Whoever Hates His Life in This World Gains Jesus
Passage: John 12:20–26
Sermon from John 12:20-26 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on May 18, 2014
Three Connections, One Goal
I have three connections to make this morning in our passage with one overarching goal. First, I want us to connect the Greeks wanting to see Jesus with Jesus’ response about his glorification through death (12:20-24). Then, I want us to connect Jesus’ glorification through death with the way you and I spend our lives in this world (12:24-25). And then lastly, I want us to connect the way you and I spend our lives in this world with God’s enduring promises (12:25-26).
All of those connections, I pray, will then serve this one overarching goal—that we would become a people who hate our lives in this world because of all we gain in Jesus Christ. That’s the goal: that you and I would live in such a way that the world witnesses the infinite value of Jesus over the value of our hobbies and our money and our gadgets and our comforts and even our own lives in this world.
I had a brother ask me when I was in college a soul-searching question: “Is what you’re living for truly worth dying for?” This passage teaches us that Jesus alone is truly worth dying for, and therefore he’s the one we should live for at all costs to ourselves in this world. Let’s look at the passage together.
1. The Nations See Jesus Rightly Only through His Cross
First of all, let’s connect the Greeks wanting to see Jesus and Jesus’ response about his “hour” of glorification. Read it with me beginning in verse 20: “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast [we’re still at the Passover feast of the Jews; 11:55] were some Greeks. So these [Greeks] came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee [meaning he could likely speak their language], and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them [he’s talking to the whole crowd now, 12:29], ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’”
This is really big. The whole Gospel of John hinges on chapter 12. This is the “hour” we’ve been waiting for as we’ve made our trek through John’s Gospel. Right from the very beginning, Jesus tells his own mother when she asks him to perform a miracle at the wedding in Cana, “My hour has not yet come” (2:4). Then later he tells the woman at the well in 4:21 that the hour is still coming. Then a bit later in 7:30 and 8:20, John tells us the Jews were seeking to arrest Jesus, but no one could lay a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. And now some Greeks show up wanting to see Jesus, and Jesus says, “The hour has come.”
The hour for what? Well, the hour “for the Son of Man to be glorified.” We encounter this language of glorification quite a bit in John’s Gospel, and we’ll spend some more time on it next week. But usually one of two things are being emphasized when we see talk of Jesus being glorified—either Jesus’ glory is put on display through his obedient sufferings and death on the cross (12:27-28); or, Jesus is re-clothed with glory upon returning to his Father in heaven (7:39; 12:16; 17:4-5).
But there are occasions in John’s Gospel when you can’t hardly separate the two aspects of Jesus’ glorification—even though one might be receiving the greater emphasis (e.g., 8:54; 13:31-32; 17:1). This is what we encounter here in Jesus’ words, “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He’s giving a summary statement of what the next ten chapters will entail—the period of time when the glory of God will shine through Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. The specified “hour” is one that includes Jesus being glorified back to the Father, but only in and through his death on the cross—meaning the cross is fundamental to seeing the glory of God in Jesus.
That’s why Jesus brings up his death in verse 24 after speaking about his glorification. “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.” He’s talking about his own death in relation to his glorification. The time has arrived for the full range of the infinite perfections of God’s majestic otherness to be revealed in Jesus’ death for sinners.
For example, the cross is where the glory of God’s holiness shines most brilliantly in that the cross proves God alone is worthy of all our adoration (1:1; 17:24). The cross is where the glory of God’s justice against rebels speaks most loudly in that it required the death of his eternal Son in their place (11:51-52). The cross is where the glory of God’s wrath is displayed most supremely in that Jesus absorbed in three hours the wrath which sinners deserve for eternity (3:36). It’s where the glory of God’s grace toward undeserving people sings most pleasantly in that every provision for our salvation is accomplished at once (1:29). It’s where the glory of God’s love is manifested most tangibly in that he did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all (3:16).
Jesus’ glorification to the Father first through the cross is fundamental to seeing the glory of God in Jesus. So then what’s the connection between the Greeks wanting to see Jesus and Jesus declaring his hour to be glorified has arrived? Why does John—in the midst of the annual Passover feast, where hundreds of thousands of Jews gather to celebrate—why does John zero in on a handful of Greeks interested in seeing Jesus and then bring that together with the tip-off for Jesus’ time to be glorified?
