The Trumpet Sounds: ‘Encounters with Christ’

By Barry Pettit - Religion Columnist

From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, Jesus went from being ushered in like a king, to being crucified like a criminal, and then ultimately overcoming the grave. Starting this Sunday at South Side we will begin a four-week journey where we will look at four people that were forever changed once they encountered Christ!

This week we will look at an encounter Phil and Andrew had with Christ. It was Passover time; the festival of the spring that was the center of the Jewish life. Passover was the celebration that remembered the events of the Exodus when God set his people free from the yoke of Egyptian slavery through the sacrifice of the Passover lamb referenced in Exodus 14. You remember, blood was put on the door post to protect the people of God from the death angel as he claimed the lives of the firstborn in Egypt.

So now Jesus enters the city on a donkey just a little after he raised Lazarus from the dead. The town is in a stir, there are people coming from everywhere to celebrate the Passover. As the crowds gather around Jesus, Andrew and Philip bring some Greeks (gentiles) to Jesus which is strange to begin with because they weren’t Jews. So it’s the first time we see in John that Jesus would be a Messiah for all nations, all tribes, and all cultures. Understand that it’s in this setting that Jesus says to Philip and Andrew these words: “I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” John 12:24-26

This encounter with Christ is as fascinating as it is puzzling. It starts off with a rather unsurprising event. Jesus is in Jerusalem, and there are some Greeks, likely proselytes, who want to speak with him. The Greeks reach out to Philip, who reaches out to Andrew, and the two together tell Jesus that some Greeks want to talk to Him. Jesus’ response, however, is anything but ordinary. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor” (Jn. 12:23-26). The discourse continues, and, if there was a response to the initial inquiry concerning the Greeks, we are not told.

What Christ has to say about loving and hating life is a bit puzzling. Is not life, after all, a gift from God? Why then, is it that God is telling us to hate this life? A turn to the Greek complicates matters even further. The word used for ‘love’ signifies friendship, which is a strange choice. Someone who loves his life—that is, this earthly life—in this way, is practically considering it equal to himself, which is an inaccurate way to look at this life. To that effect, Our Lord says elsewhere, “He who wants to save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it” (Mt. 16: 25). We might further wonder what it means to make one’s earthy life one’s equal. It is an inherently misplaced relation. Abraham is called ‘friend of God’ in the Bible, and the dedications of both the Gospel of Luke and Acts are to Theophilos, a name which is likely not a proper designator, but which picks out the reader as ‘friend of God.’ In John 15, Jesus calls His Apostles—and by extension us—no longer servants, but friends. Indeed, more than friends, for Paul tells us that God invites us to kinship with Him and Our Savior guides us to call the Father our Father, but one who cannot enter into a covenant of friendship with God cannot enter into one of kinship either. Therefore, those who love this life, have made an idol out of it and placed it on God’s pedestal.

Christ has just mentioned that, like the grain of wheat, He must fall into the earth and die. Now He tells us, “Where I am there will my servant be also.” In John 15 He speaks more explicitly, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (Jn. 15:20). A person who has made his life his friend, then, is not ready to make this commitment, as is the case with the rich young man who cannot give up his wealth for the Kingdom.

With this in mind, we can better understand what it means to hate life in this context. This encounter with Christ is not saying that the only good Christian is a life hating Christian; neither is He calling for hatred or abuse of the body. Instead, the relationship of hatred to life should be understood as being in opposition to the previous relationship. So we learn from this encounter that the person who ‘hates’ his life is one who regards it as lower than himself. We must understand that there are times when grasping at this life would be more damaging than laying it down. Jesus is teaching us that a spiritual person makes God and the work of the Kingdom first in priority and regards their own hopes and dreams as secondary. The irony, of course, is that this is the only way in which one can have their hopes and dreams realized.

Jim Elliot said it best when he said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This Sunday at South Side we will look deeper into this passage as we examine our first encounter with Christ. Be sure to come early and get a fresh cup of coffee. There are classes for children of all ages. Worship begins at 10:45, and we would love to have you and your family join us!

In Christ,

Barry Pettit

Senior Minister

South Side Church of Christ

By Barry Pettit

Religion Columnist