THE KING OF THE WORLD
There have been many conquerors over the span of history that people have called “king of the world.” These people were rulers who brought about change in the entirety of society, in their day. They literally changed the world around them with their leadership abilities, more often than not, in battle. A great ruler is known by his actions which may create a peaceful society and or gain victory over other nations. There have been uncountable rulers in world history, but only some of them can be categorized as the “greatest ruler” or “King of the World.” Some of those who would fall into that category would be the following:
Akbar was a ruler of India who was beloved by his people. He ascended the throne at the age of 13 and within two decades, he conquered the entire northern and central areas of India. He was a powerful and intelligent man who was known to be fair and equitable. He was a great admirer of art and culture and was known as the military genius of his time. He formed a strong and unshakable army by using war elephants, metal cylinder rockets, swivel guns and cannons. His great military tactics and liberal ideas made him one of the most popular Indian rulers.
Napoleon Bonaparte of France was one of the best known emperors of the world. He brought vast advancements in the political and judicial foundations of the country at the time of the French Revolution. A legal reform known as the “Napoleonic Code” was a great influence worldwide. He was a great military and political leader who conquered the entirety of Europe in his reign.
Alexander the Great was the emperor of Macedonia and the first known conqueror of the Persian Empire. He was an intelligent military leader who was never defeated in battle. He fought various armies that had vastly different tactics, but was able to adapt quickly. He was very charismatic enabling him to conquer much of the world by himself and sometimes even made entire nations surrender to him without killing a single man. By the age of 30, he developed a great empire stretching from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas. His great military tactics are still taught in military academies throughout the world.
Caesar Augustus was the founder and first Emperor of the Roman Empire. He was primarily responsible for the Pax Romana, a 200 year span of relative peace in the Roman Empire. Augustus is credited with ensuring that durable peace through his administrative genius and reforms which brought stability and prosperity. He transformed the appearance of Rome with massive building projects and instituted police and fire-fighting forces which brought order and protection to Rome.
Suleiman the Magnificent was the greatest and the longest serving Turkish King. He conquered parts of southeastern Europe and won control of the entire eastern Mediterranean Sea and conquered North Africa as far west as Tripoli. He also was an excellent leader and helped to transform the Ottoman Empire into an economic powerhouse. He reformed the law in his country and created a single legal code.
Cyrus the Great, the greatest expander of the ancient Persian empire, created the first multi-ethnic empire in the Near East. Cyrus was one of the best generals of the ancient Persian world. By the time of his death, he was the ruler of the largest kingdom the world had ever seen. Not only was he almost unbeatable on the field of battle, his political leadership is also evidenced by the fact that his empire, which spanned three continents, would live on for a long time after his death because of the infrastructure he put in place.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “King of the World?” I think of the game we used to play as kids called “King of the Mountain.” This was a game where one person was on top of a mound of ground or snow and everyone else was trying to race up the side and knock the “king” off his throne and take over as “king of the mountain.” Maybe you think of that label in terms of sports. When I was younger the best basketball player at the time was Michael Jordan. For me he was the “king of the world” in terms of basketball if not all sports. No matter who you think of when you hear the term “king of the world,” that person was probably very successful and reached the pinnacle of society, sport, etc.
Our scripture this morning comes on the heels of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. The people flocked to him waving palm branches and shouted Hosanna. They called Jesus the “King of the Jews” as their long waited Messiah. They were expecting Jesus, as the Messiah, to come into his kingdom on the earth, overthrow the Romans and elevate the Jewish people to their expected place over the rest of the world. As we study our scripture this morning, we are going to see that they were partially correct. Jesus was going to come into his kingdom just not the kingdom they were expecting. We’re going to see that Jesus’ kingdom would include the whole world, hence he would be the “King of the World.” But unlike what we read about in the accomplishments of the “kings” or “rulers” in our introduction, Jesus was going to rule in a different way. He was not going to go to war with the Romans and overthrow them and set up his throne. He wasn’t going to build roads or complete massive building projects. He wasn’t going to enhance the arts or stabilize the financial institutions of the day. He was not going to do any of the things that Alexander the Great or Cyrus the Great did. The way that he was going to become the “king of the world” or in other words, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, was going to be through his death. He told the people that they had it wrong when it came to the Messiah. Where they were looking for a political and military leader, Jesus said he was going to live and conquer through his death and he told them that if they were going to follow him they would have to do the same. Which brings us to the big idea that John wants us to understand this morning which is “only if we are willing to die to ourselves can we truly live for Him.”
