The Cross is… (Mar 21, 2021)

The Cross is… (Mar 21, 2021)

March 22, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

The Cross is…

John 12:20-33

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You probably wouldn’t consider it very glorious for a runner to purposefully give up victory during a race. The whole point of a running competition is to be faster, stronger, able to push longer until you’ve bested all your competition and crossed the line first – earning the glorious title of champion. Upon doing this, you will likely receive a gold medal, a trophy, or some other award to commemorate that glory. People remember these kinds of victors for proving that they are the best! So, to purposefully throw a race and lose, doesn’t seem very glorious – at least, not without the full context.

You’ve probably witnessed a race where the two frontrunners are pushing hard to the finish and suddenly, something breaks. A torn tendon or ligament. For that runner, the race is over. They worked so hard to get to that point, to that competition, and in an instant it’s all gone. But the other runner picks them up off the ground, slings an arm around his shoulder, and carries the injured runner to the finish. As they hobble along, other runners pass them. Their positions as frontrunners quickly plummet – 3rd, 4th, 5th… But together, they cross the line and finish the race – the strong helping the weak, the healthy helping the injured. That’s a special kind of glory! A glory that would sacrifice for the sake of others.

It’s that kind of glory that we adorn our churches with. A kind of glory that we focus on during the season of Lent. You don’t see a crown adorning the steeple of our church. You don’t see a depiction of the “Kavod Adonai” (the glory of God) – the pillar of smoke and fire that attended the Israelites as they were delivered from Egypt – you don’t see it in our stained glass window. Rather, you see a cross. The cross is the symbol of Jesus’ great hour of glory. And the cross is the believer’s only hope for glory.

It’s that cross that Jesus was reminded of when some Greeks asked to get a glimpse of this Jesus that they had heard so much about. The events in this section of Scripture took place on the Tuesday of Holy Week – 3 days before Jesus would go to that cross. The time had come. Jesus must now be the seed that dies in order for it to produce many more seeds. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” Jesus said. “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (Jn 12:23-24). Jesus has come for this very moment. He came to suffer in your place. He came to die for your sin. And as horrible as that will all be, as deeply as he will feel it all, he looks ahead to the fruit of his Passion. He looks forward to having you – safe from sin, no longer accused by Satan. All of that he would achieve through the cross.

You and I were like the runner who lies there on the ground, broken, unable to finish the race. There we lie, fallen short of God’s glory, fallen short of what God has called us to be, far short of what he expects from us. We don’t measure up to God’s covenant of the law. Far from it. Scripture talks about this. We read it this morning. Scripture talks about “The covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt… they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them” (Jer 31:32). So there we are. Broken by sin. Buried in death. Rightly accused by Satan. There’s no glory for you and for me in this. There’s no hope of crossing the finish line into eternal glory. Thankfully, the frontrunner stepped in to help and save. Thankfully, he lifted you up and bore you on his shoulders to carry you across the line. The cross that was Jesus’ great hour of glory is also the believer’s only hope for glory.

But it came at a cost. Just like the runner would have to give up his victory and first place medal to help the fallen runner, so also Jesus would have to give something up – his own life. “Now my soul is troubled” (Jn 12:27) Jesus says. The reality of being the sin-bearer is closing in on Jesus. The question of the Greeks has reminded him of how close the hour of his final suffering is. And don’t just gloss over this fact thinking that because he’s Jesus the suffering was somehow minimized. No! He acknowledges the natural plea would be, “Father, save me from this hour” (Jn 12:27). In fact, he prayed just days later in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Mt 26:39). I bring this up not merely to emphasize the pain and suffering so that we feel bad for Jesus. I bring this up to show you just how much Jesus loves you. How completely and single-mindedly he was determined to save you. Make no mistake about it, there would be extreme physical pain. Make no mistake about it, there would be foreboding spiritual abandonment and condemnation. And yet, despite all of that, he was willing to go through it, to be the seed that falls to the ground and dies, because he loves you and it was his will to save you. So what shall Jesus say, “Father, save me from this hour” (Jn 12:27)? No, it was for this very reason he came to this hour. And it was in this very thing – his death on the cross – that would be his great hour of glory – the strong helping the weak, the healthy helping the injured, the Savior helping the sinner.

