“We would like to see Jesus.”
These Greeks come up to Philip and ask to see Jesus (v20).
Imagine being with these Greeks, those outside the promises of Israel, aliens or foreigners. And we hear strange stories about this Jesus who some people say is the long awaited Messiah. But he isn’t a Messiah like a lot of the Jews expect there’s no aggressiveness in his message about the kingdom of his Father. And we want to see him because we see him spending time with people like us – outsiders. We hear that his kingdom might just have room for those like us, those outside Abraham’s line.
We hear this and there is a ‘hiraeth’ deep inside us but at the same time there is a feeling that this might be too good to be true. We’re hungry. We’re thirsty. We long for the bread of life—bread that truly satisfies. To see him. To see his face. What an encounter and we are reminded of the words of St. Augustine – “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee” We long to know the eternal love of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We long for the Son of Man to come in all his glory.
So, there we are, with the Greeks, and we find the courage, the faith, to approach one of Jesus’ friends: Philip. And we ask him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Do we want to see Jesus today? Why? Think about it: why do you want to see him? “Do you love Jesus?” “Do you know Jesus?” But a question that unsettles us where we’re at: Why do you want to see Jesus?
If we read John’s gospel up until this point, we find ourselves alongside these Greeks, as they experience the wonders of this Jesus: At a wedding, Jesus changes water into really good wine; we see him clear the Temple courts; we see Jesus spend time talking with Samaritan women, outsiders, those who are marginalised; He even crosses the boundaries between friend and enemy when he heals the child of a powerful Roman official; He heals a crippled man at the pools of Bethesda; And he feeds the multitudes with 5 loaves and 2 fish. And, let’s not forget, he raises Lazarus from the dead!
Who is this man, this Jesus? Could he really be the long awaited Messiah? That’s the expectation that John keeps building as we come to our passage for this morning. We want to see him because he is the Messiah. He is the one who will set God’s people free from foreigners, Rome, free from the prince of this world, and lead the people into eternal life. This is the king, the Messiah, who will triumph over all the enemies.
When Jesus enters Jerusalem and the crowds run out to meet him, what do they see? Their long-awaited Messiah? Jerusalem will finally fall from the control of Rome. They say, “Blessed is the King of Israel!” just a few verses previous we have John 12:15 where we read, “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt” These are taken from Zechariah in the Old Testament.
Can you feel the anticipation? The time has come. It’s game on. And the people explode with excitement on the street shouting, waving palm branches. Their enemies will be destroyed, and all the nations will come to Jerusalem to sing their praises to the God of Israel. This will be heaven on earth. Don’t you just long for that.
Is this why you want to see Jesus? Is that what you want to see? A Jesus ready for battle, armed and dangerous, prepared to take down the enemies of God. A Jesus that looks like something out of one of the Die Hard films, pumped up ready for action. Sometimes when I look at all that is happening in our world today I want a quick fix Jesus to deal with the wars, the corrupt politicians, those who delight in harming others. The list could go on.
Jesus answers the cries of the people. He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (v23). The time is now. Here he is—ready to conquer these times of darkness with his glorious light. Towards the end of the passage Jesus says, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (v31). The people are ready to rise up and join their Messiah in battle against Rome. The sense of relief.at the thought of Jesus being victorious over pain and death and suffering that is just so amazing.
Then, in the middle of all that joy, Jesus says something that is just so radical, so not expected. He in a sense slams the brakes on the celebration. He says, ‘I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The person who loves his life will lose it, while the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me. (vv24-26). Is this the one we have come to see? Is this the Messiah we have been waiting for?
And so we realise there’s not going to be a grand crowning ceremony after his triumphant entry. Instead he is led outside the city walls to die nailed to a cross with a crown of thorns on his head. How can this be seen as a victory? How can God be glorified in all this? Jesus said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (v23).
When we come to see Jesus what do we expect to see? What do we expect hear him say?
The reality of what we do see and hear is just so unexpected because you see the good news Jesus speaks about is just so different to the full on battle we want to see. We struggle to understand it or even accept it.
But as we come, as we see this Jesus, not enthroned on a throne in some palace but instead see him hanging on a cross. As it this wasn’t a bad enough, he tells us that we can’t go back to the way things were. We can sit in our comfy homes reading about the horrors that are happening outside our front doors without engaging with it. We can’t spend time searching the Scriptures for answers to the world’s problems without ever leaving our comfort zones: “The one who loves his life will lose it, while the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will be” (v26).
As the Greeks said, “We want to see Jesus.” Do you want to see him? I know I want to. But with that comes the realization of the cost. That cost is our lives. We will have to walk the road he walks. That road led him to the cross. But as we allow Christ to reign in our hearts and lives, trusting that he will lead us in his ways, we may come to see that the road we travel on through the darkness of present circumstances will actually be lit by a river of life and light through the resurrected Christ. We can only know the hope of this eternal life by joining those others who have given up their own dreams for life, their own expectations of a good life, for the sake of the cross. Do you still want to see Jesus? Are you ready to walk in His ways? Are you ready to build heaven here on earth, in Jesus’ name? Amen