As we ponder what that means for each of us and before we dive into our text let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we ask the Holy Spirit to come down upon us to illumine and open our hearts and minds to what you want us to learn this morning. I thank you that your word is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. I pray that this morning it will penetrate our souls and will judge our thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. In Jesus’ name. Amen
This morning our text is found in John chapter 12 verses 20-36 and the first thing we are going to see is the transition of Jesus from being only the “king of the Jews” to being the “king of the world.” I will be starting with verses 20-23. This is what God’s Word says, 20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
This story is a curious for a couple of reasons. First, is was unusual to see Greeks in a story about important events in Jerusalem, such as the Passover. Two, it’s only found here in the book of John. The other gospels don’t mention it, but it makes sense that John would include it because he wrote to present the truth of Christianity in a way that the Greek people would appreciate and understand. It wouldn’t have been strange to find Greek people in Jerusalem during Passover. They were seekers of truth and they wandered around looking for new things such as new religions and new teachers. These Greek people were probably God-fearers and not proselytes. The difference being that God-fearers were men who were attracted by the lofty morality and the monotheism of Judaism, but did not want to become full proselytes by circumcision. They could visit the temple in Jerusalem for the great feasts but could not pass beyond the court of Gentiles. Also, they would not have necessarily come from Greece. At Passover, worshippers came from widely scattered places throughout the Roman Empire to join in the festivities.
But how did they hear about Jesus? Maybe they were there in the Court of the Gentiles the day Jesus cleansed the temple. When he overturned the money changers’ tables and scattered the people selling sacrifices at outrageous prices which kept worshippers from being able to pray and worship God the way they should. I can imagine they would want to meet the man who would do that. Their curiosity was probably stirred by all the conversation and controversy surrounding him. This seems to be the first mention of non-Jewish people showing interest in Jesus and wanting to meet him and spend time with him. This was the first hint of a gospel which was to go out into all the world.
Why did they come to Philip? We don’t know for sure but it may have been because Philip is a Greek name and they thought he would be able to get them to see Jesus. John says they requested to see Jesus and the tense of the verb is continuous meaning they kept requesting to see Jesus. They were intent on meeting with him with the idea of wanting to spend time with him and get to know him. Philip didn’t take them right to Jesus but first to Andrew and then they both took them to Jesus. We have seen Andrew taking people to Jesus before. John 1:41-42a says, 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. And John 6:8-9 says, 8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” It would make sense that Philip would go to Andrew because he was the disciple we see over and over again taking people to see Jesus.
Now we don’t know if these Greek people actually got to meet Jesus. John only records what they say to Philip and then they disappear from the story. Morris says, “John clearly regards their coming as significant but does not treat their presence as important.” John’s gospel teaches that Jesus is the Savior of the World and this group of Gentiles symbolically represents the world seeking its salvation from Jesus. These are the “scattered children of God”, or the “other sheep” of John 10:16, which says, 16 “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
John next records Jesus’ supposed reaction to the Greeks wanting to meet him. His response is surprising in that he doesn’t seem to acknowledge them at all or even make reference to them. His words seem to be addressed to the crowd which probably includes Philip, Andrew and the Greeks. Jesus recognizes the fact that their coming to him meant that his mission on earth was coming to a close. The arrival of these “God-fearers” triggers “the hour”, the “hour” that the Son of Man or the Messiah would be glorified.
This “hour” was what Jesus was destined for; it was why he came to the earth and lived among us. The verb “is come” is in the perfect tense, meaning “the hour is come and stays with us”; there is no going back on it. The “hour” refers to Jesus’ death but it speaks of it as a triumph not as a tragedy. The title, the “Son of Man” was Jesus’ way of referring to himself especially in connection with his mission and through it he would not be dishonored but would be glorified.
At least five different times in John, Jesus’ hour is mentioned in the negative, as in his “hour” has not yet come. Now all of a sudden the “hour” is come. What’s changed? Maybe it’s that for the first time non-Jewish people are seeking Jesus out and want to know what he has to say and what it is he has to offer. We saw in our final verse last week that the Pharisees said, “Look how the whole world has gone after him.” Now that was an exaggeration on their part but it was true. The “world” as reflected in these Greek men have “gone” after Jesus and with the coming of these Gentiles, Jesus is not only the “King of the Jews” but “King of the World”, as well.
