Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Law in the Text
Brothers and sisters in Christ, did you take to heart the words of the Lord in the Gospel? The God who existed before anything else was made, through whom all things that now exist came into being, the God who took on flesh and blood and dwelt among us, is the one who speaks these words, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… 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… And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”
Our reading follows on the heels of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the cross looms on the horizon. The people are on a spiritual high. They cry out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” as they wave their palm branches, the Roman symbol for Caesar, of a king. They celebrate the Messiah’s arrival, but like all highs, the spiritual high does not last. There were some Greeks among these people, and they wanted to see Jesus up close. And who could blame them? They had heard that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead [vv. 17-18].
But Jesus does not oblige them with more miracles. He speaks sternly toward them, “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” [vv. 25-26]. Where will He be? He tells them, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” [v. 32]. They knew He was speaking about crucifixion; that is the place where He was going, the hour when the Son of Man would be glorified.
But despite His words and miracles, and even despite their vain Hosannas, they did not believe in Him. The spiritual high in Jerusalem wore off, and even though many did believe, they did not admit their faith because of fear of the Pharisees, “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” [v. 43]. Those who did not believe did not take Jesus’ words to heart; they loved their lives more than they loved Jesus, and so they would lose their lives. They could not follow Jesus to the cross, at least not in faith but rather in watching His murder for sheer entertainment. The same crowd that exalted Jesus’ name with Hosannas, which from Hebrew means, “Save, I pray,” is the same crowd that would yell, “Crucify Him!” on Friday. Jesus entered Jerusalem with the praise He deserves, and a few days later He was crucified outside the city with the condemnation we deserve.
The spiritual high of Palm Sunday did not last. In unbelief, some rejected Him. And many who did believe were too fearful to confess their faith, for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
Law in the World
We must read ourselves in this text. Our spiritual and emotional highs do not last either. We go on a mission trip and return with his great spiritual high, but it always wears off. Evangelical Christians experience the me-focused tripe and emotional high of contemporary worship, but it always wears off. Today, we sing Hosannas to our Lord like those in Jerusalem, but by the end of the day the spiritual high will wear off. Our emotions cannot sustain our faith, much as we try with our moralistic platitudes and our shallow praise songs and fog machines.
More than this, we love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. The Lord glorifies the family, especially those with many children. But the world hates children. To the unbelievers, it is a waste of money and resources to have five children and better to have five pets to vainly dress up with sweaters and booties. People who buy animals are glorified as “dog moms” while actual moms with human babies receive no honour and glory. In Portland, Oregon there is even a “Stop Having Kids” campaign on billboards. Even worse, it is better for mothers to kill her unborn baby and to seek a wealthy career for true happiness. The mother who does this is glorified for her “courage” whereas the mother who chooses child over glory and stays home to be with her children is shamed and mocked. And the Christians who are too fearful of confessing what God says about these matters love the glory that comes from agreeing with them more than the glory of God that condemns these evil views and actions.
But such evil does nto stop in the womb. Children are sexually abused to reject the gender they were born with and biblical sexuality. Children who reject their God-given gender and God’s created order of sex are glorified for their blasphemy while those who affirm God’s created order are demonised as “homophobic” and “transphobic.” Again, many Christians are too fearful to confess Christ and thus give in to these doctrines of demons because they love the manmade glory that comes with accepting these things more than they love the glory that comes from God. The true homophobes and transphobes are those who are too scared of these people to warn them that their sins will damn them to Hell if they don’t trust in Jesus for forgiveness and sanctification. What causes such Christians to be cowards in the face of such evil?
I’ve been listening to the Lutheran Answers podcast that my friend, Remy, hosts. On one episode, he interviews Pastor Hans Fiene about the difficulties of catechising in today’s culture. Remy shares that he grew up with a Muslim best friend, and when he wanted to do something simple like seeing a certain movie or having pepperoni on pizza, his friend would say, “I can’t do that; it’s against my religion.” He noted how surprisingly difficult this is for us to say as adult Christians, and I would addd even for our children and college students these days.
Imagine Christians saying things like, “I can’t kill my baby; it’s against my religion. I can’t have sex before marriage; it’s against my religion. I can’t cheat on my spouse; it’s against my religion. I can’t go to the strip club; it’s against my religion. I can’t get drunk; it’s against my religion. I can’t watch that rated R movie with nudity in it; it’s against my religion.” And so on. But we hardly do this. The world glorifies killing babies, promiscuity, adultery when your spouse “deserves” it, no-fault divorce, drunkenness, going to strip clubs, borderline hardcore porn on TV shows, and many other things. And too many of us Christians are too cowardly to say, “No, I can’t do those things; it’s against my religion. I’d rather glorify God,” either because we don’t know any better or we do know better and simply don’t care.
