Hating Your Life, John 12:20-33; Fifth Sunday In Lent

Providence Church (CREC)

Rev. Uriesou Brito

John 12:20-33

Fifth Sunday in Lent


First official sermon as an ordained minister.

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

Prayer: Our Lord, glorify your Name in the preached Word and may these words be acceptable in your sight, Lord our great Redeemer. Amen.

Sermon: We are moving from Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in chapter 3 and jumping a few chapters to what many consider to be the center of the gospel of St. John. In chapter 12, instead of the Jews seeking Jesus as Nicodemus had done earlier, now we have the Greeks seeking Jesus. This is a glorious picture of the world flocking to the Messiah. It is a strong contrast to the Jews of that day. While the Greeks came to see Jesus, the Jews sought to show contempt toward the work of our Lord.

This happens in the context of the Triumphal Entry. Christ is greeted by the cries of: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.[1] There is great exhilaration at the coming of the Passover Feast. This is not an unfamiliar scenario. In John 2, Jesus had entered this same temple during the Passover and as the great priest He inspected His house and overthrew their furniture because He found false worship. The people may be wondering what he is going to do now. They are drawn to this man who speaks so prophetically, so priestly, and so kingly as He comes to Jerusalem sitting on a donkey’s colt.

In the midst of this, the Greeks are coming to see our Lord. They are intent in having an audience with the Messiah. They come to Philip, since he is a close companion of Jesus in his ministry and they ask him in verse 21 that glorious question: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” He is the light of the world in John 1, the great cleanser in John 2, the great Savior in John 3, the water of life in John 4, the great healer in John 5 and the bread of life in John 6. Sir, we wish to see Jesus! Philip goes to Andrew, who agrees to bring the matter to Jesus and Jesus in turn addresses the multitude, in particular the Greeks. The answer of our Lord is one that makes the preaching of the cross foolish to the unbeliever: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”[2] In John 7:30: “…they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.” But now, our Lord says that the hour has come!  Up to this point the hour was always future, but now throughout His passion week his “hour” is upon Him.[3] But what exactly is this hour?

Throughout the gospels the “hour” is a reference to the Lord’s death, resurrection, and exaltation, the consummation and culmination of the work he came into the world to do.[4] This is the climax of Jesus’ earthly ministry. His perfect obedience, his faithfulness to the Father was a preparation for this hour. Christ is the perfect and final sacrifice for our sins. The world of the first century expected a King who would destroy their enemies according to their imagination, but Jesus says I will destroy my enemies according to the plan of my Father. The Father’s plan is to glorify the Son by crucifying Him on a tree. J.C. Ryle wrote:

The kingdom He came to set up was to begin with a crucifixion, and not with a coronation. Its glory was to take its rise not from victories won by the sword, and from accumulated treasures of gold and silver, but from the death of its king.[5]

In verse 24, Jesus expands on what must happen. If the grain of wheat is going to produce any fruit, it must die first. Christ is the grain of wheat. St. Augustine writes that, Christ “Himself was the grain that had to die, and be multiplied; to suffer death through the unbelief of the Jews, and to be multiplied in the faith of many nations.”[6] The reason the message of the cross is so powerful is because it does not come from man, but from the Father in heaven. Christ is going to be exalted, magnified and glorified by dying. This is the hour He speaks of. In verse 32, Jesus refers to this hour as his “being lifted up from the earth.” He is lifted up on the tree so that the grain of wheat may be multiplied in all the earth. If I am lifted up, I will draw all people unto myself. The gospel comes through cross first and then crown; through crucifixion and then coronation.

The Gentiles who despised God are now coming to seek the Son of God. The coming of the Greeks was a sign that the Messiah would draw unto himself all people; not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles.

The death of Messiah on the cross has cosmic implications for the world. If there is no death, there is no life; if there is no death the world is condemned already. If there is no death, Satan and his fallen angels will conquer this world; if there is no death the seed of the serpent will crush the seed of the woman; if there is no death, then Tolkien’s Frodo would never destroy the ring and the land of Mordor will rule forever.

