Sunday, March 31, 2013

When I Am Lifted Up From The Earth I Will Draw All Men To Myself

grain of wheat dies

Reading: John 12:20-36.

Jesus had just finished being the Guest of Honour in the Palm Sunday parade. His arch-enemies, the Pharisees, had finally admitted defeat by saying: “The whole world has gone after Him” (verse 19).  There was nothing that they could do about it. For the poor and wandering Teacher from Nazareth, this was His shinning hour. But His highest honour was yet to come. A short time later certain Greek visitors in Jerusalem requested a private audience with Him. To be sought by the Greeks was a tribute to His popularity, not just by the poor and the outcasts but by the elitists and the intellectuals of His contemporary world.

Suddenly the story takes a strange twist. When Philip told Jesus the Greek visitors wanted to talk with Him, He apparently ignored the request. Rather, a mysterious shadow cast a pall over the scene and Jesus confesses the tension He feels between His will to live in the glory of human acceptance and acclaim and His will to die for the glory of God. The flavour of His tension can be felt as He says “... unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” One of those paradoxes of life!

Actually, Jesus did not appear to have difficulty in handling the acclaim of the masses who shouted Hosanna and waved the palm leaves during that rather amazing and somewhat boisterous parade. Even the reluctant commendation of the Pharisees didn’t seem to faze Him. But to be sought out by this Greek delegation certainly had to be a supreme temptation to settle back and enjoy the distinction which was now His – after the long months of striving to be heard. Recognition by these aristocrats and intellectuals of His time had to be a glamorous enticement for this unschooled carpenter from a neighbourhood and town that was on “the wrong side of the tracks”. This is a pointer to us to beware when we begin to be very popular with the people. Behind the popularity may lie a very subtle plan by the enemy to divert our attention from the things of God. Ambition and human vulnerability met head on with the purpose of God in a decisive collusion. Here is where His Cross began; here death and life came into tension; here our salvation was placed on a pivot.
Can you imagine the internal tug-of-war waging inside Jesus at this decisive moment in His life and career? How did He respond? Instantly one of His own parables comes to His mind. He had used this simple and familiar word picture of a grain of wheat many times; however, He was conveying the truth to others. Now the eternal truth revolving around the homely story is meant for Jesus Himself: “... unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24)

At this point I believe that Jesus’ mind races back from the simple beauty of the parable to the very plain and hard foundation of His preaching. A principle returns home to haunt Him and demands His decision. “He who loves his life loses it and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25) There was more. A romantic idea had not only advanced to a realistic principle, but Jesus also remembered that He had publicly claimed the truth as the guide for His own life and had laid down the challenge for others to follow Him; “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honour him.” (12:26)

preachers and parentsPreachers and parents are the most vulnerable people in the world. Sooner or later, they hear their
bold pronouncements come back to them as brash and personalized truth – preachers hear it from the members of their congregations, and parents hear it from their children. Jesus heard His own truth echoing in His ears. He did not back away; instead He found His answers, as always, in the Scripture - His refuge in times of temptation and crisis. We can also, always find refuge in the Scriptures in times of temptation and crisis. This is why it cannot be overemphasized, the importance of memorizing the Word of God, it remains in our hearts even if it is not immediately relevant to us. Then in the time of temptation or crisis the Word of God will return to remind us of our prior commitment to make God our Refuge. So often during these overwhelming moments the Word of God comes back to us through a parable we had taught, through a principle we had accepted, through a public commitment we have made and leaves us with the very same challenge  and direction for decision which we have made to others in their moments of temptation and crisis. And when we are tempted to grasp a piece of life as if it were the whole life – whether it is public acclaim, professional reputation, affluence, personal piety, or physical existence itself – the Word of God brings us back to the truth that self must die fully if we are to live wholly for our God.

Jesus’ struggle is not over yet. Truth even when it is obvious must be worked through our motives as well as our minds until God’s Word becomes our word upon which we act. Death cannot come easily for a life affirming person like Jesus, What had been a philosophical paradox now becomes a violent confrontation between His desire to live and His willingness to die. “Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father save Me from this hour ... “(verse 27) With these words Jesus indicated once and for all our easy faith which slides through life-and- death matters with a flippant “Praise the Lord”. C. S. Lewis voiced a similar protest when he wrote: “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I will listen gladly; Talk to me about the duty of religion and I will listen submissively. But do not come talking to me about the consolation of religion or I will suspect that you do not understand.” Do we understand? Of course we do especially in today’s troubled world in general and Nigeria in particular. We may find it hard to identify with the mind of Jesus as powerful truth is readily recalled, but each of us feels the anguish of a troubled soul when we must choose between our personal desires and God’s holy will.

