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Fifth Sunday of Lent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, March 21, 2021

We Want to See Jesus

Text: John 12:20–33

In the Spring of 2003 the company I contracted with as an owner-operator sent me to Austin, Texas to pick up a trailer going to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Actually, the move required quite a few other owner-operators from the same company because it was for Cirque du Soleil and there were 50 trailers to be moved. It’s quite an operation to move one show for them.

When we arrived in Calgary a few of us decided to rent a car and drive to Banff, which is a resort town in the province of Alberta. It’s right in the middle of Banff National Park. The peaks of Mt. Rundle and Mt. Cascade, part of the Canadian side of the Rocky Mountains, are prominent in the skyline. I was mesmerized by the beauty and the majesty of the entire area around us. We went up in the hills surrounding the town and encountered a herd of Big Horn Sheep, Mule Deer, and Elk. We went to Lake Louise and stood by its turquoise, glacier-fed lake that was surrounded by the high peaks of the Rockies. Even though the lake is in a valley, the elevation is 5,249 ft. above sea level.

The entire area was breathtaking and I wished that Teresa were there, but this was right before she started traveling with me. I called her from Banff to describe what I was seeing, and I took lots of pictures, but my description and pictures could not come close to doing justice to the experience of being there.

A few years ago our son and his family came from Colorado to visit us and our granddaughters wanted to go to Virginia Beach because they had never before seen the ocean. They had seen pictures but that only made them want to experience the real thing. I loved their reaction when the ocean first came into view. I could hear their excitement, “There it is! WOW! It’s the ocean!” Seeing the Atlantic Ocean up close was far more glorious and amazing than anything a picture could reveal to them.

In both of these situations seeing and experiencing the awesome majesty of the mountains or the vastness and power of the ocean was far better than hearing a description or seeing a picture. However, after seeing and experiencing them it forever changed how we thought about mountains or bodies of water that we had seen before.

I find this is also true with songs. People can go to church all their lives and sing hymns or songs of praise but never experience the thrill or the great joy of singing to honor and glorify the name of Jesus if they haven’t encountered him as Savior and Lord. I love the song, “What a Beautiful Name” by Hillsong. Yesterday morning I woke up with the refrain running through my mind and I felt such a sense of joy and worship. Listen to the words of the refrain,

What a beautiful name it is
          What a beautiful name it is.
The name of Jesus Christ my king
          What beautiful name it is
Nothing compares to this
          What a beautiful name it is
The name of Jesus!

I sat for a time deeply moved by this refrain that expressed so powerfully how just the mention of the name of Jesus thrills my heart and stirs my soul to praise him.

This morning we will be considering the story from our Gospel reading in John 12:20–33. We’ll see that hearing about Jesus is wonderful, but it pales in comparison to knowing and experiencing him personally.

Today is Passion Sunday and the fifth Sunday of Lent, marking the beginning of the two-week period called “Passiontide.” Passion week comes after next Sunday, Palm Sunday. Our focus continues to be that Jesus Christ intentionally moved forward toward his betrayal, arrest, cruel physical abuse, and crucifixion on the cross. He did it so that we could know him intimately and experience him personally.

Before we consider our text from John 12:20–33, it will be helpful to remember that earlier in chapter 12 John has already laid down the circumstances leading up to our passage. In Verses 9–11 he writes of the chief priests’ plot to kill Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead, “on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” In the triumphal entry into Jerusalem in verse 19 records the frustrated Pharisees as saying, “Look the whole world has gone after him.”

I suspect that the spiritual tension in Jerusalem was a tangible presence as light and darkness met for a showdown. Jesus and the Prince of Darkness were both there for battle, but a battle that Jesus knew he would win, but at a great cost. We are experiencing a similar moment within our country today as Christ-followers and those who hate Christianity seem to be about to collide. It’s incredibly good to know that the battle in Jerusalem long ago has already been settled and Jesus won. This guarantees victory to those who follow him in faith and obedience, but more on that in a moment.

Let’s read John 12:20–23,

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23And Jesus answered them, the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

We aren’t given any information concerning the reason that these Greeks were coming to speak with Jesus. The fact that they had come to Jerusalem for Passover would indicate that they were Gentile proselytes who believed in the God of Abraham, so they had come to participate in the Passover feast. The fact that John refers to them as Greeks likely shows that they were not yet full converts to Judaism. They could have heard about the things that Jesus taught and heard of the many instances where the sick were healed, the blind received their sight, the deaf could hear, demons were cast out, and even the dead had been raised. Events like these would have gotten around and they probably wanted to meet Jesus personally and talk with him.