If we’ve learned anything about Jesus, it’s that he sees what we cannot see on our own but he speaks about what we must see if we are to have a relationship with him. He knows the deeper significance of this occasion and wants everybody seeing it. The point is that if the world—Jew and Gentile alike standing before him in that crowd (12:19, 29, 32)—is to “see” Jesus rightly, then they must see Jesus’ glory through his death on the cross.
The Greeks want to “see”Jesus in person; but Jesus is saying that the only true way for the world to see him is through his mission to save the world—through his mission to die for sins and rise again from the dead (cf. "see" in 1:14, 34, 39, 46). The only way we see Jesus rightly is when we behold the glory of God’s salvation revealed through his death. No Jew or Greek or any person in here is saved apart from embracing Jesus’ death—apart from embracing the way God glorified his Son through the cross.
If we are to come and see Jesus rightly—or even more importantly, if Jesus is to come to us and entrust himself to us (cf. 2:24)—then we must embrace his death on the cross and keep worshiping God in light of what Jesus’ death reveals about God. Jesus’ death means that God is infinitely holy and we’re desperately guilty before him in sin without the ability to provide a sufficient sacrifice. Jesus’ death also means that God is loving toward sinners in that he chose to provide that sufficient sacrifice by sending his own Son to die in our place. God chose to save the world by sending his Son to die for the world; and to reject Jesus’ death is to reject God, reject that God is glorious, and reject his way of salvation.
We see Jesus rightly and the world sees Jesus rightly insofar as we behold his glory through the cross—his power working through his Passion, his glory shining through Golgotha, his salvation accomplished through his sacrifice, his kingdom built through the nails in his hands, his honor excelling through his humility—which means we ought to lift up the cross often in our care for one another and in our care for the lost world around us.
We won’t see Jesus, folks, and the world won’t see Jesus unless we’re talking about his cross. There’s a reason Paul said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). When the word of the cross goes forth, people see the glory of God shining in his Son for sinners. So don’t shy away from the cross in your interactions with one another or your interactions with the world. Make a b-line for the cross, so that people see Jesus properly. If the cross is missing from our conversations or our evangelism or care for one another, then so is Christ. He is seen for who he truly is wherever the cross is raised up, explained, and applied.
2. Jesus’ Death Frees People Who Spend Their Lives for Him
Second, look now at the connection between Jesus’ death and the way we should live in this world. Jesus mentions his own death in verse 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.” Jesus is basically saying that his death is necessary to the producing of fruit. If he doesn’t willingly die—if he isn’t buried in the earth like a seed—then he remains alone. But if he dies—and we know he did die and God vindicated him three days later—if he dies, then God would bring forth much fruit.
“What’s the fruit of Jesus’ death? What is it that Jesus’ death produces? I believe the answer is found in the connection Jesus makes between his death and the lives of his disciples in verse 25. But before we read verse 25 again, let me just refresh our memory about the “world” in John’s Gospel.
The “world” normally refers to everybody born in Adam, the whole human race, and that world by nature is characterized by moral darkness and spiritual corruption and idolatry (1:5, 9-10; 3:19-20; 12:35). Then, in 12:31 we’re told that the world is that evil realm ruled by the devil himself (cf. 1 John 5:19). And then one last thing about the world is that it’s plagued by death, and not simply physical death but also eternal death and separation from fellowship with God because of sin (3:36; 8:21, 24).
So, the world in John’s Gospel is usually not referring to the beauty and goodness of God’s original created order; it’s talking about the whole system of rebellion against God. It’s the same “world” that God commands us not to love in 1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. The world is passing away and also its lusts, but the one who does the will of the Father remains forever.”
That’s the world we should keep in mind when reading John’s Gospel. It’s the world system opposed to Jesus with all its pride and lusts and idols and self-worship. Now read with me verse 25: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world [the world of sin, death, and the devil] will keep it for eternal life.” Jesus has shifted from talking about his own death in verse 24 to talking about the implications his death has for all his disciples in verse 25. The implication of Jesus’ death is “hate your life in this world, and [as a result] you’ll keep it for eternal life.”
