The King of the World, a Treasure Greater Than Life – John 12:12-26

The King of the World, a Treasure Greater Than Life

Nick Esch, 12/17/2017 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

One of my favorite teachers and theologians, R. C. Sproul went home to be with the Lord this past Thursday. I was struck by the announcement of his death for many reasons; but one thing in particular in the announcement I read struck me as especially glorious: it said, “R. C. now sees the object of his faith, the risen Christ, high and lifted up…” In other words, he sees Jesus… and He is glorious… R. C. once wrote, “The final goal of every Christian is to be allowed to see what was denied to Moses. We want to see Him (that is Jesus) face-to-face. We want to bask in the radiant glory of His divine countenance.” R. C. has made it to that final goal; he has entered into the joy of his Master. He may have been sick and suffering recently, but whatever he suffered does not compare to the joy of seeing Jesus… And friends, that’s exactly the point of our passage today: if we would see Jesus, if we would bask in the glory of King Jesus and live with Him forever, we must be willing to embrace suffering… But whatever suffering we go through will not compare to the joy of seeing Jesus… So with that in mind let’s look at John 12:12-26.

John 12:12-26

Our passage begins a day after the dinner that was held in honor of Jesus. There was a great thank you dinner held for Jesus for His power and grace in raising Lazarus from the dead; and this is where Mary anointed the feet of Jesus… Which is what we looked at last week. We marveled together at the great devotion of Martha, Lazarus, and especially Mary. This family truly treasured Christ above all else… they were sold out in their devotion to Him… And really our passage today is a call from Jesus for us to be the same way… The lives of this family were testimonies to the power and grace, to the glory of Jesus… And because of them many Jews were coming to faith in Christ… And this stirred up the Jewish leaders… At this point they had already put out a death warrant for Jesus, but now they decided that they would kill Lazarus as well, and as we get into our passage today, it shows us why they felt they needed to do this…

Starting in verse twelve we read, “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” This is referring to the large crowd of people who were coming to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Now look at what they do in verse thirteen. “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” The crowds here are proclaiming that they believe Jesus is the Messiah, they believe He is the King of Israel… But their understanding is faulty; that’s actually why they are waving palm branches. This was something that was done almost two hundred years earlier when the Maccabean Revolt happened: when there was a Jewish uprising against the occupying power and the Jews took Israel and the Temple back by force. So in waving palm branches the way they were waved back then they are showing that they are looking to Jesus with a nationalist hope of a conquering Messiah. Their love is not so much for Jesus but for their country… Their hope is not in Jesus saving them from their sin, but Jesus saving them from Rome. But this was all faulty thinking… They thought their biggest problem was the world around them, but their biggest problem was their own sinful hearts… We need to be careful that we don’t fall into this same way of thinking…

Now what we see happening here was partially what the Jewish leaders were afraid would happen; they were afraid that many would come to see Jesus as the Messiah and seek to make Him their King… The Jewish leaders feared that Rome would get word of a Jewish uprising and would come in and squash it… taking out the Temple and Israel altogether. So this is one of the reasons why they felt like they needed to kill Jesus, and now Lazarus as well. They thought that by killing them they were saving themselves and Israel… But again, this is all based on faulty thinking… Jesus had not come to be a conquering military Messiah, but a suffering Servant, a gentle King… Which is what is communicated next.

In verses fourteen and fifteen we read, “And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’” This is a reference from Zechariah 9… Zechariah 9 tells of the coming King of Zion, a gentle and humble King who doesn’t come on a warhorse to conquer but comes humbly on a donkey to bring peace, not just to Israel, but to the nations. The Jews had cried out, “Hosanna! (Which means, give salvation now) [And they said] Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus here affirms that He is indeed the coming King, the one who comes in the name of the Lord, indeed the one who is the Lord. And He has indeed come to bring salvation, to save. But Jesus is a humble King who came to earth not to conquer in power and sit on a throne, but to save through suffering by hanging on a cross…

So Jesus doesn’t tell them they’re wrong, but confirms and elaborates on what they are saying. He is indeed the King of Israel, but He’s more than just the King of Israel. But not everyone caught exactly what He was saying. In verse sixteen we’re told, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” So they put all of this together after Jesus had been glorified… But what does that mean? What is John referring to when he says, “when Jesus was glorified”? Well Jesus—because He is God the Son—has always been and will always be infinitely glorious, but He stepped down from glory when He came to earth. He emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men… This is what the Christmas season is all about, right… Jesus left heaven and came to earth, and was born of the virgin Mary, in the most humble of scenarios, and placed in a manger of all things… But the point of His coming didn’t stop there; sure, it started with a manger but it led to a cross… So Jesus, in human form, yet truly God and truly man, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. The point of the manger was the cross… The point of Christmas is Calvary…

