Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Holy Cross Day (obs.) + September 15, 2019
Text: John 12:20-33
“Lift high the cross,” the Church sings, “the love of Christ proclaim, till all the world adore His sacred Name.”
The cross has been a symbol of Christianity for countless generations. At a glance you can recognize a Christian or the church they belong to because it has a cross on it. (You can also learn something when a group purposely doesn’t put a cross on anything.) But I’m afraid that if enough crosses are stamped on things to identify us as Christians, it’s possible for us not to feel its full weight.
While Lift High the Cross, prominently featured in the Mission and Witness section of the hymnal, evokes images of military formation and victory in battle, that is not yet what we experience in our daily life. It is what we know from God’s Word and we hold to by faith, but the cross, this side of Christ’s return, is more often associated with pain.
The cross is a stumbling block. Early Christians were ridiculed for such a stupid religion that we glorified an executed criminal: “Alexamenos worships his god,” one graffito teased as it depicted a man with a donkey’s head hung upon a cross. The cross is an instrument of brutal torture and asphyxiation. When Jesus breathed His last, it was after hours of agony bearing the sins of the world and just rejection of God.
But even if it is a stumbling block to those who are perishing, the crucified Son of God is the One in whom we glory. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we poor sinners know that through that shameful execution of Jesus, God the Father was offering up His Son as a ransom in our place, to save our lives from both death and hell.
Here in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus foretells His death and resurrection. Yet, here He foretells it, not with echoes from the Prophets, but as a proclamation of the Father’s glory and His will for all men:
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
When the Son of Man is lifted up from the earth, suspended between earth and heaven—putting Himself in that breach between God and man made by sin—there He draws us to Himself with the almighty and renewing power of the Holy Spirit.
The occasion for Jesus saying this is some Greeks coming to see Jesus. When these people come to see Him, He begins to teach them about what it means to follow and serve this Crucified Lord:
“25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 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.”
As we contemplate and celebrate the Holy Cross, this is a refresher for us as to its true significance in our lives:
- When we are drawn to the cross, it is necessary that we die. It’s an easy thing to wear a cross pendant around your neck, but when the cross is put upon us in Holy Baptism, “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” (Romans 6:3) We die to the old man with his corrupt desires, for “How can we who died still live in [sin]?” (6:2) [Colossians 3:5-9] We die to sexual intimacy and desire except in God’s institution of marriage. We die to the on-demand attitude of the world that imposes our personal preference on others and demands that everything—including corporate worship be to our liking. We die to lusting after other’s lives. We die to using our tongue as a weapon to wield against others, either with aggression and rage, or subtly as the snake [Gen. 3] with slander. When we are drawn to the cross, all of those things must perish from us, and be nailed to the cross. And all who will not die to them endanger their salvation.
- When we are drawn to the cross, we remove sins
as far as the east is from the west. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive
those who trespass against us.” Many
think the central mark of Christians is their social ministry activities. But when Jesus draws us to Himself, He says, “This is my commandment, that you love one
another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) That means a far more difficult
thing than handing out a warm blanket and a bowl of soup. “As I
have loved you” comes from the One who laid down His life for His
enemies. True Christian love is that
which forgives from the heart and will remember those wrongs no more.
- I commend to you a practice that I’ve found helpful. During the Lord’s Prayer, pause after the Fifth Petition, and say the names of your offenders out loud. Say it and picture their sins being nailed to the cross.
- If you don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer at home, start now—by yourself, with your family. Jesus taught us this prayer so that we would know the blessings which flow through the cross, and so the cross would daily be a part of a Christian’s life.
There is no room for grudges—any—because God has forgiven the debt which would send us to present death and eternal suffering. So, if we do what our Lord commands, let Him give us new hearts, contrite and humble, which “forgive as God in Christ forgave [us]” (Eph. 4:28).
When we are drawn to Him who hung on the cross, we receive the Life of the World. It is true that the Lord Jesus draws all people to Himself, but only some heed the call. Not by your own reason or strength, but because the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel are you here (or reading this) today. And because you have ears to hear, you are blessed. The Lord who has drawn you to His cross, forgiven you all your sins, now also invites you to taste of the fruit of His cross: His very Body and Blood given and shed for you. You are drawn not only to follow Him, but to have Communion with Him.
The holy cross of Jesus became yours when you were baptized into his death and resurrection. The holy cross is yours every time you pray to God your Father in the Name He gave you. The fruits of the holy cross are in you as you eat His Body and drink His blood. So, you see the cross is far more than a symbol to quickly identify Christians—it is a Christians very death, and eternal life. Glory be to God forever. Amen.