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"MESSAGE FOR GOOD FRIDAY, 2012 FROM JOHN 12:20-28"

          In the church where I grew up, our kids choir director once wondered out loud why, given the brutal execution of Jesus we remember on Good Friday, why it’s called Good Friday.  He thought “Black Friday” would be more appropriate.  To an eight-year old, that made some sense, but now I know that Good Friday was inexplicably good for this world and believers in particular because it commemorates the solution to our biggest problem and one we have no power to solve on our own—our sin problem. This is a problem that—unless God saves us, lands us in an eternal and hellish torment no matter how nice a person we might be.  As we look at today’s text, we could argue that even the designation “Good” Friday is a gross understatement.  Indeed, it would be more Biblically accurate to call it “Glorious Friday,” not only for what Jesus did on the cross to save  his people, but for the way in which the cross of Christ, in an utterly unique way trumpeted the glory of Christ across the universe.  Today, from John chapter 12 we want to state some crucial truths about the cross of Christ.  He writes in verse 20, “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.”   Immediately upon the appearing of these Greeks or Gentiles who want to see Jesus, Jesus dramatically signals that an abrupt shift in his ministry has occurred—the bell has tolled and a new chapter has begun.  His public ministry is now over and his passion will begin within hours.  How does the appearance of these Gentiles signal this?  Jesus made it clear that he came as a Jew for the Jews. In Matthew 10, when Jesus sent his apostles out on a mission Matthew says in verse five, “5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

John in the first chapter of his gospel in verse 11 says, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”  His mission was to the Jews except in rare exceptions and he ordered his disciples not to minister to the Gentiles.  Yet, here in chapter 12, when Phillip and Andrew come to Jesus and say something like, “Master some Gentiles are here and they want to see you.”  At that moment, Jesus announces something he had never said before and if you are following John’s narrative, it hits you like a bolt out of the blue.  Verse 23 says, “And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  This is a jolting statement from Jesus because in chapter two, he tells his mother Mary, “…My hour has not yet come.” In chapter seven, after Jesus had been embroiled in arguments with the Jews, it says in verse 30, “So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not come.”  In chapter eight, he is locked in debate with the Pharisees and John records in verse 20, “These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.”  It’s that repeated announcement of it NOT being the hour that was to come, that make these words in chapter 12 practically leap from the page when Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  It’s like a trigger had been detonated with this inquiry by these Gentiles to see him. 

Think about it—here for the first time, a group of Gentiles show up looking for Jesus.  This must have signaled to Jesus that his ministry to the Jews was over—from here on, he ministers only to his apostles. His ministry had expanded far enough that now the Gentiles were coming for him and he was not sent for them, but the Jews.  It could have been that the Father had told him, “When the Gentiles come looking for you, your ministry to the Jews is over—your hour to be glorified in the cross has come.”  Whatever the case, Jesus knew that an abrupt and radical shift has just occurred in his ministry.  In the next few hours the events his entire life and ministry–the events in the entire Old Testament had been pointing to will occur—his death on a cross, his resurrection and exaltation.  With that to set the context, let’s look at John 12 beginning with verse 23, “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.” The main truth this afternoon which is the tap root for all the others is—The cross of Christ brings ultimate and supreme glory to Jesus.  Jesus says—“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” and we know he is talking about the cross because he continues with this discussion of a grain of wheat falling into the earth and dying so it can bear much fruit.  The question is—how can Jesus claim that his moment of most abject shame—being battered, hung naked and accursed as he is lifted high for all to see—how can this moment be one of great glory for him? Here are four reasons from the Scriptures.

