw all people to himself.
It is fitting that the inauguration of the hour Jesus has been waiting for came with the arrival of some Greeks that sought him. The God of the Jews has always been exclusive to a given people, the Jews. But now, now is the hour, when Jesus will draw people to himself out of every tribe and nation. And we are still in this hour. It is the hour of the inauguration of the church of Jesus Christ, the gathering of the flock. It is time for him to shine light on the world and draw his people to himself.
That’s why I said I saved the best for last. Yes, all of these things we’ve mentioned are related, they’re all mind-blowing and incredible, and necessary to the building of the church, but this drawing of all peoples to himself is just something to glory in, isn’t it? I love especially the image from verse 24, which sums this all up:
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.
Jesus, the grain of wheat, it is the hour that he dies and is planted in the ground. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Jesus must die, yes, but that means it is the hour that life begins. It is the hour when the church of Jesus Christ, his family begins to grow, and that plant cannot be stopped. It will bear fruit. Three beautiful pictures show us this.
First, there in verse 24, he is planted in the ground and the church grows out of the ground, unstoppable. Then in verse 32 he says that people will be drawn to him when he is lifted up. There are two meanings there. Yes, it means that he will be lifted up on a cross, but why do we lift things up? We lift things up so they can be seen, and this image of Jesus high and lifted up is an exalted one, it will draw men unto him. The cross doesn’t stop that, it enhances it. Prophesying about Jesus in Isaiah 52, it says
Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations.
Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
The cross is victory. And the third beautiful image of Jesus building the church is that he has come as light. He says that the light is here, walk in it. Be children of light. If we are in utter darkness, are we not drawn to light when we see it? When the Spirit gives us eyes to see, we cannot help but be drawn to the light in the darkness.
So all of these images, all of this, is packed into these 16 little verses. It is time for so many things, but it is time for Jesus to die, and for all of the blessings that secures, all of the conquering that accomplishes, all of the drawing work that that begins, it is time for all of that to begin. Because death is the path to life. Death is the path to glory for Jesus.
So what is that to us. Once again we read this and revel in all of the promises, and it is wonderful and amazing, but how do we apply these things to our lives as we leave this place this morning? In the story before us, this is what time it was for Jesus, but what time is it for us now?
Well, again there is instruction here. Jesus says two things:
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.
And, related he says
While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.
We are to walk in the light of Christ and hate this life. He doesn’t say hate this life with the idea that we should derive no joy or pleasure from our lives here, because there are great blessings here even now, good gifts that God gives us. But we should see that this place is not our home, this is not where we belong, this is not where we fit. And as we walk with Christ in this life, that should become increasingly clear. It’s a great image when we walk in the light of Christ, Christ shines on the world around us and reveals to us how broken and twisted it all is. Shine the light of Jesus on this world, and then we come to “hate this life,” because we will see it for what it is. I’m reminded of the refrain to that familiar hymn:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
So, look at this world with Christ’s eyes, with the light of Christ, and this world will look dim. And secondly, Jesus instructs us to follow him. Well that’s obvious, right, but what does that mean in light of this passage? It means that we are to follow him to the cross, follow him into suffering, and by doing so participate in his glory, the glory he has for us. We don’t fit in this world just like he didn’t fit in this world. That led him to a cross, a cross that was the path to life. That leads us, as his followers, to a life of suffering here. But take heart, it’s only for a little while. And then all of the glory that was purchased on the cross, we will participate in that also. See the world as Jesus saw it and sees it, then take up your cross, die to this life of sin, and carry onward toward the glory that awaits regardless of the suffering that comes your way. The hour that Jesus declared here in this passage, we’re still living in it, and that is exciting news. Cling to your Savior, cling to his church, and look to the future with hope and joy, because that is what the future holds. Amen. Let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the gift of your plan, your eternal decree, that you would lay out this path to glory, from death to life, for us, your servants. Help us to face suffering, danger, disappointment, and fear, comfort us instead in the knowledge that the war is already won, Satan and death are bound up and conquered, and that after a little while, we will too pass from death to life, our resurrections secured by the blood of your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.