Following Jesus

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What's your dream life? And is it a fantasy that you know full well will never happen? Or is it realistic?

Let me speak personally for a moment. Someone asked me a while back what my dream life would be. I said that in fact I was living it. I can't think of anything better than being here with you this evening – can you imagine that! But it's true. Of course I know that my life is massively imperfect. And I often find it a big struggle. But - and this is a big but - I know God has called me to this life – and there's no better place to be than where God wants you. I also know that the future – the eternal future – will be wonderful beyond words. Unless Jesus returns first, death, painful as it may be, will be a transition into a fantastic eternal life. And that's not fantasy. That's for real.

How do I know? Because I met Jesus. And my prayer is that you can say the same. The place to meet him is in the pages of the Bible. So I want us to meet Jesus afresh this evening. Earlier on we heard from the Gospel of John. I'd like us to look again at that section. That's John 12.20-26. Do have that open.

And I want us to see three things clearly from this account.

  1. If we want to meet Jesus, we can.
  2. Jesus alone can give us a new life that will never fade.
  3. If we want this new life that Jesus gives, we've got to get serious with him.

We've got to give up our fantasies, get real with him, start relying on him, and start doing what he says. What do I mean by those three things? And on what grounds do I dare say such things? Let me explain:

1. If we want to meet Jesus, we can

Take a look at the first paragraph of this section – that's John 12.20-22:

"Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus."

What's going on here? Well this is happening in Jerusalem. In fact, it's getting close to the time when Jesus was crucified. As for us, Good Friday is approaching. Jesus' suffering, his 'passion' will soon begin – but only Jesus understands that. To everyone else, the big deal is that it's the feast of the Passover, commemorating the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. That might not mean much to you, but I suppose the nearest equivalent now would be Christmas. This was Jerusalem's big annual religious festival – though the religious bit was often distorted or neglected. Like Christmas. Everyone came 'to worship at the Feast' – even if they weren't regular attenders.

And some of these people were, John says, 'Greeks'. Really that just means non-Jews from the Graeco-Roman world – which was pretty much all the world they knew. In other words, these Greeks knew they didn't really belong there. They were away from home and off their territory. But something had drawn them along. Somehow they wanted to be there. Maybe you feel like that as you sit there this evening. You see, these Greeks weren't content with what they had in their own culture and their own lives. They thought there must be more to life than they had experienced. There was an emptiness in them. And that made them curious. I know I'm speculating about these Greeks, but I don't see what else would have made them do what they were doing. In a word, they wanted a new life. Maybe they thought that all the wrappings of this religion and this festival would give it to them.

But while they'd been in Jerusalem, they'd heard about Jesus. Maybe they'd heard about what Jesus had done for his good friend Lazarus. There was a lot of talk about it. Not surprising, either. Because Lazarus had been dead. Had been. Jesus had brought him back to life – and that was after days in a tomb. It was all over the media. You'll see what I mean if you look to verses 17-18:

"The crowd that had been with him [that's Jesus] when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign."

So here are these Greeks – these outsiders who don't quite feel at home – and this is what they do (v.21-22):

"So these came to Philip [he was in the inner circle of the friends and followers of Jesus], … and asked him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew [another of the inner circle]; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus [that these Greeks wanted to see him.]."

Now let me ask you: are you saying the same? You might not even quite know who to ask, but are you saying to yourself, 'I want to see Jesus'? If that is what you're thinking, even if only to yourself in the privacy of your own mind, let me say this: you can meet Jesus, and it's easier for you than it was for those Greeks. Jesus is no longer restricted, as he was during his earthly life, to one meeting at a time, one place at a time. You can meet him now through the pages of the Bible – not a physical encounter, of course, but a spiritual encounter just as real – even more real, if anything. We now have the advantage over them of unlimited direct access. You can meet him.

Of course, the other side of that coin is that if you choose not to meet Jesus, then that's precisely why it won't happen – because of your choice. And if we walk away from Jesus, and want nothing to do with him, then in the end he will close the door on us – for all eternity. If we don't take the opportunity now, the time will come when we won't be able to meet Jesus. But now, like those Greeks, we can.

If we want to meet Jesus, we can. That's the first thing I'm hoping and praying we'll see clearly. Then the second thing is simply this:

2. Jesus alone can give us a new life that will never fade

I want us to see what Jesus says about himself here, in response to the request for an audience from the Greeks. It's there in verses 23-24:

"And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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.""

Let me unwrap that, because there's a lot packed into a small space there. Jesus is saying at least four things about himself. Each of them is an absolutely massive claim. A long time ago I came to the conclusion that every word Jesus says is to be believed. To my mind (along with countless others) everything points to his trustworthiness. Everything points to Jesus being exactly who he says he is. Even back then, some people were saying that he was mad, or evil, or just a teacher or a prophet. But none of that adds up. You have to make up your own mind about that, and whether you'll take Jesus at his word. However, this is what he says about himself.

First, everything that happens to him is under the direct control of God. When he says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…" that's the truth that lies behind that little phrase. This is God's timing. Even his crucifixion is ultimately under God's control.

Secondly, Jesus himself is supremely powerful. He calls himself "the Son of Man." That's a little phrase that probably may not mean much to you, as it didn't to many of Jesus' hearers. But it's loaded with significance, because of a prophecy from hundreds of years before this that's in the Bible. God gave Daniel (of the Lion's Den fame) a vision. In this vision, Daniel saw "one like a son of man" going to God and being given "dominion, and glory and a kingdom" at the right hand of God and over all the nations of the world (Daniel 7.13-14). He is given an eternal, indestructible kingdom. 'That,' says Jesus, 'is me.' Jesus is supremely powerful.

