5th Sunday in Lent (B)
Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33
If you could ask Jesus for any one thing, what would it be?
Lots of us would probably ask for health or long life or happiness. The more altruistic would probably ask for peace in the Middle East or an end to world hunger or the eradication of Malaria. Probably some others among us would ask that Tim Tebow come back from the Jets.
Whatever it is, you could argue for your choice because, according to the things you believe to be important, you could justify that request. It would be good and helpful. It might even make the world a better place. We could make the case that what we’re asking for is unselfish, for the benefit of others, or somehow in keeping with the will of God.
I’ve got good news! I’m here to tell you: Jesus actually hears our requests, is moved by our sincerity, and out of a deep love for us, answers our petitions. In response to what we ask, Jesus comes to us and offers us . . . . . . his death.
Yup. His death. The cross is what we get from this Messiah. Not exactly what the crowds are wanting in this text. Why do you think the Greeks are here want to see Jesus? He just raised Lazarus from the dead. His followers are multiplying, He just rode into Jerusalem in triumph. Of course they want to see him! Who wouldn’t? Glorious Jesus! Triumphant Jesus! The One who can take away my troubles! The One who can take away my pain. The One who can miraculously make my life better. That’s who they came to see.
Isn’t that who we come to see, too? The Jesus who can get me a bigger house, a job, a girlfriend/boyfriend, a clean bill of health, a worry-free life? Isn’t that what we want from our Messiah?
And once in a while we get those things. But that’s not what Jesus promises us. That’s not his purpose as Messiah. Jesus offers us the cross. And what’s more, he says here that “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” It’s not just that he offers us his cross, he expects us to follow him there.
Why? Why all this death talk and cross talk? Why can’t our faith in Jesus just be like a magic lamp that you rub and Jesus comes out and grants our wishes and makes our lives better?
Because the problem of our sinfulness and of this broken world is much more serious than that. God’s mission isn’t to make our lives easier, it is to defeat the powers of darkness and brokenness that have ruled this world. It is to meet, head-on, the power of Rome, the authorities of this world that offer an imitation life. It is to confront the false gods all around us and expose them as imposters in order that we can have real life.
That’s exactly what Jesus did. He met the ultimate political, religious, and cultural authorities face-to-face. Everyone who believed in him as God’s Messiah expected him to beat them up, overthrow them, humble them with the awesome power of God.
This confrontation, instead, ended up with him dying. That is his victory. And that’s what he expects us to do—face the powers of this world, the systems and policies and authorities that keep people in darkness, keep them oppressed, keep them from fullness of life, and meet them head-on. Not simply to overthrow them, but to expose them as false. That means we need to die to our own selfishness, power, and privilege.
In his death, it looked to the entire world as if God’s Messiah had lost. In the ultimate confrontation, Jesus was apparently beaten. He died. It looked to all the false powers of this world as if they had won. The Messiah is dead.
But the kingdom of God is a kingdom of truth and life. Of course false powers would think this was victory, because they know nothing about the kingdom of God. Of course the deceitful authorities of this world see things falsely. Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” In the kingdom of God, death is not the ultimate power. It is not the authority that declares victory. Instead, Jesus invites us into his death because that is where we our false, broken, sinful selves are exposed as imposters. In his resurrection, Jesus reveals the truth about world powers and authorities that they are defeated and are not the things that provide life. That comes from God.
Do we trust that? Do we trust enough in Jesus to follow him? Even to the cross? Even into confrontation with powers that are opposed to the reign of God?
That doesn’t necessarily mean grandiose things like taking on Al Qaeda. It more likely means having the cross expose falseness in our own beliefs and behaviors. What greed, racism, and selfishness need to die in us? What political opinions need to die because they lift up the powerful while pushing down the powerless? Or try this one: in what ways does this congregation need to die? How does our way of being church serve ourselves at the expense of the lost, the lonely, the least?
Is our faith such that we trust Jesus enough to let the cross expose those false parts of us? Or do we think of our faith as a magic lamp, where Jesus can grant our wishes?
Jesus hears our requests, is moved by our sincerity, and out of a deep love for us, answers our petitions. In response to what we ask, Jesus comes to us and offers us his death. In this, we have life. In the death of our sin, falsehood, imitation powers, a new life is given. With Christ. A life that no enemy or authority can overcome. When Jesus shares his cross with us, he shares his life.
“And I,” he says, “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” And in his cross we are given truth, peace, and life.