John 17:1-3 How the Son Brings Glory to the Father

Introduction to John 17

Perhaps chapter 17 of this gospel could be said to be the apex of the theology that John has been narrating for us.  That theology, that doctrine which has been so beautifully and in some instances ineffably expounded for us by our Lord in the last few chapters has now come to a point in which we find the Lord breaking from his addresses to the disciples and beginning to address His Father.

There is a sense in which this chapter is so holy, so high, and so magnificent that we must take a step back in wonder that the Lord God would allow us the privilege of listening in on a conversation between the members of the Trinity.

Sinclair Ferguson rightly states that “John 17 is holy ground, and, at least metaphorically, we need to take off our shoes if we are to walk on it.”

I readily admit that in the weeks leading up to my studies on this chapter I had a wariness about it simply because of the depth of the mysteries here.  Not necessarily because the concepts are too difficult to understand, but because of the shear weight of the glory and excellency of it.  There is an excitement in reading it and wanting to study it, but there is also a holy fear in approaching it in anyway less than Jesus would have us to.  I have no adequate words to articulate what I mean to say here, and perhaps my own inadequacy upon the commencement of the study is the only safe place to be.

Therefore I encourage you to look on with me as we examine the chapter together and ask that God would mercifully grant us discernment and right thinking; that we might “think His thoughts after Him” as so many have wisely expressed.

17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, [2] since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

When John says, “When Jesus had spoken these words” he’s meaning the entirety of the discourses that we’ve just been studying.  Jesus is in the garden, in Gethsemane, and He is praying presumably aloud so that His disciples may benefit from what He has to say.  Again, we recall that all of what Jesus has been saying to them is with the aim of comforting them and leading them into truth.  He is setting them on a course of understanding, and His love for them and their guidance seems to overwhelm any specific care for His own end. Not that He is capricious about His death, far from it, rather He is focused on serving and loving His disciples until the very end (see John 13:1), and this same purpose is born out in His prayer.

His first sentence contains three amazing truths:

1. His Hour Has Come

It’s been mentioned before, but it’s worth repeating, that Jesus was driving toward a goal in His ministry.  He has His face set on the cross and was determined to see His mission to its end (Luke 9:51).  So when He states “the hour has come” we must understand that Jesus, the man, was not only conscious that He had a mission here to obey, but Jesus as God in the flesh understood that this plan was one of His own devising from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:1-4).

2. Glory is mutually Shared Within the Trinity

Jesus says here “glorify your son, so that your son may glorify you.”  It is a distinct characteristic of the Trinity that they all have a passion for one another’s glory.  The Spirit exalts the Son and the Son exalts the Father, and the Father takes pleasure in shining a spotlight on the Son, and here for the last few chapters the Son has been lauding the divine work of the Spirit.

The Son’s greatest desires are to magnify the work of the Father, the plan of the Father, the purposes of the Father, the character and attributes of the Father and the love of the Father and so on.  Likewise He appeals to His Father’s plan here in that He desires for the Father to glorify Him in order that He will bring glory to His Father. As Bruce Ware notes, “…more than anything else, Jesus cared about doing what the Father wanted him to do.”  The intensity of desire to magnify one another cannot be missed.

Specifically, when Jesus in this context is saying, “glorify your son” He’s referencing the cross.  How will the cross then glorify the Father?  John Piper says that there are at least two ways God will get glory and specifically take pleasure in the cross:

  1. God’s pleasure is in what the Son accomplishes in dying.
  2. The depth of the Son’s suffering was the measure of his love for the Father’s glory.

Piper says this, “It was the Father’s righteous allegiance to his own name that made recompense for sin necessary. So when the Son willingly took the suffering of that recompense on himself, every footfall on the way to Calvary echoed through the universe this message: The glory of God is of infinite value! The Glory of God is on infinite value!

Piper ends by saying, “When Jesus died, he glorified the Father’s name and saved his Father’s people. And since the Father has overflowing pleasure in the honor of his name, and since he delights with unbounded joy in the election of a sinful people for himself, how then shall he not delight in the bruising of his Son by which these two magnificent divine joys are reconciled and made one!”

3. Jesus Has All Authority

It is simply an amazing truth that Jesus had all authority vested in Himself, yet did not abuse that authority. His authority extended not only to those around Him (as teacher of a small group of men), not only to his role as an influential public figure (whose popularity with the masses was ever increasing), but to the very expanses of the heavens and the entire universe itself.

