“Sir, we wish to see Jesus”
An old Gospel hymn that I have always loved, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” begins with the words, “I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus - no turning back, no turning back. The world behind me, the cross before me, the world behind me, the cross before me, the world behind me, the cross before me, no turning back, no turning back.” This old hymn sort of sums up this present moment in Scripture. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with this hymn but you may have heard it along the way.
Lent is a time of penitence and self-reflection, a time during the Christian year where we are encouraged to look inward, and in the Gospel of John we find the in-breaking of the kingdom in the midst of ordinary life. It is foundational to the proclamation of the gospel in John that the people were finding Jesus in the every day.
We find ourselves in the Last Sunday of Lent. Palm Sunday is a little further in the distance, with Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but today we find Jesus already in Jerusalem.
In John’s gospel, the themes of ordinary vision and the limits of ordinary vision - people not being able to fully understand, are throughout the gospel. People just can’t fully grasp the entirety of Jesus is, but John’s purpose in writing his gospel, as stated by John himself in 20:30-31 is to show that Jesus of Nazareth was Christ, the Son of God, and that believers in him might have eternal life. So we have stories telling of Jesus, showing Jesus. Sometimes people get it, or they get a glimpse of the fullness of who Jesus was and other times they don’t.
In John’s third chapter, Nicodemus wants to glimpse Jesus, and Jesus tells Nicodemus he’ll never see the kingdom of God unless he is born from above. Nicodemus doesn’t fully understand. In John 12, in the account of the dinner at Bethany where Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, only Mary and Jesus appeared to have insight about what was going to happen - that the crucifixion was approaching.
Today, some Greeks who’ve come to Jerusalem for Passover tell Philip they wish to see Jesus - they are curious to see this Jesus they have heard about. They have heard that Lazarus was raised from the dead. They are discerning maybe part of the truth - it has raised their curiosity - they have come to see.
Some say that the appearance of Greeks seeking to see Jesus speaks to the fact that at this time, the world is beginning to come to Jesus. It is not just Jewish people, but now others were seeking and hearing. By Greek men showing up, it indicates that word of Jesus was now spreading beyond just the confines of Judaism. Others were now seeking and coming to hear.
Which is an important point for us to remember as we look at this passage- there is a building in the Gospel of John. John’s gospel was written so that we would know that Jesus was the Christ, the son of God. We need to reflect on what we have seen and heard to help us interpret what we will see.
This passage has been referred to as Jesus’ last public discourse. It is the last account we have of Jesus speaking publicly to a crowd.
The request of the Greeks triggers a turning point from Jesus.
Today as opposed to when he responds, “my time has not yet come”, Jesus responds, “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” We don’t know anything about these Greeks and we don’t know if Jesus ever went to them or not - but today - Jesus becomes clear.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Still the disciples did not grasp what this glorification was going to look like.
Today is decision day. A turning point. You want to see Jesus? Which Jesus do you want to see?
Jesus now tells them the cost of discipleship - of what it is going to cost to follow him. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Whoa now Jesus. What are you saying?
Today marks a new realization. A new telling. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Incarnation.
Everything that is human, everything that becomes incarnated, must die. And this is what God knows in becoming - the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us in Jesus. Incarnate things die.
The cost of incarnation was going to be death, and then new life - and it may be the same for us. We are going to have to die to self. To our interests. Those things are going to have be dead to us and then we will keep our lives - whoever serves me must follow me. Your life is going to look different if you follow me. The things that used to be important to you in this life are no longer going to be as important. Self-seeking attitudes and putting yourself above others - these things are going to change. And while this may be different and contradictory to how you have been living and thinking- you will find new life.
The heart of this Gospel text from John on this last Sunday of Lent, not only for us, but also for Jesus, is about relationship. Relationship - ours with God. God’s with Jesus. It is about to get complicated and hard. You are going to have to follow me. And serve me.
I think that we tend to like to jump ahead. We want to look at the cross and simplify it, that Jesus died for our sins and that is the end of things- but I want us to stay here on this last Sunday of Lent for a second. The cross is not just an ultimate moment of divine atonement - Jesus sets us straight. The cross is about us.
Do we think that in two weeks that Jesus on the cross will fix everything for us - between us and God and between us and others? That as our sins are now forgiven and we are atoned for all our sins -that we have reached the end of the story?
The cross is a beginning for us. A question - how are you going to live? Who are you going to follow?
Jesus reminds us here, before Holy Week, before even his parting words to the disciples, that his death is not the end at all.
Life in Christ is death to self and death in Christ is life. The cross is not the final answer. It's the question. It's not the moment but a moment in the entire Jesus event, his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. A moment that shows us how desperately God wanting to be in relationship with us.
Relationships are not one sided. We are all aware of this. In order for a relationship to work, both parties have to agree to want it to work - both parties have to participate.
The cross is not the end. It's the beginning and was from the beginning. It is about recognizing, accepting, seeing, that God knows a relationship with God is complicated.
Interestingly, Jesus recognizes that the hour has come, but he’s not sure he’s ready. Here his “soul is troubled.” There’s a sense here of uncertainty. The humanity of Jesus is present. He recognizes that there’s no turning back, He knows what is to come and he acknowledges that he is troubled. He is aware that there is no other way.
It matters that God became human, not just that God died. It matters that God wanted to know what it means to live like us and not just die like us.
Jesus, in John’s vision, has come into the world for just this moment. It is not that God has sent Jesus as a sacrificial victim, who is destined to serve as a substitute for punishment for human sin. There’s nothing of that here in John 12. But Jesus has come into the world to participate in a cosmic battle. He has come into the world to stand up to the “ruler of this world.” He has come to face down the “ruler of this world,” but he chooses to do so through the vehicle of the cross. Jesus refuses to fight the battle on the terms dictated by the Ruler of this World (kosmos).
This word here - ruler of this world - speaks to the cosmos.
The way the world operates - the things that have ruled you and your life are no longer going to dictate. There is going to be a new way of living, of doing things.
Salvation provided by the cross does not just save me, salvation needs to change me. It needs to change me to be more like Christ.
The church as a body - Big C - Big Church - and little c - little church, specific churches, may be facing a time of reckoning. We have had an unusually difficult year. It has been and is being expressed - will people come back? People have become comfortable. People may not want to come back. Life has moved on. I was at a field hockey game last night watching one of my daughters play and I was speaking to a woman and her daughter and she acknowledged that she didn’t know if she was going to go back to church as it reopened. Life has become comfortable. I acknowledge and recognize that it has. I have memories of my girls laying in my bed watching services on Sunday morning and proclaiming, “Now this is how it should be”. And while there is some comfort in those things (who wouldn’t want to be laying home in your pajamas?) there is some danger. Christ came to build community - in His church. It is in community that we grow and change and can affect the world. It is community that we learn more about God and each other.
Hebrews 10: 25, “ Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day dawning near.”
As things begin to open up, we are slowly going to be able to regather, cautiously and with pre-cautions. My prayer is, is that you come back. You bring your friends. It has been a difficult year. Don’t let this year dictate how you will now live. How you live involves choosing how you interact with others, how you interact with God. 6Remember the God who has saved you.
Today is decision day. We have to choose how we are going to live. The hour has come. I have decided to follow Jesus. There is no turning back.
How shall we then live?