The HourRev. Philip Miller | March 28, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
In this message, Pastor Miller takes us through the last moments of Jesus’ public ministry recorded in the Gospel of John. He shows us four portraits of Jesus so unmistakably vivid that everyone may know just who Jesus really is.
We’ll see Jesus through the eyes of the out-of-town crowds who came to Jerusalem for the Passover. We’ll also see the perspective of Jesus by some God-fearing Greeks. The third portrait of Jesus is by God the Father, with the final image by Jesus Himself.
Do you have a complete picture of Jesus?
Now there are twenty-one chapters in the book of John, the Gospel of John. The first eleven cover the first two and a half years of Jesus’ life, and the last ten chapters cover the final week. And it’s hard to believe, but it’s almost fifty-fifty, and half of the book is dedicated to one week in the life of Jesus. It is, of course, the most important week in the history of the universe as Jesus lays down His life and takes it back up again, and He does this, of course, to save the entire world, including us.
Now, in chapter 12 we turn the corner into officially what is called Holy Week. We will be together today in John 12:12 down to 50, a lot of ground to cover. But what John’s going to give us here in this chapter is four vivid portraits of Jesus, four vivid portraits of Jesus. This is the very last of Jesus’ public ministry that is recorded for us in the Gospel of John. And these four portraits that come in quick succession here are unmistakably vivid pictures of Jesus so that everyone would know who this Jesus really is as He is about to go to the cross. And these are portraits, so they’re from a perspective. Just like you would go to a gallery and see maybe paintings or portraits and you would see not only the image of the individual, but the perspective, the insights of the artist that would be laced through in the portrait. And so we’re going to see these four portraits today. Let me give them to you upfront, and we’ll walk through them each in sequence.
The first portrait is of the King of Israel, the King of Israel. The second portrait is the Savior of the World. The third portrait is the Son of Glory. And the fourth portrait is the Word of Life, the Word of Life.
The King of Israel, the Savior of the World, the Son of Glory, and the Word of Life.
Would you bow your head? Let’s pray together. Father, we ask now that you would come help us see Jesus in all of His glory. Help us to realize who, in fact, He is. Help us to respond to Him as you would have us today. Move in our hearts oh Holy Spirit. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.
Our first portrait of the day here, a portrait of Jesus is from the out-of-town guests, the crowds who had traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. This is the King of Israel.
John 12:12: “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 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!’”
Now, every year hundreds of thousands of Jewish people in the first century would make their way in pilgrimage to Jerusalem for this holiest of weeks. This is Passover, a commemoration of God’s rescue of the people of Israel from their imprisonment in the land of Egypt, and especially how they were protected by the blood of the Lamb. And Jerusalem, which normally would house some eighty-thousand residents on a normal day, would swell to four million people for Passover Week. This is huge. And it is these crowds now who are coming to meet Jesus. They’ve heard He’s coming. They know Him as the preacher, the miracle worker. The Messiah is the question, right? They know He’s got power. They know He’s a powerful preacher, but maybe He’s more. Maybe He’s Messiah. Maybe He’s the promised King of old. Maybe He’s the one who will restore the throne to Israel and usher in the kingdom of God.
And so they grab palm branches, and they sing from Psalm 118, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” Hosanna means “Lord save now.” Lord save now. They bless Jesus as the promised One, coming now into the city of the king in the name of the Lord, and they call Him, you’ll notice, “The King of Israel.” The King of Israel. There can be no doubt, friends. They have found their King. Right? They know who He is, and they’re rolling out the red carpet. He’s calmed the seas, He’s given sight to the blind, He’s raised the dead. Now the question is: Will He ascend the throne? Will He ascend the throne?
But then Jesus does something unexpected, doesn’t He? Verse 14: “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!’”
(Chuckles) Now, what on Earth is Jesus doing here? You know kings don’t ride adolescent donkeys. Right? Donkeys are service animals. They’re pack animals. They exist for grunt work, you know, bearing burdens. They were actually used in the first century for carrying refuse out of the city. This is not a noble beast. Kings don’t ride donkeys. Kings ride beautiful, mighty, fierce war stallions. That’s what they ride. They crush down their enemies. They strike down their foes. They mow them over. They pierce them through. That’s what kings do on horses. What is Jesus doing on a donkey, huh?