The old saying goes that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Yet Jesus who had absolute power could never be corrupted. When referring to His inevitable triumph over Satan and the world we have recently read the following:

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, (John 14:30)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And so for Jesus, power was used at His discretion and it only took one thought, one snap of the figures, one spoken word of “be still” (Mark 4:39) and all of creation would obey. We’re going to see later that the mere mention of His name brings heathens to their knees (John 18:6).

The point is that all authority was vested in Jesus and this authority He used to bring gory to the Father.

Now, how is it that He does this?  If we’re not careful we’ll miss it.  Jesus says that “since” the Father has given Him all authority “over all flesh” He is able to “give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”

Two points about this: First, Jesus glorifies the Father by giving eternal life to sinful, fallen, spiritually dead human beings and, secondly, Jesus glorifies the Father by giving eternal life to a specific group of human beings and thus fulfilling the plan of election that the Father and the Son have drawn up from before the foundation of the World (again, Eph. 1).

Jesus Glorified In the Salvation of Sinners

There are so many times – many, many times – when the question has come up in seminary or in Sunday School or in a discipleship class that tends to the “why” of God’s method of redemption. The question usually sounds something like this: Why in the world did God create all of us when He knew that sin was going to happen?  Why didn’t He just prevent sin in the first place?

From “the ground” (to use Matt Chandler’s vernacular) this seems just as mysterious as it does from God’s perspective (if we were putting ourselves in His seat, that is).  From the ground, we see our sin-ravaged world and our fallen miserable state and wonder “why God?”

There are mysteries that go beyond the ability for us to know the heart of “why.”  Job asked the same things.  He protested that God was not being merciful to him.  God didn’t address Job with answers but instead rebuked him over the course of three chapters that basically said in a nutshell “I am God and you are not – who are you to ask why?”

Human theologians have done everything they possibly can to create excuses or ways out for God (theodicies) so that He is not the author of sin and evil and yet somehow still has control over all things.  And while I also affirm these two truths, I think the aim is wrong.  We don’t need to let God off the hook.  The truth is that He ordained the world to be as it is and He ordained that His Son would die for our sins before He ever said “let there be light.”

That still leaves us with the question: why? And though we cannot answer or understand the deepest counsels of God’s will, we do get a very clear purpose statement here as to the broader reason for this, and its couched in the context of salvation.

Jesus tells us plainly here that the reason why He has been granted authority to give salvation is to glorify God.  Therefore, all of the purposes of God for this world, which are so intrinsically and beautifully tied up in the mission of Christ, are foundationally to be understood in terms of God’s glory.  God sent His son for the same reason He breathed life into Adam and Eve: for His glory.  Jesus’ life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension are all basically founded in this principle – God’s glory.  At the heart of every breath, every word, ever action of our Lord during His time here on earth was this goal: for His glory.

As John Piper nicely sums up, “When we are dealing with the glory of God, we are dealing with a reality that is not only ultimate in the aim of history, but central to the gospel.”

God Glorified in Jesus’ Salvation of the Elect

The second part of this is that Jesus says this, “to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”  He is now speaking in the third person, referring to “him” as himself, Jesus.

At the very heart of this mission of salvation is the salvation of a specific group of people – the elect of God.  Jesus’ aim in bringing God glory is founded in the purpose for which He came, namely to die for those whom He had foreordained unto salvation.

This atonement, this sacrifice was not for a faceless, nameless mass of unknown people, but for an elect group of saints chosen from before the foundation of the world.  Piper states, “The atonement does not make possible the spiritual quickening of all people; it makes certain and effective the spiritual quickening of the elect.”

Interestingly, when you get into discussions with people in church about the nature of election one of the things that dissenters inevitably bring up is the supposed “unfairness” of election. And, of course, the idea that God would have a specific group of elect people in mind is offensive to many people.  Even evangelicals in our own sphere of influence would rather not pause over this verse too long for fear that it might lead them to believe the Jesus actually knew those for whom He was about to die!

Yet we cannot skip over this detail because evidently this is the way Jesus seems to want to bring the most glory to the Father.  Remember, Jesus’ aim here is to bring maximum glory to the Father.  And in His prayer to the Father in this chapter it will become evident again and again.

