Good to be here this morning. Thank you for the singing. Today, if you have a Bible, would you please open it to the book of John, Chapter 12? So far, we have seen, in this chapter, the story of Mary pouring perfume on Jesus feet, the Master’s triumphal entry in Jerusalem and today, we focus on the lastpublic speech of Jesus, v. 23-36. The title of my lesson is “Mistaken Identity”. Have you ever been mistaken for somebody else? I remember a few years ago calling someone for work, out of state, and a lady I didn’t know, picked up the phone. She said “Hello”. I answered, “Yes, Hi. Could I please speak with John? This is the minister from Conway, New Hampshire.” And I hear on the other side, “Ha ha ha! Yes, and I’m the Queen of England!” At that point, I’m not too sure what to answer. I think, let’s just ignore this, so I go, “Really, it’s the minister of the Conway Church of Christ. My name is Daniel!” And she says, “Mike, I’ve recognized you. Stop pretending!” Now I’m lost. I say, “Really, it’s not Mike! Could I please speak with your husband”? She said, “Huh-uh, I’ll get him!
When he came and found out I was not a joke, needless to say, the lady felt badly. She came back on the phone and apologized. She blamed a certain Mike who would call their house repeatedly, pretending to be from different nationalities. Has that ever happened to you? People might not mistake you with a pretend foreigner, but with your NE accent, I bet some of you may have run into similar circumstances.
I remember one more time, one mistake on my identity. It’s not altogether in the same way, but she still mistook who I was. It goes back to the time when I was in high school. I was first of class in many subjects, but not in typing. I was probably the worst student the lady ever had. She shook her head more than once at me, “Oh no! What has he done now?” But you know I always passed her class; and in Europe, it’s quite difficult. But the reason I escaped the chopping block is because she thought, literally, I was retarded. She thought I should have been in a special school down the street. Of course I never let her know I was not slow because it would have meant my death. Lucky for me, she was one of those teachers who didn’t have much contact with the rest of the teaching staff. I benefited, in that case, from a mistaken identity.
Well today, we are in John 12 and we see a case where Jesus’ identity was mistaken. I could have taken advantage of it, but he didn’t. Let’s read together v.23-36. “…..” Hardly any passage in the NT would come with such a shock to those who heard it for the first time as this. It begins with saying the Son of Man should be glorified. All should serve Him and forget their selfish desire. But then, it finishes with something the Jews had never imagined, something they couldn’t conceive. Jesus says, “The Son of Man will be lifted up from this earth.” You see the people in the crowd were starting to accept Jesus as the Messiah. They knew a crisis was coming up with these claims. He would have to face the enemy, the invaders, sooner or later, because of it. But they never dreamed of the fact that Jesus would be lifted up to heaven to be with God instead of staying with them. Obviously, the sayings, Son of Man and Messiah meant something different to Jesus. His idea of future crises was quite opposite to theirs. There is a mistaken identity here. To understand this properly, we must go back and look at what the Jews were taught about the Son of Man. You see the term took its origin in the book of Dan. There you read this in Chapter 7:13:14. “…..” So here you have, for the first time, the term, Son of Man. The term was used in contrast to the other rulers who were represented by wild animals. You see, in Dan 7:1-8, the writer has described the four world powers with their kings who would succeed each other. There is the Babylonian Empire represented by a lion with eagle’s wing, v. 4. There is the Mede-Persian Empire represented by a bear with three ribs between its teeth, v. 5. Then there is the Greek Empire represented by the leopard with four wings and four heads, v. 6. And, finally, the Roman Empire depicted as a fourth frightening beast with ten horns. These powers were so cruel, so savage, and so sadistic; they could only be described as wild beasts. But then, Daniel is told there is going to be a fifth power – a different one. For one thing, it would be eternal; it wouldn’t pass, like the others. And this king is so gentle, so humane and gracious; he cannot be depicted as the others. He is not an animal. He is a man. So this passage said a day would come when savage times would pass and humane time would come forever.
Now to the Jews, that was great news. You have to remember they were subjected by the four beasts and they suffered greatly because of it. But they knew a golden age was coming – a time when life would be sweet, when they would be masters of the world. Now they were no fools. They knew they were too small of a nation - too weak to make a difference. But the golden age would come, not by human means, not by human powers, but by the direct intervention of God. He would send his champion, the Son of Man, and he would conquer. Throughout the centuries, the Jews started to speculate how this champion would defeat the enemy. Amidst their trouble and sufferings, the Jews were given new courage, thanks to that dream.
And now there is a man named Jesus who calls himself the Son of Man and He starts his speech on the day of the year they expected a deliverer. He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified!” The listeners must have screamed, “Yes! Finally”! They probably thought the trumpet call of eternity sounded. When the voice of God resounds, they must think, “The might of heaven is on the march, the campaign of victory is on the move.” Only Jesus was not going to be glorified in a way they understood. By glorified, he meant he would be crucified. When the Son of Man was mentioned, they thought of the conquest of armies and He meant the conquest of the cross. He spoke not so much in terms of conquest, but in terms of sacrifice and death. He turned their ideas upside down and they refused to understand.
