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The Voice

3/21/21

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"The Voice" is a reality TV show where singers are chosen initially by turning a judge's chair with only the sound of their voice. God's voice sounds 3 times in the Gospels: at the Baptism of Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and here. Only 3 disciples heard the Voice on the mount. It's debated who heard the Voice at the Jordan. But no doubt that the crowd heard it here. Did you? Will your chair turn for this Voice?

Whose voice is it? Sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd says Jesus, but not everyone knows the voice of God. Some in the crowd thought it was nature's voice. "The crowd that was there heard it and said it had thundered." People do the opposite today. Rather than hearing God speaking in nature; they hear nature speaking as God. Nature does speak. Rom. 8:22 says, "We know that all of creation is groaning with birth pains right up to the present time." Large trees groan in the wind. Frozen lakes groan so much they spook you if you're on them. The wind howls in rage and pain. But that's not hearing nature speak as God. The people telling you the planet cries out to be saved from plastics, fossil fuels, or climate change, are hearing nature speak as god.

The crowd mistakes the Voice of God for thunder. Others in the crowd, not distinct from it; that would be another Greek word, others in that same group said, "An angel had spoken to Him." The first group says literally, "Thunder had happened." And the form of happened' means it was very loud to them and lingered in their ears. They don't hear any words being articulated just sound. The others' heard words but think an angel' had spoken, but for them too the sound continues to echo in their ears. Is this parallel to what happened on the Road to Damascus? Compare Acts 9:7 and 22:9. Those with Paul outside Damascus heard something but they couldn't make it out. This is not how it was in our text. It was a voice not a sound that came out of heaven, and it was the Voice of none other than God the Father. We know this because Jesus says He won't pray "Father save Me from this hour." And does pray, "Father, glorify Your Name." The Voice that answers can be none other than God the Father's.

In the Psalms we hear that: the Voice of the God is powerful, full of majesty, breaks cedar trees, shakes the wilderness, and makes deer give birth (Ps. 29). When He merely utters His voice the earth melts (Ps. 46:6). The waters at creation, flood, and today obey the voice of God (Ps. 104:7; Jb. 38:11). O to be spoken to by Him, right? The internet is filled with "How can we recognize the voice of God?" "How do we know if we are hearing the voice of God" And "6 Scriptures to Help you Discern and Hear the Voice of God." But people don't need these sites. No, they say, "God is telling me this or that." Or "To me this Bible passage means" They hear the voice of God in their private interpretation of Scripture and think that's authoritative. They are badly, dangerously (spiritually speaking), mistaken.

Whoa. Got ahead of myself. I wanted to preach the Law but more gently than that. Let's back up. For whom is the Voice in our text? The crowd. Jesus plainly says that the Voice wasn't for His sake but theirs even though the Voice answers His prayer. Isn't it interesting less than a week before His death Jesus prays what we do every Sunday: "Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be Thy name." And the Father answers, "I have and will glorify it." But the answer is for the crowd not Jesus. This is Palm Sunday. John is the only one to note that there are two crowds of people. One coming with Him from Bethany and one coming out to meet Him from Jerusalem. Both crowds are focused on Jesus having raised the 4-day dead Lazarus. That's what draws them to Jesus: His power over life and death.

It's easy to see how God the Father glorified the Man Jesus by showing He had power over Death itself. They were down with that sort of glorification. That's why they could welcome Him saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest" (Mt. 21:10)! "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David" (Mk. 11:10)! "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest" (Lk. 19:38)! "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel" (Jn. 12:13)! The Voice speaks to the crowd telling them that they are right to glorify this Jesus. The Father had glorified His name through the Man Jesus, and "will glorify My name again in Him."

The "will glorify again" is the kicker. Follow the events of Holy Week. See the public testing of Him in the Temple by His enemies and the private disappointments with His own disciples. The crowd sees the first not the second. But then comes Good Friday. Then they will see all the suffering, shaming, blaming, beating, spitting, forsaking, and more. They will see Jesus hanging helplessly on the cross taunted to come down. They will note that His poor mother, a few women, and one disciple are all who still claim the crucified Christ. Even God abandons Him for He cries out, "My God why have You forsaken me." Even God deserts the Man who claims to be the Son of God. The point being: The Voice here tells you all that ugliness, shamefulness, painfulness is God glorifying His name again. It's easy to see how Jesus raising Lazarus glorified the Father's Name and then skip to Easter and see it again. But don't do that. The brutality, the cursedness, the judging that many would skip is, according to the Voice, the Father glorifying His name again.