So when He says He has come to give eternal life to “all whom you (the Father) have given him (the Son)” He is saying that in His mission to bring the Father the most possible glory, the Father has endued the Son with all of the authority necessary to dispense eternal life. And that eternal life is to be dispersed according to a plan that has been made between the Members of the Trinity from before the foundation of the world.  I’ve cited this before but it seems good just to read this passage from Paul here:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

And so when Paul says here that God predestined those who were chosen “in him before the foundation of the world” the purpose of this was “to the praise of His glorious grace”!

Why does God only save some and not others.  We can’t know the hidden councils of the Lord (Romans 11:33-36) for they are past finding out, but we can know that God does things the way He does them in order to achieve maximum fame and glory for Himself.  Therefore I conclude that Jesus’ goal in achieving the atonement for his chosen people is grounded in the fact that this will bring the Father maximum glory.

So, as you can see, the end of all things is glory of God.  Christ sought us, bought us, and here intercedes for us in order to bring the Father glory.

Edwards puts it this way, “All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, ‘the glory of God’; which is the name by which the last end of God’s works is most commonly called in Scripture.”

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

There are a few places in the New Testament that the gospel of salvation is laid out with such succinctness and this is one of them. Jesus has already said that His mission here is to give eternal life to those whom God gave to Him.  And we’ve talked about how obedience to this plan brings God glory. But what struck me about verse three here is that Jesus is so gracious in His awareness that we would have this verse for centuries to come.  He clarifies even more what He was saying.

Therefore this verse is the equivalent of John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

He proclaims that the Father is the only true God – adoration and acknowledgement of the truth of who God is – and ties this to what eternal life means: to “know” God the Father and to “know” Jesus Christ (note that he equates himself to being on par with God, and thus equal with God).

This word “know” is the familiar word for NT scholars ginōskō and carries with it the same close knowledge or understanding that you would have with anyone that you came to know over a period of time.

What Jesus is saying is that eternal life is rooted in having a relationship with God – and this relationship is life-giving.  That life, which is not in us for we have fallen, flows from the Holy Spirit who keeps us sealed until the day of Christ’s return.

These are supernatural concepts; they have eternal consequences.  So to those who say that Jesus taught merely moral teachings for us to follow as examples, I say that you have missed the entire point of Jesus’ ministry.  And its verses like this that make this all the more evident.

Study Notes 8-18-12: Washed by the Blood of Christ

This section of the notes includes verses 3-18 of chapter 13 of the gospel of John.

13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

The Sovereignty and Pleasure of God in the Cross

Jesus had been given supernatural revelation from the Father through the Spirit as to who He was, and what His mission was.

Leon Morris explores a brilliant point about why (in verse 3) John would take time to give such a statement about the Father. It’s worth quoting Morris here:

The threshold of Calvary seems an unlikely place for a statement of sovereignty like this. But John does not view the cross as the causal observer might view it. It is the place where a great divine work was wrought out and the divine glory shown forth. So he describes it in terms of the Father’s giving all things to the Son. The reference to the Father is important. He is no idle spectator at the Passion, but he does his will there.

It bothers us to know that the Father was so intricately involved in the brutal mutilation of His Son. We can’t comprehend His involvement so we use scape-goat terms like “He permitted it” or “He allowed it”, or “He didn’t stop it” even. And while all of these may be technically correct on their face, they often serve as terms we use to hide the truth that we can’t fully comprehend. That truth is that God ordained that His Son would be a “bruised reed” and, perhaps even more horrifying to us, He took “pleasure” in bruising/crushing His Son. For we read in Psalms this unavoidable statement:

The Lord was pleased to bruise him;

he has put him to grief;

when he makes himself an offering for sin,

he shall see his offspring,

he shall prolong his days;

the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

This is what we read in Ps. 53:10, and it tells us that God was pleased to bruise/crush His Son. He was actively involved in the crucifixion of His Son, He did not personally commit the evil, but He used that evil to bring about great good. That is His methodology. In comprehending this truth I have found John Piper’s insights to be quite helpful. He says that there are basically two reasons God can take pleasure in bruising His Son. First, it was because of what His Son would accomplish with His death for us, and secondly because of His own great love for His own glory. With regard to the first point, Piper says this:

It says at the end of verse 10, “The pleasure of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” I take that to mean that God’s pleasure is not so much in the suffering of the Son considered in and of itself but in the great success of what the Son would accomplish in his dying.

