5th Sunday in Lent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, are you someone who is focused and determined or are you someone who is easily distracted? In order to win and achieve athletes need a high degree of focus and determination, right? The musical artist or instrumentalist needs focus and determination in order to perform at a high level, right? The doctor who performs open heart surgery needs a high degree of focus and determination, at least we would hope so, right? What about you? Do you have a high degree of focus and determination in life? It seems to happen every year when you live in northern Minnesota that as spring comes and the temperatures start to warm up a bit and it get easier and more pleasant to go outside, it becomes more and more difficult to focus on the tasks before you. It’s also about this time of year when it becomes extremely difficult for seniors in high school or college to continue their studies, they begin what’s been called a “senior slide” as they dream about college or entering the work force.
And, of course, that’s one thing when it comes to our day-to-day lives, but it’s another thing when it comes to our focus and determination to live as Christians in a sinful, broken, and wicked world. Do you have such focus and determination?
The time when our text took place happened during Holy Week. This is perhaps a day or two after Palm Sunday. It’s just a matter of days before the Passover celebration in Jerusalem and the city is bustling with hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, people who have come to celebrate the Passover. Some of the people who came were from a Greek nationality. They also had come to worship God. You see, there were people from all different nationalities who had been brought to faith in the true God of the Bible, they were believers, but as Gentiles, they were not allowed to go into any and every part of the temple, there were places they could go and no further. So they come and want to see Jesus. Perhaps Jesus was in a part of the temple they weren’t allowed to go into or perhaps they were a little apprehensive to talk to Jesus. Remember that Jesus’ popularity is 2nd to none at this time for his teaching and miracles, so perhaps these Greeks felt they needed an introduction to talk with Jesus.
Philip takes this request to Andrew, then the two of them go to Jesus. But Jesus takes the occasion to teach us about what he is about to do. It almost doesn’t follow, right? I mean, what happened with these Greek people? Did Jesus talk to them? We don’t know. But that does teach us something about the Bible. God gives us everything that we need to know, but not necessarily everything that we want to know. I’d like to know what happened, but God knew we didn’t need to know, rather, God wants us to focus on what Jesus said after this request.
Their request led Jesus to say that the time had come for him to be glorified. Glorified? When you think of glory, what comes to mind? A wonderful miracle? A triumphant procession? Thousands of people cheering and chanting, like at an NCAA basketball game? That’s glory, right? Not for Jesus. His glory is found not in thousands of people shouting his name, but crowds of people shouting, “Crucify, crucify.” Jesus’ glory is found in His death. Like a seed, He must be placed into the ground and die. But just like once a seed is placed into the ground it produces hundreds of more seeds, so it is with Jesus. Jesus’ death on the cross paid for sins once for all so that all who believe in Him, all who find Jesus more important than anything else, all who follow Him and serve Him, all those have eternal life. Jesus tells us that a full, abundant life is not found in chasing after the hopes and dreams and pleasures and treasures of this world, but the only way an abundant life is found is in knowing Him as your Savior and having eternal life in Him.
And as Jesus considers his impending excruciating death on the cross, He’s troubled. Of course, no one wants to die. Death is the consequence of sin. The wages of sin is death. But Jesus is different. Jesus never sinned. In himself Jesus has no reason to die, he could walk right into God’s glory without going through death. So, “What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” He’s come to glorify the Father, He’s come to do exactly what the Father wants him to do: to lay His life down and die, to save helpless, lost sinners with his death. He wants to do it. And God the Father responds, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.”
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” Jesus came to crush the serpent’s head. The devil is the prince of the world who has been trying to usurp God’s power from the fall into sin. But as the devil works to instigate Judas to betray Jesus, the Jewish leaders to sentence him to death, the Romans to carry out crucifixion, thinking that he’s destroying Jesus, by that very act God was going to overthrow the devil and cleanse the world of sin. Now, every soul that’s brought to faith in Jesus is another loss for Satan and he’s losing more and more as the Gospel continues to spread.
And here is Jesus’ focus, here is Jesus’ glory: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” That’s his focus, that’s His glory, to die on the cross, to give his life up as payment for your sin. See His focus? See His determination?
How easy it is for us to lose our focus, to lose our determination, and I’m not just talking about when the weather gets nice and we think about being outside. We fill ourselves with worry or fear or anxiety over petty problems. We get frustrated when things to happen the way that we planned or the way that we wanted. We focus our attention on the betterment of our own lives, we see people not as people we can serve, but as people who can serve us and better our lives. This happens when we lose our focus, when we focus on ourselves, our lives, our glory. And what happens? We miss out. We miss the work of God in our lives, we have little for which we are thankful, we miss opportunities to show Christ-like love to others.
But notice where Jesus’ focus is. It wasn’t on Himself. It wasn’t what was best for him. Should he say, “Father, save me from this hour? Let me not have to do this for these pathetic, helpless sinners?” No. It was His glory. What is Jesus’ glory? To finally be rid of us once for all? To not have to deal with our petty little problems and annoying sinful habits and ridiculous arguments? To be done with us? Is that Jesus’ glory? No. Rather, Jesus finds His ultimate glory in selfless love laying down His life and dying on the cross. Why? Because it was there where he took upon Himself every sin- every sin you have ever committed from the least to the greatest, He took it upon Himself. For what purpose? So that we might not get what we deserve, but rather get God’s grace, salvation, eternal life in heaven.
And what does that message do? First, it gives us rest. We rest in the unconditional love of our God. We have peace with Him. And second, it transforms our lives. Our lives follow Jesus. We, too, lay down our lives, we die to our wants, our desires, for God’s wants and for the good of others.
I heard a really neat story this last week. There was a man who was a Christian who was taking undergraduate classes at a secular college and was in a sociology class and would often stand up for God’s Word and what God’s Word teaches. A woman in that class talked with him and said, “I’m not a Christian, but I commend you for standing up for what you believe.” They talked remained acquaintances she understood the gospel message but couldn’t believe it. What Father would give up His own Son for other people? And he explained that God wanted the Son to die and the Son wanted to do it so we would have God’s unconditional love. Well, one day she came up to that Christian man and said, “I think I’m starting to get it.” And she explained how that morning on her way into classes there was a torrential rain and her car hydroplaned and went into the ditch and got stuck in the mud. She ran to the nearest house and knocked on the door and a woman in her 60s came to the door, invited her in, called her husband who left work with his pickup truck and pulled her car out, that couple fed her breakfast, took care of her, and talked about their Christian faith. And this woman just couldn’t believe that they refused to accept anything, she couldn’t pay them anything. And she said, “I’m starting to understand.” You see what that couple did? They died. They died to their morning schedule. He died to his work. All in order to help this lady. And what happened? It was another wave to erode the hardened exterior of this lady against Jesus. She got to see Jesus through their actions.
And isn’t that just how God works? He doesn’t order or demand or command people into His kingdom. Rather, He draws us, He wants to win people’s hearts through the drawing power of His love and His grace so clearly seen at the cross. Our God knows no boundaries, no limits, no bounds in order to save us. Jesus saw His glory in laying down His live so that we might be His forever. And what could be better for us than to occupy our thoughts, our focus than seeing in other people, souls for whom our Savior found it glorious to go to the cross and save? And it’s there where our hearts are transformed and we lose our focus on self-interest and self-seeking ways and focus instead on self-sacrifice, living our lives and giving ourselves so that we, too, may glorify God’s name and more and more may see Jesus. Amen.