A Glorious Death

The Greeks were eager to see Jesus; Jesus was eager to see His cross. It happened at the start of Passover week in Jerusalem. Some Greeks had come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. We don’t know anything about them. Perhaps they were simply curious. Seekers. Foreign journalists out to get a story. Or more likely they were the so-called “God-fearers,” worshipers of YHWH, but from a distance. Permanent guests at the synagogue. Greeks were reticent to receive the mark circumcision. Who could blame them?

They go to Phillip. He has a Greek name, so he’s the logical one to go to. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Likely they’ve heard of His raising Lazarus from the dead. Jerusalem must have been buzzing with the news. Phillip tells Andrew, Peter’s brother, and together they go to Jesus. A hint of hierarchy here, perhaps. We can’t resist it, can we? We’re not sure if they brought the Greeks along or just had them wait at the receptionist’s desk.

From the perspective of a Jew of Jesus’ day, the Greeks were the “other part” of human race. The Gentiles, the goyim, the uncircumcised outsiders. Jesus uses the opportunity to point to His impending death and it universality, that it is for all. His death is the way of a grain of wheat. Try and preserve it, and you get nothing in return. Bury it in the ground, and it rises to bear fruit. This is what’s in store for Jesus this Passover week. He goes the way of death and the grave like a grain of wheat cast to the ground. He will lose His life in order to take it up again three days later. And in His dying and rising, He will bear much fruit. Your salvation.

As it is with Jesus, so it is with all who would follow Him. Death and resurrection are the only way. We might look for some other, easier way, a way that we can hang on to at least some of our life. But then that would not be following Jesus, would it? The answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?” is summed up in these two words: die and rise. That’s what Jesus would do, and what all those who follow Him must do as well. “Where I am,” Jesus says, “there my servant shall be also.” There on the cross, there in the tomb, there at the right hand of God.

We don’t like this way of speaking. I don’t imagine Philip and Andrew were to pleased with it. And I can’t imagine the Greeks were terribly impressed. This is the Jesus who had just raised Lazarus from the being four days’ dead. Now the same Jesus says that if you love your life, you will lost it. But if you hate your life in this world, you will guard it for eternal life.

Here is the strange paradox of faith in Jesus: To live we must die, not just once, but every day. Dying and rising is a way of life for the Christian. It’s the only way of life. If the Greeks were reticent about circumcision, you can only imagine what they thought of dying to live. Holding your life in a dead hand, trusting that you are held in the hands of the One who lost it all for you, so that when you literally lose your grip, He will not lose His. Our grip on things is tenuous, uncertain, unsure, and in the end we only wind up losing the very thing we wish to save. Unless the grain of wheat dies and is buried in the ground, it cannot bear fruit. You can’t hold on to the grain. You must let go of it, bury it. We understand that of wheat and other seeds, but do we understand it of ourselves and our lives?

The temptation is to “spiritualize” this or make it something less than a genuine death. A nice little figure of speech that you can throw out when things seem to have slipped out of your control. But there is nothing more out of control than to die. Ask the dying, they will tell you. To be as a kernel of wheat planted in the ground is to give up all that you are and aspire to be, to be utterly at the mercy of God, to rest is the damp soil of God’s goodness, and receive everything from Him as a gift. It is to be utterly given to.

Think of Lazarus in the tomb, the last of the revelatory signs in John that lead up to today’s Gospel text. Lazarus was four days’ dead. Dead as dead can be. Not a flicker of life left in him. When Jesus has them roll the stone from the entrance, Martha worries about the smell. That’s how dead Lazarus was. Stinking dead. So when Jesus yells into the open tomb, “Lazarus, come out,” this isn’t some call for Lazarus to make a decision as to whether he wants to live or not. “Choose life, Lazarus! Choose life. Decide not to be dead!” No, Lazarus was dead. He had no choice about being dead. Death is laid on him, as is life. Life in death comes only through Jesus, His Word spoken into your lifeless flesh.

Jesus sees His impending death as His hour of glory as something not to be scorned but embraced. He is “purpose-driven”: “For this very purpose I have come to this hour.” In His death, He brings glory to His Father who sent Him. For the joy set before Him, He endures the cross and scorns its shame. He wants to bring glory to His Father’s name. His glory is to die a sacrificial death, literally for the life of the world.

“Death” and “glory” are two words that don’t ordinarily hang together in our way of speaking. That’s why we have the voice of the Father confirming what Jesus just said. This voice is “for our sake,” that we too might believe that this dark Friday when the Son of God hangs on a cross for the life of the world really is a “good” Friday. Even a glorious good Friday.

What do you imagine when you hear the word “glory”? Certainly not death by crucifixion! No glory in that, as far as we can see. We think in terms of glitter and gold, sparkle and celebrity, displays of power and pomp. What do you attach the word “glory” to? Certainly not your death. You don’t expect your doctor to come to you with the test results that say you have six months to live and say, “Your hour of glory coming!” Or if he does say that, you might be more than a bit disturbed by his bedside manner. You should expect your pastor to say that, though. That’s what he’s there for.

What is glorious in the world’s way of thinking is what causes the spotlight to shine on us. American Idol glory. Fifteen minutes of fame glory. Jesus was offered that kind of glory in the wilderness by the devil tempting him with the glories of the kingdoms of this world. “All these I will give you; just bow down and worship me.” But that’s not Jesus’ glory. His glory is to do the will of His Father, to accomplish what He took on human flesh to do: to lay down His life as a sin-sacrifice for the world. We hear such phrases as the “glory of Christmas” and the “glory of Easter.” There the glory is easy to spot. But the glory of God has it’s focal point on the cross – the glory of good Friday, the glory of the sixth day that God called “very good,” the day He made man and the day He redeemed man in the human flesh of His Son.

“Now is the judgment of this world.” Jesus’ death is the day of judgment where the world is judged in Jesus. The One who comes to judge the living and the dead here bears the judgment of God in His own body. He’s judged for the world, and in Him the world stands judged.

“Now is the ruler of this world cast out.” Jesus’ death is the exorcism of the world. He casts out the devil by the power of His own death. The reign of the Lie is ended. The reason the Son of God appeared in the flesh was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself.” (He said this to show by what death He was to die.) Last week, we heard Jesus say that He would be lifted up as Moses lifted up the bronze snake in the camp of Israel. Here His lifting up is the lifting up of all humanity. His death is a magnet drawing iron filings to itself. It draws all. Just as the first Adam embodied all of humanity in his body, so that when Adam sinned all sinned, and when Adam fell into death, all of humanity fell; so Jesus, the second Adam, humanity’s new Head, embraces all in His Body, so that when He dies, all die (2 Cor. 5:14). Just as the first Adam took humanity from life to death, so Jesus, the second Adam, takes humanity from death to life. In that glorious death, God is reconciled. Sin is forgiven. The image of God is restored. Sinful man is justified. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

You have been crucified with Christ. His good Friday was your good Friday. You have been buried with Him in Baptism. Joined to Him in His tomb. You no longer live in yourself. You live in Christ. And Christ lives in you. He is your life in the midst of your death. And the life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself up for you (Gal 2:20-21).

In Christ, you are that grain of wheat, dead your selves but alive to God in Christ, buried in the fertile soil of Jesus’ death so that you too might bear much fruit. You have been lifted up in Christ from the depths of your sin – lifted up on the cross of Jesus, lifted up from the grave, lifted up to glory at the right hand of God.

And what Jesus did for you, He has done for all.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

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