Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sermon: John 12: 20-36 The Hour Has Come

Today is the first day of British Summer Time, the day when the clocks go forward. And it’s lovely to get the longer, lighter evenings. But for that to happen, it meant that the alarm clock seemed extra early this morning - particularly if you’d been dancing the night away at the Ceilidh last night! The alarm sounded, and you knew it was time to get up.

Most people have some kind of alarm to let them know it’s the time to get up. Whether it’s your phone, or an actual alarm clock, you have some way of telling what time it is. Now, I must confess that I’m not really a morning person, and so I sometimes need to set multiple alarms to make sure that I do waken!

Now, if you’re like me, you can get some pretty advanced alarm clocks. There’s one that must be submerged in water for the alarm to stop ringing - so if you’ve made it as far as the bathroom, you might as well get into the shower. There’s another that releases four puzzle pieces which have to be put back in the proper place for the alarm to stop sounding. Strange alarms - alarming alarms even - but in our reading tonight, we hear of another sort of alarm. one that you might use now, or one that might take you back to childhood. And that’s the human alarm. It’s when someone else tells you what time it is. Maybe it was a parent who would come to you to tell you it’s time to get up. Maybe now it’s your partner, or maybe you’re the alarm for them!

Tonight in our reading, Jesus talks a lot about time. He says that ‘the hour has come’ in verse 23; that ‘now is the time for judgement on this world’ in verse 31; that ‘you are going to have the light just a little while longer’ in verse 34. Jesus is saying that the time is here, the hour has come. And how does he know? Well, it’s because of the human alarm clock we find in the opening verses.

‘Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. Sir, they said, we would like to see Jesus. Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.’ (20-22)

These Greeks were Gentiles - they weren’t Jews, but they may have been God-fearers, Gentiles who worshipped the God of Israel. They are in Jerusalem for Passover, just like the big crowds that welcomed Jesus in the passage we looked at this morning. And they have a simple request. ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus.’

They want to see Jesus, to meet him, to hear from him. And it’s such a great request that those very words are carved into many a lectern and pulpit, as a little reminder to the preacher climbing into the pulpit that the people listening want to see Jesus.

What a privilege to be given that request! It’s what we long for our families and friends and everyone else to ask us - how do I get to know Jesus? So Philip was asked, he tells Andrew, and they go to tell Jesus.

Now, the way in which Jesus replies might come as a bit of a surprise. Jesus doesn’t say - ok, where are they, I’ll chat to them now. Neither does he say, well, I’m a wee bit busy now, but maybe we could meet up for a chat later on. In fact, he seems to ignore the Greeks themselves. Instead, Jesus takes this request as a sign that the hour has come.

The fact that the Gentiles have come wanting to see him is a sign that the time has come. And what is it the time for? Which hour has come? ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ It’s time for the Lord Jesus to be glorified - and how will this happen? Jesus makes clear that his glory comes in his saving death. It is in his dying that Jesus will be glorified.

And he shows us this by pointing us to a farming illustration. ‘I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’ (24)

If you have a grain of wheat, and you set it up on the shelf, it won’t do much. It will still only be one seed. But if you put it into the ground, if it dies, then it will produce many seeds. One grain dies to produce an abundant harvest. And this is what the death of Jesus is like. He dies, a single seed; but his death produces an abundant harvest, as we all receive life through his death.

And this is the pattern that Jesus calls us to follow. We have a choice. how will we live our life? Will we keep ourselves safe, love our lives, look out for ourselves? In the end we will lose it. But if we ‘hate’ our life in this world - if we don’t set it up as our highest priority, if we instead give ourselves for others, just as Jesus gave himself for us, then we will keep it for eternal life.

There’s a challenge for each of us who call ourselves Christians. We see it in verse 26: ‘Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.’ So are we serving? Following? Giving ourselves for the good of others? Falling into the ground and dying so that others may live? Using our seed, our resources so that more seed will be produced? Because this is the pattern Jesus sets before us - dying produces life. One seed can produce many seeds - but only through death.

Now, as you hear that, perhaps you’re thinking - that sounds difficult, uncomfortable, maybe even painful. And it’s all that, and even more. You see, the way of the cross is so painful that it leads Jesus’ heart to be troubled. V27: ‘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. Father, glorify your name!’

Jesus counts the cost of the cross, and commits to it for our benefit. In his death we have life. In his giving, we have living. And he sets out the pattern for us to follow as we serve him. As Jesus commits to glorifying (not himself, but) the Father, the voice of the Father replies from heaven, as a confirmation that Jesus is on the right track, that he’s doing the right thing. It wasn’t thunder, or an angel, it was God the Father confirming God the Son in his commitment to go the way of the cross.

So it’s time for the Son of Man to be glorified by dying for his people. At the same time, we’re told that it’s time for something else as well. Look at verse 31: ‘Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.

Now, John gives us a little help to understand what Jesus is saying. His being lifted up from the earth isn’t his ascension; it’s his death on the cross. Do you see v33? ‘He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

Three times in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of bring lifted up - 3:14 ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up’; and 8:28 ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.’ Jesus being lifted up is the way he speaks of his death on the cross.

The time for Jesus to die on the cross is, in the same moment, the time for the devil to be defeated. Don’t think for a moment that the cross is a defeat for Jesus. It is through the shame and agony of the cross that he is winning his greatest victory. As Jesus dies, he will drive out ‘the prince of this world.’ You see, the devil may have some sort of foothold, may think that he rules the world, has everyone in his power. But Jesus is at work to defeat him, through the cross.

And the defeat of the devil is shown by Jesus drawing all men (people) to himself. It’s as Jesus opens wide his arms upon the cross that he brings us to himself. We’re welcomed in, escaping the judgement that is coming. The cross brings glory to Jesus, and defeat for the devil, but it also brings a warning that time is short.

We’re used to warnings like this all the time. Your car will have a warning light when you’ve got enough petrol or diesel for about 50 miles or so. Some people refill ages before the light ever comes on; some people live on the edge, driving almost on fumes. Your mobile phone will have a battery indicator to show how much you’ve got left on it.

And Jesus says that the cross brings the warning that time is short. The crowd are wondering about Jesus talking about the Son of Man bring lifted up. They know he’s talking about death, but they can’t work it out. You see, they also know that the Old Testament talks about how the Christ will remain for ever. So how can Jesus talk about death? Who is this Son of Man?

We get the warning in verse 35: ‘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. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.’

We’re probably not as used to this image as we once would have been. With streetlights and lamps and so on, we’re able to see even when it gets dark. But for the people in Jesus’ day, you might have had a lamp in the house, but outside it would be pitch black. You did what you needed in the light, because you wouldn’t be able to see in the dark.

Jesus says that he is the light, but that there will come a time when it’s impossible for people to come to the light. Darkness will overtake them. Then it will be too late. Just think of the darkness that descended at midday on that first Good Friday - light of the world by darkness slain. Jesus still offers us his light; but again, time is short, judgement is coming, and with it a division - between the outer darkness of hell and the brightness of the new heavens and new earth, which needs no sun, because God and the Lamb are its light.

The Greeks wanting to see Jesus was the alarm clock, the signal that the time had come for Jesus to go to the cross. It’s the time for Jesus to be glorified by dying for us; it’s the time for the devil to be defeated; and it’s a warning that time is short, eternity is long, that we need to grasp hold of the light that is offered while it’s still time.

Sir, we would like to see Jesus. Is that your heart’s desire tonight? This week will be a great opportunity to see more of Jesus, as we hear his famous last words. To see him glorified, as he wins the victory, and gives us his light. Will you come to him tonight?

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Palm Sunday evening 25th March 2018.

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