When Jesus Was Glorified

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“His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him” (John 12:16, ESV).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
There is some dispute within the Church over whether we should be celebrating Palm Sunday or observing the Sunday of the Passion today. While there are good arguments for both, I like the way that it is combined in our assigned Gospels, two accounts that, at first blush, seem so distant from one another, yet end up being so inextricably connected.
We begin the service with the Palm Sunday procession from John 12:12-19. We conclude with the account of Christ’s Passion from Luke, chapters 22 & 23. Here in these passages we see the great mystery of concurrence—God working through the free actions of His creatures (Judas, the Jewish Council, Pilate, the crowds in Jerusalem) to bring forth His predetermined will. God uses the devilish schemes to defeat the devil. The sinless Son of God uses the sinful actions of men to overcome sin. The Lord of Life uses His own death to destroy death.
Despite Christ’s clear prediction that He must suffer, die, and rise again, no one who stood before the cross that day could have guessed they were witnessing the greatest moment in the history of the world. From their vantage point, they saw nothing but suffering and defeat. But there on Mt. Calvary, with His words, “It is finished,” and His dying breath is truly when Jesus was glorified.
I would liken it to the hand embroidery that my Grandma Moeller used to do. When you look at it from the back side, it’s not very pretty. It’s often messy and confusing, with threads going every which way. But when you turn it around you see the beauty that the skilled embroiderer intended all along.
For now, we live on the back side of life—the ugly, messy, confusing side. It will only be when we get to the other side of eternity and see the finished product that we will recognize the beauty and grace the Creator was incorporating into every stitch. For now, Calvary is the only place where the two sides come together—where, by faith, we can begin to see how Christ’s cross is His glory, and become confident that our present suffering will one day be transformed into everlasting joy.   
His mother stood at a distance, watching as His body was taken down from the cross and wrapped in a finely woven linen shroud. As the sturdy white fabric enveloped His lifeless remains, she strained to look upon her Son one last time. His head and body already covered by the cloth, all that remained visible were His once powerful hands. Like a snapshot frozen in time, they revealed the intensity of the suffering He had endured. Rigid and stiff, they lay folded across his chest, contorted fingers clenched tight. Just above the wrists, unbearably large gashes could be seen—the place where the nails had ripped open a hole in His flesh. The deep dark red of His wounds looked all the more shockingly real against the impressive whiteness of the burial cloth.
Consumed with sorrow, grief, and pain, the grieving mother turned away from that dreadful image, certain those nails had ruined her life. Life, you see, doesn’t always turn out the way you might expect.
Just a few days before, it had been all so different. Riding confidently into town, seated on a donkey, thousands of people waved palm branches and cheered His name. With great enthusiasm, they cried aloud, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10). The excitement, the energy, the passion for her Son was like nothing she had ever seen. For the first time in her life, she dared to believe her deepest hopes and dreams might actually come true.
But then, suddenly, everything changed. He was betrayed, arrested, put on trial, and nailed to that terrible cross. Her hopes and dreams now shattered, she had nothing left except the haunting image of His stiff and rigid hands, the unbearably large gashes, the deep, dark red of His wounds. Those nails, you see, had ruined her life. Life doesn’t always turn out the way you might expect.
I don’t have to tell you, many of you know this much better than I: The older you get, the more you discover how true that statement is. Life doesn’t always turn out the way you might expect. The excitement, the energy, the wonder you experience as a child slowly fades away, leaving you with the mundane routine of bills, work, and family obligations. As you grow up, you come to learn that the hopes and dreams of your youth never quite seem to be fulfilled. We spend much of our lives thinking: If only my marriage were a little bit better… if only I could make a little more money… if only I could get that dream job… if only I had made a better choice… if only… if only… then I would be happy… then I could get my life together… then I would finally be content.
But all too often, loving marriages grow cold, exciting careers turn dull, gifted children lose their way, and youthful bodies grow old and wear out. And then, when we least expect it, tragedy strikes. Suffering, disease, and death disrupt our humdrum lives, waking us from our slumber and causing us to cry out in despair: “Why, God, would you allow this to happen? Why, God, does life always have to be so full of sorrow and pain and hurt?” These are the ultimate questions we all must face.
These are the ultimate questions that can be understood only in light of the cross of Jesus Christ. For as we will soon celebrate at the end of this Holy Week, a few days after He suffered and died, Jesus rose again from the dead and appeared before His disciples in the Upper Room where they had been hiding. His mother was there as well.
Strong and full of life, Jesus raised His arms into the air; His hands opened wide, inviting all to see. Incredibly, just above both wrists, the large gashes left by the nails could still be seen, except now they looked—somehow—beautiful. Filled with wonder, joy, and awe, Mary stared at His wounds, realizing in that moment that the nails hadn’t ruined her life after all—the nails had saved her life. So when Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” He wasn’t just being polite. He wasn’t just making small talk. He was bestowing peace—peace with God, peace with our fellow man. Peace that brings forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life!
On the day that you stand before the Lord in glory, gazing upon His nail-scarred hands, you, too, will realize that everything you thought had ruined your life was actually used by God to save it. In that moment, every single thing that has caused you sorrow or shame will not simply be forgotten, but will become for you an everlasting source of joy. Your cries of pain and grief will one day be transformed into endless songs of praise. Life, you see, doesn’t always turn out the way you might expect.
For now, your sufferings may seem to signal the undoing of everything you hope for. But since Christ bears those scars for you, through the cross, you can be confident that your present sufferings will one day be transformed into everlasting joy and peace. You have been baptized into Christ’s death and raised in His resurrection. He feeds you with His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through His called and ordained servant, He speaks the Word of Absolution. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Adapted from a sermon by Scott F. Abel, Concordia Pulpit Resources Volume 20, Part 2, p.21-22


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