Wednesday, March 25, 2015

March 22, Lent 5, Walk to the Cross 5: The Sign of Jesus

Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:1-13, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33

These Greeks who want to see Jesus — whether they are tourists or converts or something between we are not told. Nor are we told if Jesus even connects with them. What they seem to represent to the Lord Jesus is the wider world outside of Israel, the world that God so loved. They are the sign of the world coming to God, to the God who is coming to the world, and where God meets the world and the world meets God is in this guy Jesus, who is both the Son of God and the Son of Man.

Why did they want to see Jesus? What they indicate is how people come to God, with all kinds of different motivations, a whole great range of motivation, all the way from curiosity like tourists to desperation like the dying, and with all sorts of desires in between. You yourselves are in this range and you move about this range at different seasons in your life. Some seasons in your life you desire God from curiosity, and other seasons in your life you desire God from desperation, from hurt, and fear, and pain. Your sin is ever before you (Psalm 51). Sometimes you are moved by love, and sometimes you are moved by guilt, and guilt and love are so close together. You want to see Jesus, and you’re not sure why, but you suspect that seeing him might get you some answers for the world, or some relief, or some hope and reconciliation.

I doubt that the Greeks wanted to see Jesus because they thought he was going to die. In all the range of what people wanted to see Jesus for, I doubt that anyone wanted to see him because he was going to die. No one who desired him desired that. And yet, when Jesus was told that they wanted to see him, he knew it was time for him to die. How did he arrive at this? What was he thinking? Why did he choose this? Did he choose it freely or were those his “orders”? Did he choose it for God? Was God letting him choose it for the both of them?

I asked a number of people why Jesus had to die. One person gave me a simple answer: “Because it was that bad.” That’s a good answer, but it’s intuitive; it’s artistic and dramatic. Implicit in this answer is that it’s us that are that bad, the totality of us. But let me ask you, isn’t the infinity of God’s goodness sufficient to surpass how bad we are and how bad it is? Couldn’t God still say “Ally-ally-in-free?”

Another person answered that sin costs. That makes sense. The universal human intuition that sin costs is the basis of our various systems of criminal justice. All humanity agrees that when a crime is done, then somebody, somewhere, has to pay something, somehow. But just because it’s a universal human intuition doesn’t necessarily make it proper to the gospel. Conventional wisdom often gets God wrong. Do we get this from God or do we impose this on God, that sin costs?

If you were to ask the official catechism of the Reformed Church, the Heidelberg Catechism, why Jesus had to die, the answer is that “God’s law demands it.” This answer is a decent summary of the Biblical stories and the Biblical laws. But that only alters the question. You could simply ask the question in different terms: “Why did God set up the law this way, that Jesus had to die?”

We could point to the universal necessity of sacrifice. Jesus did that himself in this lesson. A seed has to die in the soil in order to bear new fruit. A tree has to die and fall to the ground in order to renew the soil for new life. When salmon run up their rivers to spawn, they die, and their dead flesh brings the nutrients of the ocean into the upstream environment for the good of all the other species. We could multiply examples of the law of nature that some measure of sacrifice is necessary to the renewal of life. And from this can we say that the law of nature is actually a law from God. But is God confined to the laws of nature? And again, the question remains, why did God set nature up this way?

Parents make sacrifices for their children, lovers for their lovers, and friends for their friends. It’s the expression of real commitment. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” We do it for love. So the necessity of sacrifice in the law of nature is a sign which points us to the love which is at the center of the universe. We say that God is love. Not just a nice and easy love, but a sacrificial love, a costly love. This love of God which runs the universe is displayed to us in the life and death of Jesus and proven to us by his sacrifice upon the cross.

If this is true, it makes some sense of that promise from the prophecy of Jeremiah about the new and everlasting covenant. The Lord Jesus was obviously attracted by that prophecy and he believed he could make it work. Jesus seem to have seen his death as the final covenant, which can never be broken, because it is guaranteed upon the sacrifice of God’s own self, and doubly so: God’s self, and God’s only child, who is dearer than God’s self.

So Jesus is mounted up on the cross as the target of that arrow of God, the arrow in that archery bow that God had set within the clouds at the time of Noah, with the arrow pointed up at God and at God’s heart, when God had said to Noah, “Cross my heart and hope to die.” Jesus put himself up as the target and the arrow is let loose and it flies at the target who is God’s son upon the post and it hits the heart of God. Jesus died in the place of God. People say that Jesus died in our place, as our substitute, which is true, but it was also in God’s place that Jesus died, as a substitute for God.

Why did Jesus have to die? So that God could die in him. You know it is philosophically impossible for the God of the Bible to die, but God was able to die in the death of Jesus. God was able to take the blame for the world, which is that bad. God was able to say, I will accept responsibility, even though it’s not my fault. I am doing it for love. God was able to make that ultimate sacrifice of love. God wants to show us what God is like, and wants to show us the direction of the world, and how we sustain each other, and how we give each other life.

Why did Jesus have to die? Because the secret of life is love. Love is what generates life. And the love of God is so passionate and powerful that it can die and not be stopped by death, because the love of God is not a what but a who. The love of God and the love who is God is what carries you through death and meets you on the other side of death.

The road of Lent that you are on and the road that God is on are converging at the cross, the narrow gate that leads to the resurrection. You are on the road towards your own death and God will meet you there, and then God will carry you on that single dark and narrow pathway of the dead, to the other side, to the resurrection, where God puts you on your feet again.

You are not told very much of what it will be like there. But I can tell you this: you will be living in that same love, and you will at last be able to give that love back fully, with no flaws, with no half-heartedness, you yourself that boundless love which is the love of God. You want to see Jesus because you want to see that living love which is the deepest desire of your own life. You’re on the right track, you’re on the right road. The Lord Jesus welcomes you to invest your life in that same God that he did.

Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

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