As I looked at today's date on some of our calendars, I noticed something odd. Some of them were printed before the Daylight Savings Time law was changed and clearly announced that today was the day to change the clocks. I thought, "How appropriate, after all this is April Fools' Day. I wonder if anyone will fall for it." If they do, they will join the company of others who have believed some of the great pranks of April Fools' Day.
People who have a lot of time on their hands have ranked the best April Fools' pranks. The winner was the BBC broadcast describing the excellent Swiss spaghetti crop complete with film footage of Swiss peasants harvesting this crop from spaghetti trees. Another one in the top ten was the purchase of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. It was to be renamed the "Taco Liberty Bell." The White House played along and announced that they were planning to sell the Lincoln Memorial to the Ford Motor Company. The name of course would change to the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial. The sad thing about these pranks is that some people took them seriously and the government received thousands of letters protesting the sale of our heritage.
Today's Gospel talks about a different kind of foolishness. It talks about the foolishness of the glory of the cross. It is recorded in John right after the verses that describe Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey to the cheers of the Passover Pilgrims.
The Holy Spirit inspired John to remember how Jesus spoke of the cross. Jesus said, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." He meant that it was time for His enemies to begin the process that led to His crucifixion. Now, how, exactly, are appearing before a kangaroo court, getting beat to a pulp, and then dying on a cross in any way glorifying? Yet, that is what Jesus said. To the world, this is foolishness.
Jesus also said, "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." Here Jesus states that He must die and be buried like a seed before His church will grow. The world tells us that it is hard enough to recruit followers when you are alive. It is most certainly impossible to do so after death. Your loyal followers might make you into a martyr, but everyone else will think you are a fool and pity you. How foolish!
Then Jesus said, "Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." The world knows for a fact that you have to look out for number one. You've got to love yourself first and foremost if you are to do anything with your life. How can hating your life in this world lead to any kind of glory? This is all foolishness.
Jesus said, "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." With these words, He told His followers that His death on the cross will bring all people to Him. What kind of a marketing plan is that? What good can it do to have followers when you are dead? This isn't a plan, it is foolishness.
One the other hand, the world would see all those people who praised Jesus as He came to town earlier that day and see an opportunity. The branches and the clothes on the road; the praise from the mouths of the people; now this is where the world sees glory.
Here is a power base. Here is some political capital to spend. The world would tell Jesus to build on that power base - to use those followers to exert power on the ruling authorities. Leverage those followers into a political machine that could take over the Jewish states and perhaps go on to challenge Caesar Himself.
Does the world's path to glory sound familiar? A few weeks ago, at the beginning of Lent, we read these words: [Luke 4:5-7] And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours."
The world's path to glory and Satan's path to glory sound an awful lot alike. They tempt us with the glory of this world. They promote a theology of glory. They want us to believe that the way of the cross is foolish. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write [1 Corinthians 1:18] "The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing."
If this world is all there is, then Jesus is most foolish, but this world is not all there is. Jesus saw beyond the crucifixion to a new life. He saw the joy of heaven beyond the cross and the grave. He saw the glory of God that lay beyond the shame of the cross. He knew that a kangaroo court, a beating, and a cross awaited Him, but He knew that He would pass beyond these things and enter the glory of God.
He knew that when He was buried like a seed in the ground, He would return to a new life. He would not only enter the glory of God, but He would bring us along with Him. Through His death and burial a living thing would grow from Him - a living thing that is like a plant growing from a seed. That living thing is The Holy Christian Church, The Community of all who believe in Him.
The one, who loves his life, follows the world's theology of glory. When the days of this world end, so does the glory. The one, who hates his life in this world, follows the theology of the cross. He may have little glory in this world, but the glory in the next world never ends. He is no fool who surrenders that which He cannot keep and gains that which He cannot lose.
Beloved in the Lord, Satan would like nothing more than to separate us all from the cross. The sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross is the one great defeat for him. It is the guarantee that he will suffer forever in hell. The only thing left for Satan is to take as many people with him as he can. He does this by making the cross appear foolish.
He has convinced the world that the cross is foolishness, but He has an even more subtle and devious tactic for those who love the Lord. He very quietly says, "Now that you know the story of salvation, you should see what other truths the Bible has for you. Every one who has come to this Bible study already knows the story of salvation. You don't really need to go over it again. You can assume that everyone here knows it. Now we can go on to other things in the Bible."
Here Satan counts on a human frailty. Our memories fade over time. If he can get us focused on the other teachings of the Bible at the expense of the cross, he knows that our memory of the cross will fade. He hopes that eventually, it will be gone for good. He hopes we will join the great mass of people who believe that the Bible is a book of great moral teachings, but not much more.
Salvation assumed is salvation denied. Today's Gospel tells us that the glory of God lies in the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made to save us from our sins. All the teachings of the Bible focus on Jesus Christ. The Law shows us our need for Jesus Christ. The good works that the Bible encourages are only possible because Jesus Christ has freed us from the slavery of sin. All the teachings of the Bible depend on the glory of God as expressed in the shame of the cross.
As we remember Jesus lifted up on the cross this week, we remember how He draws us to Him. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, [Romans 6:3-4] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. The Holy Spirit works through baptism to place faith in our hearts and put our feet on the way of the cross.
Yes, today we can enjoy a day for fools and pranks. It is also a good day to remember the foolishness of the cross - the foolishness that saves us. On this day of foolishness, we can remember the rest of the words that Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth: [1 Corinthians 1:18] "The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.