Midweek Sermon 1
Behold the Hidden Glory of the Cross!
It is Hidden in the Savior's Solitude
Our Lenten journey this year begins as did the Lenten journey of Jesus and his disciples so many years ago. We hear Jesus' call to go with him up to Jerusalem and up to the cross of the first Lent in Luke 18:31-34.
31 He took the Twelve aside and said to them, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. 32 Indeed, he will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, mistreat him, spit on him, 33 flog him, and kill him. On the third day, he will rise again.” 34 They did not understand any of these things. What he said was hidden from them, and they did not understand what was said.
In Jesus’ call to us on Ash Wednesday, He gives us a blood-curdling preview of what we are about to see in this momentous drama of Lent. It is horrible. And it is shocking. We, His creation, will mock and insult the Creator of the universe. How can that be? The one who gave us breath at birth will be beaten within an inch of His life. Is that possible? The One who is the author of every gracious gift will be cruelly tormented and then shamefully killed. That’s because Jesus’ glory is hidden–hidden fully in the cross.
This evening, Jesus will take us aside with the Twelve and say, “We are going up to Jerusalem.” We will watch as Jesus marches to the cross. And it is our greatest sorrow that we cannot help Him. We cannot help Him in all that He is about to do for us and our salvation. The Twelve could not help Him either. But that is the true glory hidden in the coming cross.
Jesus makes that clear when He tells His disciples to join Him on His final journey to the holy city. Jesus says, “We are going up to Jerusalem.” But after that one little word, “we,” the subject of the sentence changes. Jesus does not say, “We are going up, and we will suffer.” Yes, we are going up–but He will do the suffering!
Jesus, the Son of Man, will fulfill the Scriptures. The Son of Man will be mocked, insulted, spit on, flogged, and killed. All who follow Him to the cross can only watch this heroic drama as it unfolds. Jesus’ glory is that He alone is the Savior. His glory, hidden in the horrible solitude of all He suffered, is that our salvation should be through His cross and suffering alone.
Tonight, in our mind’s eye, we go up to Jerusalem. But Jesus will do the suffering. But still, don’t you want to tell Jesus, “No, Lord Jesus! That’s not the way it should be! If we cannot help you, at least let us see you go up there in triumph. Let us see you as you were on the Mount of Transfiguration. Let us see you with your robes as white as snow and your face shining like the sun. We don’t want to see you in shame and disgrace. If you must suffer, then let the suffering be hidden from view. How can we stand to see you that way: scourged with torn skin and covered in blood? Let us see you in glory and triumph.”
But if we said that to Jesus, He would turn and sharply rebuke us. He did that to Peter when he expressed similar sentiments (Matthew 16:21-23). “This is the way it must be,” Jesus would tell us. For He is going to fulfill the Scriptures–all that was foretold about him in the Old Testament. Nothing will soften the blows. Nothing will relieve the pain. No one will help him. And it all has to be done in the full brightness of day, in public, so the world can see the shame and disgrace.
But, oh, what sadness that we can’t help Jesus whom we love and adore! Yes, what a disgrace for the whole human race that no one helped Him bear the severe weight of the world’s sin. Even the angels, who served Him for a moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, are nowhere to be found. After Gethsemane, they do not appear again until Easter Sunday.
But there is more. With Jesus, there is always more. Not only do we not help Jesus in His agony–we caused it! From beginning to end, everything that Jesus said He would do on this journey He was doing in our place for us. Was Jesus despised and rejected? We should have been. Was Jesus left alone with no help in His pain and sorrow? We should be. Did Jesus suffer the torments of hell during the waning hours of His life? That was our lot.
We were born deserving eternal torment. We have turned away from Jesus and sinned every day. We deserve His suffering, even into eternity. And truth be told, we didn’t even care that our sins would bring Him to such suffering, such abuse, and such a death. How many times in a day do we turn away from Him without even thinking and refuse to go up with Him to Jerusalem?
