“The Trinity and the Death of Christ”
January 17, 2010
Jesus is glorified by the Father because He submits to the sovereign will of the Father.
I. The Glory of the Son through Submission - 12:23-26
II. The Glory of the Father through Sovereignty - 12:12:27-28
The hour had come. It was our wedding day, December 30th, 2006, just before 2 pm. And no matter what I did, I could not keep my insides from shaking. When I think back to that day, the main thing that I remember feeling was not really nervousness, not really even a romantic feeling. I mean, yes, I did feel those things, but they were buried by something stronger that I had not expected - they were overwhelmed by a sense of resolve. My mind was made up, that I was going to marry Abbie. You see, in the last two or three days before the wedding I found myself thinking and re-thinking what this would mean. I spent some time in Ephesians 5, where it says that husbands are supposed to love their wives like Christ loved the Church; which means that a husband is supposed to lay down his life for his wife. That was, and still is, a scary thought. I didn’t really know exactly what that would be like, but I knew that it would not always be easy. It would mean that I would have to submit myself to God’s word, and not just use marriage as a way of feeding my own selfishness or my ego. I realized that there would inevitably be some suffering in the process. So after thinking it over, I finally came to the conclusion that no matter what might happen, she was worth the risk. Three years later, I still feel that way.
Well, this morning, we are going to study John chapter 12, verses 23-28, where we see that Jesus submitted Himself to the will of God the Father, by laying down His life for the Church. And though He knew that He would suffer to the point of death, He was resolved to do it anyway. He knew that it would be worth it because He would be raised on the third day, He would be glorified, and He would purify His bride, the Church, for all eternity. John 12 tells us that Jesus is glorified by the Father, because He submitted Himself to the sovereign will of the Father. As we study John 12, we’re going to see that not only is Jesus glorified because of His submission to the Father, but the Father is also glorified through the way that He exercises His authority over the Son. The words that Jesus says in John 12:23-31 are spoken in response to Philip, who came to Jesus to tell Him that there were some Greeks who wanted to see Him.
The significance of this point will come out later, but for now, lets read John 12:23-26: 23“Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.’”
These statements are being made in a context where Jesus’s kingdom is in view. In chapter 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and this event generated an enormous amount of attention. So in the first part of chapter 12, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, the crowds hailed Him as King. There was a sense of anticipation in the air, and I’m sure that His disciples were thinking that finally, Jesus was going to establish His throne in Jerusalem. So in verse 23, when He says that the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified, this is a big moment. This is the moment that everybody was waiting for when Israel would finally be freed from Roman rule, and peace and prosperity would spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Even the term, “Son of Man” that Jesus uses here to describe Himself is indicative of His coming Kingdom. This term as a Messianic title comes from Daniel chapter 7 verses 13-14. Daniel says,
"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
Most Jewish people during this time period would have been aware of this text. So they must have been excited when they heard Jesus say that. But then, in verse 24 He says something that doesn’t seem to fit with the whole kingdom thing. He says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Every time a farmer brought in a harvest, he would have to set aside a certain amount of grain for next years planting. What that meant was you couldn’t eat it. In order to have an abundance of grain next year, you would have to be willing to walk out into the field, and throw away some of your grain. There’s a degree of risk involved in doing that. Because you don’t know if it’s gonna rain or not. You don’t know if your crops are gonna be destroyed by bugs, or hail, or fire, or something else. When you throw that seed out onto the fields you don’t have any guarantee that you’re going to get anything in return, but you have to do it, or you’ll have nothing in the future.
Jesus takes this principle to another level when He says, “25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” The easiest thing for us to trust in, is what we can see, what we can hold in our hands. We are wary of the unknown, we don’t like taking risks. But Jesus says if we refuse to follow Him in His example of self-sacrifice, and try to live this life for the things of this life, we are guaranteed to lose all the things that we so desperately want to hold onto. We have to be willing to trust God, just like a farmer has to trust God to supply the right amount of rain at the right time, for his crop to be a success.
So here He is, surrounded by adoring fans, waiting to hear Him explain how He’s going to set up the kingdom, and Jesus tells them that if they want to follow Him, they will have to die! Jesus needed a better PR strategy, right? I mean, He’s been ministering for three years, and finally the people are catching on to who He is, and they are on the verge of making Him King. This is His big moment! The cameras are on Him, the microphones are in His face, this is the moment for some smooth campaign promises, right? I mean, this is where you promise a free donkey for every family and lower taxes for the middle class, and lower crime, and better education. And when it comes to family values, well, this is Jesus! No other Messiah candidate even comes close to matching His family values record! But instead of making a bunch of big promises, He actually tells the people that if they want to be His followers they will have to die. Wow. Talk about bringin’ the room down.
