The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Beloved. Many people, even those calling themselves Christians have no idea what Christianity is really all about. There are those who look upon Christianity as a crutch to help out in life’s tough spots, an assurance that there is a kind, benevolent God who will welcome them, and all people, into heaven. God is like a coach, who believes in you and builds self-esteem. Such people believe in God because God believes in them.
There are also those who look upon Christianity as list of rules—do the right things, God will be pleased with you and welcome you into heaven. Jesus is a new Lawgiver and we are responsible for our own salvation. A seemingly Christian veneer is put on heathenism—placating the gods by our actions.
There are those who look upon Christianity as the instrument to work all kinds of social change, to better society. They look only at this world and try to make heaven on earth. Every social cause is then seized, placed under the Christian umbrella and made some sort of Christian duty.
Aided by many Christians and their worship practices, Christianity is also seen as a wimpy, milquetoast religion. The list could go on, but the point is clear: By false teaching, Satan has muddied the waters in order to confuse people as to what Christianity is really all about. Because of these false ideas that obscure what Christianity is, people easily lump Christianity together with man-made religions of works and reject it. But what is rejected is a caricature of true Christianity.
So what is Christianity all about? St. Paul tells us: For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Christianity is all about Jesus and His work to save us from our sins, which would otherwise damn us eternally in the torments of hell. It is about our damning sin and God’s grace; it is about God’s just and holy Law that condemns us for our sin and His glorious Gospel that announces that Jesus paid the price for our sins by His life, suffering and death on the cross.
Today is Holy Cross Day. It is a good thing that the Church has celebrated this day since 335 when a basilica built by Constantine in Jerusalem was dedicated. Being are months away from Lent and Easter, how vital that we are again reminded what Christianity is all about—the cross of Christ. There our salvation was won. There we see both God’s anger over our sin as He poured out His wrath over them on Christ; and we also see His grace, that it was Jesus, our Substitute suffering there in place of us. In our text Jesus speaks about His suffering and death: For this purpose I came into the world.
Because He came for this very reason—to suffer and die for the sins of the world—Jesus is glorified by His death. Just because Jesus, the true God, came for the express purpose of suffering and dying on the cross for the sins of the world does not mean that it was an easy thing for Him to do. Jesus is also true man. As true man He recoiled in horror at the prospect of having every single sin of every single person laid on Him so that He could feel and experience God’s wrath. In our text He says: Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save Me from this hour”? But for this purpose I came into the world. Although it wasn’t easy for Jesus, in love for the Father and in willing obedience to His will, in love for us, and to fulfill the promises He had made to the OT people, Jesus laid down His life, as our Substitute, to be punished for our sins and to bring us the forgiveness of sins.
It was not enough that Jesus offer Himself up in our place, as the sacrifice for our sins, but Jesus’ sacrifice had to be pleasing and acceptable to the Father. In our text, Jesus prays: “Father, glorify Your name” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” God the Father spoke to God the Son, Jesus, and told Him that He approved Jesus’ work, saying that Jesus’ word and work glorified Him. Then the Father gives Jesus the promise and comfort that He will continue to glorify His own name as He leads Jesus to glory by His death on the cross as the one perfect sacrifice for sin. The point is clear: the death of Jesus on the cross is THE one perfect, divinely appointed sacrifice to pay for the sins of all people. In the cross of Christ, that symbol of suffering and shame, God and His name are glorified.
Jesus then spoke to the crowds: Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself. Jesus’ cross on which He was nailed after He was rejected by men, that cross on which He suffered for our sin rejected of God, is the very means that He used to conquer and destroy our spiritual enemies—devil, sin, death, hell. By this Christ is glorified.
Jesus calls the devil the ruler of this world. All mankind is in the power, in the grasp of Satan because of the burden of our guilt and sin. We are all born into the world as sinners, as slaves to sin. By nature all people can do is sin, that is, serve the devil. Because of our sin we are in the devil’s grasp; we are loaded down with guilt, hate the holy God who has given us His Law and who will condemn us for breaking His Law. But Christ has come and by His death destroyed, conquered, the devil. By His suffering and death on the cross, Jesus took from the devil the right he claimed to keep all people subject to him. When Jesus died on the cross, the devil lost the power and authority he had over man. Why? Because the sin of the world was removed. Now the devil can accuse us all he wants to of sin, but because of Jesus and His suffering and death on the cross, it means nothing because all our sin and guilt is forgiven. What claim does a creditor have on you if someone has paid off your debt? Satan cannot now drag us down to hell with him; he lost the battle with Christ. Jesus came to be the one perfect sacrifice for sin and He was. Never once did He sin; He always fulfilled the will of the Father; He took upon Himself all the sins of all the people of the world; He endured God’s wrath and punishment for them on the cross. That the devil has been thrown out, that Jesus was the one perfect sacrifice for our sin is seen so clearly and beautifully on Easter Sunday. Jesus was raised from the dead. That was the pronouncement of our forgiveness. That Jesus was raised from the dead means that our spiritual enemies have been conquered—death cannot hold us, hell has no claim on us, we are no longer Satan’s slaves; our sin is forgiven! When Jesus died on the cross that first Good Friday, He said It is finished! All the work to save us was done; sin, death, devil and hell were destroyed. Easter proclaims it. Jesus is glorified in the cross. In the cross He is triumphant!
