Title: The Tensions of Choices (Someone introduced me to DQ Orange Julius Smoothies this week…
Text: John 12:220-33 Orange, Strawberry Banana, Berry Pomegranate, Mango Pineapple.
Oh, the inhumanity!)
Thesis: At every turn Jesus faced down the tensions of his life choices… and did the right thing for the glory of God and the good of mankind.
A father is asked by his friend, "Has your son decided what he wants to be when he grows up?" "Yes, he wants to be a garbage collector," replied the boy's father.
His friend thought for a moment and responded, "That's a rather strange ambition to have for a career." "Well," said the boy's father, "he thinks that garbage collectors only work on Tuesdays!"
Choices… to choose is to mentally make a decision by judging the merits of multiple options and then selecting one of them. The son apparently made his choice of a life career based on a desire to work as little as possible. Unfortunately he would one day discover that picking up garbage is an endless job.
Most of our choices are simple ones that generally have a low-impact on our lives. What you wear may look ridiculous but it really isn’t a big deal. On more than one occasion I have heard our daughter-in-law say something like, “It looks like Adam dressed himself today.” Other choices are more complex… like making a career choice or choosing a life partner. These choices are larger and more serious choices that pack greater ramifications.
I watched a sitcom recently in which a college student was engaged to marry her professor… a man nearly twice her age. In a conversation with her mother she said, “I think this decision is a pretty one for my first marriage.” I don’t think she understood the difference between low-impact and high impact decisions.
James Russell Lowell was an American Poet who was a member of a group of New England poets known as the “Fireside Poets.” The Fireside poets were known to have used conventional forms of meter and written poems suitable for families entertaining at the fireside.
One of his poems is titled: Once to Every Man
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth or falsehood
For the good or evil side.
But to every man there openeth
A high way and a low
And every man decideth
Which way his soul will go.
While some choices are benign others are not. We always have a choice to choose between good and evil or to take the high way or the low way. Low-impact decisions may not matter but our high-impact decisions do. Our text today is about the choices Jesus faced as he made his way to the cross. And as we walk with Jesus we too may identify with him in making our own choices.
As our text opens up we see that Jesus was faced with a decision relating to his identity.
I. Jesus had a point of vulnerability, 12:20-22
Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration paid a visit to Phillip. They said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.” Phillip told Andrew about it and they went together to ask Jesus. John 12:20-22
It was the season of Passover. Passover was an annual event in which the Israelites commemorated their freeing from enslavement by the Egyptian Pharaoh. God had instructed Moses to introduce 10 plagues upon the Egyptians that were designed to break the will of the pharaoh and convince him to let the Israelite people go. The final plague was the death of every Egyptian firstborn son. On that night the Israelites were instructed to paint blood over the doorways and on the door posts of their homes… the blood was to be a sign that the death angel should pass over that household, sparing the Israelite firstborn.
Passover is an important event in the lives of Jewish people in that it marks God’s protection and deliverance from the Egyptians and the onset of their journey to the Promised Land.
Jesus was on something of a roll. He had raised Lazarus from the dead. He had entered Jerusalem as a triumphant King. He had purged the temple of money-changers. The word among the religious leaders was that they had to do something about Jesus because the whole world had gone after him. He was a very popular person and thought to be the promised Messiah, which not only rankled the religious leaders but the Roman government as well. And all this was happening in the context of Passover week.
Most historians estimate that 200,000 people streamed into Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. At any rate, there were a lot of people there that week and among those were also Jewish proselytes and tourists.
It isn’t known if the Greeks mentioned in our text were proselytes or tourists. The Greeks were famous for their thirst for knowledge and always on the prowl for the latest new idea, so we don’t know their motives but they had heard of the excitement that surrounded Jesus and wanted to meet him.
The tension for Jesus was to be taken in by his popularity… to relish the fact that people from Greece wanted to meet him. Was this a low-impact decision or a high-impact decision?
We don’t know if Jesus had coffee with the Greeks or sent Phillip and Andrew back to tell them it wasn’t a good time… but we do know that Jesus reacted to their request.
I am always amused by the publicity stunts of Vladimir Putin. While filming Siberian tigers a tiger broke free and was charging the filming crew when Vladimir Putin fired a tranquilizer dart and saved the crew. On other occasions we see him fly-fishing or horseback riding all bare-chested and macho. We saw him giving his watch to a little boy. He went scuba diving in the Black Sea and discovered ancient Greek urns… apparently having lain there in the murky depths all those centuries for him to happen upon them. Mr. Putin loves the camera. He loves being adored. He would have been thrilled with the opportunity to be interviewed by yet another adoring audience. Ego.
