John 12:20-33 (5 Lent B)

It was the feast of unleavened bread in preparation for the Passover. Jerusalem was packed with out of towners. Jesus had just entered the city on a donkey and was greeted as a triumphant king to the shouts of “Hosanna.” Some Greeks, who were in town for the Passover, wanted to see Jesus. So they went to the disciple with the Greek name, Philip. Philip wasn’t so sure about this, so he went to Peter’s brother Andrew, and the two of them went to Jesus. We don’t know if Jesus ever met with the Greeks. John doesn’t say. More important is what Jesus says. The visit of the Greeks prompts Jesus to speak of His death in big and broad terms. His hour had come with the coming of the Greeks; the hour of His glory, His death. As Moses had lifted up a bronze serpent in the wilderness, so must Jesus, the Son of man, be lifted up for the life of the world. And in His being lifted up in death, He would draw all to Himself.

All. Don’t skip over that all-inclusive little word. We are accustomed to thinking of salvation in exclusive, private terms. Me and Jesus. Jesus died for me. Jesus loves me. He’s is my Savior. My Redeemer. My Lord. I’m afraid we’ve grown accustomed to the vocabulary of American Protestantism where Jesus is a potential Savior whom you actualize by believing in Him, praying to Him, giving your life to Him, etc. In other words, Jesus isn’t the actual Lamb of God who actually takes away the actual sin of the actual world in His actual death. He is only a potential Lamb who potentially takes away the sin of those parts of the world who have the good sense to decide for Him and believe in Him.

That would be like having power hooked up to your house and a light bulb screwed into the light socket and all you have to do is plug it in and your little Gospel light will shine too. But you see what that does? It turns faith into a work you do, and puts salvation entirely in your hands.

But Jesus is not just the Savior of the salvagable, the Redeemer of the redeemable, the Light for the enlightened, or the Lord of those who have the good fortune to be born into the right religion. He’s the Savior, Redeemer, Light, Lord of the world, the universe, the cosmos .

OT Israel seemed to have trouble hanging on to this. Israel was supposed to be a priestly nation to proclaim the Name of Yahweh as the Creator and Redeemer of the world. Instead Israel treated God as though He were some kind of local deity, and as if they were God’s country with favored nation status. They rest of the world was the goyim, the uncircumsized, filthy Gentiles. The Greeks who came to see Jesus were presumably Greek worshipers who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. But in the eyes of a true-blue religious Israelite, those Greeks would always be second class citizens, outsiders, foreigners. And so when the Greeks come to see Jesus, Jesus seizes the opportunity to proclaim a universal death goes beyond the borders of Israel, to embrace the whole world, Greeks included.

Jesus compares His death to a seed, a kernal of wheat, that falls into the ground and dies. It must die. If it doesn’t die, it remains alone and fruitless. But if it dies,, it rises from the ground to produce much fruit and many seeds. You see this is your gardens about this time every year. You take some seeds and bury them. And they die, in a sense. In a few days, if you were dig them up, they wouldn’t look like seeds anymore. But leave them alone, and in a couple of weeks they rise and grow to be plants that bear fruit with lots of seeds. And the point is this: in order for a seed to fulfill its seedy destiny, it must die. If it doesn’t, it remains alone and fruitless.

So it is with Jesus. Death is His destiny. It’s why He came. Death and resurrection is God’s way of working. The entire OT teaches that withIsrael as the example. The whole world lives, moves, and has its being in the death of the Word, the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. He’s the Lamb who was slain from the foundations of the earth (Rev. 13:8). His hour of glory is the hour He shows Himself dead in darkness on a cross. The world lives by the death of Christ.

And it’s that way with all of us too. We die to live. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” It’s like trying to hold on to a nerf ball with two fingers. You can do it, but only with great effort. And when you do, you pinch and distort the place you’re trying to hold on to. That’s the grip we have on our lives. We don’t have yesterday – that’s only a memory. We don’t have tomorrow. We don’t even have five minutes from now. All we have is this present moment called “now” which we cling to with all our strength. And its only when we let go, drop dead to our life in this world, that we have a life that is unpinched and undistorted.

We live pinched, distorted lives, denying and ducking death, hiding from it. We love Easter Sunday but stay away from Good Friday. We are drawn to the open tomb, but not to the cross. We might cringe to hear little ones giving Jesus a hearty thousand thousand thanks for bleeding and dying. We try to shelter them from the harshness of death, whether a pet or a loved one. And we fail to teach them the one thing they must know to understand the world in which they live: that dying is the only way to live in a fallen world. The kernal of wheat must die. Jesus must die. You must die.

Jesus says that anyone who serves Him must follow Him, that means, follow Him through cross and tomb to resurrection. “Where I am,” Jesus says, “there my servant is too.” There on the cross. There in the tomb. Risen from the dead. At the right hand of God. You’ve been crucified with Christ, raised with Christ, seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. It’s already an accomplished fact, a done deal in Jesus. His death is your death. His burial your burial. His resurrection your resurrection. His ascension your ascension. And now, as far as God is concerned, your life, that is, your whole life – unpinched and undistorted – is hidden, buried safely in Christ. All you do to have a life is drop dead, like the kernal of wheat dropped into a hole in the ground, which is hardly much of an accomplishment on your part, is it?

So what about faith? you ask. Don’t you have to believe? What else can you do? When you’re faling down into a black hole and can see nothing at the bottom and you hear a voice that says, “Don’t worry. You’re safe. I’ll catch you,” all you can do is believe. You have Jesus’ word on it. You have His own death and resurrection. You have Baptism, which is your own personal burial in the death of Jesus. You have Jesus’ body and blood, as the bread and wine for your life. But for now, you can’t see anything. You can only trust Jesus, take Him at His word. As the writer to the Hebrews defines it, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the certainty of things not seen.” What you can’t see now is your life hidden in Christ. Now you must believe it.

