A sermon by Bob Browning, pastor of First Baptist Church, Frankfurt, Ky.
October 6, 2013
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Jesus spoke these words somewhere around the Temple in Jerusalem as pilgrims were gathering to observe Passover. This was not the first time Jesus mentioned being “lifted up” in the fourth gospel. You can also read these words in John 3:14 when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, and in 8:28 when he was engaged in dialogue with the Pharisees, which indicates their importance to understanding the identity and mission of Jesus.
What was Jesus referring to when he talked about being “lifted up from the earth?” Was this a reference to the crucifixion or the resurrection, or both?
It could have easily been both; however, the writer of the gospel feels these words referred to his crucifixion. Further into the conversation Jesus had with those around him, he told them they would not see him much longer. His earthly ministry was rapidly drawing to a close, which meant his followers’ lives were soon going to change.
As I listen to these words, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself,” I am impressed by the confidence of Jesus. He wasn’t timid was he? He believed his death would have a life-changing impact upon people all over the world for generations to come.
Why was Jesus certain of this? He knew human nature; people are drawn to people who are compassionate and courageous.
How does our text open? Some Greeks who came to Jerusalem to observe Passover approached Philip and asked for his help in locating Jesus. They had heard about the miracles Jesus performed and the parables he told, and they wanted to meet this holy man who was unlike any they had ever known. It may have been the very reason they made this long journey that spring to Jerusalem; they wanted to meet Jesus.
Jesus knew if people wanted to see him before the crucifixion, there would be even greater numbers who would be drawn to him afterwards. Word would spread quickly about this innocent man who walked the dusty Palestinian roads, listening to people’s stories, helping them along their journeys.
It would not take long before people understood he died because he dared to speak truth to power on behalf of the people he met going from village to village. He was arrested and crucified because he spoke out against injustice and spoke up for those who had no voice at the table where decisions were made. His compassion and courage would be the subject of many conversations for years to come.
Jesus was right wasn’t he? Two thousand years later, we are still drawn to this courageous and compassionate man. His story has been passed down from generation to generation, as it will continue to be.
The first Sunday of each month, we gather around this table to recall that story and remember his life, death and resurrection. Each time we eat this bread and drink from this cup, we highlight his compassion and courage, and the impact his sacrifice has had upon us.
As we gather today, I encourage you to express gratitude to God for sending His son our way. Let God know how Jesus’ life has changed yours.
There is something else I want you to do this morning as you approach this table. Thank God for the compassionate and courageous people around you who have followed in Jesus’ footsteps and inspired you.
Who would that be for you? Who are the selfless people you know who touched your life by their compassion and courage?
Who reached out to you during one of the most critical times of your life? Who took a chance on you when others had given up? Who put their life on the line to save yours?
I know you haven’t forgotten them. We never forget people who show up when we need them most. Thank God for them, too, when you take the bread and cup.
Before you depart this morning, though, ask who needs your help right now. What family member or friend is going through a tough time and needs you to stand by their side? What can you do this week to lift their spirit and help them through this ordeal? Ask God to help you do it as you hold the bread and cup.
Last week I read a story John Buchanan shared in the Christian Index. It was about his friend who was an infantryman in the British Army in WWII and ended up in a prisoner-of-war camp in Poland.
Conditions in this camp were deplorable. There was no heat, and prisoners were given a single bowl of thin soup and a small crust of bread to eat each day. Men were starving, sick, filthy and desperate. Suicides were common.
All one had to do to commit suicide was to run toward the perimeter of the camp and leap against the barbed wire fence. Guards would immediately shoot and kill anyone trying to escape.
In the middle of the night, Buchanan’s friend walked to the perimeter and sat down at the fence to think about scaling it so the guards would put him out of his misery. Suddenly, he heard movement in the darkness from the other side of the fence. It was a Polish farmer.
The farmer thrust his hand through the barbed wire and handed Buchanan’s friend half a potato. In broken English he said, “The Body of Christ.” This simple act of kindness saved the life of Buchanan’s friend who is now a minister of a church in Scotland.
Who needs you to be this courageous and compassionate this week?