The Sermon for Passion Sunday, March 17th, 2024

The Lessons: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:10-15; Hebrews 5:1-10; John 12:20-33

The Text: John 12:20-26


John Guest wrote in Decision magazine: When I went to hear Billy Graham at Harringay Arena in 1954, he spoke about nailing our colors to the mast. That is a phrase from the old sailing days. Your color was your flag flying from your mast. When the man in the crow’s nest saw an enemy ship, he would often call to have the color lowered so that the enemy could not spot the color and blow the ship out of the water. When you nailed your color to the mast, you were in effect saying, “Come what may, this is who I am, this is my commitment. And if an enemy ship coming over the horizon wants to try to blow me out of the water, that is up to him. My colors are nailed to the mast.” Billy Graham then challenged those who for cowardly reasons had not accepted Christ to do so that evening, and John Guest did so.[1]

The arrival of the Greeks to see the Lord Jesus resulted in the Lord putting before them and all the crowds the call to serve him by following him. Among the festivalgoers in ancient Israel, there were some Greek speaking Gentiles, who spoke to Philip, asking to see Jesus. It was natural that they should approach Philip, since he had a Greek name, as did Andrew, and he was from Bethsaida in Galilee, a town on the northern shores of Galilee. Galilee was known for its mixed population of Jews and Gentiles.  “Sir,” they said, “we would see Jesus” (John 12:21c, KJV). Philip relays this request to Andrew, and they both tell Jesus. Our Gospel Lesson does not reveal anything more about the Greeks who wanted to meet Jesus. Instead, the Lord makes this statement about himself:

The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.

(John 12:23b, KJV)

Jesus did not mean by this that he would immediately ascend into heaven to return to the glory of God the Father, and so avoid having to suffer on the cross for the redemption of mankind. In St. John’s account of the Gospel, Jesus’ glorification means first that he is lifted up on the cross, suffers death, and then is raised to life in glory on the third day. It is this process, the Passion and death of the Lord that glorifies him, because in laying down his life for the world’s salvation, he is fulfilling God’s purpose for the salvation, not only of the Jews, but also of people from all nations. The significance of Greeks coming to see Jesus is that soon they and all who believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, will have eternal life in his Name.

However, all who were coming to see and hear Jesus were not called to be mere spectators of the Lord’s death on the cross, or of his prophetic announcement that he would die on the cross, but they had to hear proclaiming for their lives as his followers the principle of self-denial, of dying to one’s own ambitions.

First, he expresses this principle of self-denying obedience to God in terms of a seed of wheat. Such a seed remains alone and does not serve a useful purpose until it is sown in soil, and dies a kind of death, and then sprouts, grows, and bears a harvest (John 12:24). The only way for that seed to produce a harvest is for it to die in the ground first. The Lord used this illustration to describe the significance of his own death on the cross, but he also lays it down as a fundamental principle for all Christians to follow. Coming to see Jesus, then, was not just a matter of spectators watching a chariot race or gladiators fighting to the death, but of being challenged and called to follow Jesus’ way of life, even, it might be, to the point of obedience to death for the Gospel’s sake.

Secondly, the Lord Jesus expresses this principle of self-denial in terms of a paradox:

He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

(John 12:25, KJV)

This applies the illustration to two opposite ways of life: the tense of the Greek verb for “lose” is present, rather than future, implying perhaps that the person who loves his own life, actually loses it in the process of loving it. The person who loves his own life is excessively concerned with himself and does not love either the Lord or others. The person who hates his own life is the one who will follow and love the Lord Jesus Christ whatever the material cost in this life. Such a person will save his life, or soul, for eternal life. This is the person who seeks out the will of God and does it, no matter the cost. Therefore, in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord declares:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.

(Matthew 7:21, ASV)

A person may have done many apparently good things in life, but if he has not found out the will of God for his life and done it, he will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are the beginning, but then one must lead one’s life following the Lord Jesus Christ, in obedience to God’s will. That means letting the Lord lead us wherever he wants us to go, to do whatever he wants us to do. Doing whatever God wants us to do and going wherever the Lord wants us to go, may bring us to the point at times of despising our own life and the way things have turned out. We must keep faith still, though, trusting the Lord that he knows better than we do what his will is.

Thirdly, the principle of self-denial is expressed in the command to follow the Lord Jesus Christ:

If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.

(John 12:26, KJV)

Serving, or ministering to, the Lord Jesus, means following him, leading the kind of life that He directs us to lead, in obedience to Him. We cannot serve Christ without following him, and following him leads us to some kind of cross, or trial for the Gospel’s sake. But following Christ leads beyond the cross and the grave to the resurrection and the ascension of Christ into heaven. Where Jesus is, there his servant will be, united with him in following “the blessed steps of his most holy life” (from the Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter, Book of Common Prayer, 1928). The servant of Christ will be honored by God the Father, in that he will enter the kingdom of heaven and have eternal life, as well as share in the rewards of those who have lived their lives serving and following Christ.


Are you serving the Lord Jesus Christ by truly following Him, and by doing His will, no matter where He leads you and what He tells you to do?

[1] p. 821, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

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