Friday, September 23, 2016

Holy Cross Day (John 12:20-33)

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this festival of the Holy Cross is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the twelfth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” A simple request, really, and quite understandable. These Greeks are in Jerusalem for the Passover; they have heard the commotion of Palm Sunday, the events that shook that great city to its core. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” They want to see this great man of God, to hear Him speak, to perhaps even have the opportunity to ask a few questions. They have heard so much about Him, now they want to see Him for themselves. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” The disciples have certainly fielded requests like this before; throughout His three-year ministry many people have been brought to see Jesus. But this time something is different. This request comes not from Jews, or even from Samaritans, the usual crowd hanging around Jesus, the inhabitants of first century Palestine, occupying a small corner of this world. These are Greeks, and at this moment, on Palm Sunday, they stand in for the rest of the world; they represent the nations lining up to see Jesus, peoples and tribes and languages spanning the globe, all with this simple request: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” The time has come for Jesus to show Himself to the world.

“And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’” The request of these Greeks, as simple as it may sound, is a signal Jesus has been waiting for. The hour has come; it is time for Jesus to be revealed, to be glorified before the entire world. It is time for a local mission to become universal, it is time for the message of Christ to travel to every corner of creation. It is time for all to see His glory. And the world will be looking for it. We will look for the glory of Christ in more and greater miracles, delivering us from the suffering of disease and depression. We will look for the glory of Jesus in more profound and practical teachings, delivering us from the suffering of broken relationships and business failure. We will look for the glory of Jesus working the levers of power, delivering us from the suffering of poor government. We will look for the glory of Jesus in fancy church buildings, full pews and full offering plates, delivering us from the suffering of persecution and opposition. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus;” we wish to see His glory, the glory that will glorify us in the eyes of all those around us, the glory that is an escape from all the suffering this world can deal out.

But the glorification that Jesus has in mind has nothing to do with escaping suffering. “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.” The Greeks wish to see Jesus; the world is looking for the revelation of His glory, and Christ will show it to us, but in a way that none expect: by dying. He will bear much fruit, He will give forth a harvest the world has never seen, grain from every corner of this planet, but only by following the seed into the ground, only by dying. One of God’s greatest miracles in creation is that a dead, dry and wrinkled seed can sit on a shelf for months, even years, but when it is put into the ground, when it finds soil and water, it comes alive, and bears a harvest. Jesus will follow the pattern of the seed: He will be put into the ground dead, but will emerge alive, bearing much fruit. Only by dying will we see Jesus’s glory, only by suffering will Jesus be exalted. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Jesus saves His life only by losing it; He loves the world only by hating His life in it. He doesn’t escape from suffering, but gives Himself into it. And He calls on the world to follow Him. “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” Where is Jesus? On the cross, and there His servants will be also. We follow Jesus to glory, certainly, but only after suffering, only after the cross.

It is at this point that many who wished to see Jesus turn away; the cost is too high. Jesus, too, is tempted to escape from suffering; as the cross draws near, He wrestles with His Father’s will. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’” Jesus sees what lies ahead of Him: the horror of the cross, the humiliation, the pain, the suffering that will be inflicted by a sinful world. We want a Jesus that has no cross, a Jesus that makes us feel better, that gives us glory right now, who delivers from suffering, not one who leads us into it. But the only path to glory, the only path to true, complete, and eternal freedom from suffering, is through suffering and death, it is through the cross. “For this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your Name.” Asking for glory is asking for the cross. The two are inseparable, tied together; they are one and the same. Christ’s glory is Christ’s suffering; Christ’s exaltation is Christ’s cross. Jesus’ soul was troubled, but now He is resolute, He will go to the cross, He will fulfill the Father’s will, Jesus will save His life by losing it, He will hate His life in this world by giving it into death upon the cross. He will not ask for salvation from this hour but for glory, the glory of the cross. And His Father will answer. “Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

The cross doesn’t look very glorious, although we dress it up like it is. Every cross should be a crucifix, every cross should bear the body of Jesus, or else we are tempted to make it pretty, to give the cross some kind of magnificence or glory of its own. Dear friends, the cross has no glory in itself. By itself the cross is an instrument of torture, designed to give a cruel and agonizing death. Our attempts to dress it up, to plate it with gold, to hang it from a rapper’s neck or tattoo it on the small of our back are futile. The cross only has glory because it bears the body of Jesus. The glory of the cross only comes from what was done there, what Jesus accomplished hanging on its horrific beams. “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The cross only has glory because Jesus hung there, exalted and lifted on high, bearing the sin of the world. The cross only has glory because it is spattered with the blood of Jesus, because there the sacrifice for the sin of the world was slaughtered. The cross only has glory because on the cross the serpent’s head is crushed, there the ruler of this world is cast down from His throne. The cross is a standard of victory because it is in the death of Jesus that we see Jesus for who He truly is, the Savior from sin and death, the One who leads us through suffering and death, His and ours, to a new creation where suffering and death will be no more. Glory comes through suffering: that is the message of the cross.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” It isn’t important whether those Greeks saw Jesus or not that day: what is important is that their request was answered on Good Friday: there the world sees Jesus as He wishes to be seen, in His glory as the Savior of the world. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” This is the question the world is asking the Church, whether they realize it or not. And we must give answer, we must show this world Jesus, Jesus upon the cross, Jesus lifted up from the earth, for we have the promise that where Jesus is thus exalted, He will draw all people to Himself. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” This is the question you must ask every time you gather in this place, and you must hold your pastors accountable to show you Jesus as He wishes to be seen: suspended between earth and heaven, exalted in glory upon the cross, drawing all people to Himself. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” The people of Israel, facing the just consequences of their sin, were told to look upon the embodiment of their sin hanging upon a pole; they looked, and they lived. As we languish in our sin, suffering in a sinful world, subject to sin’s penalty, we are called to look upon the embodiment of our sin hanging on a cross; we look in faith, and we live. Jesus’ glorification began when they lifted up His body on the cross, suspending Him between earth and heaven, exalted for you, glorified for you, so that one day He will draw you out your graves and to Himself; forever. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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