Jesus was not deterred from who he was and why he was there. He said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory.” The time has come for the Son of Man to die…
There would be no appearances on Dave Letterman or Jimmy Fallon. He would not be brunching with the Pope. He was not going to speak before the United Nations. He was not going to be doing a few magic tricks on America’s Got Talent. He was going to die on the cross for all the sins of all mankind of all
There is a passage in Isaiah 50 that prophetically looks forward to these events…
“I have offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I will not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore I will set my face like flint and I know I will not be put to shame.” Isaiah 50:7
I will not be side tracked by my ego. I will set my face like flint to do the will of God… I choose for the glory of God and the greater good of others.
• We too have a points of vulnerability… so will we go for the buzz or choose for the glory of God and the greater good of others?
Earlier I said, “Most of our choices are simple ones that generally have a low-impact on our lives. Other choices are more complex. These choices are larger and more serious choices that pack greater ramifications.”
II. Jesus understood the ramifications of his choice, 12:23-26 (He saw the big picture.)
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels… a plentiful harvest of new lives.” John 12:23-26
Jesus used a simple agricultural example to illustrate the ramifications of his decision.
He said, “Unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels… a plentiful harvest of new lives.” John 12:24
I saw an ad for Lehman’s Old-Fashioned Corn Planters… Apparently someone had discovered a stash of parts for the Lehman Corn Planter in an old warehouse and enlisted the help of an Amish craftsman to make the missing wooden parts. The Lehman Planter is hand-held and 35” long so you don’t have to stoop to plant your corn, beans or peas. The ad says:
• Planting beans, corn and peas is a snap
• No stooping - just push steel blade into ground and squeeze handles
• Makes hole and drops adjustable number of seeds in one easy step
• All painted wood and steel except hopper sides and seed track (plastic)
• 35"L, 2 lb.
• USA made
So if you are wanting to take forever to plant a big field of corn the old-fashioned way you need a Lehman Planter.
Do you know that when a farmer plants 1 kernel of corn the resulting ear of corn has between 14 and 18 rows of corn with between 36 and 44 kernels per row? One kernel of corn produces between 700 and 800 kernels.
If a kernel of corn exists alone it is 1 kernel of corn. If that kernel is planted it results in 800 kernels of corn.
This week I decided I wanted to adopt some ducks for the Fall River Duck Race to benefit Covenant Heights Camp near Estes… $19 of the $21 adopt-a-duck fee went directly to the camp so I thought that’s an easy way to put a few bucks toward something that would benefit a bunch of campers. So, say I held onto my Ben Franklin it would still be a Ben Franklin at summers end. However if I use it to benefit the camp the result is the blessing of a bunch of kiddos this summer and the next and the next.
Jesus is saying that if he lives he lives on as one man until he dies. But if he gives his life for the good of others the result is a harvest of new lives.
When Jesus died for all the sins of all mankind of all time… the result is the salvation of all who place their faith in him.
The tension is between choosing life for himself or choosing death in order to make life possible for others. And Jesus was choosing for the glory of God and the greater good of others.
• We need to understand the ramifications of our choices… choosing for the glory of God and the greater good of others. It is called dying to self.
Sometimes making choices based on the will of God and the good of others is very hard.
III. Jesus felt the inner struggle of his choice, 12:27-28
“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But this is the very reason I came!” John 12:27
Inner turmoil is a state of great commotion, confusion, disturbance… agitation and anguish. When we are in a state of turmoil we may pace back and forth, we may be overcome with a sense of dread, we may not be able to sleep or eat. Whatever it is… anxiety generally has to do with expectations regarding a future threat.
Generally we find ourselves in anguish after the fact. John Sylvan is the creator of the Keurig K-Cup. (Keurig Coffee Maker use small K-Pods). He now regrets creating the K-Cup pods. He sold his share in Keurig in 2007 and bought shares in the company for $3.20 per share. In 2009 he sold his shares for $140 per share… so while he is laughing all the way to the bank, he does regret creating the coffee pods and wishes he had never done so because they are so bad for the environment.
Last year they sold 9.8 billion K-Cups which are disposable but not recyclable. If those 9.8 billion cups were placed end to end they would circle the earth 10 times.
We often regret our choices in retrospect. But Jesus weighed the ramifications of his decision before the fact and he agonized over it.
