Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, January 21, 2022
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Life out of Death

Hebrews 5:5-10 and John 12:20-36

 “There were some Greeks in Jerusalem for the Passover.”  Who are these Greeks?  They might be Greek-speaking Gentiles who had converted to Judaism.  That’s possible, but unlikely.  If they were converts to Judaism, they would probably not be described just as “Greeks.”  

 A second possibility is that they may have been “God-fearers.”  God-fearers were Gentiles who worshipped God but did not convert.  They found something attractive about God, but they weren’t yet willing to become Jews.

 And the third possibility is that they were just curious Greeks.  The Greeks are often credited as being the first people to become curious about the world.  They traveled to learn more about other cultures, philosophies, and religions.  They were the world’s first tourists.  One famous example is that far up the Nile River in Egypt, a Greek tourist carved his name on a monument, apparently in the 5th century BC.  That’s quite a trip from Greece.  And maybe they were just curious about Jesus.  This was after the resurrection of Lazarus, which certainly drew a lot of attention.  This was also after Jesus cleansed the Court of the Gentiles of the merchants and money-changers.  Maybe they were in the court at that time and wanted to learn more about the man who would do such a thing.

 The other Gospels don’t mention this story, but there’s a good reason John did.  John ended his life in Asia Minor, Turkey today, a Greek region.  His Gospel is especially written for the Greek mind.  So it would be good for him to mention some Greeks coming to Jesus.

 They approach Philip, one of the disciples who had a Greek name.  He was from Bethsaida, which was at the edge of Galilee, right up against the Greek-speaking Decapolis region, so perhaps he was the most obvious disciple to approach.  Philip and Andrew bring them to Jesus.

 Jesus says, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter his glory.”  Of course, the most common expectation of the Messiah is that he would be a great conqueror, who would usher in an eternal Jewish kingdom.  There were prophecies, like Isaiah 52 and 53, which spoke of Messiah as a suffering servant, but most first-century Hebrews conveniently ignored those prophecies.  In reality, both prophecies are true.  Jesus was a suffering servant, and Jesus will be a great conqueror who will bring in an eternal Kingdom.  Jesus chose to describe himself as the “Son of Man” because that title didn’t carry quite the same baggage that Messiah did.  

 Rather than entering his glory through military conquest, Jesus enters it like a kernel of wheat.  The kernel of wheat goes into the ground and by “dying,” it produces an abundance of new life.  This is the great paradox of the gospel:  Out of death comes life.  The death of one man, Jesus, produces new life for many.  

 And the death of self produces new life for us.  

“Those who love their life in this world will lose it, but those who despise their life in this world will keep it for eternity.”  What does it mean to “love life in this world?”  It means we obsess over the things the world promises that it can give us:  Wealth, pleasure, fame, power.  We and get absorbed in them.  In the quest for those things, we lose sight of anything greater.  On the other hand, to despise life in this world means to hunger and thirst for more than this world can offer.  It means to hunger for God and eternity, for peace and purpose beyond what the world can give.  To follow Jesus, we must put to death our selfish ambition for the things of the world so that we can have new life in Christ.

“All who want to be my disciples…”  That would include these Greeks.  “…must be where I am.”  That is, we must, like Jesus, surrender our own will and choose the “death of selfish ambition.”  

“My soul is deeply troubled.”  Choosing the death of self wasn’t easy for Jesus either!  He knew the agony of the cross to come.  It was not just the physical torment.  It was also that when Jesus took the sins of the world on himself as he died on the cross, then he would endure spiritual separation from the Father.  For all eternity, the Father and Son had lived in a relationship of perfect unity, and that would be broken on the cross, even if only for a time.  Jesus had never before experienced a broken relationship with the Father.

In the book of Hebrews, chapter 5, which we heard earlier, it says that “Jesus learned obedience,” and this “qualified him as the perfect High Priest.”  Jesus was not just born into that role.  He was not like the high priest in the line of Aaron who became high priest simply by virtue of his birth.  Jesus became the perfect High Priest through his obedience.  

Jesus chose the cross.  In John chapter 10, Jesus said, “The Father loves me because I lay down my life.  No one can take my life from me.  I lay it down voluntarily.”  Jesus was not a victim of the cross.  Jesus, the perfect High Priest, chose to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice. And it was not an easy choice.  If it had been easy, then there would have been no sacrifice!

The Father speaks from heaven saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do it again.”  This is what the Hebrew people called the BAT QOL, literally the “daughter” or echo of a voice.  They believed that after the end of prophecy with Malachi, God now spoke directly from time to time.  But they believed that it was impossible for people to hear God directly.  Instead, only the echo of his voice could be heard.  

I do find it interesting that when God speaks, some people hear it and others don’t.  Some dismiss it as “thunder.”  Perhaps that’s a commentary on human beings.  It’s not that God isn’t speaking to us.  It’s that many times, we aren’t hearing him.

Jesus goes on, “The time of judgment for the world has come.”  The judgment is based on how people respond to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  To reject God’s Son and the gift he offers is to pass judgment on oneself.  Those who reject God’s love bring judgment on themselves for rejecting the most wonderful gift.

“The prince of this world will be cast out.”  This is Satan, of course.  The Hebrew people believed that Satan was the prince of the world because he held sway over the whole world, except Israel.  Of course, Satan is only a usurper, not the true ruler.  He is cast out by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“When I am lifted up, I will draw all to myself.”  The crowd understands Jesus’ meaning here.  They don’t miss what he’s saying.  They know he is talking about his own death.  And many found this impossible to believe because of their preconceived ideas about what the Messiah would do.  

“My light will shine out for a little longer…  Believe in the light while there is still time.”  There is both a wonderful promise here and an implied threat in this saying of Jesus.  The promise is that there is light available.  There is power available in Christ to overcome the darkness of sin and death.  But we must choose the light while there is still time.  When our light goes out, when we die, then the chance to receive the light of Christ is also passed.

And there is great cost to receiving the light.  It is only by accepting the paradox of the gospel, that life comes out of death, that we can receive it.  Only when we accept the death of self, take up the cross, and follow Christ, can we receive the light he offers.

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