What does glory look like? Is it being carried off the court after a last second shot was made? Is it being surrounded by those who cheer your name? Is it standing all alone on the top of a mountain that has been climbed? Is it receiving a standing ovation? Is it crossing the finish line? Is it walking out the door one last time when retirement finally comes? What does glory look like?
Here on Palm Sunday, it may look similar to what we think when it comes to glory. Jesus entered into the city of Jerusalem in an atmosphere of glory and great excitement. It was the time of the Passover, and word had gotten out about the latest miracle Jesus had performed. He had raised Lazarus from the dead. Now he was coming into Jerusalem, and the crowds wanted to see if this was the man who would be the promised Messiah.
So, they took off their cloaks and laid them on the ground. They grabbed palm branches and waived them in the air. And all the while people were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” But such a moment of glory would not last.
As we gather here on Palm Sunday two thousand years removed from that first Palm Sunday, we know what took place next. The “Hosannas” faded away. The time would soon come when cries calling for His crucifixion would echo throughout the land.
Palm Sunday may be a joyous day, but it is a somber day of joy. Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The Hour of Glory has Come. The days of Lent are drawing to a close. The time is now at hand.
In the days coming, Jesus would have all His dignity and reputation stripped of Him. The authorities would try him, beat him, and whip him. The sole goal would be to shame Him and demoralize Him. Spit would drip from his face and blood would flow from His back.
The whip the soldiers would have used would have most likely have had pieces of bone or metal or glass embedded in the leather. The whole goal was so that the prisoners’ flesh would be ripped away with each crack of the whip. This would bruise or perhaps even expose the prisoner’s vital organs.
Such torture wasn’t done though. The prisoner then would be forced to carry their own cross out of the town to be put on display for people to see as they came in the city. It was a visual symbol not to mess with the local law.
Once they arrived, the soldiers would drive nails in between the bones below the wrist so that prisoner would remain secure on the cross. Normally, the prisoner would be on that cross for days before death would finally take hold. But not for Jesus. We know from Scripture that He died that same day, probably from all of the blood lost beforehand.
Why should we take time to process a few of the graphic details of a crucifixion? Because that is what the image of glory looks like. When Jesus said that the hour of glory had come, He did not mean that He was looking forward to accolades and applause. He was looking forward to His death. And His death was not pretty at all. But it was most certainly glorious.
It was as Isaiah foretold: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
This is what glory looks like. It’s not in applause, accolades, or atta-boys and atta-girls. Glory comes in sacrifice. Glory comes in suffering and death. The suffering and death of Jesus. He is the glorious One. We are not.
For those of us who are consumed with worldly glory, let this be a reality check. Because all of those trophies and accolades we strive after so hard will all fade away and be forgotten. The only lasting, eternal glory comes in Christ. The One who died for us.
Scripture tells us to “Fix our eyes upon Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.” But we sinners only want to look at ourselves. “What’s in it for me?” “Look at me.”
Many of you know that I love the game of basketball. However, I really struggle to see what the game has become. At the professional level especially, there is so much focus on the individual. Though the line goes: “There is no “I” in “Team,” you would not know it if you watched the game. Fundamentals like passing and simple plays to work together for the sake of the team have been thrown aside for isolation ball, where the focus is on one player to get the spotlight. Unfortunately, this mentality has also trickled down into the lower levels as well. The concept of sacrifice and service is lost in a sea of self-glorification. And for what…a trophy that will collect dust somewhere and be forgotten.
That is why for our catechumens who will be going through the Rite of First Communion today, we need to ever keep before them, and before ourselves, what it truly means to live the life of a Christian. It has nothing to do with the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. It has everything to do with Jesus. I really appreciate the prayer: “Lord, may I decrease, so that you may increase.” But, that’s really hard to live out when we are so focused on ourselves and our own personal glory.
Our text tells us, “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.”
So, what will it take to live these verses out? What will it take to truly follow Jesus? What do we tell our catechumens who are going through the Rite of First Communion today if we desire them to “remain faithful to the point of death and so receive the crown of life?”
As we consider the glory of Jesus here today, let’s be honest and admit that the life of a Christian is going to be tough. It’s marked with suffering and death. What’s more, the devil is going to prowl like a roaring lion seeking to devour each of us. With every ounce of his being, he is going to try and keep us away from where God is located. The last place the devil wants us is here in God’s house receiving what we truly need. He is going to do whatever it takes to convince us that our sins are either too big to be forgiven, or they are not that big of a deal. Either way, he is going to lie to try and separate us from Jesus.
And for that reason, what we need every day is to join with those Greeks from our text who said to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” No matter how hard it may be to look at Him arrayed in all of His glory on that cross and be faced with the reality of our own selfish, sinfulness that put Him there, we need Him. We are dependent upon Him for survival.
That’s why we need His Holy Supper again and again and again. Constantly. Think of it this way (and many of you have probably heard me say this before): how long can we survive without food? If I asked the teenagers here, they might say, about 20 minutes. No matter how long we say, it is most certainly true that we need food to survive. And so it is that we need to body and blood of Christ if we are to survive unto eternal life.
So, here today, our catechumens will be receiving the body and blood of Jesus for the first time. And I know, the bread won’t taste like much at all and the wine may not taste all that good. But, is that really what matters? What matters is that Christ instituted this Sacrament by joining His Word to bread and wine to deliver to us the forgiveness of sins. Because He knows that’s what we need.
And the good news as we gather here today is that we don’t have to go searching for it. The Greeks in our text were looking for Jesus. That’s not the case with us. We know exactly where to find Him. As I have said before, Jesus is the worst at Hide-n-Seek. He is exactly where He says He would be. He is in His Word and Sacraments. This is where He is ‘for you’ in all of His glory. This is where He shares His glory with us by giving us Himself.
This is where we proclaim His death until He comes again. And what a glorious day that will be when that hour finally comes. Christ will descend. The trumpets will sound. The dead in Christ will be raised. We who are alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and we will always be with the Lord. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the ‘glory’ of God the Father. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.