LIFE TO THE DEAD PREDICTION
Life Comes From...
On a beautiful sunny day, Louisa Stead, her husband, and daughter, Lily, decided to go on a picnic on Long Island Sound. While enjoying their picnic, they heard the cry of a young boy calling for help. Mr. Stead quickly ran to the rescue. But both Mr. Stead and the boy drowned while Louisa and Lily watched helplessly from the shore. With no way to adequately support themselves, Louisa and Lily were quickly destitute with no food and no money left to buy food. They had reached the point of utter despair when one night in 1882, Louisa wrote the words to the hymn “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” Shortly after that experience, Louisa and Lily moved to South Africa and became missionaries. They learned that suffering and serving Jesus while trusting and adjusting to the world they live in were a couple ways to bring life to the dead. But the crowd following Jesus did not. Jesus’ latest and clearest prediction regarding His death did not appeal to them. That’s why I’ve entitled today’s message Life to the Dead Prediction. So if you’ve brought your Bibles, please turn in them to John 12:20-36.
“20Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus." 22Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.”
“23Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. 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 honor the one who serves me.”
“27"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. 28Father, glorify your name!" Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." 29The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." 33He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. 34The crowd spoke up, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ[a] will remain forever, so how can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this 'Son of Man'?" 35Then Jesus told them, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light." When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.”
This encounter with the Greeks probably occurred on the Tuesday preceding the crucifixion. We just talked about the Triumphal Entry that took place on Sunday, the next day after Simon’s party honoring Jesus for raising Lazarus from the dead according to John 12:12. The other Gospel writers describe how Jesus cursed the fruitless fig tree and cleansed the temple on Monday before retiring to Bethany. And then probably on Tuesday, back in the temple for the last time, He encountered these Greeks in the Court of the Gentiles. Which was an area on the outside of the inner court. In our church, it would be like sitting in the fellowship hall without closed circuit TV’s listening as best you could to the church service in our sanctuary but not really hearing or seeing Jesus very clearly.
Jesus met them where they were
So these Greeks who literally “desired” or “wished” to see Jesus were able to do so because Jesus met them where they were. In the fellowship hall. In the Courtyard of the Gentiles. Isn’t that cool? Jesus stops what He’s doing with a bunch of people to meet a few people who couldn’t see Him where they are. Sort of like what He did with Zaccheus. And the women at the well. No doubt, YOU are significant to Jesus. Luke 15 says over and over that He would have died on the cross for just you and you alone. He wants to be good friends with you! And this takes us to point number one this week. Life comes from making good friends. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says the same thing the opposite way: “33Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’”
When I initially re-read this passage earlier this week with the folks in staff meeting, what I thought I was going to say first this week was WTG to the Greeks for their wisdom. For responding to the Good News of Jesus. For sincerely “wishing” and “desiring” to see Him. And I still will. But when I read the commentaries, I was surprised to find that some folks think these Greeks weren’t so sincere, wise, or devoted because they came to worship rather than to partake of the Passover. Which I’m not sure they were allowed to do anyway so I’m not sure why we should be doubting their faithfulness or sincerity. But that’s surprising impression I got from the folks who know more about it than me. Which sort of undermines the whole wisemen from the west theme I was commending. So worst case scenario: Maybe they weren’t full fledged believers yet. And only half proselyte Gentiles. Maybe they weren’t so wise. But they were on the right track right? And aren’t disciples just people on the right track? Still learning? Sincere folks figuring it out as they go?
So I think those Gentiles sound like pretty good folk to me. I would be happy if one day Lydia married one of them so I could do her big fat Greek wedding! Some day, decades from now, I want my daughter to choose someone who sincerely wants to worship and see Jesus. If your friends aren’t like that, God still loves them like crazy, but they may not be the ones God wants for you to date, marry, or spend tons of time with. Why? Because spending time with them minus Jesus will make it harder for you to spend time with Jesus. Whom knowing is life eternal. Make sense?
Guard your heart and make good friends
Friends should be patient. And kind. And long suffering. All the time? No! Nobody is perfect. We’re talking big picture here. They should not treat you rudely. They value your opinion and esteem you higher than themselves. They are not self-seeking. Easily angered. They keep no record of wrongs. In other words, they forgive and live. Because nobody, even the holiest Christian, forgives and forgets. Only God and elephants can do that!
So please don’t tell your children to forgive and forget. That is simply not Christian or good advice. Why? Because God never asks us to do the impossible. He wants us to find a friend who will forgive and live. Who will speak truth in love. And by faith choose to create a new normal with each other. And the way you’ll find that kind of person is by being that kind of person. Which reminds me of that quip from G.K. Chesterton. “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
But it can be done. Even by a child. Because sincerely following Jesus is simple, but never easy. But that’s why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help us. Romans 8:26 says we don’t even need to know what to pray for because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us that words cannot express. So do not be misled people. Good friends rejoice with the truth. But bad friends corrupt good friends. And how do they corrupt us? Well, these Four Friendship Filters tell us how. Often in very specific and graphic language rated PG13.