Regarding the second point about God’s love for His own glory Piper says:

But I think another part of the answer must also be that the depth of the Son’s suffering was the measure of his love for the Father’s glory. It was the Father’s righteous allegiance to his own name that made recompense for sin necessary. And so when the Son willingly took the suffering of that recompense on himself, every footfall on the way to Calvary echoed through the universe with this message: the glory of God is of infinite value!

…the Father knew that the measure of his Son’s suffering was the depth of his Son’s love for the Father’s glory, and in that love the Father took deepest pleasure.

These are deep and amazing mysteries and they ought to cause us to worship.

Now, considering this context, we see that Christ’s love is rooted in love for the Father and the Father’s glory, and this love overflows in His actions not only on the cross, but also all the way up until the cross!

For despite knowing all his was about to suffer, Jesus still continued on steadfastly toward the cross. He could have changed His mind at any moment. He could have risen up and crushed all the kings of this world and setup a political rule that would never end. Note especially that John says, “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands” signifies that Jesus knew that all power was at His disposal. Carson says, “With such power and status at his disposal, we might have expected him to defeat the devil in an immediate and flashy confrontation, and to devastate Judas with an unstable blast of divine wrath. Instead, he washes his disciples’ feet, including the feet of the betrayer.”

But He chose instead to be faithful to the mission His Father had given to Him. Such was the love Christ had for the glory and fame of the Father.

His methodology in preparing for the cross is odd to us only if we don’t understand that all of Christ’s actions were rooted in love. Jonathan Edwards speaks of how love works in this way:

Love will dispose to all proper acts of respect to both God and man…If a man sincerely loves God it will dispose him to render all proper respect for Him; and men need no other incitement to show each other all the respect that is due than love. Love for God will dispose a man to honor Him, to worship and adore Him, and to heartily acknowledge His greatness, glory, and dominion. And so it will dispose men to all acts of obedience to God…a due consideration of the nature of love will show that it disposes men to all duties towards their neighbors…thus love would dispose to all duties, toward both God and man. And if it will thus dispose to all duties, then it follows that it is the root and spring and, as it were, a comprehension of all virtues. It is a principle that, if it is implanted in the heart, is alone sufficient to produce all good practice; and every right disposition toward God and man is summed up in and comes from it, as the fruit from the tree or the stream from the fountain (‘Charity and its Fruits’ pg.’s 6, 8, 9).

Therefore, He changed His clothes into garments that were reflective of a slave, and began to wipe the feet of His servants! It’s worth noting that only slaves washed feet. In fact, Jewish slaves didn’t have to do that; only Gentile slaves were lowly enough to be required to do such a demeaning and gross service.

Yet here was the King of kings stooping to do this act. What did this mean? Let’s explore that some more and Jesus begins to dialogue on this point with Peter…

13:6-11 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” [7] Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” [8] Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” [9] Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” [10] Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” [11] For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Three Significant Truths

It is significant that Jesus was doing this. He knew it, Peter knew it, they all knew it. Yet Peter couldn’t quite put his finger on why Jesus would do such an outrageous thing, and Jesus wasn’t going to give him the easy answer about coming to serve instead of being served. Instead, He told him that he would know later on the more significant purpose behind what He was doing.

Why would Peter know later on? Jesus will get into this later on in the chapters ahead, but it was because the Holy Spirit would come to reveal “all things” to them.

So why did He do this? Was it simply an act of servant-hood, or was there something more significant here? For example, some theologians have gone so far as to declare that Jesus is instituting a foot washing sacrament here. They say this looks like something that He wants His followers to do long after He is gone. But while I think Jesus would love for us to wash each other’s feet, I don’t think that the actual washing of the feet was something being instituted in the same way the Communion Meal was when Jesus said “take eat, do this is remembrance of me.”

I think there are three significant things that we need to look at here, and in order to get at the significance, we need to look at the literary context – look at the verses which preceded and followed these verses.

First, there is the lesson of humility, it is obvious that Jesus is showing us the kind of King He came to be, and the kind of servants He wants in His kingdom. That is why we looked closely at verse one which ended by saying, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus was doing what He was doing because it was in His character to do so, and He was planning on sending His Spirit so that His children would also love in the way that He did.

