The Hour Has Come — Part Two
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

The Hour Has Come — Part Two

John 12:20–26  (ID: 3650)

After reporting the animosity exhibited toward Jesus by the chief priests and Pharisees, John’s Gospel records the curiosity of the Greeks, who, at the Passover, sought Him out to speak with Him. In this setting, Jesus spoke of how a grain of wheat must die to bear fruit. Explaining the pivotal moment marked by the arrival and interest of the gentiles, Alistair Begg reminds us that although the disciples wished Jesus not to die, His death is the key to life.

Series Containing This Sermon

“Truly, Truly, I Say to You…”

Twenty-Five Divine Declarations from John’s Gospel John 1:1–21:25 Series ID: 29001

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, I invite you to turn to John chapter 12, and let me read again the verses that we read this morning without ever really getting to them. John 12:20:

“Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. Whoever loves his life [will lose] 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.’”


Father, we thank you that as we gather together tonight and sing these songs, the Table that is spread before us is containing the very emblems of the reality about which we sing. How can we possibly know that our sins have been forgiven, except that Christ has done exactly what he says he was going to do in the passage that we’ve just read? And so we pray that as we work our way through these verses, that we will be helped, that you will grant to me clarity and brevity, and that you will give to us a spirit of humility together as we sit underneath the instruction of the Bible. And we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, this morning, when I began—and I can’t assume that everybody was here this morning—I said that there were four words that I had used to try and navigate my own personal study this week. The first of these was frustration, which we spent time on—the frustration of the Pharisees in being so obviously unable to prevent the ongoing work of Jesus. And the reason I took long on that was because I wanted it to be very, very clear that it is against that backdrop that what we then find in verse 20 comes: “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast…” And there was a great crowd that had gone up to worship at the feast.[1] And it may well be that when you read verse 19 and the Pharisees say to one another, “You can see that you’re gaining nothing here; this is not going our way at all” (“Look, the world has gone after him”)—it may well be that one of the Pharisees just points into the crowd and identifies that among those in the crowd, there are people who are clearly not Jewish. And that, of course, was a grave concern for these Pharisees, because they were so committed to the fact of their position under God as the children of Abraham and so on.

The Greeks’ Investigation

Now, when it says that they were Greek people— “Now among those who went up to … the feast were some Greeks”—that does not necessarily mean that they came from Greece itself. History records that there were many Greek people who lived, for example, in Decapolis and in some of those other areas, and it is out of that company, presumably, that some have made their way to the feast. That is all we know about them. It would seem that they are probably God-fearers. They’ve certainly come “to worship at the feast.” It doesn’t say that they’ve come to simply observe, but they are there in order “to worship.”

Many of these individuals from a gentile, from a Greek, background were attracted to Judaism on two fronts—one, because of the monotheism of it. Greek people had many gods, multi gods, all kinds of ideas and notions. And yet these Jewish people worshipped the one true and living God. And presumably, there was something that was attractive in that, not simply because of its clarity but also because of the morality that accompanied it too. The Greek gods were often divorced from any kind of moral implications for those who sought to worship them. And if people were aware of that great gap in their lives, then it’s perfectly understandable that, worshipping in an environment where the tendency is to separate religion from morality, then they may say, “Well, I think we should at least give consideration to what is going on there.”

The point, though, is fairly straightforward, isn’t it? That at the same moment that the Jewish authorities are displaying such amazing animosity towards Jesus, these gentiles are now marked by a curiosity—at least a curiosity. And as I mentioned this morning, I think, in passing, at least in one of the services, it is quite striking that at the birth of Jesus you have these wise men that come “from the east.”[2] And it’s, of course, a fulfillment of the prophetic word. Because Isaiah, amongst others, prophesied of the day when foreigners would join themselves to Yahweh, when they would join themselves to the Lord, and the house of God would be a house of prayer for all the peoples.[3] And Isaiah, under the direction of the Spirit of God writes, he—that is, God—“will gather … others to him besides those already gathered.”[4] This is six hundred years before Christ.

Now, as good students, you know that we noticed this in the Good Shepherd passage in chapter 10, when Jesus says, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I [will] bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”[5] And he was making the point that there were going to be people coming from all kinds of backgrounds as a result of who he is and what he was going to do.

