Sermon for Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday (April 1, 2007)
“The Glory of the Cross” (John 12:20-43)
St. John says a remarkable thing towards the end of today’s Gospel reading. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah and then says, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” (v. 41) The “him” there is Christ. With the perspective that God gave to the prophets of the Old Testament, Isaiah saw Christ’s glory and spoke of him.
In our midweek services this Lent, we have been listening to the Fourth Suffering Servant Song in Isaiah 52 and 53 where Isaiah describes how the Savior would suffer for us. He goes into quite a bit of detail, including the fact that the Savior would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows, “yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us piece, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Is 53:4-5)
Some would go so far as to say that Isaiah even saw Jesus in chapter 6 of his book where he says, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” (Is 6:1) We usually picture that throne as a seat, with God sitting upon it wearing a crown of gold. But perhaps the throne that Isaiah saw was a cross, with God nailed to it wearing a crown of thorns. After all, in our text, Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (v. 32) Perhaps it’s the glory of the cross that Isaiah saw and of which he spoke.
The Glory That Comes From Man
Seeking the Glory...To those who saw Jesus hanging on the cross, he didn’t look very glorious. He didn’t look like someone who should be praised and honored. That’s why so many people had...and still have...a hard time believing in him. That’s why those who did believe in him were afraid of speaking up. St. John writes, “They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (v. 43)
We all like to be praised, honored, and lifted up for the work we do. We like to be acknowledged for who we are, for succeeding, for looking good. For some people, it’s a rush being on stage and performing. It’s almost like an addictive drug for some actors on stage and athletes on the field, having thousands of people cheering for you...with adoring fans reaching out to touch you, hoping for a piece of your sweat-stained clothing or wanting your autograph. You and I may never be in the position of an actor or an athlete. But we do like those pats on the back. And sometimes we might even be willing to compromise our principles in order to receive the favor of those whom we are trying to impress.
Ashamed of the Glory...Some of the members of the Jewish ruling council compromised their principles. They had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah but were afraid to speak up and confess their faith in him. At this point, they remained quiet because they were afraid of the Pharisees. They were afraid that they would be excommunicated from the synagogue if it became known that they believed in Jesus. They were ashamed of the glory of Jesus. “They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” And you and I are no different. We are afraid of what others might think of us, and so at times we fail to stand up and confess that we believe in Jesus.
Losing the Glory...But what happens when we are afraid to publicly confess faith in Jesus? Jesus said, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 10:32-33) When we are afraid to publicly confess Jesus, it proves that we love our own life more than Jesus (v. 25). And when we love our life more than Jesus, we will not keep it for eternal life. We will lose it eternally.
The Glory of the Cross
Jesus Glorified...Jesus did not come to get the glory. He didn’t come to this earth in order to receive fame and fortune. He humbled himself and became obedient, even to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). It wasn’t a rush for him when he rode into Jerusalem with the crowd crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Jn 12:13) He received their accolades, but he knew that they would soon be disappointed to see him headed toward the cross instead of being the conquering Messiah they expected. Jesus did not come to be glorified, yet he was glorified through his death, as he said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (v. 23) His body is that “grain of wheat” (v. 24) that died and fell into the ground in order to bear much fruit...the fruit of the resurrection on Easter morning, and the fruit of forgiveness and life everlasting for all who trust in him.
In our Gospel reading today we see the very real struggle that Jesus was going through. His life was hurtling towards that awful death on the cross. “Now is my soul troubled,” he said (v. 27). That translation doesn’t really say it as strongly as it should. Jesus’ entire mind and heart was thrown into turmoil over what was coming. He was under great emotional distress. You and I have no idea really what he was going through. With the power to stop his own suffering, he was going to have to allow himself to be arrested, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross. Moreover, he was going to do all of this with the weight of the world’s sin placed upon him.
Jesus’ priority was you and your forgiveness. His life was not important to him. His love was not for his own life. His love was for you and your life. He gave his life up in this world so that you could keep yours for eternity. And so, in his distress, he said, “And what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (v. 27-28)
And then, a voice came from heaven saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (v. 28) This was the third time in the Gospels that a voice came from heaven. The first time was at his Baptism in the Jordan. God the Father spoke of Jesus and glorified his name in Jesus when he said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17) Next, we heard the Father’s voice at the Transfiguration, where Jesus was seen shining in glory on the mountaintop, and the Father said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him.” (Lk 9:35) And now, we hear the Father’s voice one more time, as Jesus approaches the cross where he will be lifted up. In so doing, Jesus completely obeys his Father’s will to suffer and die on the cross, and in this way, the Father’s name is glorified.
As Jesus is lifted up on the cross, “now is the judgment of this world” (v. 31)...Jesus faces the world’s judgment in our place. As Jesus is lifted up on the cross, “the ruler of this world [is] cast out.” (v. 31) Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin, Satan has had a stronghold over the hearts of people. In that sense, he is the ruler of this world and all that is opposed to God. But now, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, “Jesus has taken away from the devil the power to keep men in his service.” 1 John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” And as Jesus is lifted up on the cross, he will draw all people to himself...not only Jews, but also Greeks who “wish to see Jesus.” (v. 21) The kingdom of God is not exclusive to any one race or nationality, but Jesus draws people from every tribe and nation to his Church through the preaching of the glory of the cross.
We are Glorified through Forgiveness...Through the message of the cross, Jesus takes away the darkness that covers over our eyes and brings us into the light of his love (v. 35-36). God the Holy Spirit softens our once hardened hearts and turns us from our sinful selfishness and heals our brokenness (v. 40). The glory that comes from man is no longer important for us because the glory of Jesus’ death covers over our sin and shame. Through Jesus shed blood at the cross, we are forgiven for all our sins, including the times when we were like those authorities in the synagogue, afraid to publicly confess our faith in Christ.
The Glory of Losing Our Life for Jesus’ Sake...We don’t have to be afraid of what other people will think of us when we confess faith in Jesus. Jesus said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (v. 25) Now, Jesus isn’t saying that we should go around with a morbid self-loathing or with suicidal impulses. Hating your life is a way of saying that we are to rearrange our priorities. Our needs are to come after serving God and others. Jesus also said, “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.” (v. 26) In other words, follow him to the cross. His coming death on the cross is to serve as the model for us as we reach out and serve others. It involves sacrifice. It means being willing to get your hands dirty. It means loving those who are not always very lovable. And we can do this, knowing that Jesus will already be in those places where he asks us to go and serve him.
And Jesus has already been given the name that is above every name and exalted to the highest place (Phil. 2:9). That, too, is a place of which Jesus says, “Where I am, there will my servant be also.” And by grace, God the Father will honor us with that glorious crown of life that awaits us...because of the crown of thorns that Jesus wore for us when he was lifted up on the throne of the cross.