Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven
What we’re going to look at this evening gets its title from an old Loretta Lynn song. (Play song.) The lyrics of the song talk about the story of King Hezekiah being told that the illness that he had was terminal. Hezekiah pled with God for more time and received it.
The song pretty poignantly conveys a sentiment that most, if not all people share: discomfort with death. Call it discomfort, fear, anxiety – call it what you will. Most would say, “I’m alright with heaven. It’s the dying I’m not too excited about.”
Today’s passage is in John, chapter 12. We need to set the stage for Jesus’ words. Jesus has recently healed Lazarus and many Jews believe in Him, raising the ire of the Pharisees. At a dinner party at Lazarus’ house, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with a very costly ointment. The triumphal entry has just happened. Jesus is in the last week of his life. Now, some Greeks have asked to see Jesus.
Read the passage.
Today I want to focus on the application of Jesus’ words to an epidemic that is affecting churches all across America: consumer Christianity. The idea that church is a product that I consume, evaluate, analyze, and then decide if I want to consume it. What’s in it for me? If it meets my needs, then I’ll keep coming. If not, I’ll go elsewhere. The American dream – a consumer culture – has permeated the church.
Statistics inside and outside the church.
The Whole Truth of the Gospel
Testifying at the trial.
Jesus says, “Verily, verily”, or “Truly, truly”, or “Very truly”. When he says these words, it always means, “Listen up! Here is some truth. Pay attention!” Here he is in the last week of his life. His miracles and his teaching cause different groups to react differently. The Pharisees hate him because of his popularity and because Jews are believing in him. They believe that he is the Messiah that they have all been waiting on – the one that will lead Israel to victory over Roman oppression and usher in a new age. Why would the Greek worshippers want to see him? This is pure conjecture on my part, but with the Greeks love for philosophy, maybe they wanted to talk philosophically with Jesus. I don’t know. But in this time, in this place, with these people, Jesus says words that almost don’t seem to fit the question. He says, “Read passage.” That is an answer that doesn’t really fit the question. Jesus doesn’t really answer the question so much as he answers the situation. His answer puts everyone on notice that his mission isn’t what they think it is. Those looking for a military Messiah will be disappointed that he dies on a cross. Those looking for a popular leader, wanting to be “in” on the popular movement will be disappointed that he leads them toward unpopularity. Those who look to Jesus merely for his philosophy on life will be disappointed that his definition of life includes the death of the will. The disappointment they will experience is that Jesus isn’t producing a product for them to consume. He is taking this opportunity to dispel a consumer commitment to what he is doing. This passage lets everyone know that following him involves a death that leads to life as verse 25 says. For some Christians in the world, following Jesus could really mean physical death. For us, it most likely will not mean that. So there is a double meaning in this passage. Yes, obviously verse 24 applies to Jesus because he dies and produces much fruit, or many devoted followers. But it also applies to us in that following Jesus means that life is no longer on our terms. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase. I must decrease.” I think it may be appropriate to reword our sharing of the gospel to include a lifestyle of selfless commitment to live for Jesus. Otherwise, people may think of salvation as hitting the lottery – small commitment with big rewards. Cheap grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it. Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.
Cultivate an eternal perspective
Read v. 25.
It is very tempting to dismiss verse 24 as pretty words that Jesus used to talk about what lie ahead of him. We tend to think that the real meat of this passage is in verses 25 and 26. And we may even think that those two verses are independent of each other.
I want to take just a moment and talk about Jesus as teacher. We recognize Jesus as a master teacher. We must recognize that if Jesus is Lord – and Lord of all – then he is not only a master teacher, he also the smartest man who ever lived. That being said, it is very helpful, for both our study of the Bible and the application of it, to understand that Jesus didn’t waste words. Jesus always considered the setting and people around him when he spoke his message. His use of parables, imagery and exaggeration concretely communicated spiritual truths. His explanations of spiritual truth often were similar to a lawyer making an argument, point by point. This is what Jesus does here.
Verse 24 isn’t merely a lot of pretty words about Jesus going to the cross. He uses an example from agriculture to explain to us how to live life on his terms, not ours. Because the grain of wheat is connected to the head it will, naturally, fall into the earth, die and bear much fruit. It doesn’t happen overnight – it takes time. If we are connected to the Father, as the grain of wheat is connected to the head, the death of our will should be the natural result. If we don’t interpret verse 25 in light of what Jesus says in verse 24, our progression will be to focus on hating our own life when our focus should be on our connection to the Father. Not going to Killeen is a bad plan for going to Lampasas. Hating our life is a bad plan for loving and following God and being more conformed to the image of Christ. Conversely, if I go to Lampasas, I don’t consider not going to Killeen – I will naturally not go there. Loving and following God is a much better plan for hating our own lives.
The “hating” doesn’t happen overnight, either. It is much like when a man and a woman meet each other and begin to fall in love. In the beginning, both the man and the woman will tell their friends about the person that they met. Slowly, over time, the time formerly spent with friends is replaced with exclusive time between the two. Marriage draws the line of exclusivity that old friendships may not cross. That is precisely how Jesus wants us to hate our lives.
As Christians, our relationship to God is eternal. It began at our conversion and will never end. As we turn our eyes upon Jesus and look full in his wonderful face, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. Our relationship with God will change our character. Our choices will reflect an eternal perspective. The death of our self-will produces both eternal fruit and eternal life. The way to cultivate eternal perspective is to stay vitally connected to the Father.
Find Jesus Where He is Working and Join Him There
I took this point from Henry and Mel Blackaby when our church studied Your Church Experiencing God Together.
I’m going to ask you a question now that only you can answer. No one in here could answer it for you. Do you know where Jesus is working in our church? From what perspective are you looking for an answer – a temporal or an eternal one? Are you looking at worldly standards or eternal standards? Furthermore, if Jesus weren’t working in a particular area of ministry in this church, would you know it? I wrestled with this question in my own life during a morning quiet time. I have been reading through John’s gospel in the mornings. A while back, I read John 5:19-20a. I was convicted as I read Jesus words: I can do nothing on my own, but only what I see the Father doing. Paul tells us in Philippians that although Jesus was equal with God, he took on the form of a slave or servant. Although he was equal with God in his being, his relationship to God was one of submission. His was the model that hopefully all children can follow: following in a parent’s footsteps.
GCC and building fund and how that applies to v. 26.
GCC had what I call an “Abraham and Isaac” moment. Much effort had been spent on something that was near and dear to the hearts of that congregation. They had been asked to be willing to sacrifice and trust that God had a plan. God had a plan for their church. They followed his lead, redirected the resources that they had been entrusted with, and did what they saw their Father doing in parts of Tyler, TX to claim that “high-hanging fruit” for the kingdom. It would have been just as easy for them to build the new church campus and stamp it as something ordained by God, but they wouldn’t have been doing what Jesus commanded in verse 26.
Steven Curtis Chapman song – What Now?
I saw the face of Jesus in a little orphan girl.
She was standing on the corner on the other side of the road.
And I heard the voice of Jesus gently whisper to my heart,
“Didn’t you say you wanted to find me?
Here I am and here you are.
So what now? What will you do now that you’ve found me?
What now? What will you do with this treasure you’ve found?
I know I may not look like what you expected, but if you’ll remember,
This is right where I said I would be.
You found me.
Consumer Christianity is an epidemic in our churches. Instead of being grain that falls to the ground and dies, consumer Christians put themselves in barns. They move from barn to barn, loving their life and failing to produce fruit. These verses shed light on all of our lives. We can commit to the good news of the gospel in the here and now, not just the good news in the hereafter. We can cultivate eternal perspective and join in where Jesus is working.