“Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” ~John 17:1
Jesus begins his prayer in John 17 with the words, “The time has come.” And, of course, we know he’s talking about his death. The time has come for Jesus to die, and that’s going to bring glory to God. We wouldn’t think death and glory belong together. We would think death and glory are opposites. We see glory as brightness, not night. We view glory in terms of celebrity, not mockery. Glory to us is fortune and fame, health and wealth, not suffering and death.
Jesus prays that he will be glorified and that, in turn, so will God. Just a few hours later, that prayer is answered. Jesus is dead.
The scandal of our religion is that our King reigns from a cross. Jesus does not destroy all evil and save the world through the exercise of power and control; he does it with supreme humility and selfless sacrifice. He dies. The disciples in the room with his this night will die similar deaths. Those deaths all brought glory to God. Death and dying is our salvation. Death and dying is glory.
We don’t come to the cross of Christ to worship his death or to remember the grisly details of that day. We come to the cross — we’re actually drawn to the cross — to see what it looks like for us to die. People say Jesus died so we don’t have to. No, that’s not right. Jesus died to show us how to. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ!” He tells the Corinthians, “I die every day!” He tells us in Colossians 3, “You died and your life is now hidden with Christ!”
God’s Church does not exist to serve itself. It’s not even intended to serve Christ. The Church is established to serve like Christ. To serve with Christ. To serve as Christ. We are instruments of God’s reconciliation of the world through Jesus, so we die every day in order to make the Word of God’s salvation fully known (Colossians 1:24-25). Dying with Jesus reflects our sense of unity with the Son of God. We have been buried with Christ, raised together with Christ, and been given brand new life together in Christ. As the body of Christ, we have a corporate personality. And that personality should be one of daily dying with Jesus for the sake of the world and to the glory of God!
The biggest problem with God’s Church in today’s context is our cowardly retreat from the high demands of the Christian faith. We run from it. We try to hide from it in our church buildings and Bible classes, in our carefully-orchestrated worship services and efficiently-run programs. Chesterton says — and I love this — “Christianity has not been tried and found difficult; it’s been found difficult and never really tried.”
Our setting today is no different from when Jesus was praying with those disciples after that last meal. It’s the same for us today as it was when Paul was writing his letters. The Church of God needs inspiring heroes; we need great daring and risk-taking; we need monumental sacrifice. The time has come for us to die. To die to our own dreams and desires. To die to our own grabs for money and power and control. To die to our own obsessions with recreation and politics and home improvement. To die to our addictions to entertainment and technology and consumerism. The time has come for disciples of the holy Messiah to die.
There’s a small child in your church, there’s a teenager in your neighborhood, who will come alive if you’ll only die for him. There’s an older woman on your street who will be re-born if you’ll just die for her. There’s a divorced dad in your office — you’ll see him in the morning! — who will be filled with resurrection hope if you’ll die for him. There’s a depressed immigrant, an unemployed neighbor, a suicidal senior, a confused girl, a sick soul, an abused woman, a guy on probation, a hungry child, an overworked mom — there are people you know who will live, really live, if you’ll just decide to die.