And at the cross the glory of God is displayed like nowhere else: His justice and His grace, His wrath and His mercy, His love and His hate are all seen as the Son of God has the wrath due our sin poured out upon Himself on our cross and then dies our death… He was condemned in our place… And it’s utterly astonishing that God would do this… The gospel, Christ and Him crucified is truly glorious… The mysteries of this glorious gospel are something the even angels long to look into… But Jesus didn’t stop there; after dying in our place He got up from the grave on the third day, and forty days after that He ascended back into heaven where He was glorified in the presence of the Father with the glory that He had with Him before the world even existed. And so, all of that to say, that all of this is what John was referring to when he said, “when Jesus was glorified…” Jesus’ disciples began to understand all of these things after the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus; but this is important to note because it shows us that the glory of Christ is especially seen at the cross…

So this crowd who went out to meet Jesus proclaims that He is the King of Israel, and Jesus doesn’t disagree with them, but through His actions He begins to tell them that He is more than just Israel’s King; and this same idea continues to unfold over the next few verses. Look back at our passage, starting in verse seventeen. “The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.’”

So the crowd that saw Him raise Lazarus has been witnessing, has been telling of the glories of Christ, and their witness is what led this current crowd that is calling Jesus the King of Israel to come out and meet Him… And now the Pharisees, some of the Jewish leaders who want Jesus dead, see all of this happening, and they basically say, “Well, I guess our threats are getting us nowhere… We say we’re going to arrest Jesus so that we can kill Him, and we threaten everyone, telling them to lead us to Him, but instead they all seem to want to follow Him… We’re trying to prevent an uprising, and to dissuade people from following Jesus, but look, the whole world has gone after Him…”

That last statement is especially interesting… What they mean is that everyone, as in the Jews around them seem to be becoming followers of Jesus… Now this is of course an exaggeration… Everyone is not becoming a follower of Jesus here, not all of the Jews around them, and especially not the world… But, God’s Word is making a point here through the words of these Pharisees… The point is that Jesus is not just the King of Israel, He’s the King of the world… And it’s not that the world has gone after Jesus, but that Jesus has come into the world to go after it… Jesus is going after the world by going to the cross… Indeed, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)… And why would the world not perish if they believe in Him? Because He perishes for us on the cross… As Peter puts it, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18)… And the us here is the world… Jesus dies in the place of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation… This is what’s reiterated in the next few verses…

In verse twenty we read, “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.” Greeks, as in not Israelites, not Jews; they seem to be God-fearers, but they are still Gentiles… Now verse twenty-one, “So these (these Greeks) 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.’”

So in verse nineteen the Pharisees say, “look, the world has gone after him.” And in the very next verse the world, Gentiles, begin to go after Him… “Sir, we wish to see Jesus…” And notice, Jesus doesn’t tell them, “Well I’m sorry guys, I’m the King of Israel, and you’re not Jewish…” No! He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Now over and over again throughout John, “the hour” refers to the cross—the hour of Jesus’ death… And Jesus tells us as much when He ties this hour to His glorification… Remember what we said it meant for Jesus to be glorified… He’s glorified in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension back into heaven with the glory of the Father; but—as we said—the glory of Christ is especially seen at the cross… And the cross seems to be exactly what He has in mind, given what He says in verse twenty-four: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Jesus is the grain of wheat that must fall into the earth and die… When a seed is planted, it in a sense dies so that a tree may grow and the tree bear fruit. Life comes from the death of the seed… So likewise Jesus must die to give life… He must be glorified… And notice He refers to Himself as the Son of Man here. This is a quote from Daniel 7:13-14, where Daniel, speaking of God’s coming King says, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

The Son of Man is a God ordained King, who is the King of all peoples, nations, and languages… In other words He is the King of the world… And this King came to earth to die… Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many; many being people from every language, nation and generation—the world… The salvation of the world is the fruit that comes from His death… “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And Jesus does die… But through His death He brings life to the world… So the world—as it were—represented by these Greeks said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus…” And Jesus replies by saying, “In order for you to truly see me, I must go to the cross… But that’s why I came… Long before you came to me, I decided to come to you… And I have come to die that you might live…”

