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Sunday Night Live Sermons

LOSING LIFE, FINDING LIFE

Who He Really Is

John 12:1-11
27th June 2004

It is a paradox that if you do not need a loan your bank manager will joyfully give you one. If you do need a loan, the more you need it the more difficult it is to get. If you owe the banks a small sum of money they will push you to repay it even foreclosing on your property; but if you owe a vast sum of money, they are anxious for you to keep it and to use your property to earn more to repay it. We live with the paradoxical. Rookwood Cemetery is 500 acres of graves holding the remains of about 800,000 people. You would think it would be a place of tears and sorrowful memories but paradoxically every weekend people arrive with rugs and picnic baskets, and children play ball games and adults go on sightseeing tours.

There is the paradox in the great Cathedral of St Peter in Rome. Would the original Peter in his fishing boat on Lake Galilee recognize that in the centre of the Roman World, this greatest of all buildings was named after him? How paradoxical that an ordinary fisherman, uneducated and practical should have the world’s greatest ecclesiastical edifice named after him! A paradox is a seemingly self contradictory statement whose deep meaning requires careful thought. On the face of it, it seems absurd, but it carries a deeper meaning than what is on the face of it. For example, in architecture, the most beautiful buildings are paradoxically designed on the theme of “less is more” the simpler the concept the more wonderful the result. The Taj Mahal, the Empire State Building, St Paul’s Cathedral all have about them magnificent simplicity. Two words express a paradox like military intelligence.

Sometimes, just two or three words express the paradox of living. Simon and Garfunkel sang about the “sounds of silence”. In a great city, we know only too well about the “lonely crowd.” In the hospital ward, the people with AIDS are the “living dead”. Paradoxically true! Go into fashionable hotel any Friday night after work and you will see hundreds of the most beautiful young women imaginable. Perfectly coiffured, fashionable shoes, talented high flyers, with six figure salaries, drinking top-shelf alcohol, all talking men and all of them single. The alpha females scare off men. 48.3 per cent of tertiary-educated women aged 25–29 are without partners, compared to 43.2 per cent with no post-school qualifications. When the measuring stick moves to the 30–34 year-old group, a third of tertiary-qualified women still lack partners. These Alpha women possess everything desirable except husbands or partners. What a paradox!

At the centre of Christianity is a paradox: the eternal became temporal, the invisible became visible, the completely transcendent became immanent; the divine became human, the everlasting God was born as a baby: “our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.” Paradoxical but true! On the surface it is impossible but we know it to be true. Jesus often spoke in paradoxical fashion. “Happy are those who mourn for God will comfort them”. “Happy are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them.” “Those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last”

Jesus speaks about wisdom in ignorance, gain in loss, freedom in bondage, victory in defeat, life in death. He is the strict liberator, the conservative revolutionary, the uplifting yoke, the meek Master, who holds the peaceful sword and makes us winning losers who find by losing, save by spending and live by dying! Jesus was the supreme maker of paradoxes. One example came close to the end of His life when He entered Jerusalem, a King on a humble ass, and was approached by a group of Greeks who asked to see Him.

Jesus knew “the hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory.” That was paradoxical in itself, for the glory He was speaking of was the most agonizing death by crucifixion before the sneering gaze of his enemies. But the horror of man’s hate seen in the cross would become the most obvious symbol of God’s love. The most shameful symbol of death would become the most precious sign of life. Now was the time when He was to be crucified, and to explain it and to encourage those Greeks and we who have wanted to see Him ever since, Jesus used three paradoxes:

1.IN BURYING YOUR SELF YOU WILL BLOOM. John 12:24

People fear burying themselves. We want to be in charge of our destinies. We do not want to commit ourselves so that we will not have control. We want to play, to sport, to relax, to work, to enjoy ourselves whenever and wherever we like. But to give yourself a high ambition or a distant goal will require training, practise, discipline, time spent not on self but upon your goal: it will require burying yourself in some larger purpose.

Many of us fear burying ourselves, wanting to have total freedom to come and go. Consequently we never achieve anything. We leave not a trace behind other than a puff of smoke at the crematorium. Yet those who have disciplined themselves, dedicated themselves, devoted themselves to some great cause find their efforts leave behind a harvest beyond their imagining. Jesus said: “I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains.” Jesus makes an agricultural observation that unless grains of wheat are buried in the ground, there can be no crop. The grain dies as grain. It is fundamentally changed. But its potential for life is realised and new life emerges which reproduces many grains.

