“In the Cross of Christ I Glory”

John 12:23-36


            We just sang these words:

           “In the cross of Christ I glory,
           Tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time.
           All the light of sacred story
           Gathers round its head sublime” (LW 101, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory”)         

            In the cross of Christ I glory.  Really?  Just listen to this …

           “Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion, except in extreme cases of treason. Cicero in one of his speeches condemned it as ‘a most cruel and disgusting punishment’. A little later he declared: ‘To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is – What? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.’ Cicero was even more explicit in his successful defense in 63 BC of the elderly senator Gaius who had been charged with murder: ‘the very word “cross” should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears…”   

            And yet, Jesus in his final teaching in the temple is predicting his own death.  In vague terms, we can all do that for we know that unless Jesus comes before our death, we are going to die.  But Jesus here is predicting his own death in detail.  He says that will be lifted up and he will draw all men to him.  He will be lifted up … in just a few short days Jesus will be lifted up and suspended upon a cross.  He will be crucified.  He will suffer a “most cruel and disgusting punishment.” 

            It’s no wonder that Jesus says, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:27). 

           Jesus had come to Jerusalem to die.  As true man, he was troubled by what he faced.  And could you really blame him?  If everything Cicero said about how to bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder, and how there are no words for what it means to crucify a man … imagine what is going through Jesus’ mind.  The triumphant procession on Palm Sunday and the cries of Hosannas didn’t change the reality that he knew what was coming.  Jesus here opens up his soul for us to look in and see the pain and agony in heart.  Jesus was not some robot who was heading to the scrap heap without any feeling, no, he is a man, just like you and me.  He is a man with feelings, fear, and anxiety.  As true God, Jesus did not simply switch off all sorrow and suffering.  His suffering would be intense, his suffering would be beyond measure … and it is all because of our sin.

           But yet, this didn’t stop Jesus.  He never wavered from his assigned path.  He did not cry out in human frailty for the Father to save him from this ordeal.  He had come from heaven for this very purpose.  He was prepared for this time.  He was there to bring glory to God.

           In order to help the people who Jesus is talking to understand this … Jesus compares himself to a seed. As we draw closer to planting season, we all know, maybe not totally understand it, but we all know that if you plant a seed of grain into the ground, that dead seed will start growing.  As the plant grows and is nurtured, it bears fruit.

            The same thing is true with Jesus.  Jesus is the seed of our life.  Jesus would not bear the fruit of his ministry, of his mission from God unless he first died.  All of his miraculous signs, they would have no eternal benefit for anyone if Jesus wouldn’t had gone to the cross and die.  Without the death of Jesus, without the burying, the planting of his body, the dead seed, into the ground, he would not bear any fruit.

            As miserable, as excruciating as it was for Jesus to go to the cross … he did it not for himself, but for you, and for me.  Jesus, even though humanly speaking, didn’t want to go to the cross, did so that he could bear fruit for his Father in heaven.  Through Jesus’ death and his victorious Easter resurrection, Jesus conquered and destroyed sin, death, and Satan so that you would receive the most awesome gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

            Without the death of Jesus, without the burial of Jesus, without the resurrection of Jesus on Easter … nothing Jesus did in his earthly life would have mattered.  As St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14).

           “In the cross of Christ I glory,
           Tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time.
           All the light of sacred story
           Gathers round its head sublime” (LW 101, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory”)         

            What does this mean?  It means to deny oneself and live a life for Christ.  Jesus says, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).

            When Jesus warns us against loving our lives, what he means by this is putting this earthly life first.  It’s really a warning against self-centeredness.  For those who put all their affection and attention on this earthly life and what they can get out of it … they will one day die and lose it all.  Last time I checked, you don’t see a hearse with a trailer hitch when it’s going to the cemetery. 

            However, when Jesus speaks of hating our lives in this world, what he means is that we should be putting him and the life which he gives us first.  When we believe in Jesus and have eternal life in him, worldly living loses its attraction.  Everything worldly carries with it sin’s taint and thus becomes hateful.  Only in Jesus do we achieve the good life, the eternal life.  It would be far better to lose this earthly life than for any of us to lose Jesus.  C.S. Lewis once said, “Everything is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.”

            This ties in with the teaching we heard about a couple of weeks ago.  To love God above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves is all about putting God first, about putting others first.  When we put to death our sinful desires, we are able to bring glory to God, we are able to bear fruit for God. 

           So we can glory in the cross of Christ because the light of Christ shines within us.  As that light shines, people are drawn closer to us and ultimately, they are drawn closer to our Savior and his cross.  As this light shines within us, we are filled, not with uncertainty and anguish of what lies ahead, but as we sang, we are filled with peace that knows no measure, Joy that through all time abides. Amen.

           The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.


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