READ : John 12:32
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.
John 12:32 RSV
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Of all the claims that Jesus Christ made for Himself, this is surely one of the most astonishing. The wonder is not simply in the thought that He will dramatically influence the entire human race. Jesus says further that He will do that when He has been “lifted up from the earth.” In other words, He tells the crowd of His hearers in little subject Israel that He will one day win the world by being crucified!
That note of the unexpected, that mysterious combination of opposite things, was characteristic of Jesus’ teaching. The words I’ve just quoted are found in the Gospel according to John, chapter 12, verse 32. Moments earlier, He had said, “The hour has come for the Son of man [His favorite term for Himself] to be glorified.” Immediately following that is the mysterious reference to a corn of wheat falling into the ground to die, and by death, bearing much fruit. When we put those two ideas together, we see that Jesus’ hour to be glorified was also His hour to die.
Next, He says that His soul is troubled. A great sadness, a great foreboding, has come over Him. Yet strangely, He does not choose to be freed from what lies ahead. “No,” He says, “for this purpose I have come to this hour.” He feels the dread of what is coming upon Him, and yet embraces it as His mission. He lives in order to die.
His death, He further testifies, will mean the judgment of the whole world and the defeat of every evil power. Then come the amazing words we have just looked at: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” The writer of the Gospel follows up this saying with an explanatory comment, “He said this to show by what death he was to die.” Can you imagine it? All these momentous world-changing events will happen because Jesus of Nazareth is put to death on a cross.
Let’s look squarely at that claim. Can we take it seriously? Is there any truth to it? Will Jesus by dying bring the world at last to Himself?
THE WORLD REPELLED
It seemed likely at the time that His death would have precisely the opposite effect. His enemies conspired to kill Him, remember, because He was gaining such a large following. In this same context, for example, we read of what happened after Jesus had raised Lazarus from death. A great crowd went out from Jerusalem to meet Him because they had heard that He had done this sign. The authorities said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him!” It seemed that His mighty works and heart-stirring words were winning Him a host of followers. That, in the eyes of His enemies, could only mean trouble. “If we let him go on thus,” they complained, “everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”
But Caiaphas, the high priest that year, was ready with an answer: “You know nothing at all,” he scoffed. “You do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation should not perish.” The solution for Caiaphas was plain. Before everyone believed in this Jesus and the whole system of things was overturned, He had to be disposed of. So, we read, “from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death.” That, they were sure, would bring His popularity to an end.
Who could argue with that reasoning? It seemed to be borne out by what followed. When Jesus had been arrested and tried, His following simply melted away. When Pilate brought Him out to the crowd offering to release one prisoner on the feast day, no one asked for Him. They roared instead for Barabbas. “What then shall I do with Jesus?” Pilate asked. The crowd seemed to answer with one voice, “Crucify him!”
At His trial before the Sanhedrin, no one spoke in Jesus’ defense. When He was mocked by the soldiers and cruelly beaten, no one protested. When He carried His cross up Golgotha, no one apparently offered to help. And when at last He was strung up to die, He seemed to have lost His last friend. His disciples had fled into hiding. The curious crowd had started back to the city. Around Him were only mockers, tormentors, and soldiers callous to the death throes of one more troublemaker.
Who was drawn to Him then? A few sentimental women perhaps, weeping beneath the cross. A centurion, somehow touched by awe. And, O yes, that one condemned felon who had a last-minute change of heart. But what were they? A few “little people” noticing, while most of the world looked the other way.
And that’s only what we would expect, isn’t it? When people die, we simply bury them in the ground and forget about them. They don’t win followers then. They don’t shape history. They don’t change the world. They don’t do anything. They’re dead. How can Jesus, broken on the cross, breathing His last, draw the world to Himself?
THE WORLD DRAWN
But soon after He died, something very much like what He had predicted began to happen. His followers came forth from hiding and began to preach about Him boldly. Followers by the hundreds appeared out of nowhere. Less than two months later, three thousand people in Jerusalem submitted to baptism in His name. As word about Him spread, Jesus soon had disciples throughout Judea and in Samaria. The gospel fanned out to Antioch and Cyprus, from there into Asia Minor, over to Greece and onward to Rome. And you know the story since. Today people are being drawn to Jesus this very day in almost every nation on earth. The church that bears His name is a world-wide community. And multitudes of people who have never had anything to do with a Christian congregation yet find themselves fascinated, attracted, by the figure of Jesus.