Even the disciples don’t understand. Verse 16: “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 what they realize later is that this was in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, which is quoted for us, of course, in verse 15: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
The very next verse, if you were to go back to Zechariah would read this way. This is verse 10: “He shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” So this is the king of Israel, but his reign will be over the nations.
See, Jesus rode this young donkey to make a statement because He is the King of Israel. Right? They got that part right, but He is a king that is both greater and more humble than they could ever have expected. This King comes, not to crush His enemies but to be crushed by His enemies. This King comes not to strike them down but to be struck down. He comes not to mow down His enemies, but that they might mow Him down. He comes not to pierce, but to be pierced.
See, friends, Jesus’ kingdom comes not through dominance, not through bullying, not through saber-rattling or violence, but through self-sacrifice, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Jesus rides a donkey, a service animal, because He is a servant. He will do the grunt work, you see. He will bear our burdens. He will haul away our refuse. He will carry in Himself the sin of the world, and He will even bear death away forever.
Verse 17: “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. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.’” (chuckles) So that’s our first portrait of Jesus, “The King of Israel.”
A second portrait is made for us by some Greeks, Greeks who have come up for the feast, and their portrait is titled, “The Savior of the World.” The Savior of the World.
Verse 20: “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.” These are God-fearing Greeks. This is the way they kind of thought about Hellenized people. So these are Greek citizens, Hellenistic in origin and ethnicity, who have converted to Judaism, so they are worshipers of the one true God. They are here for this feast and observance, but they are not Jewish in ethnicity. Okay? So here are these Greeks, and apparently they have heard about Jesus because, verse 21, “[They] 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.”
“Sir,” they say, “we wish to see Jesus,” This is the request. They’ve come all this way for Passover. “We’ve come to pay homage and commemorate the great rescue and redemption of God in history, but what we would really love to see is Jesus. Could we see Him, please?”
Now, to many of us, this might just look like a little bit of, you know, the trappings of celebrity, right? Jesus being well-known, and He’s got fans to attend to here. But there’s something more going on here because it signals to Jesus something. It signals that it’s time. It’s time. Look at how He responds here.
Verse 23: “And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’” The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Now remember how many times we’ve seen this in the book of John, that Jesus says, “My hour is not yet at hand.” His hour is not at hand. They didn’t lay hands on Him, because His hour had not come. Right? We’ve heard this language. But now He says, “The hour has come.” What is this hour for, Jesus? Glory, fame, majesty, splendor? What triggers this in Jesus’ mind? There’s something in this, a sign. He picks up on it and He says, “Okay, here we go.”
I think it’s the fact that the nations are seeking Him out. Jesus said, remember, “If I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself.” All men. All Jews, Gentiles, anybody. The Jews have given their hosannas, and now the Greeks are coming to seek Jesus, and Jesus said, “That’s it; this is the moment. It’s glory time.” And of course, the disciples were probably thinking, “All right. Let’s go. Let’s ride this wave. Let’s call a press conference.” And Jesus is like, “Not so fast.”
Verse 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.”
What are you doing, Jesus? The whiplash just killed us. You were talking about glory, and now you are talking about death. What are you doing? See, for most of us, friends, life is about survival. We resonate with Dylan Thomas’s famous line, “Do not go gentle into that good night...Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Right? But not Jesus. Jesus says that His dying is what will unleash life, that His life is like a grain of wheat, that if He preserves it, if He keeps it dry and safe, it will be sterile and alone. But if He relinquishes it and lets it fall into the ground and disintegrate and die, it will bear much fruit.
He says, “Look, the seed was made for one purpose, one purpose, and this is its hour of glory, you see, to die, to unleash all of the potential life and fruit, and multiply the harvest. That’s what this is for. And likewise, it is time for my glory, for my death. I was born to die. My hour is here. It’s come. I will lay down my life in order that I might bear much fruit, and I will reconcile in my death all peoples to myself, to the Father. What could be more glorious than that?”
