5th Sunday in Lent, Proper B5
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 12:20-33 Sermon
March 29, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
64 "In The Cross Of Christ I Glory"
399 "Jesus Thy Boundless Love To Me"
515 "O Jesus I Have Promised"
193 "On What Has Now Been Sown"
FIVE LITTLE WORDS
TEXT (vs. 20-26): "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.' Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me."
If you ever make a trip to the East Coast, and you go to the old historic city of Boson Massachusetts, there are many things there to see. In fact, I doubt if you could adequately take in everything if you spent a week there. It is a fascinating place.
But there is one "must see" in Boston. The place of which I am speaking is Trinity Church located in Copley Square. Trinity is an Anglican Church, and it has quite a history connected with it.
The date is 1872, and a rector by the name of Phillips Brooks was the person in charge. Now if the name Phillips Brooks sounds vaguely familiar to you, it's most likely because he was the author of the famous Christmas carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."
The parish in Boston had decided to build a new facility; and so under the direction of Phillips Brooks, a young architect by the name of Henry Hobson Richardson was engaged to get the project underway. To make a long story short, the result is one of the most magnificent church buildings in the United States, and it is said to be the most significant landmark in American design.
The church construction was completed in 1877, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. If you go on line to www.trinitychurchboston.org, you can look at slideshows that show the various features of the building, such as the huge stained-glass windows, the murals, the pipe organ, and other things of interest.
But there is one thing about this church that you won't see on the website, or on any tour. In fact, the only people that see this particular item are the pastors who ascend the pulpit to preach. After the church was completed, Phillips Brooks himself engraved into the wood of the pulpit five very important words, which coincidentally are found recorded in our Gospel reading for today. The words that he so carefully and painstakingly engraved read: "Sir, we would see Jesus." Unless the pastor was blind, he would see those words before he ever opened his mouth. And Phillips Brooks put them there as a sobering reminder of what the person in the pulpit was supposed to be doing. It all came down to those little five words.
Five little words indeed; "Sir, we would see Jesus." This is the way our Gospel lesson for today begins, and it is the springboard for what is to follow. So let's look at the situation that was happening with Jesus and his disciples that spawned these five little words so long ago.
The place was Jerusalem, and it was time for the festival of the Passover. As we are probably aware, all the Jews who could possibly make the trip to Jerusalem were there to celebrate this high holy festival day.
But the Jews weren't the only ones there, as our Gospel lesson points out. There were also quite a number of non-Jews as well, a lot of whom were of Greek nationality. And these Greeks were interesting folks in their own right.
Greeks delighted in wisdom and philosophy. If we skip ahead to the book of Acts momentarily, we find the Apostle Paul in amongst the Greek scholars on Mars hill, the place where these minds would come to meet. Reading now in Acts 17 verses 22-23 we read: "Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: 'Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.'"
This of course is fodder for a sermon in and of itself, but there some key things we need to consider in order to more fully understand the situation presented in our Gospel lesson for today.
The Greeks were indeed very religious people-and it's here where we need to realize too that being religious doesn't necessarily mean a person is a Christian. We know that Greek mythology has a whole plethora of gods and goddesses, who are false deities, invented by these various philosophers. Since they aren't real, they are relegated to the realm of philosophy and folklore.
Since Jesus came on the scene however, this did not escape the notice of a lot of the Greek people. If we look a little earlier in Acts chapter 17, a ways prior to the section I just quoted, we read in verses 2-4: "As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. 'This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,' he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and [many] prominent women."
It's these "God-fearing" Greeks that we're most interested in. These were people who were absolutely fascinated by Judaism in general, and Jesus in particular. In fact, many did convert. And it is also suggested that a lot more Greeks in the pre-Christian years would have converted to Judaism, had circumcision not been a requirement to become a Jew.
For whatever reason, these Greeks approach Phillip with those five little words. Phillip then discusses the matter with Andrew, and then the message gets to Jesus.
As we look through the Gospel of John, we notice that seven miracles are recorded-from the changing of water into wine in Cana, to the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Throughout this time, Jesus seems to always be saying, "My time (or my hour) has not yet come."
But now after these Greeks approach Jesus, he makes a very decisive and noticeable turn. In verse 23 of our Gospel lesson we read: "Jesus replied, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.'"
In Jesus' terms of reference, to be glorified meant that it was time for him to embrace the cross, which was the epitome of suffering. Because these Greeks had sought him out, Jesus knew that his ministry and message had gone beyond the Jews and had become universal. It was indeed time for him to be lifted up-i.e. time to be crucified, so that through the Holy Spirit, all people could be drawn to him.