Many Gentiles were attracted to Judaism’s ideas because of its higher moral emphasis compared with paganism. These men could have come from the Decapolis and heard testimony from the demon-possessed man from the country of the Gerasenes in Mark 5. He had been set free by Jesus and instructed to go throughout the Decapolis and tell what God had done for him. This was a power that was unknown before and they likely wanted to speak to the one whom everyone was talking about. They may even have known Philip whose name was Greek, and he came from nearby Bethsaida. But we can assume that their quest to see Jesus was prompted by a desire to learn from him rather than mere curiosity. Was he Israel’s Messiah? How could a man perform such miracles? Their request still resonates in the hearts of every believer, “we want to see Jesus!”

I think it’s interesting to note that it was Gentile Wise Men who came to worship Jesus as a child, while Israel’s king was trying to find him in order to kill him. Now it was again Gentiles who came seeking him at the time of his death while the Jews were the ones seeking to put him to death. From the time of Abraham, God promised that through his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed. As children from the line of Abraham, Israel had refused to be a nation who revealed the creator God to the world.

It would be Jesus who in obedience to the Father would open up the door for men and women from all nations to come to him by faith. The time to accomplish that was at hand but even the disciples could not yet see it. You’ll notice Phillip doesn’t go directly to Jesus but to Andrew who was from his hometown. I suspect he wasn’t sure what to do about the requests from the Greeks. In Matthew 10:5 Jesus had instructed his disciples, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Plus Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem would have sparked a powerful nationalism in the hearts of the Jewish community. They believed they were receiving their Messiah and King who would defeat the Roman Empire and restore Israel to the place of power like in the days of King David.

So Philip and Andrew went to Jesus about the request of the Greeks to see him. Many times Jesus’ responses seem obscure at the moment but become clear later on, and that was true here at the news of the Greeks’ request. Jesus answers by acknowledging that the hour had come for him to be glorified, referring to his death on the cross.

Dr. Rod Whitacre, in his commentary on the Gospel of John, writes,

It may seem strange to refer to Jesus' death as a glorification. But the death is at the heart of the Son's revelation of the Father, for God is love and love is the laying down of one's life (cf. 1 Jn 4:8; 3:16). So in the cross the heart of God is revealed most clearly. Selflessness and humble self-sacrifice are seen to be divine attributes. Throughout his life Jesus has done the Father's will, and such selflessness is a key component in the eternal life he offers. God's own life is a life of love that denies self for the sake of the beloved, and therefore such love is the very nature of life itself, real life. "Sacrifice, self-surrender, death, is the condition of the highest life: selfishness is the destruction of life" (Westcott 1908:2:123). Thus, the cross is not just a one-time event that atones for sin, though it is certainly that. It is the most dramatic case in point of the pattern of divine life that exists for all time.

Let’s read John 12:24–26,

“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. 25Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

Jesus tells his disciples to listen carefully to what he is saying to them. He begins by speaking of the mystery of life coming through death. He uses an agricultural metaphor that most everyone would understand when the disciples repeated these words later on. It’s important that we notice that he speaks of one grain or kernel of wheat. A single kernel of wheat left above ground is not of any real value in and of itself, but when it is buried and dies, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. This idea of remaining alone verses bearing much fruit indicates that Jesus was speaking of people, the fruit of evangelism.

He wanted the disciples to carefully listen to his words because the second way that fruit would be produced was through the lives of his followers. Through the death of the man Jesus, they would have the very quality of life, divine life, revealed in his death. Jesus was calling them to radical discipleship that is similar to those found in the Synoptic Gospels.

Listen to Matthew 16:24–26,

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

It couldn’t be any clearer. Jesus was saying that anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, even being reckless and passionate in your love for Jesus, you’ll have life forever, real and eternal. He is removing any doubt as to what it means to follow him. If you decide to follow Christ, then you follow his example and die to self that you may become alive in Christ. The person who is absorbed by the interests and worldly values of life here on earth actually will encounter ruin.

A servant follows his master and lives life around him so that when he beckons, they are ready to be available to follow his command. He promised that anyone faithfully following Him would be honored by the Father. It doesn’t mean that you stop working your job or caring for your family or studying at school. It means you do all that as a servant of Jesus, a follower of Jesus.

Charles Spurgeon wrote,

Learn, then, all of you who would have Christ as your Savior, that you must be willing to serve Him. We are not saved by service, but we are saved to service. When we are once saved, from then on, we live in the service of our Lord. If we refuse to be His servants, we are not saved, for we still remain evidently the servants of self and the servants of Satan. Holiness is another name for salvation–to be delivered from the power of self-will, the domination of evil lusts and the tyranny of Satan–this is salvation.

Let’s read John 12:27–29,

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Previously, Jesus showed how his death would affect the disciples, but here the humanity of Jesus is shown. He knows that he was to be beaten, cruelly tortured, and crucified, but the real concern came as his troubled soul reflected his anticipation of bearing the wrath of his Holy Father in the place of sinners. The synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke record his dilemma in the Garden of Gethsemane but John reveals that the struggle there began earlier.