First, The cross is Jesus’ gateway to eternal glory.  We must remember that Jesus did not see the cross as the end of the line—it was simply the culmination of his earthly redemptive ministry.  In John 17:5, hours before his execution, he prays to the Father, “5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”  Jesus was looking beyond the cross to the glory that he and the Father shared as co-members of the Trinity before the world existed.  This is an uncontestable claim by Jesus that he is God—he shares the glory of God but God says in Isaiah 48:11, “My glory I will not give to another.”   Ergo, Jesus, who wants to share his Father’s glory---must be God.  In Hebrews chapter 12 we read more about Jesus’ attitude about his cross as a gateway.  The author writes of Jesus, “1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 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.”  For Jesus, the cross was a gateway to joy and the glory of being seated at his Father’s right hand.  The cross meant glory for Jesus in that it was his gateway to eternal glory.

A second reason the cross brings ultimate glory to Jesus is because:  As Christ our Victor, it is on the cross he won the decisive victory over Satan.  He triumphs not with the sword, but through his obedient submission to his Father’s will. We must never forget that a dominant reason for Jesus’ incarnation was to overthrow Satan and his rule over this world that Adam had ceded to him 4000 years earlier.  First John 3:8 says, “8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  Just a few verses later in John chapter 12 Jesus says, “31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” Paul speaks of the militant, Satan-defeating work of Jesus on the cross in Colossians chapter two.  He writes, “13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”  Before the cross, Satan had the power to rightly condemn us through his accusations.  Our sinfulness, when held up to the mirror of God’s law with its perfect standard of righteousness, condemned us every time we sinned in thought, word or deed.  Satan was right there to accuse us before God and he used the legal demands of the law—demands we could never meet--as the basis of his accusations.  He used those laws like the bullets in his gun to blast us away from God.  However, the gospel tells us that Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life, satisfying all of the demands of the law and on the cross; he washed away all the sin that had condemned us.  Then, in the new birth, Jesus unites with the believer which enables him to share HIS perfect righteousness with them.  Satan has no sins to accuse any believer of because Jesus washed them in his blood, cancelling them and their condemning power and gives us his perfect record of righteousness to wear as a blazing white robe.  Jesus removed all the bullets from Satan’s gun. He still fires the thing, making a lot of noise trying to make us think he can condemn us… but when it comes to believers--he’s firing blanks—none of them have any legal power to condemn us before the Father.  Jesus won that victory on the cross as he perfectly submitted to the Father’s will.

A third reason the cross gives ultimate glory to Jesus even in the midst of his deepest shame is: The cross most fully reveals his glorious character.   D.A. Carson says the cross is “the supreme moment of divine disclosure.”  The GLORY of God is literally his ‘weightiness.’  His weightiness is the infinitely, eternally profound nature of his Person and he displays parts of his glory in creation.  Psalm 19:1 says, “1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”  You look up into the heavens and their vastness and think—“glorious”  and you’re right because it displays God’s glory.  In the transfiguration, Jesus temporarily allowed his humanity to be peeled back to reveal his glory—his miracles also expressed some of his glory.  But there is no place in Jesus’ life and ministry or in all of history where God more manifestly, more fully reveals his glory than on the cross.  The cross is an endless, panoramic display of God’s glorious attributes.  His HOLINESS and JUSTICE are on display as the Father pours out his fierce wrath on Jesus once he bore the curse of my sin on the cross.  His PATIENCE is manifested in that he waited 4000 years before his judgment was poured out.  His HUMILITY is undiluted as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity bears the sin and shame of rebels who hate God.  His LOVE and MERCY and GRACE shine in radiant splendor as God offers up his only beloved Son as a sacrifice for sinners who are worthy of eternal torment. His POWER is implied in the unseen victory over the darkness Jesus won on the cross.  In the cross, you have—as nowhere else—the fullness of the glory of God on display.  We mustn’t ever allow the shameful context to obscure that.  The cross shouts GLORY TO GOD! louder than anything in the universe.  The Old Testament anticipates this in Isaiah 52:13.  Speaking of Jesus, God says through the prophet, “13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.”  “High and lifted up” is an expression for being crucified and God says that it is in that context that his Servant, Christ will be exalted.   In one of the great throne room scenes in heaven in Revelation 5:11, John records, “11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”  In the humility and shame of the cross, he is supremely glorified. 