Second, there is the lesson of the impending work of atonement, if we look at the verses following the foot washing, we see Jesus talking about how “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean”, this He said to setup the analogy (I don’t think this first part had any theological significance), and then He made His point when He said, “And you are clean, but not every one of you.” What He is saying is that those who are His, those whom He has come to wash clean by His atoning blood, ARE CLEAN. That being said, not everyone here was clean. Judas wasn’t clean. The reason he said this was that He desired to show a demarcation. There was a difference between a man who has been cleansed by Jesus and one who hasn’t.

Now we have baptism to show that we have been cleansed by Jesus of our sins. Those sins have been forgiven, buried with Christ! And a new man has been raised with Christ – this is the ultimate analogy, is it not? But here we have a beautiful analogy of the sovereign efficacious work of Christ in the life of a sinful, dirty, stained human being. Unless Christ washes you from your sin, you have “no part with him.”

Thirdly, in verse 10 we see Jesus turn Peter’s objection into an opportunity make another point, namely that once one has been washed it is no longer necessary to wash again. In other words, the atonement is final and a one-time occurrence despite our continual sin post regeneration.

As Carson notes, “…the initial and fundamental cleansing that Christ provides is a once-for-all act. Individuals who have been cleansed by Christ’s atoning work will doubtless need to have subsequent sins washed away, but the fundamental cleansing can never be repeated.”

This point is one Jesus seemed to make almost secondarily after Peter’s thoughtless and reactional rejoinder opened the door to more teaching.

And so in sum, “This first application used the foot washing tot symbolize Christ’s atoning, cleansing death; this second (about the one-time occurrence of the atonement) application makes the points just elucidated; the third and final application teaches lessons in humility” (Carson).

13:12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? [13] You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. [14] If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. [15] For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. [16] Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

Now, going back to point 1 that I made earlier, Jesus explains that He is the true example of love. Just as He loved, so we are to love. He is our Lord, and as such we are to obey Him, to follow after Him, and to emulate His example. That is why He emphatically states, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Again, I don’t think that He is stating, “you need to also do foot washing.” Why? Because Peter wasn’t an idiot. If Peter didn’t understand why it was that Jesus was doing what He was doing and Jesus knew that even this explanation in 12-16 wasn’t the full expression of the meaning, then we need to realize that there is more to this than just foot washing. And that’s what Peter would later come to find. Even though Jesus gave them the explanation of what He was doing, He gave them the why not a specific command to do foot washing, it wasn’t that obvious. It was something that Jesus knew they would “get” only later when they had the Holy Spirit to help guide them into all truth.

This, by the way, is a perfect example (in my opinion) of why it is so important to look at the context of a passage in order to understand the fuller meaning of the passage and not jump to conclusions. Now, I might not be 100% correct on my statement/conclusions, but I will learn that in heaven. My responsibility now is to listen to the Holy Spirit, and to be as wise as I possibly can in discerning the text.

Lastly, I love verse 16 and we can’t get away without at least noticing that Jesus uses the analogy of a servant, but then of a messenger. And indeed that is what we are, we are messengers of the Gospel to a lost and dying world.

13:17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

This is sort of the positive side to James’ statement that, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” The point is that there is something to be said for ignorance. I am not saying ignorance is good, I am saying we are responsible for what we KNOW and what we DO with that knowledge.

This is practical, and it is obvious, but let me anticipate an objection. Some would say “what about those who have never heard of the gospel or of Jesus?” Paul explains that they still know enough to know there is a God and still to have rebelled against Him.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)

Secondly, let us take note that the echo of James is here as well in Christ’s words “blessed are you if you do them.” How are you blessed? If you DO them. Why? Because you are acting out of what you KNOW, namely you are acting on the knowledge of God and are walking in the Spirit in obedience to God’s prompting. You know because you have been given these things from above (James 1:16-18), and you DO because you are acting in obedience to the Holy Spirit instead of giving way to your flesh. Surely the man who is submitting to the Spirit will indeed be blessed. Maybe not materially in the way we think of blessing so often, but certainly eternally, and certainly right now spiritually. There is a true joy that comes from obedience to the Spirit of God.

