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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:To really see Jesus, focus on his glory
Text:John 12:20-26 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 29

Psalm 38:1,2,8,10 (after the Law of God)

Psalm 40:1-3

Hymn 23:1-4

Hymn 23:5-6

Scripture reading:  Isaiah 52:13-53:6

Text:  John 12:20-26

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Way back in 2006, I preached at the United Reformed Church in Escondido, California, just outside of San Diego.  From the vantage point of the congregation, the pulpit looked much like any other.  But from where I was standing as the preacher, there was something different, something I’d never seen before.  On the back of the pulpit, visible only to the preacher was a small gold plate with these words engraved on it, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  Of course, those words come from verse 21 in our passage for this morning.  I remember seeing that and thinking, “Wow, that’s a great reminder to every preacher.”  Christians gathered for worship can be expected to want to see Jesus.  Every preacher has a responsibility to help the congregation see him. 

But let me ask you:  did you come here this morning to see Jesus?  If you didn’t see him today, would you go home disappointed?  That raises another question though, doesn’t it?  What does it mean for us to “see Jesus”?  After all, he’s not physically present here on this earth.  You can’t see him the same way that you can see me standing here in front of you.

In our passage from John this morning there were people wanting to see Jesus.  They wanted to see him in that physical way.  It’s rather intriguing that Jesus doesn’t seem to grant their request.  Instead, he speaks about what’s about to happen to him.  When he does that, he’s telling them and everyone that if they really want to have a meaningful encounter with him, they have to direct their attention to what’s most important about him.  So the theme of the sermon this morning is:  To really see Jesus, focus on his glory.

We’ll consider:

  1. The nature of his glory
  2. The response to his glory
  3. The honour for his glory

We’re in the last week of Jesus’ life before the cross.  It’s the time of a special feast known as the Passover.  This feast commemorated the Exodus from Egypt in the days of Moses.  Jewish people from all over the world travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate this feast.  In the previous, Jesus was entering into the city on Palm Sunday.  The crowds hailed him as the King who they thought was going to overthrow the Romans.  This commotion caught the attention of the Jewish religious leaders.  If you look at verse 19, you’ll hear them complaining that “the world has gone after him.” 

They said more truth than they realized.  The world really was going after Jesus.  This was proven by what happened with some Greeks.  Most likely these people were Greek-speaking Gentiles.  They could have come from far away, but there were also Greek-speaking Gentile populations relatively close to Judea.  They were probably people who were God-fearing Gentiles who hadn’t been circumcised.  They were like Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Acts 10, who was described as “a devout man who feared God with all his household.”

These God-fearing Greeks somehow had heard about Jesus.  They were interested in meeting him face to face.  So they went to Philip, one of the disciples.  Why did they go to him?  Bethsaida in Galilee had a large population of Greek speakers in it and nearby, so he would have been fluent in Greek.  It was natural for them to approach him.  They said to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  We’re not told why they wanted to meet him face-to-face, nor do we hear anything more about them after this.  Philip goes with Andrew to tell Jesus and then the Greeks seem to disappear from the scene.  Did they get to meet Jesus?  The Bible doesn’t tell us here or anywhere else. 

We’re at verse 23.  Jesus’ reply to Philip and Andrew seems to side-step the request of the Greeks.  It may seem like he’s distracted and speaking about something totally disconnected from that request.  However, the reality is that he’s revealing how those Greeks and everyone else after them needs to really see him.  It’s like he saying, “They want to meet me?  This is how they and anyone else can really meet me and get to know me.”

In John’s gospel prior to this, Jesus had said several times that his hour had not yet come.  But now, suddenly, that’s changed:  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  When Jesus says “the hour” he doesn’t literally mean a period of 60 minutes.  “The hour” here means “the time.”  The time has come for him, the Son of Man, to be glorified.  That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen that day, but in this approximate time period – in the next few days as it turns out. 

