Jesus said: ‘Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.’ And: ‘when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.’
In these two verses we see the theme of Lent meet with the theme of Easter – the theme of repentance, and the theme of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This sums up the focus of Passiontide which begins today. On this Sunday as we enter the last days of Lent we begin to turn our attention to Easter.
As we hear about the paradox of dying to ourselves in order to live, of denying ourselves and following Jesus, we are reminded of the message of repentance that marked every day of Lent. In Lent we practised self-denial and looked to Christ as we turned away from the world and set our hearts on the gift of eternal life. Now in Passiontide we turn our thoughts to Jesus being glorified and lifted up from the earth.
But what does this word glory mean? What is Jesus talking about when he says he will be glorified?
The answer is that it is a question of sight. The Greeks that came to Philip wanted to see Jesus. When the message was passed on to Jesus his response was not ‘Here I am, come and have a look’, but he said ‘The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified.’
His answer was indirect: In this hour you will really see Jesus. You will see Jesus for who he really is. In this enigmatic response we see that the matter at hand is not about the sight of the eyes but the sight of the heart. It is not concerning literal sight but Spiritual sight.
The word ‘glorified’ points to this extra sense. When someone or something is glorified, it means that their excellence has been made public. When Jesus talked about his ‘hour’, he was drawing attention to the moment of his death and resurrection – the events when his greatness and his excellence will be shown to all who can see.
When Jesus says he will be lifted up he means both that he will be lifted up in exaltation and honour and also that he will literally be lifted up on a cross. For ‘He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die’ namely, one that was both glorious and gruesome.
Jesus also says that when he is lifted up from the earth he will draw all people to himself. This was the revolutionary message that all kinds of people (both Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, black and white) will be drawn to Christ in the wake of his death on the cross.
It is not for nothing that this passage begins with Greek gentiles wishing to see Christ. By this time it was already beginning to happen that the boundaries of God’s people were becoming porous. There were Jews that were turning away from what God was doing in Christ and there were Gentiles turning towards what God was doing in Christ. All kinds of people were about to be welcomed into the new covenant with the Lord.
This would have been astonishing at the time. And perhaps, as our society becomes increasingly divided among boundaries of race, gender, and sexuality it is becoming astonishing again: that there is a common identity to be had in Christ.
However, we must be precise in our language. When Jesus says he will draw all to him, he cannot mean that every single individual will be drawn to Christ.
Jesus had just said that those who love their life will lose it and those that forsake their lives in this world will keep them for eternal life. There will still be judgment; there will be those who cannot deny their worldly desires and follow Christ; there will still be those who will not receive eternal life.
There will indeed be some who will not see. There will be some who will hear with their ears that Jesus was nailed to a cross and lifted up but will not see the glory of that sacrifice.
There may be some who see something of value in Christ’s death and resurrection but who continue to love the world too much and cannot repent or change their lives; who care too much about what others may think, or who will refuse to cease from material pursuits.
There may even be people in Church who fall into those dangerous categories. (For all of us I pray that the Spirit of God, present in all places and present with us now, would open our eyes to see just how glorious the cross is).
For the crucifixion and the resurrection are the most glorious things any human being has ever done. As Jesus’ limbs were fastened to the cross and he was lifted up from the ground he conquered death, the fear of death, and cast out the ruler of the world, securing for all who follow the way to life eternal.
I pray that we would be transformed and encouraged by that glorious hour both now and in the days leading up to Easter. Amen.