The question, of course, is: How was this going to be possible? How would it be possible that this takes place? And the answer, of course, that comes in the twenty-fourth verse, is: only through the cross. It is only through the cross that the gospel is a gospel for the whole world. The idea of the amalgamation of the nations and the amalgamation of religions—which is regarded, of course, as a wonderful possibility and perspective—it doesn’t work at all, because the divisions between, for example, Judaism and Christianity are clear. We say it often. Our Jewish friends say Jesus is not the Messiah. We say he is the Messiah. We can’t both be right. Islam says that you can alter your circumstances and do enough good things to outweigh all your bad things, hence the Islamic picture of the scales. And Christianity says no, you couldn’t possibly do that. That’s why we don’t have scales. That’s why we have a cross. Well, we could go through the list, couldn’t we? I mean, Hinduism has multiple incarnations, and Christianity says no, the incarnation was a unique and unrepeatable event.

And so, when we think about what the message of the gospel is, what it means to go out into the whole world, what it means for men and women to be brought into the family of faith, only through the cross of Jesus Christ does this actually happen. And these individuals have put out a request, in finding themselves in the group, to see Jesus: “We’d like to see Jesus.” I think it probably means more than see him. After all, maybe they could physically see him: “We would like to have an interview with him. We would like to meet him.” Maybe. But it may also be that Jesus, at this point in the temple courts, was in the inner courts. If he was in the inner courts and they were gentiles, they would not be able to go beyond the Court of the Gentiles, because there was a barrier there, and there was a sign that said No Entry. And so, in coming to Philip, who has a Greek name—but so does Andrew, so we don’t need to make a fuss about it—coming to “Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee,” they make their request to him: “We would like to see Jesus.” Of course, you see, what is anticipated here is the fact that this barrier between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Jews is about to change. And it is that that we’re going to come to.

I think that Philip is an interesting character. In fact, I’m convinced that he is an interesting character. I don’t want to delay on it, but I often use him as an illustration—for example, when Jesus says, you know, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” and Philip is the one who puts up his hand and says, “If you could just show us the Father, that would help us.”[6] He’s a special student. He really is a special fellow. And so they came to Philip. And I don’t know whether it is dint of his personality or whatever it might be, but he doesn’t just go to Jesus. No, he goes to Andrew. And, of course, we met Andrew before, and he’s very direct. And it may well be that Philip remembered what Jesus had said on an earlier occasion, when he was giving instruction to his disciples. You can read this in Matthew chapter 10. And he says to his disciples, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles … but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”[7] So maybe Philip is saying, “Well, wait a minute. They want to see Jesus.” And so he says to Andrew, “Hey, they want to see Jesus. What do you think?” And Andrew—this is conjecture—and Andrew says to him, “When Jesus said that, he was talking about going. This is not about going. This is about coming. Let’s go and tell Jesus.”

Now, they do that, and verse 23 says that “Jesus answered them.” Answered who? Because strictly speaking, when you read what follows, Jesus didn’t respond to the direct request of the Greeks for a meeting. He didn’t actually respond to their situation that their investigation represents. But that’s what it is about: frustration here amongst those that you would expect to perhaps be excited about things and investigation on the unlikely people.

Now, what happens in this moment, says our friend Bruce Milne, is that the request of the Greeks to see Jesus “is like an exploding fuse in the mind of Jesus.”[8] “Like an exploding fuse in the mind of Jesus.” Because remember, years before—a long time before, when he’s twelve years old—when he gets in the temple courts with the people who are talking, and he’s discussing with them, and he’s separated from Mary and Joseph, and they have to backtrack, and they finally find him, and Jesus says to them, in the King James Version (which I like this statement in the King James Version), “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”[9] “Don’t you realize that I have to be in this house, that there are things that I have to do?” Well, of course, they didn’t really have much of a clue. But at twelve he says, “I’m going to be on my Father’s business.” He’s moving directly to the epicenter of what that business involves. And when now the Greeks come and say, “We want to see Jesus,” he suddenly says, “The hour has come.” “The hour has come.”

Jesus’ Explanation

Now, his explanation, I think, is fairly straightforward. In verse 23, Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” In other words, I think it is that Jesus sees the arrival of these Greeks as a signal that all the “not yet” is now over. The “not yet” is no longer “not yet.” It has become the “now.” You say, “Well, what about the ‘not yet’?” Well, we mentioned it this morning, in the wedding at Cana of Galilee. And Jesus said to his mother, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”[10] As we go through the Gospel, you discover that the statement comes again and again—for example, in 7:30, at the Feast of Booths: “They were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him.” Why not? “Because his hour had not yet come.”

