Lent 5b

Preached: March 29, 2009

Glory Hidden in a Seed
John 12:20-33

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior is from John 12:

There were some Greeks who had come up to worship at the festival. They went to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and were asking him, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Philip comes and speaks to Andrew. Andrew and Philip come and speak to Jesus.

Jesus responds to them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you: Unless a seed of wheat, having fallen to the ground, dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. The one who loves his life loses it, and the one who hates his life in this world will guard it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, let him follow me. And where I am, there also my servant will be. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

“Now my soul is shaken. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?' But no! because of this I came to this hour. Father, glory your name!”

Then a voice from heaven came, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” Then the crowd, who was standing there and heard it, were saying it had thundered. Others were saying, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Jesus responded and said, “It wasn't for my sake that this voice came, but for your sakes. Now is the judging of this world; now the prince of this world will have been thrown out. And as for me, if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself.” He was saying this for a sign as to what kind of death he was going to die. ( John 12:20-33)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior,

Soon many of us will be putting seeds like these into the ground. There it lies, motionless as if dead. And if we looked at them after a couple of days in the moist ground, they appear to be rotting away. Swollen from the moisture, the husk cracks. How could it be alive? But as you well know, the only way to get a harvest is to bury your seeds as if they were dead.

For hidden in what appears so dead and lifeless is a glorious harvest. Just picture the contrast: On the hand, the lowly seed, buried in dirt, dark and dingy; on the other hand, the glorious harvest with rows upon rows of tall green corn, the golden tassels dancing in the sun.

But that is nothing compared to the hidden glory Jesus points us to. May the Holy Spirit through this Word of God enlighten us and increase our trust in that hidden glory we cannot see. We focus on the theme: Glory hidden in a seed. Part one: Hidden in Christ's cross. Part two: Hidden in our service.

A. Hidden in Christ's cross

1) What prompted Jesus to speak about his death?

The events of the text most likely take place on Tuesday of Holy Week, three days before Jesus' crucifixion. Just as the Gentile wise men came looking for the Savior after his birth, so these believing Greeks seek out Jesus shortly before his death.

Now Jesus' earthly ministry had been focused on the Jews. He had sent out his disciples to preach to the lost sheep of Israel. Only after his resurrection did he send them out into all the world. Maybe that was why Philip seems unsure whether to bring their request to Jesus and goes to Andrew first. But when they speak to Jesus, his thoughts turn to the completion of his mission. Yes, he had come to give his life as a ransom not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles, like these Greeks, as well. And after his death and resurrection this Good News would go out to these Greeks and all nations ; a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of his people Israel, as Simeon had foretold. So this request brings to Jesus' mind what will soon take place. The time of the cross has come, and that's what Jesus speaks about.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:23, 24).

2) Why was Jesus troubled?

Jesus knows the death that awaits him. He knows the horror of it. It's not the death of a glorious warrior, but of a humiliated criminal, tortured on a cross. But that's not the worst of it. For he face death as no one else ever faces death. Unlike the believer, who holds on to the promise that Jesus has conquered death by taking away our sins, Jesus was carrying all those sins. On the cross he faced the god-forsaken death rightly earned by the sins of the world, the god-forsaken death that every sinner, including you and me, justly deserves. And unlike the unbeliever, who faces death in blind ignorance or only with a dim fear of the torture that awaits him, Jesus knew full well the suffering before him.

No wonder he says “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'?” (John 12:27 NIV). For the suffering he faced on the cross was real. It tore his soul. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For on that cross he became our sin and suffered our hell. What glory could be there?

3) What did Jesus do despite the horror of the cross?

But note his perfect obedience. Just as he would soon show as he prayed in Gethsemane, so now also, his will lines with his heavenly Father's in perfect harmony, despite the horror that lay ahead. Jesus continues, “No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father glorify your name!” (John 12:28 NIV). And to show to the people the unity of the Father and the Son in this saving purpose, the Father himself speaks from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (John 12:28 NIV).

4) What's the offense of the cross that keeps its glory hidden from human wisdom?

Have you noticed the theme of glory repeated throughout these verses? But how can there be glory in such a shameful death, death on a cross? It's certainly a glory hidden from human wisdom and sight, a glory that comes through a seed dying ; but not just any seed; rather, Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, our only Savior.

