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