13:18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’

Here Jesus goes back to point 2 from earlier, namely that He has made distinctions, He has made choices. His choices come before your choices and lead to your choices by His power and grace.

He says, “I am not speaking of all of you.” Not everyone here is getting washed! Not everyone here is going to be atoned for by my blood! Well, this is elementary we say…we know not everyone get saved. So what are you saying that is so radical here Mr. Wenzel, why don’t you move on. Ahh, but Jesus does say more…listen…

He states clearly “I know whom I have chosen.” He says this as if to state, “don’t be deceived, this is not a guessing game. I am not just going to die and hang that atonement out there for whomever might feel so inclined to take me up on the offer. No indeed! He emphatically answers this line of thinking by saying “I know”! I know whom I have chosen. Not everyone is getting washed, not everyone will accept me. But that’s because I have not chosen everyone!

What Jesus is stating here amounts to this: He is preeminent in the application of His atonement. He knows for whom He has died.

 

Study Notes 6-30-13: Death to the World and Joy in Christ

John 12:24-25

These four verses are packed with rich practical and theological truth, and I hope you get as much enjoyment from them as I did.

12:24 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.

The Necessity of Christ’s Death

It is a sign of His condescension and His gracious self-revelation, that in the mystery of His plans, and the complexity of the moment Christ gives an agrarian example in explaining the necessity of His death. He gives us the “why” in anticipation of our asking the question. He foresees the ultimate triumph, and yet knows our own weaknesses and frailty of mind and graciously shares His mind with us. The example of the seed that dies in the earth and yields fruit is most certainly referring to Christ’s atoning death – a death that yielded life for many.

Jesus knew that in order for His people to be saved, they would need a perfect sacrifice. For without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission for sins (Heb. 9:22), and because we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), we were under the sentence of death for those sins. We needed a sacrifice – a perfect sacrifice that would cover all of our sins for all time – one of infinite value. Christ came to be that sacrifice: To stand in our place as a substitutionary Savior. It was man who sinned and yet the sin was so great that no man could ever atone for it all. Enter Jesus, the God-man, who was perfect and sinless. He was a perfect man like Adam before Him, only He never sinned, and could therefore represent our race perfectly. Yet He was also God so that He could bear the weight of the burden of sin of millions upon millions of Christians – not simply those who were alive during the time of Jesus, but those who would later believe on His name (John 17): Jesus new that His death would produce life for millions upon millions of his chosen people.

Caiaphas accidentally states this fact at the end of chapters 11, “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should parish.” John further expanded the reach of the prophecy in 11:52 when he states in an editorial fashion, “not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

That one representative should be able to act on behalf of an entire people is deeply rooted in the federalism of Scripture, and the role of kingship. A king would act as the voice for his people. The original regent of God’s creation was Adam, and because he failed to obey God’s rules, his actions represented the race as a whole. Similarly Christ represented His people when he lived a perfect life, and died an atoning death for us on the cross, and then subsequently triumphed over death for us so that we might forever live with Him – not based on our own work, but on His meritorious work. Paul explains the doctrine of this in Romans 5:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:15-21)

What is amazing to look at is the choice Jesus made at this moment in history. This was a moment so charged with expectation, so politically tumultuous, so ripe for revolution that if Jesus had followed the course of this world He could have incited a military coup against the Romans and the Jewish leadership (Carson), and ruled as king of Israel. Instead, He set in motion a revolution that far outstripped the expectations of any man or woman watching Him ride into Jerusalem that day. He ushered in a kingdom of life everlasting by a death that was only temporary. He took the road – not less traveled – but never traveled. He did what no human being could do – and frankly what no human being would choose to do (Rom. 5:7).

I am thankful that at this crucial time Jesus chose to die for me, a sinner:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)

12:25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

The Imitation of Christ

Verse 25 says that those who love their lives will lose them, and this statement is clarified more by the one that follows it which says that “whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life”, which is to say that those who value their eternal soul more than the temporal things of this earth will save their souls.

Matthew records a similar statement in his gospel narrative as well, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

But what does it mean to love or hate the world? Leon Morris explains the words well:

The verb translated “lose” often means “destroy”. John means us to understand that loving the life is a self-defeating process. It destroys the very life it seeks to retain…Jesus is saying that anyone who loves this life is destroying it right now. “Hates”, of course, is not to be taken literally, but “hating the life” is the natural antithesis of loving is. It points to the attitude that sets no store by this life in itself. People whose priorities are right have such an attitude of love for the things of God that all the interest in the affairs of this life appear by comparison as hatred.