It’s important that we not forget that Jesus, who is God in the flesh, still was fully human. Again Dr. Rod Whitacre gives a helpful comparison,

But in Jesus' becoming fully man, his divine attributes worked within the confines of true humanity, somewhat like a Mozart symphony being played on a kazoo. Human nature in its true, unfallen state is capable of expressing much more of the divine nature than we could have dreamed based on our experience, which is limited to fallen, rebellious, spiritually dead human nature.

That was the point in his coming. He came to live from birth to death as the perfect man, something Adam failed to do. Only then could he be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. The Apostle John, the writer of this gospel, recounts something that he personally witnessed. In his humanity, Jesus indicated that he was breaking under the strain of the crisis. He felt overwhelmed by the inevitability of what was coming.

But what we are seeing is sinless humanity being tempted with rebellion against God and His will. We are drawn back to the scene in the Garden of Eden, but this time the one who represents us chooses faithful obedience. This is why he came, but it had gotten very real, the end was a matter of days. His question was partly rhetorical and likely meant to help the disciples understand the situation but there was that part of him that was tempted to back out. He had to follow through with the plan that he and the Father had determined before the foundation of the world. If he had backed out, he might have averted seeming disaster but at the price of failing to achieve his redemptive purpose. He came to accomplish his original purpose of completing the mission his Father had entrusted to him. He was afraid, but resolute because He wanted the Father's name to be glorified, no matter the cost!

The voice from heaven is the third and final instance recorded in the gospel narratives, and the only one in John (the voice at his baptism, Mt 3:17; Mk 1:11; Lk 3:21–22; and at his transfiguration, Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:35). On each occasion it was the Father openly revealing his love and pleasure in His Son and it confirmed the authority of Jesus and the acknowledgment of his mission by the Father. John testifies that the voice was a genuine, audible sound, even though the crowd did not understand it. This situation is similar to the circumstances of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, where those who accompanied him heard a noise but could not distinguish the words (Acts 9:7; 22:9). Clearly, God is heard by those to whom he chooses to speak.

The Father's name was an extension of the Son, and the Father’s glory was the desire of the Son. The prophets foretold that the Messiah would be called “Emmanuel, God with us.” The Son's death completes the purpose of the Father and shows His love for all, thus glorifying Him. Christ is in effect saying, “Father, lead Me to the Cross.” This is the Lord's divine response to the human temptation to avoid the Cross (v. 27). The Son who lovingly remains in union with the Father responds, “Father, glorify your name.”

In this we see that temptation itself is not sin, but we also see the agony of dying to self. However, it’s not the same thing as our dying to self. In the case of human beings, we are to die to the “false self,” which is in rebellion to God. In Jesus’ case it is the opposite, he is living in union with God and must give that up to fulfill the role of the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The Father's response refers to the signs already performed by Christ but also points to the death and resurrection to come.

Finally, let's read John 12:30–33,

Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

Jesus declared that the final crisis had arrived, and it would bring decisive action. The Father who was glorified through the Son would now glorify the Son. The time for judgment had come, and Satan, the prince of the world would be exposed for what he is, a liar and the enemy of God. This did not imply that the final day of judgment had come but that God, through His final revelation, would now hold all people responsible for their obedience or disobedience.

The judgment is the unveiling of the true state of affairs and the separation of humanity between those who follow Jesus Christ and those who follow self. This revelation would be the work of the Holy Spirit that continues as Jesus ascends back to the Father. The word "world" here and throughout the rest of this Gospel and throughout most of the New Testament refers to that which is in rebellion against God, especially in religions that claim to be the people of God.

As we have seen and continue to experience, there is much talk of God, and many activities that claim to be for him, but are essentially motivated by the love of self and have little or nothing to do with God. Jesus made it clear that to follow him is to live for his glory and that often means laying down our lives for the sake of others and of the kingdom of God. The cross exposed the reality of religious systems that do not reveal Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation and condemned them. The only true religion is complete submission to God, as we see Jesus submitting to the Father.

The reference to “the ruler of this world be cast out” does not mean that Satan has no influence in this world, it’s noticeably clear that he does. In 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And later The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

Satan is not yet destroyed but his power to deceive has been broken. God’s people who submit to Jesus Christ can now live free from his control.

St. Augustine of Hippo, 4th Century theologian, philosopher and Bishop wrote,

Where is he cast out from? From heaven and earth? From this created universe? No, he is cast out of the hearts of believers. Since the invader has been cast out, let the Redeemer dwell within, because the same one who created was also the one who redeemed. The devil now assaults from without but does not conquer the Redeemer who now has taken possession within the believer. The devil assaults from without by throwing various temptations into the believer, but the person to whom God speaks within, and who has the anointing of the Spirit, does not consent to these temptations.

As we continue on our Lenten journey and Passiontide let us remember that our rebellion makes Christ’s sacrifice on the cross necessary but let us rejoice in the gift given to us through the obedient sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. What a beautiful name it is, Jesus Christ our King!

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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