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Holy Week Sermons by Pastor Rank

Palm Sunday – April 4, 2004

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Palmarum

April 4, 2004

Text: John 12:20-33

Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. 21 Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. 23 But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. 27 ” Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 “Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” 29 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” 30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. 31 “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” 33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die.

THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

Shortly after Palm Sunday, some of the disciples of Jesus are approached by some Greeks who, we are told, “want to see Jesus.” Perhaps these Greeks had witnessed Jesus coming into Jerusalem, lowly and riding on a donkey. Perhaps they had been impressed by the loud shouts and praises of the crowds that greeted Jesus as the one “who comes in the Name of the Lord.” It appears, by the way Jesus answers, that these men were intrigued by the enthusiasm of the crowd on Palm Sunday. For Jesus goes on to speak about “glory” in ways that show His glory as being quite different from the glory of the world.

Glory is usually associated with great achievements. We may think of glory in regards to sports: a pitcher who pitches a perfect game, a quarterback who leads his team to victory in the last minute, the basketball player who sinks a three point shot at the buzzer to win the game by one. Glory is also associated with politics: winning an election brings glory to the winner. Glory may also be won on the battlefield by those who are victorious. Glory and winning go hand in hand.

When Jesus receives the glory and honor from the crowd on Palm Sunday, He does so as someone who looks like the winner. Even though He rides in on a lowly donkey, still the great numbers of people who greet Him are impressive. But is this what is attractive about Jesus? Is it the glory and praise and honor of Palm Sunday that stand as one of the great highlights of Jesus’ work here on earth? Humanly speaking, this day does appear as the high point. After all, at no other time after this would Jesus receive the great public show of glory and honor. So why is this not the high point? Because Jesus did not come to receive the praise and honor of men, but He came to be glorified by His Father, and that would happen only through being “lifted up from the earth.” As John tells us, “This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” Jesus repeats here what He told Nicodemus early in His public ministry. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”

Jesus will be lifted up when He is nailed to the cross and the cross is raised. It is at the cross that the glory of Christ will be revealed. The glory of Jesus at the very highpoint of His ministry for us is going to be hidden. Oh, lots of people saw Jesus lifted up on the cross, so it was not hidden in that way. But the glory was not apparent to them. The glory was hidden by the way God chose to show it. The cross, with the blood, the pain and suffering, the death, does not bring to mind the victory that we associate with glory. Jesus Himself knows what lies ahead of Him. He shows us His thoughts when He said, “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” His road has only one direction to go. Jesus is on a one way street to the cross.

To all the eyes that watched Him the day He died Jesus looked like the loser. The winners seem to be the enemies of Jesus. They are the ones who can go and celebrate. The followers of Jesus are in mourning, grieving over the death of their beloved friend and leader. This is not glory.

But remember what Jesus said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” With this picture of planting, decay, and new life, Jesus teaches us about the way He achieves glory. Just like a seed seems to be dry, dead, and without life, so the body of Jesus on Good Friday shows nothing hopeful. But seeds put in the ground are invigorated by the warmth and moisture; new life grows from what was dry and dead. So with Jesus. He is planted in the tomb, and He will rise again, showing His victory over sin, death, and devil.

In the same way Jesus tells us about ourselves as those who follow and believe in Him: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The glory of this world will tempt us to love our lives here and now, to put this world and its glory ahead of the way of the cross, ahead of the way of following Jesus no matter what. But Jesus does not direct us to seek the glory of this world. In fact, that is the way ultimately to lose our lives.

This world seeks glory in what gives the appearance of immediate victory. For example, Muslim extremists who kill our brothers and sister in Christ in Rwanda and the Sudan believe they have achieved victory. The glory is theirs, they believe, when they can see the bodies of dead Christians. The same is true in communist China and other totalitarian states. The persecution of our fellow believers looks like the defeat of the Christian Church and glory and victory for the forces that hate the Church. The same was true in the early days of the Church. Think of the death of St. Stephen. He was stoned to death by a mob that wanted nothing to do with Jesus Christ, even though Stephen showed them from Holy Scripture how Jesus was the Messiah. Other countless believers have followed Stephen in the twenty centuries since he died. Time and time again the followers of Christ have been put to the test: will you follow Christ, or will you follow the world. “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

The Greeks who wanted to see Jesus probably heard more than they bargained for. They liked the Jesus of Palm Sunday, the One who received all the glory, the praises and honor of the large crowd. Were they still following Jesus on Good Friday when the glory was gone? We do not know.

We do know about ourselves. What do we find attractive about Jesus? Do we prefer for Jesus to receive the accolades and honor of this world? Do we feel better when the news media or other sources of glory in this world praise our Savior? Do we need that? Or are we content to remain with the Jesus hidden in shame, suffering, and death of the cross?

As we travel the way of Holy Week this year, God help us to trust in the Jesus of the cross, the Jesus who died for us, the Jesus who did not shy away from the path to His glory, the way of crucifixion. This Jesus does not promise us riches and glory now, but He does promise us eternal life with His Father in heaven. “If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” Let us see Jesus in the glory of the cross, as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In the hands of this Jesus we may safely place our lives for now and for eternity. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.