Here’s what I think is going on: Jesus’ death produces people who are freed from bondage to the world, so that they might spend their lives for Jesus (8:34-36; cf. 2 Cor 5:14-15; Gal 6:14). That’s the fruit Jesus’ death produces—the fruit is a people so freed from their sin and so freed from the love of this world, that they’re willing to risk everything for the sake of life with Jesus. In other words, life isn’t bound up with all the toys and accolades and comforts this world offers; life is bound up with living for Jesus and doing what he has called us to do—namely, hate our life in this world to follow him on the Calvary road; take up our cross daily and die to our love of this world to have him (cf. Luke 9:23).
That doesn’t mean you become a curmudgeon and despise the good gifts God gives us in this world (cf. 1 Tim 4:3-5). It just means that we learn to enjoy those good gifts rightly—we enjoy them for Christ’s sake; we don’t enjoy them in Christ’s place. The life we hate in this world is the life that elevates this world’s stuff and desires to places that lead our affections and our allegiance away from Jesus. The life we must despise is the life of the sinful flesh, the life of self-interest and idolatry, the life of the old man that says “I can find in this world something better than Jesus’ glory, something more valuable than Jesus’ worth, something more satisfying than Jesus’ life, something more helpful than Jesus’ strength, something more beneficial than Jesus’ wisdom, something more intimate than Jesus’ presence, something more lasting than Jesus’ kingdom.”
If that’s the life we choose to save; we lose in the end and suffer the punishment of eternal destruction (cf. 3:36; 8:21, 24). We won’t get eternal life if we choose to love this world over Jesus. But if Jesus is our true treasure, then we will gain eternal life and part of that eternal life is freedom from sin and freedom from this world’s grip on our souls. Our lives will be wholly given over to his priorities instead of the world’s priorities, given over to his kingdom instead of Satan’s kingdom, given over to the humility of his cross instead of vying for people’s praise at the expense of others, given over to his righteousness instead of our resumes. Jesus’ death produces people who spend their lives for him.
3. Jesus’ Promises Are Better Than Life in This World
One more connection: I want us to connect the way you and I spend our lives in this world with God’s enduring promises. Here’s what we have so far: we see Jesus rightly when we see his glory in the cross. Then part of the glory of the cross is that it liberates us from the world’s sway to serve Jesus at all costs to ourselves; and now we’re going to see that serving Jesus at all costs to ourselves is really no sacrifice at all in comparison to what we gain in Jesus. His promises are better than life in this world. It may cost us everything—our jobs, our money, our reputation, our family, our friends—but it is so worth following Jesus because of all we gain in him. We get the Spirit’s life, the Son’s presence, and the Father’s reward—all of which are infinitely better than life in this world.
Promise #1: The Spirit's Life
I want you to see these promises with me in order. Verse 25, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” That’s the Holy Spirit’s life—the Spirit’s life is eternal life. We’ve seen that already in 4:14 and 7:38-39. The Spirit takes the life of Christ and his coming kingdom and mediates that life—that unending, all-satisfying life—to our innermost being when we hate our lives in this world.
That’s absolutely amazing! You lay down your pride; you say “No!” to sinful sex and the love of money and laziness and cushy American comforts for—what?—eighty years to live for Jesus, and God gives you an eternity of himself beginning now with the Spirit indwelling your soul. Why settle for anything in this world when you can have God? You can’t top the Spirit’s life with any experience in this world. Nothing in this world can give you unending, all-satisfying life from the very presence of God like the Spirit gives to the one who follows Jesus. Nothing—no gadget, no praise, no pornographic image, no person, no cash, no drug, no vacation compares with the Holy Spirit of God.
Promise #2: The Son's Presence
Then in verse 26, we see the promise of the Son’s presence: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me.” Following Jesus isn’t an easy task. Not only does it mean hating your life in this world—that’s the negative—it means serving Jesus by following the way of the cross—that’s the positive. As Christians, we don’t hate our lives in this world as an end in itself, but to help us pursue others with the same self-less service and self-sacrificial love so characteristic of Jesus. That’s really hard and risky; but the risk seems like nothing when we compare it to what we gain—the very presence of Jesus.
