Today’s Gospel passage marks the beginning of a change in Jesus’ ministry. The coming of the Greeks is seen as anticipating the coming of the Gentiles into the community of believers. While it is true that before the events in our Gospel reading Jesus spoke to the woman at the well and healed a woman’s daughter, the primary focus of Jesus’ ministry until this point in time was the people of Israel-the Jews. The visit of the Greeks reflected the Pharisee’s statement in verse 19 that the whole world has gone after Jesus. Their arrival prompted Jesus to acknowledge that the hour had come for him to be crucified, and by his death and resurrection, he will draw all people to him, including the Gentiles.
The drawing of all people to Jesus might seem to be ironic given that those who shouted “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday shouted “Crucify him” on Good Friday. Part of the reason is because of the nature of the Messiah that the people were seeking. They were seeking a Messiah who would create an army, drive out the Romans and restore Israel to the glory days of King David. They had no such expectations of the Son of Man. In fact, the title “Son of Man” has none of the militaristic connotations or meanings associated with the title of Messiah.
Jesus sought to downplay those expectations in favour of the expectations of a suffering servant. He has the same expectations of us. He expected the people of his day to be focused on serving others and in return God would bless them. In fact, he served others by healing, teaching and washing the disciples’ feet just before he celebrated the Last Supper with them. During Jesus’ time it was the custom for guests who arrived at a home to have their feet washed by household servants.
Jesus is the new covenant that God promised to his people in Jeremiah 31:31-34. In Jesus, God united us to him with bonds that can never be broken, and through this new covenant, we and Jesus can look death in the eye and see victory. The new covenant is represented by the replacement of the Ten Commandments with Jesus’ two Great Commandments-“Love God and love people”. If we love God and love people, our desire to serve God and others will naturally flow out of this love.
Jesus’ expectations of service are emphasized in Matthew 25:31-46. We are expected to be faithful even to death and trust that God will glorify us. In order to be glorified by God, we must be prepared to experience suffering first and serve others, just like Jesus served others and suffered on the cross for our sins.
God glorified Jesus when he spoke from heaven. When Jesus became glorified on the cross, Satan was defeated. The forces of opposition were defeated. The barriers that kept people from joining with God were defeated-and that was proven when the temple’s curtain, which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple, was torn in two.
The people with Jesus did not recognize God’s voice, largely because it had been years since anyone heard God speak. They did come to understand after Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are the same. When we are on our Christian walk, we encounter things we can’t understand right away. Some things will become clear as we mature spiritually, while other things will become clear when we meet Jesus.
If there is no sowing of seeds, there can be no harvest. We can’t have a harvest of souls for God if we do not sow seeds for God. We must not let the things of this life interfere with our obedience to God’s will. We have been given a message of hope and transformation that the world desperately needs to hear and embrace. If we spread this message, we will draw others to Christ. It involves sacrifice. When we see a rich harvest-in a family, church, mission field or business-we can be sure that there have been people who have given of themselves in their service. The kingdom sprouts out of our daily choices to “die to ourselves and live for Christ’. In other words, the kingdom will grow when we live a life of serving others and loving others like Christ loved others and served others. We will have eternal life and things to do. We will feel better about ourselves because we will be transformed.
Jesus mentions in verse 27 that “My soul is troubled”. No doubt it was troubled by his coming death on the cross. It parallels his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some scholars believe that the Greeks knew about the plot to kill Jesus and came to spirit him away to safety. While Jesus’ human side might have welcomed this rescue plan, his godly side knew that this rescue plan would have defeated God’s plan to rescue us from a life of sin and eternal damnation. He gave up his human desire to live in favour of God’s plan for salvation. In other words, Jesus died to his human self so that he could live out God’s plan for his life and our eternal lives.
During Lent, we as Christians are supposed to “give up” something as an outward expression of an inward transformation. To give up something is to relinquish it, to renounce it, to forfeit or lose it, or as Jesus says, to die to it. Jesus hints at the ultimate ‘loss’ anyone might experience, to give up life as normally lived in the world in order to gain a newly enriched life. On the other hand, to try to control every variable in life is the way to death and loss.
It is often hard for us to do the same thing. It is hard for us to say no to self and yes to God. In fact, we often do exactly the opposite-we pray “yes” to self and “no” to God. We tell God what we want him to do for us, what we want his plans for us to be, and how we are willing to serve him. It usually takes a crisis of significant proportions for most of us to give up control of our lives. It means we come to the end of ourselves and our struggle to control the events of our lives and we finally come to the place where we can say, “I surrender, God! Please take full control of my life”.
