Sermons Updates

Following the Master (John 12:20-50) – Mark Ottaway

Living for Eternity

Following the Master   

John 12:20-50


Good morning. Turn to John 12. Good to be in church this morning. The Lord knew how essential it is for us to be in church each Sunday, such a blessing!

“Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast.”

John 12:20 (LSB)


Greeks, non-Jews who may have converted to Judaism. Certainly, in contrast to the Pharisees who persisted in exasperating everything about Christianity. This is a bit of an introduction to the many non-Jews that would ultimately take up the cause of the gospel, as the Jewish nation generally rejects Christ.

“these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’”

John 12:21 (LSB)


Have you ever had someone come to you and point blank say, “Tell me about Christ?” I shared the story of my best friend in high school with the youth group, who after hearing the gospel for the first time in a formal setting, though I had shared the gospel with him many times. But hearing it at a large youth retreat in Niagara Falls, said, I want to go back and speak to someone about the message. He saved and now is a pastor. And a grade 12 girl in our youth group (10:30pm on a Sunday night) said, what do I have to do to become a Christian anyway? Sir, we wish to see Jesus.

“Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.”

John 12:22 (LSB)


Sometimes we might feel we need to get some help. But look at Jesus’ reply.

“And Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.’”

John 12:23-25 (LSB)


Lord, give these Greeks a softer answer. At least tell them first that God loves them and values them greatly. That they were wonderfully made. No, Jesus goes right to the dying first. It might be like putting on the church sign, who wants to lose their life for Christ? We might be more apt to say, let’s save that message for a bit later. So, let’s advertise the marriage seminar first, that will get them in, and advertise how to have a better marriage. Let’s advertise, how to have success in life? Build your business for God, invest wisely and the Lord will bless you! A great Christian family with great kids. Let’s conquer all our enemies like King David. No, Jesus goes right to losing your life, as He continually places a greater value on the life to come than He does on the earthly life. Jesus takes something that we might make sound like a great life with attractive promises, and He makes it sound a little like joining the army. As He does not pull any punches. “Hates this life” in comparison to the desire for eternal life. We might think, Lord, don’t be so stark. Sort of like Jesus’ attractive call in Luke 14.

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters [he now includes the whole family!], yes, and even his own life [what about our self-esteem?], he cannot be My disciple.”

Luke 14:26 (LSB)


Lord, couldn’t we at least do a newcomer visit with the Greeks first? These guys are just wanting to know about You. Maybe they have been struggling with something. Maybe they might be getting laid off from work. Maybe they have a child that is causing some problems at home. How might we address these issues? Well, Jesus does welcome them in the sense that he does not refuse them. But Jesus is also point blank with them about their desire to follow Him. So, basically, He says, here it is, as Jesus is about to give the conditions for serving Him. Verse 26, “if anyone serves Me.” Let’s not miss that, anyone. In other words, the invitation is open to all. If anyone is willing to serve Me, then, middle of verse 26, “he must follow Me.” Anyone want to serve Christ and follow his own life? No. Anyone want to serve Christ and not hate his own life in comparison to eternal life? No. Anyone want to serve Christ and not hate his Mom and Dad and family in comparison to his love for Christ? No. No, you must follow Me. I must be the utmost priority of your life.


You know, imagine if we had someone who was famous come to preach at Elim. And by the way, next May, I may be going to a conference where Alistair Begg is speaking. I would consider it such a joy to hear him, especially as some of these great preachers get older. And we enjoy these opportunities as we hope to be encouraged and challenged in the faith. And of course, there are also times of laughter and fellowship and enjoyment and worship. But imagine if Jesus came to Elim. And then He comes to our church and we anticipate such compassionate words that He so often would give. As He would bless our children. And maybe weep over Canada as He did Jerusalem. And show compassion for us here as He did with someone like the prodigal son. And we must understand this, that this was very much part of His ministry. As He often said that He came to redeem captives and call the poor and oppressed. But imagine if Jesus came and chose the topic of discipleship. Because right after feeding the 5,000, it says this in Luke 9:

“And as they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go’ [that is a great response to Christ … I will go wherever You want me to go dear Lord … I’ll serve wherever You want me to serve]. And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’ [is there any way we could soften that Lord, nowhere to lay your head?]


Probably the worst place Anne and I ever stayed was in Gary, Indiana. We were taking one of our sons back to Moody. And you know those trips where it is really not a holiday, but you just need to get it done, so you spare no expense. Anne found a room at a Super 8 in Gary for $34.95 American a night. I remember getting out of the van and telling Anne and Marty to stay in the van until I was able to walk in with them. Wow! But at least there was somewhere to lay your head.