I won’t belabor it, but in 8:20, again: “These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.” They could not interfere with Jesus one iota, one way at all. He was moving sovereignly. From all of eternity he has come in order that he might proceed to do that for which he has committed himself. What the Father has planned and what the Spirit will then apply the Son is about to procure. And all that has been leading up to this—all of the miracles, all of the signs, all of the things that he’s had to say—have all been pointing forward.

The point of Jesus’ glorification is in his death and in his resurrection, because it is in that that fruit would be born and would yield fruit for the entire world.

And you will notice when you read your Bible that from now on until the Passion, it is always “now.” Verse 27: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? [No,] for this purpose I have come to this hour.” Look at the beginning of 13: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world,”[11] and so on. And when he, in his High Priestly Prayer, recorded for us in John 17, begins, John records, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that [your] Son may glorify you.’”[12]

Now, that is what is contained in the answer that he gives, in the explanation that he gives. William Barclay—that I don’t quote very often, but every so often he had written something that is good—he makes the observation here that when Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” “the listeners,” writes Barclay,

would catch their breath. They would believe that the trumpet call of eternity had sounded, and that the might of heaven was on the march, and that the campaign of victory was on the move. But Jesus did not mean by glorified what they meant. By glorified they meant that the subjected kingdoms of the earth would grovel before the conqueror’s feet; [but] by glorified [Jesus] meant crucified.[13]

You remember, again—I hope you do—that in the encounter in John 4, which is, I think… People get very upset about the idea of there being anything that is humorous at all in the Bible, and we do want to be very cautious in relationship to that. But I can’t but imagine that when he and the disciples arrive at the well in Sychar and he dispatches the disciples, they say, “We will go and get lunch,” and he then engages in conversation with a woman who comes to draw water from the well. They then come back, and they find that Jesus is speaking to her. And “they marveled that he was [speaking to] a woman.”[14] And that is because, as we said, the strict rabbis would not even be seen speaking to their own wives in public. So they couldn’t believe what was going on. And so they said to him, “Rabbi, eat.” And he said, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”[15] Now, if I had gone for the food, I’d be saying, “Well, where… We… We just went for the lunch!” They say to one another, “Could someone else have brought him food?”[16] Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”[17]

Now, they must have tucked that away in the back of their minds and said, “Oh, wow!” Because remember, they’re tracking with Jesus, but they don’t understand a lot of what is going on. But Jesus is making it clear, and he now makes it perfectly clear by giving one of his simple illustrations. Jesus is masterful at using simple things to convey profound truth: “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.” Straightforward, I guess: seed has to be sown in the ground, needs to die in order to produce fruit. And if we can put it in the first person, Jesus is explaining, “I am the seed that has to die and be multiplied by my death. Because my death is the source of spiritual life for the entire world.”

That’s what he’s saying here. “The [time] has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The point of glorification is not in his miracles. The point of glorification is not actually even in his moral teaching. The point of his glorification is in his death and in his resurrection, because it is in that that fruit would be born and would yield fruit for the entire world. That’s why later on, he’s going to send his disciples into the entire world, because he has already told them that this is what will happen. Later on he says, “And if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men and women to me, when I actually fulfill the work that the Father has given me to do.”[18]

Now, Jesus has made this clear again and again. Earlier, as we saw, in chapter 7, he speaks to the Jews, who marvel at his teaching, and this is what he says: “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. … The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”[19] So Jesus is explaining that his honor is ultimately displayed in the context of his submission to his Father’s will. Jesus’ glorification is through death.

Now, let’s just pause and make a couple of observations.

If you listen to a certain kind of teaching that comes from pulpits around our world, you’ll find that there is a tremendous emphasis on the moral teaching of Jesus, or his ethical teaching—and he did teach ethics, and it was moral—or that they will emphasize very much the miraculous signs that he did; and often at the same time that if there is ever any mention of the cross of Jesus Christ, it is mentioned along the lines of “And look what a wonderful example of selflessness that is.” And the sort of inference is “You know, why don’t you become more ethical in your business, and why don’t you become more selfless in your dealings?” Not a bad suggestion. But that is to wrest the absolute center of the reason for the coming of Jesus Christ from the gospel itself. Christ’s death is absolutely necessary. Because the messianic reality which spread and has spread throughout the whole world begins with his atonement for sin. He is the Savior, and it is in his death that his glory is seen, and it is in his death that the Father is glorified.

