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“The Seed of Our Salvation”
John 12:20-33


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fifth Sunday in Lent—March 25, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A recurring theme throughout the Gospel of John is Jesus’ followers constantly pushing him to do things to glorify himself, but Jesus always puts them off by saying, “My hour has not yet come.” 

At the beginning of his ministry, his mother wants him to change water into wine at the wedding at Cana.  Although he eventually complies, performing his first miracle, he first gently chides her, “Dear woman, why do you involve me?  My hour has not yet come.” 

His unbelieving brothers cynically urge him to go up to Jerusalem and make a big show of doing miracles to draw attention to himself: “Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do.  No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his own brothers did not believe in him.  Then Jesus said to them . . .  ‘I am not going up . . . for my [hour] has not yet . . . come.” 

Later, he does go up to Jerusalem, and declares himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God.  “At this they tried to seize him, yet no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.”

For three years, Jesus’ family, friends, and followers have been urging him to glorify himself, but he always puts them off by saying, “My hour has not yet come.”  Now, finally, in today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus solemnly announces, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

“Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast.”  The events of today’s Gospel Reading occurred at the very end of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, sometime the first few days of Holy Week.  The Feast they are attending is the ultimate Passover, at which the very Lamb of God will be sacrificed for the sins of the world. 

“Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request.  ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’” Up to this point, Jesus and his disciples have conducted their ministry almost exclusively among their own Jewish people. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” Jesus told them. 

However, when he was a baby, Simeon had prophesied that he would be “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”   And Jesus indicated there was a future time coming when non-Jewish Gentiles would also be included in his kingdom: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

It was common in the ancient world for non-Jews to adopt many aspects of the Jewish faith, including coming to Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival.  They were called “God-fearers,” and they were often more zealous about the faith than many Jews themselves, especially their belief in the coming Messiah.

The Greeks who want to see Jesus are some of these Gentile “God-fearers.”  They want to see Jesus, to meet and talk with him, because they believe he is the promised Messiah. “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’  Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.  Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’”

For three years, Jesus’ family, friends, and followers have been urging him to glorify himself, but he always says, “My hour has not yet come.”  But, now, these Gentiles coming to Jesus signals for him that a pivotal moment has arrived in his life and ministry.  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Simeon was actually quoting the book of Isaiah when he said that Jesus would be “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”  The Old Testament made it clear that although the promised Messiah would be born among the Hebrew people, he would be the Savior of the entire world, both Jews and Gentiles.  As the Lord told Jacob, “Through your Descendant all nations on earth will be blessed.”  These Gentiles who now come to Jesus in faith signals that his mission of salvation for the world is about to come to fulfillment, and his earthly life is about to come to an end.  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” 

Just hours before Jesus had ridden triumphant into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Like a modern ticker-tape parade, huge crowds waved palm branches before him to welcome him into the capital city.  Many thought this was the beginning of the great revolution, to kick out the hated Romans and their governor Pontius Pilate, to install in their place King Jesus.  Like this year’s presidential candidates, who have gone up and down in the polls, on that day as Jesus rode into Jerusalem he was at the peak of his popularity with the people.  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”!

But, now, Jesus uses a sobering little parable to explain exactly what his glorification really means, and how his glory will be achieved: “I tell you the truth, 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’ glory comes not from wearing a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns.  Jesus’ glory comes not from seizing for himself Pilate’s throne, but suffering under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and buried.  Jesus’ glory comes not from conquest, but from sacrifice.  “For the Son of Man came not to be served,” he said, “but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

“I tell you the truth, 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.”  Many times Jesus has explained to his disciples that he will suffer, die, and rise again.  On their way to the Passover festival he told them once again, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. And on the third day he will rise again!” 

Easter is being transformed in our society into a meaningless Spring celebration.  But, with this beautiful little parable, Jesus explains the purpose of his suffering, death, burial, and resurrection, the reason why we observe Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, the enduring significance for us of all these events so long ago: “I tell you the truth, 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.”

Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  We commemorate Lent, Holy Week, and Easter because Jesus’ suffering, death, burial, and resurrection is “The Seed of Our Salvation.”  Paul explains in Romans that through Baptism and faith in Christ you are united with him and receive the benefits of his suffering death, burial, and resurrection: “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.  We were therefore buried with him through Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”  Jesus put it this way at the Last Supper: “Because I live you also shall live.”

“I tell you the truth, 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 talking about you.  Just as a seed falls to the ground, for you and your salvation he came down to earth and was made man.  Just as a seed is buried in the earth, he was crucified, dead, and buried.  Just as a seed springs forth in new life, on the third day he rose from the dead.  And just as a seed planted in the ground produces many seeds, Christ’s suffering, death, burial, and resurrection is “The Seed of Our Salvation.” 

Amen.

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