The Hour Has Come
Palm Sunday, 2019
John 12:20-27 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. Father, glorify your name. Then a voice came from heaven, I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Why are you crying?
Years ago, when we lived near Lewiston, MN, a dear neighbor of ours was dying after a long and uncomfortable bout with cancer. Her name was Ida, she was a kind a jolly sort of a person with a lifelong history of trusting in and serving her Savior. Her husband Marlo called me up one day and indicated to me that if I wanted to say my good-byes, I should come on over. We talked for a bit about her family and the weather and how the dairy farming was going, I suppose, and as I opened my Bible and began a devotion, you won’t be surprised with this, I began to cry. She looked me in the eyes, and asked, “Why are you crying?” I replied something along the lines of “because you’re a really nice person and you’re dying.” At which point she scolded me for crying, she reminded me that she would soon be seeing Jesus, and maybe if I would eat a couple of chocolate chip cookies, I would feel better.
At least outwardly, it seems as though my soul was more troubled than hers. In today’s text, Jesus admitted that his soul was troubled, and he wondered out loud if he should be asking his father to spare him from what was about to happen. Quickly he answered, “No, it was for this very purpose that have come to this hour.” It was for this very purpose that Jesus had passed through his mother Mary’s womb, it was for this very purpose he was born, it was for this very purpose he had subjected himself to the law, it was for this very purpose he had put up with sin and decay and lived the perfect life.
Up until this point, Jesus kept saying, “My hour has not yet come.” When enemies tried to catch him and kill him, he always managed to escape. Now that his hour had come, he would allow the world to have its way with him. He would enter his passive obedience. In these next hours he would not be using his divine power. He would be passively allowing the crowd to arrest, beat, whip, and nail him to the cross.
Two truths we want to learn today as we fix our eyes on this turning point in human history. First of all we learn what it meant for Jesus, and secondly what it means for us.
First, what this meant for Jesus, “The hour had come for Jesus to reproduce by (dying).” The context of this teaching from Jesus was that a Greek man named Philip had expressed a desire to see Jesus. In response, Jesus announced that the hour had come for him to be glorified. That’s another way of saying that the time had come for Jesus to be lifted up on the cross, much as a bronze serpent was lifted up in the wilderness as salvation for Hebrews getting bit and poised by snakes. But it was more than Jesus just getting crucified, it was about him rising up on the third day and after 40 days of proving to eye witnesses that he was in fact alive and well, he would ascend into heaven.
Much as a grain of wheat needs to be buried into the ground and die before it can be rising up again and producing grain, so did Jesus need to die and be buried before he could rise up again and give us new life. It was for the joy that was set before him that Jesus suffered all that he was appointed to suffer and was crucified until he was dead and buried. It was for the joy of spending eternity with Ida and with all baptized believers who die in the Lord.
(Story of a children’s lesson where I was making the point that our good behavior would not be getting us into heaven, but rather believing in Jesus. Several times I asked the question “what do you have to do to get into heaven?” wanting the answer that there is nothing you can do, only by faith in Jesus can you be saved. Finally after I had asked the question for the third of fourth time, what do you have to do to get into heaven, little Ladonna, or maybe it was Deanna answered, “you have to die.”)
When Christians sing about how it is in the cross of Christ that we glory, the world would thinks, as Gail Wynnemer would say, we’re a little bit cuckoo. That our elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor, that we’re a few French fries short of a happy meal, that our driveway doesn’t go all the way to the street!
But especially in this Lenten season, we Christians keep on insisting that the chief glory of our faith is in Jesus Christ crucified on a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. That’s exactly what Jesus meant when he prayed for the father to glorify his name. He meant that the only way to glory was for him to endure the cross all the way into the grave.
Few Passover pilgrims seemed to understand what needed to happen. Their cries of hosanna and praise were good, valid, and sincere. They knew that because of Jesus the blind had received sight, the deaf had received their hearing, and lame people were now walking. Many of them had seen Lazarus walk out of the tomb. Yet few of them seemed to understand that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.”
The Pharisees didn’t understand this either. They saw the glory of Jesus in his popularity, and they were jealous. They were interested in the glory that gave them fame, honor, and respect. Their desire for their own exaltation drove them to plot against Jesus, their desire to gain worldly comforts and wealth for themselves nudged them towards doing away with this Jesus. As we enter yet one more time the holiest of weeks, we recognize that the hour has drawn near. First, the hour has come for Jesus to reproduce by dying, rising again, and ascending into heaven.
Secondly, what this means for us today, The hour has come for us to gain by (losing). Jesus says it this way, Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Two truths Jesus would teach us this mornings, and both of them go contrary to, as Pastor Muther might say, normal thinking.
Truth number one is that whoever loves his life will be losing it. That’s another way of asking what a man profits if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul. Woe be to the husband who loves being right but keeps on damaging his wife’s spirit. Woe be to the wife who loves her house clean but keeps on being too busy to spend time in God’s Word and prayer. Woe be to the teenager who accomplishes great things in athletics and academics but has strayed away from her confirmation vow. Woe be to the well to do couple who never misses a house payment but often misses out on confessing their sins, that God’s grace might be sweeping over their souls and ruling in their hearts.
Truth number two is that whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. That’s another way of saying that blessed is the person who daily drowns his old sinful nature through contrition and repentance, that a new man, a new woman might rise up and walk in the newness of life. Blessed is the man who hates the wrong he has done and the good he has failed to do. Blessed is the woman who confesses her faults and failures instead of defending and making her case. Blessed is the teenager who finds simple joy in the forgiveness of his sins. Blessed is the church member who denies himself worldly pleasure that the mission of the church could be supported. Blessed are they who know the joy that comes in serving and giving. Blessed are they know keep on experiencing the peace of God that goes beyond human circumstances. Blessed are they who keep on humbling themselves so God doesn’t have to do it for them. Blessed are they who understand that even as Jesus willingly submitted to his Father’s will, even when that is painful, so it is their assignment each day to be ready to go contrary to natural inclinations, it is their assignment to pick up whatever crosses are coming their say and to carry them.
It is in our very nature and in our upbringing to work hard and to play hard, in that order. Jesus would invite us first of all to rest in all the hard work he has already done, and to go from there. It is our inclination to seek out glory by picking ourselves up by the bootstraps, by standing on our own two feet, by setting worthy goals and going hard after them. And to be sure, there is much to be said for all of that. But this week, we would see Jesus. We would see him getting down on his knees and washing feet, we would see him emptying himself, taking up the form of a servant, and being obedient even unto death. This week, we would see Jesus love others more than he loved himself. This week we would wonder together what it means for us to walk in his footsteps, what it means for us to be denying our own inclinations, and what it means to be helping each other bear our crosses.
This is it.
Those were the words of a dear matriarch of this church named Agnes, as I visited her on the third floor of Mankato Hospital years ago. This is it, she said to me, meaning that she was pretty sure she would be passing away that day or the next. When I understood what she was saying to me, you know what I did. I didn’t do anything, my eyes started to water, and one more time, Agnes, the daughter of long time former pastor Martin Winter, one more time, Agnes gave me a talking to. She reminded her pastor that she had a good life, that she knew where she was going, and that the hour was near. Her work was soon to be finished, mine was not.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where more and more folks realize that this is it. Today is their day. Now is their hour to wonder what it means to be hating their lives, now is their hour to wonder which sins they should be admitting, now is their hour to wonder what it means to empty themselves for the glory of God. Or to say it another way, to gain by losing. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther