Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 18, 2018
A Sermon on John 12:20-33 by Samuel Zumwalt
John 12:20-33 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
FOR OUR SALVATION: CASTING OUT THE TYRANT
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.
Deep down inside each of us is an old sinner who assumes “I” am the center of everything. That old sinner isn’t missing from those who describe themselves as religious or spiritual. That old sinner isn’t even missing from those who describe ourselves as Christians. The old Adam or Eve in each of us likes to be in control. It’s a god complex.
So what does that look like? Most of us are really adept at spotting the self-centeredness in others. Whether it’s driving without any concern for others or just plain old selfish behavior in the grocery store, we will say, “She thinks it’s all about her” or “He’s certainly an egotistical jerk.” But don’t we all have amazingly self-serving excuses when it comes to our own selfish behavior? “I was in a hurry. I was on my way to church.”
Here’s a simple self-examination any Christian can do. When you are making a decision, when you are expressing an opinion, when you are angry or just aggravated with another person or about your present situation, ask yourself who is in charge? Who is in the center? Is it God, or is it you? If your feelings are hurt because you think else someone behaved very selfishly towards you, that doesn’t mean you are in the right. Maybe not.
So this gets very tricky. A lot of times we Christians want to answer that God is always the center of our lives. Oh, sure, we used to be selfish. Oh, sure, we used to be all about “me.” But all of that is behind us now. In the Crossways Bible Study, we learn to describe this behavior as “rational lies.” We rationalize that God is in the center, but our lives say, “No, I am!”
The old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in each of us, can be very well thought of by others as a good neighbor or a person with a servant heart. Whether on the left or the right, the old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in each of us, can hold all the so-called right positions on the big issues of the day according to MSNBC or Fox. Depending on your political views, you may consider Chris Matthews or Joy Behar a saint and Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham a devil or vice versa. Again, depending on your political views, you may feel justified by how much you agree with your favorite political commentators and how much they agree with you. The old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in each of us, loves to feel righteous in the eyes of others and righteous indignation against those who aren’t on the so-called right side, which, obviously is “my” side.
When the old Adam or Eve, the old sinner, gets religion, it’s more of the same. It looks like the super religious guy in Jesus’ parable thanking God that he isn’t like that lousy tax collector. It looks like the disciples arguing over who is the greatest and like Mama Zebedee asking for prime political appointments for her boys, James and John. It looks like Martha ticked at her sister for not helping with the hospitality ministry and like the rich young man who has always kept all the commandments and wants Jesus to tell him he has done enough for God. The old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in us, is really at his or her worst when it comes to being religious. Indeed deep in the American religious psyche is this sense that I am in charge of the God connection…that I can cooperate with God!
Three weeks ago, Dr. Richard Johnson had a very precise summary of all this when he said the old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in us, is a good swimmer. Instead of being drowned daily with all his or her evil desires, with all his or her god complex, the old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in us, keeps coming up for air and doing his or her best to climb out of the baptismal font for good. But that’s not the very worst that can be said.
No, the old Adam and Eve, the old sinner in us, first appeared in the primeval Garden when the ancient serpent asked, “Did God really say?” In that moment, the possibility of a “my” story apart from God’s story came into being. As we learn in Crossways Bible Study, our first parents did not fall. They rebelled! And because they rebelled against God, they lost Paradise and death was the logical consequence for them. In the moment of rebellion, the creation, the world, became hostile to God. In that moment, the ancient serpent became the ruler of a world hostile to God.
Yes, the worst that can be said is the old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in us, has been duped by the most pernicious lie of all, this notion that we are in control. That there is an autonomous self. No, we are all going to die. And from the first moment of rebellion all human beings are born in bondage to sin, death, and evil and cannot free ourselves. Paul asks in Romans: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24).
There is only One who can deliver us from the unholy trio of sin, death, and evil. His name is Jesus, which means “God saves.” Only He can cast out the tyrant, the ruler of a world that is hostile to God. Only He can bring a new Adam and a new Eve into being. Only He can restore us to Paradise, total intimacy with God and with each other!
24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
God’s Son in human flesh, the Lord Jesus, lived the perfectly obedient life that none of us can live. When He prayed, He prayed, “Our Father,” and not to some generic “Gracious God.” When He taught, He taught in obedience to His heavenly Father and not in a self-gratifying way. When He acted, He acted in obedience to His heavenly Father and not in accord with what was good for Himself. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before His arrest, condemnation, suffering, crucifixion, and death, He prayed, “Nevertheless, Father, not my will but Thine be done.”
The old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in each of us, rightly fears death and rightly becomes a good swimmer, and rightly tries to climb out of the baptismal font. Why? Because the old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in each of us, fears not-being. Death!
Countries can send young people off to war, because the young think death is what happens to others and especially to old people. They come home from war with PTSD, because all illusions about mortality have been shattered. I remember well how greatly this congregation was shaken to its core when two little girls died in 2006 and 2007. It was unimaginable that two beautiful little girls we knew and loved could die!
Anxiety and depression have many presenting causes, some of them physiological, but at the very root of all our afflictions is our fear of death. Yes, who will deliver us from these bodies of death? Who will deliver us from this culture of death in which increasingly old Adams and Eves clamor for and receive abortion on demand, surgical enhancements of undesirable body parts, legalized recreational drugs, and the promise of assisted suicide?
Only God’s Son in human flesh, the Lord Jesus, can by His dying, destroy death and cast out this world’s tyrant. Let us be clear. If we could in any way save ourselves by our cooperating with God, then our heavenly Father would not have sent His Son to save us!
