Passion Sunday.19 “Glory and Honor” John 12:20-43
I heard the worst sermon, recently. It literally made me sick to my stomach for the rest of the day. Reason #506 not to go to pastor’s conferences (validating again my teacher John Stroup’s counsel that the only good reason, humanly speaking, for becoming a pastor is to ensure you get to church every Sunday yourself to hear an orthodox sermon with a proper liturgy. ‘Cause if you want it done rite [sic]…). The preacher was a really nice guy, a friendly man, earnest, undoubtedly sincere in his love for Jesus. I blame our Synod’s SMP program for putting men into the office without the requisite theological training to preach and teach according to Scriptures and our Confessions. But that just goes to show again that good intentions (and a heart for people!) don’t matter one whit in the Church. Getting the Word right is all that counts, all we should be expecting when we walk in the door, always and only that—which is why spending years in person, in class with hard-bitten, over-educated profs teaching Athanasius, Luther, Pieper, grasping that there is no reciprocity in the genus maiestaticum, learning the enhypostasis from John of Damascus turns out actually to be necessary for pastors these days!
The sermon was a seemingly endless sentimental riff on the phrase “I thirst” that Jesus utters from the cross, taking it totally out of context, insisting that Jesus was thirsting not really literally but metaphorically, thirsting for us—for winning us over, getting us back; thirsting for our gratitude, affection, and devotion—as if Jesus so compulsively craves our adulation that He’d rather die than “lose your love, tonight…”
Sorry for that, but I’m just trying to help you fully experience a service that began with acoustic guitar strumming (and eye closing on the “good parts”) featuring a sermon picturing Jesus thirsting for our love like some lovelorn teen boy spurned by his girlfriend that makes my stomach flippy—even now, recalling it. The vicar was looking pretty pale during the service too; we exited early, not wanting to make a scene that would require clean-up. Shaken, not stirred, in the car afterwards, we played a round of “name that heresy”—that went like this: Pieper teaches there is no reciprocity in the genus maiestaticum which means while divine attributes are communicated to Jesus’ human nature, human attributes of passibility are certainly not conveyed to the divine. Pieper also reminds us that John of Damascus showed that Jesus only has one Personality—that of God’s Son—and since God’s feelings and emotions are nothing like ours, neither are Jesus’s!
You wonder sometimes if all that stuff in Pieper is really necessary to know. And then you sit through a sermon that makes you go, “Oh! I guess it is!” Because: if becoming Man means that God becomes weak and weepy and thirsty and needy for love means not only serious stomach ailments, it also means the destruction of orthodox Christianity. No ancient heretic would ever teach such drivel. Walker Percy called it “The Cult of Sentimentality”—the modern triumph of “feelings” over Faith.
On Passion Sunday, I suppose the question could arise which this pastor was struggling with, “Why did Jesus do it?” Why would He die on a cross? What’s in it, for Him? And this is why orthodox theology is so important. Because it reminds us that we can never answer that question(!)—why God does what he does—and even asking it borders on blasphemy. Human motives like luuuv and craving attention are certainly things we can understand, but to attribute such to Jesus is just to miss the point entirely. Jesus is God. Yes, He has a human nature, human thoughts and feelings, but they are not the feelings and thoughts of human beings like us but those of the Son of God Himself! And this side of Heaven, we simply cannot imagine what those thoughts and feelings are. Isaiah said His thoughts are definitely not our thoughts, but are as far over our heads as the heavens are above the earth.
If only he’d stuck with the lectionary for this Sunday that poor, poor preacher might have found something like an answer as to why Jesus died for us. Because there were some Greeks at that Passover Feast who wanted to see Jesus, who apparently wondered the same thing (good, orthodox Hebrews knew better than to ask stuff like this). They told Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” And Jesus answered saying “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” He goes on to say the grain of wheat, unless it falls into the ground and dies, produces no grain. He who loves his life will lose it and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. And whoever honors and follows the Son, all the way to the Cross, him, the Father will honor… and when Jesus is lifted up [on the Cross] He will draw all to Himself, into this glory, this honor.
There’s your answer. You saw it, right? Jesus knew their question before they even spoke it. “Why did You do it Jesus? Why die on a Cross?” Simple: glory and honor. God is not driven by thirst or need for anything, certainly not for our affection! There is nothing God needs. He is perfect in and of Himself. He doesn’t need a universe. This is all gratuitous. Whether we are saved or lost, God is perfectly happy. Jesus does what He does for glory and honor like it says…
The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. The Greek δοξασθη gets Englished as “glorified”. The Greek means literally to be splendid, radiant, bright, shining with heavenly light. Jesus, the True God(!) dies on a Cross because it glorious, splendid!!! Because in the darkness of the Cross, in the worst situation we can imagine, the Splendor and Radiance of God shines brightest and shows how utterly transcendent He is of anything we can fathom, how completely beyond our imagination.
Maybe this whole world and the sin thing is just a test? To see if you recognize the Emperor is naked. To see if you go “Really? Is this the best the world can do? I hate it. It doesn’t shine like the sun, now does it?” No. It does not. Only the Son shines like the sun and He does what He does simply so that His Splendor, His Radiance, His Brightness, His Glory will shine and light up the whole universe. Because there is nothing like that, nothing like Him. You were made to thirst for His glory—for that honor that comes from the Father saying “Well, done, good and faithful servant!” You were made to follow Jesus all the way to a stark, bare Cross, a terrible death, a stone cold tomb so that the Light that alone is truly glorious would light you up big-time.
In my favorite thing C.S. Lewis ever wrote—his sermon “The Weight of Glory”—Lewis says perhaps we feel chasing glory sounds not altruistic or pious enough? But Scripture is clear: IT is all God cares about, and the child who lives only to hear his father say “Glorious, kid!” and beams at that is not far from the Kingdom. Wanting fame and affection from mere humans will disappoint. But wanting to be famous with God, wanting to hear His “Well done!”—that’s worth chasing, worth losing everything else in order to gain!
Glory and honor. God doesn’t thirst for it (He’s got IT!). But you should. Seriously, who cares about anything else if you could just hear that one Word, that final Benediction from the Father, the King of Kings? Well… you could die, happy, then, with Jesus. So may the passion for glory and honor drive you always only to the Cross where the Peace of God, surpassing all understanding keeps your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.