March 25, 2015: Sixth Wednesday in Lent

Text: John 12: 23-27

Dearly Beloved By Christ, Our Suffering Servant:

The city was abuzz with commotion. It was Holy Week and tourists and crowds and kids were thronged everywhere. But now there was an added attraction. The One called Jesus was walking past. On Sunday some of these same folks had cut Palm branches and waved them to mark His entrance into the city. Now they wanted an up-close and personal with Him. Some of them tugged the disciples’ sleeves and said: “We would like to see Jesus.”

It seemed a noble request. And it was. Yet Jesus responded in an intriguing way when this request was relayed to Him. We don’t know if Jesus granted their request, but I doubt it since Jesus wasn’t into a circus atmosphere. He wasn’t into: “What do you want to see in Jesus?”. But rather, “What does Jesus want you to see?” Here’s His answer to that relayed request: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. No my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.'”

Is Jesus changing the subject? “What’s that Philip, some Greeks want to see me? Well, let me tell you about farming?” It seems illogical to us. But a closer look will reveal the beauty of exactly what Christ wants us to see.

I

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies…” I know Christ talks about wheat here, but let’s switch it to corn for discussions’ sake. A cob of corn averages 16 rows with 40 kernels per row. That’s over 600 kernels from one small piece of seed corn. The kernel of seed corn is planted, dies in germination, decays and then sprouts. So, out of death comes abundant life. That’s Christ’s point. He is that kernel. And we who embrace Him through faith are the abundant seeds of life from His death.

But why did Jesus agree to die? Because God wanted to assume us into His family. He wanted fellowship with us. He wants your kernel and mine to rest next to Him on the cob. Remember that truth next time you roll over and are tempted to miss church on purpose. To be sure, we want fellowship with God at our wedding, funeral, the baptism of our babies and the like. We want Him to stand next to us when we’re in trouble. But God wants to be with us all the time! He craves closeness with us not just at big events but all the time.

Jesus well knew on the day He uttered these words that the cross, the crown of thorns, the scourge and death awaited Him. That’s what it would take to make this closeness with us happen. Hence His words: “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

Right here we see a resolute Savior. We see His determination to make us and have us close to Him. From death comes life. But that’s not all Jesus wanted us to see.

II

After giving His illustration of the wheat, Jesus continues his “I tell you the truth” paragraph. “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

We love our lives. We don’t like everything that happens to us. Maybe we don’t care for our current job, or our health break-downs. But we love our lives. Perhaps we should re-phrase that to: “We love ourselves.” Again, maybe we don’t love our hair color, or our height or weight. But, we love ourselves. We don’t see ourselves as Kernals with a “K” but as Colonels with a “C.” We don’t see ourselves as servants but big shots. Everyone should always cater to us. In that we’re much like babies: “Feed me, clothe me, put me down for nap, I’m tired.” Our nature doesn’t really change with age. Like babies we want all the attention. “How do you think I feel? How do you think I look?” Yes, it’s easy, natural, to be navel-gazers.

But Christ changes our perspective on life. By God’s grace we realize that through His death we have eternal life. Suddenly the life we loved so much doesn’t seem quite as tantalizing. In fact, it begins to die. That’s why I can say not only out of death comes life, but also out of life comes death. The new life our Savior gives us means death to our old self.

At first blush, that doesn’t sound right to our ear, our old ear. So, turn off your old ear and listen with your new one, the Christian one. Imagine living for Christ all the time instead of merely yourself? Suddenly you’re empowered to say “NO” to temptations and it works! Suddenly you can shoo the devil away like a fly and he runs. Suddenly death isn’t scary but a wonderful new portal to a very happy existence. You’re free from the constraints of our body which is corrupted by sin. You’re free to reach your ultimate purpose: praising God without any limitations. But, of course, the old self won’t die easily. It keeps rising, gasping for air as if it’s on Satan’s version of life support even though our earthly lives are all terminal.

My friends, we’re on the brink of Holy Week. It’s the most awesome week of the year. Like those Greeks of our lesson, we want to see Jesus. So, just make sure you see the right things. Behold the humble, majestic ride into Jerusalem, the hard-fought wrestling match with the Father in Gethsemane, the nails, crown of thorns, and the cross. A week from Sunday, see Him triumphant from the grave! During all that, some of those images will be sad and troubling, while others will be uplifting. But amid it all, Holy Week isn’t about what we want to see, but what Jesus wants us to see. And the truth is: He wants us to see God’s eternal Son and exactly what it cost Him to save us! He wants us to see the depth of God’s love for us, the kernels of His grace. Amen