Jesus was struggling. “Father, if it be possible, remove this cup from me.”
What if I do? What if I don’t? For Jesus, the tension is between avoiding suffering and embracing suffering.
• We agonize over our choices… and despite inner struggle, will we choose for the will of God and the greater good of others regardless of the personal cost.
In our text today, Jesus ultimately made the right choice.
IV. Jesus chose to please God, 12:28-29
“Father bring glory to your name.” John 12:28-29
“Father, remove this cup from me… never-the-less, let your will be done.” For Jesus there was nothing more important than pleasing God.
In his book What God Thinks When We Fail, Steven C. Roy tells a fictional story about a young violinist who lived in London many years ago. Although he was a superb musician, he was deathly afraid of large crowds, so he avoided giving concerts. But after enduring criticism for his unwillingness to give concerts, he finally agreed to perform in the largest concert hall in London.
The young violinist came onto the stage and sat alone on a stool. He put his violin under his chin and played for an hour and a half. No music in front of him, no orchestra behind him, no breaks—just an hour and a half of absolutely beautiful violin music. After ten minutes or so, many critics put down their pads and listened, like the rest …. After the performance, the crowd rose to its feet and began applauding wildly—and they wouldn't stop.
But the young violinist didn't acknowledge the applause. He just peered out into the audience as if he were looking for something—or someone. Finally he found what he was looking for. Relief came over his face, and he began to acknowledge the cheers.
After the concert, the critics met the young violinist backstage …. They said, "You were wonderful. But one question: Why did it take you so long to acknowledge the applause of the audience?"
The young violinist took a deep breath and answered, "You know I was really afraid of playing here. Yet this was something I knew I needed to do. Tonight, just before I came on stage, I received word that my master teacher was to be in the audience. Throughout the concert, I tried to look for him, but I could never find him. So after I finished playing, I started to look more intently. I was so eager to find my teacher that I couldn't even hear the applause. I just had to know what he thought of my playing. That was all that mattered. Finally, I found him high in the balcony. He was standing and applauding, with a big smile on his face. After seeing him, I was finally able to relax. I said to myself, 'If the master is pleased with what I have done, then everything else is okay.'" (Steven C. Roy, What God Thinks When We Fail, IVP Books, 2011, pp. 11-12)
The tension was between doing his own will or pleasing God.
• We want to please God through our choices as well… and in our times of inner turmoil the correct prayer is always, “never-the-less” not my will by your will be done, for the glory of God and the great good of others.
Out text concludes with Jesus affirming that he was going to do what he came to do. Jesus kept his eyes on the prize, 12:30-33
“When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” John 12:30-33
There are many stories from the Old Testament that I don’t fully understand or even appreciate. One of them is the account found in Numbers 21 where the Children of Israel, while on their way to the Promised Land, began to complain against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness? There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna.”
The narrative continues with God being irked and sending poisonous snakes among them causing them to be bitten and some even died. So the people hurried back to Moses and asked him to pray that God would take away the snakes and he did.
God then told Moses to, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten by a snake will live if they simply look at it.”
Perhaps it is that image, which was undoubtedly imprinted on the minds of the people familiar with the history of the Israelite people, he wished to elicit. Just as those ancient Israelites were bitten by poisonous snakes were saved by looking up at the serpent on a pole… those now bitten by sin could look up at Jesus on the cross and be saved.
That aside, it is easy to see that when Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself,” he was likely speaking of his crucifixion.
From the get-go Jesus made his way to the cross… Jesus never took his eye off the ball. He knew his decision had eternal ramifications…
Today there is an undeniable interest in Jesus. Films and made for television miniseries are popping up all over the place. Mel Gibson produced “The Passion of Christ.” The History Channel produced “The Bible.” CNN is producing “Finding Jesus.” NBC is producing “A.D.” National Geographic is producing “Killing Jesus.” Fox is producing “Nazareth.” Missionaries use “The Jesus Film” all over the world… in the most remote places on the planet they play “The Jesus Film” on their laptops for fascinated audiences.
The cross, as the instrument of the crucifixion of Jesus, is the best known symbol of our faith.
“When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
As we walk with Jesus these 40 days of Lent, today we are reminded that it was not a cakewalk. It was anguishing but in the end a hard fought victory. At every turn Jesus showed us how to face the tensions of our life choices… and how to do the right thing for the glory of God and the good of others.
Good to know. Good to emulate.