The Way of the Cross

John 12:20-36

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

Each of the four Gospels paints a picture of Jesus in slightly different light, emphasizing different aspects of all that he is. Matthew proclaims Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Mark clothes him in the Roman themes of authority and power. Luke highlights Jesus’ humble humanity, the God-man born in a stable.

Here, and throughout John’s gospel, we see a picture of Jesus’ full divinity, the Word made flesh with glory as of the only Son of the Father. He speaks to the Father and the heavens thunder in answer. He knows the path that lies before him and though his soul is troubled, he is steadfast in his purpose. He knows he will be lifted up on the cross, and he will use it draw all people to himself. His life will not be taken from him, but he freely lays it down and will take it up again.

Jesus has just triumphantly entered Jerusalem with all the spectacle of waving tree branches, cloaks laying in the road, and shouts of “Hosanna!” Standing by, watching all of this excitement were some Greeks, a people who were separate from God’s covenant with Israel, yet oppressed alongside them under the Roman Empire. They come to Jesus’ disciples wanting to meet him, wondering if this king would deliver them from Rome as well. A couple of the disciples go to tell Jesus he has visitors, and his response seems curiously uninterested.

In essence, he says, “If you want to serve me as your king, then you have to follow me, and you may not like where I’m going. The only way to be fruitful, to accomplish anything that really matters, is to die to yourself, to comparatively hate your life in this world enough to lose it and gain eternity.”

The Jews in the crowd try to fit this together with what they know of the promised king from the Law and the Prophets. “If the Messiah is supposed to reign forever, how can he be crucified? Surely this Son of Man can’t be him.”

The Jews, a people of covenants and promises, come to Jesus for signs that those promises are coming true.

The Greeks, a people of Stoics and philosophers, come to Jesus seeking earthly wisdom.

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
—1 Corinthians 1:22-24

The life of our Lord and King took the shape of the cross. The wisdom enough to lose your life looks like foolishness to the wise of the world. The strength enough to die looks like weakness to world’s eyes. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthtians 1:18). We like to quote from Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” but ignore the line that comes just before, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” The paths of righteousness where leads us may well take us through the valley of the shadow of death.

We who follow Jesus may look foolish and weak to the world, because the way of our life-giving Savior is the way of the cross, the way of disgrace, of suffering, and of death. But in disgrace, we are promised the honor of the Father. In suffering, the comfort of the Spirit. And in death, the resurrection of the Son. He bids us come and follow. Walk with him, believe in the light, that you may become sons and daughters of the light.

Reflect

  1. The Jews wanted signs from Jesus and the Greeks sought earthly wisdom. What do you ask or expect of Jesus that is contrary to the way of the cross?

2. How does the example of Jesus choosing suffering shape your values and what you prioritize in your own life?

Pray

Lord Jesus, as I look towards your resurrection, lead me in the way of the cross. Teach me to love you and the life you have for me more than the life I want for myself. Give me the courage to follow you even if you lead me through the valley of the shadow of death, knowing that you are with me. Whatever it may cost this earthly life of mine, Father, glorify your name. Amen.


Taylor Whitson, April 7, 2020

Other Readings

[Look for how these passages connect with each other and with the larger story of the Bible about Jesus.]

1 Corinthians 1:18-31
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


Isaiah 49:1-7
Listen to me, O coastlands,
    and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
    in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
    and my recompense with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
    he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
    and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
    and my God has become my strength—
he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord,
    the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
    the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”


Psalm 71:1-14
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame!
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
    incline your ear to me, and save me!
Be to me a rock of refuge,
    to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
    from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.
For you, O Lord, are my hope,
    my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
    you are he who took me from my mother's womb.
My praise is continually of you.

I have been as a portent to many,
    but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise,
    and with your glory all the day.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
    forsake me not when my strength is spent.
For my enemies speak concerning me;
    those who watch for my life consult together
and say, “God has forsaken him;
    pursue and seize him,
    for there is none to deliver him.”

O God, be not far from me;
    O my God, make haste to help me!
May my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
    with scorn and disgrace may they be covered
    who seek my hurt.
But I will hope continually
    and will praise you yet more and more.

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