“Be a Loser”
March 22, 2015 - Fifth Sunday in Lent
Ancient Greeks were
the tourists of their day, beginning with the historian Herodotus. The ruins of
ancient Egypt are marked with graffiti left by tourists from ancient Greece. Greeks loved to travel and see new things. We see their fascination with novelty in
Acts 17:21 as Paul meets a group of Greeks who come together just to listen to
and talk about the latest ideas.
So it’s not surprising
that a group of Greek tourists show up in the Gospel. They had come to Jerusalem for the great Passover Feast. They may have come to observe and visit Herod’s
impressive temple. Perhaps they meant to worship themselves. Some Gentiles were
“God-fearers,” non-Jews who honored the God of Israel. But they may have just
been traders, doing a little sight-seeing, observing local customs, gathering
some good stories.
These Greeks heard
about Jesus and were intrigued. Perhaps they observed His impromptu parade
with palm branches and people shouting “Hosanna!” They wanted to know more,
maybe come and take a selfie with an arm around this new prophet. So they approached
a disciple with a common Greek name, Philip, the name of the father of
Alexander the Great. When we were tourists ourselves in Greece the owner of one of our hotels a had cat named Philippos. Greeks love that name.
The tourists’ request
was simple: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” It was a direct fulfillment of an
unwitting prophecy by the Pharisees. Back up one verse to 19. At the end of the
Palm Sunday story we will read next week, after seeing the crowds following and
praising Jesus, the Jewish leaders were dismayed. Their opposition seemed
hopeless. They thought it was exaggeration when they said in disgust, “Look how
the whole world has gone after him!” But these Greeks showed it was already
Foreign tourists were
just the beginning. Within a few hundred years much of the world would follow Jesus. These early Gentile looky loos were a down payment on God’s
promise to spread the good news about Jesus to everyone on earth.
They came to Philip.
Philip took them to Andrew, the only other disciple with a Greek name. Andrew
and Philip presented the request to Jesus. Andrew is in his characteristic
role. He is the disciple who is always bringing people to Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t very
responsive. Verse 23 sounds like He just changed the subject. He replied, “The
hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” It doesn’t seem like much of
a welcome for His foreign visitors. But the “Son of Man to be glorified” has
everything to do with Jesus being approached by non-Jewish tourists.
“Son of Man” was Jesus
own favorite term for Himself. He used it frequently and it implied His
identity with our humanity. But it first appears in Daniel in the Old Testament.
In Daniel chapter 7, verses 13 and 14, the “Son of Man” is a glorious figure
who comes from heaven and the prophet writes that “all peoples, nations, and
languages worshipped him.” For Jesus to call Himself the Son of Man was to
imply that would be true of Him.
Jesus’ reply in verse
23 makes perfect sense. Daniel’s prophecy was being fulfilled. These Greeks
were just the beginning. People from all the nations would worship Him. The
Pharisees’ unintended prophecy was being fulfilled. All over the world people
would follow Jesus. Once glorified, Jesus would be Lord, not only of Jews, but
of Greeks and of Romans and of everyone else on earth.
That’s why verse 24
makes sense too, even though it seems like Jesus is going in yet another
direction, with a grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying. Jesus was
explaining how the Son of Man would be glorified. The Father’s plan to
make His Son Lord of all the peoples, nations, and languages of the world was
to Have His Son die. A grain of wheat grows and is productive after it’s buried
in the ground. The glory of Jesus would grow around the world after He was
buried in the ground.
The same truth applies
to you and me. We think achieving glory is a matter of success, or getting fame
or money or power. We think it’s glorious when we get an “A” on a test, or win
a race, or make a profitable investment. But Jesus taught and practiced a
different way to glory, both for Himself and us. Be a loser.
Losing is glorious.
Jesus said this more than once. We heard Him say what He says here in verse 25
three weeks ago in a completely different context in Mark 8:35. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world
will keep it for eternal life.” He’s not just talking about Himself. Verse 26
continues, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, will my servant
be also.” Be where Jesus is, even if it’s dead and in the ground. Be a loser,
even it means losing your life.
