Jeremiah 31:31-34

John 12:20-33

Let Them See Jesus

Lent 5

March 18 2018

      We are 5 weeks now into our Season of Lent.  We have 1 more week to travel with Jesus and the disciples to Jerusalem, where Jesus will die on the cross for our sins.  We have 1 more week to see the commitment of Jesus as He journeys to the cross and 1 more week to let this Season of Lent be a season of renewed commitment for us.

      Our passages for today from Jeremiah 31 and John 12 give us God’s promise of a new heart and anew way to live,  while they also give u vision of a renewed commitment to following God and showing our Savior and the Savior of the world to those around us.

      The Chapel at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA has seen many preachers and teachers sit in it’s pews and stand behind it’s pulpit.  Famous and eloquent preachers and famous but maybe not so eloquent preachers have stood behind that pulpit, and so have students who are learning to preach.  Behind that pulpit, though, there is a small plaque that has given inspiration and a timely reminder to all who stand behind that pulpit to deliver and sermon. The plaque reads:

      We wish to see Jesus

      The professor who put that plaque behind the pulpit at Columbia Seminary wanted to remind everyone who stood there to deliver a sermon that the people in front of them wanted to see and hear about Jesus.

      We wish to see Jesus

      In our John 12 passage for today some Greeks wanted to meet Jesus.  The disciple Phillip was from Bethsaida of Galilee, a part of Galilee with a rich Greek heritage and where many Greeks lived, so he and is brother Andrew would have understood Greek better than some of the other disciples, so these Greeks finally find Phillip and ask him: “Sir, we want to see Jesus”, so Philip told his brother, Andrew, about the request and they go to tell Jesus.

      Strangely, though, that’s the last we hear of these Greeks.  The Gospel of John never mentions them again. When Philip and Andrew tell   Jesus about them and their request He begins to tell them that He must die and that they must follow in his footsteps. Why did John mention these Greeks in the first place?  Well, remember that Greeks is another word for Gentiles.  These Greeks weren’t Jews.  They weren’t Israelites.  They weren’t part of the chosen people of God.  And yet they came seeking Jesus, to talk with him, and maybe o

and, perhaps, to ask for his blessing.  You also need to know that in the passage immediately before John 12:20-33 is John’s version of Palm Sunday, and in verse 19  the Pharisees are complaining that the whole world had begun to follow him.  These Greeks serve to illustrate what the Pharisees were saying.  The world, even the Gentile world had begun to seek Jesus, to believe in Him, and to follow Him.

      Of course, the Jews were seeking a Messiah also, but their idea was that the Messiah would be a warrior king like David. King David had defeated the Philistines, the Moabites, the Edomites and every other enemy of Israel. He had expanded Israel’s borders and had turned little Israel into a great power.  The Israelites were looking for a messiah who would do that for them again and would make them great again. But Jesus presented himself as a very different messiah.  He said:

      “If  I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (v. 32).

      That’s an important verse.  It has two parts.  In the first part, Jesus says, “If I am lifted up from the earth.”  John goes on to explain that Jesus “said this signifying by what kind of death he should die” (v. 33).  In other words, Jesus was alluding to the fact that he would die by being lifted up on a cross. In the second part of the verse, Jesus said, “I will draw all people to myself.”  All people!  Why would Jesus want to draw all people to Himself?  If He was the Messiah, shouldn’t He focus on making Israel great? Why bother with “all people”? 

      The coming of these Greeks to see Jesus gave Him a chance to introduce the idea that He would be offering salvation to all people.  That wasn’t the first time that Jesus let it be known that he planned to expand His work to include the salvation of all people.  In John 3:16 Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  Note that Jesus said that God loved the world, and that God would give eternal life to whoever believes. When God gave us His Son, He was opening His arms to embrace all people everywhere.

      But then Jesus had some words that may have confused the disciples, and that we need to pay attention to.  Words about what it means that His is the Messiah, but that also tell what those who follow Him need to do. 

      “He who loves his life will lose it.

      He who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal life” (v. 25).

      Wow.  People came to see Jesus because He was exciting!  He healed the sick!  He caused the lame to walk!  He caused the blind to see!  Just imagine what He might do for them! But Jesus splashed cold water in their faces.  They may have expected Him to say, “Take up your sword and follow me.”  Instead, he said, “Take up your cross and follow me” Why would Jesus tell them to take up their cross?  The cross was an instrument of punishment.  These people had not come to be punished.  They had come to be empowered.

      Jesus often disappointed his followers.  His disciples had visions of glory, of winning,  of ruling.  Jesus had a vision of giving, of serving, and of dying.

      We are very much like those disciples. We talk about going to church “for what we get out of it.”  We want to be comforted and comfortable.  As the theologian Ralph Sockman used to say:

      “Too many Christians are waiting for God to do things for them, rather than with them.”

      Too often, our prayers sound more like a shopping list than a conversation with our Lord.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”

      Is that how we pray?  Sometimes!  More often, though, we pray, “Give me this and give me that!” Or we pray:

      “Lord, I have sown my wild oats Please  prevent the harvest.”

      Too many times we wait for God to do something for us rather than with us.  But Jesus calls us to a different kind of discipleship. You have probably heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a German pastor who opposed Hitler.  The Nazis arrested him in 1943 and executed him in 1945.  Before his death, he wrote a book entitled The Cost of Discipleship) in which he wrote:

“When Christ calls us, He bids usto come and die.  It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him,  or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world.   But it is the same death every time–– death in Jesus Christ,  the death of the old person at His call.”

      Christ knew the power of the cross!  He knew how the cross could draw us to Him!  He knew how the cross could save us.  He died on a cross and His death changed the world forever.

      It sounds crazy!  How can a cross be powerful?  How can sacrifice lead to greatness?  We know what makes people great!  Money makes people great!  Beauty makes people great!  Power makes people great.  But Jesus says, “No!  If you want to be great, take up your cross and follow me!” Christ turns our world upside down! In his hands, wisdom becomes foolishness and foolishness becomes wisdom! 

Christ calls all people to Him, not from the saddle of a war-horse, but from a splintered cross.  The paradox is that those who have lived by the sword have also died by the sword, but Christ, who died on a cross, lives in our hearts two thousand years after his death.

 Christ says to us:

      “If anyone serves me, let him follow me. Where I am, there will my servant also be.

If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (v. 26).

      The most powerful witnesses to the power of Christ are those who have taken up their cross in his service.

      Father Domenico Mercante was  the parish priest in the mountain village of Giazza, Italy during World War II.  German paratroopers came to Giazza, and some of the villagers tried to resist them.  The Germans arrested one of the resisters, and started to execute him. Father Mercante, hearing of their plans, pled for the man’s life.  He offered to take the man’s place.  He offered his life to save the resister’s life.  The Germans accepted the priest’s offer, and prepared to shoot him.  When the time came, one of the German soldiers in the firing party stepped out of the line.  He said, “I can’t shoot a priest.” The German commander ordered him to lay down his rifle.  Then he ordered him to stand beside Father Mercante.  Then he ordered his soldiers to shoot both of them.  Both were shot and killed.

      We might say, “What foolishness!”  Two good men were killed!  Two wonderful men!  They should have saved themselves!  It would have meant more in the long run!”  But it would not have meant more in the long run. 

      Just imagine the power of Father’s Mercante’s example in the lives of those villagers.  Those villagers may have forgotten thousands of sermons, but they will never forget the  example of Father Mercante.  Or consider the power of the disobedient soldier’s witness to his fellow-soldiers.  I am confident that every soldier there that day, and many others too, were affected, haunted–by that soldier’s witness.

      The Greeks came asking to see Jesus.  John shows us the real Jesus. The real Jesus is the Christ of the cross. The real Jesus is the Christ who turns everything upside down. The real Jesus is the Christ who, from a cross, saved the world. The real Jesus is the Christ who, from a cross, saves us.

 

      We show Christ to the world and the community as we become the people of the cross, serving him and others. But Jesus promises:

      “If anyone serves me,

      the Father will honor him”

      Let us be the servants of Christ, so that our lives might honor Christ and so that the world can see Him in us.  Amen.