Text: John 12:20-33
Theme: We Get To See Jesus
If you could meet anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be? That was the question I posed to St. Matthew’s kindergarten class a couple weeks ago, and I received some very interesting answers. Some students wanted to meet Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Others must be diehard Packer fans because they chose Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson (after what happened last week that student might want to change his answer). Just to give you a feel for the broad spectrum of responses, one girl said Justin Bieber and her classmate said George Washington.
Out of all the students in the class, it was the last one who gave me the answer I was waiting (and hoping) for. With a great big smile on his face, he said: “I want to meet God.” As far as I know his family isn’t Greek, but that little boy made a statement very similar to some God-fearing Greeks in our text for today.
They had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover along with thousands of others Jewish pilgrims, but that was not the only reason they made the journey. Sometime during Holy Week they approached Philip with this request: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus” (21).
Have you have ever wondered what that would be like? What would it be like to see Jesus with your own eyes? What would it be like to talk to Jesus face-to-face? Someday we will know how it feels to stand before our Savior. On Judgment Day everyone will see Jesus when he descends from the clouds. And when he comes back he will take you and me and all believers to live with him forever.
Yes, we will see Jesus in heaven, but we don’t have to wait until the Last Day to get a glimpse. We see Jesus whenever we enter God’s house. We see Jesus every time we study God’s Word, and that includes today. A sermon is more than a twenty minute spiritual lecture. The purpose of a sermon is not just to give comfort and encouragement. When we open our Bibles, when we meditate on God’s Word, when we hear and believe and apply that Word, we get to see Jesus. And in today’s text from John 12…
WE GET TO SEE JESUS
1. Embracing his mission
2. Embracing all nations
The request made by those God-fearing Greeks was simple and straightforward, but what happened next was not. For whatever reason, Philip felt the need to consult Andrew. After the two disciples talked it over, they decided to tell Jesus. And this was his response: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (23).
I am guessing that Andrew and Philip were expecting a simple “Yes” or “No” answer. It would have made sense for Jesus to say, “Tell them I will meet with them tomorrow,” or “I’m sorry, but I don’t have time.” Even though it might look like the Lord was ignoring them, he wasn’t. The Greeks faded into the crowd (we don’t hear about them again), but their request gave Jesus an opportunity to speak about his mission.
“My time has not yet come” was a familiar phrase used by Jesus during his ministry. But now the situation was different. His time had come. The hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified, which brings to mind images of Jesus sitting on a throne, wearing bright white robes, ruling over all things. Those things would eventually come, but not yet. The glorification process for Jesus would end in heaven, but according to Jesus it would begin already on earth.
Jesus continued: “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” (24). It was not unusual for Jesus to refer to himself using figurative language. In other places in John he calls himself the Gate, the Good Shepherd, the Vine, the Bread of Life. Here the Lord describes himself as a single seed. Seeds are small. Seeds appear to be rather insignificant, but when they die, when they are planted in the soil, they produce many seeds.
The parallel is obvious. The point of this little parable is clear. Jesus was about to die. Within a few days Jesus’ dead body would be planted in the ground. But we know how that death created new life. The death of the Seed of the woman has given spiritual life to thousands, millions, even billions of blood-bought souls.
Good Friday was good for you and me, but it wasn’t so good for Jesus. The death he died was painful and shameful, and what made it even more difficult for Jesus was that he knew ahead of time exactly how painful and shameful it would be. Jesus was fully human, and as a human being he was willing to admit that he was struggling. He said: “My heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (27-28)!
For just a moment, try to imagine the pressure Jesus was under. Crowds of people were coming at him from every direction. Many came for healing. A few were attracted by his teachings. Some wanted to crown him. Others wanted to kill him. Day after day they came to him, and the line never got any shorter. And all the while only Jesus knew how it would end. Only Jesus knew how he would die. And he didn’t have to. He could have left a world full of sinners to fend for themselves. He could have left us to die for our own sins. But he didn’t. Instead of abandoning his people, instead of aborting his mission, he embraced it. And we are (literally) eternally grateful that he did.
