Glorification by Humiliation
John 12:20-33, Steve Hollaway, Harbor Church, March 18, 2018, Lent 5
Everybody wants to be glorified, and nobody wants to be humiliated.
Everybody wants to make the Honor Roll, or receive a Medal of Honor, and no one wants to be shamed publicly. No one wants to be Rex Tillerson or Andrew McCabe, taken down from the place of glory and humiliated.
Everybody today wants to be the team from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and no one wants to be Virginia.
Everybody wants to be “lifted up” and no one wants to be “brought down.”
Several times in the gospel of John before the passage we read from chapter 12, Jesus says that his time has not yet come. Even in chapter 2, when his mother tells him there is a shortage of wine at a wedding, Jesus says, “Mom! That’s not really my job. My hour has not yet come.” In both chapters 7 and 8, people tried to arrest Jesus, but they couldn’t, because “his hour had not yet come.” When I survived a serious accident, someone said “I guess it just wasn’t your time.” I guess my hour had not yet come.
But now Jesus says, “My hour has come.” What he means is that it is time to die. It is time for the Son of Man—an apocalyptic title Jesus gives to himself—it’s time for him to be glorified. Then he speaks immediately about the necessity of death, comparing himself to a seed that will be buried and die in order to give birth to a plant that produces many seed.
Jesus says, “My soul is troubled.” Most of us would be upset if we thought our time had come, especially if it came in young adulthood. Jesus asks, “What am I supposed to say? Should I ask my Father in heaven to rescue me from the hour of death?” “No,” he answers. “This is the reason I came from heaven to earth: to give my life. I won’t pray ‘Father, rescue me,” but rather ‘Father, may you be glorified by what I do. May you be glorified by my death. May your honor increase and may people praise you because of what is accomplished in the hour of my death.” At that point there is a voice from heaven saying, “My name has already been glorified, and I will bring glory to my name again.” I think that in John’s mind that means that God’s glory will be revealed in the cross and resurrection, and God’s name will be praised even more.
Did you notice what triggered this announcement by Jesus? People had come to Jerusalem for Passover from all over the Mediterranean world. Among them were many Greek-speaking Jews and Gentiles who were from Greece, a nation that had ruled Israel for a long time and shaped its culture before the Romans came. Some of these Greeks came to Philip, Jesus’ only disciple with a Greek name—maybe he was from a Greek-speaking family—and they said, “We would like to see Jesus.” When that gets reported to Jesus, it seems to be a signal that this is a turning point in his ministry. Because these foreigners have come to see me—because news about me has already spread through the empire—I think my public teaching work is done and it’s time for a new chapter. The hour has come to be glorified on the cross.
The root meaning of “glory” in Greek has to do with honor, reputation, and praise. To glorify someone usually means to honor them, to build up their reputation, to praise them. Sometimes we use “glorify” sarcastically, as in “He calls himself a chef, but he’s just a glorified hash-slinger.” Someone is being given honor that he really doesn’t deserve. Later in chapter 12, John says that some of the Jewish leaders actually believed in Jesus, but they didn’t say so publicly—they might get kicked out of the synagogue—because “they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God.” They wanted to be honored by people more than they wanted to be honored by God.
Given the normal Greek meaning of glorify, you would think that Jesus is saying, “Now the time has come for me to be praised, for me to be recognized as who I really am.” You might think that the triumphal entry was when he was glorified. But immediately Jesus links being glorified to dying, and he says that he’s troubled, even afraid, of this hour of glorification. It becomes clear that at least in the gospel of John the word “glorified” has become a code word for “crucified.”
In the book of Revelation there are scenes where Christ appears in the form of a Lamb who has been killed, and everyone sings praises to him. The elders sing that Christ the Lamb “is worthy because he was slain” (5:9) and his death produced a people drawn from all nations to praise God together. Then all the creatures in the universe begin to sing together, “To the One who sits on the throne (God) and to the Lamb (Christ) be praise and honor and glory and power” (5:12). You see how those four things go together. Praise and honor and glory are almost the same thing. And the reason that the Lamb is glorified is that he died in order to create a people for God.
