5 Things Dead Men Can’t Do

I preached a message this past Sunday on the topic of assurance (listen here).  The text was from Romans 8:28-39, which describe the unshakable foundation of the gospel. Taken from the series of five rhetorical questions posed by Paul in 8:31-35, we learned that the purpose of God in our salvation is invincible (8:31), the provision of God for our salvation is inexhaustible (8:32), the justification of God’s elect is irrevocable (8:33), the work of Christ on behalf of His people is unconquerable (8:34), and the love of God for His own is inseparable (8:35).  These five gospel truths form the objective basis for our assurance of salvation.  God saves His people by His free and sovereign grace alone, through faith alone, because of the saving work of Christ alone.

But anyone who has struggled with doubts, anyone who has wrestled with the issue of assurance will notice a problem.  I may believe that the purpose of God in salvation is invincible, but how do I know that God has purposed my salvation?  I may believe that the provision of God for the salvation of His people is inexhaustible, but how do I know that I am one of those for whom Christ was delivered, to whom God will freely give all things?  I may believe that the justification of God’s elect is irrevocable, but how do I know that I am among the elect whom God has justified?  I may believe that the work of Christ on behalf of His people is unconquerable, but how do I know that Christ died, was raised, is seated at the Father’s right hand, and intercedes for me?  I may believe that the love of God is inseparable for those who are in Christ, but how do I know that I am in Christ, such that God loves me with a love that will never end?

I not only need an objective basis for our assurance, I also need a subjective basis.  I first need to understand that the benefits of Christ are perfectly sufficient for the salvation of any sinner.  But I also need to know that I am included in those saving benefits.  I not only need to know that all whom God foreknows, predestines, calls, and justifies will be glorified (Romans 8:29-30), that the chain of salvation is unbreakable.  But I also need to know that I am linked into that chain.  So how may I attain this subjective assurance I need, which combined with the foundation of an objective assurance, join together to give me confidence that I am in Christ?  How can I know that He has chosen me, predestined me, called me, justified me, and will certainly glorify me?

In my experience, the key to attaining this subjective assurance is found in the biblical doctrine of total depravity, or human inability.  The Bible repeatedly refers to a sinner, in his unconverted state apart from Christ, as spiritually dead.  In Ephesians 2:1-3, the apostle Paul wrote, “And you were dead in trespasses and sin, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”  Until a spiritually dead sinner is made alive in Christ by the regenerating power of God in the new birth, that sinner cannot do certain things.  So here is a list of 5 things (spiritually) dead men cannot do:


1.  Dead men can’t hear.  “Why do you not understand what I am saying?  It is because you cannot hear My word” (John 8:43).  Obviously, the Jews to whom Jesus spoke were not physically deaf; they could hear the audible sound of His voice.  But while they had physical ears to hear, they lacked spiritual ears to ear.  But those who are alive in Christ hear the voice of Christ in the word of Christ.  “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).  So if when you read the Bible or hear the word preached you hear that word as the very word of Christ and not just a collection of nouns and verbs, then you can be sure that you are alive in Him.

2.  Dead men can’t see.  “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. […] For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:3-4, 6).  When the spiritually dead are confronted with the gospel of Christ, they do not see in it glory.  They see foolishness, irrelevance, a hindrance to their sin.  But not those who are alive in Christ, those in whose hearts God has shone the Light of His Spirit.  When we are confronted with the gospel, we see the glory of Christ revealed in His life, death, and resurrection.  So if you see the gospel as the most glorious, beautiful, wonderful news you have ever heard, you can be sure that you are alive in Christ.

3.  Dead men can’t understand.  “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  The “natural man” (i.e., the one who is still spiritually dead) cannot understand spiritual truth.  This is not to say that they cannot cognitively comprehend the words, but they do not understand it as being true and compelling.  So if you understand the gospel, if you understand the purpose of the cross, the necessity of blood, the meaning of the resurrection, and see these truths as compellingly beautiful, then you can be sure that you are alive in Christ.

4.  Dead men can’t believe.  “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John 5:1).  In the original Greek text, the verb “believes” is in the present tense, and the verb “has been born again” is in the perfect tense.  According to the rules of grammar, when used in connection with each other, the perfect comes prior to the present.  In other words, the new birth comes before and produces the believing.  Dead men cannot put their faith and trust in Christ.  Only those who are made spiritually alive in the new birth can do so.  Therefore, if your faith and hope of eternity are bound up in the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of Sinners, who lived for your righteousness, died for you iniquity, and rose again for you justification, then you are alive in Christ… otherwise you would not believe.

