“Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”
Just what does the glory of God look like? That is a good question for today, as the Church has entered the holiest of weeks. There is discussion about glory in the portion of John’s Gospel read this morning. It begins well: “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to
But what happens when Jesus starts to talk about the time of His glorification? The Gospel Writer includes the teaching Jesus gives after His Triumphal Entry: “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.” Jesus makes the explicit connection between His glorification and His death. The time of His glorification has come; but the time that He speaks of is the time of His betrayal, beating, and crucifixion. Not only has that time come, but Jesus also says: “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” Jesus shows that this is His goal, why He is present on earth.
So how does this teaching of Jesus go over? Not well. People hear it, but they reject it. Others hear it, but they cannot comprehend it. Confusion abounds in
Jesus gives a hard teaching on Palm Sunday. He identifies Himself as the Christ, but the actions that identity requires are not pleasing. Jesus’ purpose runs counter to human expectation and desire. And not only does Jesus state that His purpose in life was to be crucified, He also places demands on His disciples: “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. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” Those who would believe and follow Jesus must be made like Him, including the requirement to make His purpose in life their purpose also.
You heard how people reacted to Jesus’ teaching: confusion, rejection, disappointment. The Gospel Writer identifies a particular group who reacts with cowardice: “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” Jesus’ teaching is hard. It is demanding. But it is the way to salvation and the way to a glory far greater than any in this world.
The apostle’s commentary on the life of Christ shows what that way looks like: “[Jesus], though He was in the form of God, 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.” This is the path that Jesus walked. This is how He brings salvation to the world. This is how He accomplishes His purpose.
Christ’s necessary crucifixion was humiliating. But it was not weak or powerless. For Jesus speaks about what is accomplished through His death: “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.” Judgment, removal of a tyrant, attracting people: Jesus says that He accomplishes these things. There is force and strength in the midst of seeming weakness and fragility. Nothing about Christ’s death shows ability or might, yet it is precisely how sin, death, and Satan are overcome. Christ’s cross becomes the standard to which people liberated from the tyranny of sinfulness are drawn. It becomes the ensign of victory.
Through His crucifixion, Jesus shows Himself to be the promised Savior. He fulfills the prophecies that told how salvation is brought to people who need it, even how you are redeemed. Though the people in
Is that bringing of salvation majestic? No, it is bloody and messy, as the Lamb of God is mangled and mauled in death. Does it involve loss? Yes, it is sacrificial. And yet, it is through sacrifice that Jesus accomplishes greatness: “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.” The seed dies, yet it brings forth the great harvest. Jesus dies, and He brings forth the great number of believers around the world, those who are given the salvation He earned. It is how you have been made God’s people, how you have been made heirs of everlasting life.
For the way that Christ laid out does not end with crucifixion; there is more. Humiliation for Christ is always followed by exaltation. He dies, but He rises. He takes the place of a servant, but is raised to dominion over all. There is “a glory that comes from God.” The apostle wrote of it: “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.” Jesus’ purpose was to come to the hour of humiliation and crucifixion, but also to come to the hour of His resurrection and exaltation—to take possession of the glory that comes from God.
Jesus’ hard teaching about following Him includes the reception of this divine glory. Recall what Jesus said about discipleship: “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. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” Following Christ means setting aside your autonomy. It requires having Jesus as Lord, as Master, as Teacher. It includes the loss of your life. You are no longer in control. You repent and turn away from your former ways. You crucify everything that you once knew as good and right, but what is actually sinful and wrong. Your sinful natures are killed with Christ, as you are incorporated into Him, as you are united to Him and made members of His Church in Holy Baptism.
But your humiliation, your sacrifice, your dying is not the end. There is that second part, just as there was for your Lord Jesus. You are humbled, but you are exalted. You sacrifice, but you are given all the good things you need. You died, but you are raised to life. This is “the glory that comes from God.” It always involves the two parts. That is what Jesus lays out for you as the way of discipleship. He means what He says: “Where I am, there will My servant be also.” You will be where Jesus is worshiped in eternity. Jesus’ words are not empty: “If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” As the Father has given dominion over all things, you who are His disciples will be in His kingdom forever, holding a place of honor over your enemies.
Is the way to “the glory that comes from God” messy? Indeed. Is it humiliating? Certainly. Is it demanding? Yes, there is a discipline that your Master gives you. But dying with Christ brings you to His resurrection. Receiving what He offers through His death and resurrection brings you salvation. The psalm states: “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.” Jesus has opened that gate to paradise and walked through it. That is where His path of humiliation and exaltation leads, the destination that is reached through the events of Holy Week. As you follow your Lord from Palm Sunday to Easter Day, you also make your entrance into divine glory. That is what Christ’s death and resurrection have accomplished for you. And where He is, there you, His servants, will be also—even for all eternity.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.