So what are the lessons we draw from all of this? Well, we’ve talked before about how we shouldn’t fit Christ in our mold, that His identity should be defined by his words alone. So I won’t bore you with that again. Rather, I want to talk about the principle in application (to Christianity). You see, all of us today have our own idea of what it means to be a Christian. For some it means coming on Sunday morning and mentioning God only when they need something or somehow feel blessed. For some it means having a great faith. It means believing that no matter what it’s like out there, trust ought to be put in God. It means that no matter how wild the enemy appears, we still can conquer with the champion of God on our side. And, yes, it’s part of Christianity. It’s wonderful. I don’t know a more, noble step of faith than to say, “no matter how gigantic the force of evil in front of us, we are going to still take risks and follow Christ.” Isn’t that a noble step of faith? How many of us have gotten to this point? But listen. That’s what the people around Jesus, in John 12 were willing to do. They were willing to walk by faith, not by sight! That was noble. We ought to recognize it and praise them for it; but it wasn’t sufficient. Jesus was redefining, here, the nature of Christianity. You see the true identity of a Christian is characterized by three more things besides faith to conquer.
Let’s look at each lesson separately.
True identity of a Christian is characterized by death to self.
Why? Because only by death comes life! The grain is ineffective if it doesn’t die. It cannot be reserved in a warm place, rather it must be thrown in the cold ground and buried, as in a tomb, to grow and bear fruit. Think about it. Would there be such a thing as Christianity if there had not been willing death on the part of God’s servants. Starting with Jesus? No, then the apostles who died to teach the world and the servants of God, who, through centuries, fought to keep Christianity legal. As an author has said, “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. It’s always because men have been prepared to die that the great things have lived. Think of that truth with men like Gandhi, Martin Luther and so many others. So my question, today, is, “Are you prepared to die for Christ?” “Are you? Really?” I’m not going to put you to the test today. I don’t have a knife under my pulpit, but let me say, there is another way to check that. Look at your life, your goals, and your ambitions. You see, it’s only when a man buries his personal aims that he begins to be of real use to the Lord. Last week, the Gospel Advocate had the stories of forty great men of God - men who have influenced the world for Him. But do you know that not one of them were really useful to God until they had buried their personal ambitions. By death, comes life. By the death of personal desire, a man becomes a living servant of the living God!
A true Christian is characterized by strength spent for God.
That leads me to my second point. A true Christian is characterized by strength spent for God. Jesus will say, “The man, who hoards his life, must in the end lose it. That it is in spending life we retain it. There was a famous evangelist, called Oristmas Evans, who, many years ago, was constantly on the move, preaching for Christ. His friends would always tell him to slow down and take things easier. But you know what his answer always was? “It is better to burn out than to rust out for Christ!”
When Joan of Arc knew that her enemies were strong and her time was short, she prayed to God, “I shall only last a year. Use me as you can!” You see, that ought to be our attitude. Are you spending your strength for God? Look at this last week, at this last month. How have you done so? How have I done so? Oh, no doubt we will exist longer if we take things easier. No doubt we will last a long time on this earth if we avoid all strain, if we sit next to the fire and never do too much. We will exist longer but we will never live. To live, you’ve got to bite the apple full mouth. You’ve got to spend your strength in God. That’s where true joy and true life is. So my question for all of us is, “Are we living or existing?”
A true Christian is characterized by obedient service.
And finally, “Are we serving in the way the Master wants us to serve?” A true Christian is characterized by obedient service. Why should I serve, you say? We should serve because only through service comes greatness! Also, we should serve because the people whom the world remembers are those who served and because God remembers with love the true servant.
I am reminded of two examples here. The first example is the one of the only Belgian king who reached unanimous popularity. He was King Albert II. He was the only monarch who, during the war, fought side by side with common soldiers. His wife was the only queen who ever served as a nurse in the war hospitals. They are still praised and loved today because of what they did sixty years ago in my country. And then there is the example of Mrs. Berwick. Mrs. Berwick was a Christian who retired and went to live in London in 1940. When the war came and planes started to bomb England, she quickly realized her poor home was a great shelter. Because of the architecture and small size, it was especially safe. So, at 65, she went to the store, bought a simple first aid box and put a notice in her window which read, “If you need help, knock here!” What a great attitude – a Christ-like spirit of servant hood. God must have loved it. And you see, that’s what Jesus is calling the people to do. That’s what he is calling me to be like. Will I rise to the challenge today? There are people around us who need help each hour – even in our midst. When I am asked, do I turn my head, say, “It’s my weekend, my time, I can’t do it, it’s not for my close friend”, or do I get moving and help.
You see, Jesus came to the Jews with two new views of life. They looked on glory as conquest, the acquisition of power, the right to rule. He looked on it as a cross. He taught men that only by death comes life. Only by spending life do we retain it. Only by serving comes greatness. And the challenge today is ours. Will we live as Christ wants us to live or go on mistaken abut the true source of glory? If this morning…….