Where Eagles Dare
"Where Eagles Dare" is the title of a 1967 novel, a 1968 movie based on the novel, a 1979 punk song based on both, and 1983 heavy metal song. The last has the most to do with this sermon. Listening to it I get only every third word or so; I'm not sure what it's talking about. The symbol of St. John is an eagle because of how his Gospel soars to dizzying heights as in our text. The higher you are the more you can see, but do you? I will show you 3 things in this text you can see if you dare go where the eagle St. John does.
You can see to where wheat doesn't grow. "Where Corn Don't Grow" is the tile of a 1990s song about a teenager leaving the farm for the big city. He asks his dad doesn't he ever wonder what it's like where corn don't grow? In the end, the boy finds out what the father knew all along. There is a consequence of corn not growing. The weeds are high where corn don't grow. In our text, Jesus says there is a consequence if a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and doesn't die. It doesn't produce anything. The purpose of planting a kernel of wheat is so that it might die and produce 50 more. The glory of a kernel of wheat planted in the ground is in dying and producing a fruitful plant.
Of course Jesus isn't talking about a kernel or seed of wheat. He's talking about Himself. He speaks in response to Philip and Andrew saying Greeks have arrived wanting to see Him. Who is the Seed of the Woman? Jesus born of the Virgin Mary. Who is the Promised Seed of Abraham? Jesus. What Jesus has been saying plainly for over a year now, that He must die, He here says poetically. Jesus, the holy righteous One, was sent by the Father to die. To give His life as ransom for the sins of the world.
Do you see how high John is soaring here? You can see all the way to Eden and the Fall; all the way to Abraham being promised a Seed. You can see all the way to the end of the world. Remember from God's perspective once Jesus dies for the sins of all nothing more needs to happen for history to end. Eagle-eyed John can see it from here. Can you? John hears Jesus say, "Now is the time for the judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out." When the Seed was first promised, the Lord said the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head; here Jesus calls him "the prince of this world."
Eagles fly 2 3 miles high. That's where you find thunderheads. Was that thunder? How often have you asked, thought, or heard it asked? Why? Not because thunder is rare but because thunder indicates the presence of something else: lightening. Thunder is God's early warning system for lightening. No one has ever been struck or killed by thunder, only startled.
Was that thunder? We know that thunder is what some in the crowd thought the voice from heaven was. Others seem to say sarcastically "an angel had spoken to" Him. But the soaring eagle John is as high as a thundercloud and he knows it was no unintelligible angelic voice, let alone thunder. It was an audible, understandable voice. They could have heard it as clearly as you do. In response to Jesus prayer, "Father, glorify Your name!" the Father says, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again."
The Father clear as a bell connects the glory of Jesus that they had just witnessed on Palm Sunday with the days away goriness of the cross. The Son asks that the Father's name be glorified and the Father says He has and will do it again. One of Jesus' titles is Everlasting Father; the person who has seen Jesus has seen the Father. When the crowd shouted to Jesus "Save us now; blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord" the Father's name was glorified. And the Father's name will be glorified again when Jesus is stricken, smitten and afflicted, when He's mocked on the cross, when the Father abandons the Son to hell there.
The Father's name is glorified by the salvation, justification, and redemption of sinners. That takes the suffering, damning, and dying of the innocent Jesus. This is the teaching of the Old Testament; everyone who read it should have heard the Father saying the same thing the Son does on Easter. "It was necessary that Christ suffer to enter into His glory." But they understand glory like we do. Glory is when everything is going great. Glory is when everything looks good. Glory is when we're happy and the world is on our side. That is what happened on Palm Sunday, and the Father speaks directly from heaven to link that glory to the upcoming death of the Seed which looks anything but glorious.