A fourth reason the cross gives ultimate glory to Jesus is because:  The cross of Christ sets an example for us.  After Jesus makes these statements about a grain of wheat dying that clearly refer to himself, he extends this theme of life coming out of death to all who follow him.  He says in verse 25, “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.”  We know that Jesus intends his death by crucifixion to be an example for us from texts like 1 Peter 2:21where Peter tells the church, “21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”  It’s clear from both our Lord and Peter that this kind of following leads directly to our own death—the losing of our own life.  Jesus says much the same thing in Matthew chapter 10 just before he sends his disciples out for a missions trip.  He says in verse 39, “39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Both statements were made to people who were going out for Jesus sake and would face persecution. 

Michael Horton provides a rich, gospel-saturated treatment of what this means in his book, “The Gospel-Driven Life.”  He writes that losing your life to find it means that “Those who cling to their life as it is will never receive eternal life.  The securities of this fleeting lifespan pale in comparison with the riches of the inheritance that the saints have in Christ…Yet, because we do not find ourselves threatened with death for the sake of the gospel…we are the ones who find it most difficult to accept Jesus’ exhortation.   Like a cross that is worn around one’s neck, Christ can become an accessory.  Rather than being commanded at gunpoint to deny Christ, we are led by the devil into the wilderness of consumerism, shopping for identities.  Far from being harried and harassed, we are shown the kingdoms of this world that can be ours if we will only turn away from Golgotha.  We don’t have to become atheists; we do not even have to renounce Jesus Christ. (I would add we do not even have to stop going to church)… All that is necessary is for us to cling to ourselves—the securities, aspirations, felt needs, [possessions, accomplishments, acquisitions] and relationships that define us and what we have chosen for ourselves---rather than [cling] to God’s saving love in Christ and the identity he has chosen us.  [We don’t choose our identify for ourselves—here’s our identity in Col 3:4,] “For you have died, and your life—your identity—where you get your worth-- is hidden with Christ in God.”  Dead people have no identity.  Can you imagine walking up to the body of a rich man and saying, “Boy, Homer—I associate you with all those houses and boats you own.”  Here’s Homer’s identity in that casket—he’s a corpse!—not a land-owner, not a rich man, not an entrepreneur---a corpse.  Any identity he may get from this point on comes from God

Horton continues, “To put it simply, Jesus’s warnings about finding our life by losing it …presses us to ask ourselves this question:  Do I define the Jesus story or does it define me?  … [Do I place the limits on—set the parameters] Jesus’ activity… in my life?”  [“This section of my life I have carved out for you, Lord—you can have this area and this area and this area—but please leave this area and this area alone—I know better than you do what brings me life.”] ”  ... I must be crucified and buried with Christ—and raised with him in newness of life.  We can retain our autonomy (self-rule) by simply adding Jesus to our life, as an accessory….The salvation that God promises in Christ requires my death.  Here I am, cheerfully going about my daily affairs, picking the roles I would like to play [influenced far more by this world’s value system’s than God’s].  I …even find a role for Jesus…Then along comes the law, nailing me, telling me who I really am—telling me how this character I have written for myself is doomed.  I begin to question the believability of my screenplay.  And then God hands me a new script:  the Good News that I am no longer a child of Adam, stranger and alien to God’s promises, but a child of God in Jesus Christ, stranger and alien to [this world].  I no longer can see God as existing to make me happy, to satisfy my felt needs, even to give me a sense of well-being and adding a few suggestions to improve my life.  He comes to kill me and make me alive.  Repentance means I give up the script; I stop pretending that I can write the story of my life. Through faith in Christ, I become a character in God’s story, [my identity is now defined by the screenplay that he is writing for my life].”[1]  What’s more, repentance is ceasing to pretend that God is on the throne of my life when I can’t remember the last time I made a painful, Gethsemane-like sacrifice for the King.  For many believers—we do great God-speak, but when it comes to the decisions that really matter to us--the cross is something we wear around our necks, not a place of death to our self-centered desires—handing him our life’s script and letting him write the part we are to play, and in the process giving us joy unspeakable. 

