Text: John 12:20-33Revised Standard Version (RSV)
Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.21 So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-sa′ida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.
Jesus Speaks about His Death
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. 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 shall the ruler of this world be cast out; 32 and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what death he was to die.
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
“Seeing is believing.” At least, that’s what we’re told. The State of Missouri has as its unofficial motto, “The Show Me State,” which is kind of another way of saying “I won’t believe it until I see it for myself.”
So, here come these “Greeks” – which was really a catch-all term for all goyim, or “foreigners,” so we really don’t know if they actually were Greeks, or just non-Jews – and they go to Philip with their request that they want to see Jesus. How they knew that Philip was one of the disciples is never explained, but apparently they did; and why did they go to Philip for help? Well, Philip is a Greek name, so it may be that they thought a man with a Greek name would be more likely to help them out. But Philip didn’t really know what to do with the request, so he went to Andrew – and then Andrew and Philip together go to tell Jesus.
Now, here’s an interesting thing – the text says that “Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus.” It doesn’t say that those Greeks ever got to actually see Jesus, because next we read that Jesus answered them that his hour had come.
But let’s assume – as everyone else seems to have assumed from the beginning – that these goyim did in fact get their wish, because the Jesus we know would never turn away any seeking soul. And, if they did, we can only hope that they saw, and believed.
This event is even more important than just a chance encounter between Jesus and some out-of-town visitors, though. It indicates to us that news of Jesus, of what he had been doing, and of the word of grace that he proclaimed, had by now gone far beyond the borders of Galilee and Judea, so that he now felt confident that this part of his mission was fulfilled – and now he can move on to Jerusalem, sure that he has drawn, and will in the future draw, all persons to himself.
But Philip, Andrew, the other disciples, especially, as well as those Greeks, if they actually were present, were in for a shock. Jesus first says that the hour they’ve all been waiting for has finally come, when the Son of man will be glorified – that’s not the shocking part – but then he starts talking about seeds dying and reveals that the glory he’s talking about isn’t the kind of glory they were thinking of, or the kind of glory we think of when we use the word – not Super Bowl glory, or Olympic glory, or Nobel Prize glory, or military glory, or any kind of glory that comes with success. The glory he’s talking about is the glory that comes with the cross, and suffering, and obedience. That is the shocking part. Jesus ends with statements that are the last things anyone would expect.
The shock of the disciples wasn’t just because of Jesus’ talk of his dying, or even when he says “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me.” The shock came mostly from the fact that Jesus’ words saying that the glory of the son of man involved death turned their entire world view on its head.
The origin of the term “son of man” is found in Daniel 7:13. The part of the world where God’s people lived had always been both a buffer zone and a battlefield for the great powers of the region – the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes, and the Persians. All these invaders “were so cruel, so savage and so sadistic that they could be described only with the imagery of wild animals – the lion with the eagle’s wings, the bear with three ribs between its teeth, the leopard with the four wings and the four heads, and the terrible beast with iron teeth and ten horns. These were the symbols of the powers which had hitherto held sway. But it was the dream of the seer that into the world there was going to come a new power, and that power was to be gentle and humane and gracious, so that it could be depicted under the symbol not of a savage animal but of a man.” Daniel 7:13 was therefore a hopeful prediction that the day of savagery would pass and the day of humanity was about to dawn.
That was the dream shared by the Jewish people, including Jesus’ disciples, and everyone who heard him. To them, “the Son of Man stood for the undefeatable conqueror sent by God.” So when Jesus uttered those magic words: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” everybody caught their breath and stopped what they were doing to listen. “This is it!” they thought! It was to be a golden age; life would be wonderful and sweet, and – above all – they would at long last be masters of the world.
But when Jesus said “glorified,” he meant “crucified.” Having a Son of man come among them who was going to die was not part of the Grand Plan. So we can readily understand the shock.
The truly unfortunate thing is that they just remained stuck in their shock, and didn’t even try to understand what Jesus was saying – that, as paradoxical as it might be, only by death comes life. The grain of wheat is ineffective until it’s planted. In a similar way, it is only when we bury, or at least put aside, the personal aims and ambitions that benefit only ourselves, and instead take on goals that also benefit others, that we become fruitful and useful servants of God. Anyone who’s ever done anything nice for another knows what I mean.
Lent is all about dying to self. From the moment of our baptism on, we don’t belong solely to ourselves anymore. We belong to Christ. But we need to be reminded of this frequently. We need the reminder to counteract absolutely everything else in our world that tells us that we are totally independent and self-contained entities, unbeholden to anyone else. Even when we live like that, though, we know that’s not the whole story. We aren’t satisfied with what our world tells us. We hope, we yearn for more.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” If we want to know our reasons for asking to see Jesus, all we have to do is look at what we pray for. I would bet that many of your prayers are lot like many of mine – kind of a mix between prayers for the good of others and prayers that are perhaps a little less noble. We all run the risk of treating God like some kind of cosmic vending machine into which we insert a prayer or two and expect whatever it is we want to drop into the tray.
But it doesn’t work that way. “If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.”
Particularly during Lent, following Jesus means that we need to look death in the face. We walk with Jesus toward the Cross, and we meditate on his death, but also on ours. It’s the hardest thing we will ever do.
But if we don’t do it, we miss the whole point of Jesus’ coming, of his death, and certainly of his Resurrection.
There is a temptation in the church today to skip over the unpleasantness of Jesus’ death and get right to the joys of the Resurrection. People have said to me words to the effect of “Why do we have to go through all of this death stuff? It’s all so depressing! We’re ‘Easter people,’ after all, right?”
Yes, that’s true, but without the “depressing stuff,” the “joyful stuff” has no meaning. Jesus reminds us both that death is not the end and the gateway to new life.
And it’s not just physical death I’m talking about here. We die a thousand little deaths every day. There are the deaths of relationships, hopes, dreams, careers, health…you name it. Every one of these is just as much a death as the end of life, because it is also an end to something that is important to us. And we mourn its passing.
And yet, whatever it looks like, it is not the end. Resurrection is always hidden within death. If we want to “see Jesus,” we have to look through the darkness.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Ultimately, it all boils down to this: We have to entrust all that we are, and all that we have, all that we care for, to God. It’s not easy. It goes completely against the grain of human existence.
But when we do, we find that Christ has already cleared our way forward. We find ourselves being lifted up – lifted up in his Crucifixion, but most importantly, lifted up in his Resurrection. And we see him there in glory everlasting!
If we wish to see Jesus, it means that we turn our lives over to him; and, when we do, there’s no turning back.
As Pastor Isaac Villegas writes: “We come to see Jesus and his glorious kingdom as we walk down his path, a journey that ends with a cross. And as we give up our lives, the control of our direction, we may come to see that our path through this present darkness is actually a river of life flowing from that resurrected body of Jesus. But there is no way to know the hope of this eternal life other than to join those other followers out there who give up their dreams for life, their expectations of the good life, for the sake of Christ’s cross.”
Sisters and Brothers! In this last week of Lent, let us, too, seek to see Jesus!
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. AMEN.
 Barclay, William, The Gospel of John, Volume Two, The New Daily Study Bible, Louisville, KY, Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, 2001, p. 142
 Ibid., p. 143
 Villegas, Isaac, “we would like to see Jesus: a sermon on John 12:20-33,” March 29th, 2006, http://www.rustyparts.com/wp/2006/03/29/we-would-like-to-see-jesus-a-sermon-on-john-1220-33/