5.  Dead men can’t love.  “… because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God” (Rom. 8:7).  “There is none who seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11).  “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1 Cor. 16:22).  Those who are spiritually dead, those who are still of the flesh and devoid of the Spirit, do not love God, do not seek for God, and are, in fact, hostile toward God.  Therefore, if you have love God, love His Son, love His people, love His gospel, then you can be sure that you are live in Christ and indwelt by His Spirit.

The assurance of salvation is not the result of a decision, but of the day-in and day-out fight to anchor our confidence in the promises of the gospel (objective assurance) and the evidence of spiritual life (subjective assurance).  May God bless you in your quest to “make your calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10).

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The Gospel and the New Birth

I am reading through Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching, and came across James Montgomery Boice’s exposition of 1 Peter 1:23.  Enjoy…

I think the verse that is most helpful in explaining what happens in the matter of regeneration is 1 Peter 1:23.  Peter is speaking there of how we are born again: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God.”  When Peter says that we are born again of imperishable seed, I do not believe that he is talking about the kind of seed you plant in the ground.  That image is used elsewhere.  It is used especially of the resurrection: the seed is planted in the ground, it dies, it rises again.  But in this text, Peter is using the word seed to mean the male element in human procreation.  He is talking about new birth, and therefore illustrates this spiritual birth with physical birth.  He says we are born again spiritually in a way that is analogous to how we are born in a physical sense.

What is necessary in order for a new life to come into being?  You have to have the sperm of the father and the ovum of the mother.  They have to come together.  Peter is saying that this is what happens in the new birth.  God first of all plants the ovum of saving faith in the heart of the man or woman, because even faith is not from ourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9).  Then God takes His living Word, the seed of spiritual procreation, and allows that Word to be proclaimed in such a way that it goes into the person through the gate of the ears, through hearing, and penetrates the ovum of faith.  As a result, there is a spiritual conception; there is new life.

The life begins to grow within, and just as in the case of pregnancy there is a period when a woman is not even aware that she is pregnant, so there can be the same thing spiritually.  The life is there, but the person does not yet know what has happened.  However, things are starting to change.  The person is beginning to have an interest in spiritual things. He finds himself hungering for the Word of God.  He reads it.  He begins to feed upon it.  Then, as the months go by (sometimes longer and sometimes shorter), there is the point in a service when someone may say, “If you want to receive Jesus as your Savior, put up your hand,” so he puts up his hand and comes forward and the counselor says, “Well, now you’re born again.”  That is indeed how it may seem, but actually he was alive when the Word did its work.  It is just that now the birth has taken place.

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The Parable of the Foolish Mega-Church

“Then He said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed;     for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions'”        (Luke 12:15)

There was a wealthy church located in the middle of a thriving urban center.  The ministry field around the church was fertile and very productive.  Through the faithful sowing of the seed of the gospel, the field yielded a bountiful harvest of souls.  Grace was abundant; many were baptized; lives were transformed.

The plentiful harvest created problems – good problems, but problems nonetheless. Where would all the people park?  What about Sunday School space?  The once roomy sanctuary now seemed crowded.  The church moved to multiple worship services and multiple Sunday school hours.  Some were concerned that the flock of God was being divided into sub-flocks, functionally segregated according to market demographics like musical preferences and age groups.  But these concerns seemed trivial in light of the obvious success which the church was experiencing.

Soon, even the multiple service solution was insufficient for the growing congregation.  The pastors and deacons met to discuss the dilemma.  What shall we do, since we have no space to accommodate all these people?”

One particular man, quiet and unassuming, yet very mission-minded and who never seemed to fit in with the other, very outspoken, very business-minded leaders, made a suggestion.  “What if we divided our congregation into 300 member segments and planted churches all over the city?  And each time one of these new congregations outgrows its facilities, it would likewise plant a new church until the light of the gospel shines in every corner of this metropolis!”

The suggestion was met with a deafening silence.  No one, it seemed, liked the idea.  Some did not like the thought of dividing the church’s financial resources.  Others did not think people would want to drive across town to attend church.  Still others shuddered to think of the kind of people who lived in other parts of town.

Even the pastor was silent.  He had grown quite accustomed to the healthy annual raise he received as a result of the previous year’s growth.  He quite enjoyed seeing himself on television, when the church’s service was broadcast all over the region.  He liked to open up his denomination’s annual report to see his church at the top of the list of baptisms and attendance.

Of course, none of these concerns could be voiced aloud because they all seemed so unspiritual next to the proffered suggestion.  So they came up with a spiritual-sounding counter-suggestion.  No, what we should do is tear down our church and build a bigger church where we can accommodate all our members.  Think of the people we could reach with state-of-the art facilities, glistening fountains, and a new and improved worship center!

This suggestion pleased the group very much.  Some thought of the increased revenue which would be brought into the church.  Others thought of the prestige of attending the largest church in the state.  The pastor liked the thought of preaching against the backdrop of himself on giant screens so that everyone in the church whom he did not know personally could still see him up close and personal, if only the digital version.

And so the new facility was constructed… all $130 million of it.  The dedication of the church was something to behold – a testimony to the church’s greatness and glory.  City councilmen, state representatives, the mayor, and even the governor were in attendance, as were all manner of “Christian celebrities,” proving to everyone that the blessing of the Lord was certainly upon this church.  The golden age of the church’s ministry had dawned.

Sitting in the back row of the balcony, overlooking the thousands of people packed into the glistening and guilded sanctuary sat one quiet, unassuming, mission-minded man.  In his lap was a well-worn Bible, open to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 12.

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’  So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

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The Piano Man

Sing us a song, you’re the piano man; sing us a song tonight.  

For we’re all in the mood for a melody, and you’ve got us feelin’ alright.

It’s time for dishes and the after dinner clean-up.  In our house, this means it’s time for music.  We have a rather eclectic taste in music, enjoying a wide variety of musical genres.

Thursday night, The Piano Man came on.  As the soap suds and food particles mixed, and my hands began to prune, I listened to Billy Joel describe the menagerie of people who frequent the local bar at 9:00 on a Saturday.

  • There’s the old man sitting next to the piano.  He wants the Piano Man to sing him a sad and sweet melody he remembers from his youth.
  • There’s John at the bar (who’s quick with a joke, or to light up your smoke).  John is a nice enough fellow, but we find that he feels like he’s slowly dying in his current profession and wishes he could make a go of it as a movie star.
  • There’s Paul, the real estate novelist and lifelong bachelor, who is talking with Davy, the career Navy man.
  • There’s the unnamed waitress who is an amateur politician, and the businessman who is smoking his way to oblivion.  They make an unlikely pair, but they share a drink as they discuss their loneliness because “its better than drinking alone.”

All of the people in the bar have one thing in common – they are all miserable.  Dissatisfied with their current lot in life, they come to the bar to drown their sorrows, hoping the Piano Man will assuage their depression for a few hours.  While the sounds of the carnival roll off the ivories, the Piano Man plays the part of the court jester, providing enough distraction that the miserable ones can “forget about life for awhile.”  But nothing ever changes; the misery never ends.

One of the great things about music is that everyone listens through the lens of their own experience.  I am a preacher, and I can relate to the Piano Man.  At 11:00 on a Sunday, the regular crowd shuffles in, hoping for some distraction.  A joke here, a clever story there, a melody that takes them back in time.  And after a little while they leave, back to their lives, feeling a little better for having come.

But I am not the Piano Man.

I am not a court jester; I am not here to entertain and distract.  I am not singing melodies that create feelings of nostalgia.  I am not here to make people feel better about their lives.

I am the Preacher.  I don’t tell stories; I speak truth.  I don’t distract people from the misery of their lives; I affirm their misery.  And I point them to the One who bore their misery to bring them joy.  My job is not to get people to forget about their life, but to think about their life, to think about their sin.  My job is to get people to think about guilt and judgment and wrath.  And then my job is to tell them of the sin-atoning, guilt-removing, judgment-bearing, wrath-absorbing death of Jesus Christ.  My job is not to bring people distraction, but to bring people into their destiny.

I am not the Piano Man.  I am the Preacher.

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To Ashley, On Our 8th Valentine’s Day

Our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.

