sermon notes Lent 5 Year B, John 12: 20-33
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."
Apparently Philip was a "known accomplice" of Jesus. How else could one explain the scenario that some Greeks, coming up for the festival, approach him in order to see Jesus? I find this a fascinating dynamic as I try to imagine what it is that is happening in this scene. Notice that they did not go right up to Jesus, these people who were looking to find him. They first approached Philip and asked him about Jesus. Apparently Philip was the type of person whom they could approach to find out about seeing Jesus. Was Philip the kind of disciple who invited this kind of approach? I mean, if someone was looking to get connected to Jesus, whom would they approach?
It seems to me that Philip has two qualities: he is approachable and he is identifiable. I believe that effective evangelism involves both. There can be an error on either side. One can be so "approachable" in a bad sense that one is merely accomodating to whatever the inquiry is. Yet on the other side one needs to be cautious as to what "being identifiable" really looks like. Apparently, in the case of Philip, the persons in question were sufficiently confident of his relationship with Jesus (in the obvious sense) that they were confident that he could lead them to see Jesus. Philip, by inference, strikes me as having that combination: he is approachable and yet he is unmistakably identified as one of Jesus' followers; Philip can help others to see Jesus because he himself has seen Him, and walked with Him. We cannot help others to look at someone we ourselves have not seen.
Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
Philip needs some backup - he gets Andrew, and then together they tell Jesus. And it is here that Jesus really begins to answer the "wish" that was expressed. What is it, really, to "see Jesus"? Jesus addresses a similar question when he asked people about John the Baptist - "what did you come out to see?" What is it that we think we will find when we "see Jesus"? I'm not certain we are prepared for what we will find:
Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Do you still wish to see Jesus? Perhaps he is a bit different from what you imagined. If you gave up chocolate for Lent and thought you were doing okay, then how about the next step? How about giving up your life? This stark contrast between Jesus being "glorified" and the image of the insignificant grain of wheat falling and dying gives us a picture of Jesus. This is the Jesus whom we don't always want to see. Perhaps the Greeks who were looking for him wanted to see the miracle worker, the spectacle, the teacher. There is a sense in which "seeing" is merely observing. And if they, or we, want to observe Jesus, here is what we get: the glorious spectacle of death; the sight of a grain of wheat being crushed into the dirt.
Then Jesus turns to us: those who live their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Jesus will not stand to be merely the object of "seeing". You cannot merely look at him and understand. Instead, Jesus invites us onto the same path. You cannot see Him without following Him. That is the core of His message. We will never see Him for who He is, unless we are willing to follow in his path. He cannot be "observed" from a distance. "You wish to see Jesus?" Then begin by losing your life, as He did. "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also."
This is the hard stuff which separates being a Christian from being a mere observer of the Christian religion. Personally, I'd rather go with something a bit softer, but you know, Lent and all that. At any rate, if we follow Jesus, we follow him all the way to the cross.
It was at this particular point that I was thinking of something entirely different for another post. You know that scene from "300", where the Spartans come across the rest of the Greeks? The other Greeks say - Hey Leonidas, looks like we have more soldiers than you... And the Spartan leader simply begins asking them - you there, what's your profession? And then the replies come out - baker, carpenter, whatever... He then turns to the Spartans - "What is your profession?" Of course his point is clear: the Spartans are soldiers, that is their identity, as opposed to the other Greeks, who simply put on the identity of soldier in this time of war. And so 300 Spartans, who know their primary identity. are worth more than 3000 other Greeks who simply try to be soldiers when the need arises. I sort of was going to do a post on this topic, but thought I would throw it in here. Jesus challenges us: what is your primary identity? The analogy is not perfect, but I do think it is apt. 300 Spartans - committed and loyal to their leader are worth more than a thousand Athenians who are soldiers of convenience. And do we in our churches see the two groups? Give me a few Spartans over numerous Athenians any day. But I digress.