Sermon on John 12:20-36, preached on Sunday, 7 Apr 2019.
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 91:1-16 / (NT) John 12:20-36
I. Lifted to be glorified
Lifted to draw us to Himself
Lifted to make us sons of light
Last Lord’s Day, the word of God expounded to us was about ‘following the Saviour’s focus’ based on Jn. 12:1-19 where Jesus was anointed with precious oil and made a triumphal entry to Jerusalem. Everyone in that crowd, as we heard last Sunday, had no understanding whatsoever of Jesus’ focus, namely, His death on the cross to save His own people from sin and death. So, the challenge we heard last week was to follow our Saviour’s focus and welcome Him accordingly. We must understand why our Lord Jesus walked that lonely and dreadful path to Calvary, specifically to that shameful death on the cross. Understanding it, we must welcome and follow our Saviour.
Our text passage for today from v. 20 and following is what happened after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Now, that crowd who put palm branches on His path and waved them, shouting and saying, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” have dispersed and Jesus is staying at an unknown place to us in Jerusalem. This is His last visit to Jerusalem before His suffering, trial and crucifixion. The hour of Jesus’ death has come near and none other but the Lord is aware of it.
In this tense and acute moment, our Lord Jesus teaches His disciples and, through them, us what is recorded in vs. 20-36, that is, ‘why He must be lifted up.’ Telling them and us about why the Son must pass through the way to Calvary, our Saviour wants His beloved to know what His death is for, and what benefit His death gives to His own like you and me as well as those disciples around Him. So, let us follow our Lord’s teaching and find His saving grace toward us.
I. LIFTED TO BE GLORIFIED
First of all, the Lord Jesus teaches us that His lifting up is ‘to be glorified.’ Simply put, Jesus came to be glorified. For this end to glory, He has come and walked thus far. By this glory, He means His inauguration as the King and its universal declaration as God the Son, as the Saviour of the world and Lord of all beings. And He says in v. 23 that the ‘hour’ for such a declaration has come.
To understand what Jesus’ hour and its coming means, we need to look back into the earlier chapters of John because Jesus has mentioned this ‘hour’ several times in the past. In a sense, the whole Gospel according to John revolves around this ‘hour’ of the Lord. The very first time He mentioned it is in Jn. 2:4 when His mother, Mary, came and talked to Him about the shortage of wine at the wedding in Cana. I believe you remember that occasion well. It was Jesus’ first miracle performed in public. There, hearing His mother, the Lord said this: “Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” The very beginning of His ministry according to John starts with mentioning of this ‘hour.’ The next occasion is in Jn. 5:28 where our Saviour taught His disciples that He is equal with the Father, then, He said this to them: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice.” The next three occasions are found in Jn. 7, vs. 6 and 30 and Jn. 8:20 where the Jew’s enmity toward Jesus grew deeper and they were searching for an opportunity for arresting and killing Him; yet, ‘His hour’ had not yet come in those cases, and none could lay his hand on Him. Then, here, in Jn. 12:23, our Lord suddenly announces that His ‘hour’ has come. And this ‘hour’ is for Him to be glorified.
Following this, we can sense Jesus’ well-designed and long-waited ambitious goal. And that is, as I mentioned earlier, His inauguration and a universal declaration of His true nature as the Saviour and Lord of the world, being the Second Person in the Godhead, to whom all beings give due homage, glory, praise and thankful worship. His imminent lift onto the cross to die is for His subsequent lifting to His kingly throne in heaven.
So, when Jesus says, ‘I must be lifted up,’ He means something like this: ‘I must be lifted up high in order that all people may see who I am and bow before Me, giving Me due glory.’ Jesus must be lifted up far above all men and women and everything in God’s creation; He cannot be at anywhere else but His kingly throne in heaven so that all may look up and find Him as the Lord and King of all, both the living and the dead.
II. LIFTED TO DRAW US TO HIMSELF
The purpose of His glory is to ‘draw us to the Lord Himself’ which is our next point. In other words, Jesus’ lifting up is for His own people to see Him, their Saviour King, and be drawn by Him to Himself. This is like a tower that exceeds in height all other buildings or trees around and becomes the only significant landmark to everyone’s eyes, or a lighthouse that stands tall and radiates a bright beam of light through the darkness, so drags everyone’s eyes on the sea. Jesus sitting on high, shining brightly in His grace, draws sinners like us to Himself. This is why He came to earth; this is why He is lifted up to glory, that is, to bring us to Himself.