Verse 25: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
He says, “Look, if I were to love my life and hold onto it, keep it, keep it for myself, avoid the cross, I’d lose everything, you see. I’d be disobeying my Father. I would be disowning my purpose. All of humanity would be lost. There’d be no glory in that. But if I hate my life, and I open my hand and I willingly give it up, then I get it back. I get it back in resurrection. I will have obeyed my Father, I would fulfill my purpose, I’ll redeem humanity, and I’ll have glory forever.” Listen, Jesus’ pathway to glory goes through the cross. Jesus’ pathway to glory goes through the cross. Now, Jesus is about to make it about us.
Verse 26: “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.”
“You want to be my servant,” Jesus says, “follow me.” Where? Where, Jesus? “Gethsemane, Golgotha, the grave, and glory ever after.” Because the pathway to glory always runs through the cross, not just for Him, but for us. Everything that goes on to resurrection must first pass through crucifixion, you see. If we are to be glorious like Jesus, we must first pass through crucifixion. There’s much in us that must die, friends. If we are to embrace the eternal life that Jesus offers, we must learn to let go of the one that we now have, you see. The spiritual dynamics of God are very consistent.
Think about conversion. We have to die to our self-sufficiency that God might resurrect dependency in life in Him.
Think about forgiveness. We have to die to our bitterness that God might resurrect loving forgiveness in our hearts.
Think about surrender. We have to die to our independence that we might be raised to walk in child-like faith.
Think about suffering. We have to die to our comfort in order that we might have the treasure of God’s presence always.
Listen, the more we try to hold on to this life, the more it ends up slipping through our fingers. C.S. Lewis writes in “The Joyful Christian,” “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.” Everything that goes on to resurrection must first pass through crucifixion.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Jesus says, “Oh, you will see me. You will see me in the glory of my death. As I am lifted up and I draw all men to myself, including you Greeks. And you will have life if you will follow me to the cross and to glory evermore. The second portrait is the Savior of the World.
The third portrait is made out for us by none other than God the Father. The Son of Glory is the title of this piece, and with suffering and death staring Him in the face, now Jesus is moved in prayer, and in verse 27 He prays, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” So Jesus is deeply troubled here, friends, the cross with all of its agony and pain and heartache and death, His heart is pounding. His palms are sweaty. He’s scared at some level, and yet resolved. Don’t you see that?
“Then a voice (verse 28b) came from heaven (This is the Father speaking): ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, ‘An angel had spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”
So now the Father adds His thunderous endorsement of the Son. Do you see this? The Jews have called Him King of Israel. The Greeks have sought out the Savior of the World. Now the Father endorses Jesus as Son of Glory. Son of Glory.
There are four glories that will come about through Jesus’ death that He outlines here. Number one, He says, “It is the judging of the world.” The judging of the world. As the world rises up in judgment of Jesus, the cross will actually stand in judgment over the world. The second thing is the dethroning of Satan. “Now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” Jesus, on the cross, will break the power of sin and death and Satan, and be victorious over all of them. The third glory is the lifting up of Jesus. The lifting up of Jesus. It has kind of a double meaning here. First it means to be lifted up in crucifixion, this is what He means, this is the kind of death He’s going to die. But it also has this idea of the exultation of Jesus.
This is the moment when He will be high and lifted up, and we will see Him in His glory, which leads to the fourth glory, which is the drawing of all peoples to Himself.
Through the cross, friends, God will reconcile to Himself, through Jesus, all peoples, all nations, every nation, tribe, people, language, and tongue, including those Greeks. They will see Jesus’ glory.
Now the people here can’t believe that the glory of Messiah, the Christ could come through something as ignoble as death. Verse 34: “So the crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’”
“Look, we know that Christ, the Messiah, He’s got to stay forever, so you know, He can’t die. And if you’re about to die, then who on Earth are you?” Right?
Verse 35: “So Jesus said to them, ‘The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.’”
He says, “Listen, I’m just here a little bit longer. You just have a final, this is the sunset, you have the final rays of light over the horizon of time. I’m about to go down. You have the light. It’s dying but it’s still there. While you have the light, believe. Believe while you can. Come to the light. Become sons, daughters of light. I am the light and I’m here to show you the way back home to God.”