There’s a lot that is all tied up in the cross of Christ. It’s the moment that all of Scripture points to. It’s Passover, Day of Atonement, Baptism, Judgment Day, Resurrection all wrapped up in that moment. After the voice thundered from heaven, “I have glorified your name, and will glorify it again” (Jn 12:28), Jesus explained why the cross is his great hour of glory: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (Jn 12:31-32). Can you think of anything more worthy of your attention in the coming weeks? The eternal destiny of mankind is about to be determined at the cross, and at that point the devil loses his power. The head of the serpent is finally crushed. And with the powerless devil looking on, what is the judgment of the world? God declares all people righteous through the glorious work of the Son. The defeat of Satan by Jesus’ word and work, and his ultimate defeat at the cross mean the redemption of the world.

The cross means glory for you too! It means you are no longer dead in your sins, no longer fatally wounded by your sinful nature, no longer hopelessly distant from the finish line of heavenly glory. Jesus said that when he is lifted up from the earth, he will draw all people to himself (Jn 12:32). When you see the cross, see it not as a symbol of death and defeat. See Jesus lifted up as the sacrifice for sin. See Jesus triumphant over Satan. See the saving love of your Savior. See Jesus’ great hour of glory, and the believer’s only hope for glory.

There is only one way to heaven. It is through Jesus. In fact, Scripture even takes it a step further and says that the only to heaven is by dying with Jesus. And you have! Listen to this from Romans chapter 6, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rm 6:4). And now, it even says that you “no longer live, but Christ lives in [you]” (Gal 2:20). Christ living in you is the guarantee of eternal life. The guarantee of the eternal glories of heaven.

For those drawn to God through the cross of Christ, their heavenly glory is already a reality. And it’s a reality that we can lean upon even now. I know we don’t get to fully enjoy that glory yet, but when something is guaranteed – like eternal glory – it can motivate you to push through while still here on earth. I’d return to the running analogy again, but it kinda falls apart pretty quickly here – because no glory is ever guaranteed when competing. No victory is for certain. But what if it was? I know, I’m reaching here, but what if you were guaranteed glory at the finish line of the race for running it as Jesus did? Remember how Jesus ran the race? He wasn’t concerned with the greatest display of power or might. His only concern was to get everyone else across that finish line. He stopped to help the weak and injured. He gave up his life to help you and me.

Jesus says this, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25). Don’t misunderstand. Jesus isn’t saying that you need to live every moment of your days loathing your life. What he’s saying here is what he says elsewhere, don’t focus on building up personal glory here in this world. You have an even better glory guaranteed in heaven. You may have to deny yourself some of the glories of this world to follow Jesus. “Whoever serves me,” he says, “must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be” (Jn 12:26).

Where is Jesus? We find him at the cross, yes, sacrificing his life for others. We find him at the bedside of a sick little girl, or teaching with children in his arms. We find him eating with the sinful people the rest of the world rejected. We find him meeting needs. We find him teaching about salvation and opposing false teachers. We find him in his Father’s house and in solitary places for prayer. We find him genuinely concerned about people and meeting their physical needs so that he might have an opportunity to meet their far more important spiritual needs and bring many more across the finish line into heaven.

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be” (Jn 12:26). That’s you and me – his servants. Not focused on amassing great wealth. Not focused on being the greatest and the best. Not seeking honor, fame, or glory here in this world. But genuinely concerned with picking people up when they are down, slinging their arm over your shoulder, and carrying them to the one who truly meets their needs, who truly fulfills, our only hope of glory.

I recently read an article about parenting that made the point, “Parents always choose their children’s religion. It’s just that, in some cases, this religion operates under a different name.” The point was, whether your religion was Christ, materialism, or the next best thing, parents are always teaching their children. “Through tens of thousands of ordinary, daily interactions, moms and dads orient young hearts toward a vision of what James Smith calls ‘the good life.’ Parents show their children what to love, what to desire, what matters most. This usually happens unconsciously. By example, practice, habit, and speech, parents are saying to their children, ‘This is the good life. The fulfilling life. The life worth living.” Let’s make that a life focused on the cross of Christ. A life not of earthly glory, but of glory that actually lasts – eternal, heavenly glory.