Holy Cross Day – September 14th, 2014 – John 12:20-33
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
What do you expect to see? When you look upon Christ Jesus, when you look at the Scriptures, what are your expectations? This actually is one of the major themes of the Gospels – you have the famous passage in Matthew where Jesus, speaking of John the Baptist, asks, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” What were you guys expecting when you went to hear John, what did you want to see? And this comes up all the time with Jesus – do you want to see the prophet, the teacher, the preacher, the healer, maybe the glorious leader who will drive out the Romans and restore earthly power to Israel? And so, in our Gospel text for today, we shouldn’t be surprised when we hear: “Now, among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Phillip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’” Greek converts, there in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, they want to see Jesus. What are you hoping to see – and more importantly, what is Jesus going to show you?
John 12 is a hinge chapter. What we hear in this text from Jesus is His last public teaching before he is Crucified. Once we get to chapter 13, we are in the upper room. Chapters 13-17 are all conversations Jesus has with the disciples on Maundy Thursday, chapters 18-19 are our Lord’s Passion and death. What we get in the Gospel lesson today is the last public teaching, the last public sermon Christ gives. And these Greeks come, and they want to see Jesus. And what does Jesus say? “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” You are going to see the Son of Man in His glory – He will be glorified. But even then, oh crowd, oh Greeks, oh people, what do you expect that to be? Palm Sunday was just a few verses earlier, that was pretty spectacular – the Son of Man being glorified is going to top that? It’s going to top the feeding of the 5000, it’s going to top the wedding at Cana and casting out demons? It’s going to be an amazing show!
No, not quite. It’s going to be His death. “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” There’s the glory of Son of Man. God Almighty, the very Word of God, becomes Man, takes on a human body, born of the Virgin Mary – and what is His glory? To die. To be buried. Why? Because He wants a harvest, a bountiful harvest, He wants to win salvation and redemption for the world – He wants win salvation for you – that is His glory, to redeem and restore you, and so He must die. His glory is something beyond just this world with its pomp and circumstance and fleeting might – “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” No, the here and now – the things you folks want to see the Son of Man do – that’s not the important thing. The Son of Man is paving the way for everlasting and eternal life, and He will do so by dying.
Indeed, it’s even how you and I prepare for glory. “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.” You know, we will talk all the time about how we strive to follow Jesus – and then talk about all the things we do. You heard what following Jesus here means? It means dying. I remember, when I first got to college the WWJD bracelets – the What Would Jesus Do bracelets were popular, and my roommate Tim gave the best response. What would Jesus do? He’d go to the Cross. He’d suffer and die. And we too are commanded to… take up our cross and follow Him. And you know what? This isn’t exactly the glory most people are expecting. Frankly, it’s not the glory *we* expect often enough. Slog on through this life and suffer and serve and then die – where’s the glory now? Where’s the power and might now? When do I get to rub the noses of my enemies in it, when do I get to prove how great I am?
You don’t. Is that disturbing? Intimidating? It ought to be – it was to Christ. “Now My soul is troubled. 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.” It’s hardship, it’s frightening, it’s difficult – especially if your expectations are sunshine and daisies. Especially if you’ve been told that if you just work hard and do your best, everything will work out. Ain’t none of us here who worked harder than Jesus; our best doesn’t come close to His, and yet what did He face? Precisely what He had to in order to win your salvation. The voice thunders from heaven, there is confusion. What’s going on, people don’t get it. We just wanted to see this Jesus fellow! You wanted to see Jesus – you picked the right time, then! “Now is the judgment of the 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.” What ought you expect to see when you look at Jesus? Christ Jesus lifted up from the earth, hanging on a cross.
When you were crucified, it was the most public of executions. The most humiliating. You became a billboard. Think about it – you drive to Enid and you pass all those billboards – and why? So you’ll see them, read them, learn from them. When Rome crucified people, they were hung by the side of the road, up in the air, like a billboard, for everyone to see. This is what you get when you mess with Rome. This is what you get when you fight our authority. It’s death for everyone to see. And that is the way that Christ dies, and even now, 2000 years later our own eyes are drawn to the Cross to behold this wonder – Christ the Crucified. God Himself, forsaking His power, not calling legions of angels to His side to smite His foes, but God Himself suffering. Dying. Taking most fully His place with you who are born sinful in a sinful world, you who were born to die.
What do you expect to see? To the thinking of the world, this death on the Cross seems foolish and unwise. Paul calls it a stumbling block, an offense to the pious Jews – it’s an offense even to the Muslims today – to say that God would let a holy prophet die. The Koran denies the Cross – says that Christ didn’t die there, but rather some look-a-like died in His place while Jesus looked on and laughed. A stumbling block. Paul calls it folly to the Greeks. What good is it to give up on this world, with all his vaunted pleasures? Live it up now! What did you expect to see? More signs, more wisdom and earthly advice, the secrets to gain more wealth and power and prosperity? Nope. None of that. Rather this. God’s power and might and glory, all wrapped up there upon the Cross.
Think about this. Death was punishment. It was the wages of sin. It was the terrible consequence of sin that separated man from God, that ruined God’s creation. Death was not the way things were supposed to be. After the fall, we could not follow the living God because we died. That’s one of the major refrains of Genesis – And he died. And he died. And he died. Death is what happens to sinners. We are born, we suffer, we toil, and we die. And yet, God does not want you to be separated from Him. He doesn’t want you cut off from Him… and so what does He do? Man can no long live as I live? Alright, I will become Man, I will be born – and you will follow Me. Behold, I am born, I suffer, and I die. And I rise. And you will follow Me.
Because Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, because He suffers there and dies, He destroys death. Rips death apart. That’s what Easter is – death is undone, death isn’t what it used to be. Jesus dies, Jesus rises – that’s the new pattern. We die, we’re going to rise – that’s now just the way it is. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” Every single person, because of Christ, is going to be raised from the dead come the last day. He will draw all people to Himself – some to the joys of salvation, some to judgment, but no, death is undone. He will not abandon David to the grave, He will not leave His brothers and sisters in the ground… we will rise. The old grey mare of death ain’t what she used to be, the sting of death is done away with.
But what does this mean for you? How does this shape the way you see your own life? The trials you face, the sorrow, the hardship? “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 unto myself.” Satan’s plan was simple. Have people look anywhere and everywhere but at Christ the crucified. Distractions, fears, torments, pleasures. All of those. But Christ Jesus breaks Satan’s power – He reshapes everything. And more than that – Christ Jesus has taken you, and He has joined you unto Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism. Do you not know that those of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death? Receive the sign of the Cross upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you and one claimed by Christ the Crucified – and that is the reality of your life, of who you are. You don’t belong to Satan. You don’t belong to sin. You don’t belong to the world. You don’t belong to death. Even as temptation and pleasures and passions and aches and pains tell you otherwise – you belong Christ. He has claimed you. And this is true not only for this hour on Sunday morning, but every moment of your life. Christ has come, and now you follow Him, you can’t but help to – He has tied you unto Himself.
What do you expect to see? What our sinful flesh wanted to see isn’t important. Through His Word and Spirit, God shows us something better, shows us what we need – and that is Christ and Him Crucified, lifted up upon the cross for our redemption and our rescue from sin, death, and the devil. It is there, upon the Cross where everything happens, where you salvation is won. Christ has suffered and died for you, so even the worst suffering and trials Satan throws your way, even death itself, now points you to Christ and His love for you. God grant us His Holy Spirit so that we ever see Christ the Crucified for us! In the Name of Christ the Crucified.