Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sermon for Palm Sunday (April 13, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

“The Prayer for Glory” (John 12:28)

Do you have a hard time concentrating?  Does your mind wander?  What seems to be the problem?  Are you worried or anxious about something?  Are you stressed out?  Are you over-booked, so all you can think about is your upcoming appointments but are no good for your present activities and responsibilities?  Do you find yourself complaining inside, “I just can’t seem to think straight these days!”
As we enter Holy Week today, I wonder to myself, “How was Jesus able to think straight in his days?”  What you and I go through is certainly nothing like what Jesus went through.  He knew his death was looming.  It was just around the corner.  And his death was like none other before.  With the weight of the world’s sin upon him, he was going to have to suffer like no human being has ever suffered before.  It’s no wonder that, not long after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled.”
Troubled souls are led to pray.  When our souls are troubled, we pray to be delivered from whatever is troubling us.  When the soul of Jesus was troubled, his prayer was quite different.  He said, “what shall I say?  ‘Father save me from this hour’?”  No.  He knew that there was a greater purpose for what was to come.  And so he said, “But for this purpose I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.”  As Jesus faced the cross, Jesus prayed for glory … not his own, but the glory of his Heavenly Father.
You and I often seek glory for ourselves.  We do something nice for someone.  We may even do it with the thought of love and service.  But sometimes we do things with mixed motives.  That nice thing we did out of love and service?  We get mad if the person for whom we did it doesn’t say “Thank you.”  In all of the things we do for others, there’s a part of us that thinks, “Hey, I’m a pretty good guy for doing this.”  We like to get the glory.  We want credit to be given to us for what we do.  And if no one notices it, we get hurt or angry.
But this is exactly the opposite of what Jesus tells us.  Jesus said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)  Whoever loves his life – or for our purposes this morning, we might say, whoever thrives on getting credit, whoever likes to get the glory for what they do – will lose their life for eternity.  Sound harsh?  Yes, but Jesus is teaching us here that those who are always seeking glory and credit don’t really understand or believe in his own selfless sacrifice at the cross.  In the very next verse, Jesus says, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me” (John 12:26).  Follow him where?  To the cross.  To the place of suffering.  Believing in Jesus, we follow him to the cross, where he earned forgiveness for all our sins.  But following Jesus also means following in his footsteps, and that may mean that we also have to suffer and sacrifice as we serve … and not be concerned about success and honor and glory.
“Now is my soul troubled,” Jesus 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.”  In this prayer for glory, Jesus sought the Father’s glory.  In seeking his Father’s glory, he did his Father’s will … which was to go to the cross.  The cross of Christ doesn’t seem very glorious.  There was blood there.  There was pain there.  There was a lot of ugliness there, with mocking and shouting from the crowd.  But the cross does indeed display God’s glory, because it’s there where we truly see God’s love, his mercy, his justice, his power, his righteousness, and his holiness in action.
            He did this out of mercy and love for his creation.  He did this so that you would have your sins forgiven.  He did this to display his justice … so that the sin of the world would be judged and condemned in the innocent death of Jesus.  And although Jesus appeared weak upon the cross, yet his power was in action there, too.  Through his death and resurrection, Satan’s power over us is defeated.  Everything that the devil throws at us to incite us against God and turn us against him is brought to nothing.
A little over a year ago, 18 year-old T.J. Lane was in an Ohio courtroom to face sentencing for a shooting that left three high school classmates dead and three others wounded.  Life in prison without parole was the court’s decree.  Lane sat there listening to the court proceedings with a smirk on his face, flipping off the victims’ families, and wearing a white t-shirt with the word “killer” written on it in bold, black, hand-written letters.  Although he had inflicted untold emotional pain upon the families, the truth was … Lane could do no more.  Although he still proudly puffed himself up in the courtroom, he was a defeated enemy.  His mocking threats and violent gestures were empty.[1]
The same goes for Satan’s attempts on our life with God.  Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can view Satan the same way.  He is still a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).  But that lion is a “toothless” enemy.  His threats and violent gestures are empty.  He has been dethroned and defeated by the Lion of Judah.  All that he does now are the last gasps of one trying to maintain some semblance of power and control over us.  But he has none.  By virtue of our baptism, we belong to God.  We are in his loving care, even when things appear otherwise.
As Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify your name,” he didn’t seek to get the glory for what he was about to do.  Instead, he humbled himself.  We heard this morning St. Paul’s words from Philippians 2 that the Son of God “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  That’s what our Lord’s whole life was about.  From his conception in the womb of the Virgin, to his crucifixion on the cross of Calvary, Jesus laid aside his rights as God and suffered and died for you and for me.
            Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify your name” … and God the Father answered his prayer.  A thundering voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”  In the entire mission of Jesus up to that point, God had glorified his own name.  In Jesus, the grace, the power, and the blessed purposes of the Father shined brightly.  And in the passion and resurrection of Jesus, his purposes would shine brightly again.[2]
            Jesus never sought his own glory.  Yet, in his High Priestly prayer the night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus did pray that the Father would glorify him.  But this glory would only come through the cross.  He prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:1-5).
            God the Father answered that prayer, too.  Because Jesus humbled himself and was obedient to his Father’s will, even to the point of dying on the cross, God the Father has made the name of Jesus higher and more glorious than any other name.  As St. Paul wrote, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
As we glorify and exalt and worship the name of Jesus, we are glorifying our Heavenly Father who sent his Son to be our Savior.  And we can stop worrying about getting the glory, about taking credit for what we do.  Instead, we can give all the glory to God.  He works all things in us in the first place … faith, repentance, trust, and even the good works that we do.
It’s through Jesus that you and I receive glory – the glory of forgiveness, the glory of eternal life, and the glory of heaven – as Jesus 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.”
We don’t pray to receive glory.  But the Father gives it to us as a gift of grace for Jesus’ sake.

[2] Comments here adapted from Lenski, John, p. 871

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