Hi. I pray you’re all trusting in the sure and certain hope we have in Christ. Please turn to John 12 and let me pray.
Lord God speak to our hearts now and change us by your Spirit and turn this nation back to yourself through this crisis.
These are difficult days. It feels like we’re under occupation by the coronavirus a bit like Israel in Jesus’ day being under occupation by the Romans. At ASDA everyone’s now yelled at as they enter: stay two metres apart. It’s all quite unnerving and many are feeling defenceless. So who do you turn to? Yes, we thank God for supermarket and healthcare staff but who is your Saviour and King? Who or what rules your life? Who do you worship? Your answer really does matter as we’ll see. For some, it's themselves – witness those breaking the distancing rules etc. For others, it's sportspeople. In 1982, Kevin Keegan, the footballer who became King Kevin to Newcastle fans, sensationally arrived at St James' Park to spark Newcastle's promotion back to the top flight after six seasons. In 1992, with the Magpies on the brink of relegation to what is now League One, King Kev returned as manager to save them from the drop and see them challenge at the top of the Premiership, though glory just evaded them. Then, suddenly, a decade ago, the King was back but his mission to deliver the almost glory times ended in failure. Often, we make people into kings who can't deliver. But there is a King who has delivered, does deliver and will deliver.
Here in John 12, that true King, the one who deserves our worship, King Jesus, is coming to save or deliver people from a different kind of drop - from sin, death and Satan. As we’ve been hearing it begins with a huge welcome of Jesus as King. Hopes of glory were high, just as they were when King Kev returned. Yet, as Mike Ashley did with King Kev, the crowds turned against Jesus and it looked like Jesus' mission had failed when he was crucified. But no. In fact, Jesus' crucifixion, though terrible, was part of the glory and mission succeeding. The perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is about to enter Jerusalem as the Servant King on his way to die for you and me, at the time of the Passover Feast, when the Jews remember the sparing of their households by the blood of a lamb. You can sense the tension rising. Back in John 11.45 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and many Jews genuinely put their faith in Jesus as King. But others (v.46) went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. The Pharisees feared for their own future. ‘If we let Jesus go on like this everyone will believe in him and then the Romans will take everything.' Then God enabled Caiaphas, the high priest, to say (verses 49 to 52):
"'You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.' He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad."
Did you get that? Caiaphas’ words were true in a way he couldn't imagine. The truth was that Jesus' death would be for the nation and beyond, by taking away the sins of those who believe in him, making it possible for them to enter God's Kingdom; whereas Caiaphas believed Jesus' death would remove political trouble, maintain peace with Rome and so be for the nation. So, verse 53, "from that day on they made plans to put Jesus to death". Yet due to his raising of Lazarus many Jews were going over to Jesus and trusting in him (John 12.11).
1. The Triumphal Entry
At Passover, two million people gathered in Jerusalem. This great crowd, fuelled by reports of the raising of Lazarus, welcomed Jesus with palms and shouts of 'Hosanna', both of which betrayed their nationalistic understanding of Jesus' Kingship. Palms had been a symbol of the Jewish state and appeared on Jewish coins during their struggle against Rome. The cry 'Hosanna' means 'Save us now!' Save us now from the Romans. He’d the power if he could raise Lazarus.
Jesus, though, came not on a warhorse but humbly on a donkey as Zechariah had prophesied. And if we're to see the church grow and God's Kingdom extended, then under God, our attitude is to be the same. It can't be done in the way of the world. Jesus came humbly to defeat not the Romans but the power of sin and death, which are far deadlier than even the coronavirus.
He's the King of Israel, who will proclaim peace to the nations and whose rule will extend to the ends of the earth. His Kingship is non-military. He'll be crowned upon a cross of sacrifice through which he'll achieve freedom for his trusting worldwide subjects. He's the King of peace through whom we can have peace with God. But to achieve that he must ride on in lowly pomp to die.
But the kingship Jesus declares on Palm Sunday is also divisive. Some will greet him with enthusiasm while others will plot his death. That's not surprising in a world where a rival power holds sway. You see the coming of the true King produces the conflict of the kingdoms - light confronts darkness, life encounters death and means that we face death [death to self] before we can know life. In the crisis of World War Two, C.S. Lewis wrote this which has relevance in today’s crisis:
Satan: “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down business, schools, places of worship, and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.” Jesus: “I will bring together neighbours, restore the family unit and bring dinner back to the table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources.”
