A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on August 21, 2011
O God, we your children confess that we are still learning today. We confess that we need your spirit to tutor us in our efforts to lay our concerns and our very hearts before you. Only you, Lord, know why you have withheld granting our requests and why you have delayed in answering our petitions this week. Teach us today to be persistent and faithful in our asking if you want to teach us patience and faith. Withhold your answer for our request completely from us if we ask the wrong things and you would want to turn our prayers to reflect what it is you really want to give us. If we have tried to seize the answer to our prayers with our own hands, then teach us to pray until we yield control to you. If you are waiting for us to participate in the answer, then convict us of our need to arise and to tune our energies toward what you want to do in us and for us. O God, we confess that there is so much to learn about prayer. We know that there are times that you would answer us readily and times that you would make us wait, and each time, it is for our own good. Grant us your spirit today that we might learn what time we are in even in this moment. Teach us to seek you—not anything that we might obtain from your hand—but you, to know the depths of your love, and to be guided by the certainty of your righteousness, to live in confidence of your forgiveness and grace. Until your answer comes, may we hold fast to your promise that you never have left us alone. Hold fast to your promise that Christ rules over all creation and that you are able both to grant the desires of our hearts and to lead our hearts to desire only you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
This God who is unveiled in Christ is the God our world needs today.
—Rufus Johnson in The World Within
Let’s say you are evaluating characteristics and qualities for those deepest of personal relationships. You are not looking for anything for a business relationship. No technical skills that you would pull off a resume need apply, but simply qualities for one of those deep relationships of life. What do you look for in a good friend or a mate? What do you look for in someone to share your life with? What do you look for in a mentor—someone to nurture you and guide you in a profession or stage in your life? In these deepest of relationships, what do you look for?
Do you want someone who is a master of faults who will take quick notice of those errors in your life and be sure to point them out to you, someone who has a long memory so that none of the past ones get away while the new ones occur or would you rather have someone who does not pretend you are someone you are not? They don’t pretend you are someone other than who you are. They overlook your faults and it is as if they don’t matter. They consistently look at you and see the very best. As a matter of fact, they make you better by their presence. Which one do you prefer?
Do you like those friendships and relationships that always seem out of balance? Have you ever had one of those friendships where it seems like the other person always assumes they are the lead dog in this relationship and your role is to follow behind and pick up after them? It is your role to always listen to whatever is going on in their life and there is always the promise, Next time we are going to hear all about you, but it is never next time. It seems as if your role is to always be serving and giving. That is really what it is, isn’t it? They always seem to be taking and you always seem to be giving.
Do you like someone who will tell you whatever it is you want to hear this time, whatever it is you need to hear to make you happy or do you like somebody who is consistent, someone who is always the same, someone you can always rely on to tell you the truth, someone you can always rely on to be rock steady. Which of these do we prefer? It is really not much of a choice, is it?
If you can pick out characteristics in this search, what would it be like if you found a person who was actually willing to die for you? It is really hard to conceive, isn’t it? After all, we are not people who require Secret Service protection and there is nobody standing ready to take a bullet for us in case something happens. But it does happen. As hard as it is to conceive of anything like this in our lives, there are people we have known who were willing to die for family and friends.
I remember the first experience I had in knowing anything about this was as a teenager. There was a boating accident on a nearby lake. A father was teaching a child to ski. They were skiing alongside each other, and the child fell off. The father dropped off as well. They were there in the water waiting for the person driving the boat to come back, and another boat approached and did not see them in the water. Knowing what was about to happen, the father pushed the child under the water and took the brunt of the boat and the propeller himself. We don’t think that someone will actually die for us.
Do you remember several years ago when the airliner crashed in the icy waters of the Potomac in the winter? They were lowering a lifeline from a helicopter, and there was a man in the water who would take the line, loop it around someone else in the water, and pull that person out. They would drop the line again. It would come to the man and he would loop it around someone else and they would pull that person out. When he was the only person left in the water, they turned to drop the line again, and he was gone. In the time it had taken to unhook and look away, he had slipped beneath the water. He was willing to die. To this day, no one knows who the man was.
