“Dying to Self”- March 18, 2018

Scripture LEsson

John 12:20-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

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.

“Dying to Self”

The gospel reading today presents some of the striking paradoxes of the Christian faith. It contains some of the shocking statements of Jesus that turned some of his hearers away.  And in our time, can leave us scratching our heads and wondering whether we are prepared for it. Yet, this is text tells us is the new way of life to which Jesus calls to live, if we truly his followers.

Jesus made the statements contained in this text when two of his disciples, Andrew and Philip took some Greeks who had requested to see him.  Addressing them, the Lord says, “The hour has come for the “Son of Man” to be glorified.” These first words of Jesus, I am sure, did not shock his audience, because they were too familiar with the expression “Son of Man” found in Daniel 7:13.   If anything, this statement certainly excited the hearts of those who heard him.  Daniel 7:13-14 reads;

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He appeared the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will have no end.

To the Jews, the Son of Man stood for the undefeatable world conqueror sent by God. So, when Jesus said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” his listeners would have caught their breath. They would have believed that the mighty armies of heaven were now on the march, and the Champaign of victory was on the move. But to the contrary, when Jesus spoke these words, he did not mean the conquest of armies, but the conquest of the Cross.  He was speaking about his pending death on the cross. This may have left his audience bewildered.

In verse 24, Jesus goes on to explain about his death, the self-giving life to which calls us. This is the new way of life that contrasts with way of life we know today. Christ is using an agricultural illustration to drive home his message. He says “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many fruits.”

In this analogy, Jesus is saying, only by death comes life.  The grain of wheat is ineffective and unfruitful as long it is preserved as it is in safety and security. Only when the seed is thrown and buried into the cold ground and dies, that it gets new life. It sprouts, grows and produces more fruits. Unless it goes through that process, that seed becomes a single seed.

You and I are a part of about 2.5 billion Christians the world over today because one man gave up his life. It is the life of self-giving that he calls us.

Jesus expands on this concept in verse 25. He says, “The man loves his life will lose it, while the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Christ is not calling us to die or hate ourselves literally. He means the essence of your life or my life is not just centered around you or centered around me. Your life should not just revolve around you as much as that you become the center of your little universe. He wants to put to death the self.  

Each of us must realize that God created us not just for yourself, but as a part of God’s created world, called to be an active participant of God’s mission in this world. This is what gives meaning and purpose of life.

A story is told of a famous evangelist called Christmas Evans, who was always on the move working for Christ. His friends urged him to take things easier, but his answer always was: it is better to burn out than to waste out.

The world’s philosophy says: “Live for self,” but Jesus calls us to die to self. In the words of William Barclay,” the person who live for self is moved by two aims: by selfishness and by the desire for security.

Like Evans friends, sometimes we want to preserve, and secure our lives. We want to ensure that we store up sufficient resources to preserve and keep us secured.

But in his book, “Colors of Hope”, Richard Dahlstrom describes what he calls: Safety First Mentality in these words: Lock your doors at night. Get an alarm system. Save 10 percent and make sure your investment is insured …. Take your vitamins, minerals, etc. Eat lots of soluble fibers. Exercise. Get eight hours of sleep …. Go to church regularly, being certain to drive carefully both on the way there and on the way home (it’s best if your car’s the biggest, because then you’re the safest). Don’t go on mission trips to places where you might contract staph infection, malaria, intestinal parasites, or face a terrorist plot. Risky hobbies? Forget it. Read books instead …. Eat organic. Get a colonoscopy.”

Richard continues, “The safety-first posture is wrong on several levels. First, and most significantly, the good life is never defined by Jesus in terms of either length or comfort. To the contrary, Jesus says that those who seek to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their lives, spilling them out generously in service to others because of love for God and humanity, will find them.

Imagine those of you who are sponsoring kids in Liberia. You have no idea how many persons who are giving life and hope through your assistance.

In our world of instant self-gratification, dying to self is a concept that is not just foreign but also unacceptable. But this is the new way of life that Jesus not only sets the example of but calls us to live.

As we continue this Lent, let’s think about what Jesus will go through for our sake. Despite his deity, it was never an easy mission. In this text, he says his heart is troubled, and wonders what to say. Should I ask the father to save me from this hour? He answers, No. It was the reason why I came to this hour.” He says.

As I close this message, let me leave you with the words from Richard’s book, Colors of Hope, that I quoted earlier. The author writes,

 The Christian life, should be guided by the intentional goal of blessing the lives of the friends, loved ones, and strangers in our midst. We are called to impact a culture that, for all the rhetoric about hope, is overwhelmingly preoccupied with personal peace, prosperity, protection, and survival. Christians should be artists who paint with the colors of hope in a broken world, embodying Christ’s redemptive presence in our personal lives, our work, and our relationships. 

As we follow Christ to the cross, let’s allow the self in us to die, that the will and mission of Jesus come the focus of life.        

May we use our hands, our voice, our time, our strength, our skills, and our money for the work Christ to make a difference in Christ’s name.

God bless you.

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