John 12:20-33 (Palm Sunday—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
March 20, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson recorded in John 12:
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 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. 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
This is a pivotal moment in the Gospel of John. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to the acclamations of “Hosanna in the highest!” has taken place. The Pharisees said to one another, “Look, the world has gone after him.” And so it would seem. God-fearing Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast approached Philip with a request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
You will find those words carved on the altars and pulpits of churches as a way to remind people that what is proclaimed in God’s house should allow us to see Jesus. But what kind of Jesus do we wish to see? Many will look for a very one-sided Jesus. A lot of folks prefer a more glorious Jesus. King Herod was like that. He wanted to see Jesus because he wanted to watch Jesus do a miracle. Those gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth were like that. The miracles that Jesus had done in Capernaum they wanted to see right there in His hometown (Luke 4:23). Even the devil had wanted to see a glorious Jesus change stones into bread or jump off the highest point of the temple so that angels would swoop in and rescue Him (Luke 4:3ff.)
People are naturally attracted to success, victories, and happiness. People prefer evidence of tangible spiritual power conveyed by something really impressive and glorious. Folks are attracted to things that can promise such success and happiness, that can give them the glorious. And so that’s the kind of Jesus people hope to see. They want to see the “flashy” Jesus, the powerful Jesus, the Jesus who “will give me what I want when I want it, like genie in a bottle, because Jesus wants me to be happy and successful.” Now don’t think that Jesus is against happiness and success. But what we consider happiness and success isn’t always what Jesus considers happiness and success. But then, that’s not the Jesus we would be looking for anyway. We want the glorious Jesus.
We want the glorious Jesus who will take care of all our problems. We want to use Jesus for our own health, happiness, and prosperity here and now. Look through the “religious” section of Barnes and Noble. There are “Christian” diet books, “Management Techniques of Jesus Christ,” analyses of Jesus as the master salesman. They promise that if you follow certain steps, then Jesus will make your family problems disappear, your body will do what you want it to do, your financial problems will evaporate. All our nation’s problems can be solved, the church will grow, and we will all live happily ever after if we just do all the right things.
Reality check. Even the best Christian families experience conflicts, problems, and embarrassing failures. The most devout Christian might go bankrupt, or have a mental breakdown, or contract a heartbreaking disease and not be healed. And when the ideal Christian life proves impossible to attain, what of the Jesus you sought after? Did He let you down? Maybe you need to try harder, buy more books, present a more positive front to the world? But that just leads to dishonesty and phoniness. Life in Christ is not all glory and happiness and success. Life in Christ is not all feel good, emotional highs that take us from one mountain-peak experience to another. Do you want to see Jesus? Do you truly want to see Jesus as He reveals Himself to you in the Bible? To truly see and to know Jesus you must go to the cross.
And the cross isn’t happy or glorious because the cross involves sin, and death, and punishment. The cross means you and I have to come face to face with harsh reality—our death, the punishment we deserve because we are by nature sinful and unclean, enemies of God who think nothing of disobeying Him when it suits our wants and needs in our search for pleasure and happiness.
Along with the Greeks, we ask to see Jesus. Philip and Andrew bring our request to Him. And before we or the Greeks get to see Jesus, He’s already talking about death, which strangely enough He calls the hour for Him to be glorified. But it’s not the kind of glorification we had in mind. For it involves death, Jesus’ own death, like a seed, so that He should die and produce something beyond what we could have imagined. If we love the glory and the happiness and the prestige of life in this world, our life will be destroyed in the world to come because of our sins. But when we come to see our sins for what they truly are and are brought by the Spirit to true sorrow and repentance over our sins, confessing them, God out of His mercy and grace chooses to give us life in the world to come because Jesus came to His hour on our behalf, lifted up from the earth on a cross.
For Jesus, the hour to be glorified involved arrest, binding, striking on the face, scourging, mocking, crucifixion, and death. The cross was necessary for us and for our salvation, our rescue from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. As if it were a spiritual magnet, the saving work of Jesus upon the cross draws all sinners to Him—Jews and Greeks, all people. The power to save humanity from sin, death, and hell lies solely in Jesus, the Crucified One. When a magnet and metal object are attached to each other, the power for that attachment resides exclusively in the magnet. Likewise, the power to draw poor miserable sinners to the salvation and forgiveness of God is the exclusively the saving work of Jesus on cross.
The suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross purchased and won for us forgiveness of all our sins. He shed His perfect blood so that we are forgiven for the self-glory we have sought and worked for at the expense of loving God with our whole selves and our neighbors as ourselves. In the death of Jesus, Satan and the world also stand condemned. They are no longer able to accuse us of our sins before our Father in heaven because all our sins are forgiven through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Because of Jesus’ death on the cross for us, God gifts to us real glory and happiness and success that is not bound up in the ever-changing stuff of this life, but in the certainty of eternal life with our Triune God forever in a new creation that He will make for all those who live by faith in Jesus the Son. As Jesus promises in our Gospel, “Where I myself am, there my servant will be also.” Through Jesus’ suffering and death, we have passed through death and hell with Him (John 5:24). We have been united with Him by baptism into His death and into His resurrection (Rom. 6:5). At the Last Day, you and I will be given the glory of Jesus’ resurrection in our own resurrected and glorified bodies so that we will be like Him! (Phil. 3:21)
So, you want to see Jesus? Look at the cross. “For there hangs the Son of God with outstretched arms, in order to testify that He rejects no one but wants gladly to accept everyone and . . . draw all unto Himself. His head is lifted to heaven and shows us the way to eternal life. His feet are hanging below and toward the earth, for He is treading on the head of the old serpent, the devil, . . . taking away all the devil’s power. For because He, the dear Lord Christ, is hanging there and is paying and rendering satisfaction for our sin with His death, being made a curse for us, the devil, who, because of sin, has obtained power over us, loses his might.” (Luther)
Look at Jesus, who hung on the cross bearing your sin, suffering your hell, dying your death. That’s the Jesus who is Savior. That’s the Jesus whose glory it is to suffer and die and rise again for you so that you would have forgiveness and abundant life with God forever. He’s not a genie in a bottle promising you all your hopes and dreams in this life. He’s not an entertainer to do miracles for show. He’s the Suffering Servant of God who loved you so much that He wanted you to have everlasting life—real happiness, real glory, real success—just as your heavenly Father planned from all eternity, even though it meant suffering death and hell on a cross.
During this Holy Week, walk once more the path from the Upper Room to Gethsemane’s Garden, through the streets as the crowd shouts for Jesus’ death. Climb Calvary’s mournful mount. Behold, the Lamb of God, bleeding and dying for you and for all people, lifted up on a cross, winning forgiveness and life through the shedding of His blood. Then make the early morning journey to the tomb on the third day. He is risen as He said. Come, see Jesus and the glory of His cross and resurrection! Amen.