So, Jesus is the King of Israel, but He’s not just the King of Israel, He’s the King of the world… But He’s a humble King, who came not to conquer in power, but to save through suffering… He says the hour has come for Him to be glorified; for Jesus the pathway to glory is through death… Fruit comes through much suffering… And after laying this out, He then applies this to all who truly wish to see Him, to all who would follow Him, to all who wish to be with the King…

You see, in order for these Greeks to see Jesus, especially to see Him rightly as King, the King must give up His life… And this same idea applies to all who truly wish to see Him… In verses 25 and 26 Jesus says, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 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.” If Jesus is really the Son of God who is the King of the world, then He deserves our total allegiance… But remember, there is this great problem that we all have: our own sinful hearts… Our hearts are prone to wander… Our allegiance by nature is elsewhere; it’s given to just about anything except Jesus… Indeed, Jesus Himself says that, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34)… And every time we sin we are committing treason against the King of the world…

R. C. Sproul once pointed this out, saying, “Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, ‘God, Your law is not good. My judgment is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.’” Most kings throughout history simply put people to death when they commit treason; but our King dies in our place… Jesus goes to the cross and redeems us out of slavery to sin, and by the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to see the glories of the cross… And that’s what has to happen if we would really give Jesus our allegiance… We will never follow Jesus as King unless we first see Him as our Savior, in all His glory… And is it not glorious that the King who has every right to kill us instead dies in our place?! What a great God we serve! He gave up everything to be our Savior, to be the Savior of the world… But if we see Him as the Savior of the world, we must then commit ourselves to follow Him as the King of the world…

So Jesus here tells us what it looks like to rightly give our allegiance to Him, to the King of the world… When we aren’t following Jesus we are in sin… We are allowing ourselves to rule and reign in our lives… Our lives are all about us… This is what Jesus is referring to when He says, “Whoever loves his life loses it…” If you treasure your life above all else, or if you treasure your life the way it is or the things in your life the way they are, and you are unwilling to let go of them for Jesus’ sake, then you will lose your life… In seeking to hold onto it, just the way you want it, you will actually lose it… When we live this way our allegiance is with us, is with sin… it’s clearly not with Jesus… We are seeking to be in control, and so it reveals that really we’re seeking to be God… We’re our own idol… Or comfort or ease, or whatever it is in our life that we refuse to surrender to Jesus… Or our very life itself…

But, by contrast, Jesus says, “whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Now the word hate really means to love less; but to love less than what? I mean, it looks like the goal is to get more life… If you want to keep your life for eternal life, you hate it, if you want to lose it you love it… But don’t we still love our lives if we just hate them for the sake of eternal life? Doesn’t this contradict itself? Well, that depends on what eternal life is… Eternal life is not our best life now for all eternity… It’s not just the people or things or places we enjoy in this life forever… No… Later in John’s Gospel, when Jesus is praying to the Father, He defines eternal life for us. He says, “this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3)… Eternal life, is knowing God, is knowing Jesus, is being with God, is being with Jesus, is enjoying God, is enjoying Jesus for all eternity… So when Jesus says we must hate our lives, the idea is that in comparison to our love for Jesus (our desire for true eternal life), our love for our lives and the things in our lives looks like hate… Now notice He says, “in this world…” By that He means in this sinful world… This broken world and the things in it seek to dissuade us from following Jesus, much like the Pharisees did with the Jews… But because of our great love for Jesus, because of our great desire for true eternal life—knowing, being with, and enjoying Jesus for all eternity—we gladly proclaim with that old hymn, “Take the world, but give me Jesus!” At least, that’s how Jesus is calling us to live here…

If we would save our lives, we must embrace suffering in this world… The ways of the world, where self is supreme, must not be the ways of a disciple of Christ. In this world, like Jesus, the Christian must die… Die to self and sin… And be willing to give his very life, if need be… This is why Jesus says, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me…” Jesus has just said that He’s going to the cross, and now He says, to all who wish to truly see Him, that they must be willing to follow Him… Now why would anyone be willing to follow Jesus to the death? Well, because of eternal life… And what is eternal life but knowing and enjoying Jesus forever… Which is what He says is coming for His servants, for those who follow Him… He says, “where I am, there will my servant be also…” The great reward of the good and faithful servant is Jesus for all eternity… Where He is there we will be… We will be with Him…