A couple weeks ago I
sent out an e-mail saying we had lost our Advent candles. Back when we took
down Christmas decorations and moved stuff out of the sanctuary to host the Warming Center, the candles and their expensive brass candle followers got stashed
somewhere no one could remember. Last week as we moved everything out of the
sanctuary once again for the Family Shelter, the candles were discovered,
carefully placed in a flower planter and set up on shelf. We had looked at that
planter a dozen times, not realizing that what we were looking for was right
Forgetting where you
put stuff, losing things like candles or car keys or even a paycheck (that just
happened to us a couple weeks ago) is just regular human stupidity. But losing
your life for Jesus is glorious spirituality. Put candles in a flower planter and
they go missing for awhile. But when you plant your life away for Jesus, lose
it for Him, you may feel like you are losing something. But you’re not. You are
gaining eternal life.
Still, nobody likes to
be a loser. Even Jesus was bothered by it. In verse 27 He says, “Now my soul is
troubled.” He even wondered aloud if He should ask the Father to save Him from
going to the Cross. As we will remember in less than two weeks, the night
before He died Jesus did in fact ask the Father to save Him from losing His
life. But all along the Son of Man knew He would only be glorified by losing.
He couldn’t win by winning.
We tell athletes and
soldiers and even business people to go for the glory. But Jesus knew the only
way to get glory was to give it up, to turn His glory over to His Father.
That’s why in verse 28, the only thing He asked is “Father, glorify your name.”
He was willing to be a loser for the sake of God’s glory, for the sake of a
great name for God.
When I was a boy
someone gave me a copy of The Heart of a Champion by Bob Richards, an
Olympic medal winning pole vaulter who became a preacher. The book is full of
sports stories and encouragement to be a Christian winner. But the story I liked
best, the only one I remember from the book, was about John Landy running the
mile in Melbourne, Australia. He was in the middle of a glorious race, on his
way to breaking his own world record of 3:58. The crowd roared its approval as
he blazed along. Suddenly a young man running beside him, just a high school
student, stumbled and fell. Landy stopped, reached down and pulled him up.
Landy made sure he was O.K. The boy told him to go on. Landy finished with a 4:04, nowhere near a new record.
Landy lost a record,
but he gained something better. He gained a good name, a name as a good man. He
gained a life of character, of love and concern for others. Be a loser for God
and others and that’s real glory. By the same principle to the highest degree,
Jesus Christ gained a glorious name for God by losing His life completely.
Jesus’ loss of His
life was the key to everything, the key to God’s plan of salvation. So as Jesus
spoke, the Father spoke so everyone could hear in verse 28. God the Father
confirmed His plan for Jesus, confirmed that losing was the way to glory. “I
have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
Being a loser is not
an easy message to hear. As verse 29, tells us, most of the crowd standing
right there thought they just heard thunder rather than the voice of God. A few
of them imagined an angel had spoken. But in verse 30, Jesus told them that voice
was for their benefit. They needed to hear God’s confirmation of His great plan
to win by losing, to live by dying, to be glorious by giving up one’s own
When I teach
Confirmation to middle school students they memorize a catechism that says, “By
the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God conquered sin, death and the
devil.” We like the thought that God has conquered all the evil and pain of
this world. But we need to remember the way it began, first by the death of
Jesus, by losing. He asks us to conquer—to be saved—in just the same way, by
In verse 31, Jesus
told them that God was ready to judge the world and drive out “the ruler of
this world.” He meant the devil, Satan. The great cosmic battle with Satan was
about to be won, not by heavenly fireworks or spiritual artillery, but by one
Man who was willing to shoulder a rough piece of wood, struggle up a rocky
hill, and then nailed on that wooden crossbar. God was going to win by losing,
by letting His own Son die.
God’s voice spoke to
us too. He wants us to know the way of Jesus is the way of life. His people
have always been greater, stronger, more alive when they have been willing to
lose everything for their Lord.
