Seeing Jesus

Reading: John 12.20-33

A number of years ago some members of our family were in London and saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. It was a frosty day, but crowds had turned out to see the guards in their grey winter dress and to hear the band play. The flag wasn't flying over the Palace - the Queen wasn't there. At other times of the year there's the chance the Queen will appear on the balcony and give a wave.

I remember seeing the Queen. I was at Warwick High School at the time and the school Cadets lined the royal route in Toowoomba. I had a good view. I was quite close to her really - in a passing kind of way. I really saw her!

Have you seen the Queen? She's been in Australia recently but didn't come to Queensland. Her visit this time has stirred a rather mixed reaction following the debate on whether we should become a republic. And, wise lady that she is, she affirmed her deep affection for this country, no matter what we may decide in the future. You have all seen her on TV, but have you seen her for real?

Now supposing I wrote a letter to the Queen's private secretary, Buckingham Palace, London, "Dear Sir, I would like to see the Queen...", what would he think I had in mind? that I wanted to know when the Queen would be appearing on the balcony to wave at the crowd? or that I wanted an audience with her Majesty? It is amazing the many and varied interest groups who have sought and been given audience with the Queen.

We Want to See Jesus

It was Passover time again and Jews, proselytes and God-fearing people were coming from all over the Roman Empire to Jerusalem for the feast. It was the time when they remembered with thankfulness how God had rescued his people from slavery in Egypt back in the time of Moses.

In more recent times the Jewish people had undergone harsh times. Many had been put to death rather than renounce the central elements of their faith in the Lord God. Now they were under Roman rule and at least had freedom of worship. Many people of other racial backgrounds who saw their persistent faith under persecution came to admire them and wanted to adopt the Jewish faith - they accepted circumcision and became what we call "proselytes". Others didn't go as far as that, but entered as much as they were permitted into the life of the synagogues and the worship of the Temple - they were known as the "God-fearers". An important feast such as Passover attracted a great number of Jews, proselytes and God-fearers from all over the Roman Empire to Jerusalem.

"Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the feast" (Jn 12.20). Most likely they were "God-fearers" and when they visited Jerusalem for the great feasts they were not permitted past the court of the Gentiles when they went to the Temple. (In Jn 2.13-21, at the beginning of Jesus' ministry - when he was still an unknown quantity - and after his triumphal entry - as recorded in the first three gospels - Jesus expressed his anger at the buying, selling and money-changing that was going on in this very court of the Gentiles.) These Greeks need not necessarily have come all the way from Greece itself. There were many Greeks in the ten cities of the Decapolis across the Jordan river.

They came to Philip with the simple request, "Sir, we would like to see Jesus." Your best vantage-point will be over there. You won't need to use your zoom lens. Wait till he turns the corner to get your best shot. No! That wasn't what they meant at all. They had already seen Jesus in the spectator sense - this happened after Jesus had ridden the donkey into Jerusalem. Most probably they had heard Jesus teaching too. But it all added up as part of their deep desire to "see Jesus". They wanted an audience with him, to meet him face to face, to ask their questions, to allow his answers to impact personally on the issues of their lives...

The Hour has Come...

Philip takes the message to Andrew and the two of them together go to Jesus. To our surprise we have no record of the meeting of Jesus with those Greeks. Perhaps it was in private, if privacy was possible! Such a conversation would have immediate importance for those Greeks - as did the many other conversations of Jesus with individuals. But for the readers of the Gospel - and for us - the coming of these Greeks was far more significant than the content of any conversation with them. This coming signals a turning-point in the gospel story. It was the sign Jesus had been waiting for!

Again and again Jesus had said, "My time has not yet come" (2.4; 7.6,30; 8.20). Now at last Jesus can say, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." The coming of these Greeks is the evidence that the ministry of Jesus to the Jews has reached its climax and that now he is to die for the whole world, Greeks included. Leon Morris has commented, "The rest of the chapter winds up the ministry of Jesus to the Jews in order that the true and spiritual 'conversation' of Jesus with the Greeks may begin - on the other side of the crucifixion."

The Son of Man is about to be glorified? Is this the preparation for a royal audience? Just wait a minute while I put on my red robe edged with ermine! Hold it till I put on my golden crown studded with jewels! Just wait until I sit on my golden throne and take hold of my golden sceptre! Then I will be ready for you! If I am to give you an audience, I must be rightly attired! If you want to see me, you must see me in all my glory!

Is that what Jesus meant? No! At this point his glory was to die on the cross. That was his throne! In mockery the soldiers put a scarlet robe on him, forced a thorny crown onto his head and put a reed in his hand. But on that cross, their mocking robe was removed and they even gambled for his clothing. Is this his great glory?

The grain of wheat must die so that it can produce many grains - it has to lose its identity as a grain of wheat so that there can be a harvest. You don't gain eternal life by grasping onto this life, but by being willing to lose it.

The hour has come - the hour of suffering! Jesus will not pull back from it - it is the very reason for which he came into the world. Doing what he came to do - including the cross - that is why he came, that will bring glory to the Father's name! The voice from heaven says, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again!"

The hour has come - the time for the world to be judged, for the ruler of this world to be overthrown! Not the final judgment - not yet! - but the judgment that brings salvation to all who believe in him! "When I am lifted up from the earth - when I die on the cross - I will draw everyone to myself."

Seeing Jesus!

The Rangeville Church grew rapidly from an original building that would have held about twenty-four comfortably to a Church Hall and then to a Church. Rangeville was part of our pastoral responsibility in Toowoomba from 1965 to 1968. I recall one Sunday serving communion to 120 people. When the Church was built, a decision was made that there would be no memorial or other plaques on donated furniture. But someone had made a substantial donation for the pulpit and had insisted (successfully) that suitable note be made on it. A little silver plaque was fixed to it on top of the rail. It was visible only to the preacher - and to the lady who cleaned the Church every week. It included in large print the text, "Sir, we would see Jesus!" I remember the cleaning lady saying to me one week, "It's all wrong! It shouldn't be there! It seems to be saying that the congregation expects to see Jesus in the pulpit every week! If they must have a plaque, they should put a big one on the front of the pulpit for the congregation to see, and the words, 'Sirs, we would see Jesus'!"

I know what she was saying. Surely every preacher wants the congregation to see Jesus - being drawn to put their trust in him and to grow in their experience of his reality and truth. When that happens, the preacher can expect to see Jesus - his life and character - increasingly visible in the lives of the members of his congregation.

But what of the seeking minds and hearts "out there"? Where can they come if they really want to see Jesus? His life was given, not just for us, but for all humanity. The time has come - now is the day of salvation. Will they see and know him in us?

Do you want to see the Queen? That could be a very controversial question! Some aren't certain it is relevant any more!

Do you want to see Jesus? Some seem to think he isn't relevant either. And yet - to trust him, to know him, to love him, to obey him... is our greatest need. May our lives make him visible in this part of the world where we live.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill Uniting Church, 9 April 2000
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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