Thirdly, his coming death will bring him glory. It's clear from the context here that when Jesus says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…" he's referring to the crucifixion that he knows he's about to undergo. And that cross will be his glory.

He's going to be glorified directly through the achievement of the cross, because the cross opens the way to forgiveness for all believers. It is the great work that Jesus came to do. And he will be glorified through the sequel to the cross, because he is raised from the dead and he ascends to heaven to the place of eternal glory at the side of God the Father. And he will be glorified as we look to him. As we look at the cross, we will see the glory of Jesus. The coming death of Jesus will bring him glory.

Fourthly, his death will bring life to many. Jesus says, "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." Jesus is the grain of wheat that dies. And this seed is almost unbelievably fruitful. The life that he gives up becomes the source of eternal life for millions – billions of people who believe in him.

At the cross, Jesus undergoes the judgement we deserve so that we don't have to. His death wipes out our debt to God. It opens the fountain of forgiveness. His one death produces the seed of new life, eternal life, that he's wanting to plant in your life today. He alone can give you a new life that can never fade. And you can know that new life by meeting Jesus.

That's what church is for. That's what we're here for this evening – to meet Jesus in the pages of the Bible. When I buy a KitKat, I don't buy it for the wrapper. I buy it for what's inside. Don't confuse the church wrapper with what it's really all about. Church is about meeting Jesus in the pages of the Bible – a real, living encounter with a man who is also God. Eat a KitKat and it satisfies you. I can vouch for that. And the satisfaction lasts a good ninety seconds. Get to know Jesus in the pages of the Bible – really get to know him – a real living relationship with the ruler of all things – and you find that what you've got is a new life. Not a materialistic, self-indulgent fantasy life. But an utterly new perspective on your present existence, and a sure and certain hope of a glorious eternal life beyond death – more glorious than we can imagine.

So where have we got to? First, if we want to meet Jesus, we can. Secondly, Jesus alone can give us a new life that will never fade.

3. If we want this new life that Jesus gives, we've got to get serious with him

We've got to give up our fantasies, get real with him, rely on him, and do what he says. Jesus spells it out in verses 25-26:

"Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him."

That means for a start that to find this new life we must give up our old life. If we don't, we'll lose it anyway. If you love your life without Jesus, you'll lose it. It's very dangerous for us when we're too comfortable with the way things are. That's why God often throws a spanner into the works of our lives. If we think we can do fine without him, then we're riding for a fall.

What Jesus is saying is that we have to get to the point where we're ready for a complete change of government in our lives. Discontent and dissatisfaction with the way things are in our lives is a good thing if it causes us to reach out to Jesus by faith and say to him, 'Lord Jesus, you take over. I hate the mess I'm making of my life. Please forgive me. My way's no good. Show me how to do it your way.' When we do that, that's the beginning of a new life for us. That's what Jesus promises. We have a new start, a new Lord and guide, a new basis for living, a new purpose, a new power at work within us, and a new hope for eternity. We receive what Jesus promises to those who rely on him – a new life.

So when we've found this new life, as many of us have, what does it look like? What does it involve?

It's eternal. Eternal life begins the day we begin trusting Jesus: "whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life". Death becomes the gateway to an eternity with our global family and our glorious Lord. However bad things get now – and they do get very bad at times – we know that the future will be good. There is always a blazing light at the end of the tunnel. What's this new life like? It's eternal.

Then it's a life of serving Jesus. "If anyone serves me, he must follow me…" says Jesus. Pleasing Jesus becomes our supreme goal and our supreme satisfaction. And the wonderful thing is that Jesus knows what's best, and he wants what's best, so when we serve him we do what's best and we get what's best.

This new life is eternal. It's a life of serving Jesus. And also it's a life of following Jesus. "If anyone serves me, he must follow me…" That means that the character of Jesus is our pattern for living. Something of the suffering of Jesus is our expectation. And others who are following Jesus here and all over the world are our new family.

New life with Jesus is eternal. It's a life of serving him and following him. So it's a life of being with Jesus always: "where I am, there will my servant be also," Jesus promises. We'll go where he takes us, but we'll never be alone. He is always present with us by his Spirit. Only long years of experience can make us realise just how wonderfully true that is. When you get to rock bottom, you realise that Jesus is the rock beneath your feet, and he'll never abandon you, never let you go.

New life with Jesus is eternal. It's a life of serving him, following him, being with him. And most startling of all, it's a life of receiving honour from God. "If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him." That's what Jesus promises. Such honour is utterly undeserved. But that's the nature of God's generosity. He treats us as if we do deserve honour. We become members of the royal family of God.

Do you want to see Jesus? We can't see Jesus on our own terms. Only on his terms. If you want to be living this new life, then you've got to get serious with him. You've got to give up your fantasies, get real with Jesus, be honest with him, ask for forgiveness, let him control your life, ask for his help, rely on him, and do what he says. Will you meet with him in that way? Will you follow Jesus? Let's bow our heads to pray.

Lord Jesus,
We thank you and praise you for the reality of your living presence with us here this evening by your Spirit. Thank you for speaking to us, just as you spoke to those Greeks who came to you all those years ago. Thank you for the death that you died for our forgiveness. We praise you, reigning today at the Father's right hand. Give us grace to turn away from life without you, and to hold on tight to the eternal life that only you can give. Give us grace to serve you, and follow you. And help us to know the guiding light of your living presence with us always.
For the glory of your holy name. Amen.

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