Sermon: The Glory of the Cross

Text: John 12
Palm Sunday
Listen to the Sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the most famous Christmas scenes in the Bible is an angel’s announcement to the shepherds that the Savior is born. And then it says, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace good will to men!'” (Lk 2:11–14).

Glory to God, peace to man. The angels are sent to make something clear: the Son of God has come to glorify God. Glorifying God means acknowledging His greatness and worshiping Him because He deserves to be praised and honored. So when we come to our text in John 12 today, there is no surprise when we hear Jesus praying that this would actually happen. But, what should be surprising is that Jesus says that God glorifies himself through a cruel and bloody death, and that applies both to Jesus and to us.

Life is Found in Death

Andrew and Philip rush to Jesus with exciting news – some Greeks are eager to meet him! These foreigners have been drawn to Israel’s God and religion and are curious to learn more. But instead of agreeing to meet with them, Jesus shocks them with his response. He declares that he must be ‘lifted up’ from the earth, and only then will he draw all people to himself. It sounds counterintuitive. Jesus knew the only way anyone would benefit from him was to be crucified on the Cross. Do you want to know the secret to truly seeing Jesus? It’s not just about meeting him in person, as the Greeks wanted to do. No. If you want to see Jesus, you must look to the Cross.

As Jesus looked to the Cross, how did he feel? He is not feeling good about it. He’s troubled to his very core. This is the same Jesus who healed the sick, turned water into wine, and even brought Lazarus back from the dead. And yet, despite all of his power and love, he is deeply troubled by what’s to come. It’s not hard to understand why Jesus might be feeling this way. Jesus was, after all, the God become flesh, human flesh, flesh that shrank from suffering as we all might. The thought of facing suffering and death is not something we would look forward to. But Jesus was committed to doing whatever was necessary to bring glory to his Father. He knows sliding safely past suffering will not let God’s glory shine out to the whole world. Suffering and Cross are the only way for you to be saved. And in this case, that means facing the cross head-on. Life is only found in death.

Death and resurrection are the only way. Following Jesus means we have to follow in his footsteps. That might trouble us also! In fact, he taught his disciples that those who love their life in this world will lose it. In contrast, those willing to hate their life will keep it for eternal life (v. 25). Through parables of seeds, plants, life, and death, he reminds us that we, too, must be willing to be “planted.” As Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis, once said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Just as God was glorified through the Cross and death, so must Christians be willing to embrace suffering. To truly “see” Jesus and understand the depths of his love and sacrifice, we must be ready to follow his example and embrace the call to die to ourselves.

Jesus made it clear that suffering is not exclusive to him alone. To truly live, we must die, not just once, but every day. Dying and rising become a way of life for the Christian, just as it was for our Lord. Like a grain of wheat that must die and be buried to bear fruit, the old Adam in you must die. You must put to death the sinful flesh that wants to retake control of our life. Christianity involves a continual process of death and rebirth as we drown our evil desires beneath the waters of baptism. In your baptism, you were buried and raised with Christ, but that dying and rising needs to continue happening daily. That’s what the Cross does; it kills. It isn’t pleasant. It hurts us. It makes us hate ourselves when the world says we need more self-esteem. Like a kernel of wheat planted in the ground, we must give up everything we are, want, or aspire to be. We must place ourselves entirely at God’s mercy and receive everything from him as a gift. 

The Cross means death every day to us. God longs to teach us, yet our sinful nature doesn’t want to be taught. To overcome our resistance, God may allow us to experience suffering. It’s an opportunity to teach us important lessons we may not be willing to learn when life is easy and comfortable. Through our suffering, we realize our need for God, forgiveness, and help. And this is a good thing. If we did not die, we would not live. We are reminded that the true path to life is found in death. The glory of God is revealed through our weakness. It wasn’t a popular message then and is still not a popular teaching today.

God is Glorified by the Cross

All of Jesus’ talk of suffering stirred up controversy among the crowds! As soon as Jesus started talking about suffering, they tuned him out. This was not what they wanted to hear from a messiah. After all, they had already suffered enough under the oppressive rule of the Romans. They knew the messiah would rally them to take up arms and drive out the invaders. They craved the glory of this world. They wanted the thrill of battle, the promise of wealth, and the chance for an earthly kingdom. Jesus had a different kind of glory in mind, which could only be achieved through selfless love and bloody sacrifice. If life is only found in death, God is most glorified when Jesus dies!

His willingness to take on our human weakness displays God’s power. Jesus is both true God and true man, who suffers, dies, and rises again to save us. It is through the suffering and death of Jesus on the Cross that God is most glorified and exalted. Christ’s suffering and death were not in vain; he bore our sins, washing them away with his own blood. Through his sacrifice, we are offered forgiveness, eternal life, and hope. When Jesus is put to shame on the Cross, we see God most clearly. God declares that he is with us in our own suffering. He hides life within death, victory within defeat.

Glory is found in Jesus’ self-giving love, the love that stared death in the face and emerged victorious. The selfless love of Jesus Christ shines a light on the Creator-God’s astonishing, generous love. Jesus is the seed sowed for the salvation of the world. His mission on earth was clear: to suffer and die for your sins. Jesus lived a perfect life, always loving his Father and neighbor, always sacrificing himself for the greater good. Though the Cross may have appeared to be an act of injustice, God used it to bring about the ultimate justice for the sins of the world. Jesus stripped Satan of his most potent weapon through his death: the valid accusation that you are a sinner. This weapon is now disarmed. The blood of Jesus covers our sins completely, offering us true and total forgiveness. The Cross was the decisive defeat of the devil. He cannot succeed. Jesus’ death makes salvation freely available to all. It brings glory to God by demonstrating his incredible love and mercy towards sinners.

Our God is the kind of God who can take even the worst of things and transform them for his own glory and our good. In the suffering and death of the Cross, we see God’s hidden glory. We are called to follow Jesus, deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and go to the Cross. Yet, God has not abandoned us. Christ’s own suffering and death have embraced us, and we can take up our Cross daily because our sins hung on the Cross. God’s love and mercy triumphed over sin and death, and by God’s grace, He also triumphs in us.  

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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