What Drags You Here?
So, what drags you here on the day that is regarded by most of America as the day to sleep in, to lounge around? What got you up and out of bed on this first day of daylight savings time?
Does a miracle working Jesus drag you here? That's probably what dragged the Greeks to Jesus. Our text takes place right after Palm Sunday. John tells us that the multitude was stirred up because they had heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The Pharisees testify in the verse before our text that not just the Jews but "the world has gone after Him." The Greeks wanted an audience with Jesus. They had heard about the marvelous things He had done. Perhaps they wanted Him to do a miracle for them. After all, they didn't need a personal audience just to physically see Jesus or to hear Him teach.
So is a miracle what dragged you here? You're looking for some sign, some wonder, something different, something out of the ordinary. You wouldn't come here for that, would you? Ever hear of a Lutheran Church with a bleeding statue or an apparition of Mary? Ever hear of anyone being slain in the Spirit at a Lutheran Church? No, true Lutheran pastor of any synod is ever going to tell you, "Jesus spoke to me last night in a dream," or, "God told me to tell you."
What you find here is what has been found in the Church since the time of the Old Testament. You find Word and Sacrament. You find God exposing your sins with His Holy Law. You find God forgiving your sins in the Holy Gospel. And you find God coming to you in the Waters of Baptism, in the Words of the pastor, and in the Bread and Wine of Communion, you'll find the Body and Blood of Jesus coming to you. Boring! Same old stuff the Church has always had.
Water being sprinkled on someone. Words coming from the mouth of a guy dressed in robes. A thin piece of Bread and a swallow of wine. What's miraculous about these? What's even entertaining about them? They're not enough to drag anyone anywhere, are they? The crowds that thronged Jesus didn't talk about the Baptism of John that He preached, the Words that came from His mouth, or how He came to give His Body and shed His Blood. They talked about how he had raised Lazarus: a man dead 4 days who should've been well on his way to rotting. Now that's a miracle; that's worth talking about. That would drag you to see Jesus, that would drag you here. But there's no miracle like that here, so again I ask, "What drags you here?"
Does a powerful Jesus drag you here? This could've been what dragged the Greeks to Jesus. Days before Jesus had entered into Jerusalem in a tide of accolades hailed as a conquering king. Jesus Himself had declared that if the people hadn't cried out the very rocks and stones would have! And we often forget Jesus rode right into Jerusalem, right into the temple, and powerfully and violently cleansed it. The Romans didn't stop him. The Jewish guards didn't stop Him. Without fear, Jesus with whip in hand drove very powerful people right out of their place of business.
Did a powerful Jesus drag you here? A lot of contemporary churches will tell you about their powerful Jesus, their awesome God. Do you see any depictions of a God like that here? On the altar and by the lectern, our God is depicted not suffering, not dying but dead on a cross. And if that's not enough, there's a stain glass window on the lectern side of the church of Christ-crucified. You'll notice that in all these crucifixes, Jesus is depicted wearing the crown of thorns and with knees bent. These small details are symbols emphasizing His pain and suffering.
We go out of our way to highlight the weakness of our God. What's powerful about the manger Jesus was born in, the pillar He was tied to for whipping, the scourge that ripped Him open, the bag of money of Judas' betrayal, the crowing rooster of Peter's denial, the nails that pinned Him to the cross, the sponge used to offer Him vinegar for drink, or the ladder used to take His lifeless body down? Yet, these are the symbols that adorn our windows. These are the symbols we put before the eyes of our children and our eyes all our days.
O sure, there are symbols of our Lord's victory. The victorious, risen Jesus is depicted on the back window, but in accordance with the ancient Church He is shown as a standing Lamb not a lion. But even here the banner He holds representing the resurrection is attached to a cross to remind us of His death. And the same Lamb of God is depicted on another window lying down which is another ancient Church symbol for Christ burdened by the sins of the world. Even on the Paschal candle where Jesus is depicted as raised, there are nails in the ends of the cross to remind us of His wounds.
There's one unambiguous symbol of Jesus' power on a window. It's the world with a cross on top, but even here see the weakness. The artist said of it, "The world surmounted by a cross symbolizes the triumph of the Savior over sin and clearly signifies the conquest of the world by the Gospel through Word and Sacraments." Again we're back to the apparently unmiraculous way Jesus works in our lives and in the world: Water, Words, Bread and Wine.