The bigger question is what it means for Jesus to be glorified.  What is this glory he’s going to receive?  Verse 24 answers that question for us.  Jesus uses an agricultural image.  You have a seed.  If it just stays by itself in your hand or wherever else, nothing comes from it.  But if it falls into the earth and disappears, dies so to speak, it’ll sprout and eventually produce even more grain.  But in order for that to happen, it must die, disappear.  There must be death on the way to fruitfulness.  Jesus is speaking here about the cross.  The cross is his glory. 

Isaiah saw it from afar.  In Isaiah 52, the Holy Spirit said that God’s servant would be “high and lifted up.”  Jesus would be literally lifted up – on a cross.  Isaiah went on to speak of how the servant would be disfigured so badly that he’d barely look human.  Jesus was first beaten by the Sandhedrin and then brutalized by the Roman soldiers in the praetorium.  In chapter 53 of Isaiah we read of him being pierced, crushed, wounded, oppressed, afflicted, and finally slain.  That’s exactly what happened with Jesus at the cross. 

But how can all that be glorious?  How can all this suffering and death be glory for Jesus?  It seems upside down, paradoxical.  Suffering isn’t glorious.  If you’re suffering in some way, you’re not going to think of it as being glorious.  Yet for Jesus it is.  The cross is his glory. 

What’s glorious about it?  There’s a lot I could say about that.  But let’s just focus on two aspects of the glory of the cross.  One is that it bears much fruit.  Jesus’ death on the cross is fruitful.  It accomplishes much – after all, it brings redemption, the forgiveness of sin, reconciliation.  It brings many sinners into fellowship with the Holy God.  Though it involves horrific violence and bloodshed and death, the cross bears much fruit.  The cross brings peace and healing to many, to all those who believe.   

The other way the cross is glorious is this:  there’s no greater display of love in the Bible or in the history of the world.  In his love, the Son of God agreed to come into this world to die the death we deserve for our sins.  In his love, the King of glory set aside his majesty to be humiliated by his own wicked traitorous subjects.  In his love, the Creator came to be crucified by his creatures.  He did it all because of love.  Do you see the glory yet?  We can go further. 

When we say that the cross is glorious because it displays the greatest love the world has ever known, we also have to think about who was loved.  Brothers and sisters, the heart of Jesus is so large that it lovingly carried the individual names of every single Christian.  When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, he did it out of love for individual human beings.  If you’ve placed your trust in him, you can be sure your name was on his heart.  He was doing it because he loved you.  Isn’t that amazing?  Isn’t that glorious?      

And remember that this Saviour who died on the cross, he’s God.  That means he is and always has been omniscient – all knowing.  Think about this with me.  Since he’s God, Jesus knew well in advance what every single detail of your life would look like.  He knew every lie you’d tell.  Jesus knew every piece of gossip you’d share.  He knew every idol you’d worship, every wrong desire you’d ever have.  He knows about the sins you haven’t even committed yet, sins you’re going to commit this week.  He knows everything and he’s known it all along.  He knew it before the cross.  Yet he loved you, still loves you, will love you forever.  Paul Washer once said, “I have given Christ countless reasons not to love me.  None of them changed his mind.”  Let that sink in.  Let that sink in with an eye on the cross too.  Because he’s omniscient, all-knowing, looking into the future, I gave Christ already back then countless reasons not to love me.  I gave him countless reasons not to love me at the cross.  None of them changed his mind.  If you see that great undeserved love, you see the glory of the cross and you really do encounter Jesus.  You really do see him in all his beauty and wonder.