I have a friend who begins every decision making with “Let us look at the options” His pattern of decision making includes a listing of the “pros” and “cons” of alternative choices. Jesus did the same thing. Hung on the horns of a personal dilemma, He weighed the alternative of entertaining the Greeks and basking in the glory of their golden age. Imagine the possibility of Jesus being included in any anthology of Greek thought along with the names of Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and Aristotle! Had this been meant to be, many people down through the ages would have been inspired and some might even have been changed by His teaching. But there was another option – to drink fully from the bitter sweet cup of death which seemed to offer only the dregs of social disgrace, bodily pain, and spiritual separation. For what purpose: to do the will of God, and fulfill the purpose for which Jesus had come.  Jesus was convinced that He was born to die, but He had no certainty, that He was born to live. So, when the issue was finally drawn, He chose neither death nor life. He chose God “... for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your Name” (verses 27-28) how did God respond to Jesus’ act of faith “then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’” (verse 28)

Calling into remembrance all of His acts from the time of creation, through the history of the children of Israel, and into the miracles of Jesus Himself, God let His Son know, that He had not lost His power to deliver those who put their trust in Him. We need a God who speaks from time to time, even today. Only on rare occasions did God break through natural forces to confirm the decisions of His Son. It happened once when Jesus was baptized by John and once when Jesus stood on the Mountain of Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah. Now when Jesus chooses to do the will of God rather than accept the glory of the Greeks, God speaks again. Why? Jesus tells the crowd, “This voice has come for your sake, not for Mine.” 

The Sonship of Jesus Christ no longer needs to be confirmed. But He with us needed the confirmation of God for a life–and– death decision at the point where He was most vulnerable. A day or so later Jesus would have to kneel alone in the Garden of Gethsemane as He struggled with the coming agony of physical death. No voice from heaven was heard then; no angels ministered to Him. And then a day later when Jesus was on the Cross, God not only remained silent, but severed even spiritual supports so that Jesus felt forsaken and totally alone. 

God always responds to us at the level of our need. When our faith is weakest and where our humanity is most vulnerable, He unfailingly comes to us with the needed confirmation. But when our faith is strong and where our humanity has been given to God, He may trust us with His silence. When matters of life and death are at stake and our faith is tested at the limits, God will come to us as we need. But the greater our faith, the more God will put us on our own, perhaps waiting three days or more to confirm our choice in the act of His new creation. For Jesus, the weight of His decision to die tipped the scales towards life in its grandest expression short of the Resurrection itself. 

First, He dealt with the false values which man hold. Jesus declared; “Now is the judgment of this world ...” (verse 31) All of the life-saving, death-denying values of a secular and humanistic society are forever condemned as deficient.

Next, Jesus dealt with death itself; “... now shall the ruler of this world be cast out.” (Verse 31) Sin, Satan’s hold on human life, is broken, and death, Satan’s last bastion of power is conquered.

And then Jesus begins to soar towards the affirmation of life by an acceptance of death: “...and I, when I am lifted up from the earth ...” Jesus has spoken of death before, but this time, He was most specific that He would die by crucifixion – the death with a thousand teeth; the death of a criminal. Before this time, He may not have fully absorbed this harsh truth, but now He could, not because He was nursing a sick wish for death, but because He saw the other side of the scale. “I will draw all men to Myself” “ALL MEN!”, not just the Greeks, but Greeks, Romans, Jews, Africans, Nigerians, rich and poor, whole and handicapped, black and white, male and female, East and West, North and South. Life now burst with full meaning for Jesus. Affirmative action was announced – not as a legislated form of social justice, but as the free gift of God’s love for all men everywhere. Jesus knew that He was born to live.

Easter is God’s response to a life surrendered to Him. When we give ourselves to His will, He raises us as He did with Christ. Christ is risen indeed and so can we if we will surrender our lives as He did His own.

God bless you all.

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