Shortly after the triumphal procession into Jerusalem, in the intense days of celebrity status due to the raising of Lazarus with crowds cheering, religious leaders worried, the disciples bewildered, and even the Gentiles – in this case some Greeks – wanting to see Jesus, we find Jesus who can see what lies ahead and is troubled saying, 31 “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:31-33 ESV)
We are here nearly 2,000 years later because Jesus was right about his mode of dying – crucifixion – a public spectacle reserved by Rome for itself because its end result was never in doubt – death – and because it caused death in a particularly gruesome and humiliating way. Crucifixion killed the victim but it also was meant to make a statement to onlookers, ‘Watch out or this could happen to you’. So yes Jesus died so that what happened to him – the stuff we don’t see – forsakenness by God, spiritual and ultimate punishment, hell – doesn’t happen to us. And we are here because after his death and burial, Jesus’ grave couldn’t hold him and the world has never been able to prove otherwise.
So if Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32) – where is everybody? Why isn’t this Church full to overflowing with queues of people waiting to get in for the next service?
We might do a random survey of the local people and if we got replies (!) we’re pretty sure we know why. In essence it will come down to their judgement that Jesus and they – and we – us here – and they – do not have enough in common. We are not the same. And that can be true if the local people are non Christian but it also can be true if they are Christian and attending another church. We can understand people not liking Jesus or us not being here but when it is our own flesh and blood that doesn’t join us – then it painfully brings home the point that on this point – about Jesus – we are not the same.
And yet Jesus’ death according to Jesus was for the entire planet precisely because we are all the same – in that we are all sinners. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christian in Rome …
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19,20 ESV)
Somewhere in the words about Jesus, in our behaviours and messages as his followers, and in the perceptions of the world that looks at Jesus and his Church and decides, ‘Nah, not for me’ what has been lost is the truth that we all are sinners. By that I don’t mean ‘bad’ people or people who break the law and have a string of convictions – though such folk are sinners. No, sinners include the law abiding and the nice people also. Because what we are talking about is what people are – are defined as – are to be regarded as – when they stand under the cross. Christianity makes the offensive claim that we are accountable to God – which we are happy to occur for a Hitler or a terrorist or an abuser – but less happy when it comes to us. To come into this liturgical space – go through the liturgy – say the words, listen and receive – happens on the basis that everyone is a sinner!
The first and foremost thing offered and given here under the cross whether by water, bread and wine, and words is the forgiveness of sins. That medicine is only for those who are ill. The Law gives the diagnosis – sin. The Gospel gives the medicine so that people may live. Jesus is drawing people to himself and those people are sinners.
This perspective in turn shapes how we see each other here and how we – as disciples of Jesus – see the world which God still loves – and that remains through the lens of sin and grace. You see both the Church and the world can easily fall into ‘us’ and ‘them’ – and we each can be viewed as hostile to
and by the other. Indeed there is a fighting for survival here because no one wants to die – but that is what we – the Church and the world – are confronted with today – death. Even the world here grants today a public holiday. So why are people not here? Is it because this Jesus who died did also say, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:34,35 ESV)
Today is about life and death. We, by nature, and the world want to hang onto life and push death as far away as possible. Jesus comes along and tackles death – gets it out of the way – and says, ‘Follow me and live’. The world goes from life to death whereas as Jesus and his followers go from death to life. And it boils down to understanding Jesus for who he is – God – and us and who we are – sinners.
We all live with so many ‘us’s and them’s in this world but today under the cross the followers of Jesus look at this world – at everyone – no matter who they are – as people loved by God – and recognise that under the cross we are all the same – us’s! – and that is we are sinners. We’re not afraid of that judgement because we also know the Good News spoken to sinners. The world stays away but we can go into the world – not to berate and scold – but to warn (yes), declare, and affirm that the cross is a judgement on us all but the man on it can free us from the wages and burdens and shames of sin and give us life.
- John 12:31 - 33