Verse 36b: “When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.”
So John wants us to remember here, as everything is about to go down, as the people are going to wholesale (on the whole) reject the Messiah, the Christ, and crucify Him, John wants us to remember this is not taking God by surprise here. No, no, Isaiah predicted this would happen. He saw it in advance. Isaiah 53 foretold of the suffering of the servant who would be despised and rejected. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah anticipated the hardness of people’s hearts for the glory of God and the word of God revealed in their midst. Now this is all in the overarching plan of God.
Verse 42: “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” Indicting words. So that’s our third portrait, the Son of Glory.
Now the fourth portrait is a self-portrait. This is one made for us by Jesus Himself in His own words, and this one is titled The Word of Life. The Word of Life.
Verse 44: “And Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.’”
This is Jesus’ final appeal publicly. It’s a final offer of life and light. “If you believe in me,” Jesus says, “you’re actually believing in the Father. To see me is to see Him.” Again, another crystal clear claim to the deity of Jesus. All along He’s been claiming this. Right? Remember John 10:30? “I and the Father are one.” In just a few chapters in John 14:9, He will say, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” In his epistle, John will write this (1 John 2:23): “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”
So to have Jesus is to have the Father. To have the Father is to have Jesus. They’re a package deal. You can’t separate them out, and to reject the Son is to miss out on the Father. “Won’t you come to the light,” Jesus says. “I am here shining. Come to the light.”
Verse 47: “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”
See, when Jesus speaks, friends, it brings accountability, doesn’t it? Before, we were ignorant. We didn’t know, but now we’re responsible because we’ve heard, you know. And it’s doubly true in Jesus’ case because not only does Jesus’ word carry weight, it also carries the weight of the Father’s authority at the same time. That’s Jesus’ whole point here. “I’m speaking, but not on my own, but with the Father’s authority.” So there are now two witnesses in the one Word that we are responsible to. And so this Word can bring judgment on the one hand if we reject it, or that Word can bring eternal life, which is, of course, what the Father and the Son are all about. It’s what they want because, friends, listen. Jesus is the living Word of God. Amen? And therefore, Jesus speaks the living Word of God. He is the Word of life. He is the Word which is full of life. He is the Word which is life. And He is the Word which gives life. At His Word, dead bodies are raised to life. At His Word, dead souls are raised for eternity.
Remember what John 6:63 says. Jesus is speaking, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Peter responds a few verses later, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Don’t you see? Here in the final week of Jesus’ life, He puts all of His cards on the table, doesn’t He? He holds nothing back. He takes out all the guess work and He says here’s four, four vivid portraits of who I am. The King of Israel, humble and triumphant; the Savior of the World, drawing the nations unto Himself; the Son of Glory, endorsed by the Father Himself; and the Word of Life, where eternity hangs on His every word. And everything hinges on what we do with this Jesus.
So here’s our takeaways: You know sometimes things just come together in such clarity, such simplicity, we could put it down in a math equation. Okay? Jesus plus nothing, equals everything. (laughs) Jesus plus nothing, equals everything. Do you realize that? He’s the King, He’s the Savior, He’s the Son of Glory, He’s the Word of Life. If you have Jesus, there’s nothing else you really need. Remember the words of that song? You know? “You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.” Amen? (applause)
The second flip side to that equation is this though: Everything minus Jesus, equals nothing. Everything minus Jesus, equals nothing. Remember Jesus said, “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”
Oh, we fall into this here in the West, in America, where it’s so easy to spend your whole life chasing everything, and Jesus has the back burner. But everything minus Jesus, in the end, nothing.
Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.
Friends, if you were to make a portrait of Jesus, not one of these four made for us, but if you were to make one, who would Jesus be to you? Who is He to you?
Who is He to you?
Father, there is no mistaking the clarity of this moment, this sequence of events that shine the identity of Jesus all over this Passion Week. He is our King. He is our Savior, He’s the Son of Glory. He’s the Word of Life. Everything depends on what we do with Jesus.
Holy Spirit, make faith rise in our hearts that we might see the glory of this Jesus for His hour has come. May it be our hour of life. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen. Amen.