There’s an interesting point we need to notice here. Jesus announces that His ‘hour’ for glory, thus, bringing us to Himself, has come when a group of certain people approached Him. Do you remember who they are as appear in our text passage? They are ‘some Greeks’ as found in v. 20. Of course, Jesus has met some Gentiles earlier who approached Him, seeking for His healing power. But this is not like those cases; these ‘Greeks’ are so-called ‘proselytes,’ in other words, converts to the Jewish religion, worshipping God, following the teaching of the OT. There were Gentile proselytes who used to come to Jerusalem and participated in Jewish temple worship, yet, remained in the Court of the Gentiles within the temple.
Some of these proselytes come to see Jesus, not because they need His healing power, but because they want to know more about Jesus and His message for God’s kingdom. In this sense, it is a special occasion. In the midst of Jews who are both ignorant of and indifferent to Jesus’ true nature and teaching, some Greeks have come to speak to Jesus to know more about His salvation. What an interesting visit this is! We don’t know whether Jesus spoke to them because the Bible is silent about it; but He probably did because two of Jesus’ disciples – Philip and Andrew – came and told their Master about their interest. Whether He spoke to them or not, that’s not important. The important point is that the Lord declares in v. 23 that His ‘hour’ has come! The arrival of Jesus’ long-waited hour to be glorified is declared subsequent to some Greeks’ visitation. It wasn’t the moment when Jesus’ mother spoke to Him; nor was it when the Lord taught His disciples that He is equal with the Father; nor was it when the Jew’s enmity toward Him reached its highest point. Do you remember the very last section of last Sunday’s message from Jn. 12:1-19? While the Pharisees and the Sadducees plotted together to kill Jesus, the Pharisees said to one another this, as v. 19 records, “Look, the world has gone after Him [Jesus the Lord].” It is when ‘some Greeks’ came to the Lord! Interestingly enough, our Lord earlier said in Jn. 10:16 that He had other sheep that were not of this fold – meaning, of Israel – and He must bring them also.
This means that He came to draw to Himself everyone of the Father’s elect from everywhere – from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. The apostle John who had recorded this Gospel later saw in a vision through the Holy Spirit that this gathered people of Christ Jesus were a great multitude no one could number. Interestingly enough, these great multitude of saints before the Lord Jesus held palm branches in their hands. They are not like the Jews of Jerusalem in the earlier section of Jn. 12 when Jesus was riding on a donkey’s colt and entering into that city; these innumerable saints in John’s vision are true worshippers of Christ the King.
You and I alongside all true believers and followers of Jesus are counted in this great multitude. All of us are called and drawn to our Saviour from every corner of this earth. And Jesus was lifted up to draw people like you and me to Himself. Moreover, there are still a great number of God’s elect in the world, waiting for their moments of encountering their Saviour without really knowing its approach. This is why Jesus hasn’t come back to us and His command for us who have already drawn to Him are to go out and deliver His message of free saving grace to all people in the world, starting from our homes and neighbours. Look at v. 32 and hear Jesus’ voice, saying this: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself”! How thankful and gracious are these words of Him, our Saviour, who went through the path of the cross to die on our behalf so that, through faith in Him, our sins may be forgiven and His righteousness is bestowed on us, thus, we receive and enjoy His eternal life!
III. LIFTED TO MAKE US SONS OF LIGHT
In short, Jesus is lifted up to be glorified so that all may see Him and know that He is the Lord and King. Also His lifting is for drawing His own people to Himself. But, this is not the end of the reason for His lifting to glory. The third and last reason for His going through the death of cross and resurrection and ascension to His heavenly throne is ‘to make us sons of light’ as Jesus points out in v. 36. This is the benefit all who are drawn to Jesus receive and enjoy. This benefit is not something static or lifeless, like a lifetime membership of a knitting club for a man or of a rugby club for a lady in which each one has no interest at all; rather, this benefit is living and dynamic, ever growing in both your interest and pleasure, like the case of a parent having a child and seeing him grow in all respects. Jesus is lifted up to make us ‘sons of light’ who grow in faith, deepen in joy and shine Christ’s light to the world.
