John 12:20-33

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.

Deep down inside each of us is an old sinner who assumes “I” am the center of everything. That old sinner isn’t missing from those who describe themselves as religious or spiritual. That old sinner isn’t even missing from those who describe ourselves as Christians. The old Adam or Eve in each of us likes to be in control. It’s a god complex.

So what does that look like? Most of us are really adept at spotting the self-centeredness in others. Whether it’s driving without any concern for others or just plain old selfish behavior in the grocery store, we will say, “She thinks it’s all about her” or “He’s certainly an egotistical jerk.” But don’t we all have amazingly self-serving excuses when it comes to our own selfish behavior? “I was in a hurry. I was on my way to church.”

Here’s a simple self-examination any Christian can do. When you are making a decision, when you are expressing an opinion, when you are angry or just aggravated with another person or about your present situation, ask yourself who is in charge? Who is in the center? Is it God, or is it you? If your feelings are hurt because you think someone behaved very selfishly towards you, that doesn’t mean you are in the right. Maybe not.

So this gets very tricky. A lot of times we Christians want to answer that God is always the center of our lives. Oh, sure, we used to be selfish. Oh, sure, we used to be all about “me.  We learn to describe this behavior as “rational lies.” We rationalize that God is in the center, but our lives say, “No, I am!”

The old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in each of us, can be very well thought of by others as a good neighbor or a person with a servant heart. Whether on the left or the right, the old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in each of us, can hold all the so-called right positions on the big issues of the day. Again, depending on your political views, you may feel justified by how much you agree with your favorite political commentators and how much they agree with you. The old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in each of us, loves to feel righteous in the eyes of others and righteous indignation against those who aren’t on the so-called right side, which, obviously is “my” side.

When the old Adam or Eve, the old sinner, gets religion, it’s more of the same. It looks like the super religious guy in Jesus’ parable thanking God that he isn’t like that lousy tax collector. It looks like the disciples arguing over who is the greatest and like Mama Zebedee asking for prime political appointments for her boys, James and John. It looks like Martha ticked at her sister for not helping with the hospitality ministry and like the rich young man who has always kept all the commandments and wants Jesus to tell him he has done enough for God. The old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in us, is really at his or her worst when it comes to being religious. Indeed deep in the American religious psyche is this sense that I am in charge of the God connection…that I can cooperate with God!

A precise summary of the situation is that the old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in us, is a good swimmer. Instead of being drowned daily with all his or her evil desires, with all his or her god complex, the old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in us, keeps coming up for air and doing his or her best to climb out of the baptismal font for good. But that’s not the very worst that can be said.

No, the old Adam and Eve, the old sinner in us, first appeared in the primeval Garden when the ancient serpent asked, “Did God really say?” In that moment, the possibility of a “my” story apart from God’s story came into being. Truth is, our first parents did not fall. They rebelled! And because they rebelled against God, they lost Paradise and death was the logical consequence for them. In the moment of rebellion, the creation, the world, became hostile to God. In that moment, the ancient serpent became the ruler of a world hostile to God.

Yes, the worst that can be said is that the old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in us, has been duped by the most pernicious lie of all, this notion that we are in control. That there is an autonomous self. No, we are all going to die. And from the first moment of rebellion all human beings are born in bondage to sin, death, and evil and we cannot free ourselves. Paul asks in Romans: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24).

There is only One who can deliver us from the unholy trio of sin, death, and evil. His name is Jesus, which means “God saves.” Only He can cast out the tyrant, the ruler of a world that is hostile to God. Only He can bring a new Adam and a new Eve into being. Only He can restore us to Paradise, the total intimacy with God and with each other!

24 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.

God’s Son in human flesh, the Lord Jesus, lived the perfectly obedient life that none of us can live. When He prayed, He prayed, “Our Father,” and not to some generic “Gracious God.” When He taught, He taught in obedience to His heavenly Father and not in a self-gratifying way. When He acted, He acted in obedience to His heavenly Father and not in accord with what was good for Himself. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before His arrest, condemnation, suffering, crucifixion, and death, He prayed, “Nevertheless, Father, not my will but Thine be done.”

Only God’s Son in human flesh, the Lord Jesus, can by His dying, destroy death and cast out this world’s tyrant. Let us be clear. If we could in any way save ourselves by our cooperating with God, then our heavenly Father would not have sent His Son to save us!  If we are to be saved, then God must do the work for us – all the work for us! Born dead in our trespasses, we bring nothing to the table but our sin and our death. God saves!

When God’s beloved Son Jesus suffered, died, and was buried, He took upon Himself the judgment and death we sinners rightly deserve. Like a single grain of wheat, He was planted in the earth on the day of His death. When He rose from the dead, it was the beginning of a whole new creation. His saving death would be infinitely fruitful as new sons and daughters would spring forth into new life in Him. A new Adam. A new Eve.

Holy Baptism is the way of dying and living that begins when we are joined to the death and resurrection of God’s beloved Son Jesus. The pattern of our Christian life is set. We die daily to ourselves. The old Adam or Eve is drowned again and again by daily confession and repentance, which is nothing other than telling the truth about ourselves. Christ has died. We must die. So, then, we abandon daily all illusions of our own ability. If we are to be made new, now and at the last, God must do the work!

So, then, do you want to share forever the eternal life and love of the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)? Do you want to be freed from the fear of death? Do you want to be restored to Paradise, to total intimacy with God and with each other? Holy Baptism is God’s work of joining rebellious humans to Jesus’ saving death. Will you be baptized, or will you keep going it alone in a futile attempt at self-government? Will you become the person God created you to be, or will you keep foolishly insisting you’re just fine the way you are in that body of death?

Dear ones, there is death that goes on forever, and there is life that goes on forever. God wants to save you. God wants to forgive you. God dearly loves you. Please don’t keep on being the tyrant of this world’s pawn. Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us!

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This message from Samuel D. Zumwalt is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.  For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected].  A Pass it On Project ,  You can read more  at  e-Mail: [email protected]