Thursday, March 29, 2012

John 12:20-33 Palm Sunday -- Christ's Cross and Our Lives

Grace and peace to you from Him who is and who was and who is to come,
            Jesus attracted a lot of favorable attention when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Among the people who wanted to see him were the Greeks John mentions in this morning’s gospel.  They were students, adult confirmands, so to speak, in the Jewish faith.  I’m sure you recall that after he was born, some wise men from the east traveled a great distance to pay him homage.  It must have pleased him that another group of Gentiles wanted to see him when he was looking ahead to his suffering and death.  Their visit was the last recorded public episode in his  ministry before his trial and crucifixion.
            How honored the Greeks must have felt to be near the Lord – the kind of uplifted eagerness that people who have been part of the church for many years can sometimes lose.  They had an instant rapport with the Savior, as if he were the spiritual leader they’d been looking for, as if he’d come just for them.   He must have taught them how to see him in ways they didn’t expect.
            His thoughts were turned toward the week ahead.  He said that the hour had come for him to be glorified.  He didn’t use this word in the everyday, worldly way we’re familiar with.  For Jesus, glory doesn’t mean fanfare or bright lights or a secure place in the history of the world’s great people.  God reveals his glory when his Name stands out before everyone with all its truth and grace and power, when all people see his wisdom and his everlasting strength.  Now, God’s glory comes by means that only he would use – his suffering on the cross.  Jesus taught the Greeks and us and the whole world that he completed his work on earth by suffering the death of a criminal.  What an amazing thing.  God uses a means that human minds call shame and disgrace to make his glory known so that we understand that for Jesus glory means pardon, mercy, spiritual comfort.  Christ was lifted up for the healing of all people.
            He helped his visitors accept the fate that was in store for him by drawing a word-picture from nature.  His death would be like a grain of wheat planted in the ground that returns to life with abundant fruitfulness.  We may also think of a caterpillar that forms a cocoon and then turns into a butterfly.  Death gives way to new and greater life.  Paul explored this idea in one of his letters.  “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or some other it is with the resurrection of the dead.  What is sown is perishable.  What is raised is imperishable....It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.”  By the action of God, even death can’t hurt his people.  A wonderful new life is waiting for us on the other side of the grave.
            In the meantime, though, Jesus was troubled.  He hated the idea of the torture and the cross that were to come.  He knew, however, that coming trials would lead to the fulfillment of his work on earth.  He did not retreat.  He brought his troubles to the Heavenly Father, who answered him without delay.  So it was not an idea that strengthened him or a last-minute hope, but the living presence of his eternal Father who was at his side during the struggles that were coming.
            “The man who loves his life will lose it,” Jesus said, “while the one who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life.”  Troubles are inevitable, as our Lord knew before us.  The way to deal with them is not to cling and fret or let them eat away at us, but to turn to Christ, seek his guidance, and trust that he will see us through.  Love for this life, which ends in death, adds to trouble, while the person who hates this present life with all its delusions and fleeting joys and surges of worry – that’s a different story.  Folks who see this present life as it is and turn their hearts away from it and cling to the Savior receive a marvelous inheritance – a new, permanent, indestructible everlasting life.
            In other words, something in us dies right now – our attachment to the world, frivolity, double-mindedness – the desire to flee from God.  Our sinfulness dies with Christ.  To quote Paul again, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, that we, too, might walk in newness of life.”  Hope, joy, new life out of death – everlasting life that we receive now by faith as God’s gift to us.
            John shows us the greatness of the Lord and of the Christian faith.  Jesus followed a difficult path.  He walked right into the troubles of the world to win the victory for us.  He was not cold or without feeling, as we said.  He knew what would happen.  Someone pointed out that Jesus’ death was not the same as when a Christian dies today, who knows that the canceling of sin and guilt have removed the terrors of death or the same as the death of an unbeliever, who is blind to what is waiting for him.  Jesus died with all the world’s sin and guilt on his shoulders.  The curse of damnation would strike him and crush his life.  Moreover, he went to his death willingly.  No one forced him.  He could have escaped.  His human nature trembled at the horror of what he had to face.  He lets us see his agony and also his courage.  He did not shrink back.
            His experience applies to us through our faith.  Troubles don’t break our spirits.  Our Heavenly Father strengthens us to cope and to keep on carrying out his will.  Anything worth doing takes discipline and often causes us pain.  Nothing of any value comes without sacrifice.  Students subdue their desire for fun to stick with their books.  Parents and grandparents give up trivialities for their families.  All Christ’s people battle with the devil and their own weaknesses to give glory to God.  Jesus knows from firsthand experience what putting up with troubles means for us.  His love for us empowers us to press toward our goals, the greatest of which is the bliss of heaven.  He gives us the strength to persevere.
            We must never think that we carry our burdens by our own strength.  It may seem to our human flesh that it’s a point of honor to see things through on our own.  Jesus was wiser than we.  He turned his troubles over to his Father in heaven.  A lifetime of living in harmony with the Father’s will paid off for him.  There was no tension between them or unresolved difficulties.  Jesus submitted to the will of his Father, and the Father carried him.
            No trouble is too great for the power and wisdom of God to make right.  He carries our burdens and lifts us up.  We talk to him in faith and trust with all our hearts that he hears us; we wait to see how he helps us.  The one who delivered his Son and turned his suffering to victory will not desert us.  And we are sure to thank him when we see his gracious hand at work in our lives.  We should give him thanks and praise at all times anyway.
            Jesus was lifted up on the cross so that the whole world would know his name and come to him.  His enemies intended the crucifixion to be a judgment upon him, but the Father turned Christ’s death into a judgment on his Son’s enemies.  Somebody wrote that the world pronounced its own death sentence when it killed Jesus and lost the right to exist.  The death of God’s Son shows the emptiness of the world and its vanity.  The things of earth are transient and pass away.  The cross shows that the devil, who rules the world, is weak and full of malice.  Christ, the victor, took his kingdom and his throne away from him.  All he enjoys now is the shadow of power, while Jesus possesses the real thing.
            The various troubles the devil can stir up are nothing compared with the power and glory of God.  He sends us a small share of the miseries that came to Jesus for his own reasons that we don’t always understand, but we can say a few things that I’ll summarize. 
            First, our burdens, our crosses, strengthen our souls and mold us into the likeness of Jesus.
            Second, they teach us about the vanity and unreliability of the world around us.
            Third, God uses our troubles as means by which his glory shines through us.  Our neighbors see his hand at work in our strength.  They see the faith that our gracious Lord has planted in our souls..
            Fourth, the Father uses our burdens to make us obedient to his will with cheerful hearts.  He weakens us so as to make us strong in him.
            And fifth, he gives us a taste of Jesus’ cross so that we will know the extent of the Savior’s love for us.
            Hard times puzzle us but they do not break our spirits.  We ourselves may not know why they come, but we trust that God does know and we lean on him.  He promises to turn every difficulty around for our benefit and his glory, in his own way and in his own good time.  What do we do?  We wait and rely on him in trust, as I have a feeling the people of St. Peters have had a lot of experience at.  In Jesus’ name we give thanks.  AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus.  AMEN. 

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