But the road to death is not an easy one. Jesus’ soul was troubled. He even says: “Lord, Save me from this hour,” which is to be understood and translated as an exclamation point and not a question mark.[7] This is similar to his language in Gethsemane: Take this cup from me! But it is for this reason that He came. In the fullness of time, He came for this hour. His mission was to see His Father’s Name glorified. The Father speaks from heaven confirming that He will be glorified with the lifting up of His Son. The people who stood there thought that an angel was speaking; some said that it thundered. They were wrong on the account of what had just transpired. It was not an angel speaking, nor was it thundering; it was rather God the Father speaking and saying in essence: This is my beloved Son; in His death I am well pleased. But the unbelieving Jews who stood there near that temple were right concerning their own judgment. In AD 70, God would thunder His wrath upon this disobedient people. The Old world will be destroyed and a new world of righteousness and glory will begin to manifest itself.

The Jews thought they were judging Jesus on the cross, but the cross was judging them. The cross brings about a separation between the children of the light and the children of darkness. The cross is salvation for the one who believes and condemnation for the one who does not believe in the Son of God. According to verse 31, what appears to be the triumph of Satan is His great defeat. At the cross, Satan was brought low and Christ lifted up to be ruler of all. At the cross, the world is brought back from its revolt and placed under obedience to the government of God.[8] As Calvin writes, the casting out of Satan “is a description of that remarkable effect of the death of Christ which is daily manifested.” Satan is daily being brought low by the victory of Christ at the cross 2,000 years ago. The kingdom of our Lord is daily being advanced because of that crucial hour, in which our Lord suffered on that tree.

We must, however, not forget that the gospel of the Triune God is not just a gospel of the cross, but it is also a gospel of the crown. Our Lord Jesus was lifted up on a tree, but He was also lifted up in exaltation on the Third Day. The story of the gospel is that before a King is lifted up to glory, He must be lifted up to death.

How Shall we Then Live?

It is in this narrative that our Lord writes one of the most piercing words to our ears. He writes in verse 25: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”These words are probably still one of the most offensive messages to our modern world. It was radical in the first century and it is probably even more radical in the twenty first century. If you want the reason why so many people in our churches continue to live nominal in their commitment to the kingdom of God, it is because they do not want to deal with this verse. How does this apply to us? Jesus tells us that we are to hate our lives. The first thing we are to understand from this passage is that Jesus is not telling us that life is not worth living or that life is not worth enjoying. We are not called to live monastic, ascetic lives. We are not to despise the goodness of God for us. After all, Jesus says earlier in John that he came that we might have light and life more abundantly. Brothers and sisters, this is the world that God has given his saints. The believer is to enjoy this world and its benefits more so than the unbeliever. But we are still left with this powerful statement that we are to hate our lives. What does this mean? Jesus is speaking of hating our lives in relationship to following him. He says that if we are to serve him, we are to follow Him. Jesus is saying that to hate our lives is to not allow anything we do to hinder us from living to God.

This means:

a)      That we are to give of ourselves to one another, even when it does not seem to be convenient for us. Even when it means that we have to go out of our way to see that our neighbor is cared for.

b)      This means that we don’t have to be happy as our culture defines it. When you say: I have to do this or that in order to be happy, Jesus says No, you do not! When you say you have to have a happy marriage, Jesus says No, you do not! Rather, you need a Christ-centered, Cruciform Christian marriage. And that looks very different than a happy marriage. For the men, that means sacrificing for your wives. Helping with house chores, even if you imagine a hundred things you would rather be doing. For wives, it means submitting to your husbands, even when you do not feel like it. It is not about feelings, it is about crucifixion. A crucified life is tangible. It is sometimes filled with pain and difficulties, but ultimately, it is the way to honor our heavenly Father and that is true joy.

c)      For our covenant children of all ages, this means that you are to honor your father and mother through obedience. It means trusting their judgment because they are better suited to guide you in this world.

Brothers and sisters, to hate our lives is to love Christ supremely. To hate our lives is to make Christ supreme. To hate our lives is to pursue the supremacy of Christ over our own lives, so that the Father will honor us at the Last Day.

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] John 12:13.

[2] John 12:23.

[3] Some of these ideas come from Rev. Robert Rayburn from Faith Presbyterian Church http://www.faithtacoma.org/

[4] Sermon by Rev. Robert Rayburn.

[5] J.C. Ryle. Commentary on the gospel of John.

[6] Quotation from St. Augustine provided through personal correspondence with the Rev. Craig Beaton.

[7] Rayburn writes: In v. 27, the second sentence, “Father, save me from this hour?” Should probably be read as an actual prayer, with an exclamation point not a question mark at the end. In that case we would have something similar to the Lord’s “Take this cup from me,” in Gethsemane. [Carson, 440]

[8] John Calvin’s commentary on John 12:31.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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