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Holy Cross

John 12:20-33

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Trinity 14
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Sun, Sep 13, 2020 

Some Greeks came up to Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Why Philip?  Maybe they knew him, or maybe because he had a Greek name. 

But Philip seemed hesitant.  Christ had told the apostles not to go into any area of the Gentiles.  Perhaps Philip wondered whether bringing the Greeks to Christ would be disobedient.  So instead of going straight to Christ, Philip talked to Andrew.  Andrew, who seemed slightly more assertive, brought Philip to go tell Christ.

After that, we are not sure what happened to those Greeks.  They disappear from the story.  Did Christ go see them?  Did He ignore them?  We have no idea.

What Christ does in the text is to use the occasion of the Greeks seeking Him in order to give a brief sermon on the approaching hour.  He speaks of His death and resurrection.  He speaks of His own troubled spirit at the approaching Passion.  The Father even speaks from heaven to declare that He would glorify His Son.

Christ’s little sermon includes these words: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” Here is the reason He preaches on the occasion of the Greeks seeking Him.  The Cross, which He was about to suffer, would be the drawing point for all nations, including all Greeks.  All sins would be placed upon His Body on the Tree.  All men who would be saved would be so because their faith is in the work of Christ on the Cross.

We also have been drawn to Him.  We have received salvation, even we whose bloodlines point to many nations, gathered here in this nation far from Judea.  Christ our dear Lord speaks about us.

Christ speaks of Himself as a grain of wheat, that is, a seed.  Christ, the Seed of Woman, had to be planted in the earth.  That is, He had to die and be buried, to all appearances and in actual fact, a corpse.  If He had not been so planted, what benefit would His life give us?  If for some reason Christ had skipped the Cross and Tomb, then we would be lost, like dead seeds that would not sprout even when planted.  But He has suffered, died, been buried, and raised the third day.  Therefore the Grain the Seed, Christ our Lord, has sprouted and sprung up to life overflowing to us.

We also, following His path, must suffer and be planted, unless we happen to be that blessed generation that shall not taste death because the Lord returns first.  When we die, our bodies are planted.  We appear and actually are corpses at that point.  Then our soul rests with the Lord in Paradise, yet death holds our body in the ground.  But at the resurrection, we will sprout and spring up to life eternal, life without limit or weakness or end.  In our present weakness, which builds and culminates in our own deaths, the strength of God is made perfect.  Our earthly end in the dirt will become the location of our victorious raising by the power of the Lord who also raised His Son from the dead.  Our grave weakness will be made perfect.

So why fear the weakness?  Why fear the vulnerability that our current weak flesh suffers?  Sickness and frailty overcome us sooner or later.  But that is not to be lamented, but celebrated!  Our lives, transformed by the lifting up of the Son of Man, are a gradual approach to the greatest glory.  Why fear the road that leads to eternal victory?  When we see a wrinkle or a grey hair, why frown?  Instead we should say, “I am that much closer to my Lord.”

We are like the grain used in bread.  When it sprouts up and then is harvested, it is a good thing, useful for bread and the sustaining of human life.  But consider the even greater glory if the Word of God is added to the bread at this altar.  Then the grains are united with the Body of the Son of God.  They are useful for forgiveness, everlasting life, and salvation from sin, death, and the devil.

In the same way we, to whom the Word of God has been added, have been transformed into a glory far beyond this mortal life.  We are one with Christ and members of His Body.  What glory we lowly grains have become!

Christ also began His earthly life in lowliness.  From the stump of Jesse He came forth.  He did not branch out from the mighty tree of the house of King David when it was at its most majestic time of the Kingdom of Israel and Judah.  No, He waited until David had become a ruined stump, a mere remnant of a distant past splendor.  Then Christ became the Righteous Branch for David to reign as King forever.  But Christ did not look like the glorious King.  He was born of the Blessed Virgin and laid in a manger.  The Seed of Woman sprang forth in a dark night from her womb.  The only palace He would see in His lifetime was the palace of Herod when he mocked Him at His trial.  His only crown would pierce His brow.

But in being pierced and crushed and buried in the earth, the King received His eternal glory.  His true throne in heaven was won by His death and resurrection.