It reminds me of the song “Jesus Take the Wheel”, which was recorded by country music singer Carrie Underwood. The song tells the story of a mother who lives a hectic life. On a late-night Christmas Eve drive on a snow-covered road, the woman begins sorting out her emotions and bemoans not having enough time to do the things that really matter. Then, her car hits a patch of black ice, causing the woman to lose control of her car. She panics, takes her hands off the steering wheel and cries out to Jesus; shortly thereafter, the car stops spinning and safely stops on the shoulder. After taking stock of the situation (and seeing that her baby has remained fast asleep in the rear seat), the woman decides to let “Jesus take the Wheel” of her life.
Jesus was facing an overwhelming situation and struggle in his earthly life. He came to this hour in his life to be the answer to the overwhelming situations in all of our lives. He was raised up to draw all of us to him. This was done so that in Jesus each of us will find the answer to our problems, the courage for the trials we face, and the victory over Satan who brought all of these problems upon us through his temptation. God recalibrated our internal compass so that it would point to Jesus. He is the leader whose directions we listen for and with whose plan for our lives we choose to align ourselves. If we want to serve Christ, we must be a follower. To do as Jesus did is the best way to bring honour to his name. He will give us the resources we need to meet the spiritual needs of others. He has given himself and he has given us his word.
When a martyr is created, it is like lighting a fuse or throwing a lit match into a can of gasoline. It begins the process of change. Jesus’ martyrdom/crucifixion began the process of change from the Law of Moses to God’s grace. Would Jesus’ ministry have been as effective if he had not been martyred? The answer is a resounding “NO!” Had he not been crucified, he would have been seen as just a prophet or a faith healer or both. His death and resurrection, during which he paid the price for our sins, opened the door to the restoration of our relationship with God. His death was necessary for the salvation of many lives.
Jesus looked ahead to his upcoming death and resurrection. Like a single seed, he was buried in the earth. He died to his oneness, his solitariness and was raised up not only in his own glorified body, but in the lives and the bodies, of his followers. His enemies thought he was dead, but he was raised to a life more abundant than before. He became the Christ of countless places and countless people.
When Jesus referred to being “lifted up” in verse 32, he drew a parallel between his crucifixion and Moses’ placing of the serpent on the pole in Numbers 24:4-9. Just like those who were bitten by the snakes could look at the snake on the pole and live, those who look at the crucified and risen Christ in faith will be healed of their sinful nature and have eternal life. The key words are “in faith”. We look at the risen Christ in faith when our words and deeds are in alignment with his plans for our lives. When we show concern and help for our fellow man, we show that we are looking at the risen Christ in faith. Jesus is the signpost pointing us to God and to a life of self-surrender in love and service to others.
We are to represent Jesus as well as we can in our thoughts, words and deeds and allow him to live through us. We can never convert anyone. That is Christ’s job, not ours. We are to effectively communicate God’s love to a world dying for love. To tell people about the whole counsel of God, we also need to tell people about the stark spiritual reality of a life without him in this world and the next. If we trust Jesus we are united to him and his death is our death according to Galatians 2:20 and his condemnation is our condemnation according to Romans 8:3. If we never trust Jesus, we stand condemned by our sin, and by our rejection of the offer of forgiveness.
We and the Greeks who came to see Jesus are the same. They and we are attracted by the one who, in his hour of suffering, is a completely faithful servant to God; who shows total generosity; willing to give up everything for us, without holding back anything in reserve; who shows us that defeat and death open up new possibilities, when we would see only endings and lose trust; who offers us hope, even when the doors are shut and when we would throw our hands up in despair and prepare to accompany one more body to the tomb. In return, we are to present the love of God in real ways and present Jesus as a human friend, companion and guide in both word and deed.
To complete the process, though, now requires a battle with our petty selfishness in what is a form of death. That is why Jesus speaks of losing our life in order to find life. It is a form of death, because, as Hebrews 5:5-10 suggests, after the learning of hard truths about ourselves, we must sacrifice wrongful pleasures, habitual injustices, false gods. And it hurts to surrender those ways of living. It hurts both when we first start to serve others and when we seek to deepen that service.
Whatever our age, we can’t say that we’ve finally cracked it, that there’s nothing left to tackle, that we are immune from these growing pains. But as the soul of Jesus was troubled, and as Jesus offered up his anguish in prayer, so, too, we must experience the anguish of discipleship, and hope to find his resolve as that anguish is lifted up to God in prayer.
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