Sermon by the Rev. Dr. James A. Gibson III
Fifth Sunday in Lent
21 March 2021
Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 4:14-5:10, John 12:20-36
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)
Collect of the Day
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
“It was not while bare and not participating in the limits of his emptying that God the Word became our model,” writes Cyril of Alexandria, “but ‘in the days of his flesh.’ Then, quite legitimately, he could employ human limits and pray insistently and shed tears and even appear somehow in need of a savior and learn obedience, though a Son. The inspired author is, so to speak, stupefied by the mystery that the Son, existing by nature truly and endowed with the glories of divinity, should so abase himself that he endured the low estate of our impoverished humanity.”
The “inspired author” of Hebrews is, says Cyril, “stupefied by the mystery” of the Incarnation. How could the very Son of God “so abase himself” as to identify with the lowest of the low, an “impoverished humanity,” scarred and corrupted by sin, far removed from the glories of the heavenly court, helpless to save itself from certain death?
Stupefying, indeed. How can anyone be anything but stupefied by something so glorious?
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
Glorified, says Proclus of Constantinople, “referring to the cross. For from it the power of the Lord was made known, [because] it changed the shame into glory—
the insult into honor,
the curse into blessing,
the gall into sweetness,
the vinegar into milk,
the slap in the face into freedom,
death into life.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
But how is he to be glorified?
Glorified through one of the most inhuman forms of suffering every devised, for Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself.”
As if we needed this to be explained—and many of us do—John adds this little footnote, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”
There is no doubt that Jesus’ original audience knew what he meant about being “lifted up.” Their reaction says it all.
“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?”
They knew he was talking about dying. They knew he was talking about dying on a cross.
But that’s not the way it’s supposed to work, is it? Isn’t the Christ, God’s Anointed One, supposed to remain with us forever? If you die, how can you remain forever? How can you be who you say you are if your mission is “to be lifted up?”
Don’t miss the irony of connecting “the kind of death he was going to die” with being “lifted up from the earth.”
Jesus, “the Son of Man” and “the Christ” was to be “glorified” through “the kind of death he was going to die,” and now “the hour” of his glorification had come, signified by the fact that he was being sought out by “some Greeks” who were “among those who went up to worship at the feast.”
Not Jews. Not even Samaritans. But Greeks, the quintessential Gentiles, the “God fearers” who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast even though they would not be allowed to participate fully.
“Sir,” they say to Philip, “we wish to see Jesus.”
You might simply say their curiosity was peaked. They had heard so much about this Jesus since they had arrived. They respected the Jewish people. They wanted to know more about their faith but, up until now, they had been kept at arm’s length.
Maybe, just maybe, this Jesus was the answer they had been looking for.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
It is a pivotal moment.
On two previous occasions, John says the authorities could have had the opportunity to arrest Jesus but they did not “because his hour had not yet come.”
Now, informed by Andrew and Philip that “some Greeks” are asking to see him, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
“Glorified,” meaning, as we have already seen, the cross.
“Now is my soul troubled,” Jesus says. “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.”
To what “purpose” does Jesus refer? Nothing less than his own death—for that is what he came to do. The full plan and purpose of the Father, who has glorified and will glorify his name again, cannot be accomplished in any other way.
“Now is the judgment of this world,” Jesus says, “now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”
Jesus is giving away the ending, isn’t he? He’s telling us that, despite all appearances, his death will not be the end of him, but of his greatest enemy.
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Through his death, he will draw all people into his embrace of eternal life.
“He took up humanity into himself,” writes Irenaeus, “the invisible becoming visible, the incomprehensible being made comprehensible, the impassible becoming capable of suffering and the Word being made human, thus summing up all things in himself: so that as in supercelestial, spiritual and invisible things, the Word of God is supreme, so also in things visible and corporeal he might possess the supremacy, and, taking to himself the preeminence, as well as constituting himself head of the church, he might draw all things to himself at the proper time.”
That, in the end, is his purpose. It is the grand and glorious purpose of God: the perfect and complete redemption of his creation.
And what is required of you to be included in that redemption?
Only that simple faith expressed in the words of those “Greeks” who came to the festival.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
+IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.