And just what does that mean? Jesus explains. Remember He's the Exegete, the Interpreter, of the God no man has seen or can see at any time. Rather than let our minds run off into all sorts of speculation about God, Judgment, Salvation, Jesus tells us what the glorifying of the Father's name is. It's giving up, punishing, ridiculing, abandoning, damning, and dying of His only beloved Son. If you want to read the antithesis of this Voice read Isaac Asimov's ten page short story "The Voice" on the internet. There the Voice speaks all sorts of Buddhist, Confucius, Postmodern things that sound very deep and wise. Not the true God. His Voice is for your benefit and this is what it says:

The world is judged. Think of all the wretchedness, wickedness, and filthiness in this world. How the world rejects God its Creator, Preserver, and Protector. You know how quickly you get mad at a bird, puppy, or kitten that you stoop to help only to be pecked at, bitten, or scratched? Even the gentlest soul can get angry fast. "How dare you to do that to me, one who's only trying to help you!" Well the world did that to God time and again, time after time. And judgment is due, and Jesus is going to bear it. He didn't do anything wrong. Not only did He never bite the hand that fed Him, but He always prayed, praised, and gave thanks. But He enters Jerusalem as the Scapegoat. The goat upon whom the Father has placed a world's worth of sin, guilt, shame, and pain. C. S. Lewis said that pain can't be multiplied. "We must never make the problem of pain worse than it is by vague talk about the 'unimaginable sum of human misery.'...The addition of a million fellow-sufferers adds no more pain" (Problem of Pain, 115-16). If that's true, satisfying the wrath of God wouldn't have needed the Suffering of God in flesh and blood. One man would do.

But it didn't. So to glorify the Father's name, God the Son was given to suffer the judgments against the world the Father still loved. And the Father's name being glorified meant the casting out of the Prince of this World. Jesus is emphatic here. He says, "Now the ruler of this world will be cast out, outside." He's really thrown out. Remember how Satan claimed to own this world and all its kingdoms and so could give it to Jesus if Jesus just worshipped him? God's holy Law that we break gave the Devil the basis for claiming to be this world's prince. God promised that His Law must be kept, both its commands and punishments. There was no shortage of people who failed to keep His commandments. All in fact failed. But Ro. 3:25 says that "God in forbearance had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished." And this gave Satan access to heaven as we see in Job 1 and 2 and Zechariah 3 to accuse sinners. Not anymore. Now the would be prince has no standing before God. Cite one law of God Jesus failed to keep? Name a single punishment of the Law that Jesus didn't bear in His Passion?

This is big. It means God doesn't need or want any suffering from you to satisfy His wrath or glorify His name. Jesus did it all. The prince has been cast out. He's judged the deed is none. You are safe. But what's that noise? It's not the Voice. It's the sound of "all men" literally being dragged to Jesus. Hear that massive scrapping sound? You know how theoretically nothing escapes from the event horizon of a black hole? Nothing escapes the Event of God the Son being lifted up on a cross. He says, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will drag (not draw) all men to Myself." Don't read draw', like a flower draws a honeybee, or fresh baked bread draws us. This is the word for dragging a dead weight. This is a miracle word. The Cross Event where God in our flesh and blood willingly lays down His life for every single person who has lived, does live, or will live drags all to Himself. Don't think people need to be enticed, to be drawn, to be sold the cross. Christ crucified drags all people to Himself in 10,000 ways. Word and Sacrament are the Means but these Means are dispersed in countless ways. All whisper: "Come to Me. Here on the cross is salvation; here in the Crucified One is rescue from Death and Devil; here is real life."

But don't think, "All people need to do now is decide to come, choose to listen." No, watch "The Voice". The Voice is what causes the chairs to turn. That's the reason it sings. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Fifth Sunday in Lent (20210321); John 12:20-33