“His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 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 12:16-26 ESV)
Last week we looked at how Jesus says the time had come for him to declare his place in God’s plan of redemption. The time had come and nothing would or could prevent the plan from being completed. In John 7, Jesus said “my time has not yet come,” but now the time had come. Then Paul said in Romans 5:6, “at just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” This plan was put into place even before God created the universe.
I Never Noticed That Before:
But, one aspect was consistently overlooked by most of those who were a part of the plan. Ironically, the Pharisees noticed the overlooked aspect of God’s plan even before the disciples noticed… “the whole world has gone after him.” While God’s plan was coming through the Israelites, it was never limited to them. As God told Abraham, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3 ESV) It had always been God’s plan on redeeming the world through Christ and now the disciples were being drawn into that work.
Just as the disciples were a part of God’s plan so was the crowd, even though they may not have realized it. The crowd was talking about what they had seen. They were telling their friends and neighbors about their experiences and people were coming out to see what was going on. And, just like the crowd, we often overlook our role in God’s global redemption plan. Notice how the crowd was involved and how we should be involved in God’s plan…
First, they were present and attentive during Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus. They had witnessed God’s work firsthand and began talking about it. Too often, we are not really present when it comes to worship. We show up, but we aren’t really there. We can’t tell others what God has been doing because we fail to encounter Him during worship. Why? Primarily, I think, because we come to worship as observers and not participants. We tend to make worship self focused and not God focused. While unbelievers can only observe worship, believers MUST participate in worship and then we will witness God’s incredible work, in our lives and theirs.
Next, we hold back our witness because we fear we don’t have answers to all of their questions. That makes us and our ideas, answers, knowledge and understanding the focus of the Gospel. But, when we approach telling others about Jesus that way, we’ve made ourselves the focus of the storyline and not Jesus. We SHOULD be afraid to present the Gospel from that perspective. We can never meet their needs or expectations. However, when the Gospel is presented with Jesus as the focus then we point people to Him and His power. He is capable of handling all of their questions, fears, doubts and struggles. As John notes, at first we didn’t understand all of these things but later we remembered that all of these things (Old Testament stories and prophecies) had been written about HIM!
Big God, Big Plan:
We tend to think that the globalization of culture is a modern concept. The world has somehow gotten smaller. It has certainly become easier to travel from one side to the other. But, if you look back at history, you’ll see that some folks always had a global vision. As we noted earlier, Abraham was told that EVERY family on the earth would be blessed and impacted by what God was doing through him. John notes in the Revelation: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)
Not only did the Pharisees notice this trend, but John tells us that the disciples were approached by a group of Greeks (non-Israelite God seekers) wanting to see Jesus. Word has begun to spread, and the world is taking notice of a backwoods, Jewish carpenter. Why? Because people are talking about Jesus and the difference He’s making in their lives. No one has ever done the things this man is doing. Is it possible he’s not just a man? Could he really be the Jewish Messiah, the Son of Man and Son of God, like he claims?
While many today may not question or challenge the deity of Christ openly, they are doing so in a subtle, but very deceptive way. They question the sovereignty of God and the deity of Christ while hiding behind a mask of false religious inclusiveness. They claim: “Surely, God has not given only one way of knowing Him. All religions contain elements of truth and, ultimately, lead their adherents to God. All paths lead up the mountain to God.”
Let me say this very clearly… the claims of Christ and our culture’s view of religious inclusion are not compatible with one another. If Jesus is who He claims to be then our culture is spouting and pursuing an eternally destructive lie. However, if our culture is correct then Jesus is, at the very least, a raving lunatic or an evil, deceptive and intentional liar. Even the most liberal New Testament scholars admit that Jesus truly believed he was divine. So, while liberal scholars may doubt Jesus’ deity they believe he wasn’t being intentionally deceptive, he was just mistaken or crazy.
So, why would a group of “Greeks” come to Jerusalem seeking the Jewish Messiah, especially if their religious beliefs were just as effective as Jesus’ teachings? They wouldn’t. But, their beliefs left them empty and hopeless and they saw something in Jesus they didn’t see in their pantheon of gods. Hope. Purpose. Truth. Power. Love!
God loved us SO much that He GAVE… gave what? What no false god could give, HIMSELF. God’s love didn’t reveal multiple religious paths that would simply leave us struggling, confused and unsure about Him. He CAME and CONSTRUCTED the path himself. In fact, He literally IS that path…
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV)
There is simply no way to interpret that verse to fit cultural religious inclusiveness. Jesus is the ONLY way to the Father.
Just a Grain of Wheat…
When Philip and Andrew bring these “Greeks” to Jesus’ attention, he tells them it is time for Him to be glorified. He also tells them to pay attention to his words and to remember that a grain of wheat that isn’t planted will forever remain a single grain of wheat. But, if it is planted it will sprout, grow and bear “fruit” or produce more wheat. Philip and Andrew have just been given deep insight into God’s purpose and plan, but it doesn’t yet make sense. The events of the next few days (Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection) will result in Jesus being glorified and bearing much fruit, but this insight is currently beyond their grasp or belief.
When a farmer harvests his crop, he sets back a percentage of his yield to prepare for and plant next year’s crop. If he consumes the entire yield, whether as grain or monetary gain, then he has failed to plan and prepare for tomorrow. However, every smart farmer understands the need to set aside a portion of his grain as seed for next year’s harvest. If he doesn’t, he won’t survive long. He’s either mentally near-sighted, forgetful, foolish or just plain selfish.
In the same way, we must recognize and remember God’s purpose and plan for us. When we are fully yielded or planted into God’s plan and purpose, He uses us and the events of our lives to bring glory to God and to bear much fruit for Jesus. While these words are fully intended to help the disciples understand and survive the painful days ahead, they are also given for our benefit. We are being called to recognize that our lives left “unplanted” yield no fruit.
We are often spiritually near-sighted, forgetful, foolish or just plain selfish. Far too often, we consume our lives selfishly and fail to plant them in the purpose and plan of God. When we do, we fail to plan for tomorrow. Are Jesus’ words beyond our understanding or belief? Fortunately, we have the advantage of spiritual hindsight. We can see the results of Jesus’ sacrifice. We know the harvest of His sacrifice. The real question is, are we willing to believe that this principle of planting and harvest applies to our lives? Our sacrifice?
“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 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.”
Will you love your life and, thus, lose it? Or will you lose it, plant it, sacrifice it so that you can gain it forever? Your choice…