I know whose side I want to be on but many resist giving up their sinful independence, thinking it's too costly. But everyone must take sides. Doing nothing is siding against Jesus. Each of us must respond to him one way or the other - to the universal King who’ll be acclaimed upon his throne in heaven as the one, who with his blood, purchased people for God "from every tribe, language, people and nation" from Tyneside to Taiwan (Revelation 5.9). That great crowd of believers will stand before the throne in front of the Lamb, waving palms, hailing not a political Messiah but a Saviour from sin and hell. Will you greet him as your Saviour and King? Are you on the side of light or of darkness?
Perhaps some of you are like the Greeks (v.20) who want to see Jesus. You're searching and want to find out more. The COVID-19 crisis has made you think. Up to now, like these Greeks, you've been a God-fearer, attracted to Christianity by its morals but you're not sure about putting your trust in Christ and going his way, the way of the cross. Or you're a believer but you're struggling with going his way. Well consider Jesus. It is worth it. Or maybe you're like Jesus’ disciples (v.16) who didn't understand. It was to take Jesus being glorified through his death and resurrection for them to see the light.
One journalist’s been saying that ‘Sport has the power to banish anxiety and fear.’ Now I’m missing sport, but really? There isn’t any. But the crucified and risen Jesus can – his love casts out fear. He’s won. He’s with us. Do you see?
2. Glory Through the Cross
The approach of these Greek non-Jews, who stand for the world that has gone after Jesus (v.19), brings it home to Jesus that he was now to die for the world. Verse 23: "The hour has come." When President John F. Kennedy made a very different triumphal entry into Dallas, Texas riding on a vehicle with massive horsepower, he didn't know he was about to die. The crowds were cheering and waving their stars and stripes. He was waving back until the fatal gunshot. But Jesus knew he was about to die, despite the praise he received. He knew the crowd would soon be shouting 'crucify him' and that he must die. Kennedy's death was tragic. But Jesus' death wasn't to be a tragedy, rather a triumph. Verse 23: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."
By going the way of the cross, by his supreme act of obedience to death, Jesus brings final glory to the Father and as he does so the Father will also crown him with glory. So, Jesus being glorified is through death. He's like a grain of wheat (v.24), which must fall into the earth and die before he can become fruitful in terms of revealing the glory of God and making the kingdom of God available for the whole world. Jesus would have to endure the suffering before the glory, the cross before the crown, the burden of bearing all our sins, all our wrongdoing and rebellion in his body on the tree, the agony of being separated from his Father, the cruel nails hammered through his wrists and ankles, crucifixion between two common criminals, lifted high on a wooden cross. In his death he must take our place. He must die our death to free us from death forever. And all that after being betrayed, denied and deserted by his own disciples; mocked and condemned by the religious leaders and the crowd who'd only just hailed him with palms. Jesus was willing because he wanted to obey and glorify his Father and achieve his Father's purposes for us. Even so, no wonder his heart was troubled at what he's about to face (v.27). He even considered asking his Father to save him from this hour. But no. He knew that it was for this hour, for this death that he had come. "Father", he prays, "Glorify your name!" Surely for us too there can be no other prayer. The gospel may be simple but it's not superficial. It may be free but it's not cheap. Jesus knew that he couldn't bypass the cross. Can we pass it by?
So, although the glory of God is also revealed in the resurrection, the essence of God being glorified and therefore of Jesus being glorified lies in the cross itself. So we mustn't focus almost exclusively on the risen and ascended Christ and upon the Spirit in our worship, but also on the cross of Christ. So
3. Life Through Death
That the glory of God is attained through death, is true not only for Jesus but also for his disciples. To receive eternal life, Jesus says that we must hate life in this world (v.25). That's not to say we should go around hating ourselves or that we must never enjoy the goodness of God's creation. No! Please don't misunderstand. But faith in Jesus does involve dying to all the sinful attractions of this passing world order. Jesus says that without turning from sin and trusting in him, there can be no salvation. Those who love or cling to their lives in this world will lose them. But if we turn to and trust in Jesus, willing to lose our lives for his sake then we'll keep them for eternal life. And there’s more – verse 26, two further promises. First, we won’t be on our own – we'll have the presence of Christ on the way beside us as we follow and serve him, and second, we’ll be honoured by the Father here and hereafter.
So are you clinging on to life in this world or are you willing to lose your life for Jesus and for the glory of God? It is worth it. This life through death principle also applies to our Christian service. Fruitfulness for God is costly. It cost Jesus his life on the cross. Likewise, it's in dying that we become life-givers. One 75-year old Italian pastor went to minister to COVID-19 patients in the hospital. He died of the virus but not before leading people to Christ and being such a witness that some doctors turned from atheism to faith in Christ. And we're to learn to die every day. To die to self. To bury our own selfish desires. The seed must perish for the harvest of Tyneside to be produced. The death of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Church growth is costly.