As Jesus draws near to Jerusalem for the last time, he does his greatest sign—the raising of Lazarus at Bethany (John 11:1-44). Jesus’ opponents, who have already tried to stone him (John 8:59; 10:31), decide that both Jesus and Lazarus must go. With his death looming, Jesus speaks about the cross in a paradoxical way. He uses what appears to be the language of exaltation, saying that he will be “lifted up” and draw all men to himself. Yet John makes clear in the follow-up note that this refers to the “lifting up” of the cross. Is this mere wordplay? Not at all. As Richard Bauckham points out, it is in the work of supreme self-sacrifice on the cross that Jesus fully reveals that he is indeed the exalted Son of God. “Because God is who God is in his gracious self-giving, God’s identity, we can say, is not simply revealed but enacted in the event of salvation for the world which the service and self-humiliation of his Son accomplishes.”
Jesus’ coming self-sacrifice would extract many forms of cost. It would cost him his death, of course, but also excruciating pain and thirst (John 19:28). It cost him the heartbreak of seeing his disciples (except John) desert him and his mother bereft of him (John 19:26-27). It cost him the shame of being misunderstood and wrongly blamed (John 18:19-24). These costs were unavoidable if he was to do the work God set before him. The world could not come into being without the work of Christ in the beginning. The world could not be restored to God’s intention without the work of Christ on the cross.
Our work may also call for costs that are not fair to us, but which cannot be avoided if we are to complete our work. Jesus worked to bring true life to others. To the extent that we use our work as a forum for self-glorification, we depart from the pattern set for us by the Lord Jesus. Is Jesus acknowledging that work performed for others has an unavoidable cost? Perhaps so. Doctors earn a good salary from healing people (at least in the modern West) yet suffer an unavoidable burden of pain from witnessing their patients’ suffering. Plumbers get an enviable hourly rate, but also get covered with excrement from time to time. Elected officials work for justice and prosperity for their citizens, but like Jesus, bear the sorrow of knowing, “you always have the poor with you” (John 12:8). In each of these professions, there might be ways to avoid suffering alongside others—minimizing interaction with unsedated patients; plumbing only in new, unsoiled houses; or hardening our hearts to the most vulnerable people in society. Would doing so be following the pattern of Jesus? Although we often speak of work as how you make your living, any compassionate worker also experiences work as how you break your heart. In this way, we work like Jesus.
R. Bauckham, God Crucified (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 68.