It was always God’s plan for Jesus to be the Savior of the World. The Jewish people were to be the catalyst that God wanted to use to make that happen but they misinterpreted, misunderstood and were misguided as to who the Messiah was and what he came to earth to do. Now that the Greeks had come to Jesus, his “hour” was here and it was time for him to go to the cross and be glorified so that all who looked upon him would be saved. Morris in his commentary says, “The fact that the Greeks had reached the point of wanting to meet Jesus showed that the time had come for him to die for the world. He no longer belonged to Judaism, which had rejected him but now the world awaits and seeks him.” By Jesus not meeting with the Greeks they would be taught that salvation was not through his works or life but by faith in the crucified Savior. They needed to see him as the slain Lamb of God not as the Jewish Messiah.
Next in verses 24-26, Jesus begins with a parable that explains the “law of the kingdom of God” that will show them how he was going to become the “King of the World” and to show them what they would have to do to be his followers. Follow along as I read verses 24-26. This is what God’s Word says, 24 Very truly I tell you, 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. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
This passage probably came as a shock to those who heard it or read it for the first time. It starts out making sense but ends with a series of statements that would have made no common sense to them at all. In fact it turned their idea of the Messiah upside down and made those thinking of following him want to run for the hills.
“Very truly I tell you” or “Verily, Verily” as some versions have it, introduces a statement of importance meaning “listen up” to what is said next. Jesus gives a one verse parable of the kernel of wheat that introduces us to a paradox. He says the way to get more wheat is to plant it or “bury” it in the ground because unless the kernel of wheat “dies” in the ground it will not bear fruit. It is only through the “death” of the kernel of wheat that it can bear the fruitfulness of a harvest. Of course, in that agrarian society, this made sense. If you want anything to grow, you first have to plant it in the ground. This was a general truth but Jesus used it to refer to himself. Just as a seed must “die” in order to give life, Jesus must die in order to give birth to many seeds. Augustine points out that “Jesus was the grain that had to die so he would be multiplied. He would suffer death through the unbelief of the Jews and be multiplied in the faith of many nations.” The way the kingdom of heaven would grow and be fruitful was through the death and burial of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus goes on to apply this truth to his followers then, and to us today, as well. What Jesus said next was probably not the best way to encourage people to follow him. He said those who love their life will lose it but those who hate their life will keep it. Not a very motivational type speech. But Jesus planned to change the world by bringing people together who were selfless and who had their priorities in his kingdom. The key to participation in Jesus’ kingdom is to have an attitude of love for the things of God, so much so, that all interest in the things of this life, appear by comparison, as hatred. Which reminds us of our big idea this morning which is “only if we are willing to die to ourselves can we truly live for Jesus.”
If you love your life on this earth it means you love this life with all its appetites, desires and affections which seek gratification without caring for the will of God. Carson says, “It is the fundamental denial of God’s sovereignty. It is paramount to idolatry which is at the heart of all sin. That person will lose their life eternally.” “Loses” means “destroys” as in “the one who loves his own life will destroy it.” Loving one’s life is a self-defeating process as it destroys the life it seeks to retain.
In contrast, the one who hates their life, the one who denies himself and takes up their cross daily, will have eternal life. This is a spirit of self-sacrifice which says there is nothing in this world that I would not give up to be in obedience to God’s will. “Hating your life” means to prefer Christ over one’s family, possessions, goals, plans, desires and even one’s life. Luke 14:26 says, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” This was one of Jesus’ hardest teachings, but Jesus is to be number one in our lives and we need to submit everything to him. Which brings to our first next step which is to “hate my life” by “dying to self” and sacrificing everything to be in obedience to the will of God.
Next, verse 26, is to be understood in light of the previous one. Jesus says the outcome of hating your life in this world is not only eternal life but a life that is in service to Christ. It is a personal relationship with Jesus that totally submits to him and follows and obeys him completely. We, as servants of Christ, must follow him even if it means suffering and at some point it probably will. This means losing our lives, figuratively or possibly literally, for his sake. When we live a life in service to Christ he gives us two great promises. One, he promises that his servants will be where he is, which is in heaven with him and two, they will be honored by his Father. Those are awesome promises from Jesus to us.
Next, Jesus seems to change topics abruptly. He starts to think about his crucifixion that is coming and he has a conversation with God. God audibly responds and we see the reaction of the crowd. Follow along as I read verses 27-30. This is what God’s word says, 27 “Now my soul 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. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.