Now that universal attraction is amazing in itself. But think of this also: What draws these multitudes, just as Jesus Himself promised, is the message of His death, the preaching of the Cross.
Remember how each of the Gospel writers emphasizes this? They pass over large tracts of Jesus’ life, giving us at best a rather skimpy biography, but they write in copious detail about the events surrounding His death. Paul the apostle said that He was determined not to feature anything in his preaching except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Peter and John were forever speaking of the death of their Lord and what it meant for the world.
Still today, it’s the tale of His dying that touches the consciences of people, melts their hearts, claims their lives. If the Book of the Revelation gives us true insight into the worship around God’s throne in heaven, it is as the crucified One that Jesus is there adored. We read of a Lamb “standing as though it had been slain” and the heavenly hosts singing:
Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, … Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! (Rev. 5:9-12)
All eyes there are upon the slain Lamb. All hearts are drawn to the crucified One.
It seems, friends, that the word of Jesus is being fulfilled. He is drawing people all over the world to Himself and He is doing it through the ministry of His dying. Has anything more strange ever happened? That Jesus’ shame should become His glory? That His defeat should be turned into victory? That His rejection by His own generation should become His resistless appeal to the ages? It has not been in spite of the crucifixion that He has accomplished His mission but somehow through it, because of it, by means of it.
All the strange things He said about His approaching end are finding fulfillment. The hour of His death becomes indeed the time when He is glorified. It is by dying that He, like the corn of wheat, bears fruit. By being judged He judges the world. He takes the worst done against Him by the powers of evil and makes it the occasion of His triumph over them. Then He draws the world to Himself.
THE SECRET OF THE CROSS’S POWER
How is that possible? Why does it happen in that way? Why has the Cross become God’s magnet? Here are two reasons: First, because the crucifixion brings the supreme revelation of God’s love. In the death of Jesus, sin appears as exceedingly sinful. So deep and tragic is our estrangement from God, our rebellion against His will, that when He comes to us in person, in a human life like ours, we will not suffer Him to live. We do not want Him. We reject Him. We nail Him to a cross. And there, against the background of that malignant evil, shines the wonder of grace. God comes in Christ to seek for and to save us. He takes the judgment we deserve upon His own heart and bears it in our place. He suffers in our stead. He dies for our sins. He is forsaken so that we may never need to be forsaken.
That is the magnetism of the Cross. It is the power of self-giving love, that vulnerable grace of God which is at the same time the mightiest force in the universe. He draws us with the strong cords of His suffering love.
But there’s another reason on which the first depends. Listen again to the words with which we began. Jesus says, “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” We haven’t noted yet the most peculiar feature of this promise. It’s plain that He’s talking about His death, but also about what He plans to do afterwards. When the terrible agony of crucifixion is over, when Jesus has cried, “It is finished” and commended His spirit to the Father, when He has breathed His last, been pierced with a spear, and buried in a borrowed tomb, then He will draw all men to Himself. What Jesus gives us here is a calm pledge of resurrection.
That, friends, is what explains everything else. How can He bear fruit after He dies? How can He, a dying victim, conquer the powers of evil? How can glory shine from His tomb? Because on the first Easter, the Lord of life was raised from death. He, the crucified One, is this day drawing people all over the world to Himself because He is alive. He is risen, as He said. He is reigning, never more to die. He is the One who has called His followers out of hiding and breathed into them His Spirit. He is the One who invites sinners through the music of the gospel to repent, believe and start for home. He is the One who stretches out His wounded hands to all the world and says, “Come.”
Let me ask you if the word we’ve thought about today has been fulfilled yet for you? Have you seen in Jesus’ dying the wonder of crucified love? Have you recognized that He gave Himself for you? And have you realized that He, the loving Savior, is gloriously alive today, offering you forgiveness and new life if you will receive Him with a believing heart? Oh, look toward Him now. Let the magnetism of His Cross draw you to repentance and faith.
Jesus has been lifted up from the earth – lifted up in death on a cross, raised up in glory by the Father. The great work of redemption has been done. May He this day draw you, too, to Himself!
PRAYER: O God, for this marvelous reality that Jesus, the crucified One, draws people all over the world, to believe in Him and follow Him, we praise You. May every person who shares this broadcast be drawn today to put his or her trust in the crucified and risen Savior. In Jesus’ name. Amen.