Jesus calls His death the judgment of the world. “Now is the judgment of the world.” Jesus did not come to judge the world, but to save it. When Jesus died, the world was judged in Jesus. When we say that Jesus died in our place, that doesn’t mean that He was on the cross and we were off somewhere else getting a Coke and a hamburger somewhere. It means that Jesus embodied you and me, the whole world bar none, in His own body. “Christ died for all, and therefore all died.” His death is God’s judgment on the world.

Think of it this way. You come into a courtroom and the judge looks at you and says, “What are you doing here? You’ve already been judged. Your case is closed. Go home.” But you insist it isn’t so. You want to argue your case. You have all your papers in order. But the judge won’t listen to any of it. He already passed judgment on you one Friday in an afternoon session between Noon and three. “But there must be some mistake, “ you say. “I wasn’t there.” “Sure you were,” says the judge, “As far as I’m concerned, the whole world was there. And I’m not about to reverse my judgment. So go home and have a drink. Or go to jail if you want. But either way the court’s adjourned and your case is dismissed.

Jesus calls His death is the exorcism of the world. “Now is the ruler of this world cast out.” The devil may prowl around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. But the only teeth the devil has is the lie that says, “It isn’t true. The world hasn’t been judged in Christ. The world didn’t die in Christ. You must do something to complete what Jesus started. You control your destiny. You’re the god of your life. You call the shots.” That’s the only tool the devil has in his bag – the Lie that Christ is not the Savior of the world, that you must save yourself.

I don’t know why people who call themselves Christian get all worked up in a lather over the devil. Part of it is probably ignorance and superstition. But the greater part, I suspect, is that we’ve bitten into this notion of good and evil, which the devil originally deceived Eve with, that there is a great battle going on between good and evil and that outcome is still very much in doubt. Will God or the devil win? But Jesus makes it abundantly clear. On the very good Friday when He hung on the cross, He did to the world what He did to so many demon-possessed people in His ministry. He drove out the devil; He exorcised the world. In fact, Mark’s version of the Gospel paints the details of Jesus’ crucifixion in terms of an exorcism. In the death of Christ, the devil is cast out. “He can harm us none. He’s judged, the deed is done. One little Word can fell him.”

Finally, Jesus speaks of His death as the death of the world. “When I am lifted up I will draw all to myself.” All. Not some. Not the chosen few. All. The good, the bad, the ugly. Everyone from Adam and Eve to the last child born on the last day. St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that it was God’s purpose and plan from all eternity to unite all things in heaven and on earth under one Head in Christ. And in the death of Jesus on the cross, God shows the world that it’s an accomplished fact. He lifts up His Son on the cross draws the world into the black hole of His death lIke iron filings to a magnet. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Oh you bet you were. You were therein Him., somewhere in the left nail hole in His hand. You were there. You were judged. You were exorcised. You were acquited in the death of Jesus.

So what does this all mean? You want something practical to take home with you. Let me give you three things you can put in your doggy bag. First, you can see yourself in a new way, as a new creature in Christ. The old has already gone, the new has already come. You needn’t to worry about your salvation; your worry makes you no more acceptable to God. Your life, your whole life is safely hidden in Chirst. You’re forgiven, free. There is no condemnation for anyone in Jesus. You can throw off those chains others put on you, and you put on yourself. You can step out of the prisons you build for yourself. You can throw away that sand bag of guilt you carry around on your shoulders. You can let go of your life and live in Christ. You can live as though you have nothing to lose. Get out of your self, and get rid of all that self-analysis and self-improvement and self-this and self-that. Your life isn’t in your self; it’s in Jesus Christ. Lay hold of that life by faith. It’s already yours. It’s always been yours in Jesus. Like a million buck buried in your back yard, dig it up by faith and enjoy it.

Second, you see the world differently. You see violence and immorality and oppression. Bad things; bad people. But the apostle Paul says we no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view. We used to, before Christ died and rose, but no longer. Now you can look at the world as it is in Christ. You can see the world that is already judged, that has been exorcised of the devil, that has been embraced in the death of the Son of God. You can see a world through the lens of the cross of Jesus, a world that is loved in the Beloved. You can let go of your anger and defensiveness, and embrace the world the way God in Christ has embraced it.

And third, your witness takes a different shape. We’re not out to save the world with our politics or religion. Politics and religion never saved anyone. Jesus saved the world in His death (a death worked by Politics and Religion, by the way), and it’s our high and holy privilege to tell the world this piece of very good news. God loves you in Jesus. Jesus died for you. and you died in Jesus. Jesus is your Savior. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. The life you’re looking for so desparately is in Christ. Drop dead and trust Him.

Witnessing ought to be like telling a really good joke. Someone has told you the best joke you ever heard, and laugh out loud. And you tell everyone you know the joke. You stop people on the street to tell them. You tell them in the grocery line and at work. Some people have heard the joke before, and laugh along with you. They love to hear it over and over again and never get tired of it. Others laugh the instant you tell them, and immediately go out and tell others. Some don’t get it right away, and look at you sort of puzzled, but then one day, they get the joke too (though you probably aren’t there to see it). And some refuse to get it, don’t want to get it, because they don’t want to let go and have a good laugh at Jesus’ expense.

One day the whole world will get it, straight from the One who was lifted up for the life of the world. And then those who refuse to see the humor in a death that reconciles a world to God can spend an eternity weeping and grinding their teeth over how good God is in Jesus, while everyone else laughs out loud for joy at the God who forgives and raises the dead in Jesus.

“Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all to myself.” Get it?

In the Name of Jesus,
Amen.

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