According to Paul in Galations 5:19-21 bad friends are into “Sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery.” I don’t even know what that last one means but it doesn’t sound good! The list goes on. “Idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions, and envy.” The word for witchcraft in Galations 5:20 is pharmakeia. Can you hear where the English word for pharmacy came from? And what are pharmacies famous for? Drugs! That’s right people! We sometimes need a Rite Aid, but according to the Bible, we never need a Wrong Aid. And anybody using drugs, prescription or non, the wrong way can kill you. Heath Ledger’s tragic death is a most recent example of that.
Now I’m not talking about Advil or Nyquil. Lord knows us parents need some sleep! And without Benadryl, who knows how long those car trips as kid would really take. Did I ever tell you guys that my mom used to drug my brothers and me on long car trips? Seriously, as a nurse, she knew just how much more Benadryl she needed to get us to fall asleep and stay that way for most of the trip. Any other parents feeling guilty today want to confess that in church? We’ll have elders leading prayers of intercession and confession following church up front here today just joking. About the confession part. Unless you want to do that. James 5:16 says you can if you want. Seriously.
But you know what I’m talking about, all these alarming numbers of teens into sniffing paint and magic markers or inhaling containers of compressed air or whatever. So let me be very clear: good friends don’t do that stuff. One day, we’ll all be high in the sky. But let’s let Jesus take us there amen? [Nice response. I’m glad. Some of you remember our talk from last week about responding in church. Praise the Lord! So let it be!] Yes, the mind is a terrible thing to waste. But waste it you will if your relationships involve selfish ambition, drunkenness, and orgies. Yes, I said that in church. Because it’s in Galations 5:21. And this was just the list of problems for the people already going too church in Galatia! You don’t even want to know what folks outside the church were doing back then!
So if you have friends into some or any of that, you need to make better friends. I have GOT to wrap up point number one: So please make good friends. And good friends are people who want to worship and see Jesus. Those kinds of folks may not know it all and they may have a bunch of other baggage, but they are well on their way to passing the Four Friendship Filters. Does that make sense yes or no? That’s what I see these Gentiles were doing. And that’s what we should do too.
Moving on, verses 23-26 say: “23Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. 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 honor the one who serves me.”
People always say Jesus had this special relationship with the Heavenly Father and of course, since He was God, as hard as the Trinity is to humanly understand, He did. Twice before He had heard the booming voice of His heavenly Father at his baptism and transfiguration as Matthew 3:17 and 17:5 reveals. But as our passage reveals today, it’s wasn’t His booming voice that told Jesus John 3:16 was getting closer to being fulfilled. The arrival of the Gentiles did that with no special effects from the Father. The booming voice of the Father comes after Jesus already recognized the time. And often that’s the way it works for us too. God doesn’t often tell me everything, okay anything, with His big booming voice. Though it would be cool if He did every now and then. He speaks to us today through His word. Spelling it out as simply as He can. And what Jesus was spelling out for His disciples was that following Him would include suffering and possibly death.
Life comes from suffering and serving
We know this is true because later Jesus would tell Peter in John 21:18-19, “‘18I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!’”
Like any of us would, Peter starts complaining about how unfair that is, especially if John gets to live to a ripe old age. But Jesus answers him in verse 22, “‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’23Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die.”
And if you skip down to verse 34, you’ll see there was a similar rumor spreading about the Messiah. Verse 34 says, “34The crowd spoke up, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever [another versions says will not die], so how can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this 'Son of Man'?”
Life comes from trusting and adjusting to Jesus
That crowd, probably those Gentiles, said it was indeed God’s voice. The rest of them said no, it had to be thunder. But most of them believed that the Messiah, when he came, would never die. But here’s Jesus talking about a seed that doesn’t sprout until it dies. Here’s Jesus talking about getting lifted up on a cross that will draw all men from the east and west to Him. And they couldn’t reconcile those concepts in their heads. They couldn’t figure out what they believed to be true with what the Way, the Truth, and the Life was talking about. And so they rejected Him. Life comes from making good friends. Suffering and serving. And trusting and adjusting to Jesus not the other way around. We all have a lot to learn. But in crazy times, by God’s grace, it can be done! Jesus promised us it can! Romans 13:8-11 tells us how.
“8Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 11And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”
We trust and adjust by continuing to love. That’s a debt we never get bailed out of. And we trust and adjust by waking up. For the hour of His judgement has come. Both Mr. Stead and the boy he was trying to save drowned off the shore of Long Island Sound in 1882 while Louisa and Lily watched on helplessly. With no way to adequately support themselves, Louisa and Lily had no food and no money left to buy food. And it was when Louisa reached the point of utter despair that she wrote the words to the hymn “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.”
And that’s what we’re called to do too. By making good friends. Suffering and serving Jesus. And trusting and adjusting to Him in this world.