Jesus then uses this illustration about a seed which in this case is a grain of wheat. In order for the seed to be productive, it must die and be put into the ground. This is to say that in order for a seed to do its work, it has to cease being a seed, and become the source of new life springing forth from it.
Jesus had to bear the punishment for the world's sin, your sin and mine too, and be crucified and put to death. This had to happen in order for him to conquer death and the grave, and rise to new life. This new life would then be lived out in the Christian Church, where person after person would come to faith in their Saviour, and have a personal relationship with their Lord Jesus Christ.
"Sir, we would see Jesus." Way back in the days when Phillips Brooks took the time and effort to carve those five little words into that pulpit in Boston he knew that everyone who steps into a pulpit and presumes to preach the Gospel needs to take them seriously. The biggest temptation for a preacher is to present some sort of personal agenda, and leave Jesus somewhere in the dust. I'm sure you've heard preachers carry on about political issues, civil rights, the Middle East crisis, a clever story, or even a witty joke or two. When our listeners beg us, "Sir, we would see Jesus," we give them something else, or a Jesus that is somehow foreign to the Jesus presented in the Bible.
This brings it back to us and places it right in our laps. Do we faithfully show Jesus to others in our words and actions? What kind of Lord lives within us? What kind of Jesus would people expect to find here at Mighty Fortress?
This brings us into the area of what people want to see in Jesus as opposed to the way he really is. People like the image of Jesus being gentle and mild, bouncing young children on his knee. They don't like the image of an angry Jesus that makes a whip and chases the thieves from the temple court. People like the image of a Jesus that loves and accepts prostitutes and other sinners. They don't like the image of a Jesus who condemns adultery when he says things like: "The man you are living with is not your husband" and "Go and sin no more." People like the image of a Jesus that is lying asleep on the hay; they don't like the image of a Jesus that hangs wounded and bleeding from the cross.
In short, people like to see the positive things and pretend that the negative things don't exist. They want a Jesus who accepts them, but they don't want to hear about being repentant of their sinfulness. People like to rejoice that their Saviour has come, but they cringe when they hear what he had to do to save them from their sins.
"Sir, we would see Jesus." Those five words are what we are all about, whether it is me as the pastor, or the entire congregation. We are obligated to show the entire Jesus to the world, and not just little bits and pieces of the good stuff, or things we have invented ourselves.
When we see Jesus, we have to fully realize two things. There is the law that condemns us as sinners. There is no way that we've measured up to God's standards, and on our own we never will. We have to realize the hopelessness of our sinful condition. But when we look to Jesus as our Saviour, then we find those positive things like love, and acceptance, and forgiveness, and restoration, and new life, and eternal hope. When we see Jesus, we see our former sinful life with a sense of contrition and sorrow. But then we see our life as it is now with a sense of thankfulness and praise. Through faith alone, we not only see Jesus, but we have him as our personal Saviour from sin and the Lord of our lives.
So how do we show Jesus to others? Jesus himself says it best in John chapter 14 verse 21: "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."
Several years ago on Christmas Day, a Jewish rabbi wrote an editorial for a large newspaper. In it, he said: "I like Christmas, and I like Christians. My only problem with both is that they need more Jesus."
I couldn't agree more with that statement. And the thing I find most incredible about it, is that it comes from someone outside of Christianity. Sometimes it takes someone on the outside to point out the things we are too close to see clearly.
"Sir, we would see Jesus." In all his wisdom, Phillips Brooks was able to see how people, especially pastors, could lose sight of these five little words for a whole variety of reasons. But he wasn't the only one, because I know of other pastors who have these words pasted somewhere in their pulpits, as a reminder just to themselves of the main focus of their ministry.
That Jewish rabbi was right you know. We all need a lot more Jesus in our lives. This is not only an issue for pastors, but for everybody who claims the name Christian. Satan wants Jesus to exist in this mystical cloud that nobody can clearly see. He wants him to be obscure, and he wants people to get frustrated and walk away. He wants people to experience eternal perdition rather than eternal happiness.
Therefore our goal is to present Jesus exactly for whom and what he is. He is our Lord and Saviour, who lived, died, and rose again for us. Through faith in him, our sins are forgiven and we will inherit eternal life. And if we love him, we will indeed keep his commandments.
"Sir, we would see Jesus;" those five little words. It's our duty as Christians and as a Christian congregation to faithfully present the Jesus of the Bible, and not just bits and pieces of him, or romantic notions we have contrived ourselves.
People need to know that when they walk through our door, they will meet Jesus as he really is, exactly as the Bible tells us. If we do anything differently, then we aren't doing anybody any good in any way. It's just that simple.
So when they hear the message we proclaim according to those five little words, they will know without a doubt they have, as Bill O'Reilly puts it, "entered the no-spin zone." That's the way we show the real Jesus to the world.