Drawn to Christ

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 12:32

“. . . and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show by what death he was to die.

John 12:32,33 rsv

It was during the last week of His life. Jesus had been told by friends that some Gentiles were seeking Him. That seemed to be a clue to Him, a signal that His death was very near. He had this to say about it: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Then the evangelist John, commenting on these words here in the twelfth chapter of his Gospel, adds: “He said this to show by what death he was to die.”

HE KNEW HOW HE WOULD DIE

Have you ever thought about that, that Jesus knew how He would die? It’s clear to anyone who reads the Gospels carefully that He often thought of His approaching death. He spoke cryptically of a time when He would be taken away from His disciples, of a cup He had to drink, a baptism with which He must be baptized. He told His disciples plainly on more than one occasion that He must go to Jerusalem and there be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed. He, the Son of Man, had come not to be ministered unto, He said, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many. He spoke of His body which was to be broken and His blood which was to be poured out on behalf of His people. He presented Himself as the Good Shepherd who gives His life for His sheep.

No one who takes His teaching seriously could ever imagine then that death took Him by surprise, that He was the victim of unexpected circumstances that drove Him to His end. He seemed to march toward it deliberately as a path which His Father had given Him to walk. He even said on one occasion that no one would take His life from Him, that He would lay it down of Himself. As He made His way to Jerusalem, He knew that He would be killed and that the time for that was imminent.

But John’s Gospel here tells us something more. And that is that He knew how He would die. Apparently He had known this for some time. Remember how He had said early in His ministry, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Remember how He said later to some who challenged Him, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am He” (John 8:28). Now John tells us that this idea of lifting up, of being raised above the earth, was a clear pointer to crucifixion.

In the ancient world, when a victim was crucified, usually a criminal or a revolutionary, or a run-away slave, he was first tied or nailed to a crossbar. Then the trunk of the cross was dropped into a hole dug for the purpose, suspending the crucified man above the earth. That’s why to Jews this form of death was regarded as especially abhorrent. It was viewed as a form of hanging and anyone hung upon a tree was considered to be under the curse of Almighty God.

Jesus knew that this would happen to Him. We don’t know when that awareness dawned upon Him. Perhaps in His visits to Jerusalem as a boy, He had witnessed more than once the horror of crucifixion. At some point in His life, perhaps when He was very young, He began to understand His mission as the suffering servant of the Lord. Perhaps when He read Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22, the image of crucifixion was borne in upon His mind. But whenever the realization may have become clear, during His public ministry He had no doubt about it. As we’ve seen, He predicted repeatedly that the Son of man would be “lifted up.” Jesus would suffer death (He knew it) on a cross.

Dwell on that for a moment, that Jesus knew this all along. When He called the disciples, when He taught the Beatitudes, when He celebrated with His friends, when He reached out lovingly to the broken and despised, He was aware all the time that one day He would be tortured, rejected, despised, hung up as a public spectacle. It must have taken enormous courage for a person to face crucifixion at all. But imagine living each day knowing that was ahead for you and still being so free, as He was, to love, to serve, to rejoice in the Father’s care. That was the inner story of Jesus’ life.

SHAME AND GLORY

Now here is something else that Jesus knew about His death, and this is just as remarkable. He knew that His agonizing, shameful, humiliating death would be at the same time glorious. The Greek verb used in this passage, “to be lifted up,” can mean both a physical elevation and also a kind of exalting. It can mean to be raised above the earth in a spatial sense but also to be lifted up to prominence and praise. Jesus knew that His crucifixion would somehow involve both.

When He heard from His disciples that the Greeks wanted to see Him, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified” (John 12:23). Note that phrase, “The hour has come.” That was the expression He used repeatedly for the climactic moment of His ministry, for the end toward which He was hastening. And now He describes it as the time when He will be glorified.

Imagine that! To everyone else in the ancient world, crucifixion was the most dreadful, debasing thing that could ever happen to a human being. Even among Romans, celebrated for their enjoyment of cruelties, the very word cross was carefully avoided in common speech. It was absolutely unthinkable, unimaginable to them that any Roman citizen would ever be subjected to such a detestable fate. This was reserved for the vilest and the worst of criminals, for the most dangerous and deadly enemies of the state, for incorrigibles that were a menace to society. The idea behind this form of execution was not only to inflict pain – long, drawn-out terrible agony. It surely did that. But even more prominent was the objective of public disgrace. A human being was impaled on a cross often naked, sometimes head downward. He was there to be ogled at, stared at, vulnerable to wild beasts and to circling birds of prey. Crucifixion represented the most terrible shame and ignominy that anyone in the ancient world could conceive.

