John 12:20-33

In the older lectionaries the fifth Sunday in Lent was always Passion
Sunday but that has now elided with Palm Sunday. We cannot preach on
the cross of Christ too often. Still litigation is widespread to
remove the cross from all public places in America. The cross has
been excised from the seal of the city of Los Angeles. A major
denomination decided to eliminate the cross from all of its
advertising for Lent and Holy Week. Too negative and too depressing and
all such elements are an unnecessary drag, it was alleged. The pastor
of a large church where there is no cross inside or outside the
worship center told me that this was by deliberate design – “We don’t
want people coming in here to feel guilty about their sins.” Tell
that to the Apostle Paul who declared that “I resolved to know
nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”
(1 Corinthians 2:2). There is a discernible move among
some evangelicals to get away from any substitutionary understanding
of Christ’s atoning work. Everywhere in the writings and proclamation
of the Apostles the transactional aspect of Christ’s death is
emphasized. The Lord Jesus from early on in his ministry prophesied
his sacrificial death and spoke of it as “giving his life as a ransom
for many” (Mark 10:45) and as “laying down his life for the sheep”
(John 10:11). [for a stimulating review of this data consult the two
magisterial studies of George Smeaton and that of Leon Morris]. In
our text today our Lord in the very shadow of Calvary focuses on the
centrality and efficacy of his atoning work on the cross.

I. The
Winsomeness of Jesus (12:20-22)

Certain Greek-speaking proselytes came seeking Jesus and probably came
through Philip because of his Greek name. They heard about Jesus and
were attracted to him with expectant curiosity. Our Lord has always
had a certain magnetism for many people, especially the common
people. Fishermen left their nets. Little children crowded in to see
him. This tells us much about his demeanor. He was not intimidating
or forbiding – he was welcoming. The rich young ruler approached
Jesus with a sincere question. So the Greeks came saying: “We would
like to see Jesus.” But even rascals and unbelievers have
admired Jesus. Liberals acknowledged he was a great teacher and
exemplary. David Hume the sceptic and Napoleon joined legions of
anti-supernaturalists in heaping accolades of praise on Jesus. The
author of IN HIS STEPS, the inspiration for WWJD believed Jesus was
only an extraordinary human being. Positive feelings about Jesus are
not saving faith. Even the desire to emulate him and his teachings as
our Lord insists in our text. A sincere and interested man
told his friend that he had decided to “follow in the steps of Jesus”
for the rest of his life. His friend pointed out that his effort was
futile for he was seeking to “foillow in his steps who committed no
sin” (1 Peter 1:21-22). It was not the fleecy white wool that saved
but the blood of the lamb that spared the Israelites. The Greeks in our
text are on the road toward but have not yet arrived at the saving

II. The Centrality of Christ’s Atonement (12:23-31)

Though hardly the politic approach, Jesus begins to talk to the
Greeks about his impending death which he sees as his glorification
(John 17:1). Jesus will not be simply a celebrity because his Father
is glorified only when he is humanity’s Savior. He has come to
perform and complete the work his Father has given him – and this
entails his laying down his life. Only then can there be much fruit
(24). To seek to follow Jesus without self-sacrifice and death to
self is flagrantly futile (Matthew 16:24). Christian discipleship is
based on his dying for us and this becomes an invitation to die with
him and be raised with him (Romans 6:fff). Christ did not
seek to avoid the cross (“he was slain from the creation of the
world” in Revelation 13:8). Notice he was unswerving in his
determination to “bear our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter
2:24). He did not cower or question his upcoming death [what bearing
does this have on his prayer regarding the removal of the cup in
Gethsemane – cf Hebrews 5:7. Was the cup a premature death in the
garden?). He resolutely prays that the Father will be glorified in
the imminent judgment of the world and defeat of Satan. How critical
and how pivotal these moments are as our Lord advances to the brow of

III. The Drawing Power of the Cross of Christ (12:32-33)

It is not those who come to Jesus with admiration and adulation who are
saved, but those who come acknowledging their sin and appropriating
by faith full pardon and forgiveness through his precious blood. Both
Hudson Taylor and Charles Simeon came to Christ while pondering the
transference of guilt to the innocent victim in Old Testament
sacrifice.George Bennard wrote about “the old rugged cross so
despised by the world” and its “wondrous attraction” for him. “When I
am lifted up . . . I will draw all men to myself” (32). In
downtown Chicago, perched high on top of the Chicago Temple Building is
a cross. One day a crowd gathered on the street looking up toward the
cross where some men were working. “What is happening?” was an
inquiry. Someone replied: “Something is wrong with the cross.”
Another said: “The cross isn’t working.” Friends: “That precious
blood will never lose its power” as William Cowper insisted. The
cross of Christ is still working. It is still the power and wisdom of
God. Do you feel the drawing power of the Savior’s dying love?

Sermon brief provided by: David L.
Larsen, Professor Emeritus of Preaching, Trinity Evangelical Divinity

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