We’re so broken that we can’t fix ourselves. And the way that God has decided to fix our brokenness is by breaking his only beloved Son.

Now, if you think about this, the disciples themselves didn’t get it. After Jesus on the first occasion takes the disciples aside, after Peter has made the great declaration… “Who do people say that [I am]?” Jesus asks. He gets the answer right: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”[20] (“Well done, Peter, go to the top of the class.”) And immediately Peter “began to rebuke him”[21] and to say, “No, it’s not going be about your death, Jesus, is it?” He says, “Go to the bottom of the class”: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but you have in mind the things of earth.”[22] So if they didn’t get it, it’s no surprise that others don’t either.

They wished him not to die. But to wish Jesus not to die—to dislike the idea of his death, which they did—is as foolish as keeping a grain of wheat in a container and refusing to sow it and expecting fruitfulness. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat—unless I—descend into the earth and die, everything will be a dead-end street. But if I die, the fruit will be there to be seen.”

This, loved ones, we need to make sure we understand, is the heart of the gospel. This is the significance of Communion. What we’re actually doing here is taking physical evidence—if you like, a parable of the reality of what Jesus has done. It is because Jesus died, because his blood was shed, that we take these elements—that his body was broken. Why was it broken? Not as an example of selflessness. It was broken because we are broken! And we’re so broken that we can’t fix ourselves. And the way that God has decided to fix our brokenness is by breaking his only beloved Son. “Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that sinners might be brought to God.”[23] And God keeps all of his appointments at the cross.

Now, what makes this so striking, of course, is that the message of the cross is not a popular message. As I’ve said to you, it’s not often heard in many churches. Many churches, you’ll feel very little about the cross of Jesus Christ except when it comes around to Good Friday or to Easter Sunday. But by and large, the message of the gospel is a sort of self-help message—“God exists to try and help us to be better people,” and so on—no notion of what has taken place here.

Fascinatingly, it’s the Greeks who come with investigation. And later, when Paul writes, involving both the Jews and the Greeks in 1 Corinthians, he says, “Christ did[n’t] send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, … not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”[24] It’s not our job to try and do something with it. It’s our responsibility to set it forward—to say, “Here it is”—in the awareness of the fact that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’”[25] So in other words, our preaching has to be marked by this.

John Stott, in characteristic clarity and brevity, helped me immensely with this quote. I hope you find it helpful too. This is what he writes:

To preach salvation by good [work] is to flatter people and so avoid opposition. To preach salvation by grace is to offend people and so invite opposition. … All Christian preachers have to face this issue. Either we preach that human beings are rebels against God, under his just judgment and (if left to themselves) lost, and that Christ crucified who bore their sin and [their] curse is the only available Saviour…

Either we proclaim that, he says,

or we emphasize human potential and human ability, with Christ brought in only to boost them, and with no necessity for the cross except to exhibit God’s love and so inspire us to greater endeavour.

The former is the way to be faithful, the latter [is] the way to be popular. It is not possible to be [both] faithful and popular simultaneously.[26]

So, Jesus explains this at the very heart of things: that death is the key to life. And then he makes application of it in the life of those who become his followers. And he goes on to make the very same point in relationship to what it means to both become a Christian and to live as a Christian. It’s there in verse 25 and 26: “Whoever loves his life loses it.” “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life will find it.”[27] Jesus never put this in the small print. When you go through the Gospels, you find this again and again—that Jesus is driving this truth home. “Whoever loves his life will lose it.” What does it mean, then? What is he saying? What would it be to love my life? Well, it would be to say, “It’s my life. It’s my life. You go along”—Billy Joel—“go ahead with your own life. Leave me alone! You don’t tell me when to come home. Don’t tell me anything! It’s my life.”[28] Okay, try that. You’ll lose it.

It would be living for now with no prospect of the reality of then. And people say, “Well, I don’t care about the idea of an afterlife. I don’t care about the idea of heaven. All I care about is now—this moment and this night.” And you get that in so many songs that are supposedly called love songs, but they’re not really love songs at all; they’re about the greedy sexual propriety of individuals, more often than not. For example:

Help me make it through the night.

