HOLY CROSS DAY – Sept. 14, 2014

(preached at Holy Cross Lutheran, Trumbull)

SCRIPTURES – Ps. 40:1-11; Numbers 21:4-9; 1 Cor. 1:18-25; John 12:20-33


“We wish to see Jesus.” John 12


“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” This is a simple request. Jesus responds to it with a confusing answer which seems utterly unrelated to the request: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” – by which He means, be crucified. (His response reminds me of conversations with my wife. Us guys are focused on one issue at a time, but you ladies often zoom way ahead of us and change the topic of the conversation in mid-stream, so that we suddenly have no idea that we’re talking about something else!) Christ’s response to the Greeks who wanted to see Him might seem unrelated, but it actually goes to the heart of their request. They probably wanted to see Him because they had been hearing of His great miracles and wise teachings. They wanted to see this amazing man! Jesus tells them, and us, that you can’t truly see Him – see His amazing power and love for you – unless you see Him dying on the cross. The cross is central to Jesus and to His heavenly Father. Apart from the cross there is no Jesus for you, no God for you.


Jesus spoke of the cross as His and His Father’s glory, and God the Father spoke from heaven to confirm this. The Gospels tell us that God spoke three times during Jesus’ life. The first was when Jesus humbled Himself by receiving the baptism of sinners and becoming the Lamb of God. “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased,” God said as He came out of the water. The second time God spoke was at Jesus’ transfiguration, when He began shining like the sun and Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Him about His coming crucifixion. God again said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him!” The last time God’s voice was heard was when Jesus spoke of His crucifixion and called it His glorification. The three times God speaks He confirms Jesus as the humble servant of sinners by His death. God gives a trinitarian witness to the cross.


And, did you ever wonder why, when Jesus rose from the dead, He still bore in His body the wounds He suffered on the cross? He showed the disciples His hands and His side and said, “Peace be with you.” His wounds are the basis of our peace with God. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” He says today, telling us that His eternal life is given to us by His death. Jesus’ transforming power and love for us is made known by His cross, and not apart from it. This is His message. It is the message of His Church. It is the message of your church, Holy Cross. God makes us holy by the cross, by the death of His Son. Christ crucified is our glory, and we have no glory apart from His cross.


What a hard message; a contrary message! Now, it may not seem so today, for we see crosses everywhere. They are on buildings, in some hospital rooms and schools, at memorials, and in homes. We even wear them! In Jesus’ day you would never see this, for the cross was a horrible sign of crime and its punishment. A crucified person was an evil criminal, not a loving Savior. To help you understand this, I have had inserted in your bulletin what is perhaps the earliest depiction of Jesus on the cross. It was carved in plaster on a wall near the Palatine Hill in Rome perhaps within 60 years of His death. It portrays Jesus as a man with the head of a donkey. The inscription with it says, “Alexamenos worships his god.”


Get the point? Jesus was a convicted criminal, an ass, and you are a fool, an ass, if you worship Him! Some people still think this way of Christians. But, the message of the cross for us, the message that is seen as foolish and dangerous by many in our day – even by some churches and preachers! – is stated by Jesus this way: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” To embrace the cross means to bear it by hating your life. How wrong this seems! How depraved! How foolish are you if you hate your life!


I agree: if your hatred leads you to hurt yourself or take your life. The message of the cross never encourages such responses, however. Jesus wants us to have His eternal life! But, to have that life you must hate your life. You must realize and confess that there is nothing good and acceptable to God about you apart from Christ. Your sin corrupts you within and without. Everything you think and desire and do, including the good things and even your desire to love and worship God, is filthy and unclean in His sight, stained by your sins. We cannot hide our sins from God or separate ourselves from them, and He cannot overlook them or love them.


And so, He sends His Son to bear them and be punished for them in our place. “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out,” Jesus says of His crucifixion. Upon Jesus on the cross God’s hatred and condemnation of our sins is poured out and consumed completely. No sins are left with which Satan can accuse us! And, by your Baptism into His death and resurrection Christ planted His cross into you as a seed that sprouts and grows to overcome your sins and bring forth His life and His works of faith. He nourishes your faith with the Communion of His crucified body and blood. He speaks His cross into you through the foolishness of preaching. By Christ’s holy cross God raises us from sin to holiness, from death to life eternal. Truly, the cross of Jesus is our holiness!


And so, how fitting it is that your church is named Holy Cross. How glad I am to be preaching here for the first time on this Feast of the Holy Cross! Look upon the cross of Christ and never see Jesus – or yourself – apart from it. For Jesus promises, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever looks on Him in faith may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)


In the blessed name of Jesus, crucified on the holy cross for us all. Amen.