This plainly means that while on earth we must not get wrapped up in the things of earth too deeply. I have to admit this is certainly easier said than done. First, there is the death by which we die to our sins by the power of God’s Spirit who breathes new life into us. But we can do nothing to affect this transformational reality of the new birth – that is the work of God. However, once born again, we must lay aside every hindrance and press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). We must put to death those things that so easily entangle us.

This is what the author of Hebrews exhorts us to do:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Heb. 12:1)

This is also the antithesis of the thinking of this world. The world focuses on ‘Your Best Life Now’, saving for retirement, getting your kids into the best schools, and making sure you have the biggest house your budget can afford. I’m not saying that all of these things are a bad thing in and of themselves, but that more often than not we assign an energy level toward obtaining the temporal that we refuse to assign to working for what lasts, for the eternal treasures that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount. And in so doing, we put off till tomorrow what we need to be doing today.

In a recent article entitled, ‘Faith and Repentance’, Sinclair Ferguson addresses the need to die to self:

Jesus’ parable of the sower is instructive here. In one type of soil, the seed sprouts quickly but dies suddenly. This represents “converts” who receive the word with joy—but with no sense of fallow ground being broken up by conviction of sin or any pain in turning from it (Mark 4:5–6, 16–17). On the other hand, a conversion that is only sorrow for sin without any joy in pardon will prove to have been only “worldly grief” that “produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). In the end, it will come to nothing.

The principle here is simple, in order for us to faithfully follow Christ, we need to die to our selfish ambitions and seek that which is not of this world. A true convert will both die to oneself, and live to the Lord in joy. Listen to the Apostle Paul’s exhortation in his letter to the church at Colossae:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:1-6 ESV)

Here Paul shows a heavy emphasis on setting our minds on the things above, and putting to death the sinful passions of this world. The two are closely connected. There’s an old adage that says, in affect, ‘where your mind goes your feet will follow.’ Therefore let us focus on the things of heaven and of God and lay aside our infatuation with video games, movies, TV shows, hobbies and any other thing that has become a distraction from following Christ.

Some people balk at the idea that their favorite hobby is “an idol”, but let me ask you this: is it a distraction from the things of God? Do you spend more time watching movies or building model airplanes or playing video games than you do talking with your wife, or doing family worship, or spending time in the Word and in prayer? If you can answer in the affirmative, then I would urge you to cut out the worthless things, that you die to this world and its passions, and that you follow Christ.

I’m not trying to be a downer, but simply explain that the things of this life are not the supreme joy in this life. The root of our joy must be Christ, and the blessings He gives us must be seen as happy realities of His kindness toward us. But if we replace the temporary blessings with the root of those blessings, then we will fall into despondence when these things are stripped from us by evil people, natural disaster, or other uncontrollable circumstances, we will not be shaken as easily and will keep our testimony despite the difficulty.

Christ also realized the difficulty. He could have had an easier life. He had forever prior to this lived in amazing splendor – a magnificence that no king or billionaire on earth could even imagine. But He took all of this into consideration, and looked forward to a more permanent joy. We looked earlier at Hebrews 12:1, now let us look at the verse following it:

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

I know what you’re thinking, “That was Jesus! I’m not Jesus! This is easier said than done my friend!” And I would agree with you! Taking the doctrinal reality that Jesus is our joy, and realizing what that means for how we approach the more tangible reality that my house is getting small for a growing family, my car is breaks down, my neighborhood isn’t safe, and my paycheck prevents us from taking a much needed vacation, isn’t easy. This is hard work. But it’s worth it – if it was worth it for Jesus who had everything, it’s worth it for us who really have nothing very splendid at all.

These are things we all struggle with, and I struggle with particularly. Who doesn’t want a big house? Who doesn’t want a nice car? Who wouldn’t want to see their children succeed and their bank accounts full and their life less troubled by rough patches of sickness and disease. But because life is full of these things, we must grab hold of what is everlasting, and learn to have joy through both blessing and storm, or we will find ourselves shipwrecked and depressed and miss out on a life full of real tangible awesome joy – the fruit of the abundant life that Christ came to give us.