Story: On 15th February 1597, 26 Christians were crucified at Niz-hiz-aka Hill in Nagasaki, Japan.
Amongst them was a young seventeen year old boy, Thomas Kosaki, who had been sentenced to die for his Christian witness - along with his father.
He wrote a letter to his mother the evening before his crucifixion.
Let me read a translation of it to you
"Mother, we are supposed to be crucified tomorrow in Nagaski. Please do not worry about anything because we will be waiting for you to come to heaven.
Everything in the world vanishes like a dream. Be sure that you never lose the happiness of heaven. Be patient and show love to many people.
Most of all, about my little brothers Mansho and Philipo, please see to it that they are not delivered into the hands of the Gentiles. Mother, I commit you to the Lord.”
I would like to look this morning at our Gospel reading this morning –the passage from Jn 12 verses 20-32. And I don’t think it is easy to understand.
For it focuses – perhaps like no other Gospel passage on the Cross of Jesus – an event we of course remember and give thanks for on Good Friday.
1. A BROADENING OF JESUS’ MISSION
Jn 12:20 opens with Greeks who come to see Jesus.
And for the first time we get a glimpse of Jesus’ mission widening from
”the lost sheep of Israel” of Mt 15:24 (in the story of the Faith of the Canaanite woman)
to “all men” of Jn 12:32. For Jesus’ Gospel is for both Jew and Greek.
It reminds us that the salvation Jesus offers is offered to those in the Church and those outside.
And if Jesus had a heart for those outside the Church –then we must have a heart for them too – if we want to truly be his disciples .
But the message that Jesus brings is a radically different one to what the Jews or Greeks expected.
The coming of the Kingdom of God (expressed as a New Covenant) was prophesied 600 years earlier by the prophet Jeremiah when he said:
"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. (Jer 31:31)
As Bishop Lesslie Newbeginn once said, the Gospel is NOT “ a linear extension either of Jewish religious enthusiasm or of Greek intellectual curiosity”
Rather Jesus reveals to us a third way – the way of
the Cross, which St Paul describes as a “stumbling
block to Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.” (1 Cor 1:23)
And as an aside - perhaps this is a warning to us to be careful
∙ not to trust in the power of our rituals to reveal God (as the Jews did)
∙ nor to seek him by the might of human intellect – divorced from divine revelation (as the Greeks did).
Jesus himself reveals that the Cross is paramount to the Christian Gospel.
Jesus’ Gospel is not simply his moral teaching –as some in Christian circles claim and no more.
We cannot avoid the centrality of the Cross if we are going to truly reflect to the world the true Gospel of Jesus.
Nowhere does Jesus point more clearly to his death than in Jn 12 verse 32 in which he says:
32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."
St John comments on Jesus’ words in the next verse by saying:
33…..said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
2. THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Jesus came to this earth to herald in the coming of the Kingdom of God (see Jn 3:3).
And the cross is our means of access to that Kingdom.
The Kingdom of God is a particularly New Testament concept.
Three of the Gospels - Mt, Mk and Jn - use the term “Kingdom of God”and Lk uses an equivalent : “the Kingdom of heaven”
We don’t however find the term “Kingdom of
God” used in the Old Testament - though it is mentioned in the OT Apocrypha (Wisdom 10:10).
But the term was around in Jesus’ day – misunderstood by the Jews in much the same way as the term “Messiah” was.
For the expectation of the Jews of Jesus’ day was that God’s kingdom would be an earthly kingdom (Israel).
And that it would be a kingdom where God would send his Messiah to come and punish their enemies (in particular the Roman oppressors) and reward the just (i.e. the Jews).
But for Jesus , the Kingdom of God is not an earthly kingdom at all. Rather as one commentator has put it - the Kingdom of God is “God’s sovereign and dynamic rule” ushering in the end of history and time.
We also see in John’s Gospel that membership of the kingdom of God brings with it the benefit of eternal life.
Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in Jn 3 – where Jesus
"I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. (Jn 3:3)
3. THE COST OF THE KINGDOM
There is however a cost to the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus summed it upwhen he said, using an agrarian analogy:
24I 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.
His point is that just as the single wheat has to die before the useful fruit – the grain can be harvested, so Jesus had to die on the Cross before the Kingdom of God could be made accessible to mankind.
Or put another way, the Church was birthed through the Cross of Jesus.
But there is also a personal cost to us if we are to be part of God’s Kingdom – reflected in Jesus’ own words:
25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.
There was a real cost too to the first disciples
The Early Church was mercilessly persecuted by the Roman State in the first two centuries of the first Millenium and many martyrdoms.
Indeed if they had not paid the price, we would not have our Bible today.
Our own Church, the Church of England was founded on the blood of martyrs too.
Christian men - such as Archbishop Cranmer and Bishops Latimer and Ridley who were all burnt at the stake in Oxford for the sake of Christ about 450 years ago - died to safeguard the Gospel.
How prophetic were Hugh Latimer’s words to Nicholas Ridley at the stake when he said:
"Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out."
4. WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN TO ME TODAY?
I would like to leave you with one thought:
Jesus asks us the question: Are we willing to be disciples with the cost of giving up our selfish desires?
Or as Jim Eliot put the matter:
“He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”
The sermon will be followed by the singing of Hymn 501 on guitar
“Now the green blade rises”