And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father’ [that is a good request, someone that has the right heart to want to do what is good for his father, who has obviously died or was dying and who he obviously loved … just let me go, and then I will come back to You Lord]. But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God’ [how would we take that? this seems so unfair!]. Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord, but first permit me to say farewell to those at home’ [again, someone that wants to follow Christ, but let me first say good-bye to Mom and Dad]. But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’”

Luke 9:57-62 (LSB)

Now we must understand that the Bible uses hyperbole, which is an exaggeration to make a very strong point. But knowing that, we cannot miss the strong point, that Jesus never offers salvation and the need to follow Him, as something that is easy or convenient, but always something that is extremely hard. Young people, if you think that serving Christ is going to be easy, or that it will become easier when you grow older, you are wrong. And anyone who would ever give you that indication is lying to you. For the call to salvation and the call to service is a call upon a life that demands that we leave all and follow Christ. Yet there are promises involved. Because if you are going to follow Christ you are going to be with Christ.


#1 Discipleship Promise


Middle of verse 26, “and where I am, there My servant will be also.” If we follow Christ, we will be with Christ. That as we go through some muddy waters or some heart-wrenching experiences, He is with us.


#2 Discipleship Promise  


Verse 26, “if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” Wow! This is an amazing promise! This is like Joseph territory. This is like Daniel territory. This is like being set apart by God.

“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, having been prepared for every good work.”

2 Tim 2:21 (LSB)


Joseph was sold into Egypt by his brothers, but Genesis 39:2, Yahweh was with Joseph. Yes, Joseph was going through a desperate time, but God honoured him. Later, Joseph was put in prison because of a lie, but Genesis 39:21, Yahweh was with Joseph and extended loving kindness to him. Imagine being in the dark, damp prison, but God honoured him. And of course, Joseph interprets the dream of the cupbearer, but he forgets about Joseph for two years, but God brings the memory of Joseph back to the cupbearer. For God always honours those who follow Him. Later Moses will write about Joseph (Gen 49):

22 A fruitful bough by a spring; Its branches run over a wall.

23 And the archers bitterly attacked him and shot at him, And they bore a grudge against him;

24 But his bow remained firm, And his arms were agile, From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel,

25 From the God of your father who helps you, And by the Almighty who blesses you

Gen 49:22-25 (LSB)


And we can try as we may to work hard and this is good, but we can never replace the blessing and honour that comes only through God’s presence, and God’s choice to honour His own. Folks, there is no substitute for this. The blessing of God on His people.

“Do not fear, for I am with you;

Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.

I will make you mighty, surely I will help you;

Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’”

Is 41:10 (LSB)


So, Jesus has given a very clear picture of what it means to follow Him, which comes with great promises. Yet He is also very honest in the difficulty of that decision, which will likely get harder in the coming days and not easier. And the Bible is also very clear that when we follow Christ, we are to become like the Master. In other words, a willingness to go through what He went through if He so chooses for us. And so now John is going to share with us just some of the struggles that the Master Himself went through. And if we are sincere in following Christ, we too, must ask ourselves, am I willing to identify with Christ, identify with the One whom I am following? And the picture we see in the Bible is the picture of a human Christ, for Jesus was fully God and fully human. The picture of Christ giving the example as He follows His Father, His Master.

“Now My soul has become dismayed; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”

John 12:27 (LSB)


Good for us to understand that Christ knew His purpose, and that it was horrific. He lived His whole life knowing what kind of death He would suffer.

“‘Father, glorify Your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, ‘An angel has spoken to Him.’”

John 12:28-29 (LSB)


Interesting the response here that they did hear something verbally, as the voice of God sounded like thunder or their concept of the sound of an angel.

“Jesus answered and said, ‘This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sake. Now judgment is upon this world.’”

John 12:30-31a (LSB)


We need to understand the weight of the world here on Christ, as the accumulation of sin of all time has added up including your sin and my sin, and that it must be accounted for. As you cannot have God and His holiness, and then have man and his sinfulness and ignore that sin. No, there must be an accounting for that sin. Nothing is unseen by God. No sin is insignificant, from the very least to the very worst. There are no evil sinners in God’s eyes versus good sinners in God’s eyes, for all have come short of the glory of God. Middle of verse 31, “now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” The ruler is Satan. The cross seemed to be the defeat of Christ, yet it was the defeat of Satan, as Christ triumphs and provides forgiveness for His chosen.

