Glory that Endures Forever: A Sermon for Holy Monday on St. John 12:43

Christ Suffering IconNevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
(St. John 12:42–43)

The people were fine with Jesus until they saw what happened to Him. Like Peter, you’re willing to follow Him—to a point. But when confronted with the choice between suffering and denying Christ, well, we all know the tendency of the sinful flesh. Even when by the grace of God you opt for the glory that comes from God over the glory that comes from man, this runs entirely contrary to the desires of the Old Adam, of whom you cannot rid yourself.

St. John speaks of those who, though they believed in Jesus, were afraid to confess Him. They loved the approval of the world more than the approval of God. But the evaluation of you that matters most, the one with which you should be concerned above all, is God’s. As the prophet says (Isaiah 50:9):

Behold, the Lord GOD helps me;
    who will declare me guilty?

But we love the approval of the world more than the One who created it. It is important not only for us to realize this, but, especially during this holiest of weeks, to meditate upon it, that by the grace of God we might grow in both our love for Christ and disdain for the desires of the sinful flesh.

It is not wrong to love the approval of man. According to the Fourth Commandment we are to hold our parents and other authorities in love and esteem. What they think of us should matter—just not more than what God thinks of us. It is good for us to praise others when they do well. We thank God for the good example of the saints, for their imitation of the righteousness of Christ (insofar as that goes). But even the best imitation of the greatest saint is a cheap one, so we especially thank God for His mercy. Though all sin and fall short of His glory, He makes up what was lacking—which is everything—by the glory of Christ, which is His death.

The problem with the praise of the world is that such praise is often blameworthy. There are girls who starve themselves to meet a very distorted ideal of beauty. We, quite literally, parade our rejection of God’s design for marriage and family down Halsted street here in Chicago every June.

There is a serious problem when our desire for the world’s approval interferes with the exercise of love and reverence toward God. We must never seek praise which accompanies the practice of wickedness. There is a good and right love of praise. The problem is you have often set your affections on unsuitable objects. Repent.

Our Lord has said, “No one can serve two masters, for he will either hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other,” (St. Luke 16:13). The praise of God and the praise that comes from pursuing purely worldly goals are mutually exclusive. You cannot love God and the world equally. One or the other has to take priority, and all too often, you have opted for the latter. Repent.

To love the praise of the world is to be ashamed of the One greater than parents, spouse, friend, or co-worker. Christ warns those who are ashamed of Him and His Words; He warns those who believe but fail to confess. “Of him,” He says, “will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels,” (St. Luke 9:26).

The world looked upon Christ with hatred and railed against Him, yet He endured, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2). He did not do this for His own benefit. As the hymn says:

Your soul in griefs unbounded,
Your head with thorns surrounded,
     You died to ransom me.
The cross for me enduring,
The crown for me securing,
     You healed my wounds and set me free.
(Lutheran Service Book, 453; stanza 5)

Fear not the disdain of this world. The world did every manner of horrendous things possible to our Lord, but the world did not prevail. The tomb was empty, and Jesus was more glorious than ever. Neither can the world prevail over those who belong to Him. So do not fear.

It is your high privilege to be conformed to Christ, but you must never forget what sort of a Man it is to Whom you are being conformed: a Man who was despised and rejected by men; a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:5).

We first of all imitate Christ in His suffering. As the apostle says:

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps… He Himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness,”
(1 Peter 1:21, 24).

But our suffering is only an imitation. It’s not the real thing. But you are being conformed to Christ in His glory already—and this is no mere imitation. God granted St. John a beautiful vision of the glory yet to be revealed in us. It’s such an important vision that it is the subject of the final two chapters of the Bible.

John likens your future radiance, one which has already begun, to that of the rarest of jewels: like a jasper, clear as crystal (Revelation 21:11). This is the glory that awaits those who endure in the confession of Christ unto the End. It is not easy, and it will incur the scorn of the world. But the glory of the world, enticing though it may be, is but a cheap imitation and does not last. So hear and be strengthened by the promise of Christ, who gives you His own strength and holiness (Isaiah 51:7–8):

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
     the people in whose heart is my law;
fear not the reproach of man,
     nor be dismayed at their revilings.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
     and the worm will eat them like wool;
but my righteousness will be forever,
     and my salvation to all generations.”

Soli Deo Gloria

+Rev. Eric Andersen. Portions adapted from Sermon 4. The Praise of Man by John Henry Newman.
St. John 12:43
Holy Monday, 2015: Glory that Endures Forever
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