Psalm 119:9 - 16
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
“I, when I am lifted up from the earth,
will draw all people to myself.”
There are times when it’s really important to use precise language, to avoid misunderstandings.
For instance, if your friend tells you, “I may get suspended, or I may be hanged,” it would be good to understand the difference between the two.
The expression “I may get suspended” uses words with similar meanings to the words, “I may be hanged,” but for those who understand, it makes a big difference !
The same is true for “I got held up” versus “I’ve had an uplifting experience.” (!)
In John chapter 12, Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover festival. Just a few days before, Jesus had brought Lazarus to life after he’d been dead for four days. Jesus was now a celebrity ! He had power to raise the dead !
The religious leaders of Jesus’ own people were already looking for a way to have him killed, to stop the “Jesus movement.” (John 11:46-57)
Jesus knew very well that the people in power wanted to “string him up,” but he also knew that his Father had a different kind of “uplifting” plan for him !
So when Jesus, the man who could raise the dead, came riding into the holy city surrounded by great crowds preparing for the Jewish Passover, the tension was high: would he be exalted or would he be nailed ?
The moment of truth came when a group of Gentiles, that is, non-Jews who were in Jerusalem to experience the Jewish Passover festival, came to Jesus’ disciple Philip to make an appointment to meet the great celebrity. Perhaps they chose to approach Philip because he had a Greek name; maybe he dressed and behaved like a Galilean rather than a Judean (a native of the Jerusalem region)— more like a Greek than like a stereotypical Hebrew.
When Jesus got word that foreigners—non-Jews—Greeks— wanted to get involved in his movement, that’s when he uttered that strange pronouncement: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”
In the Greek language as in English, there is a sort of pun, a play on words, between the notion of “hang him high” and “give him the top spot.”
But it’s more a matter of wonderment, of disorientation, of radical confusion, to try to grasp how Jesus fused the two opposing concepts into one. Somehow— God only knows how— Jesus would get crucified and also be glorified. The very act of getting killed was also what vaulted Jesus to where we can recognize him as the “only-begotten Son” whom God gave to save all of us.
Please notice that Jesus wanted to attract all people to his salvation. Even though he and his earthly family and disciples (at that point) were Jewish, he felt an “uplift” of glory when word came that Gentiles were also interested in following him.
Jesus reached out to all of humanity, and he calls us to reach out to all humanity, too.
Patrick of Ireland heard that call. The legend of his life illustrates how a person can leave behind his “comfort zone” to approach foreigners and even enemies, for Christ’s sake.
The story goes, Irish raiders captured the teen-aged Patrick from his home in the Isle of Britain. In Ireland, he slaved for cruel Irish masters. It was during his time as a slave that Patrick began to be serious about his own Christian faith. After seven years of slavery, he was able to escape and make his way back to Britain. But his real adventure was just getting started: he felt God’s call on his life and became a priest. Then he felt that God was calling him to return to Ireland— the same place where he had suffered as a slave— to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity.
By the grace of God, Patrick was able to forgive the people who had enslaved him and abused him: he came to see them as his brothers and sisters in God’s love. Patrick and other early Christian missionaries to Ireland lived as friendly neighbors among the native Irish, daily demonstrating their faith through their kindness, honesty, and holy living… rather than ‘preaching at’ their audience. Today’s formula for their approach goes something like this: Make a friend; be a friend; lead your friend to Christ. The missionaries’ ‘Celtic method of evangelism’ succeeded, and Ireland’s devotion to Jesus stood as a beacon of hope to the world during the “dark ages” of Europe, for hundreds of years afterward.