This is likewise what Jesus means when He says, “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him…” This is the language of vindication and approval… The Father will approve of him and reward him… The true disciple will hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your Master…” And the joy of a faithful servant is Jesus Himself… The Father honors the follower of Jesus by allowing him to enjoy fellowship with Jesus forever—we will be with Him where He is… So the faithful servant is willing to follow Jesus to the cross, to the death, because the joy to come is far greater than any suffering that may be endured… As I quoted from R. C. Sproul in my introduction, “The final goal of every Christian is to be allowed to see what was denied to Moses. We want to see Him face-to-face. We want to bask in the radiant glory of His divine countenance.” We want to see Jesus… That’s the goal… And the joy of the goal is worth any suffering we may encounter on the pathway to our goal… So why would anyone be willing to follow Jesus to the death? Because the joy that we get in Christ is better than life… Whatever suffering we go through in this world, even death itself, does not compare to the joy of seeing Jesus… In other words, we can hate our life because Jesus is better than life… We can follow Jesus to the death because the joy of being with Jesus overshadows any and all suffering we may endure…

The call of Christ here is a call to treasure Him above all else; it’s a call to treasure Jesus above even our own lives… To see Jesus rightly is to see Him as the King… Jesus is the King of Israel, He’s the King of the world, He’s the King to whom we owe allegiance… He is the God King who deserves our supreme allegiance… We should love Him and treasure Him above all, and we should follow Him wholeheartedly… And if we will we get Him forever… Jesus died to enable us to do this and to show us how to do this… The cross makes the Christian life possible and exemplifies the Christian life…

As we saw already, Jesus is the grain of wheat that must fall into the earth and die… When a seed is planted, it in a sense dies so that a tree may grow and the tree bear fruit. Life comes from the death of the seed… And the life and the fruit that Jesus’ death brings is the salvation of the nations… And just as the death of Christ bears the fruit of the salvation of the nations, when we die to our selves daily and treasure Christ above all else, when we joyfully pour out our lives for the sake of Christ, our lives will likewise bear much fruit… We must die, we must hate our lives, we must follow Jesus, we must serve Jesus, we must treasure Jesus, we must love Jesus, and loving Jesus means loving people… Remember, we hate our lives in this world, we suffer in this world, because we die to the ways of this world, and the ways of this world are selfishness… Therefore the way of a faithful servant of Jesus is selflessness…

The faithful servant of Jesus joyfully pours himself out for the fame of Jesus and the joy of His people… We give up our lives, we give selflessly of our lives: of our time, of our talent, of our finances for the general welfare of others and especially for the eternal welfare of others… We give up our lives to help others see Jesus… Christ is seen in His Word, in the gospel, on the cross, and risen and reigning… But He’s also seen in His people who joyfully pour out their lives in service to Him… That’s how His people bear fruit… So that begs the question, are we bearing fruit? Are we bearing fruit as individuals? Are we bearing fruit as a church? Do we really treasure Christ?

Beloved, this is a missions text… Jesus isn’t just the King of Israel, but the King of the world… He gives His life so that the nations might see Him in His glory… Therefore, if we would truly follow Jesus, we must give our lives to the same thing… The pattern for the Christian life is the cross… The Christian life is a cross-centered life… We are called to treasure Christ supremely, and we are to do so in such a way that our lives display the glory of Christ to those around us… Our lives are meant to help people see Jesus… And the great reward of living our lives this way is that we will see Jesus face to face and enjoy Him for all eternity… And we get the added bonus of treasuring Christ together with all those who have come to know Him through our lives…

Conclusion

What we see in this passage is that Jesus is the King of Israel, that He is the King of the world, that He is the King who deserves our total allegiance… He is infinitely glorious and worthy of our very lives… And if we would be His servants, if we would truly follow Him, we must joyfully pour out our lives for His fame among all peoples—from our neighborhoods to the nations… And we can do this, we can die to ourselves, we can take up our cross and follow Jesus, we can embrace suffering for Jesus’ sake because Jesus Himself is the very goal of our lives; seeing Him, knowing Him, being with Him forever. That’s the goal… And the joy of the goal is worth any suffering we may encounter on the pathway to our goal… The joy that we get in Christ is better than life… Every good and faithful servant will be honored by the Father, and the great honor of the Christian is treasuring Christ forever… That’s what it means to really see Jesus… That’s what Jesus was telling these Greeks that came to Him… He told them this because He wants them to count the cost before they do anything, He wants them to ask themselves if they really do want to see Jesus… And that’s what we need to do as well… Friends, do you want to see Jesus? Then see Him now for who He truly is and respond appropriately… Die to self and live for Him…