Did a powerful Jesus drag you here? No, there's more power in medicine, military, or money. Show me a place where any of these are depicted in a weak, humble, failing way? An artist now and again will see them this way. But no hospital, no army, no bank surrounds themselves with depictions of medicine, military, or money suffering, dying or dead. Yet, that's how the Church of Christ crucified has always depicted Her Lord.
What dragged you here today? Jesus tells us in the text. But notice, He's not speaking of the Greeks who were drawn to Him as a powerful, miracle working king. Such fruit, such disciples are not produced by Him. The only way Jesus produces fruit is by dying. And it's only when He is lifted up on the cross to die that He says, "I will draw all men to Myself."
A couple of things here. The word "draw" is rightly translated "drag." It's used of Peter dragging the net of 153 fish on shore. It's the word for dragging a dead weight. Something in the Greeks, something in you and me, is drawn to the miraculous and the powerful. Nothing in you and me or the Greeks is drawn naturally to a suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying Jesus. Yet, we are dragged, aren't we?
We are dragged to Jesus, contrary to all our expectations, by a miracle He works in us. The thief of the cross didn't expect to confess the crucified Jesus to be His king. The centurion didn't head out to execute 3 criminals on Good Friday expecting at the end of the day to confess Jesus as the Son of God. Nor, did Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were afraid to confess Jesus while He lived and worked powerful miracles, plan to show their faith in Him after He was tortured and dead on a cross. Yet, they did by providing a fitting burial for Him.
The dragging happens when we come face to face with our horrible, total sinfulness. When we see that there is no good thing dwelling in our flesh. When we see that we have nothing to offer God; nothing we can do for Him. There is nothing we have that He needs. All we have is sin and guilt on top of sin and guilt. Once you see your total wretchedness because of your sins, once you see how helpless you are ever to become the least bit better, then a crucified, dying Jesus drags you to Himself.
After the horrors of the modern warfare of WW I broke the pride men had in their ability to improve society, a poet wrote, "We need Thee O Jesus of the scars." It was during the plague of the Black Death in the 17th century that people flocked to the parish church of Monte Lupo. There was and is a horrifying crucifix. The cross itself is wretched and Christ is contorted in agony and covered with bleeding wounds. The secular author of this description asks, Why would a community already full of tortured, suffering, and wounded people want to look on such a dreadful image?
You know the answer to this, don't you? A tortured, suffering, wounded Jesus calls to the tortured, suffering, and wounded sinner in a fallen world. Upon the cross extended is the answer to the constant sinfulness I know, I feel, I live with day in and day out. Buried in the ground for and with my sins was the Seed that burst forth on Easter producing millions of seeds like Him, resurrected, victorious over sin, over death and over the Devil.
But listen: the miracle and power of our faith is not preaching Christ raised but Him crucified. And as often as we eat His Bread and drink His Cup, we proclaim not the life of Christ but His death. Yet, the modern church doesn't lead with the suffering, dying, crucified Jesus. No it attempts to draw, entice, lure people with a powerful Jesus who can give the victory of the world in this world. It attempts to sell, promote, and market a Jesus who makes everything richer, funner, healthier, and happier. And as long as a church keeps people entertained, wowed, or feeling better about themselves, it gets the numbers, the money, the fame.
But the crucified Jesus doesn't draw people; He drags them. He doesn't entice them; He converts them. He doesn't sell them; He gives Himself to them: to poor, suffering, dying sinners. He gives Himself as one who was rich yet became poor for our sakes. He gives Himself as one who suffered for sinners like us. He gives Himself as the only One who has been to, through, and back out of the grave ever looming before us.
What drags you here? The contorted, suffering Jesus of the bleeding wounds. A Jesus who knows what it means to struggle and suffer, fear and doubt. A Jesus who doesn't abandon sad, hurting, sinners but goes where they are so He might bring them to where He is. We need Thee O Jesus of the scars; we need Thee O dead One on the cross; we need Thee O buried Seed; we need Thee O risen One, and Thee we have right here. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday of Lent (20060402); John 12: 20-33