We’re now at verse 25 and here Jesus is speaking partly about himself and partly about his followers.  If Jesus had been selfish and only cared about himself, he would have defeated the whole purpose for his coming into the world.  He says, “Whoever loves his life loses it…”  The word “loses” can also be translated as “destroys.”  You destroy your life by making the ultimate purpose of your life yourself, your self-interest, and your own self-preservation.  But if you keep everything in the right perspective, eternal life is the outcome.  He says, “whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Jesus isn’t saying that he hated his life or that we should literally hate our lives.  This was a way of speaking in those times.  What he means is your attitude towards your life should be such that it’s obvious that you don’t make it ultimate.  When your make your life ultimate, you “love it” but end up destroying it.  When you don’t make your life ultimate, you “hate it” but it’s kept safe into eternity.  Jesus didn’t make his life ultimate.  He knew there was something far more important than keeping his heart beating – that was to love us by following the plan he’d agreed upon with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Now as we understand how Jesus did that, as we see his glory in that, that also shapes our response.  Verse 25 isn’t only about Jesus, it’s also about those who’ve seen him through his glory and how they in turn respond.  Here I want to introduce you to a word that might be new to you:  cruciform.  You know the word “crucify” already.  To crucify is to kill someone by hanging them on a cross.  Cruciform means that something takes the form of a cross.  The life of a true follower of Jesus is supposed to be cruciform.  Our lives are supposed to be cross-shaped.  That’s what Jesus is saying in verses 25 and 26 when it comes to our response to his glory. 

Listen:  if you’re a Christian, then Jesus is your Master.  He’s your Master, and you’re a disciple.  Part of being a disciple is becoming more and more like him.  His life was cruciform – it was all about humiliation and suffering leading up to the cross.  Jesus didn’t love his life, didn’t make it ultimate.  Instead, he lived and died for something greater.  Now as we see this he says our lives are to be like his.  If you’re a disciple of Jesus, focus on his glory, which is the cross.  Then let the cross shape your life too.  What does that mean in concrete terms? 

It means crucifixion.  There’s got to be crucifixion in your life.  We’re talking about the crucifixion of your old nature.  That means killing what remains of sin in your heart.  Loved ones, by nature we’re selfish and self-centered.  By nature we love our lives.  I make me and my life ultimate.  But Jesus says, “Get over yourself.”  I hear that and I say, “I’ve got to learn that my life isn’t about me.  I have something greater to live for.  I’m here to live for God’s glory by living in God’s ways.  I love God, I love my Saviour, and I want to live for him.  I want him at the center of my life.  I want him as ultimate, not me.”  That’s where a cruciform life of discipleship begins.  That’s going to be painful at times.  Denying yourself, killing your sinful desires, especially that desire to have you in the center of your life, that’s not easy.  But it’s worth it.  When you put you at the center, the end result is loss and destruction.  When you have Christ at the center of your life, the end result is life, life in fellowship with God forever.

Perhaps there’s someone here this morning who still needs to learn this lesson.  Here you are this morning and God is addressing you.  Christ is speaking to you.  He’s saying, “Look at my glory on the cross, my great love for sinners.  If you see that and how beautiful it is, why love your life only to lose it?  What’s the point of putting yourself in the center when in the end it’s the worst thing you could have done?”  Instead, Jesus says, “Have me at the center of your life and you’ll really have life, life that lasts forever in joy and peace.”

Brothers and sisters, again this cruciform life isn’t easy, but it’ll always be worth it.  Jesus says in verse 26 that if we’re intent on serving him, we have to follow him.  If we say we’re his disciples, then we have to act like his disciples.  In every situation of life, we want to grow in being conscientious about who we are as disciples of Jesus.  For example, think about your daily work:  “What does it mean for me to be a disciple of Jesus here at work?  If he were doing my job, how would he be doing it differently than I do it?”  In your family life:  “What does it mean for me to be a disciple of Jesus as I relate to my spouse, my children, my parents?  How would Jesus do it?”  For the kids, you’re a student at school.  Ask yourself, “What does it mean for me to be a disciple of Jesus in the classroom?  Or as I interact with other students at lunchtime?” 

He promises those who are truly his disciples that they’ll be where he is.  That’s at the end of verse 26, “…and where I am, there will my servant be also.”  When we die, or when Christ returns, we will be with him and we will see his glory.  We’ll see him in his post-crucifixion splendour.  We’re going to be in his presence forever. 