Look how he goes on, “and where I am, there will my servant be also.” He’s referring to our future union with Jesus—that wonderful day when we see him face to face in all his glory (14:3; 17:24)—and he’s referring to our present union with Jesus (8:12; 14:23; cf. Matt 28:20). His point is that no matter what may come to us as a result of following Jesus—even if it’s something as severe as martyrdom for the sake of the gospel—he is present with us and nothing in this world can take him away from us or us away from him.
And what more could we ask for than to be with Jesus, even if being with Jesus brings us suffering in this world. He called himself the Son of Man in verse 24! Do you know who that is?! Daniel 7:13-14 tells us who that is—“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
Now read verse 26—and where I am [as the Son of Man], there will my servant be also. Jesus is heaven’s only Treasure and eternal Joy; the Sovereign King of the universe; the one before whom myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands of angels prostrate themselves in adoration and praise; the only Savior who spilled his blood for us and washed us clean that we might reign with him forever. Is there a higher gift, a more glorious person to have with you than the Son of Man? There’s not.
Promise #3: The Father's Reward
There’s even more than the Spirit’s life and the Son’s presence. If we follow Jesus, we also gain the Father’s reward. Look at the end of verse 26: “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” In other words, if we follow the way of Jesus’ cross, then we, like him, will gain the Father’s glory and honor—not the glory and honor that makes him God, but the glory and honor he chooses to share with us in Jesus (17:22-24). He will be pleased to reward us, not because we ultimately deserve it, but because his Son deserves it; and by God’s grace he makes his disciples to be like his Son. God delights in honoring whatever honors his Son; and by grace he fits us for the reward before giving us the reward. He’s delighted to reward those who look and live and love like Jesus.
And his reward is forever. It’s not an honor that passes away with this world like the praise of men will pass away, or the possessions of this world will pass away. The Father’s honor remains forever, because he remains forever, and the Son in whom he delights remains forever, and the Spirit—who will one day conform us fully to Christ’s image—he too, remains forever. So, if we hate our lives in this world and follow Jesus, the Spirit’s life, the Son’s presence, and the Father’s reward are all ours—and those promises far outweigh anything this world can offer.
Follow Jesus At All Costs to Self
So what do all these connections mean for us? It means that you and I must live in such a way that the world witnesses that Jesus is worth everything to us, even our very lives. The missionary, Jim Elliot, who laid down his life for the sake of the gospel, got it right when he said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
What Will You Die To For Christ's Sake?
So how about you? Are you choosing to find life in something other than Jesus? You might be able to tell where you’re finding life when you step back and evaluate what you couldn’t live without. If you said to yourself, “I couldn’t live without ______,” would you be able to write in Jesus’ name alone—not Jesus plus this or that; but just Jesus.
Or, what excites you in this world over Jesus? Where are you finding your life? What in your soul is competing with the worth of Jesus? What in this world is distracting you from undivided devotion to the Lord? Is there something you need to die to in order to see the glory of Jesus more fully? Are there things about this world that are so attractive to your soul that they prevent you from giving up something you know you’re supposed to give up for the sake of Jesus? Do you have some hidden desire for wealth deceiving you about the riches present in Christ? Is there some subtle need for the approval of others undermining your boldness in reaching out to others with the gospel? Do you have some secret sin paralyzing your growth in Christ-likeness and hindering your ability to love others with zeal?
I want to challenge you to take out a pen or your iPad or whatever and I want you to write down right now just one thing God is calling you to die to for the sake of Jesus’ name. Whatever may have leaped into your mind when I was asking those questions, write it down. It doesn’t have to be huge; it can be some small sacrifice or great; the Lord is working in us all in different ways according to his wisdom and his timing. Whatever it is, though, write it down; and then I want you to bring it with you to Care Group this week and spend some time with at least one other person praying over it and preaching the glories of Christ in light of it.
Mine is dying to the pride that says I can do great things for God without asking him, spending time with him, and leaning upon his grace in prayer. I need to die to self-sufficiency and give up my agenda to commune more often with God in prayer over his agenda in Christ. So discuss these things further in your Care Groups this week.
