This sermon is the final installment in a sermon series titled “Drawing in, driving out”
Drawn to the Cross
Over the past five weeks we have been exploring the theme of drawing in and driving out, using as our foundation the verses from today’s reading where Jesus says, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
We’ve discussed the different ways in which God draws in and drives out. God drives out of us the desire for Caesarea Philippi, that desire for wealth, power, and success. God draws us down the road to Golgotha, urging us to give up our lives for the sake of the gospel. God drives out those things that distract us from a deeper relationship with God. God draws us in the way one lover entices another. God drives out the forces of sin and death that dominate this world. God draws us through the cross into new life.
Today, in this final sermon of the series, we focus on this last point: how God, in Christ Jesus, draws all people to himself through the cross.
The cross is the focal point in Mark’s gospel, and a key part of John’s. Through it, as Jesus says in today’s reading, the ruler of this world is kicked out and “all people” are drawn to Jesus. Remember that in John’s gospel, Jesus is primarily concerned with repairing the broken relationship between God and humanity. In drawing all people to himself through the cross, Jesus is effectively bringing humanity back to God.
So what is it about the cross that draws “all people” in? The word for “draw” in Greek is elko (ἕλκω) and it can also be translated as pull or drag. It is as though the cross has a sort of magnetic attraction. Which is a funny thing to say, isn’t it? What could possibly be attractive about an ancient form of torture and execution? Anyone who has seen the film The Passion of the Christ has at least the beginning of an understanding of what Jesus (and lots of other unfortunate people in Ancient Rome) suffered. What could be attractive about the cross?
Many have accused the Christian religion of being nothing more than a crutch for weak people. And much ink has been spilled by Christians arguing against this criticism. But I actually think the critics are right—more right than they realize. Christianity is a crutch for the weak. It is precisely because of our weakness that we need Jesus. A faithful Christian’s first act each and every day must be the humble acknowledgement of his or her own weakness and desperate need for Jesus.
One day, a couple years ago, I was sitting in a barber’s chair in New York. I did not know this barber. He did not know me. We talked for about ten minutes before he finally asked the inevitable question: “so what do you do for a living?” I don’t love this question for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that people always get weird when I tell them what I do. So for a brief moment I thought about copping out and telling him I help run a non-profit (which isn’t exactly a lie). But I thought better of it and decided to tell the whole truth: “I’m a pastor.”
There it was. That sudden change in the atmosphere that often comes when people learn my occupation. “Oh,” He said. I could almost see his mind churning as he thought back on everything he’d said in the last ten minutes, wondering if he’d offended me. I wonder what was really going on inside him because he suddenly seemed to feel like he had to start making apologies to me for his own lifestyle choices. I know pastors have a reputation of being extra judgmental, and I hope that I don’t fall into that category.
He said, “Cool. Cool. You know, I’m not really religious per se. But I do believe everyone should just try their best to be good to everyone else, you know?”
Well maybe I do fall into that extra-judgy category, because my gut immediately tightened in disagreement. I’ve heard this often enough before. But honestly I just wanted my haircut. So I said, “Yeah that would be great!” And we moved on to talking about the weather.
But I wish I would have said something different. What I wanted to say was this:
“Yeah that would be great! I think we all need to treat each other a whole lot better than we do. But tell me this: what happens if we fail to be good to each other? What happens if we get to the end of our lives and suddenly realize that we haven’t been good to people, or as good as we would like? What then? What happens when you inevitably come up against your failure to be the person you want to be. Because the reality of life is that you will fail.”
I wonder what he would have said to that. I suppose he might have said something like, “well then you just keep trying!” While that’s optimistic, I think it still leads to the same problem. What happens if you keep trying and you keep failing? What happens when you find you’re not nearly as strong as you thought you were? What happens when you realize you’re not nearly as good as you thought you were?
This to me is what is so attractive about the cross. It’s the reason I became a Lutheran. The cross is the symbol of complete and utter failure. Crucifixion is the ultimate end for screw-ups, lowlifes, and scoundrels; and it is how Jesus, God incarnate, is murdered. By all appearances at the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus is a compete and utter failure.
The cross is so attractive because it shows us that our God does not value wisdom or strength, but foolishness and weakness. Our God is not a God of the people who have it all together, but a God of the struggling. God’s heart is for those who just can’t seem to get it right. God loves the people who have come up against their own failures. God is for the people who tried really hard to be good to others but failed at it anyway.
In his crucifixion, Jesus takes on all of our weakness and failure. The cross doesn’t take away our weakness; but it does redeem our weakness. The cross shows us that we are not measured by our striving, straining, or strength. Our value is not in anything we could do, but in what God has done for us. When Jesus says that he will draw all people to himself, he’s not exaggerating. In the cross, Jesus draws the weakness of all people to himself and bears that weakness upon his shoulders.
So is Christianity a crutch? You bet it is! And more than a crutch. It is life itself. Without Jesus, we will only be measured by the sum of our best actions—which at the end of the day, won’t amount to much.
By the cross Jesus draws “all people” to himself. And through the cross we can see beyond our weakness to our strength which lies not in ourselves, but completely in God, who is driving out death and drawing us to new life.
Throughout this sermon I have been quoting our scripture translation which says that Jesus will draw “all people” to himself. But that translation takes some liberties. That word for “all people” is pan (παν) and it simply means “all” or “every”. While it’s true that Jesus will draw all people to himself, he doesn’t stop there—he is also drawing all things, everything, all of creation to himself.
One of my favorite verses in scripture is Colossians 1:17 which reads, “In him all things hold together.” The word there for “all things” is pan (παν) again. There is this sense in the scriptures that Jesus has come to save not just humanity but all of creation. Paul says that, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world”; the word for “the world” in Greek doesn’t just mean humanity, but “the universe” or “ the cosmos” or “everything”.
God’s plan for salvation is expansive. It encompasses all of creation, from you and me to the trees and the rocks to the cattle and the wild beasts to the mountains and the rain. Through Christ the whole creation is being redeemed.
We draw now to the end of our Lenten road. Ahead lies Holy Week, that time when we remember the events of Christ’s suffering and death. As we step into Holy Week, remember this: that by the cross of Christ, God drives out all the forces in the world that would stand in the way of our relationship with God; and God draws us into God’s deep and everlasting love.
The cross of Christ means new life for all things.