All that truth about doing the work of dying leads to another truth in the text that answers the question—How do we find the grace to die to those things/relationship/identities we now treasure? Here’s one answer  in these words of Jesus. In verse 26 we read, “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.”   This is so important.  Self-denial for the believer is not simply an exquisitely difficult surrender of your treasures.  It’s far more like trading the theft-prone, moth-eaten, rust-laden treasures of this world for the treasure of all treasures—Jesus.  It’s not a give-away—it’s an exchange—and one that is much to our benefit!  Paul says, “8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

So often, in this matter of self-denial, what we hear Jesus saying is, “You love this world and you need to give up these things—deprive yourself so that you can show me that you love me more than these things.  If you don’t, then you don’t love me, you’re worldly and bound for hell, you shallow, materialistic loser.”  That is a distortion because its grossly incomplete.  If that’s the way you view self-denial, it’s no wonder you have failed so many times.  This is not the gospel.  Here’s the gospel—“v. 26 …where I am, there will my servant be also.”  Going to the cross, practicing self-denial doesn’t leave you with nothing—it leaves you with everything!  This is not simply ridding yourself of something, its gaining Christ!  It’s about Christ displacing our earthly treasures. You don’t just give it up and walk away empty handed—you get Christ—“where I am, there will my servant be also.”  Don’t you WANT to be where he is?  Isn’t he better than the things that now that block your fellowship with him?  In self-denial, you should not focus primarily on what you are giving up, but on what (or WHO) you are getting—Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t just come into our hearts enraged and tear down our idols in a fit of frenzy.  He simply removes from the throne of our hearts the temporal, rotting, destructive idols of this world and sits down and makes his home there.

Paul explains the glory of Christ making his home in our hearts in his prayer in Ephesians chapter three.  He prays for the Ephesian believers “16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being[hearts], 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”  P.T. Obrien says, “If Christ has taken up residence in our hearts, he is at the center of our lives and exercises his rule over all that we are and do.”  Basically, Paul is praying that the Spirit would strengthen believers to allow Christ to exercise his rule in their lives as he dwells in their hearts.  But listen to the blessing that flows from this.  “…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

As the Spirit strengthens our faith to believe that what we give up will be far less than what we gain—Christ will rule in our hearts, unchallenged by the things/relationships/ possessions of this world.  When that happens, the most glorious blessing of all is ours.  That is—we get to know—really know the fullness of God’s love for us in Christ—that we may be filled with the fullness of God—that is—that they may be all that God wants us to be.[2]  This brings glory to God.  So, here’s the deal—we give up the treasures of this world and in return we get to know the matchless love of God and glorify God.  This is what motivated Jesus to go to the cross.  Verse 27, 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.”  Jesus’ ultimate motivation for going to the cross is that the Father would be glorified.  He already knew the matchless love of God because he had no sins.  He had no possessions, no reputation at this point, he was an outcast—he has nothing except the desire not to be separated from his Father as he received his wrath—a desire that he surrenders here for the glory of his Father.

Self-denial is a hard thing, but it is a very good thing.  The cross kills, but we are promised a resurrection, not only in the life to come, but in this life.  A resurrection to a new knowledge of God’s matchless love for him in the gospel.  A resurrection to the glory of God. Do we want this?  If not, then your biggest problem is not that you have trouble with self-denial; it’s that your love for Christ is of such low wattage or even non-existent. Think about that thing, person, desire you have placed ahead of Christ or think you may have placed ahead of Christ.  It will never satisfy.  Deny yourself and get Christ and the knowledge of his love for you.  Anybody want that?  May God give us the grace to see the glory of Christ in the cross and to pick up our cross so that we gain him for his glory and our joy.

 


[1] Horton, Michael, The Gospel Driven Life, Baker Books, 2009, 114-116.

[2] P.T. Obrien, Pillar, Ephesians, p. 266.

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