Today’s blog is the sermon I preached this morning on Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John12:20-33. If you would rather watch it then it starts at 16:08 on this video.
Today’s readings are a biblical banquet – so much could be said, not just with the two we have but the New Testament from Hebrews is all about Jesus being a High Priest and a King. But in the time I have (aiming for 10-15 mins) all I can give you is a taster, or perhaps an appetiser.
Jesus had just entered Jerusalem on a donkey to palms being waved and hosannas being shouted. The city was abuzz with stories of this Jesus who had healed, performed miracles and even raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was like a magnet – people drawn to him – and talking about him. There is a saying that the gospel should be gossiped, and that faith is caught, not taught. And especially today it seems that people are more interested in whether something works rather than is it true. Results are important. And Jesus got results!
Some curious gentiles want to see Jesus. These people were God-fearers, interested in the teachings of the Jewish faith but hadn’t yet taken the step of converting. I expect that today there may well be some of you watching this service who believe in God, who think the Christian faith has some good teachings, but you haven’t yet made that step of saying Yes, I want to follow Jesus…. Count me in…. Do you want to see Jesus?
We do say that seeing is believing. Or you ‘see’ something when really you mean you understand it. These gentiles wanted to know more about Jesus – who is he?
They say that he raised Lazarus from the dead – not just resuscitated but he’d been in the tomb 4 days. They were curious to know more. If he could do that then what else was he capable of? Are you curious to know more? Do you feel drawn towards Jesus? Do you want to grow in your understanding, in your faith and trust in Jesus? Jesus says he will draw all people to himself, like moths to a light. That includes you and me. I certainly felt drawn to know more – many years ago now…. But I still want to come closer to Jesus, to see more of him.
If you do, you need to know that the invitation to follow Jesus comes with a challenge as well as rewards. When you see and believe and take that next step of commitment, it can be wonderful – it IS wonderful – just like getting married (or these days moving in together) is….. but then what about after the honeymoon and the real nitty gritty of living together kicks in?
Jesus uses some puzzling words. We need to pay careful attention to them because they are in all 4 gospels, therefore important. Slightly different in each gospel, but sufficiently similar to convey the same meaning.
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 honour.
As many of you know I had a box of apples at the end of the drive in the autumn and people helped themselves. The leftovers are now rotting. If I were to plant them in a field and leave nature to take its course I would end up, probably, with several apple trees which in turn would produce hundreds of apples.
If Jesus hadn’t died and rose again, then there would be no Christian faith. No Holy Spirit enabling it to spread across the whole world to you and me. He is talking of his own death here in this passage. He must die for the fruit of the kingdom to grow. He often used parables of a harvest about the Kingdom of God:
- The sower with seeds being eaten by bird, frazzled under the sun, strangled by weeds or producing a harvest of good deeds and new disciples;
- The weeds growing with the wheat about the Judgement at the end when the good and bad will be sorted;
- In the encounter with the woman at the well Jesus describes the positive response to the news about himself as “a field white with harvest”.
The image of the church as a harvest encourages us to pray that God will open our eyes to see what He is doing around us, so we can join in – to KNOW his love. It challenges us to share the Gospel with those around us in the hope that they will be counted in the great harvest of God. It inspires us to have hope in the good news of God’s love that just keeps on multiplying.
The harvest only happens when there has been the sacrificial death. And those who want to join in with Jesus’ spreading of the kingdom of God are warned that they will be where he is – and he went to the cross.
Jesus says that if you want to be his disciple then you must pick up your cross – and he explains that he means you must deny yourself, and
25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life
This love and hate aren’t emotions. It was a phrase that meant priorities in life. Who is No.1? That’s the challenge. “Jesus is Lord” is easily said, but not so easy to do. Just like “I love you” is easily said but then sometimes not so easy to do. Because of course Love is more than an emotion.
The wedding service has those beautiful words at the giving of the rings: All that I am I give to you. All that I am – not just a bit of me, but all of me. From that point on, the two become one. The covenant is made between the couple and the ring is the outward sign and reminder of it.
And you can’t have a successful marriage if one of you is selfish. A successful marriage is built on both husband and wife being selfless… giving of themselves to the other.
God described his covenant or relationship with his people as being like a marriage. Through Jeremiah in our first reading, he complains that they broke the covenant, even though he was a husband to them. Elsewhere God says that Israel behaved like a prostitute because they went after other gods and worshipped idols. But he doesn’t give up on them. I have a story to illustrate it.
Imagine a man and woman get married. We will call them Mary and Jack. They make their marriage vows and enter into the covenant relationship. However, Mary goes off with other men, is unfaithful and even leaves him and the children. Jack’s friends urge him to get rid of her. Get a divorce – you’re young enough to find someone else. But jack says No, I love her and I promised to love her until death. He calls her and persuades her to come home. And all is well, until she went back to her old ways of going with others. So again, Jack’s friends advise him to get rid and divorce her. But no…. he says he loves her and will not go back on his vows. After a few years of going with various men Mary catches a nasty disease and is very ill. She ends up in hospital and still Jack visits her – he even says that if he could, he would give his life so that she could live.
That’s love. That’s commitment. That’s what God did. He became human and lived on earth.
Jesus gave his life that we could live. That we could be reconciled back into a good relationship with God.
If giving ourselves totally to God – making him No.1 priority – his will not my will – is difficult, then the rewards are great and well worth it.
God says: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
The new covenant is sealed, not with a ring, but by the blood of Jesus on the cross. God’s glory on display in the broken body of his son – the supreme sacrificial love so that we may have our sins forgiven and forgotten and come to know God as a loving Father. Our covenant with God is internalised, written on our hearts: it’s about relationship not about rule keeping.
And where Jesus is, there we will be too. As he goes on to say at the last supper – we will abide in him and he in us. He will send the Holy Spirit to enable this relationship to happen, to guide us into right living and showing his love. Eternal life is that quality of life that knows his peace in our hearts. Eternal life continues after this one is done when we go to be with God for ever, as described in the book of Revelation 21:
the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
[and I want to add, no more Covid etc]
for the first things have passed away.’
That, my friends is the reward. Eternal life. That glimpse of what is to come can be a reality now IF we invite Jesus into our lives. I’m reminded of a line of a hymn: self on the cross, and Christ upon the throne. It’s all about the way that God guides us through the good and bad times in life. When we come and see Jesus, make that step of saying yes to follow him, then we die to our old selves and invite him to re-new us – to write his law of Love on our hearts, making him the King of our lives, by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us.
Jesus invites us all to come and see him, to know him, to love him. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
I will end with the final verse of that hymn as a prayer.
Lord for ourselves; in living power remake us-
self on the cross, and Christ upon the throne,
past put behind us, for the future take us:
Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.
Here’s the hymn – click here