We read stories often of tornadoes, hurricanes, and fires in a house where someone is willing to sacrifice themselves to shield or protect people in their family. A mother on the interstate who sees an accident occurring swerves the van to take the impact on her side, sacrificing herself to save her children. There really are instances in life where there are people who will indeed die for someone else. It could be in war but it does not have to be. Would not those be people who we would want to love and be loved by?
Why do we forget that this is what Jesus has done for us? We sing the hymns and give our Sunday nods to the fact that Jesus died for us. Whatever you were doing yesterday, did it occur to any of us to pause and reflect on the fact that Jesus died for us? We have abundant and everlasting life because Jesus chose to die for us.
That is what the passage from John 12 is about. It all happens so quickly. Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Passover that leads to his betrayal, crucifixion, and death. There are some Greeks there. They come and find Philip and say, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Philip gets Andrew; Andrew tells Jesus. It is like these things have been building up. We never know if he actually had an encounter with the Greeks or not. From what John tells us in the Gospel, it seems not to matter. It seems as if this triggers in Jesus a sense that the sign of the prophets has come.
You know that passage we often read at Christmas time, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness of people, but the Lord will rise upon you and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” It is as if Jesus sees in this moment that the prophecy has come true and he says, “Now my hour has come.” It all begins to unfold so fast. He tells the parable about the kernel of wheat dying, and we understand what he is saying. He is giving us an image so that we can understand what is about to take place in his life.
Immediately, he goes into a call for discipleship because he recognizes that not only is it his hour, but it is the decisive hour for his disciples. “What shall I pray? Shall I pray to be delivered from this? No. O God, glorify your name,” and a voice comes from heaven. Eventually, Jesus says, “If I be lifted up, I will draw everyone to me.”
We have all seen movies about the life of Jesus. Probably each of us has a particular movie that provides the images in our minds about the death of Jesus. We know that the cross is on the ground and they nail him to the cross. Somehow, they have to get the cross up. They use ropes or leverage or Roman troops. Somehow they have to get it up. The nails are not enough. The weight of sin needs gravity to perform its worst torture on the Christ. He is lifted up and his eyes look forgiveness everywhere he can see. “Forgive them. They know not what they do.” His arms are open welcoming anyone who will come. He is lifted up, and all those who see it and know are drawn.
Clearly, everyone could be, but not everyone is, drawn. There are people in the crowd who keep their derision on him. There are people who say all manner of curses. I try to look for the dividing line. What is it that indicates whether or not a person is drawn to Jesus? When we try to figure out who is a real Christian and who is not sometimes we choose artificial distinctions like, What brand of Christianity do you belong to? Do you believe the right doctrines? I honestly think the division comes between the people who look at Jesus and see him on the cross lifted up and can say and know, That’s for me, and the people who have not understood that yet. Each and every one of those people is drawn to Jesus like a magnet draws pins.
It is not a friend—although we call him a friend of sinners. It is not a mentor—although he is a wise teacher. But it is a savior—not one of these would-be saviors who is always asking for people to die for them—but a savior who is willing to die for us. Isn’t this true? In those moments in our lives when the reality of the fact really comes home to us, we realize it is not just about Jesus dying but about Jesus dying for me. Aren’t those the moments that we feel the most powerfully drawn to him? Aren’t those the moments that we want to walk more closely? Aren’t those the moments where everything else seems to pass in importance and all that really matters is following Jesus?
We have started an over-arching theme that we call “Getting Serious.” I want to say that it is not about being a sour-faced Christian or about laughing less about our faith but it is the kind of seriousness that passes between people who love each other, the kind of seriousness that passes when you want to take someone home to meet your family and they say, It really must be serious. It is a kind of seriousness that comes from a deepening and maturing faith, a kind of love that is becoming more and more exclusive. In our relationship with Christ, we want to know that this is really getting serious. I love Jesus Christ because of what he has done for me.
For those of us who have experienced it, there is a magnetic moment when we realize that this is beyond what we could have ever hoped for. This is possible for everyone. Jesus is a gracious friend who is not counting our sins against us, a wonderful friend whom we are called to serve but who has already served us in carrying our sins on the cross. Jesus is a teacher who is so consistent and so true to us. Is there anyone like him? Jesus is one who would die, and did die, for us.
Where in this life are we going to go? Where in this universe are we ever going to find someone who loves us so?
The magnetic moment – “If I be lifted up, I will draw everyone to me.”
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.