OT: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Epistle: Hebrews 5:5-10
Gospel: John 12:20-33
The new covenant promised by God through the prophet Jeremiah is coming through Jesus Christ. Jeremiah says it will be a new covenant, not like the old. It seems from what he says that the new feature is our inability to break it. God’s commitment to us in the new covenant is unconditional. He loves us so much he sends his only begotten son to offer a perfect sacrifice for our sins.
We hear in the letter to the Hebrews that the Son’s suffering perfected the offering. The sacrifice was perfect because redemption came through one who obeyed even to acceptance of a terrible death he did not deserve. Truly, there is nothing we can do to work our way into Heaven. Only God’s love is sufficient to the task. His love is so great it overwhelms our ingrained patterns of sin and disobedience. His obedience redeems our disobedience.
In his discourse during the Last Supper, Jesus said that he knew what was coming. He opened briefly to us the mystery of how his two natures exist in one Person. In his human nature, Jesus was like us in every way except sin. In his divine nature, Jesus is eternal and omniscient. On the night before he suffered, Jesus admitted he was troubled. What man would not be troubled as he anticipated the events of Good Friday? Beyond the awful physical abuse — the loss of sleep traveling from official to official all night, the beating, the crown of thorns, the carrying of the cross, nails in his arms and feet — there was the injustice of it all. He was the one Good Man there, yet he would be beaten and killed as one having committed the worst crimes. Luke tells us his agony was so great he sweat blood, that the physical stress was so great capillaries broke and mixed his blood with his sweat. The flow of blood and water from his side mark both the beginning and the end of his Passion.
Jesus admits his suffering, but he knows he must do it. He says, “but it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” Only his divine nature could know what that really meant. In his divine wisdom, Jesus knew the Fall of Man, God’s repeated embrace of his people, and our repeated rejection of his embrace. Jeremiah was one of those holy messengers sent from God to save his people, to tell his people to turn around and walk toward him. The people of God rejected Jeremiah, as they rejected all God’s messengers. Finally, the world rejected God through the Crucifixion. But God never rejected the people of God. He retained his claim on us, extending his claim to anyone who turned to him. Only a remnant remained at the foot of the Cross, but his sacrifice was so perfect it made sense and opened the eyes of disciples as they walked the road to Emmaus, and it opened their mouths as they preached at Pentecost. It opens our hearts even today.
Jesus illuminates in his discourse the root of the problem as he explains the power of his anticipated sacrifice: “the ruler of this world will be driven out.” Satan rules this world. He whispered lies to us — Adam stands for every man that came after him — and we chose to believe those lies. Death and destruction entered into the world as a result of our choice. God’s messengers came to call us back, but Satan rules this world. The pull of evil was too strong, and God’s people refused to listen.
In Jesus’ offering of himself — both priest and sacrifice, as Hebrews tells us — was the perfect oblation. Satan, the father of lies, could not see Truth because he had lived in lies so long his eyes were darkened beyond all hope. He had lived in despair so long, he could not see Love. Love offered itself and the offering was sufficient: Love triumphed over Death. Communion with God triumphed over alienation from God.
In his image of the necessity of the wheat to die so as to yield a rich harvest, Jesus is calling us to do more than just open our hearts. He is calling us to see the nobility, the mercy, and the righteousness of the sacrificial life. When I deny myself the desires of this world for the glory of God, I participate in some small way in the Way of the Cross. Perhaps he will not ask me to give up my life as he gave up his: brutalized by a bureaucratic machine marching to the Devil’s drumbeat. Perhaps he will only ask me to give up some small pleasure I pursue when nobody is looking, the kind of thing that I might be tempted to tell myself brings no harm to anyone. The acts of self denial we take on in Lent are training opportunities for greater acts of self denial the rest of our lives. (When we use the term “self-denial” we are talking about saying “no” the self-centered impulses and designs that otherwise run amok in our lives.)
We already redeemed. Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross paid the debt incurred by Adam’s sin. We have an opportunity, an invitation, to be sanctified, to become more holy. Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross — his obedience and self-denial — is a model for our sanctification. As we grow stronger in our faith, we will be able to be more obedient, and we will be able to deny our selfish impulses, just a little bit more than we could. Our sanctification will increase the Kingdom of God just a little bit, and Love will triumph over Death just a little bit more through our sanctification. We will participate in a small way in the Way of the Cross and the Easter joy that follows Good Friday.