Cultivate Affections for Jesus Over This Present World
Then as we continue walking together as a church, let’s cultivate affections for Jesus over the stuff of this world. Yes, the Christian life is a life of learning to hate everything that’s in rebellion against God and his kingdom. But it’s also about learning to love everything that God is for us in Christ and everything that he’s done to conquer the rebel powers within us and outside us. So cultivate affection for Jesus by reading the word regularly, memorizing Scripture regularly, listening to music that honors Christ and is clear about the gospel, sending each other messages about what’s wonderful about Jesus, reminding each other of the promises we just talked about, preaching these promises to yourself. Growing in our affection for Jesus is how any of us will come to the place of wanting to sacrifice our life for him, of wanting to give everything to see him praised.
Our Lives Will Bear Fruit Only at Great Costs to Ourselves
And as affection for Jesus grows, consider that in the same way Jesus’ life bore fruit only at great cost to himself, the same will be true for those who follow him. A servant isn’t greater than his Master (13:16; 15:20); and that is what we are, servants. Our lives will only bear fruit at great costs to ourselves.
I’ve spoken with quite a number of you who genuinely long for God to do great things through Redeemer Church—you long for the kingdom to come not just in talk, but with power (1 Cor 4:20); you long for the Lord to add to our number daily those who are being saved (Acts 2:47); you long for God to shake this place and bring more repentance and faith; you long for God—and I quote—“to blow the roof off this joint;” you long to see our people ministering the gospel to each other in specific ways; you long for God to stir about revival in the surrounding churches in the metro.
Brothers and sisters, you don’t know how encouraged I am to hear of these longings and these prayers of yours, but remember also that none of this will happen apart from great cost to ourselves. We can’t want these things apart from dying to self. In the spread of the gospel, God has chosen the way of the cross for all his disciples, not just some of them. So as you long and pray for God to move, consider what it’s going to cost you in the immediate and long-term future as you minister alongside one another.
Will it mean that you downsize your house to give more? Will it mean you keep your house and open it up more regularly to serve others? Will it mean you move for purpose of more intentional mission? How will interacting with lost people be included on your monthly calendar? What will it take for you and your Care Group members to strategize on reaching a particular street of a neighborhood you meet in? Might it be that you give up a couple of Friday or Saturday evenings to reach others with the truth? Could it be that the family budget needs reevaluation in light of the kingdom’s priorities? Perhaps there are things you should give up so that you, as a husband, can lead your family regularly in fruitful devotion; so that you, as a wife, can serve your husband with willingness; so that you, as a friend, might reach out more regularly to those in need.
How might your own business planning better serve your neighbor and bear witness to Christ’s supremacy? If you’re a seminary student, might you consider taking fewer hours each semester in order to disciple others regularly? Or maybe you need to learn to work heartily on the school work you do have instead of procrastinating. Or maybe you should just stay here long-term to see the ministries of the church flourish.
Also, serving our children in the Nursery never stops, but we’re normally lacking volunteers. Perhaps the Lord is calling you to die to self-interests for a few Sundays out of the year to help bear burdens in the Nursery and teach our youngest children the gospel. Contact NaCole Bennett if that’s you. Would you even consider spending a week’s worth of your vacation days to preach the gospel to children in our area through a Vacation Bible School? We need someone to take initiative and start leading the way. Mission Utah is also upon us again and we have youth that need financial support. Let’s die to the love of money to reflect the generosity of Jesus, and then let’s give to that end as the offering plates are passed. Some of us need to sacrifice the time we give to some of our hobbies or the time we give to our Facebook or the time we give to our favorite TV series, in order to devote ourselves to prayer and fasting for God to come with power.
We could keep going, but I hope some of these examples help you see some very tangible ways your own lives could be spent in service of Christ, some various ways we might die to self-interests in order to serve Christ’s mission. Not everybody’s sacrifice will look exactly the same or even have the same results—some of you might become martyrs, others of you will not (cf. 21:18-23)—but all of our sacrifices in this world will serve to honor the name of Christ and aim to bring sinners to God.
This is ultimately why we exist. Paul said it this way in 2 Cor 5:14-15, “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” May it be so for all of us.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus