John 12:20-21 “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’”
Apparently these Gentile converts to the Jewish faith were devout. Although they were not natural born Jews, they had traveled nearly a thousand miles by sea, or nearly two thousand miles by land, to be in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. Both the seas and the roads were dangerous compared to our modern travel. They took their adopted faith seriously.
How had they heard of Jesus? Why they wanted to see him we are not specifically told. They simply make the request. Were they curiosity seekers? Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday created quite a stir. Did they witness the royal welcome the crowds gave him? Maybe they had heard reports of Jesus’ miracle working and hoped to see one themselves.
Were they seekers of a more spiritual sort? Perhaps they wanted an audience with Jesus to ask him sincere questions about God and religion. They were on a quest to find certainty for their faith. Were they seeking salvation?
We aren’t told specifically. We don’t even know whether Jesus granted their request. We do know we share their desire. We want to see Jesus. Isn’t that why we read his words and think about what they mean? We are trying to find him in all this. Why is this still our wish a couple of thousand years later?
May it not be for a warm, cozy feeling with no real, lasting impact on my heart or life. It is possible to seek him without pondering my depravity–desiring no encounter with God in the face of Jesus, enjoying no sweet taste of his grace. Then we have come to see Jesus not so much to worship him as to use him as a pleasant diversion. He becomes an interesting pastime. Jesus as a pleasant distraction, a curiosity, is a subtle example of what God had in mind when he commanded, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” It is a vain, useless, and evil thing to reduce the Savior of the World to little more than a good feeling or a happy way to pass the time.
But what if we want to see him because of a deeper, more desperate need that haunts our souls and troubles our consciences? Maybe we manage to hide our mean, twisted selves from the mutual admiration society we have gathered around us. But we haven’t been able to hide it from ourselves. And we haven’t been able to hide it from God. When we consider what God knows–every curse whispered under our breaths, every hateful urge we have choked back, every lustful glance, every perverted daydream– we know our situation is critical. Our sin-sickness is terminal. We want to see more than an entertaining sideshow, then. We want to see a gracious Savior, a heroic and self-sacrificing Champion, who can bring forgiveness where there is sin, life where there is death, and heaven where there is hell. There is no deeper reason for our desire to see Jesus.
That is why the Jesus we see is such a find. Do you know how he responded when he heard the request? “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Does that seem like a strange response? What is Jesus saying?
This was Passover week, the last Passover of Jesus earthly life. In just a few days he was going to give his life on the cross in the greatest demonstration of God’s love. This is his great glory. Seeing Jesus there, you see God himself loving you all the way to dying for you. Even more, he carries your sin for you. He suffers your hell for you. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” When this is how we see Jesus, then we understand why he is such a find.
Garrison Keillor tells the story of gathering around a long dinner table to celebrate Thanksgiving with his extended family. “Then the hostess made the mistake of calling on Uncle John to pray. Everybody in the family knew that Uncle John couldn’t pray without talking about the cross and crying. And if there is one thing that makes people nervous, it’s listening to a grown man cry. Sure enough, Uncle John prayed, talked about the cross, and cried. Meanwhile the rest of us shifted nervously from one foot to the other and longed for the prayer to end.” Keillor ends his story observing: “All of us knew that Jesus died on the cross for us, but Uncle John had never gotten over it.”
Nor have we when what draws us to see Jesus in Sunday’s sermons, or our personal Bible reading, is the Jesus who loved us to death on a cross and saves us from our sins.
Enjoy the view.