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

John 12:32 (LSB)


This term “all men” does not mean all men in that everyone will be saved, as that would be in contradiction with the rest of the Bible. But let us think here of what has already been said in John 6:37.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out.”

John 6:37 (LSB)


“All that the Father gives to Me.” And who is Christ specifically speaking with here? It is the Greeks. Here the “all men” is a reference to those who have been given to Christ by the Father. And a reminder here that this will include those saved in Israel and those Greeks who were saved, and ultimately those from many tribes and nations who the Lord called to Himself.

“But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was about to die. The crowd then answered Him, ‘We have heard from the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how do You say, “The Son of Man must be lifted up”? Who is this Son of Man?’”

John 12: 33-34 (LSB)


Obviously, the crowd was well aware of the term “lifted up.” I would suggest that when thousands were crucified by Rome, it would be said that so and so was “lifted up.” And listen to the words of Jesus, how He could speak with such compassion and kindness considering what would lie ahead of Him.

“So Jesus said to them, ‘For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.’”

John 12:35-36a (LSB)


This is the call of Christ to us. In fact, this is the command of Christ. As He pleads with us to not allow the darkness, the message of the world, the lies, the evil. He commands us, do not let it overtake you. Young people, all that the world will offer you is a lie, as the world likes to teach inclusiveness and community. But behind that message is a lie that desires to pull us away from this plea by Christ. End of verse 36, “These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them.” Know that the invitation to Jesus does not last forever. Know that there is an urgency to following Christ. Today is the day of salvation.

“But though He had done so many signs before them, they still were not believing in Him, so that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes and understand with their heart, and return and I heal them.’”

John 12:37-40 (LSB)


This, of course, is a hard verse, but the context is helpful. Notice verse 37, they still were not believing in Him. This is persistent unbelief. This again, teaches us that the patience of God does not last forever, as he hardens their hearts and blinds their eyes. As it would seem from this passage that if they were given more time, they might believe. This is why Jesus said to come now. And this may even include those who may have verbally or casually made some kind of a decision for Christ, but the assurance of that decision is far from certain, though they may call themselves believers. For the gospel writer John often speaks of those who believed, but did not continue to follow. Not that they were God’s chosen and they walked away, no, their inconsistent walk, their indifference toward Christ, their persistent doubts and unbelief, ultimately demonstrated their true heart. For look what John goes on to say:

“These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke about Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.”

John 12:41-42 (LSB)


So, we could think that these are just weak believers, but believers indeed. But the next verse:

“for they loved the glory of men rather than the glory of God.”

John 12:43 (LSB)


The heart is revealed, isn’t it? They were not believers. Know there is a long list in the Gospel of John of those who started out by following Christ, but were not true believers in Christ. And so, John is going to set the record straight about following Christ.

“And Jesus cried out and said, ‘He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me.’”

John 12:44 (LSB)

Following Christ demands … that we believe in the Father


Now this might seem a little obvious, but it is not. This belief must include everything about the Father. This is not a simple belief, as some might claim, I believe in Jesus. Some who would see Jesus as the One who loves children. The One who did the miracles. The One who said, come unto Me and I will give you rest. Because that is a picture of Jesus, but it is not the complete picture of Jesus. But it is the picture that many will only look to. No, this is also a belief in God, the Father. The Creator, the One whom we are responsible to. The Judge, the One who punishes sin. The One who sent His Son to die. A belief in the Father.

“And he who sees Me sees the One who sent Me.”

John 12:45 (LSB)


Following Christ demands … that we acknowledge and celebrate the plan of God


As this is a belief in all that God has planned from beginning to end. That what God has said, He will do. Everything He has written will come to pass. And we are convinced of that. This is a belief in His plan which is in His Word. And this is a good question to ask ourselves, do I believe as a Christian in everything that God has said? Can I open my Bible and agree with God? Is this what motivates me? Is this what excites me? God and what He is doing. Is it God that I think about and celebrate? Acknowledging and celebrating the plans of God.

“I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.”

John 12:46 (LSB)


Not remain in sin. Living differently because of my newfound faith in Christ.

“And if anyone hears My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”

John 12:47 (LSB)


Jesus will judge sin and unbelief. But that was not His mission while He was on the earth. Obviously, as everyone around Him lived in sin and He did not immediately destroy them.