John doesn’t record Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before he is arrested. This is probably John’s equivalent of the garden scene where Jesus prayed, “not my will but yours be done” that we see in the other gospels. Jesus’ soul is deeply troubled. “Troubled” literally means “to shake” or “to stir up.” This is a strong word used for severe mental or spiritual agitation; of being disturbed, upset, unsettled or horrified. MacArthur says, “The perfect tense of the verb suggests an ongoing struggle for the sinless Jesus as he contemplated the implications of the cross, taking all our sin and the complete wrath of God on himself. Jesus was not just an actor in a drama. He was not detached, indifferent or without feeling about the cross. He was a human being like us. He felt the pain associated with bearing the curse of sin. Because of that pain he offered up prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to God.”
Jesus prays to his Father asking a rhetorical question and then immediately answering it himself. There is no hesitation on Jesus’ part to go to the cross but we can only try to imagine what it would take to willingly go to the most painful death you could have inflicted upon yourself. By going to the cross it shows how much he loved us and represents how much it meant to him to do the Father’s will. Milne says, “The truth here extends far beyond our feeble imaginings, as Jesus wrestles with God on the brink of Golgotha. The gospel may be simple, but it is not superficial. It may be free, but it is not cheap.”
Then Jesus prays that the name of his Father would be glorified. Jesus knew that it was all about God the Father. Even though Jesus was the one who would be crucified he gave all the glory to God. The tense of the verb indicates that the single act of Jesus going to the cross would be the way the name of the Father would be glorified. God’s response to Jesus’ prayer is the voice of God from heaven itself. This is the third time that God speaks from heaven. The first was at Jesus’ baptism and the second at his transfiguration. The Father’s audible voice confirmed he heard and answered Jesus’ prayer. God’s answer affirms that he has already glorified himself in his son; in the incarnation and in the work and miracles of Jesus which showed God’s power in the world. But he also says he will “glorify it again” meaning God’s name would be glorified again in Jesus’ death and resurrection to come because of the redemptive work it would do in our lives and because of Jesus’ willing obedience to his Father.
This prayer of Jesus came at a time of great crisis in his life. And I can’t help but think of this crisis we are living in right now. We can learn how to pray in a crisis from the way Jesus prayed here. We need to be praying, “Father, glorify your name.” I think this is so important in the midst of the uncertainty, anxiety, sickness and even death that accompanies the Coronavirus. That brings us to our second next step which is to pray “Father, glorify your name” in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.
John records that the crowd heard the voice from heaven but it was interpreted a couple different ways. Some thought it was thunder and others thought it was an angel that had spoken directly to Jesus. The voice from heaven was audible to all even though the meaning wasn’t. The thunder was in answer to Jesus expressly doing his Father’s will and not his own. It was divine assurance that, as God manifested his power in raising Lazarus from the dead, that he would do it again in the resurrection of his Son.
Jesus had no need of this heavenly assurance so he says it was for the sake of the crowd standing by. But if the voice of God was for the people’s sake why did they not understand it? It was because they lacked the spiritual perception to recognize the voice of God and it illustrated the hard-heartedness that was typical of the people. God is not silent but fallen, sinful people are deaf. The voice of God came to strengthen the faith of the disciples and would have been of the greatest value to those of his followers who could understand its significance.
In verses 31-34 we see Jesus talking about the meaning of the cross and the outcome it will have not only on Satan but for all people of the world. This is what God’s word says, 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. 34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
Jesus rejoices in three significant victories of the triumph of the cross. One, the cross was the avenue for salvation and judgment. Salvation for the followers of Jesus who have “hated their lives” and judgment for those who have “loved their lives.” Two, the cross also meant judgment and defeat for the prince of this world who is Satan. It meant Satan would lose his power, authority and influence. By driving out Satan as the “prince of this world” Jesus sets himself up as the “King of the World.” Three, the cross was going to draw all people to Jesus.
The “and I” is emphatic and it meant that the cross was the work of Christ and no one else. The “when” referred to when he is crucified not “if.” And the “lifting up” referred to the way he was going to die which was crucifixion on a cross. The cross was going to happen no matter what and was necessary for the salvation of the world. Jesus was concerned with the effect of the cross which was it would draw all people to himself. “Draw” is the work that God does in a person’s heart and soul that “draws” them to Christ. John 6:44 says, 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.
“All men” didn’t mean that everyone would be saved but it meant that all would be drawn and have the chance for salvation. Anyone who would be saved would be saved through the cross and the shed blood of Jesus and it included both Jews and Gentiles. In this way Jesus would be the “King of the World.” In verse 33, John plainly tells us that Jesus was talking about the way he would die, which was on a cross.