In a sense, if we looked up Jesus and found the King, if we were drawn to Him and that was the end of all, it would’ve been a boring salvation. Let me explain what I mean by a ‘boring’ salvation with our travel experience. What would you say if you were suddenly taken away from your home in Perth and instantly relocated to a hotel room at your destination? In that, you miss everything from your packing up your bags to going to the airport, taking an airplane (although some of you would love to miss it obviously), arriving at your destination and finding the way to your hotel and everything in between. What would you say if you miss these totally in your holidays? You pop out of here and pop in at another place. Although there would be some pleasure for being the place you want to go and spend time, it doesn’t sound a lively and exciting travel, does it, because you’d miss the whole process of travel? Likewise, if we were drawn to Jesus immediately once we put our trust in Him, believing Him as the Saviour and Lord, we would’ve missed an important part of our transfer – I mean, the joy of getting closer to the Lord every minute and every hour and day through His irresistible grace, by His compelling love toward us. If you were suddenly taken from your conversion and arrived at your glorification, you’d miss the whole process of your sanctification and that’s a significant loss of your joy with the Lord Jesus. It might like the case of the parents having no memory of their time spent with their child except of their child’s birth and adulthood. It would be a terrible miss. Jesus’ lifting up to glory to draw us to Himself is also to make us ‘children of light’ who thoroughly know and enjoy His saving grace.
This is what He means by a grain of wheat falling and dying, also one’s hating his life to keep it for eternal life. This is what He means by anyone wishing to serve Him must follow Him and being with Him and walking in the light.
Our Lord’s point is that you and I will find in our life with the Lord a great joy of living faith. It’s a mystery of Christ Jesus. Many people enjoy solving mysteries. I guess some of you like Sudoku challenges or various other puzzles. We like and enjoy solving mysteries and finding out its end. Witnessing growth of faith in us is like that; it’s a pure joy to every Christian because it is Christ’s mystery revealed gradually to our eyes.
A grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies bears much fruit is a good explanation of this joy. God gives us faith as His gift. When this faith is given to us, it’s so tiny that we don’t usually notice it. But what happens when this is sown onto our heart? It sprouts, grows and, then, suddenly turns into something we can’t ignore. Soon, we’re given up, and our heart and mind and strength are surrendered to Christ through it, that is, faith! All of us used to be our own kings and queens; we owned our life; no one is born to trust Jesus or surrender anything to Him. But this tiny faith fallen onto the toughest and most uncultivable soil of our heart grows and turns our heart into a rich and fruit-yielding garden of God! What a joy of seeing this change in us!
Moreover, once our hearts are turned into good soil as Christ’s good garden, we ourselves find great pleasure of enjoying what it produces, that is, the power of faith. This is what the Lord means when He told us about having faith like a grain of mustard seed in Mt. 17:20 and Lk. 17:6. We surrender to Christ and that surrender is so insignificant like a grain of mustard seed, but such a mere surrender to Christ will surely turn into a miracle, like moving a mountain. How many Christians who pray for their loved ones and friends have experienced the mountain of unbelief in their loving one’s hearts be removed and thrown into the sea of God’s grace and mercy and engulfed, so come to Christ in repentance and faith? It’s a miracle of Christ and the mystery of faith in Him! Christian’s prayer for the world will surely remove the ruler of this world and bring Christ’s kingdom here at last. In this way, our joy for living faith in us is both passive and active – we find God working mightily in us, growing our faith in Christ; meanwhile, we discover Christ’s power working in us when we surrender to Him in faith.
This is the reason for Jesus being lifted up to the cross, then, through His cross, to His kingly throne in heaven. So, He draws all His own, like us, to Himself from every corner of the earth. What a blessing! Yet, these are not it; He is lifted to make us ‘children of light’!
Heb. 12:2 sums this up wonderfully, saying this: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” His joy is to draw us as well as all His sheep in the world to Himself and make us all children of His eternal joy!
So, knowing our Saviour’s joy and what He has achieved through the cross, this is a challenge for us all – are we willing to look up to Him and consider Him as the only King and Lord to whom alone all glory and worship be given? Are we willing to surrender to Jesus in faith, no matter how tiny and insignificant it may be? Then, wait for Him to mould each of us, mould us all as His church, according to His will, and enjoy all fruit He bears in our life?
So, children of light, let us walk in faith, trusting Jesus Christ our only true Lord and King! ***