Lenten Series: A Season of Decision, A Season of Victory, Part 5:
The Springtime Principle

March 25, 2012

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

John 12:20-33

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 27 "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—"Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that 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 standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." 30 Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

 

 

The Springtime Principle

We have a fantastic concept that Jesus is sharing with us in this morning’s Gospel. This concept is at the core of His philosophy and ministry. I would like to call this concept, "The Springtime Principle." Jesus is inviting us to join Him in following it.  Today, we will be learning about what it is, and how we can follow in our Master's footsteps.  Will we be people who live by the philosophy of the Springtime Principle?

 

First, let’s unlock some of the key concepts about Jesus’s life that John is writing in the Gospel before us this morning. The Gospel says:

 

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

 

Jerusalem was packed! People came from all over for the festival of Passover. It was teeming with excitement and energy.  The great festival was about to begin. The first thing that this Gospel is telling us is that it wasn’t just Jews who were there; there were Greeks also and they were Gentiles like you and me.

 

A Slight Digression About the Gospels - the Symbols of the Writers

There are four Gospels. The first three, Matthew, Mark and Luke are called Synoptic Gospels. Synoptic is a Greek term that means “single (or same) eye”. It is as though those three writers saw Jesus through the same eye. Mark is the earliest and Matthew and Luke both read Mark. These gospels were together, they were connected. However, John stands independently. In fancy "seminary talk", we speak of the "Johannine account" when referring to the Gospel according to St. John.

 

The (very) Ancient Symbols of the Gospel Writers

Each of the Gospel writers has a symbol, a logo if you will. This symbol system has its origins in about the year 180 AD, updated around 780 AD, so this rather cool system goes back quite far.


St. Mark is the Lion because he portrays Jesus as "the Lion of Judah".  The lion is the symbol of majesty and courage.  Mark also portrays St. John the Baptist as the "roaring Lion of God."

 

St. Matthew's logo is the symbol of the Angel (or, more exactly, the "winged man").  The human face on the figure symbolizes the human nature of Christ, the wings, His heavenly nature.

 

• The third symbol is St. Luke’s and is the humble but strong Ox. The ox was the symbol of sacrifice, a symbol of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It is the only potentially sacrificial animal among the symbols.

 

• The symbol of St. John the Evangelist is the Eagle. The eagle symbolizes the "separateness" of John's gospel which we mentioned before. He flies independently, he is not earthbound. There is a soaring quality to John’s Gospel. It was thought that the eagle could look directly into the sun, symbolizing the high and exalted quality of John's writings. His account begins with the soaring words, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

 

The wings on all the creature symbols symbolize the heavenly nature of the Gospel writings.

 

For a fascinating discussion of this, please see < http://uk.ask.com/wiki/Four_Evangelists?oo=312>

 

If you are ever looking at Christian iconography and you see the symbols of the lion, angel, ox an eagle you will know that they stand for the four Gospel writers.

 

Now back to the Gospel for today

Matthew, Mark and Luke preach to the Jews and are primarily concerned with trying to convert the Jews to the ways of Jesus.

 

Then there is John, whose Gospel is very, very different. John is concerned with the Greeks, the Gentiles, with the non-Jewish people, people like you and me. So to introduce the concept of the Greeks attending Passover is revolutionary. That is why it is important in the Gospel we are reading this morning.

 

Greeks Come to Jerusalem

The Greeks were known as people of inquiring mind. The Greeks were people who liked to reason, philosophize, explore and look more deeply into things. The Greeks came to Jerusalem because they felt that something important was happening there.  They went to the Temple to worship.

 

What Did They See?

Now do you remember what happened in the Temple in the Gospel story we read a few weeks ago? Jesus went into the Temple and found money changers, gamblers, and animals. It happened in the Court of the Gentiles which was the only place that non Jewish people were allowed to worship.  Jesus was very angry.  He threw all the merchants and money changers and sacrifice sellers out of the Court of the Gentiles.  Perhaps those very Greeks were there when Jesus chased all the money changers, gamblers and animals away.  Perhaps the Greeks witnessed this and thought Jesus is really something. What courage! What conviction! What bravery! The Greeks were fascinated and impressed - and wanted to know more.

 

"Sir, We Would See Jesus"

They went up to the person with the most Greek sounding name because they felt they would be most understood by him. They went up to Philip.

 

21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."

 

Now, did they say they wanted to "learn more about Jesus?" No.

Did they say that wanted to talk with someone who seemed to know Jesus? No.

Did they say they wanted to philosophize about Jesus? No.

 

They wanted to see Jesus, they wanted a firsthand relationship, and they wanted to be his friend. They wanted to encounter the very spirit of Jesus!

 

They wanted a first hand encounter.  And so do we.

 

Friend, I combed through twenty five translations of this verse to explore various subtleties of the original expression.  They were all quite close.  Some read, "Sir, we would meet Jesus." Eugene Peterson's "Message" translation was uniquely helpful - he renders it, "Sir, we want to see Jesus; can you help us?"  All the translations pointed to the same thing - the inquiring Greeks wanted a first hand encounter with Jesus Christ - and so do we.  Invite Him into your heart, and you will.

