From Summit 2014 (a gathering of young Friends from Evangelical Friends Church-North America)
Today I want to talk with you about how Jesus responded to popularity and success.
Right before the text I’ve chosen to focus on from John 12 comes the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. This was not the only person Jesus brought back from death, but this one got a lot of attention from the chief priests and Pharisees, the religious establishment. These two groups differed from each other theologically, but they joined forces when a truly disruptive force showed up to seek and save the lost.
The crowds were so excited about Jesus that they welcomed him into Jerusalem with shouts and waved palm branches. A small group of Jews from out of the country asked Philip, a disciple, to introduce them to Jesus. Jesus was a celebrity, the man of the moment, probably the Messiah born to set his people free.
Here’s how Jesus responded, at the high point of his popularity.
This moment has arrived
In order that
The Son of Man, the child of humanity,
May have his worth made known.
Truly, it is true
What I point out to you:
If a grain of wheat does not fall down into the ground
And die alone
It survives alone
But if it dies alone,
It produces many grains
If your first concern is for your own life, your soul, your breath
You will destroy it
If your last concern is for your own life, your soul, your breath
You guard it into unending, absolute life
If you want to minister to me,
Join me, accompany me, walk with me
And wherever I am, you, my minister, will be also
If you want to minister to me, the Father will value and honor you.
At this moment, my own life, my soul, my breath
Is troubled, disquieted, perplexed
And what shall I command?
Father, save me out of this moment?
No, this is why I came into this moment.
Father, make your worth known.
Then a voice came from the universe:
I am making my worth known
And I will make it known again.
At the high point of Jesus’s public career, he sees the hollowness of his popularity and success. He sees that working to maintain them is the opposite of doing what the Father wants. He affirms that his central purpose is to make God’s worth and God’s will known. He empties himself and becomes obedient, even to death on the cross, and burial in the earth, and God in response lifts him up, so that everyone will bow to Jesus. Lifted up on the cross or lifted up in the resurrection, Jesus draws all people to himself.
What I want you to hear is that Jesus invites each of us to join him in this way of walking. We do what God tells us and when success comes, we refuse to love it. We love doing what God tells us instead. When we see our success or our hope for success die, we bury it and wait for God.
Nearly 90 years ago, Frank Laubach, a missionary to the Philippines, left the seminary he had helped to found in Manila. At the age of 45, he went without his family to live among the Maranao Moro Muslims. He wrote:
I shall be forty-six in two weeks. I no longer have the sense that life is all before me, as I had a few years ago. Some of it is behind - and a miserable poor part it is, so far below what I had dreamed, that I dare not even think of it. Nor dare I think much of the future. This present, if it is full of God, is the only refuge I have from poisonous disappointment and even almost rebellion against God.
January 20, 1930
Although I have been a minister and a missionary for fifteen years, I have not lived the entire day of every day, minute by minute to follow the will of God. Two years ago a profound dissatisfaction led me to begin trying to line up my actions with the will of God about every fifteen minutes or every half hour. … But this year I have started out to live all my waking moments in conscious listening to the inner voice, asking without ceasing, "What, Father, do you desire said? What, Father, do you desire this minute?"
It is clear that this is exactly what Jesus was doing all day every day.
March 15, 1930
This week a new, and to me marvelous experience, has come out of my loneliness. I have been so desperately lonesome that it was unbearable save by talking with God. And so every waking moment of the week I have been looking toward Him, with perhaps the exception of an hour or two.
Last Thursday night I was listening to a phonograph in Lumbatan and allowing my heart to commune when something broke within me, and I longed to lift my own will up and give it completely to God.
How infinitely richer this direct first hand grasping of God Himself is, than the old method which I used and recommended for years, the reading of endless devotional books. Almost It seems to me now that the very Bible cannot be read as a substitute for meeting God soul to soul and face to face. And yet, how was this new closeness achieved? Ah, I know now that it was by cutting the very heart of my heart and by suffering. Somebody was telling me this week that nobody can make a violin speak the last depths of human longing until that soul has been made tender by some great anguish. I do not say it is the only way to the heart of God, but I must witness that It has opened an inner shrine for me which I never entered before.
Last Monday was the most completely successful day of my life to date, so far as giving my day in complete and continuous surrender to God is concerned - though I shall hope for far better days - and I remember how as I looked at people with a love God gave, they looked back and acted as though they wanted to go with me. I felt then that for a day I saw a little of that marvelous pull that Jesus had as He walked along the road day after day "God-Intoxicated" and radiant with the endless communion of His soul with God.
As he worked on this inner discipline, he took note of the conditions of the lives of those around him, the Maranaos. He earned their trust by asking them to teach him about the Koran. He created a curriculum to teach them to read. As they became literate, they could see the benefits to their lives, and they came to love him. He founded the program “Each one teach one” that enlisted each newly-literate person as a teacher for someone who still did not read. This literacy work changed the lives of millions of people around the world.
Here’s what Frank Laubach would like to teach us:
"All during the day, in the chinks of time between the things we find ourselves obliged to do, there are the moments when our minds ask: 'What next?' In these chinks of time, ask Him: 'Lord, think Thy thoughts in my mind. What is on Thy mind for me to do now?' When we ask Christ, 'What next?' we tune in and give Him a chance to pour His ideas through our enkindled imagination. If we persist, it becomes a habit."
Can we try this experiment for a week? Whenever you pause in the day, ask God to think God’s thoughts in your mind. If you’re organized, do this at regular intervals, maybe at every hour. If you’re like me, do it when you are collecting your thoughts, or have a moment of forgetfulness, or are well into an anxiety. And then the key will be to take what we hear from God seriously and obey. We will be able to tell God’s voice from others by comparing what God says to us with what Jesus showed us about God’s will and priorities in his own life on earth.
Jesus explained to the religious folks of his day: John 5:17, 19, 20, 21, 30 “My Father is still working, and I also am working. . . . very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; . . . I seek not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
If we are seeking to do God’s will by asking, listening, and then obeying, we will be able to say with Jesus in John 4: 34 “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”