Series: Easter: This Changes Everything
Preacher: Japhet De Oliveira
Reflection: Sam Millen
Live Wonder: Bec Reid
Live Adventure: Jess Lee
Live Beyond: Art Preuss
Live Purpose: Don Pate
Editor: Becky De Oliveira
Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: John 12:20-36 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: Many sermons I have heard (and preached) focus on what we should or shouldn’t do. We leave such gatherings feeling worse about ourselves, yet ultimately unchanged. Guilt and shame don’t have a great reputation as motivators. There is plenty of moralism on both the “left” (social justice) and the “right” (personal piety). Back in Virginia, I used the Revised Common Lectionary for a while. It’s a publication mainline Protestant churches typically utilize for their appointed weekly scripture readings as they go through a three-year cycle. Most of their ministers usually preach on the Gospel text. This resource gave me an opportunity to discuss sermon ideas with my Lutheran and Episcopalian colleagues. Whenever I got sidetracked by the moral lessons needed for good Christian behavior, the old Lutheran pastor, known for his candor, would always quip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). I can easily talk about myself (and many others—including Bible characters), highlighting my foibles and triumphs, but I want to get out of the way so people can indeed see Jesus.
William Willimon famously said, “Unable to preach Christ and Him crucified, we preach humanity and it improved.” Later in his book Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized (Eerdmans, 1992), Willimon writes, “Most of the preaching I hear and too much that I do attempts to build upon ‘common human experience.’ ‘Are you depressed? Everyone has been depressed at one time or another. Down in the dumps? There is a story of someone who was down in the dumps, in the pit, so to speak. His name was Joseph. He was thrown into a pit . . .’ ” (p. 13). Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus chides the religious leaders: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40). Sure, we can learn valuable lessons from Joseph’s life, for instance. He happens to be one of my favorite Bible characters in the Old Testament (after Samuel, as you might guess). I assume his story is often referenced at Christian men’s conferences, stressing the need to flee sexual temptations (the text never tells us Joseph was tempted but describes him as a victim of sexual predation). However, as exemplary as Joseph’s life was, unless his testimony points us to Jesus it cannot transform us.
Well-known pastor and author Tim Keller has often said, “The gospel is good news, not good advice.” Imagine the awkwardness in the room when Joseph assured his brothers, who had sold him for 20 shekels of silver, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . .” (see Genesis 50:20). Once again, scripture illustrates the cross. Jesus’ brothers (fellow Jews) wanted Him gone and He was betrayed by someone close to Him for silver. In the end, His crucifixion provided a way of salvation for both Jews and Gentiles (just like Joseph saved both the Egyptians and his own family). The next time you hear a sermon on Joseph or any other Bible character/story, ask yourself, “Is this good news, or good advice?” Every preacher must hear, “Sir (or Ma’am), we wish to see Jesus.”
Recalibrate: Are the sermons you’ve heard typically good advice or good news? How do you feel after receiving advice (a list of things to do or not do)? Do you feel the same way after hearing good news (what has been done)?
Respond: Reflect on your favorite Bible character/story in the Old Testament. What does it tell you about the cross?
Research: For a good presentation on what the biblical Gospel is, watch the film American Gospel: Christ Alone.
Remember: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32, ESV).
Sam Millen is the pastor at Anacortes Adventist Fellowship in Washington State. He his wife Angie is a schoolteacher on Orcas Island and their three children are really awesome!
Today, go for a walk around the streets where you live and encourage your little one to take particular notice of the gardens as you pass them by. Ask them to point out the flowers, shrubs, and trees that they like the best. Ask them why they chose these particular plants as their favorites. Is it because they have a lovely smell? They feel funny? They look interesting? The scripture this week talks about seeds and the multiplication that can happen when a seed dies. Try and find a seed pod or nut or flower your little one can take home to remind them of the scripture this week.
Have you ever been to a wedding or a really fancy restaurant for dinner? The kind of place where the waiter puts the white cloth napkin on your lap and pours you a glass of juice and serves you your meal? How did it make you feel to be treated and served like this? Did it make you feel fancy, excited, and special? When we choose to think of others before ourselves and make them feel special, our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ shines the brightest. We should do this as part of our daily lives.
If Jesus had a Twitter or Instagram account, it would have gotten blown up and probably would have broken the Internet with tags like . . . @Jesus, raises @Lazarus from the dead, or @Lazarus, the real walking undead, or @Jesus like a boss! His “likes” and “retweets” ran so wild that “foreigners” (Greeks) not only began “following/liking” Him, but they actually wanted to meet Him (John 12:20). So they looked for someone like them who was part of Jesus’ entourage to try to set up a meeting with Him. They found Philip (he had a Greek name) but Jesus was not ready to expose Himself.
Let’s get real: Have you ever wanted to be part of something because of the cool things that had happened or wanted to be around someone because they did something cool? Is Jesus someone you think of as being that kind of individual? Why or why not?
Jesus got up from washing feet, passed out the emblems of His sacrifice (in bread and wine), and dropped the bomb on His followers that He was going to leave them. John 13-17 is 25% of the whole book and it’s almost totally “red letter” stuff. He took over the room and hardly came up for air. He knew that in less than an hour He was going to lead His followers into a tempest (called Gethsemane) and He wanted to try to make one last impression on them because they still weren’t “getting it.” Finally, He had given all He could and He looked up to Heaven to turn them over to His Father. “I’ve done all I can, it’s up to You now . . .” And He prayed for you! “Neither do I pray for these alone but for all who will believe because of what they say . . .” You are reading these words because of the influence of Matthew and John and Peter and . . . Jesus, who in His last night, prayed for you!
Bec Reid is a real estate agent within her family business. She lives in Sydney, Australia, and is a part of the Wahroonga Adventist Church community.
Jess Lee is an education consultant for the New South Wales Adventist education system. She lives in Sydney, Australia, and attends Kellyville Church.
Art Preuss pastors in Massachusetts at the Springfield, Florence, and Warren Adventist churches and serves in the U. S. Air Force Reserve as a chaplain.
Don Pate is “retired” in Tennessee after decades of teaching and pastoring but is still active in speaking and creating for the Kingdom.