We then see the problem that the crowd had with Jesus’ words. It is interesting that they knew Jesus was talking about dying. They knew that the way Jesus’ kingdom would come to pass was through his death. But they had a problem with Jesus being the Messiah or the Son of Man because they believed that the Son of Man would live forever. Jesus was now teaching something different than what they thought the scriptures were teaching and they wanted an explanation. They asked Jesus, “Who is this Son of man?” They were wondering if Jesus really is the Messiah or if the Son of Man and the Messiah were two different people. This is the last mention of “the crowd” in John’s gospel. It is significant that they remain confused to the end. They couldn’t get past their biases and believe that Jesus could be the Messiah even though his life fulfilled all the prophecies. They couldn’t appreciate the magnitude of the gift being offered to them nor the significance of the person who was offering it.
As we come to end of our scripture this morning we see Jesus extending an invitation and then disappearing from them once again. Follow along as I read verses 35-36. 35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.
Jesus does not answer their question about the Son of Man directly. He answers them by referring to his impending death and gives them an urgent invitation. He says they will not have the light (meaning Jesus) much longer but he encourages the crowds to walk in the light as long as they have it. He is implying that if they would give up their preconceived ideas of the Messiah and believe in him then their question would be answered. They would know that he is the Messiah. It is imperative that they believe now so that when the darkness comes it will not overpower them. The alternative is that those who walk in darkness, physical or spiritual darkness, do not know where they are going and after Jesus is crucified and risen they will find themselves in total darkness.
Note that John uses the word “light” five times in verses 35-36. Jesus is called the “Light of the World” so therefore it is not only a question of illumination but of faith in Jesus which brings us light. This idea of “believe in the light” is a continuous on going belief, whereas, “become children of light” is a one-time happening. While belief or faith is an activity to be practiced without ceasing one does not become a child of the light by degrees. Morris says, “One cannot be a follower of Jesus and be half-hearted about the light.” When you accept Christ as your Savior you are saved and you pass out of death into life instantly. “Children of light” are those whose lives have been so revolutionized by the Light that they are characterized by the Light. But those who fail to embrace the light, to refuse to believe, will become a victim of the darkness. Maybe you are still living in darkness this morning. Maybe you are ready to believe in the Light and become a child of the Light. If so, the third next step is for you which is to believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior, stepping out of darkness and becoming a child of the Light.
To reinforce the urgency and to model what he means Jesus disappears, intentionally hiding himself from them. Even though his hour had now come, the exact timing of his arrest, trial and crucifixion would be determined by God and not man. The public revelation of Jesus is now complete. His signs have been displayed in full. Men and women must come to terms with the revelation that has been placed in the world. But the mystery of Jesus’ life is that even though the “light has come into the world . . . men loved the darkness instead of the light.”
I want to conclude with a paraphrased excerpt from a John Ortberg sermon where he compares submission or “dying to self” to driving a car. This is what he said: It is a big moment in your life when you hand someone else the keys. Up until now, I've been driving. I choose the destination. I choose the route. I choose the speed. You're in the passenger’s seat. But if we are to change seats, if you're going to drive, I have to trust you. It's all about control. Whoever is in the driver’s seat is the person in control.
A lot of people find Jesus handy to have in the car as long as he's in the passenger’s seat, because something may come up where they require his services. Jesus, I have a health problem, and I need some help…. I want you in the car, but I'm not so sure I want you driving. If Jesus is driving, I'm not in charge of my life anymore. If he's driving, I'm not in charge of my wallet anymore. If I put him in control then it's no longer a matter of giving some money now and then when I'm feeling generous or when more of it is coming into my life. Now, it's his wallet. It's scary. If Jesus is driving, I'm not in charge of my ego anymore. I no longer have the right to satisfy every self-centered ambition. No, it's his agenda. It's his life. Now, I'm not in charge of my mouth anymore. I don't get to gossip, flatter, cajole, deceive, rage, intimidate, manipulate, exaggerate. I get out of the driver's seat and hand the keys over to him. I'm fully engaged. In fact, I'm more alive than I've ever been before, but it's not my life anymore. It's his life.
That is what it looks like to “hate my life” by “dying to self” and sacrifice everything to be in obedience to the will of God. We must be willing to die to ourselves and give Jesus to keys and control of our lives. That is the only way we can truly live for him.
As Gene & Roxey come to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Dear Holy and Loving God, thank you for your son who willing gave his life on a cross for our sins. I rejoice that you are in control and have promised to walk with us through whatever comes. I thank you that you are our strong tower especially in the midst of these troubled times. And in the midst of these troubled times we find ourselves in, Lord, I pray, ‘Father, glorify your name,’ in Jesus’ name, Amen.