We are raised and enthroned with Him.  Although that is hidden now, the glory of what He has made us will shine out with overwhelming majesty on the Last Day.

With that Day in mind, we can more fully live in our present moments.  For if our life is secure in the glory of Christ’s redemption to all eternity, then we can act like seeds that are dying.  We give our lives away as we serve our neighbor, because that is what our Lord, the Seed, did.  We are not trying to earn treasure for ourselves or make our names great.  Christ has already exalted our names and earned a greater treasure than any other we could hope for.  Thus we die many little deaths to show mercy to our neighbor.  We lose our life, and in so doing keep it for eternity.  We are living in the same pattern as our Lord.

So we bear dishonor and hardship.  We may even, by the Spirit’s grace, suffer all things without complaint.  We know our destination because Christ showed us the life cycle of a seed.  We know that divine glory awaits that He has purchased for us.

But if we refuse to endure sufferings as our Master did, then we are putting our own comfort first as if we were the source of our life.  Imagine a seed that fears to be planted and fears dying in the ground.  The seed will try to avoid the dirt and avoid any danger to itself.  It will frantically flee from the field where it would find renewal and rebirth.  Instead, it tries to preserve what must be set aside, and thus sets aside the true life that might have awaited.

Be warned that if you try to be your own source of life, you will die.  If you will not suffer as a seed, then you do not follow Christ to resurrection and eternal glory.

Sometimes, we falter and choose the poor things.  We select what seems like life but really is a path to death.  We cannot completely shake off the old nature in us that follows the path that seems most pleasant.

There is forgiveness for seeds that sometimes forget that they are seeds.  We who cannot be perfect find redemption in the death of the Seed of Woman.  But do not test the patience of God.  Do not make your own comfort your God, or put your trust in this life, or seek to preserve yourself by your own wisdom and control.  No, in Christ is life.  In God’s wisdom, which is the Cross, there is glory.  In our dying, we follow our Lord.

Christ shared at least part of our weakness; not that He was foolish or sinful.  But in the weak form of a servant, He had to struggle against the fear of death.  He was troubled to the depths of His soul over the unimaginable suffering to come. 

So we should not say that He does not understand our fears.  We should not think that He does not sympathize when we struggle with our infirmities.  He completely shares our human nature.  He sees our weakness and frailty.  Knowing that He knows, we are strengthened.  Knowing that He lived a life like ours, we are able to take heart under our troubles.

Our Brother is one of us.  He had to feel the kinds of things we feel, although without sin.  Cyril of Alexandria wrote, “Only the death of the Savior could bring an end to death, and it is the same for each of the other sufferings of the flesh too.  Unless He had felt dread, human nature could not have become free from dread.  Unless He had experienced grief, there could have never been any deliverance from grief.  Unless He had been troubled and alarmed, there would have been no escape from these feelings.  Every one of the emotions to which human nature is liable can be found in Christ.  The emotions of His flesh were aroused, not that they might gain the upper hand, as indeed they do in us, but in order that when aroused they might be thoroughly subdued by the power of the Word dwelling in the flesh, human nature as a whole thus undergoing a change for the better.”

In this way Christ, embracing His death to redeem mankind, is glorified by the Father.  The heavenly Father had glorified Christ at the beginning of the world when He was begotten from eternity in the same image and glory of the Father.  He also was glorified when He was born of the Virgin, and when He was Baptized at the Jordan and the Father openly declared Him to be the Beloved Son.  He was glorified on the Mount of Transfiguration.

But much greater is the glory Christ received because He died upon the Cross.  The shameful-looking Crucifixion is the wisdom and glory of God.  At the Cross, the worldly powers were judged.  Christ, who was perfectly innocent, accepted and embraced a horrific death as if He was the worst sinner to be punished.  In this way the Innocent One atones for all sin, and satan no longer can accuse the saints.  The threat of punishment is removed from us sinners because Christ the sinless One received the punishments that belonged to us.  Both this world and its prince are overthrown by the Justice of God.

In this way, the Cross has become the exaltation of Christ.  It is His honor and glory.  So we should think of it that way, cherish it in our hearts, and cling to it with all our trust.  Amen.

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