It had been just six months since I whisked you down the aisle, placed you in a moving van, and transplanted you into a brand new life.  I’m not sure which proved more shocking or more foreign – the  deep Southern culture, or this thing called marriage.  It felt like I was taking you from the comfort of our small Baptist college nest and thrusting you into the great unknown.  New life, new city, new church, new school, new jobs, new everything.  But the great unknown proved startlingly empty.  No money, no friends, no plans.  Nothing…. except you and I and Friday night pizza on the living room floor.

So I decided to impress you for Valentine’s Day. (I have since learned that you do not want to be impressed; you want to be loved).  Ashley likes fish, I thought.  So I looked around for the best seafood restaurant in Memphis.  Ashley values the unique.  So I eschewed the many Red Lobsters which turned up on my Google search.  And then I saw it.  Tsunami.  Right in the middle of the art district in Midtown.  Ashley is elegant.  This place looked elegant.  So I called for reservations.  This was going to be a night to remember, spared no expense.

We arrived a little late, because I did not know my way around and… well, you know how I am with directions.  When we walked into the small, urban, upscale restaurant I felt immediately out of my element.  But this night was for you.  We were seated and handed our menus.  Fish.  Lots of fish, the names of which I have never heard.  Oh well, I hope Ashley is enjoying herself.  She looks beautiful. 

Tsunami was fancy, like one of those restaurants in our daughter’s Fancy Nancy books.  In fact, I can imagine how Fancy Nancy would describe it – “You know a restaurant is fancy when there are no breadsticks on the table, when the salads cost $10 instead of coming with your dinner, when your $28 entree arrives at the table and it is so small that you have to remind yourself not to eat it in one bite, when you think that this bland fish must taste good to someone somewhere because it cost $28, when the tables are so close together that you are unsure whether you are supposed to make polite conversation with the gay couple next to you.”  Fancy.

I prefer not to think of that first Valentine’s Day as a $90 mistake, but as a $90 lesson.  I still believe you are elegant, but I have learned that your elegance is of the simple variety rather than the extravagant.  You looked just as stunning sitting across from me at Bruster’s Ice Cream later that night as you had at “whatever the name of that overpriced fish place” (as it came to be known in our family).  Simple elegance.  Soft radiance.  Startling depth.  More like evening sunset than the noonday sun.  I like the sunset better.

This Valentine’s Day I vow not to try to impress you, but I will love you.  I will find a babysitter and take you out to (a cheap) lunch where we can talk.  And then we will probably spend Valentine’s night the way we spend most other nights – working together to get dinner on the table, working together to get dinner off the table (and off the floor), working together to make sure our children feel loved and cherished, working together to get kids bathed, pajamas on, teeth brushed, books read, and three kids tucked in bed.

Isn’t Rock Center on at 9:00?  No, it was moved to Fridays.

What’s on?  That show about the surgeon with multiple personalities.  Perfect.

I’m tired.  Me too.  I love you.  I love you too.

Keep your Tsunami.  I wake up next to the sunset.

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Dying to Live – part 3

A Call to Die

Jesus tells the crowd (Greeks and Jews and us), “Do you want to follow me?  Then you must come and die.”  A call to follow Christ is a call to die.  In the same way that it was necessary for Jesus to die if He was to bear much fruit, so it is necessary that His followers die in order to bear fruit unto eternal life.  Jesus says, “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal” (12:25).  There are two linguistic points that will help us to understand what Jesus is saying in verse 25:

  • The first is that the two words translated “life” are different in the original language.  The first two, the “life” that we either love or hate, is the Greek word psuche, from which we derive the word “psyche,” which means our “self” or our “soul,” that non-physical part of us that makes us who we are.  The second “life” is the Greek word zoe, which refers to a state of living that is opposed to death.[1]
  • The second is that in ancient Hebrew culture, the contrast of love and hate has more to do with fundamental preference rather than love or hatred on an absolute scale.[2]  For instance, when Jesus says in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple,” he is obviously not saying that a prerequisite for discipleship is that I detest my own family and abhor my own self.  He is speaking in terms of preference.  Jesus says the same thing in another way in Matthew 10:37 – “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

So, Jesus is not saying in John 12:25 that I must regard my life, my family, my job, my circumstances as abhorrent and wish that I were dead.  He is not calling for some kind of suicidal psychology.  What He is saying is that a genuine follower of Christ does not regard himself as his supreme treasure anymore.  We are self-lovers by nature.  We love most that which we believe is most glorious, and that is us.  We were born into this world believing that we are the center of our own little worlds, the most glorious creature in our own realities.  And our selfish lives reflect this.  But not so with those who have been born again, the true believers who have been awakened to behold the glory of the only-begotten Son of God.  Once we have beheld His glory we can do nothing else but regard ourselves as far less glorious.  Beginning with the new birth and increasingly throughout our lives, Jesus becomes the supreme treasure and supreme delight instead of our self.  We have died to self-glory, and we are alive to the glory of Christ.

