“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. “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. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:23-28 ESV)
Last week we ended by looking at the challenge Jesus laid before ALL of his disciples, and not just the twelve. He called them, and he calls us, to recognize and embrace the principal of the harvest. You can’t harvest a future crop unless you plant some of your seed in the ground at the right time. Up until now, he had been telling us the time was not right, but now he says the hour HAS come for him to take the path determined by the Father and that path is costly. It is a path of self-sacrifice but it will yield a large, fruitful harvest.
He then makes a very hard statement, one we struggle to embrace. One that strikes at the very heart of what it means to love God and follow Jesus; “if you serve me you must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” Follow him where? Onto this difficult path of self-sacrifice and absolute obedience to God’s will.
It is quite common today to hear popular proclaimers of spiritual enlightenment that “God wants you to experience the fullness of His blessings in your life, TODAY! You just need to STOP having negative thoughts or feelings and ENVISION the positive energy of God’s love flowing through you and it will BECOME your reality (fade to profile shot with big smile). That’s like putting a frozen dinner in the microwave and expecting to get a gourmet meal as the result. Not gonna happen! There are no shortcuts to God’s blessings…
Here’s how Jesus says we experience the fullness of God, “follow me.. if you want to be where I am, then follow me. My servants will be where I am. If you serve me, the Father will honor you.” Notice the contrast in that statement, we aren’t honored by being served but by serving. We tend to approach this backwards. We want and expect Jesus to serve and meet our needs and demands.
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)
Teaching, like that mentioned above and as just described by Paul, is all about God serving us, making us feel good about ourselves, giving us temporal or momentary physical enjoyment. But it completely ignores our deepest need and our real purpose. If you’re satisfied with that, then sit back and shut me out. But, if you feel like something real is missing from your life, then hear me out…
Jesus gives us deep, deep insight into his soul and, thus, into ours. He says that he is deeply troubled in his soul. Something is bothering him. The hour of self-sacrifice, of immense suffering has now come, and he is deeply troubled. In some ways, I think we are surprised by Jesus’ struggle. If he’s the Son of God then what’s the big deal? But, he’s also the Son of Man and knows our struggle personally and intimately…
“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:17-18 ESV; FYI, propitiation means to satisfy the demands of justice.)
Let’s not fool ourselves, if Jesus struggled with embracing “this hour” of life, this path of self-sacrifice and personal suffering, then we will most certainly struggle with it. But let’s see how Jesus answered this challenge to faith and obedience. First, he recognized and embraced his purpose in life. “It is for this PURPOSE that I’ve come to this hour…” So, he starts by identifying his purpose as God-defined and not self-defined. His identity, his personhood, his very existence is wrapped up in his relationship with the Father. We see this in everything he has said and done.
“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19 ESV)
This is clearly one of our biggest struggles. We don’t want anyone else defining who we are, even God. Especially God. Today, we are defined by our desires. Whether those desires are sexual, emotional, personal achievement, public recognition, social position or power, or possessions. Really, things haven’t changed much. We see the same struggle in the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane, but with different decisions and outcomes. We see the same struggle in our garden of decision… will we embrace God’s purpose and definition of life or our own? Will you embrace God’s purpose and definition of your life or your own?
Second, Jesus ultimately desired God’s glory over his own. He says, “Father, glorify your name.” This is, in essence, a statement of surrender and intent from Jesus: “Father, use me and my life to glorify your name.” He is also calling on us to “follow him” in this decision of surrender and intent regarding our lives. He calls us to say to God, “Father, My life is not mine but yours to use for your glory. Glorify your name, through me!”
Again, this goes against our selfish, sinful nature. That’s why it’s a struggle. Our nature, since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, has been to deny God’s glory and seek our own. Glorify God? I don’t think so! Glorify ME!
“But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” (Genesis 3:4-5a ESV)
Interesting. “You won’t die, but You WILL BE like God,” the serpent said. We want to be God of our own lives. No, we demand to BE God of our own lives… to define our own purpose, our own reason for existence and seek our own glory. We can do that and, when we do, we remain a single grain of wheat. Whole and complete within itself but incomplete and unfulfilled in its ultimate, God-given purpose. God gives us that choice; to love and follow Him and find eternal purpose and fulfillment in service to Him. Or, we can try and find temporary purpose and shallow, fleeting fulfillment in ourselves and a self-defined, self-driven pursuit of life.
Jesus asks God to glorify His own name through Jesus’ obedient life and God responds, “I have, and I WILL!” Think about that. The burden of personal achievement, the overwhelming pressure of self-fulfillment is completely removed when we yield ourselves to God’s purpose. “Father, glorify your name through my life… I have, and I WILL!” All of the burden and pressure is gone. Why? Because God WILL do it.
But, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days…” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20 ESV)
I will leave you to think through those words from Moses, choose today… You can choose life by loving God, obeying his voice and clinging to Him.