And yet, there’s still that statement at the beginning: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” And notice a similar statement at the end of verse 26 as well, “My Father will honor the one who serves me.” So how does this all fit together? On the one hand He says it’s glory time, on the other hand he’s going to die, and so should we if we want to call ourselves His followers. So which one is it Jesus, glory or death? The answer, is yes. Yes, it’s glory and death, or more precisely it’s glory through death. Glory through death.
In John 10:17-18 Jesus says; “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life - only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” Jesus had authority over His own life, He was not being coerced, not being abused, not being murdered. And yet, notice that statement at the end - “This command I received from my Father.” Even though He had the right to keep His life or give it up, the deciding factor in His willingness to give up His life was the fact that the Father commanded Him to. Take a look at John 18:11, when Peter tried to fight so Jesus would not be taken away by the guards, “Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’” And I’m sure you remember that in the other gospels we read that Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) And what did the Father do, did He take the cup away from Jesus? No, He did not. He commanded His Son to lay down His life, and Jesus obeyed.
All through the gospel of John, Jesus says that He submits to the will of the Father; that He only says the things that the Father tells Him to say, and He only does the things that the Father tells Him to do. At first glance, these statements make it sound like Jesus could be less than God. Some people take it that way. They look at these statements about submission and they assume He could not be equal with the Father if He is in submission to the Father. Others assume that this is just a case of the Bible contradicting itself, because on the one hand, there are verses like John 1:1 that say, “The Word was God,” and on the other hand in John 14 He says, “The Father is greater than I,” so how can He be equal with the Father if the Father is greater than Him?
Two weeks ago we studied John 1:14-18. I’m not gonna re-preach it all over again, but there’s something in this passage that helps us resolve the issue of how Jesus can submit to the Father, without being inferior to the Father in His deity. In John 1:14 and again in verse 18, John uses the Greek word, monogenes, to describe Jesus. In the NIV translation, monogenes is rendered “One and Only.” But more literally, it means “Only begotten.” Now “One and Only” is not a particularly bad translation, it emphasizes the uniqueness of Jesus, by telling us that He is the Son of God in a different sense than how you and I can become children of God, as it says in verse 13. So “One and Only” is okay, but it does hide something about the way that Jesus relates to the Father. If we break down this word monogenes we see that mono means one, or only. And genes comes from the Greek word Ginomai which means, “to become” or “be born” or “generated.”
This word is applied to the same Jesus who is also said to be eternal. So which one is it? Is He begotten, or is He eternal? Well, again we have a situation where an either/or question gets a “yes” answer. You see, when we construct our understanding of God from the Bible, it is very important that we not make the mistake of merely pitting one text against another. If we believe that the whole Bible was written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then our theology must take every verse, especially the difficult verses, into account. So if one text says that He is eternal, and another says He is begotten, we conclude that He is eternally begotten. It is in this sense that His position as The Son of God, is different from our position as children of God. We become children of God when we believe, according to John 1:13, and it is critical to note that John 1:13 also uses ginomai to describe our becoming God’s children. But Jesus is uniquely begotten, only begotten, because as the eternal Word He is always being spoken. He is God’s self-expression and there has never been a time when God was not expressing Himself - therefore, there never was a time when the Word did not exist. God’s expression of Himself is as much a part of His eternal being as anything else. Therefore Jesus is begotten, but not created. His life, His essence, His being is one with the Father.
Some of the early church fathers, including Augustine, and others, had a pretty good illustration for this. They said it’s kind of like the light that comes from fire. You can’t have a fire that does not produce light. Now the light that comes from a fire is not exactly the same thing as the fire and yet it is of one essence with the fire. As soon as a fire starts, the light appears. So while we can recognize a difference between fire and light, nevertheless, they are inseparable. This fits well with Hebrews 1:3 which says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”
So, heavy stuff right? What in the world does all this have to do with John 12? Here’s the connection. Because Jesus, the Word, is being eternally generated by the Father, the Father is greater. Jesus is not less God than God the Father. But the Father is greater in the sense that He is eternally the cause of the Son’s existence. And this establishes an order of authority and submission within the Trinity itself. When we see the Father exercising His authority over the Son in such a way that He knows it will bring glory to the Son; and when we see Jesus submitting to His Father’s will in such a way that it will bring glory to the Father - we are witnessing the expression of this eternal, dynamic relationship between members of the Trinity. The roles that they play in the plan of redemption are an expression of who they are. And the ultimate result of all this is that they both get glory.