Jesus says, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine," but at best they thought an angel had spoken to Him at worst they heard thunder roll. What do you hear? Eagle eyed John also has good hearing because He heard it clear enough to write it down. How about you? Sure you hear it. That's why you display Christ crucified more often than you do Christ riding on a donkey. That's why you glory in Good Friday rather than Palm Sunday. That's why you look for the real glory of God to be found in what men despise, turn away from, or think is plain and weak. You speak of His power made perfect in weakness; of the cross only being foolishness to those perishing; of hating the life of this world for the sake of keeping eternal life.
Where eagles dare to fly they can see for miles and miles. Can you see that big tent over there? John can. John, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit writes of Big Tent Christianity. You think that expression comes from politics, and it's true; that's where you hear a big tent spoken of most often. Liberals in general want to expand their party's tent to include as many special interest groups as they can. Conservatives in general don't want to have groups with conflicting political agendas under the same tent. You think the picture is from politics. I think it's from the Old Testament.
Isaiah 54:2-3 says, "Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left." This grand statement comes right after the well-known Isaiah 53 where Christ's sufferings on the cross 800 years before they happened are so vividly described. The point Isaiah 54 makes is He suffered so to make the tent so big.
You know how you can't see something or at least appreciate it till you see it from above? I think of those crop circles some would have you believe are evidence of alien visitors. In this text there is wonderful circle being drawn to a close that is evidence of a Visitor from another realm. You have to soar where eagles dare to see this circle. When Jesus was born Magi from the East came to see Him. Right before His death for the whole world Greeks from the West want to see Him. Can you see how big this tent is? It spreads from East to West, from North to South. No people are left out.
Jesus explicitly says something like this. He says, "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth [that is crucified] will draw all men to myself." However, Jesus doesn't say draw' but drag.' This is the word used for dragging dead weight, for beaching a ship, for dragging a net full of fish to shore. A crucified Jesus drags all men. None are more ready; none are more willing; none are more able to come than anyone else. In fact, none are ready, willing, or able to come at all. The crucified Christ drags every single person you can think of; He drags every single person an eagle can see from its dizzying heights. He even drags you.
But you're not ready. Neither was Nathanael. You're not able; neither was Zacchaeus. You're not willing; neither was Paul. But the pull of Christ crucified forgiving me of sins I think unforgivable is strong. The pull from His Blood that covers my sinfulness so completely that God Himself can't see it is magnetic. The tug of the promise of at last having peace with God is captivating. And the big tent has plenty of room.
You know the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is a conservative church body. I say this fully aware of her many lapses in discipline and her slip-sliding towards error. Still it is a conservative church body compared to the Methodist, Episcopalians, or Presbyterian, USA. But we are a big-tent church body. We do not think, never have thought, that only Lutherans or only Confessional Lutherans go to heaven.
What a small tent that would be! If we thought that, we would be duty bound to pull people out of other Christian churches into ours. We don't do that. We recognize that wherever the Means that produce saving faith the Gospel preached purely and the Sacraments administered according to Christ's institution exist - out to there extends the tent of salvation.
But you don't commune everyone. True, but that's not because we think there is no room in the tent for them, but because we believe God's truth is the poles, pegs, and ropes that hold up the tent. By admitting conflicting beliefs to communion together, you're at best saying you're not sure which are the real poles, pegs, and ropes holding up the tent and so you feel free to discard some. As everyone knows who has put up a tent, just one missing rope, peg, or pole can lead to it's collapse.
Closed Communion doesn't set the limits of who is saved but the limits of who should commune together. Only an eagle flying on the uplifted winds of the Spirit of God can see the whole tent of salvation. From these heights you see the tent pegs of the Holy Christian Church are set out as far as the arms of the cross of Christ. Think of that Salvador Dali painting where Christ Crucified hangs suspended above the earth. For whom did Christ die? For all. Whose sins were on His back? The world's. Whose sins did He finish paying for? Everyone's.
In Where Eagles Dare a man in desperation kills himself because he has no hope. From the heights John soars to we see that the Man who is God allows Himself to be betrayed and willingly dies so that we might have hope that "soars on wings like eagles." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fifth Sunday in Lent (20150322); John 12: 20-33