I’m going to show you what is unquestionably, indisputably, and with no near rival, the greatest movie clip of all time. Are you ready? Here it goes:

“I’m the wild man, Jon Favreau! It’s me!” Doesn’t seeing that want to make you chant, “RUDY! RUDY! RUDY! RUDY!” as I preach today? No?

As the movie fades out with Daniel ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger being hoisted up onto the shoulders of his teammates and taken into the locker room, we’re told, “Since 1975, no other Notre Dame player has been carried off the field.”

Could there be any more glorious moment for Rudy than being lifted up and carried off the field? There could be no greater height, no higher exaltation of a boy who had dreamed his whole life of playing football for Notre Dame than being lifted up and carried off the field in such a fashion. He had reached his goal; this was the apex of his life.

I’m going to name a few ideas and I want you to hear the words, let them sink in, and see what images come to your mind when you hear them:

  • Exalted
  • Honored
  • Glorified
  • Lifted up
  • The hour has come

What images come to your mind? Something like Rudy being hoisted and carried off the field in celebration? Something of praise and bowing before a powerful monarch? The enthronement of a king or a queen with all the images of beauty – gold, crown jewels, robes, crown? Likely these are the sorts of images that enter our minds and we get goose bumps because of the grandeur of it all, our hearts race with excitement, and there’s a sort of ecstasy about just how awesome this moment is!

The thing is that while we have these same words in John’s record (12:20-36) of this interaction with Jesus – exalted, honored, glorified, lifted up, the hour has come – it somehow lacks the grandiose excitement that we might expect from such talk. In fact, we get exactly the opposite! Perhaps we could expect some nervous jitters on the eve of some great occasion, like a wedding celebration, a championship game, something like an inauguration or an enthronement ceremony. But what Jesus expresses is of another quality altogether!

He says, “Now my soul is troubled.” Troubled, Jesus? Yes, “troubled!” The Word made flesh, the one turned water into wine, who fed multitudes, who opened blind eyes and raised Lazarus to life: he was troubled. I mean deeply troubled, troubled right down in his heart.

Let me ask you: Is your picture of God big enough for that? That Jesus is really and deeply troubled that he’s about to die? Or (as NT Wright once asked), “When God speaks, do you just think it’s thundering?”

Jesus is troubled because in his exaltation, his enthronement, his being glorified, his “being lifted up” he knows that it is not like being carried off the field at a football game in celebration; he knows that it will not be by the sitting on a throne and being a given a crown of gold, but of thorns that he is enthroned as king; he knows that he will not be receiving a royal robe, but will be mocked with a false robe and then stripped naked of it in an attempt to shame him; he knows that the cries that said two days ago, “Hosanna! This is our King!” will be exchanged for a sign from the empire that says, “This is what we do to kings! Here is your King!”

Yes, we know that Friday is not the end of the story – Thanks be to God! But the exaltation, the “being lifted up” is about the torturous enthronement of Jesus on the cross. And John, so that we wouldn’t miss Jesus’ point, lets us know that when Jesus says ‘lifted up,’ he is not talking about the ascension but is rather, as verse 33, tells us: “He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”

Jesus had said, “Now is the judgment of this world! Now the world’s ruler is going to be thrown out!” That was the sort of talk people were expecting. That’s what you expected to hear from a would-be Messiah. It sounds like the beginning of the battle cry and so would begin this ‘kingdom’ Jesus had been talking about. The next thing you knew, he’d be telling you to sharpen your sword and help him attack the Roman soldiers throughout Jerusalem.

But wait! Jesus wasn’t that sort of Messiah. He came to bring a victory alright, but the victory would come through a very peculiar and unexpected means. It would come through his being ‘lifted up,’ exalted – on a pole, like the serpent in the wilderness in the book of Numbers, which was the source of healing and deliverance from the poison that had infiltrated the people of God.

A serpent lifted up on a pole, as the means of healing for the people of God - see Numbers 21 (photo credit: cathnews.com)

A serpent lifted up on a pole, as the means of healing for the people of God – see Numbers 21 (photo credit: cathnews.com)

Through an exaltation on a Roman cross: that’s how the world would be rescued. However odd that is to us, and really it should be so long as we’re thinking in worldly paradigms, that’s how God, the true God, the God of astonishing, generous love, would be glorified. Not through swords. But through self-sacrificial love. That is how Jesus glorifies God and is glorified by God.

And so the invitation goes to his followers to embody this self-sacrificial love, to know that being exalted is NOT about getting a gold crown and (…this one might get me in trouble…) NOT about getting a ‘mansion over the hilltop.’ The glory of God is displayed when we take up the cross. If that ‘troubles’ you deeply, then know this: you’re in good company. So let us have the faith and hope that believes that God will raise us on the other side of the cross just as he raised Jesus. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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