Jesus’ primary mission on earth was to live a perfect life and die a sacrificial death on the cross to rescue the world from sin, and three days later rise from the dead to declare in no uncertain terms: “Mission accomplished!” But Jesus has another mission, an important mission, an ongoing mission, and that is to encourage his followers to embrace their God-given mission.
Jesus put it this way: “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man 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” (25-26). This does not mean that Christians shouldn’t enjoy life and the things of this life. We need to remember that every good and perfect gift comes from above. And Jesus is not suggesting that believers should walk around with frowns on our faces telling everyone we meet how much we hate our lives. The point is priorities. What gets our time and attention? What gives us the most joy? What gives our lives purpose and meaning?
After decades of battling ALS, the British physicist and theorist Stephen Hawking died on Tuesday, and that night there were all kinds of tributes on the evening news. Something Hawking himself said in one of those pieces caught my attention. Communicating through his computer device he made this observation: “I have a beautiful family, and I have been successful in my work. One cannot expect more.”
Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds of our generation. His IQ is off the charts. His books have been read by millions. And yet I found myself thinking: “Really? After so many years contemplating the cosmos, that was the best he could come up with? The meaning of life is having a family and leaving a legacy? How shallow…how hollow…how sad.
We know better. We know that God gives our lives purpose and meaning. We know that we exist to serve our Savior on earth, and that we will serve him forever in heaven. It’s one thing to say those things, but how well do we follow through? Do we fear, love and trust in God above all things, or do we get distracted by other things? What does your weekly schedule say? What do your bank accounts say? What does your heart say?
It has been said that Jesus has many admirers, but few followers…because following Jesus, patterning your life after Jesus, can be hard. It’s much easier to blend in with the sinful crowd. It’s safer to back down and avoid confrontation. No one will come after you if you hide your faith under a bushel….except maybe Jesus, who declared: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory” (Luke 9:26).
After reading those words, seeing Jesus doesn’t sound like such a great idea anymore. When I see the Lord face-to-face on the Last Day, the Lord who knows all things, the Judge who knows everything I have done, how many times I have chosen not to follow him, how self-serving I really am, when I meet Jesus, what expression will I see on his face? Sadness? Disappointment? Total disgust?
Before we can look up and see Jesus, we need to look in here. We need to kneel down next to that the tax collector who would not even look up to heaven. We need to confess our sinfulness and unworthiness. Not just in church on Sunday, but every day we need to confess: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
And when we feel like we couldn’t possibly feel any worse, we feel a gentle touch on the shoulder. We hear a gentle voice, saying: “Get up.” And when we get to our feet the One who embraced his divine mission embraces us. It’s a beautiful story, a true story of forgiveness that has played itself out in so many lives. And by God’s grace we get to see it again and again. We get to see Jesus embracing people from all nations.
Jesus said: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (31-32). With these words Jesus is not espousing universalism, the idea that no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter what you believe, sooner or later everyone will end up in heaven. That is a devilish lie. What Jesus is saying is that he has defeated the devil, and that when he was lifted up on the cross he sacrificed himself for the sins of all people.
And this is where the Greeks and their request to see Jesus come back into the picture. Jesus was sent to gather the lost sheep of Israel, but he died for those Gentiles too…and for the person who works with you…and for the student who sits in the desk next to you…and for the person who cuts your hair…and for the person who does your taxes…and for every one of the two million plus people who live in Quito, Ecuador (I could have picked any place in the world, but I chose Quito because St. Matthew’s will be sending a mission team there in two months). Practically speaking, that means you can walk up to anyone you meet and say with complete confidence: “Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you so much that he sacrificed his life for you. And Jesus wants to see you in heaven.”
I will freely admit that it’s not quite the same. Studying God’s Word, listening to a sermon, they are not the same as seeing Jesus with our own eyes. But by doing the former John reminds us that the day is coming when we will get to do the latter. We will get to see Jesus. And because the Son of Man embraced his mission, because our Savior embraces people of all nations, we can’t wait. Amen.
Pastor Steven Pagels180318_bulletin