But Jesus said – think about it – that this would be His glory. This would be something at which people would one day admire, even adore. His cross would be like a throne, He imagines, from which He would reign and receive tribute.

How ludicrous that would have seemed to the soldiers who nailed the spikes in His hands and feet! How His enemies would have hooted and jeered at the thought when they stood beneath the cross mocking Him! “He trusts in God,” they sneered. “Let God deliver Him now if He desires Him.” They might have shouted in derision, This is Your glory, Jesus. Now You’re on top of the world!

But think of what has happened since. People erect crosses on beautiful churches. They wear crosses of gold around their necks and on their lapels. The Red Cross is one of the most admired agencies in all the world. Multitudes sing, as Jesus somehow knew they would, “In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time; all the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.” Jesus has taken the ugliest symbol of crime, shame and wretchedness and made it strangely beautiful. And there are many in the world today for whom merely the thought of Jesus dying on that cross awakens wonder, love and praise. Isn’t that marvelous? His deepest shame was also His highest glory. And He knew it would be so.

MAGNETIC POWER

Here’s one more thing that He knew about His dying on a cross. Listen: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Jesus knew what would happen after He had died in this way and because He had died in this way. He would exercise a drawing power on all the world.

Most people don’t think of their death as part of their lifework, do they? It’s rather what brings down the curtain on the whole performance. Their death does not vastly expand their influence. It rather signals the end of it. Loved ones may remember them, of course, for a while. Colleagues may appreciate and be molded by what they have done. But that effect for the most part declines rather than grows with the passing of time. For the great mass of mankind, death means that after a generation or so they will be almost totally forgotten. But here Jesus foresees a worldwide influence, a universal attraction, that will persist and grow. His death, He says, will yet bring the world to Him.

But the claim goes even beyond that. Jesus is not simply saying that the fact of His dying or the story of it will produce these results. He says that He will bring them about. “I will draw all men to myself.” How many people talk about what they plan to do after they die? That’s what Jesus is doing here. He’s saying that after His life is cruelly snatched away, He will exercise a power greater by far than had ever been witnessed during His life. It’s not only a claim that He’ll survive death, a calm confidence in resurrection. It’s a claim that His dying on that cross will be the means by which He shapes our history and governs our destiny.

The peculiar power by which He will do this, He claims, is the magnetism of His Cross. Can’t you see the truth of that in our world today? What attracts people to Jesus Christ? What binds them to Him with the strongest of all cords? Isn’t it His Cross? I think of a great British missionary who once said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” It’s love that draws people, isn’t it? We can be driven by all kinds of forces, but only love can draw us. Why was Paul such a tirelessly, passionately devoted disciple of Jesus? Because this melody kept playing over and over again in his soul, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” The sight of Christ, crucified for us, dying for our sakes, is the most powerful magnetic force on this planet.

It becomes that, of course, only for those who grasp what the Cross means. If Jesus is just another man and His dying is just another crucifixion, then such influence is inconceivable. But if He is the Lord from heaven, if His death is something He willingly endured to save us from our sins and miseries, then nothing can withstand the power of that death to draw us to Him.

Jesus draws people still through the word of His gospel, through the ministry of His servants, through the power of His Holy Spirit. All of those focus on the great redeeming deed He did when He died for us. That’s what the gospel is about. That’s the great theme of our preaching. To that the Holy Spirit is continually pointing us. “Christ died for our sins.” “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.”

Do you sense in your life today the magnetic attraction of this crucified One? Do you realize that He, the Lord of glory, did that for you, suffered that for you, because He loves you? Have you seen there the rich grace of God reaching out to forgive and release you, to give you a new start and a new heart? Let me invite you today to put your whole trust in the One who for your sake walked unflinchingly toward that cross, who made it into a glorious throne and who lives today as Lord over all. Oh, turn toward Him in repentance. Draw near to Him in faith and prayer. Grapple your heart to Him in a devotion that will never die. Oh, let it be true for you and me that He, being lifted up, will draw us to Himself.