That’s meant to motivate us to do two things right now already.  One is to see Jesus as we can right now, to meet him so to speak by focussing on his glory.  Keep your eye on the cross each day.  The other is to follow him as his disciples, to live as he lived on this earth.  Let me ask you:  what’s the best thing about heaven?  Is it being without pain?  That’s good, but it’s not the best thing.  Is the best thing being without grief and hurt?  Again, that’s a good thing about heaven, but still not the best thing for a Christian.  Is the best thing about heaven being without sin?  Again, good, but not the best.  So what is the best thing about heaven for a Christian?  It’s being with Christ.  Being able to have the closest, most intimate communion with him we possibly can.  That we can be close to the one we love.  Thomas Goodwin said, “Heaven would be hell to me without Christ.”  Can you relate to that?  The best thing about heaven is eternal life with Jesus.  That’s what we have to look forward to as we live this cruciform life now.  Just as our Master, we go through suffering, through crucifixion, crucifying our old nature, but at the end there is glory.  Through suffering to glory with Jesus.

We’re now at the last sentence of verse 26 and here Jesus speaks of honour:  “If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.”  The person who serves Jesus here is a disciple, a believer.  He or she has a relationship with Jesus.  To understand the Father’s honour for such a person, we first have to look to Jesus and how and why the Father honours him. 

After Jesus has offered his life on the cross in love for sinners, the Father honours him.  On the third day after the cross, the Father brings life to the dead body of his Son.  The hands that had been nailed to the cross began moving again.  The eyelids that had been crusted with blood from the crown of thorns, those eyelids suddenly popped open.  The heart which had been starved of oxygen began thumping and pumping blood again.  When Jesus was raised from the dead, the Father honoured him.  With this resurrection life, he showed that Jesus’ sacrifice had been accepted – it was worthy and pleasing to God.  Then, 40 days later, Jesus ascended into heaven and took his place at the right hand of God.  He received the place of honour in heaven. 

Brothers and sisters, when you’re a true disciple of Jesus, when you serve and follow him, there’s honour waiting for you too.  You have a cross to carry in this life, the cross of discipleship, of dying to yourself.  But God promises honour.  God promises the honour of resurrection.  Just like he did with Jesus, he will raise you up.  And there is a place of honour for you in heaven where Jesus is too.  You’ll have the great honour of living with your God forever in communion. 

This honour has been won for you by Jesus.  We shouldn’t think of it as a tit-for-tat arrangement, a quid pro quo.  As if it’s a matter of:  I serve Jesus, the Father repays me with honour.  No, the honour comes to you through Christ, though his glory on the cross, through the glory of his resurrection.  It’s all based on what Christ has done.  It’s a gift of God’s grace.  You receive this gift through faith, a faith which then follows Jesus as a servant, as a disciple.  Ultimately, the Father’s honour for us as Christ’s servants is a gift of grace.  He doesn’t owe it to us.  But he does promise it and that promise is meant to stir us to service of our Lord.

Brothers and sisters, have you seen Jesus this morning?  Have you had an encounter with him?  If you’ve seen his glory, the glory of the cross, then truly you have.  The glory of what Christ has done for us on the cross then inspires and motivates us to live cruciform lives as his disciples, putting sin to death, putting our selfish attitudes to death.  We love him who first loved us and then we live in love as he loved.  As we do that, the whole purpose of this life comes into focus:  living not for our glory, but for his.  As we live as disciples of Jesus, the end result comes into focus too:  honour and glory in eternity with our Lord Jesus.  That’s something to really look forward to!  AMEN. 


O Lord Jesus, our Saviour,

We worship you for the glory of the cross.  What you did on the cross has borne much fruit.  It’s brought us sinners back into fellowship with our Creator.  Through your cross we have forgiveness and reconciliation.  We worship you for the unparalleled love you displayed as you hung there in our place.  Lord Jesus, thank you for bearing our names on your broken heart on that cross.  You loved us to death and there’s no way we can ever repay you for that.  However, we do want to serve you and follow you as your disciples.  Help us with your Holy Spirit to have cruciform lives where we deny ourselves and take up our cross daily.  Please work in us with your Spirit, so we have you always as ultimate, and not ourselves.  Help us to say, “I don’t want to live for me.  I want to live for you.”  Lord, at the end please bring us to where you are.  We look forward to eternity with you, in your glory and honour.  To that end, please keep us in our faith and help us to keep our eyes fixed on you each day.                                                                                

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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