In John 12:27-33 Jesus says: “27Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." 29The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." 33He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.”
Jesus acknowledged that His heart was troubled because He knew He was going to be crucified, but notice His primary concern. He says “Father glorify your name!” What is it about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that brought glory to the Father? John’s gospel makes it clear that when Jesus was crucified, He was the ultimate Passover Lamb who died as a substitute for us. He bore the wrath of God the Father against the sin of the world. You see, God would be unjust if He did not punish sin. God would not really be holy if He could forgive human wickedness just by ignoring it. The penalty of death had to be paid by someone. And so, by commanding the death of the Son in the place of sinners who would otherwise be eternally destroyed, God brings glory to Himself by demonstrating that, not only is He a God of justice who punishes evil, but that He is also a God of love. Because God is Triune He is able to express wrath against sin and love for sinners, at the same time. When the Father commanded the Son to lay down His life, He did so with the glory of the Son as His main priority. And as the Son submitted Himself to the Father’s commands He did so with the glory of the Father as His dominant priority. That’s just a complicated way of saying that they love each other. And the beauty of it all, the rhythm and meter, the give and take, the song and dance that makes this relationship beautiful is the fact that there is structure, built in, as part of who God is. We call that structure the Trinity.
We started off by looking at Jesus’s paradoxical statement that if we want to save our lives, we must follow Christ’s example by giving them up. How does all this stuff about the authority of the Father and the submission of the Son help us do that? Well, first of all it teaches us that when we surrender our lives to Him we can be assured that we are not merely expendable pawns on a chessboard. We can trust Him when we take this risk because He has already proven Himself trustworthy by doing what He is asking us to do. He gave His life for us, at the command of the Father. Our task is to give our lives at His command.
So how do we do that? More than anything else it applies to the way we set our daily priorities and our long-term goals in life. If you are a believer in Christ, your life does not belong only to you. Your time does not belong only to you. You do not have the right to set the ultimate agenda for your life. The specific way that each of us serves Christ is gonna look a little bit different for each of us. But all of us are obligated to devote ourselves fully to Him. Maybe you’ve known for a while that God is calling you into full-time service on the mission field, or in some ministry the local church. Don’t ignore that call, don’t resist that call. Whatever it is that you are afraid to give up in order to obey Christ is something that you are guaranteed to lose anyway when this life ends. Or maybe it’s not as big of a change as going into full-time ministry. For some of you, it may be something as simple as just getting out of bed a little earlier in the morning so you have time for prayer. The principle is that we must submit absolutely to His authority just as He submitted Himself to the Father’s authority. And when we do that, He says that we, like the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies - will produce many more grains of wheat.
That’s what Jesus was talking about in verse 32 when He said that by His death He would draw all men to Himself. You see the Jews were looking for the kingdom, and Jesus is going to bring that kingdom, but not only for the benefit of one nation. No, remember the Greeks that wanted to see Jesus. John never tells us whether they got to meet Him or not. But when Jesus heard that they wanted to see Him, He used that as an opportunity to tell His disciples that He could not set up His earthly kingdom at that time because He had to make a way to include the Gentiles in that kingdom, and the only way to do that was by dying for the sins of the whole world. Do you see the principle that’s at work here? He had to die in order to include all of us in His kingdom. And so we cannot afford to ‘build our own kingdoms’ in our lives by trying set our own agenda. As His servants, we must follow His example. And when we do, we will be used by God to bear fruit that will last for eternity. But the only way for that to happen is for us to let go of any plan that we have made independently of Him, to humbly submit ourselves to Him just as, within the Trinity, Jesus submits Himself to the will of the Father.
When we talk about submitting ourselves to His will, we need to avoid the trap of thinking that the Christian life is some sort of miserable slavery where we never get to have any fun. No, I took all that time to explain how the submission of Christ to the Father is part of the Trinity, so that we could see that the kind of submission, the kind of sacrifice that pleases God is sacrifice that comes from love. Love absolutely must be the starting point for our submission to Christ. Because the Father loves the Son, His exercise of authority over the Son is not oppressive or exploitative. And because the Son loves the Father His sacrifice was not just miserable drudgery. They both take joy in the glory of the other. And so, when we sacrifice our lives like grains of wheat that must die in order to bear fruit, our sacrifice is not something we do resentfully, or with a brooding sense of self-pity. If our sacrifice is going to really bear fruit it must be motivated by the joy that comes from knowing that as we lay down our lives for Christ, we are bringing glory to Christ, and laying up for ourselves an eternal inheritance that will make us infinitely happier than any of the silly things of this life that we are so tempted to put in God’s place.