Jesus tells us: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself. Jesus is glorified in the cross as He now draws all people to Himself—the blessed result of His work on the cross. Sin, death, devil and hell are all conquered for all people. St. Paul writes: if One [that is, Christ] died for all, then all died. It is as if we ourselves had died on the cross with Christ that first Good Friday, as if all people were punished for their sin but Christ did it for all people. The devil’s reign over all people ended when Jesus said on the cross It is finished. It ends for each one of us personally the moment that we come to faith; for most of us that was at our baptism. Remember what Paul says baptism does—it connects us with Jesus death and resurrection. We, then, can look at our baptism as that moment that we died and rose again with Jesus. We see that now we are in Christ and the devil’s reign over us has ended. We see that now, in Him, we have become the righteousness of God; that is, through faith in Christ His holiness and righteousness is now ours. His victory, His triumphant shout: It is finished, is also ours. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see our sin, but only the holy, perfect righteousness of Jesus His Son. Jesus is glorified as we through faith enjoy the fruits of His work, of His victory on the cross.
Jesus transformed His cross, a symbol of suffering and punishment, into a throne of victory and grace. Because He died for all, because He paid the penalty for all sin, because He reconciled all people to the Father, He is now drawing all people to Himself. He can do this because He is alive and at work in His word. He can do this because the redemption of all people is complete; all can be assured that there is peace between them and God. Now, Jesus, by the proclamation of His Word is drawing all people to Himself. No person is excluded; there is no person whose sins are so great that they are not forgiven. The greatness of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is determined by Who died—the very God Himself, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Rejoice when you hear the pastor pronounce the absolution, the forgiveness of your sins. He is simply stating the fact of what Jesus accomplished by His death on the cross. Rejoice when Jesus comes to you in His body and blood of Holy Communion. He is giving You the forgiveness of your sins and strengthening your faith as He gives you His very body that bore the curse and punishment of your sin and as He gives you the very blood He shed for your forgiveness. The Lord has called you and drawn you to Him when He brought you to faith and He continues to draw and keep you close to Him as He gives you the blessings, benefits and fruits of His victory on the cross. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus says about Himself and His work, The Son of Man must…be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Jesus is glorified as in Spirit-worked faith we believe in Him as our only Savior from sin, death, devil and hell; Jesus is glorified as we in faith receive the blessings and benefits He brought about for us. His work for us was not in vain.
Our text begins with some Greeks who, in faith, asked to see Jesus. When Jesus is told about this He says The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Jesus’ hour of suffering and death has come and when it has come Jesus will be acknowledged by all nations as their Savior; His work on the cross that saves all people will bring people of all nations to faith in Him. With His accomplished work on the cross, the risen, exalted and glorified Christ will bring many people to life, spiritual life; He will bring them into His Church where they will praise and glorify Him. Jesus continues: 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. Jesus’ death and the blessings it brought about, proclaimed and given in the Word and Sacrament, have the power to convert and change sinful men. Instead of living for self, we are led and empowered by the Holy Spirit no longer to live for ourselves but for Christ. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. We, then, live lives of repentance, sorrow over sin and fighting against it; and faith, faith in Christ for the forgiveness of those sins. Here Christ is glorified. I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Christianity is all about the cross of Christ and what He brought about for us by it. When Jesus died on the cross, we see what we truly deserve for our sins. We see what great price it cost Jesus to reconcile us to God, to obtain for us the forgiveness of our sins, and to defeat sin, death, devil and hell. In the cross we see Jesus glorified as He actually accomplished for us what He came and set out to do; we see Jesus glorified as He now brings us to faith in Him and gives us the fruits of His victory on the cross. We glorify Him now on earth and keep our eyes focused on heaven where we will praise and glorify Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit for all eternity. INJ