“He who rejects Me and does not receive My words, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him on the last day. For I did not speak from Myself, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.”

John 12:48-49 (LSB)


He who rejects Me and does not receive My words.


Following Christ demands … that we desire to obey


Those who truly came to Christ followed in His footsteps, and they persevered through the struggles and trials. Never perfect, but with a desire to obey. A determination to obey. Whatever that is: being baptised, giving financially, involved in ministry, doing what is right, keeping away from sin, keeping pure, or striving to be like the Master. Desiring to be everything that Christ was in His humanness. A desire to obey.

“And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.”

John 12:50 (LSB)


Following Christ demands … that we understand eternal life


You know the more I study John, I have gained a greater understanding of what the term eternal life means.

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

John 17:3 (LSB)


Let’s not be foolish and speak about heaven as if it is someplace where all my dreams will come true. My wishes, all the things I couldn’t do well on earth. Because eternal life is about knowing God. A forever fascination with God. And here John says something very unique. He says, and I know that His commandment is eternal life. And I know we could think that John means following His command results in eternal life. But I am not sure, in light of John 17:3, that this is simply what John means. And I am going to be honest, I could not find anything much on this verse. But this is just an odd way to say this. And the NIV tries to make it simple, “and I know that His command leads to eternal life.” So, it attempts to make it sound the way that we think it should read. But the King James gives a better literal translation, “And I know that his commandment is life everlasting.” ESV, NASB, and Legacy as well, “I know that His commandment is eternal life.”


Let me share with you what I believe John is saying here. God’s Word is unchangeable and absolute. Matthew 5:18, “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” First Peter 1:25, “But the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word which was proclaimed to you as good news.” Second Peter 2:19, “And we have as more sure the prophetic word, to which you do well to pay attention.” God’s word is powerful. It is enduring and it must be obeyed. And we learn from the John 17:3 passage that eternal life is knowing God, it is not just living on forever. And eternal life is also this, it is the Lord’s commandment for us. His commandment is eternal life. That’s what it says (vs 50), “His commandment is eternal life.” He is commanding you and I to live forever, so that (John 17:3), we would know Him. This is eternal life. This is His command. This is part of His sovereign plan. To live! Live! This is all over John’s Gospel. Fifty-two times John uses the word life, live, living (just a few examples):

  • John 1:4 … in Him was life
  • John 4:11 … Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living
  • John 4:50 … Jesus said … go, your son lives
  • John 6:53 … Jesus warned us saying … you have no life in yourselves
  • John 6:57 … he also will live because of Me
  • John 7:38 … “From his innermost being will flow rivers of living’”
  • John 11:26 … and everyone who lives … will never die—ever
  • John 14:19 … because I live, you will live


And yet Jesus said in John 5:40, “but you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” Jesus command to us is to live. Therefore, I must live. Therefore I must believe and obey. John 12 gives a very hard look at discipleship, of following Christ, that it demands: that we believe in the Father, that we acknowledge and celebrate the plan of God, that we desire to obey, and that we understand eternal life. In our Sunday night series in Philippians, we have been greatly convicted, and especially when we looked at the obedience of Christ toward the Father and our responsibility to follow that obedience. In Philippians 2, Paul says that we are to have the thinking of Christ, we are to imitate our Lord. And Philippians 2:8 says, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”


This ties in so much with our text this morning. The importance of this statement is that Christ was obedient to the point of death. It is not the obedience that is being pointed to as much as the extent of obedience that is being pointed to. Paul could have given a list of things that the Lord did in being obedient to the Father, but the interesting thing is that he concludes with the ultimate thing that Christ did out of obedience. And now the difficulty is to take this Christ-like example and apply it to my own life. Again, the emphasis is not so much on what I have done for Christ, though that is important, but the point of application here is this: How far am I willing to be obedient? That as Christ was willing to go to the point of death, even to the cross; for you and I to be like Him, to what extent am I willing to go to know Him more?


God’s word is so powerful. So, may we not leave such a passage and walk away unchanged. But might we be transformed by His Spirit, and become more like the Saviour we claim to love. And maybe you are sitting here this morning and would say Mark I am struggling. I’m fearful, especially to make such a commitment, for there are things that need to change in my life. Or what will God ask of me? Don’t forget the Lord’s promises. “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; [and here they are] and where I am, there My servant will be also [He will be with us and]; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” What a way to live! Father, for what we know not, teach us. For what we have not, give us. For what we are not, make us. And all God’s people said, amen.