 

Step One - We want to meet Jesus

There is nothing like a face to face encounter, and isn’t that why we are here in church today? We want to meet Jesus, we want to see Jesus. This is the first step in the Springtime Principle-to see Jesus. I urge you not to stop at "head knowledge." Don’t stop at secondhand knowledge. Don’t love Jesus because somebody else says they love Him. Invite Jesus into your heart, invite Him into your life. Form a relationship with Jesus. He is a spiritual Entity, the very presence of God available to us today, who longs for your friendship.

 

The second step is to study His ways

 

22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

 

Remember when we see the word glorified, it means surrounded by light, God’s holy light.

 

Jesus is teaching us in this Gospel, and next here comes the Springtime Principle.

 

24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

 

I like to use the word transformed. Unless the apple seed is transformed, it just remains an apple seed. If it is transformed, it grows into countless blossoms. Countless apples with the potential for countless apple trees. That is the way that Jesus looked at life. That is the Springtime Principle.

 

How about you and me? The big temptation is to hunker down and be super self-protective. I remember when I was a boy. We had a place in our basement called the "bomb shelter."  Most of you are too young to remember the Communist threat that was so prevalent in those days. But it was a very well built little fortress, but I don’t what we would ever have done in there, it was so small. There was a “hunker down” mentality back in those days.

 

Jesus is saying when you are really alive you are being a good seed planter. You want to be fruitful! You live your life sowing seeds of kindness.  We live our lives with a generous and sacrificial attitude, that something good may happen for others, and for our world.  Sometimes it is uncomfortable, sometimes it is risky; but we are called to be like Jesus, seed planters for the world.

 

The next sentence is tricky, maybe you got hung up on it, like I did.

 

 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

 

What does this mean? Love is a big word, one of the most precious in our language. Of course we love our life! Of course we appreciate our life! It would be an insult to God to have any other attitude. "Hate" is a very powerful word, too.  How could we possibly be advised to "hate" our lives? Why this statement here?

 

Jesus Uses Literary Exaggeration To Make a Point

In this sentence, Jesus is using a technique called literary exaggeration. He uses it often in His teachings, it is an exaggerated use of words. Why does He do it?  He uses it to get our attention. What He is saying is that those who hoard their lives aren't living at all - they are only existing. They live only for themselves, completely and totally.  Their vision doesn’t go any farther than their nose. 

 

But those that are generous with their lives are the ones who find it. Those who live sacrificially and lovingly are like the grains of wheat, like the flowers of Spring.  They radiate an energy and vitality that represents a full expression of living.  There is a difference between just existing and being really alive. The difference is living by the Springtime Principle.

 

I invite you to think of someone in your own life who lives by this Principle.  How admirable they are.  How Christ-like.  How joyful, no matter what their circumstances.  They inspire us to live like them.

 

The third step is to follow after His manner

 

26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

 

It is as though Jesus is saying, "Obey the Springtime Principle in your soul and you will walk in a joyful spirit of closeness with God."

 

We want to see Jesus and develop that relationship. Second we want to study Jesus and see how He lives out the Springtime Principle, and third, we want to follow Jesus and be seed planters in the world. 

 

The goodness that you can start into motion has unlimited echoes, the seed that you plant are like ripples on a quiet lake.  As Dr Robert H. Schuller likes to say, "Anyone can count the seeds in an apple. Only God can count the apples in a seed."

 

Let's take a moment to consider the flowers and blossoms of Spring.  They beautify the earth, they fragrance it with floral perfume, and the blossoms make way for the fruit of the trees.  Jesus wants us to beautify the earth, fragrance the earth with kindness and to bear fruit by helping people.  That's what it means to live by the Springtime Principle.

 

Our Lenten Assignment for This Week: a Double List

We have a double assignment for this week.  Our assignments, should you choose to accept them, are:

1. To make and meditate upon a list of ten people who you look up to as living the Springtime Principle.  These are gracious people who give of themselves, who plant seeds of kindness wherever they go.  They are among our role models, and we should think of them and thank the Lord for them in prayer.

 

2. Also, please make a list of ten ways that you live out the Springtime Principle.   I think this is important; I believe we spend too much time beating up on ourselves, and regretting the "things we have done amiss, and the things left undone." Please set aside time to make a list of ten items you already accomplish and practice to make the Springtime Principle part of your life.  For example, you are here in Church, and you share your faith in this way; you take time to pray for others; you help other people; you give to your Church and other charitable causes; you lend a listening ear; you work to provide for your loved ones; and I am sure there are many others, many that are particular to you. This list is just a start.  Take some prayerful time to reflect on these good things that you do, and rejoice in them. Thank God that you can do them.  Let the Springtime Principle shape your day.

 

God loves you, Friend. I do, too. I wish you a wonderful week. Amen.

© 2012 Anthony J. Godlefski