High and Lifted Up

A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on April 14, 2019.

“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.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “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.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him (John 12:27–37).

When we think of the mock trial and murder of Jesus, it is easy to think that He was the most hated man in Jerusalem. This was not the case. So popular was Jesus that those who hated Him confessed, “Look, the world has gone after him” (John 12:19). This is no more evident than in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem before Passover. Large crowds had come to Jerusalem for the feast, and when they learned of Jesus’ arrival, “they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him” (John 12:13).

As Jesus approached, seated not upon a charging stallion but humbly upon a young donkey, the crowd cried out, “Hosanna!” (which is a transliteration of a Hebrew expression), meaning “Save, I pray” or “God save him!” This expression was added to the address: “the King of Israel.” A modern equivalent of this expression could be “God save the queen,” which is more a pronouncement of blessing than a plea for salvation. Drawing from Psalm 118, the people rejoice in the coming of the King of Israel as He enters the royal city of Jerusalem, coming “in the name of the Lord.” Jesus’ triumphal entry is nothing less than a King’s entry to his kingdom. The palm branches serve as symbols of regal victory. The cheers echo the celebration of the ark’s entry in David’s Jerusalem and the dedication of Solomon’s temple. Likely in the mind of the crowd, this was their generation’s equivalent and the prophetic fulfillment of the return of the King of Israel.

Amidst such celebration and glory directed to Jesus, at a time in which Jew and Gentile (John 12:20-22) rejoiced in His arrival, Jesus confessed, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). To the glory of Jesus Christ the palm branches were waved. To the glory of Jesus Christ the blessings were shouted. To the glory of Jesus Christ the prophecy was fulfilled of Zion’s King upon a donkey’s colt (John 12:15). Even the Pharisees’ resignation to popular devotion glorified Jesus as Christ.

The hour indeed had come for His glory; but it was not the glory that the cheering or the sneering expected. Jesus explained to His disciples, “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” (John 12:24). Indeed, Israel’s King had returned to the royal city to conquer her enemies, establish the throne, and reign upon it forever and ever. And, to accomplish such a monumental victory, like a kernel of wheat planted in the ground, the Son of Man, the Son of God must die to bear the fruit of eternal life to all who trust in Him. Knowing this, in the midst of the praises to His glory, Jesus confesses, “Now is my soul troubled,” and in those few words we witness the sorrow of the Son of Man.

The Sorrow of the Son of Man

Revealing His humanity, Jesus reveals that He is troubled by the reality of His imminent, sin-bearing crucifixion. What can be said of such a moment of magnitude? In considering the human nature of Jesus, consider the dread of knowing the pending shame, torture, suffering, and death. Roman crucifixion was not designed with the merciful efficiency of the guillotine; it was designed for sustained suffering, an instrument of torture. Yet, Jesus knew the greater demand of the cross, one far greater in significance and cosmic degree: the wrath of almighty God.

We rejoice that by the grace of God through faith in Christ we have become the righteousness of God, but let us not forget that such righteousness was procured when God “made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Rightly do we sing,

Till on that cross as Jesus died,

The wrath of God was satisfied;

For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—

Here in the death of Christ I live.

With such physical and spiritual weight upon Himself, we hear the plea of a Son to His Father, “Father, save me from this hour.” This is the sorrowful plea of a man praised upon His arrival in Jerusalem. This is the human sorrow of a man about to die. This is the sorrow of the heart of the Son of Man, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Therefore, the sorrowful Son of Man joyfully trusted in the sovereign purpose of His heavenly Father.

Let this be encouragement to the Christian. As Christ-followers we too will know sorrow, delivered through the dark providences of this life. If our Lord wept, we too will weep. If our Lord pleaded for deliverance from His work, we too will desire deliverance. The Christian life is not without sorrow, but in our sorrow we have a Savior. In Christ, let us trust as He did in the purpose of our heavenly Father. In Christ, let us see Him as a greater treasure than the fleeting pleasures of this life. In Christ, let us remember that He who created our yesterday, sustains our today, and gives us joy for tomorrow: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5), for Christ is our dayspring. Therefore, let us not wallow in our sorrow but rejoice in His provision, for God is glorified in us as we are dependent upon Him.

