The Jesus we Get

 

March 18, 2018 (The Fifth Sunday of Lent)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 51:1-12

John 12:20-33

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

 

12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.  (John 12:20-33, NRSV)

 

Let us Pray: God of the covenant, in the horror of the cross your Son embraced the power of death and broke its hold over your people. In this time of repentance, draw all people to you, so that we may put aside the deeds of death and accept the life of your kingdom. Amen.

 

Over the past four weeks we have been traveling with Jesus on his way to Jerusalem.   Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, we will enter the holy city with palms and songs and shouts of Hosanna, but that is next week.  Today, we take a break from our travels, and we are invited to consider some deep theological matters. We are invited to consider the very foundation of the Christian Faith.  The death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

Our story plays out like this…

 

Jesus has recently raised Lazarus from the dead.  And life was seemingly getting back to normal (if life can ever be normal after somebody is raised from the dead?).  The religious leaders were hoping that the focus would turn from Jesus on to the upcoming feast of Passover.  However, even that greatest of festivals could not squelch the buzz surrounding Jesus.  The buzz was growing and so were the crowds of followers, and this had the religious leaders worried.  There worries are confirmed as some Greeks want to see Jesus.

 

Clearly, the word had spread beyond the region about this miraculous teacher, named Jesus.  Remember, he had turned water into wine, he restored sight to a blind man, and now he raised a man who had been dead for four days back to life.   So, this group of inquisitive Greeks want to see what all the fuss was about.

 

It is important to note, that the Gospel writer John, has an agenda that is very different than the other Gospels.  John is telling us so much more than just the facts, it is as if he is writing a riddle for us to figure out.  For example, John is using the term “Greeks” here to mean, much more than where these people came from.  He is using this term to mean the whole world, everyone outside of the Jewish world.  So, as we unpack this story keep in mind that John is talking about the expansion of the faith to the ends of the earth, not just to this group of people from Greece.  This buzz about Jesus and his growing popularity was making the religious leaders very worried.

 

However, that is not the only worry that is afflicting them.   They were also concerned about the Roman Government getting wind of Jesus and his followers.  If the Roman Government sees Jesus as a threat then they would send the army to strip the religious leaders of their authority, destroy their temple and divide their nation.[1]  Their worst fears are confirmed when the crowds who had been at Lazarus’ tomb begin to tell others and the buzz quickly spread to the Greeks.[2]

 

Greeks, are known from being inquisitive people, so they want to see Jesus for themselves.  They approach the disciple Philip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” It seems like a simple, straightforward request, right?  We wish to see Jesus.[3]

 

It is like these Greeks are representative of those of us who are open to a sense of mystery, curious about the divine, wonder about God and the spiritual life…but have not found the traditions of the church to be very helpful.  Notice they don’t come to Philip and ask him for information about Jesus.  They don’t inquire about a new member’s class or ask to join a committee.  They don’t request a statement of beliefs before joining. They simply want to see Jesus.  To really see him, person to person, face to face, to experience him for themselves.[4]

 

Jesus responds with one of those famous non-sequiturs that John is known for: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  Then Jesus uses, a metaphor of a single kernel of wheat dying and bearing fruit.  A nonsensical response. Why not just introduce himself and say hello?

 

Then Jesus continues with another one of those Johannian monologues: this time a string of images about life, service and glory.

 

The key in John’s Gospel is “seeing” is much more than visual sight.  For John, people who truly see, recognize the truth that is elusive for so many of us. Those who see in John’s Gospel believe.  Those who see in John’s Gospel recognize the connection between Jesus and the Father.  Those who see Jesus in John’s Gospel know who Jesus really is and follow.  But what Jesus says – his talk of the grain falling to the ground and dying to bear fruit, his declaration about being raised up, his call again to choose light over darkness – invites the Greeks, the Jews, the disciples and the entire world, to consider what “seeing” him really means.

 

Seeing Jesus, in John’s sense of seeing, is believing, following, serving, dying to an old life and being raised to a new one.

 

We don’t know whether these Greeks get to see Jesus, John doesn’t tell us.   However, their question sets in motion Jesus turn to Jerusalem and the cross.

 

What John is very clear about, however, is the kind of Jesus they – and we – will see if we really look.  Because upon hearing this request, Jesus immediately looks ahead to the cross. The hour he speaks about, the glory he prays for, the fulfillment of his mission and destiny he anticipates – all leads to the cross.  Jesus is focused and committed to making the rest of the journey to his death, his death on the cross.

 

This is Jesus mission statement.  This is the point of following Jesus that we might be drawn more deeply to him through our love, our service, and our sacrifice for our neighbors around us.  And he invites those who would follow him to the very same kind of life and love.

 

Is this the Jesus this group of Greeks really want to see?  The Jesus headed to the cross. The vulnerable, giving, loving Jesus?  Is it the Jesus we want to see?  I imagine not.  But it is the Jesus we get!   The Jesus we get is the Jesus who is raised again on the third day to demonstrate that love is more powerful than hate and life more powerful than death.   He died to show us that there is nothing in all of life or death to be afraid of, for when he died and was lifted up he drew all people to himself.[5]

 

I have often thought there should be a sign outside the door of the sanctuary saying, “We wish to see Jesus,” causing each of us to pause before we enter for worship, to take a deep breath, and get ready to really see, see Jesus, and to be willing and ready to be transformed into the followers of Christ he wants us to be.  We wish to see Jesus…

 

Let us pray:

 

[1] Reverend Dr. Audrey West, (John 11:45-48), https://www.workingpreacher.org/profile/default.aspx?uid=2-west

[2] Reverend Dr. Audrey West, (John 12:19), https://www.workingpreacher.org/profile/default.aspx?uid=2-west

[3] Reverend Jill Duffield, John 12:20-33 (34-36) – Presbyterian Outlook March 18, 2018 for the 5th Sunday in Lent

[4] Reverend Dr. David Lose, http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/davidlose/IsqE/~3/vU8KNA2q1hs/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email

[5] Reverend Dr. David Lose, http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/davidlose/IsqE/~3/vU8KNA2q1hs/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email