In the same way, He will soon die, but be raised in a new form of life that will reproduce many of His own kind. His followers will die, but their deaths will be the means of releasing many more new believers upon the earth. They are to die now, even before their physical deaths, dying to their old way of life so that even now they can flourish and reproduce more followers who see the transformation within them. On one hand the grain of wheat, that is stored in a pot just remains by itself. It produces no harvest, reproduces nothing of itself. It may have saved itself, but it has not accomplished the purpose for which it was created, it has not reproduced itself, and it will eventually wither away. He was saying that those who wish to save self, preserve their old ways and self, will remain useless upon the shelf until they wither away. So long as we remain self centred, we remain unproductive and uncreative.

On the other hand, the bountiful way of life reproduces itself in other people. It spends itself in following Christ and creates a great harvest for the Kingdom of God only because the individual is willing to sublimate personal ambition for the sake of God. They must die to self if they are to live for Him. But the death of self leads to productive, thriving regeneration. A person who loves his life will lose it, but those who place God ahead of self will find life eternal. In burying yourself you will bloom! An amazing paradox, but true!

The second paradox expands this thought:

2. IN LOSING YOUR LIFE YOU WILL LIVE. John 12:25.

Ask the woman who gave up everything to stay at home to nurse a dying loved one if she regrets all that she missed. She did not look after No.1. She put someone else first, someone who can never repay her. She lost her life for that period of time. Was she the loser? She found something that makes it all worthwhile! In losing her self, she found life! Jesus said: “Whoever loves his own life will lose it; whoever hates his own life in this world will keep it for life eternal.” Those who give themselves to the high, hard, holy way of Jesus find life eternal! They give up nothing in comparison to what they have gained. It is an amazing paradox, but it is true. There is a third paradox that Jesus indicates:

3. IN SERVING YOUR MASTER YOU WILL BE HONOURED. John 12:26.

People fear serving others. They fear if they serve others people will think they lack capacity or ability.

So they wait to be waited upon. They look to other people to serve them. They feel that by being served people will think of them as people to whom deference and honour should be given. The world owes them a living and they sit back and wait to be waited upon. But the fact of life is that when we look to honour people, it is not to those who have sat back and waited that we turn. We turn to those who are in the heat and burden of life doing something for others that we honour.

That is why we honour all of our staff who give their lives to serve others, especially those who can never repay them. If our staff are the servants of others, then our head office staff at Wesley are the servants of the servants. Following the Honours proclaimed last week on Queens Birthday, in a few weeks time, at Government House, a select band of people will come forward one at a time to receive the Queen’s Honours for their service to our community. Those who sat back and waited for others to wait upon them are not in their number. Only those who have given of themselves hear their name called. Maybe there are others more deserving, but the more deserving are the same type of people who given of themselves in serving others. Even in this world, we desire to honour those who humbly serve. How much more so in Heaven. When the roll is called up yonder, all those who have served the Master will be honoured. Jesus said: “Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me.”

That is the promise of the Master: only those who serve will be honoured. Here is the paradox of binding yourself to serving Christ, something a person may dread because it will tie them down. But when we serve Him, we find our service is honoured. At the centre of Christianity is a paradox: the eternal became temporal, the invisible became visible, the completely transcendent became immanent; the divine became human, the everlasting God was born as a baby: “our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.” Paradoxical but true! On the surface it is impossible but in experience we know it to be true by Him “whom to serve is perfect freedom.” To serve Christ might be our duty: “Whoever wants to serve me must follow me,” but that service entails our reward, for when we serve Him we share in His presence. “So that my servant will be with me where I am.” To be in His presence is ample reward, yet the Master further says: “And my Father will honour anyone who serves me.” In serving your Master, you will be honoured. What wonderful paradoxes!

Here are the most amazing paradoxes of all: we sinners are made righteous! We lost are found! We despairing have the greatest hope. We temporal creatures who suffer the ravages of time are eternal. We are the winning losers. In burying self we bloom. In losing our lives we live. In serving we are honoured! What a privilege to serve the meek Master. Discover Christ as your Saviour, and you will find Him as your Lord. In losing your life, you find it.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.