Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday Sermon -- John 12:20-43 (LSB Palm Sunday B)

April 5, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

So [the Greek pilgrims] came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

The Greek pilgrims’ request seems straightforward. But it does bring a question to mind: Which Jesus do they want to see? Not, mind you, that there are multiple Jesuses, though that can seem to be the case. Which Jesus do they want to see? Miracle Jesus, Professor Jesus, Palm Sunday Jesus, Good Friday Jesus? They are all the same—different aspects of the one Person—but to those who perceive Jesus, He can appear so vastly different.

Just what had piqued the interest of these foreign pilgrims? What had they heard that drove them to seek out Philip one of the Twelve? Was this a request based upon what they had just witnessed, as Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly? Or had these pilgrims received news from Galileans and Judeans who had been part of the crowds following Jesus? Perhaps the Greeks had run into someone who had seen Jesus raise Lazarus to life just weeks before.

The Gospel Writer doesn’t give much information about these Greeks who came to Philip. But he does provide the reaction of Jesus after hearing their request: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also.”

It’s an interesting reaction that Jesus gives. Jesus hears the Greeks’ request brought to Him and says that He will be glorified. But what does Jesus connect to being glorified? Death. Hating life in this world. Service. These don’t appear to be glorious at all. They seem just the opposite. And yet, Jesus says this will happen. He says that these are the events to be found in the hour when the Son of Man is glorified.

And to show that Jesus was serious about this, He repeats that same point later: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” John explains the point that Jesus makes: “He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.” The Gospel Writer doesn’t explicitly say if the Greek pilgrims were present during this statement, though it can be assumed that they were since Jesus was teaching publicly. Whether they were or were not, the questions can be asked: Is this the Jesus they wanted to see? Is this what they anticipated or hoped for?

You heard how some of the people reacted to Jesus’ words: “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can You say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” They didn’t accept Jesus’ words. They didn’t understand Jesus’ identity. Some just plainly didn’t want this type of Jesus—this bound to be crucified and dead Jesus. The Gospel Writer points out this fact: “When Jesus had said these things, He departed and Hid from them. Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him.”

Hopefully, the Greek pilgrims weren’t counted among that number of those who did not believe in Jesus despite the signs He gave. But what about you? Is this the type of Jesus you want to see? Is this the Jesus you hope for? Is this the Jesus that you believe in? You are much like the Greek pilgrims: you don’t have the signs; you don’t have the years spent observing Jesus as He went from town to town on His ministry. What you have are the words of those who witnessed them and in their travels brought news about Jesus. Yet, the news they brought wasn’t only about the wonders that Jesus worked, but also about His rejection and His being lifted up in crucifixion and His paradoxical teaching about glory.

So is that the Jesus you want to see? Well that is the Jesus you are going to get from this pulpit, especially during this Holy Week. You have already received the Jesus who is “your king coming to you; righteous and having salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” For the next seven days, you will hear about the Jesus who washes His disciples’ feet, who is betrayed by one of His followers, who is denied by the chief disciple, who is condemned though innocent, who is rejected in favor of a criminal, who is lifted up on an instrument of torture and death.

This same, humiliated Jesus is He who speaks about glory. And yet, “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus talks about glory, and yet His glorification cannot take place without first experiencing humiliation. There is no Easter Jesus or Ascension Jesus without Christmas Jesus, without Miracle Jesus, without Palm Sunday Jesus, without Good Friday Jesus. His life is a unified whole—a life of both humiliation and glorification.

Recall again what Jesus said in response to the Greeks’ request: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” So it is with Jesus. Without His death, Jesus remains alone: He remains righteous alone; He remains glorious alone; He remains enthroned in heaven alone. But by His suffering, by His “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” Jesus bears much fruit. There will be others who are made righteous, who are glorified, and who are in heaven with Him, just as He promises: “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will be My servant also.”

That is the glory that comes to Jesus and comes to you through His humility. You are the fruit that He bears. He is the seed fallen into the ground that produces life in each of you. You are given a share of the life that Christ earns for you by His meeting the requisite cost of your sins’ wages. The Jesus of humility is placed into the ground to be raised on the third day, to spring to life, and to bestow His righteousness on pilgrims from all the ends of the earth. So Jesus says: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” As humiliating as His crucifixion was, it is used as a magnet to attract people to the glorious life it earned.

The Palm Sunday and Good Friday Jesus does not remain locked in that place of time. No, there is an exaltation, a glorification that takes place for Him: “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” It is one and the same Jesus. By Christ’s death, “the ruler of this world is cast out.” No one must be subservient to Satan and his tyranny, since Christ has conquered that Serpent through the tree of the cross. Now there is no question who is Lord.

He who has been exalted and who bears the greatest of names is your Redeemer. This is the Jesus you want to see. This is the Jesus who will be presented to you at the end of days. But make no mistake: it is the same Jesus of humiliation, suffering, and crucifixion. That is also the same Jesus you want to see. This is the Jesus that will be presented to you this week, so that you may follow Him. For as you follow Him in faith, you have His promise: “Where I am; there will be My servant also.”

As you have been presented with the news of Jesus, like the Greeks you can say: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” And so you will, for in this assembly you are presented with the Miracle Jesus, the Professor Jesus, the Compassionate Jesus—which is the same Humiliated and Exalted Jesus. He is the one Lord, your Lord, who has purchased and won you by His innocent suffering and death. He is the one Lord, your Lord, whom you live under in His kingdom, both now and for eternity.

Having that Lord may mean rejecting “the glory that comes from men.” It was a stumbling block for many in Jerusalem that kept them from believing. But as your blind eyes have been made to see and your deaf ears made to hear, you will love “the glory that comes from God.” It is what the humiliated, suffering, and crucified Jesus brings to you, as that same Jesus is exalted, glorified, and risen. May you see that same Jesus now and at the Last Day, being the servants present where your Lord is now.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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