March 21, 2021 Fifth Sunday in Lent The text is John 12: 20-33.
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.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning we encounter some Greeks who wish to see Jesus. And while we’re not explicitly told who they are there are several options as to their identity. They may have been Jewish people who simply spoke Greek, for this was is the language of trade, law, and literature at the time.
Another possibility is that they were gentiles, since “Greeks” was the term that Jews used to refer to any who were not followers of the Torah. The third option is that they were Jews who were from the diaspora, that is potentially people who were pious Jews but had physically drifted away from Israel. So, whatever their actual identity this group of so-called “Greeks” were anxious to see Jesus. They likely would have been familiar with the message he proclaimed and the miracles that Jesus performed, and were greatly interested in knowing more about him.
This request to see Jesus takes place in Jerusalem just before the Passover festival. And Jesus has been quite busy in the days leading up to this morning’s lesson. He has travelled to Jerusalem several times and returned home, or visited the outlying areas surrounding the city. Jesus has challenged a group to throw the first stone at a woman accused of adultery, raised Lazarus from the dead, fed the 5,000, and restored sight to a man born blind. All this has taken place prior to Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which happened just before the incident we read about this morning. And this request of these “Greeks” to “see” Jesus sets the stage for his Farewell Discourse; the final instructions he gives to his disciples. And these proclamations of Jesus fill the next several chapters in John’s gospel, culminating after the Last Supper.
But the request of the visiting Greeks to “see” Jesus is the often-overlooked core of the verses this morning. It’s certain that they didn’t simply wish to have Jesus in their field of vision, and “seeing” him obviously meant more than just being granted an audience. This was about more than “seeing”, it was an appeal to learn more about what Jesus was doing, to understand his message, and to be part of the movement that was emerging in response to his mission. You will remember that when Jesus first began calling his disciples, he told Andrew to “come and see”; and when Jesus encountered Phillip, he invited him, saying “follow me”. This summarizes the three-fold response to becoming a participant in Jesus’ ministry; “come”, see”, and “follow”. The Greeks in question have come to Jerusalem to see Jesus. John doesn’t tell us if they actually met with Jesus and it’s not known if they became followers.
In the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke this experience of coming, seeing, and following Jesus results in the need for denial of self and on assuming a life of charitable discipleship. The evermore spiritual of the gospel writers John, leans more toward an understanding of joining in Jesus’ ministry and mission as resulting in an abundant, grace-filled life of salvation and forgiveness. John calls for a more spirit-led discipleship; in a figurative sense we are called to join in Christ’s death on the cross before we are permitted to accompany Jesus in his resurrection. We are admonished to die to sin and be reborn into new life with Christ. We come, see, and follow Jesus all the way to the hill in Golgotha, all the way to the cross, all the way to the grave, and ultimately all the way to life eternal. Thus, we are followers of Christ, and bound to him eternally.
All this begs the question; if we haven’t literally seen Jesus how are we to come and follow? God has blessed us with the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit; rather than physically seeing Jesus, we believe. Unlike the curious Greeks in the gospel, we have seen the joy of Easter; we are witnesses to the resurrection. Paul confirms this in 2 Corinthians, stating that we walk by faith, not by sight. Further on in the gospel this morning Jesus proclaims that he will be with those who have come to see and follow him, stating, “whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also”. Those who have come, seen, and followed are called to be with Jesus, to abide with him wherever he is encountered. Since we can’t actually “see” Jesus, where do we acknowledge he is? He has been lifted up from the cross, securing for us our salvation. He is with the Father and the Holy Spirit, always available for us when we call out to him. He dwells among us, abiding in all those we come in contact with. And, most importantly, we abide with Jesus, we live within him; those who have come, seen, and followed. “I will draw all people to myself” he announces to the inquisitive Greeks. We live in the kingdom which Jesus has secured for us, the one in the here and now, and the one to come. And in spite of the trials and tribulations we face in this world, we are comforted by the knowledge that Jesus
“sees” our weariness, just as we have come to “see” him. We followers of this Jesus are also confident in the promise made to us that we will “see” Christ in the kingdom of heaven when we too are lifted up from this weary world.
Next Sunday we will celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and we will hear again the story of his passion. On Maundy Thursday we will hear again Christ’s commandment to love one another; Good Friday will again expose the inhumanity displayed by humanity as we gaze upon our sinless Savior put to death. And with a sense of unbridled joy, the world will celebrate the resurrection of the Son of God on Easter morning. You are invited to participate in all these facets of Holy Week worship, experiencing all that Christ did; from the final commandment, to the Passion, and most importantly the empty tomb. For we know that only through the blessing of faith are we able to share in the promise that God made and God kept; the gospel, the Good of News of the risen Jesus Christ. He has drawn us to himself; we have been called to “come”, “see”, and “follow” Jesus, in the weariness of now and into the joy of the eternal.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious and Holy God, you have sent your Holy Spirit to call us to come, see, and follow Jesus. Give us the faith and the trust to do so willingly, accompanying him in his journey to, and beyond the cross. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One whom we follow, for we have “seen” him. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.