Friday, April 8, 2011

Three Reasons Jesus Died on the Cross -John 17:1-5 Part 1

We have a tendency to think about Jesus' death in terms of what it does for humanity and how it specifically benefits us. We need to recognize that first and foremost God's work is not about us--it is about glorifying his own name and person.

The first reason Jesus dies on the cross to glorify the Father.
Jesus begins his prayer by telling us that hour has come.
John 17:1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You,
Jesus is coming down to his last hours on of his life. But the idea that: “the hour has come” is that it is the moment that he has come to earth for. This is the center of his mission: to die on the cross and be raised up in triumph over death. John's gospel has been pointing us along the way that with all the things Jesus was doing and all the things that were happening to him--his hour wasn't here yet. It is sort of like the little child in the car: "are we there yet." Previously it has not yet been his hour.
John 2: 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.”
John 7: 6 So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune... 8 “Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.”
John 8: 20 These words He spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one seized Him, because His hour had not yet come.
This is important because many people want to pit ‘the kingdom of God’ that Jesus brings as separate from the cross and resurrection. While sometimes evangelicals have little or no use for the life of Jesus other than “he’s an example,” we are right to maintain that the kingdom of God culminates in the first Advent in Jesus’ work on the cross.

However, more common today is to speak of all the kingdom work that Jesus does but fail to see that it is his cross and resurrection that is the culmination of this kingdom he brings. In all of his preaching of the kingdom of God that is "at hand"--it forever remains "not yet his hour" until the moment of his death. There is, in short, no kingdom of God, if this kingdom is not won on the Cross. 

The way that this gets played out in many popular studies is to argue that if we want to get to the message of the kingdom we must set aside what Paul says and go to Jesus. Paul's gospel focusses on the cross but Jesus focusses on earthly kingdom activity, so the thinking goes. While we cannot explore the entirety of this through the gospel to show that Paul and Jesus are preaching the same things in the kingdom/gospel message, we must say that Jesus is quite clear in his prayer that his purpose is to come and die. He ushers in the kingdom by being the king who dies to secure the redemption of the citizens of the kingdom. The enemy kingdom of sin, death, Satan and evil cannot be defeat unless Jesus can lose the  cords of death from around his creation. This he will do in the most humble of means: he will seemingly be defeated by death in order to free all creation from this curse. In securing the kingdom, his hour is the hour of his death. No death equals no kingdom or kingdom message. His constant message through the gospels is the Son of Man has come to die.

With this impending death, Jesus asks to glorify the Son so that He might glorify the Father.
John 17:1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You,

What is Jesus’ #1 purpose in dying on the cross? Jesus’ first mission assignment on earth is not to save sinners. His first job priority is to glorify the Father. Now it is the plan of the Father and the Son that the Son will die to save sinners. They have planned this and agreed to this and promised to this from before the foundations of the world.

Think of this like a tactical plan. When an army begins a mission they have a set of mission objectives. They are usually laid out in order of priority. All the objectives must be accomplished by certain objective come first or are more important. The salvation of sinners is one of Jesus' mission objectives. Freeing all of the created realm from the bondage to sin and death is another mission objective. But his first priority mission objective is to glorify the Father. He can accomplish none of his other objectives if he is not first and foremost glorifying the Father. Every secondary and tertiary objective further adds to the first objective of glorifying the Father. So while he saves sinners because he is their shepherd this act is not done in exclusion to the first objective. Being the shepherd who dies for the sheep glorifies the Father. Being the vice-regent who sets free the captive creation glorifies the Father.

We tend to think of Jesus' glorification as only the events of resurrection and ascension--it is true that this is when his glory is noticed and announced to the world. But the Son will be raised up and glorified not just in the resurrection but on the cross. The Cross of our Lord Jesus is part of how the Father glorifies the Son.

While the Father does pour out His wrath upon the Son--the Father is “pleased” to crush the Son. While their is humiliation and God’s curse reigning down on the Son--this is the moment of his glory shining first. We are to look at the cross of Christ and marvel: that the Son--would give up all the riches and glory that he had in heaven and step up onto that cross for our sake. He is a far greater man in his humanity--but he is a greater being then we have ever seen.