If we are to be saved, then God must do the work for us – all the work for us! Born dead in our trespasses, we bring nothing to the table but our sin and our death. God saves!
When God’s beloved Son Jesus suffered, died, and was buried, He took upon Himself the judgment and death we sinners rightly deserve. Like a single grain of wheat, He was planted in the earth on the day of His death. When He rose from the dead, it was the beginning of a whole new creation. His saving death would be infinitely fruitful as new sons and daughters would spring forth into new life in Him. A new Adam. A new Eve.
Holy Baptism is the way of dying and living that begins when we are joined to the death and resurrection of God’s beloved Son Jesus. The pattern of our Christian life is set. We die daily to ourselves. The old Adam or Eve is drowned again and again by daily confession and repentance, which is nothing other than telling the truth about ourselves. Christ has died. We must die. So, then, we abandon daily all illusions of our own agency, of our own ability, and of our own innate admirability. If we are to become lovely, God must do this for us! If we are to be made new, now and at the last, God must do the work!
So, then, do you want to share forever the eternal life and love of the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)? Do you want to be freed from the fear of death? Do you want to be restored to Paradise, to total intimacy with God and with each other? Holy Baptism is God’s work of joining rebellious humans to Jesus’ saving death. Will you be baptized, or will you keep going it alone in a futile attempt at self-government? Will you become the person God created you to be, or will you keep foolishly insisting you’re just fine the way you are in that body of death?
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. For whom have you been praying to invite to Holy Week and Easter? Who is the skeptic in your life who needs your prayers and invitation? Again, we have made it easy by providing in the narthex the pamphlets “What If It’s True?” and “A Simple Explanation of Christianity” (Luther’s Small Catechism). You can take these to share with the skeptic(s) in your life. Care to invite them to experience the heart of the Christian faith with you.
Dear ones, there is death that goes on forever, and there is life that goes on forever. God wants to save you and everyone. God wants to forgive you and everyone. God dearly loves you and everyone. Please don’t keep on being the pawn of this world’s tyrant.
If you are unbaptized, ask to be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. If you are baptized, come to the altar today with all that you have to offer God — empty hands — and to receive Christ’s true Body and most precious Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. And, by receiving Jesus, receive the Holy Trinity’s eternal life and love.
We sinners pray: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy upon us!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
For Our Salvation: Casting Out the Tyrant
“Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 986).
John 12:21 “ Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
St. Augustine [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo in Northern Africa]: “Look how the Jews want to kill him, the Gentiles to see him. But they also were there with the Jews who cried, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel.’ Here then are both those of the circumcision and those of the uncircumcision, once so wide apart, coming together like two walls and meeting in the one faith of Christ by the kiss of peace ” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: John 11-21, 58).
John 12:24 “…but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Theodore of Mopsuestia [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia]: “Now I am alone and just one more man among obscure people without any glory. But when I undergo the passion of the cross, I will be raised in great honor. And when I produce much fruit, then everyone will know me. – not only the Jews but also the people of the entire world will call me their Lord. Then, not even the spiritual powers will refuse to worship me” (60).
John 12:31 “…now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”
St. Augustine [Great Doctor of the Western Church]: “How then can it be said that now he shall be cast out? Then it was done in the case of a few individuals, but now it is foretold that it will take place rapidly and among many people and mighty nations…But someone might further ask: Since the devil is cast out of the hearts of believers, does he now stop tempting the faithful? No, he has not stopped tempting. But it is one thing to reign within and another to lay siege from without ” (69).
John 12:32 “…when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
St. Irenaeus [2nd century Bishop of Lugdunum, Gaul (Lyons, France): “He took up humanity into himself, the invisible becoming visible, the incomprehensible being made comprehensible, the impassible becoming capable of suffering and the Word being made human, thus summing up all things in himself: so that as in supercelestial, spiritual and invisible things, the Word of God is supreme, so also in things visible and corporeal he might possess the supremacy, and, taking to himself the preeminence, as well as constituting himself head of the church, he might draw all things to himself at the proper time” (69).
- Are my eyes fixed firmly on the Crucified Christ who wants none to be lost and all to be saved?
A Short Form of Confession
[Luther intended the following form to serve as an example of private confession.]
The penitent says:
Dear confessor, I ask you please to hear my confession and to pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God’s will.
I, a poor sinner, plead guilty before God of all sins. In particular I confess before you that as a servant, maid, etc., I, sad to say, serve my master unfaithfully, for in this and that I have not done what I was told to do. I have made him angry and caused him to curse. I have been negligent and allowed damage to be done. I have also been offensive in words and deeds. I have quarreled with my peers. I have grumbled about the lady of the house and cursed her. I am sorry for all of this and I ask for grace. I want to do better.
A master or lady of the house may say:
In particular I confess before you that I have not faithfully guided my children, servants, and Wife [husband] to the glory of God. I have cursed. I have set a bad example by indecent words and deeds. I have hurt my neighbor and spoken evil of him. I have overcharged, sold inferior merchandise, and given less than was paid for” (Luther’s Small Catechism).
- Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Will you invite them to worship with you?
- Read through this example of a private confession and consider what you might need to confess. If you have a particular sin or sins weighing you down, ask to speak with one of the pastors. How familiar are you with the Rite of Individual Confession, LBW, pp. 196-197?
- Read the Lenten daily devotions online or in the printed booklet. Pray daily using Scripture and the devotions. Use the daily worship resources on our website at stmatthewsch.org.
- If you have made a resolution to be a more faithful disciple in 2018, join a Sunday school class this Sunday at 9:45am and/or attend Crossways on Wednesday at 6pm or Thursday at 10am.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”