And this dear friends, is the offense of the cross, namely, that you and I are such wicked people that nothing less than the death of God the Son can save us. That's why it's a hidden glory in the cross. Human wisdom sees only shame and weakness. Or at best is sees the example of a martyr dying for his cause, but even this is foolishness, if you think about it. For human wisdom refuses to see our sin and our salvation on the cross. It's hidden.

But there hidden in the offense of the cross is God's glory. God's glory is to save. God's glory is to snatch us drowning sinners out of the depths of our sin and freely give eternal life through his Son. God's glory is hidden in the cross. For by that cross Jesus defeated the powers of this wicked world and dethroned Satan. “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31 NIV), Jesus say.

Believe this, dear friends, believe this with all your heart. In the cross God's saving glory shines. See him die for you, like a seed planted in the ground, to bring you eternal life. As you ponder these words of Jesus, take to heart how the Apostle Paul explains it in 1 Corinthians. He writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God . . . Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-24 NIV). Such glory hidden in Christ's cross!

B. Hidden in our service

1) Who is the harvest that the dying seed produces?

Now many of us have so often followed our Savior to the cross, especially during Lent, that you know well that God's glorious salvation is hidden there. And the better we know that, the more we want to hear of his great love that gave himself for us. A heart full of faith does not grow tired of hearing our Savior. Yet we still struggle. Although we know that glory was hidden in the cross, we so often want to see glory in our lives, especially as we serve Jesus. But that glory, as well, is hidden.

By his death, like a seed falling to the ground, Jesus produced a great harvest. He rose from the dead, and you in Baptism were connected to Jesus' death and resurrection. You died with him and have been made alive again. Through faith in Jesus you are that harvest. You are the many seeds produced by the one who died and rose again.

2) Describe the life which serves and follows Jesus.

But notice how Jesus describes our life and service as we follow him. “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:25, 26 NIV).

“The man who loves his life will lose it” (John 12:25 NIV) If we live our lives loving the glory of this world, loving the acclaims of others, loving the success and rewards of this earth, you could have a rather glorious life in the eyes of the world. But in the end you'd lose everything. On the other hand, if we hate our life in this sinful world because we are convinced that Jesus has purchased a better life for us, because we know that we are his blood-bought people and he is our Lord, because we believe that we are strangers here and heaven is our home, then eternal life is yours. But the glory of eternal life is hidden in our present age. This world cannot see it and will not acknowledge it.

Jesus explains what it means to hate life in this world. It doesn't mean to be suicidal in any sense. It means to serve him who is not from this world, to follow him: “Whoever serves me must follow me” (John 12:26 NIV). And how do we follow Jesus? Well, how do sheep follow their shepherd? The listen to his voice. To serve Jesus, to follow him means listening to his Word, to “gladly hear and learn it.” But service and following don't stop with the act of hearing. Service and following put those words into practice. We believe words of promise, and we obey words of command. That's service to Jesus. That's following him.

3) Why should we not expect a better life in this world when we serve Jesus?

And that's a glorious life ; but a hidden glory. And that's what we have to get through our thick skulls: serving Jesus is a hidden glory. As we serve Jesus and follow him, we still suffer the hardships, sicknesses, setbacks, and tragedies that unbelievers face. In fact as we follow Jesus and serve him, we will suffer more than unbelievers. For in addition to the natural hardships of life that come upon all, we believer suffer the ridicule, hatred, and persecution from the world. Look at how the world treated Jesus. Why would it treat his followers any better? Remember what Jesus said to his disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. . . . 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:18, 20 NIV). See why those who love life in this world will give up on Jesus?

So as you follow Jesus, don't be discouraged if your service isn't recognized and thanked. Don't be discouraged if others try to make you feel bad for doing the right thing. Don't be discouraged if following Jesus seems to cause troubles and hardships. Remember that the glory of serving Jesus is hidden, just like the glory of the cross. Believe Jesus promise that one day that glory will shine through. He promises you: “Where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:26 NIV). In the resurrection, you will see that promise fulfilled. Then the glory will no longer be hidden.

So remember the glory hidden in a seed. Believe the glory hidden in the cross. Your Savior died in the shame of our sins, so that you are his harvest for eternal life. And as your faith sees the glory hidden in the cross, serve your Savior. Follow him with your eyes on the glory yet to come. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understand will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313