Summary: The death of which Jesus spoke is life giving and God glorifying.
Title: Into Death-Talk with Jesus
Text: John 12:20-34
Thesis: The death of which Jesus spoke is life giving and God glorifying.
In the 1980s, when we lived in Fullerton, California, often on Sunday morning, I had breakfast at Christopher’s, a little café on the corner about a block from our church. Inevitably there would be a family come wandering with that out-of-town look and since I was often the only one in the restaurant they would ask, “Can you tell us how to get to Chuck Swindoll’s church?” And then they would gush on and on about how they listen to Insight for Living every day, order all of Chuck Swindoll’s tapes, read all of his books and since they were visiting Disneyland, which is just a hop-skip-and-a-jump down Harbor Boulevard, they thought they would try to see Chuck Swindoll in person, since they would never likely be this close again.
First Evangelical Free Church was about three miles away on Brea Boulevard and was a destination of choice for many Midwesterners who were visiting southern California. First Free owned a strip mall about two blocks from their church where they reserved parking for tourists. They also provided a bloc of 200 or so seats where the tourists sat.
I came to think of First Evangelical Free Church and The Crystal Cathedral and Saddleback Churches as Christian variations of The Precious Moments Chapel, Branson, Shepherd of the Hills and Dollywood. And I imagined that when the tourists got home they could not wait to tell their friends at church about how they got to see and hear Chuck Swindoll in person.
HOwever, I am not beyond being a bit star struck myself. One morning while having breakfast in Coco’s Restaurant, I saw Chuck Swindoll having breakfast nearby and I got all giddy as if I had spotted some famous movie star.
All that being said, Chuck Swindoll is a humble and gracious man. It was not his objective to be a tourist attraction or be swooned over. But over the years he had become widely known and respected and people wanted to see him.
That is something of what happened to Jesus in our text today. A group of Greek Gentiles had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. They were either converts to Judaism or it is just as likely they were, as Greeks, religiously and philosophically inclined and simply curious to see what Judaism was all about and perhaps get an audience with Jesus, who had become a person of some renown. When they heard Jesus was in the city, they made a formal request to see Jesus. So Philip and Andrew went to ask Jesus if he would meet them. John 12:20-22
Paul Rack writing on the Rax Website suggests that Jesus wanted to make sure the Greeks were not just tourists who wanted to see a famous preacher or healer so they could brag about it to their friends when they got home. (http://home.earthlink.net/~paulrack/id153.html)
However, we don’t know if Jesus ever met with the Greeks… we only know that as quickly as Philip and Andrew asked him if he would meet with the Greeks, Jesus immediately launched into a pretty rigorous discussion of what it means to be one of his followers. And each rigor is couched in the language of death.
The first rigor speaks of the death of a kernel of wheat… and by wheat we understand that he is talking about a person’s life.
I. A life kept for its self, is a solitary life, but a life given for others is a fruitful life.
“A kernel of wheat must be planted. Unless it dies it will be alone… a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels, a plentiful harvest of new lives.” John 12:24-26
He went on to speak of those who love their life in this world will lose it (I assume in the next). And those who despise their life in this world will keep it or save it for eternal life. And those who would be disciples or learners must come and follow him as a servant follows their master.
This would have been easily understood by Greeks who were familiar with the idea of disciples or learners or students who sat at the feet of master teachers like Socrates or Plato. They would have understood that students followed in the steps of their teachers as servants follow their masters.
However I suspect they might have been perplexed and intrigued by the death-talk. What did Jesus mean by loving your life in this life… was he talking about those who live self-serving and self-indulgent lives? And what did Jesus mean by despising or hating your life in this life… was he talking about self-loathing and ascetic living?