We have better things to do. We have our minds and hearts fixed–not on Him–but our own pleasure and convenience. It is easier to watch TV than to pray. It is more convenient to love gossip or the lusts of the flesh than His cross. For family bickering, there is always time. For His Word and Sacrament, well, perhaps later. It’s now time for something other than the holy things of God.
And still it gets worse. We imagine that our wickedness is not that serious! So we yawn, and maybe are even irritated, when the pastor points this out. We vainly assume that somehow we have at least a scrap of sin-free goodness in us for which we shouldn’t suffer, for which Jesus shouldn’t have to suffer either.
We are such fools! We imagine that some goodness must exist in us that doesn’t need Jesus’ journey to the cross. That’s just another way of saying that we don’t need Jesus for every last smidgen of our salvation. That’s the greatest sin of all–and the one we are least likely to recognize! It is the sin of arrogance and pride. It is the sin of thinking that at least a little bit in us needs no forgiveness.
But in Jerusalem, Jesus suffered for everything that we are, when we didn’t love God without flaw and serve Him with all of our hearts, minds, and strength. And when was that? Every moment of our lives!
So our sorrow deepens. For we go up to Jerusalem, up to the cross with Jesus. But don’t follow too closely, as if you were going somehow to be of help to Him in His sorrow. For, again, we can do nothing to help Him. All that we have done only adds to His sorrow, pain, suffering, and death. We are the cause–even on our best of days, even in our best works–for they are never perfect. We are His curse. And so we go up there with Jesus, following Him from afar, as He carries His cross alone.
It is Jesus who must suffer and die. He must do it all, or we are doomed and damned. Just think of it! If Jesus had needed our help to earn our redemption, we would only have ruined it. For our work is, at its best, stained by sin. We are sinners. That’s why we can’t do anything that doesn’t carry the stench of sin, the smell of death, the sulfur of hell on it. Yes, we go up with Jesus. But He must do it all, or we are lost. That’s the glory hidden in the solitude of the cross, the solitude that Jesus must do it alone–or we must perish!
Nothing will deliver Jesus from the anguish that is His in the loneliness, the solitude, of His Lenten cross. Who will deliver us from ours? For as we follow Jesus up to Jerusalem in response to His call, we are as worms wriggling on the end of a hook. He has invited us to see what we did to Him. He has called us to see what we deserved. Who will deliver us from our sorrow in Lent? Jesus will! Jesus does!
As it is our greatest sorrow that we cannot help Jesus, so also is that our greatest joy! Our inability to help Him is our peace, our life, our salvation. Hear Jesus as He goes up to Jerusalem. He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t curse, revile, or spit out bitter words. He does not accuse us as we deserve. He does not shame us as we might expect. No, none of that. He alone will suffer, and He will suffer alone.
And that’s exactly the way Jesus wants it to be. His march to Jerusalem is death for Him but life for us. With determination, He sets his face to do all that needs to be done to fulfill the Scriptures for us. His will is iron. He will not turn away from His purpose of paying the wages of our sin. So full, so perfect, so complete is His love for us. So full, so perfect, so complete is His yearning for our salvation. He wants to do it! Not only does Jesus not need our help, He doesn’t want it! Every pore, every fiber of His being strains and stretches on the way to the cross to earn our salvation. Without our help, He made us. Without our help, He also saves us.
So this evening we follow Jesus to Jerusalem. We follow Him during Lent, but not too closely as if we would help Him. We go up with Him and follow to the cross. Sorrow fills us for our sin that caused it all. But joy beyond all sorrow also fills us, for Jesus did it all and He did it alone! We watch awhile and see how strong His love is for us, how perfect His solitude was for us, how complete His atoning sacrifice was for us.
That is the glory hidden on the cross. It is the glory Jesus won, the glory of redeeming us by His work. We watch and keep watching throughout Lent until we hear the victory cry of Easter.