The philosopher Confucius is credited with the saying, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” In a sense, you might say that all people are engaged in this sort of wisdom every day – figuring how to call things, what to say about them. Isn’t it that way with those who came to Jesus – the crowds after Lazarus had been raised, or the Jews who gathered at Mary and Martha’s for that meal to see Lazarus, or the crowd that ushered Jesus into Jerusalem to praises and palms? Countless Jews had come running to Jesus – to see him and to be able to put new words to their expectations and experiences. To say that God was really at work, that Israel would really be saved, that Rome would be wiped off the map, that things weren’t as bad as they seemed, that there was some hope. By chapter 12 in John’s gospel it’s not just Jews, but also some Greeks who came to Philip, the disciple. Surely they too were looking for words: to have things changed, to find a miracle, to see some glory – we don’t know which they sought, but we know what they said. And it’s just the thing for us too. If you wonder about what to say in life, about life, at certain times, in difficult circumstances, you’d be hard pressed to do better than this: Show us Jesus.
We come with our own needs and our own desires. We often come with our own assumptions about how things should be called: by what is helpful and comfortable and winning in our own minds; what will fix our troubles or make life easier. But God provides for us a Savior who is firmly himself and is exactly what we need. Now, Jesus knows that, in order for us to truly see him, we need to hear what he has to say about himself. Notice how Jesus describes himself and so resets what we say about life. He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Ah! There will be glory! Things will be great! But how? “I tell you the truth,” he calls us to pay attention, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Jesus is picturing himself here. He isn’t a prize to be put on a shelf. He isn’t some heirloom kernel specimen in the global seed storage vault in Norway. He isn’t the glorious example of interpersonal communication and world peace. He isn’t a beautiful example of anything except the perfection of following God’s plan. At just the right time – Paul says, “when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son” and he came to die. Jesus pictures himself in the seed. Its purpose is to be planted and to lose what it itself is in order to bring about something gloriously more – a flowering, fruitful plant that grows out of his death. Jesus’ hour of glory, the purpose of his person, is to sacrifice himself at the cross, to make payment for sins in death and, planted in the ground, to produce fruitful life in followers who are raised up with him. Followers who understand that he gave up glory for himself in order to show us what glory really is.
But if we’ve come to see Jesus, indeed more, to be his servants…then what we see in him, we will find in ourselves too. He describes those who know true glory in v.25 – “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Think of how striking it would have been (still is to some) to hear Jesus say that his purpose was to die! It’s unappealing, surprising, because we’re attuned to think of glory as it is in this life. When glory comes it’s enjoyment – it’s a raise or a bonus, it’s acclaim and fame, it’s love and affection. And we want that. We love it by nature. Jesus wants us to have the glory of being children his perfect Father loves, a status this imperfect world of sin cannot supply. Jesus warns us… If we love this world, serve this world, nurture its relationships as the most important, cherish its approval above everything, then we will cut off the spiritual things that complicate those things. We will turn aside God’s commands that are hard to follow. We’ll put away his Word that condemns our sins. We’ll toss aside his truths because they complicate our relationships or make us seem foolish. And if we love this world’s glory like that, then we will die with this world.
We need to say, “Show us Jesus!” so that we can know true glory. Because Jesus comes to die for God’s glory – so that he can raise sinners up with him into eternal life. Which means letting die all the glories of this sinful world and following him. And when we experience the trouble of going where Jesus has gone, of loving what Jesus has done, then he promises honor from God that makes this world’s glory look like garbage in comparison – we will be at home and belong with him in the glory of heaven.
Except it’s hard, isn’t it, to know what to say – how to call life day by day – in order to get to heaven’s glory intact? As Jesus said, being his followers will mean losing relationships over him. It’ll mean looking foolish to many because we love him. It’ll mean dishonor and shame because we’re waiting for honor from God. What will you say in all those instances?
Did you hear this morning how Jesus pondered the same things? He says, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?” Because he is a man. He has come to do his Father’s will, but he knows that achieving God’s glory will mean being “lifted up from the earth”, being crucified and dying. He knows betrayal is coming. He knows there will be pain. And he hasn’t experienced it yet, but he will soon die and in his dying experience the punishing judgment of God on the guilt of every last sin from every sinner ever – all in himself, for him alone, so they won’t ever have to know that punishment. Just like you he asks. But he also knows what to say… Listen to his words, “[W]hat shall I say? ‘‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Jesus resolves to absolutely do what will glorify God. Jesus turns aside any thought of not doing his painful salvation work. Jesus seeks ever only to glorify his Father’s name. And for our comfort and encouragement God says something too – from heaven above. “I have glorified [my name], and will glorify it again.” God in heaven is sure that Jesus’ work has already glorified God’s name. That is, Jesus God’s Son had been perfect and pleasing to him up to that point in his earthly life. In his living and working and preaching he had done every single thing to glorify God already. Jesus had been perfect. Everything necessary to win salvation. And more – God was saying that he would glorify his name – for future certain – he had no doubt that Jesus would accomplish his salvation perfectly and just what God planned would happen.
What a comfort for us to say, “Glorify your name” too! Jesus has already done it! Jesus expanded on it this way, “Now is the time for judgment on this world;” or, as John said in one of his letters later on, “[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” The judgment of “not guilty” has already been made in Jesus and laid out for the whole world to own by faith. Judgment of sin is done. It is punished and paid. “[N]ow the prince of this world will be driven out.” In Jesus’ death, Satan, this world’s prince, is done. The one who tempts you with all the “glorious” things this world offers… he does not have control over over you. He has been condemned and crushed and will be tossed out like garbage. And Jesus says, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Like a magnet, Jesus draws the world to himself by his powerful cross, his saving work. Here is comfort for us as we struggle to know what to say day by day – we see Jesus who died to win our salvation and we know that God has been glorified – our salvation is done. It is God-approved and given to us. And he powerfully draws us to himself by this saving work through his mighty Word. In fact, Paul says that God has already raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms”…more, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It’s as though God has named us his own and everything else, put words to all of it for us beforehand. We don’t have to wonder what to say or what to do. As we focus on Jesus more and more, we who already are glorified can glorify God’s name each day too.
There is something else to be said for us, though. Did you know that v.27 can be translated a couple of ways, rightly? It could be just like we have it there – Jesus’ rhetorical question, dismissing the idea of being saved from his salvation work. It could also be that Jesus actually prayed, “Father, save me from this hour!” And it would mean two things: 1) that Jesus, just like he would in the Garden of Gethsemane, was going in prayer to his Father with his ardent requests to do salvation some other way because it was going to be horrible; but 2) if it were not possible, that he still would only do what was according to his Father’s will – “Father, glorify your name.” There’s going to be trouble where you’re going – following after Jesus. Sometimes it will be horrible. It will not look like glory. But we know that just as our Savior lived and prayed, so can we: “Father, save us from all manner of terrible things, from persecution, heartache, and pain. Keep us free from temptations and give us strength to follow after you. Whatever your will, Father, keep on showing us Jesus as the one who died for us and, as we follow you each day, use us to glorify your name. Amen.”