Some of you may have
seen the YouTube video of 10-year-old Myriam from Mosul in Iraq. Last July ISIS drove her and her family out of their home along with thousands of
other Christians. They landed in a refugee camp in Kurdistan. There she was
interviewed by a reporter from a Christian broadcaster in Egypt. He asked her how she felt about ISIS. She told him and told over a million people
who’ve watched the video, “I will only ask God to forgive them. Why should they
Another video that’s
been seen by half a million people is an interview with Bashir Estephanos who
lost two brothers among the 21 Christians who were killed by ISIS in Libya. He
said, “ISIS gave us more than we asked for. They didn’t edit out the part where
[as their throats were cut] they declared their faith and called out to Jesus.”
Then Estephanos prayed on the air for God to save the killers from the
ignorance they had been taught. He said that his 60-year-old-mother had told
him that if someone from ISIS came to their village, “she would invite him in
her home.. and ask God to open his eyes.”
Maybe we need military
action to stop ISIS. I’m not smart enough to decide that. But I do know that
when Christians can take the losses that Myriam and Estephnos did and respond
as they did, then we’ve already beat ISIS, already won by losing. Around 200
A.D. Tertullian wrote to those who opposed Christianity, “As often as you mow
us down, the more numerous we become. The blood of Christians is the seed.” That’s often been paraphrased as, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the
Those Greeks came to
meet a local Jewish prophet. Instead, they met the Savior of the world. A few
Gentiles asked Philip to be brought to Jesus in Jerusalem, but the whole world
was waiting to be brought to Him. To accomplish that, to bring everyone
together to Jesus, He had to finish what He came to do. He had to reconcile
them all to God and reconcile them all to each other. Jesus had been planting
the seed of reconciliation for three years. Over and over He taught us to love
God and love our neighbor. His words and example planted the seed in everyone
Bur for those seeds to
grow—to bring up fruit—there needed to be one final planting. For the world to be
reconciled to God and to each other Jesus Himself had to be planted. For that
to happen, He would first, in the words of verse 31, “be lifted up.” He was lifted
up on a cross. His life would be the seed lost in the ground and then raised to
grow in glory.
If you and I planned
Jesus’ mission, would we have understood this? Would His death be the central
event of His work? Wouldn’t public relations for Jesus have encouraged Him to
talk to those Greeks? Then set up study times, focused on Greek-speaking
people. Send out news releases and stage more healings. Arrange for Him to meet
Romans too, maybe some Africans and Chinese travelers. Have cocktail parties
and get Him introduced. Find donors and set up a foundation. Hire marketing consultants.
Get it moving!
Would we have dreamed
at all that the way to promote Jesus was to let Him be crucified? To get
things moving He had to stop moving. He had to suffer and die. He had to
fall to the ground and be planted. Only then would there be any fruit.
Which brings us to
verse 32. Jesus returned to the subject of those Greeks who wanted to see Him,
a whole world that wanted to see Him. He says by being “lifted up”—by dying on
the Cross—He “will draw all people” to Himself. His willing death was the seed
which planted a vine. Now anyone, from any country, can grow and find life on
why Jesus had to die on a Cross. Why that particular mode of execution? He
realized that only on a cross do you die with your arms outstretched. So he
says, “we see the fitness of His death and those outstretched arms: it was that
He might draw His ancient people with the one and the Gentiles with the other,
and join both together in Himself.” Losing His life on the Cross, Jesus won the whole world for God.
This Lent we are
asking how to follow Jesus, how to carry our cross and lose our lives like He did.
What does it mean for us individually and as a church? This morning we see that
it means being a loser. So what do you and I need to lose? Some comfort? Some
time? Some entertainment? Some sin? Some money? Some pride?
Be a loser. That’s how
Jesus did it. That’s how He saved us, saved everyone—by losing His life. By
losing His life, Jesus received a new life. We will celebrate His new life on
Easter in a couple weeks. To gain that new life ourselves, He asks us to follow
Him in being losers. It is not all big losses, martyrdom and persecution.
Following Jesus calls for little losses all the time, doing what He wants
instead of what you want, letting go of your own advantage in favor of others,
giving up things you might have had so that you can have His kind of life.
That’s being a loser for Jesus. That is the seed of eternal life.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2015 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj