20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, 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. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
It was hard for me to believe when I heard the news that the President of the United States might meet with the leader of North Korea. I’m not sure when it’s going to happen or if it will, but just the thought of it happening baffles the world. These are two nations and two leaders who don’t see eye to eye on much of anything, yet they might meet together in the hopes of cooling the tension on nuclear war. You and I don’t have the kind of political sway to get invited to a meeting like this, but are thankful for the relative peace we are in right now and we do hope that nuclear war never breaks out anywhere in our world.
In our gospel lesson to day from John 12, we don’t see two world powers facing off to talk about preventing World War III. Instead, we hear that a few Greeks wanted to talk with Jesus. The Greeks and Jesus were from two different walks of life, but their meeting wasn’t so earth shattering that everyone in Jerusalem crowded around to catch it on Facebook live. The Greeks had come to Jerusalem to worship at the Passover festival meaning they were likely converts to Judaism from their pagan roots of Zeus, Hera, Hercules, Aphrodite and Mount Olympus. Jesus was also there for the Passover and when they heard the miracle worker was there, they wanted to see him.
The thought of speaking with someone who could do miracles would have excited any of us, especially considering the miracle Jesus had just worked. A few days before this, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus and brother of Jesus’ other close friends, Mary and Martha, had become sick. When the sickness turned severe, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus hoping he would come and heal him before he died, as Jesus had done for so many others. However, when Jesus got the news, he did not act as quickly as they had hoped.
Jesus waited until Lazarus had been dead and buried in his tomb for four days before he went to see Mary and Martha. When he arrived he comforted the sisters, even cried with them for the loss of his friend, but then Jesus amazed everyone. He got up, went to Lazarus’ tomb, asked the people to remove the stone from the entrance of the tomb, called inside for the dead man to come out and Lazarus came out, alive. This miracle was enough to give the Greeks the courage to ask to see Jesus. We are not told what the Greeks wanted to ask Jesus, but John did record what Jesus said to them. They are the words we all need to hear, Follow Jesus for eternal life.
The Greeks asked Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, if they could see Jesus. They felt more comfortable asking Philip because they were afraid the other disciples might turn them away. Philip, whose name was Greek and who was from Galilee in the North, provided a safer bet for them because as converts to Judaism, they were familiar with being singled out as different and even discriminated against. They hoped Philip might overlook their background and bring them right to Jesus. Philip did listen to them and asked his fellow disciple Andrew, also a Greek name, to go with him and together they told Jesus.
When Jesus heard the Greeks wanted to speak with him, he knew what they needed to hear. They had already left behind their national religion and believed they had found a better way of life in the sacrifices, festivals and temple of the Jews in Jerusalem, but Jesus told them there was something more. Jesus said,
25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Jesus’ words likely startled the Greek converts. Word around Israel was that Jesus said and did some strange things, but was he now asking them to give up their lives? No, Jesus was not asking the Greeks to become martyrs for their new faith. Jesus was asking them quite the opposite, to live their faith.
When Jesus said,
“Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
He was saying the same thing two different ways, but in the second phrase he clarified what he meant with the words “in this world.” Jesus did not need his followers to be ready to give up their lives for his cause. Instead, he wanted followers who were ready to live for him.
Jesus’ call to all believers is to give up the way we live by nature in this world and follow him. By nature, we are all born sinful or selfish and disconnected from God. By nature, we don’t believe in God or know what he has done for us, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are brought to faith. And with this gift of faith, we live differently as Peter says in chapter two of his first letter,
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9
Our lives have been changed by God, so that we are now considered citizens of heaven, of God’s kingdom, which means we now live as if we are already there.
These Greeks needed a practical lesson in what it meant to live as followers of the God of Israel. Just like you and me these Greeks already believed in God, but they weren’t always sure how to live out their faith. The Greeks knew to come to the temple for worship, just like Christians today come to worship at church, but what did faith look like outside of church? The two disciples who the Greeks asked if they could see Jesus were the perfect example of what faith looked like out in the real world…sorry, I mean they were the perfect example of what faith does not look like out in the real world.
Philip and Andrew were two of the disciples involved in one of Jesus’ other great miracles, the feeding of the 5,000. Once, when Jesus was teaching a crowd of 5,000 men, not including all the women and children. His sermon went a little long and as night approached, the people were not going to have time to get to the market to buy food. So, Jesus
5 said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”…
Then Andrew spoke up…
9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
Philip and Andrew had missed the opportunity to follow Jesus. When they saw the huge, hungry crowds, their first thoughts were the overwhelming amount of money it would take to feed the people and how short the five loaves and two fish would go among so many. And while the disciples ignored Jesus, the Son of God and miracle worker, wrestling with the problem among themselves, Jesus fed the people.
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”
Jesus then took the loaves and fish, gave thanks and gave everyone as much as they wanted. And when everyone had eaten, Jesus asked his disciples to gather what was left over and there were twelve baskets full of leftovers.
It was hard for the disciples to trust that Jesus had the power to feed all those people. It was hard for the Greeks to convert to a new religion and it is hard for us to trust in Jesus, or as he said it, “hate our lives in this world.” It’s hard for us to stop living and thinking like the unbelieving world because it means we have to trust in something we can’t see. We have to trust that Jesus is waiting for us in heaven, trust he died to save us from our sins, trust he will bring us back to life after we die and finally to trust that the difficult situations we endure in our day to day lives are his way of bringing us to trust in him and not ourselves.
Jesus knows how hard it is to hate our lives in this world because he had to do the same. Jesus knew that coming to this world meant that he was going to suffer and die for us. When the Greeks came to talk with him, he was only days away from being put on trial by Pontius Pilate and executed on the cross. As he spoke with the Greeks and the others gathered around him, he said
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.
Jesus was troubled as he faced what was coming. He knew his mission to rescue us would not be a glamorous experience that the world would proclaim as this great turning point in history where peace was made between man and God. Instead, he knew coming to this world would mean betrayal, beatings and hanging on the cross. Jesus knew his enemy; the enemy of God and all believers is the devil and his greatest weapon against us is death. The devil works hard to keep people focused on the world and away from hearing about Jesus, so that they remain separated from God. While, God wanting all people to be saved and live with him forever send his son Jesus to save us from death and the devil.
Jesus reveals how we as believers are able to defend ourselves from falling back into the pattern of the world, and instead, follow him and lose our lives for him through his illustration of a seed.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, 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.
The purpose of a seed is to produce a plant, which in turn produces more seeds and life. In the case of Jesus, his life was given up and buried in the ground to give us life. And he gave the crowds an image to hold onto when they saw him executed and buried because he knew it would put a heavy strain on their faith. He said,
32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
A few days after Jesus spoke to the Greeks, he was lifted above the earth on the cross. Jesus traded his perfect life of following God for our lives that fall short of following him. Jesus’ had to sacrifice himself, so that you and I don’t just have a chance of seeing Jesus in heaven, but complete assurance that we are going there to live with God forever. We have that confidence because Jesus said he “will draw all people to myself.”
Now that we have been made a part of his kingdom, Jesus can give us the encouragement to live out our faith. He said,
26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
You and I can live as followers of Jesus because he made us followers. The peace and purpose we search for in our lives and in this world, does not come from how well our foreign diplomats get together, how much money we have or how much food is in our pantries. Our hope for real, lasting peace comes from Jesus. And our purpose now as his people is to live as members of his kingdom, showing love to others and sharing with them the life changing message that Jesus won eternal life for all people. Amen.