Is that God's Voice?
The voice of the Lord breaks cedars, makes whole cities skip, sparks lightening, strips forests bare, and when heard in His Temple everything responds, "Glory." That's what Psalm 29 says. So, what's with our text?
What I want, even lust for actually happens in our text. "Then a voice came from heaven." For only the third time in the New Testament does a voice out of heaven speak to more than one individual. At the Baptism of Jesus the Voice says, "This is My beloved Son in whom I'm well pleased." On the Mount of Transfiguration, the Voice out of heaven says, "This is My beloved Son; listen to Him. "And here the Voice says, "I have glorified My name, and I will glorify it again."
What I wouldn't give to hear the Voice of God out of heaven. I, and probably you too, speak thousands of words to heaven, to God, to My Father in Christ, each year. And what do I hear back in these ears? Nothing. Crickets. Nothing like something that could break cedars, make cities skip, or strip forests bare. But who gets to hear the Voice in our text? Well we know the disciples are there, possibly the Greeks who would see Jesus, and the crowd. And based on what they say two verses later, that they know about the Christ but not who the Son of Man is, the crowd is not believing.
I get no audible Voice from heaven. They get a whole sentence from God the Father. You know what this is reminiscent of, don't you? One of the bitter-sweet passages in the Bible. Romans 9:30-31: "The Non-Jews, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it."
But then again, we do here the Voice even as we heard it at His Baptism and at the Mount of Transfiguration. Because when God speaks in Scripture it is recorded for us who come later. This is probably Tuesday of Holy Week. This crowd had just witnessed the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, Jesus was rightly hailed as King of the Jews, Son of David, and the Blessed One who comes in name of Yahweh. This crowd not only witnessed Jesus glorified as King and Christ but surely some of them will be part of the Good Friday crowd too.
It's easy to see how the Father's name was glorified in the Palm Sunday royal, messianic welcome of Jesus. It looks like He made it. He's finally getting the respect, the worship, the honor, and glory God the Son deserves. But on Good Friday, it won't look like that at all. There, it's stricken, smitten and afflicted. There, it's not only "Sacred head now wounded"; it's betrayed by His best friend, deserted by His followers, and forsaken by His God. Yet, here in a Voice from heaven the Father assures the crowd and us eavesdroppers that all that beating, bloodletting, sweating, and sacrifice glorifies God the Father's name.
Jesus knows what's it's going to take to glorify His Father's name, and so He says, "Now My heart is troubled." This is a perfect. That means the trouble goes on and on and on. It's like when you're facing a medical procedure, an ongoing family or work problem. Actually, it's worse than that, Jesus has been under a death sentence the moment He came into the womb. Ever wonder how those sentenced to death eat their last meal? Listen to Johnny Cash's "25 Minutes to Go." It's about a man who is 25 minutes away from hanging. The song has the light-hearted feel to it of a "Boy Named Sue" or "One Piece at a Time," but there is something too realistic and therefore troubling about it.
And so it was for Jesus. Yet though His soul is forever stirred up, He says that He won't ask to be delivered from the cross because it was for this very reason He came. He came to die. He came to suffer. He came to cry the tears of the damned and bleed the sweat of those scared to death. And this glorified the Father's name, because it was the will of the Father to put His holy perfect Son through such damnation just so He could spare you from the pain, torment, punishment just one sinful thought deserves.
God the Father speaks from heaven to tell you what you're about to see on Good Friday is glorious to Him and therefore to sinners too, but unbelief doesn't hear the Father. Unbelief explained the Voice away as a natural phenomenon, as nothing but thunder. Or they mocked Jesus for saying that a voice did really speak from heaven. They say, "O angels are always speaking to Him."
You don't think you would ever do that. No, I don't think I would ever do that, but I do it all the time. We sing in a hymn the rhetorical question, "What more can He say to you than He's already said?" Evidently plenty, because the Bible is no more to me than what science tells me it can be. The Bible is to be judged by the cannons of reason that deny the Voice of God could be heard accurately, reliably anywhere on earth today. And the Visible Word can be no more than the natural phenomena they obviously are. Baptism is plain water and Communion is just bread and wine.