What is the opposite of being glorified? It is being humiliated. Jesus and John lived in an honor-based society, which is to say that it was also a shame-based society. Most people thought of their worth in terms of what other people thought of them, where they stood in society, what kind of reputation they had. The last thing you wanted to be was ashamed of yourself—or to be publicly shamed by your enemies. And yet, when Jesus talks about being glorified, that is the very thing he points to: the experience of the cross, which was nothing if not a public shaming, making you hang naked in public while you die helplessly, thirsting, gasping, seizing.
Jesus uses religious language ironically and paradoxically. My glorification, he is saying, will be my humiliation. It is at that moment when I am suffering and dying, when I am forgiving those who are mocking me, putting a sarcastic king costume on me, whipping and punching and stabbing me—it’s at that moment that the glory of God will be revealed, his love in all its pure shining light. And it is at that moment of humiliation that I will receive praise from my Father and from angels in heaven and from the future church.
If you want to be my servant, Jesus says, you can’t hold on tight to your life and comfort and (I think he means) your reputation. You have to let go of those things. The path to glory is not through seeking the approval of people. The path to glory is not to seek glory but to seek God’s reign in everything and to head in the opposite direction down the path of humiliation.
That theme is expressed poetically in Philippians 2, where Paul quotes an early hymn—one I often quote myself. “Have the same attitude in yourselves that Christ had. He started out equal with God, in the place of glory, where he enjoyed power and praise. But he did not consider his status something to hold onto. Because he loved the world, he let go of all that and emptied himself—emptied himself of power and glory—and became a limited human being like us. And after he made himself human, he humbled himself further still. He became a slave, a servant to others, one who washed feet. Ultimately, he went lower still: he accepted being treated like a criminal, accepted being publicly shamed in the most horrible way, even to the point of death on a cross. Therefore, Paul goes on in what must have been the last verse of the hymn, because of Christ’s obedience and his willingness to be humiliated for us, God raised him from the dead and then raised him to heaven and seated him in the place of highest honor, so that from now on every creature will proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Jesus story goes from glory to glory, with the deep valley of suffering and shame in between.
Jesus gives a wonderful promise in John 12:32—“When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.” Again, John is using language with two layers of meaning. “Lifted up” could mean “when I am praised and glorified.” We sing songs like “Lord, I lift your name on high” and “You are exalted.” That would be a great promise: when I am praised, I will draw all people to myself.
But John says in the next verse, “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” He was going to be lifted up to die—lifted up on a wooden cross so that the people can watch him die. It is not a glory thing; it is a shame thing. I think Jesus means, “If all I could do was teach and perform miracles, my effect would be limited. But when I die on a cross, bearing sin and shame for a world of lost sinners, that image and that message will draw people from every nation into fellowship with God and one another.
We wonder why God doesn’t bring more people into our church. Perhaps we should consider this promise. If we lift up the cross of Christ, Jesus will draw people to himself. His story, his nature, and his Spirit will draw people with the magnetism of love. Most of us know John 3:16. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life.” The verse just before that says, “Just as Moses lifted up the brass serpent on a pole in the wilderness so that anyone who was snakebit could look at it and be healed, in the same way, Jesus must be lifted up on the cross so that whoever looks to him for healing will not die but have life.”
We sang, “Lift High the Cross”—not as a sign of victory, but as a sign of humiliation. The cross is the humiliation God-in-the-flesh endured for us in order to restore our relationship with God. You might think that we who are sinners would be asked to endure humiliation as a dire consequence of our bad choices. Sometimes that was the way our parents worked. But the gospel says that it is Jesus, the Lord of glory, who endures humiliation for us. His goal is to draw us to himself and to bring many children to glory. Thanks be to God.