We again notice that the Son is so bold as to ask to be glorified. The manner with which the Son asks for glory is unlike ours. The Son asked to be glorifed--but that glory will be humiliation before the world. We ask for greatness and exaltation but not the Son of God. We often ask for help, riches, success, and functional "glorifications" because we want things to go well for us, we want a successful family, job, company, or ministry. We asked for something mostly so that we can get and then we often add an obligatory "in your name" or "for your praise" but all through our prayers our only conception of how God might be glorified is through our success. We scarcely envision a manner in which God might be glorified that would involve our humiliation. We assume our success will bring the most success to God. This is unlike the Son's asking for glory.

The Son asks for glory but this glory to the Father will come through the "glory" of the Son's humiliating, shameful, suffering death. The Son asks for this “glorification” not because he has a death wish but because He wants to exalt the Father. In John’s Gospel one of the reacurring themes is the unity of purpose in the Father and the Son. The Father send His Son. The Son does not work by Himself but does His Father’s will.

On the cross, Jesus is not drawing attention to Himself--He draws attention to the Father. You see the Father receives glory from the Cross. When we look at the cross we can glorify God because we see the holiness of the Father. He must punish sin. When we look at the cross we see the mercy and love of the Father. He has planned to save a people to himself but providing a substitute for our sake. When we look at the cross we should say with Romans 11:33-- “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!

Application: The first goal of the cross is not about you.
We should always be grateful about what the cross does for us--but it does not turn attention to us. It does not tell us how great we are. It does not tell us we are precious in and of ourselves rather it tells us about the greatness of the Father and the Son.

When you meditate on the cross--do you boast that God would die for you?

Marvel in the Father: what is his work? He glorifies the Son. Even when he pours out curses on his Son--we can hear the words of the Father given to the Son at his baptism: “this is my son in whom I am well-pleased.”

Jesus does not take glory for himself on the cross--He gives it to the Father.

We are glory hounds. Jesus did not die ultimately to give you praise and honor and boasting you. Look at the superiority of Jesus. In the book The Nacissism Epidemic psychologists Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell point to the growing narcissism in America marked by “arrogance, conceit, vanity, grandiosity  and self-centeredness” (p.18). It is a “look at me, I’m great” --even though you are not doing anything special or noteworthy.

Here Jesus is doing some special and noteworthy. He is great and noteworthy. And he is saying, “look at my Father--I glorify him, see how great he is.” This brings into our purview the majesty of the Son and the Father. They draw attention not first to themselves and their unique person but they draw attention to the other. The Father does not glorify himself but the Son. The Son, while he asks for glory, he does it not for himself or for his renown but for the Father. In fact, the Son asking for glory is his asking to be raised up on the cross for all the world to see. The Son will take on the most horrible of pain and suffering; He will bear the wrath of the Father--not for his own credit but for the credit, renown and honor of the Father.

Understanding the cross penal substitutionary atonement should make us glorify both the Son and the Father. Far too many people caricature it as making the Father mean and spiteful but the Son is the "nice guy" who steps in to save the day. We are told it is a form of divine child abuse. Such horrid lies. We are not to see the Father as the bad man and the Son as the good guy. In fact, even as the Son excepts the wrath of His Father and the Father is well-pleased with his Son, the Son at that very moment is shouting to us by his actions: "glorify my Father, see how wonderous and majestic he is!"

Brad Pitt famously quipped that a ‘God’ who wants exclusive worship and praise must have a big ego. While God wants exclusive worship, notice how the members of the Trinity direct attention away from themselves to the other persons. God deserves all worship because of who He is but notice how the persons in the Trinity are not self-grandizing but rather one person in the Godhead draws attention to the other two. The Father to the Son. Jesus to the Father. John's Gospel tells us that when the Spirit comes He will lead people to the truth and to Jesus.

Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

This essay is an expanded version of the following sermon:

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