And if we have died to self-glory and are alive to the supreme glory of Christ, then we will be willing to do that which will bring Jesus the most glory rather than bringing glory to us:

  • I will stay married even when times get tough, because marriage is a living portrait of the gospel of Christ, the love which Christ has for His bride, the church.  I would rather go through the hard word of restoring a broken marriage than take the easy way out in divorce, because I truly believe that my marriage is not about me, but about the glory of Christ.
  • I will reject comfort, when it comes in conflict with the will of Christ.  I would rather be poor, then to dishonor Christ through dishonest gain or withholding what He asks.
  • I will obey the commands of Christ regarding my speech, my relationships, my sexuality, my finances, and every other arena of life because I have seen His glory, and I want others to see His glory reflected in my holiness.

The call to follow Christ is a call to die with Him, to die to self, to deny myself, and to regard Him as the supreme and glorious treasure of my life.  And herein lies the difference between the follower and the fan.  The follower says, “Yes, and amen!  Hallelujah!  All I have is Christ.  Hallelujah!  Jesus is my life.”  The fan simply tacks Jesus on to his own plans and his own life because, you know, who wants to go to hell?  But when the claims of Christ come into conflict with the fan’s own plans for his life and happiness – no, you cannot sleep with your girlfriend; no, you cannot leave your husband; no, you cannot spread that delicious piece of gossip; no, you cannot refuse to forgive that person who hurt you – the fan shows his or her true colors and leaves, becoming just another “inactive (read: unsaved) church member.”

 A Call to Suffer

Jesus then tells the crowd (and us), “Do you want to follow Me?  Then you must follow Me to suffering.”  A call to Christ is a call to suffer for His glory.  “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also” (12:26).  Where is Jesus going, that we must follow?  He is going to Calvary; He is going to suffering.  That is why His soul has become troubled (12:27).  He is going to suffer for His glory, and He calls His followers to do the same.  Mark this down – the Christian life is a life of suffering for the glory of Christ.  Just settle this in your mind so that you may be ready when suffering comes.  “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29).  Paul elsewhere speaks of believers being “destined” for affliction (1 Thess. 3:3).  Peter says that we have been called for the purpose of suffering (1 Pet. 2:21).  Jesus calls us to deny ourselves (die), take up our cross, and follow Him (to suffering).

This means that you must not be disturbed when suffering comes, as if some strange thing were happening to you, as if because you are a Christian it is not supposed to be this way.  When cancer, or Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s, or some other disease racks your body with pain, remember that Christ called you to suffer for His glory.  When tragedy or affliction or persecution comes, do not bail out on Jesus as if He had broken some promise to you.  This is exactly what He promised you, and it is for His glory… and yours.  Paul writes that if we are the children of God, then we are “heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17).  Suffer in faith; endure hardships in faith; work through tragedy in faith.  In the midst of persecution, remain faithful to unto death, and Jesus will give you the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).  That is what followers of Christ do – they believe, they suffer, they keep believing, and they enter into glory.

A Promise of Glory

If we die to self, we’ll live forever in Christ.  If we follow Jesus to suffering, we will also follower Him to glory.  “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him” (12:26).  It is not easy, this way of faith and death and suffering, but it is the only way to glory.  There is no other path to heaven.  There is no other way but the one that is straight and narrow, and few there are who find it.  Most of the people who surrounded Jesus in His day were fans, not true followers.  And so it remains today.  Most people who name the name of Christ are fans – fake, superficial, temporary, fraudulent.  Few are true and genuine followers of Christ who are dying to self, are following Him to suffering, and will be with Him in glory.

What about you?  Are you a fan or a follower?  Jesus calls out to us today, through His word, saying, “Come, embrace My death, My suffering, and My glory for your pardon; and then embrace My death, My suffering, and My glory for your pattern.  Come and believe.  Come and die.  Come and suffer.  Come and live.”  Will you come?

[1] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 941.

[2] Carson, 439.