Displaying a human selflessness yet acknowledging His identity as the spotless Lamb of God, Jesus declares, “But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” He clearly understood what Peter would declare at Pentecost that Jesus of Nazareth was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts. 2:23). He came not merely as an example in living but a sacrifice in dying. Living and dying as Isaiah prophesied, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isa. 53:3). But, the man of sorrows came not for the esteem of man but for the glory of God.

The Glory of the Son of God

Having revealed His human sorrow and His devotion to His Father’s purpose, Jesus reveals His desire: the glory of God. He prays, “Father, glorify your name,” meaning bring glory to Yourself through fulfilling Your sovereign purpose. And, just as God spoke to Moses at Sinai and it sounded like thunder, God the Father thundered from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” Through this direct revelation, the primary objective of God is revealed in all that He does: His glory.

A recent church billboard announced, “Easter: It’s all about you.” As I thought about this announcement and considered it a testimony to our self-obsessed culture, I thought about how contrary it is to this passage (and the testimony of Scripture in general). In personally accomplishing His Father’s purpose, Jesus’ desire is the glory of God, not yours. Maybe in our post-Christian culture we have become ignorant to the point of needing a billboard announcement stating the obvious, like “Easter: It’s all about Jesus.”

From eternity past to eternity future, the chief end of God is His glory. This never changes. Therefore, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (WSC 1). In the fullness of time Jesus was born of a virgin and under the law, and in this God was glorified. In living as the Son of Man, Jesus perfectly obeyed the law of God, and in this God was glorified. Revealing the love of God as only the Son of God could do in preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and fulfilling the law and the prophets, God was glorified. And now, in looking to the atoning cross of Christ, God would glorify His name again.

Upon that Roman tree of torture, the Son of God would be lifted up, revealing the shame of man and the glory of God. Upon that cross judgment would be borne and pronounced. Having satisfied the righteous wrath of God in Himself, all who look up to Jesus Christ in faith will be saved from the judgment to come. All who reject the Savior upon them the wrath of God remains.

This is not the world’s understanding of glory: obedience, faithfulness, suffering, punishment, death. But this is the heavenly understanding. God the Father purposed our redemption for His glory; God the Son, high and lifted up upon the cross, accomplished our redemption for His glory. And, while this sounds so contrary to the ways of this world, that we could rejoice in God glorifying Himself, it is this glorious purpose and accomplishment that is the hope of every child of God.

The Hope of the Children of God

For, it was upon that atoning cross that judgment was served. As the second Adam, Christ redeemed all of the children of the first Adam who come to Him in faith. Upon that atoning cross the serpent of the garden and the prince of this present darkness was condemned. What looked to the world as the victory of the evil one was in fact the pronouncement of defeat. Therefore, it is through the cross of Christ that God draws a people to Himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and it is exclusively through the cross of Christ that we are saved as His chosen people.

Yet, having heard Jesus’ prayer and His declaration of God’s glory in what is to come, the crowd remains perplexed. It is as if their palm branches have begun to wilt in their hands as Jesus’ words do not meet their expectations. They ask, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Discerning that Jesus is describing death, the people quickly seek to differentiate their newly arrived King from the Son of Man. Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem to ascend David’s throne. They have no intention of Him dying. In their popular interpretation of Scripture, Christ would arrive in Jerusalem, defeat the Roman occupation, ascend the royal throne, and reign for eternity. Death was not a possibility in their interpretation.

The crowds are no different today. The worldly-minded either wants its best life here and now or a secret rapture to get out as fast as possible. Jesus delivers neither, but offers Himself the ransom for many, high and lifted for our redemption to His glory. He is the Son of Man, the promised Christ. He is the King of Kings, and indeed His heavenly kingdom is forever. He is the Light of the world, but only to those who believe in Him. He is the hope of the children of God through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection.

Rightly were the palm branches waved as He entered Jerusalem. Rightly were the hosannas sung. Rightly did they seek His ascension to David’s throne. But it would begin through a tree of shame, the cross of Christ, King Jesus high and lifted up, to the glory of God and the hope of all who believe.

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