Pastor Fiene wisely compares this problem to training for a marathon. If you just sit on the couch all day and eat potato chips and pizza, that’s not a great way to train for a marathon. So, when the time comes to run the marathon, you’ll quit pretty early. The times most Christians leave the faith and reject Christ are time when they are first asked to sacrifice something for Jesus. They haven’t been trained to sacrifice small things so that they can sacrifice the bigger things.
For example, sometimes when a pastor tells an unmarried couple that they can’t cohabitate and they need to sacrifice this for their faith, they don’t listen, and they go to another pastor—or no pastor at all—to soothe their itching ears because they love the glory of man that justifies living in sin. Or when a pastor tells parents that they should rethink sending their child to a college that has no good church nearby and sacrifice this for their faith, they look at the pastor like, “Of course they’re not going to go to church in college. Why would they go to church at a time when they’ll be most under attack by the devil?” Like training for a marathon with a healthy diet, such Christians have not been trained to run the race of faith by sacrificing simple things so that they’ll sacrifice more serious things like sin and the teachings of demons [1 Tim. 4:1]. Some are teaching our children to love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. Even worse, we are too cowardly to tell them to live as Jesus commanded.
Gospel in the Text and the World
But people who love self-glory more than they love the glory of God are the very people whom Jesus came to die for. The hour of Jesus’ death was also the hour of your salvation. For this, we must read on in John’s Gospel. Directly after our text, Jesus says, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge; the Word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” [v. 47]. As Christians, we all struggle to run the race of faith. Though we believe, at times we fail to glorify God, choosing instead to glorify ourselves. There is forgiveness even for this.
To be sure, like those people in the crowd who did not believe in Jesus despite His words and miracles and loved their lives more than Christ, outright rejection of Him will result in judgement on the Last Day. But like those who believed in Christ yet feared the Pharisees because of their love for self-glory and so remain silent, they are surprisingly not doomed to judgement. Like Peter who failed to confess Christ three times, Jesus gives you ample opportunity to answer His question, “Do you love Me?” And because Jesus brings you to say “yes,” His blood covers your sins.
Even though the mother, overwhelmed with fear, may make the tragic choice of killing her unborn baby for self-glory, Jesus died for that mom so that she may not remain in darkness. The same is true for the promiscuous, the adulterer, the homosexual, the drunk, the addict, the thief, the murderer, and so on. He came to save them from their darkness, to call them out of it and into His marvellous light [1 Peter 2:9]. On Friday He would be lifted from the earth, the judgement of all your sins falling upon Him—bloodied, beaten to a pulp, and dead.
To these struggling believers running the race of faith, Jesus who is the light of the world says, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light” [vv. 35-36]. We learn how to walk before we learn how to run. Before we run the marathon of faith, we must first learn how to walk in it, and we do that by walking with Jesus, the one whom John spoke about at the opening of His Gospel account, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” [1:5]. We walk in His light by diligent coming to His Word in the Scriptures and learning what He says. Here, we learn what the world glorifies and therefore what we reject; and we learn what the Lord glorifies and therefore what we exalt. It is not some spiritual or emotional high that sustains our faith, but Christ the Word made flesh, the source and fountain of our faith.
You know what your sins are. You know the self-glory you have loved over the glory of God. But as Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… Father, glorify Your name.” And God the Father responded, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” Perhaps the place where we first see God’s name glorified is on Mt. Sinai, where God’s presence was a fantastical display of light, darkness, lightning, fire, and thunderous wind that melts mountains. God had to hide His face from Moses, lest His mere presence utterly destroy him.
The second place where God’s name was glorified was in Jesus on the cross. Here, His glory does not destroy you, but saves you. Despite your sins—despite your self-glory—God glorifies His name over against these sins. His glory destroys your sins, but you are saved from destruction because it fell upon Jesus on the cross. Here, darkness spilled over the light of the world for three hours, but the darkness did not overcome it. Because three days later, the light of the world rose from the darkness of the bottomless pit of death. Death has lost its sting; death has lost its victory over you, because the glory of Christ destroyed the wages of your sin, which is eternal death, and has bought you with the price of His blood for eternal life. To Christ be all the glory, forever and ever. Amen.