I don’t care what’s right or wrong.
I don’t care who understands.
Let the devil take tomorrow,
’Cause tonight I’ll take your hand.[29]

You get a guy singing that to your daughter, run him out of town immediately. Immediately. He’s an existential clown and a nuisance to everyone in his orb of influence.

That’s what it’s like. Do that, and you’ll lose your life—living as if it’s only mine, living as if it’s only now. And J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, “The [person] who loves his own life will destroy it.”[30] “Will destroy it.” Living for myself, to please myself, to promote myself is a self-diminishing process.

“Nibbling on sponge cake…” There you go!

Watching the sun bake
All of those tourists covered with oil. …

I’m wasting away in Margaritaville. …
Some people claim there’s a woman to blame,
But I know it’s just my own fault.[31]

That’s a moment of realization. Jesus says, “Live that path, you lose your entire existence.”

From that perspective, freedom, of course, is found in denying the sovereignty of God and living from an entirely this-worldly perspective. The flipside: “Whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” So if going my own way—the whole of my existence is bordered on the north, south, and east, and west by me—no prospect of life beyond. It’s like “under the sun” in Ecclesiastes. But if you hate your life in this world, you’ll keep it for eternal life.

Let me give you a quote from Carson to help us with this notion of love/hate: “The love/hate contrast reflects a semitic idiom that articulates fundamental preference, not hatred on some absolute scale.”[32] Because after all, when Jesus says, “Unless you hate your father and your mother,”[33] you say, “Well, I’ve never hated my father and my mother once. I’ve been following Jesus for a long part of my life.” But the real challenge is: Is my love for Jesus such that the antithesis of it would appear to be like hate?—that my love for then and the prospect of that and a treasure that is otherworldly has such a hold that trivial stuff here would appear to be just hateful by way of comparison. It’s a challenge. It’s a huge challenge.

And there’s two ways to go wrong with this “hate” thing. One is to become like a masochist, or to become the kind of person that Augustine warns against. Augustine says you must be careful of perverse people who, in seeking to get to grips with the idea of this—taking it “seriously,” unlike other people—they “give themselves to the flames.” They “choke themselves in the water[s].” They “dash themselves [to] pieces.”[34] They’ve got it completely wrong, but they think they’re doing it right.

The other danger, which is probably a more prevalent danger for me and for us, I would wager, and that is to seek to dilute what Jesus is saying and therefore to sidestep the challenge—say, “Well, no, he doesn’t really mean that. I mean, ‘hate’ doesn’t mean ‘hate,’” and we go through that whole thing. We’ve already addressed that. We can go through that many, many times.

But he then adds to it in 26: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will [be] my servant.” When Peter writes about that in 1 Peter, he talks about the suffering of Christ, and then he says, “And since you are followers of Jesus, since you’re with Jesus, you’re going to be with Jesus. Therefore, guess what? You’re going to face suffering too.”[35] “If someone serves me, they follow me. And where I am, there they will be.”

In other words, our commitment to Jesus Christ is an expression of allegiance—that the boundaries of my expectations are not simply this-oriented. And the promise is the promise of his presence, and the prospect is the prospect of honor: “You’ll be with me, and if you serve me, the Father will honor you.”

This is tough, isn’t it? This is really hard. I mean, we can all go down the line of people that we have admired who have apparently done this by, you know, like, going somewhere—like Jim Elliot. You know, he’s born in [‘27]; he’s dead at the age of twenty-eight because he took this seriously. He’s the one who wrote in his journal at Wheaton, “He is no fool who gives [up] what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”[36] What he felt like on the night that he put it in his journal at Wheaton we will never know. But certainly we know what happened to him as he was martyred in Ecuador. We understand that. We understand what happened to Helen Roseveare when in the Congo she was brutalized by the guerrillas and so on, and how her life was disrupted, and how she was a very clever girl from Cambridge University and a graduate in medicine and so on, and yet she went all the way out there, and look what she did. And we get that, and we say, “Well, that must be what it looks like.”

But what’s hard is you work in a lab. You take your children to school. You do all these things. What does this mean in real terms? It has to mean something. It has to ground itself in some way, at least little by little. And the trouble is that the idea of loss for gain and death for life, that notion dies real fast in our thinking.

The more we experience loss, disappointment, pain, hardship, the more the clouds descend upon our experiences, the more we realize that the deepest joys and the lasting realities are not found underneath this canopy.