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Dying to Live – part 2

The Hour Has Come

In verse 19, the Pharisees complain that the whole world has gone after Jesus.  And then, as if once again highlighting that these unbelieving Jews spoke more truly than they knew, John records that some Gentiles desired to come and meet Jesus.  This fits in with the theme in John’s Gospel that Jesus is not just the Savior, King, Messiah of the Jews, but of the whole world – both Jew and Gentile.  John writes, “Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’  Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus” (12:20-22).  Now, whether Jesus actually met with these Greeks is unknown, because the very fact that the Gentiles were seeking Jesus seemed to trigger in Jesus’ mind that the time had come – the appointed hour of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and exaltation.  Up to this point, “the hour” has always been “not yet” (2:4; 4:21; 7:30; 8:20).  But now that the Gentiles are seeking him, it seems that the divine clock has chimed, and the hour of His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension is at hand.[1]  “And Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him’” (12:23-26).

 The Way of Glory is the Cross

The hour had come for Jesus to enter into His glory, but Jesus told Andrew, Philip, the Greeks, and the crowd clamoring around Him that His glory only comes through suffering and the death of a cross.  The glory that awaited Jesus was far beyond the comprehension of everyone who stood around Him that day.  “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:32-33); isn’t that what the angel told Mary?  Reigning forever over an everlasting kingdom… that’s the glory that awaited Jesus.  The apostle Paul proclaimed that “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).  Being worshiped as Lord and God by every creature in the entire universe… that’s the glory that awaited Jesus, but it would come after He embraced the suffering and shame and humiliation and death of the cross.  That’s what Paul said – “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name…” (Phil. 2:8-9).  First the cross, then the crown.  First the suffering, then the glory.

Jesus did not have to suffer; He did not have to die.  Jesus could have had the glory and the honor that belonged to Him as the eternal Son of God without going to the cross.  But He would have had His glory alone.  “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” (12:24).  Unless Jesus fell to the earth and died, He would have been in glory alone; He would not have borne much fruit.  We, you and me, the sheep of His fold, those given to Him by the Father before the world began, His elect, His bride, His church, the people He loves, would not be able to enter into His glory.  We are sinners, and the wages of sin is death.  And those wages must be paid; the justice of God must be satisfied; the curse of the law must be executed; the wrath of God must be absorbed.  And therefore Jesus had to die, or else sinners like us would spend eternity away from the presence of His glory, paying our own wages, bearing our own curse, suffering God’s wrath and satisfying His justice alone, forever.  But He loves us.  Praise the name of Christ, He loves us!  And so He died in order that we would see and savor and share in His glory.

 A Sacrifice to Embrace and an Example to Follow

But verses 25-26 make something else clear – Jesus’ death is not only a sacrifice for us to embrace, but also an example for us to follow.  “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him” (12:25-26).  The pattern set forth in verses 23-24 – first the cross, then the crown; first death, then glory – is not just His path… it is our path as well.  Jesus calls us – you and me, His people, His sheep, His bride, the beloved for whom He died – to die with Him, to suffer with Him, to hate our lives in this world with Him, to serve with Him, and to be glorified with Him.  Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him – follow Him to suffering, follow Him to death, follow Him to a cross… and then follow Him to glory.  That’s what it means to be a Christian.  That is the narrow way leading to life, and few there are who find it.

Let me be absolutely clear about something…  No one, absolutely no one, earns God’s salvation through self-sacrifice, self-denial, or self-works of any kind.  Salvation is full, it is free, and it is entirely of God’s grace alone through faith alone because of the blood and righteousness of Christ alone.  The point of this text, the point of this sermon, is not to say, “You must die, you must sacrifice, you must suffer, you must serve, in order to be justified before God.”  If that is what you leave thinking, then you’ve missed the point entirely.  Rather, the point is that this is what genuine Christ-followers do – they die with Christ, sacrifice with Christ, suffer with Christ, serve with Christ, in order that they may be glorified with Christ.  The new birth is entirely of God’s sovereign grace – you do nothing, God does everything.  Justification is entirely by God’s grace on the basis of Christ’s saving work – you do nothing but embrace Christ’s blood and righteousness by faith alone. But if you know nothing of dying with Christ, suffering with Christ, serving in the name of Christ, then you haven’t been truly born again, and you do not truly believe the gospel.  Because this is what separates true faith from false faith, followers from fans.

[1] Cf. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1991), 437.

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