I not only dismiss the Voice of God that can level forests and even raise the dead, forgive sinners, and change me forever, as not supernatural but as natural. I make fun of the Voice. I do this my giving more credence to what I think than He says. I do this when the childlike faith that sings, "Because Thou promise I believe" is okay for kids but not for me. No, I got to have my faith and life grounded on something a little more adult then a book a kid can read and understand.
Can you see yourself in this crowd? I can see me. Even though Jesus says the purpose of the Voice that was still ringing in their ears (this is part of the Greek construction), even though it was emphatically not for Jesus sake (again per the Greek), even though on the absolute contrary it was because of you (as the Greek says), they don't hear it. Do you? That's the real question. Are you turning away as the crowd did? Are you hardening your heart to the Voice? This is a refrain from the Old Testament Church to the New, "Today if you hear His voice, don't harden your heart."
What I want so badly for God to speak to me from heaven, happens in this text, but unbelief doesn't hear it. The Good News is that unbelief doesn't stop the Son. The fact that people in here may not believe Baptism is a lifegiving water rich in God's grace of forgiveness, doesn't stop it from being all that and more. The fact that people in here may not believe that Jesus gives His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine doesn't stop Him from doing so. The fact that people stubbornly hold on to their sins, defend their right to keep them, doesn't stop sins from actually being sent away by God's Voice of Absolution.
And the crowd's unbelief, which remember is going to infect every single person from His brazen disciple, His beloved disciple, and His own mother till there is no believer left anywhere on earth, won't stop the ruler of this world from being cast out. He usurped the rule from Adam by leading the perfect Adam to obey his voice rather than the voice of God. Satan ruled the world because God's Law gave him standing in heaven. He had a right to ask God, "So how come all those sinners aren't being sent to hell as your Law plainly says they must be?"
Jesus who entered the world like Adam, a perfect man, but unlike Adam never sinned, is in our text going to the cross. There is no Law given to men that Jesus didn't keep that Satan has a right to ask about. Furthermore, there is no punishment, Jesus will not bear, no physical pain, no spiritual pain, no eternal torment, that remains left for anyone to suffer before heaven's gates can swing open wide. Satan is thrown out on his ear because there's no law he can point to that Jesus didn't do, and so Satan can't say, "What about this law she didn't do?" There's not a punishment of the law Satan can point to that Jesus didn't endure, and so Satan can't say, "You must punish him for this sin."
Jesus has succeeded in not only tossing out the ruler of this world; He has succeeded in drawing all men to Himself. Being lifted up, even the Jews knew this much, was a euphuism for crucifixion. And Jesus doesn't just say His hanging on the tree Good Friday "will draw all men to myself." He says literally that it will drag' them. This is the word for dragging a dead weight.
The cross is to sinners what a candle is to a moth. Unbelievers tattoo it on their bodies; they dangle it from their ears and necks. They put in their movies, their songs, their poetry, and prose. They glorify God's most important word from heaven, the cross, all the while maintaining that there is no God in heaven at all or that God couldn't or doesn't speak from heaven. The deny the voice from heaven even as they show they heard the word about the cross, from the cross, by the Crucified One by putting crosses all over everything.
From the cross Jesus speaks of suffering for all sinners, dying for all sin, of blood that doesn't stain but cleanses, of sweat that is sweet with forgiveness, and of tears that are salty enough to preserve a person unto life everlasting. And even unbelief is dragged toward this cross. Like a black hole that relentlessly drags everything in all creation toward it, so the cross drags not toward destruction but reconstruction.
Unbelief doesn't stop the Son from answering our prayer in the Collect: "help us so to remember and give thanks for our Lord's Passion that we may receive remission of sins and redemption from everlasting death." This is a prayer the Son has been answering for over 1,400 years. It has been prayed literally by billions, and the Son has answered every single one. Though science denies it; though unbelief make fun of it, the Voice of God today in the mouth of Christ's man saying, "I baptize you; I forgive you; Take it; take drink for the forgiveness of all your sins" does exactly what it says. And that's more of a miracle than God's Voice breaking cedars, skipping cities, or stripping forests. And everyone dragged by the Voice to this Faith says, "Glory." Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday in Lent (20180318); John 12: 28-33