George Matheson was born in Glasgow in 1842. He became blind in his youth. He graduated from university when he was twenty, and he had a fiancée. And when his disability began to take hold and he became entirely blind, his fiancée said she did not want to be married to someone who was blind, and so she left him.

He had a sister, and he had been ordained to the Church of Scotland ministry. And his sister lived with him. And his sister looked after him in all kinds of physical ways and also provided for him in reading to him passages of the Bible which he would then memorize in order that he could proclaim them. And all was fine until his sister fell in love. And she got engaged. And so she told George, “I’m going to have to leave you, because I have a husband now.”

And history records that on the night that the family left for the celebration of that wedding, George Matheson was alone in his house. And he sat down, and he wrote these verses. He said, “I wrote them as if I had never imagined them. I wrote them as if they were given to me.” So, presumably, aware of the emptiness represented in the absence of his sister and reflecting on what had been his experience all these years before, this is what he wrote:

O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee.
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that follow[s] all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee.
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee.
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

O cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee.
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

I think Matheson got close to what it really means to take seriously what Jesus is saying here: that it is in losing our lives that we find our life in him. And the more we experience loss, disappointment, pain, hardship, the more the clouds descend upon our experiences, the more we realize that the deepest joys and the lasting realities are not found underneath this canopy. They are found beyond. And it is in that realm that we live. Because, remember, we have been “seated … with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”[37]

Lord Jesus, grant that the words of my mouth, the meditation of our hearts may be found acceptable in your sight. You are our strength and our Redeemer.[38]

We have just one song with which to conclude. I just do want to say this: the way that the Word of God searches us is in order to reveal things about us and to show us Jesus. And so, if today we have found ourselves being searched out, all I want to say to myself is “Hey, Alistair, don’t miss this day. Don’t miss this day. Make sure that the things that God has spoken to you about you take seriously and that the aspirations, the confessions are dealt with in the privacy of your own heart and your own life and in your own home.” It would be a really strange experience if you thought for a moment that my job was to preach this to you. Because we’re always asked, “Who do you listen to?” And I say, “I listen to God. Isn’t that who you listen to?” It’s God who speaks. And it may well be there’s somebody here tonight, and God has been speaking to you about actually making a radical move in your life concerning serving him. Then don’t miss the day. That’s all I’m saying.

[1] See John 12:12.

[2] Matthew 2:1 (ESV).

[3] See Isaiah 56:6–7.

[4] Isaiah 56:8 (ESV).

[5] John 10:16 (ESV).

[6] John 14:7–8 (paraphrased).

[7] Matthew 10:5–6 (ESV).

[8] Bruce Milne, The Message of John: Here Is Your King!, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1993), 184.

[9] Luke 2:49 (KJV).

[10] John 2:4 (ESV).

[11] John 13:1 (ESV).

[12] John 17:1 (ESV).

[13] William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 2, Chapters 8 to 21, The Daily Study Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1956), 142–43.

[14] John 4:27 (ESV).

[15] John 4:31–32 (ESV).

[16] John 4:33 (paraphrased).

[17] John 4:34 (ESV).

[18] John 12:32 (paraphrased).

[19] John 7:16, 18 (ESV).

[20] Matthew 16:13, 16–17 (ESV).

[21] Matthew 16:22 (ESV).

[22] Matthew 16:23 (paraphrased).

[23] 1 Peter 3:18 (paraphrased).

[24] 1 Corinthians 1:17 (ESV).

[25] 1 Corinthians 1:18–19 (ESV).

[26] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 347.

[27] Matthew 16:25 (paraphrased).

[28] Billy Joel, “My Life” (1978). Paraphrased.

[29] Kris Kristofferson, “Help Me Make It through the Night” (1970). Lyrics lightly altered.

[30] John 12:25 (Phillips).

[31] Jimmy Buffett, “Margaritaville” (1977). Lyrics lightly altered.

[32] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 439.

[33] Luke 14:26 (paraphrased).

[34] Augustine, quoted in J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. John (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1878), 2:339.

[35] See, e.g., 1 Peter 4:12–19.

[36] Quoted in Elisabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (1958; repr., New York: HarperCollins, 1979), 15.

[37] Ephesians 2:6 (ESV).

[38] See Psalm 19:14.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.