‘We would see Jesus’ (Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B, 25 March 2012)

‘We would see Jesus’

Jeremiah 31.31-34
John 12.20-33

Way back in 1939, Winston Churchill said this of Russia: it is

a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

I feel the same way about today’s Gospel story. It’s a riddle. It’s a mystery. It’s an enigma.

Some ‘Greeks’ come to Philip and say, ‘Sir, we would see Jesus.’

Fair enough… But when Jesus hears about it, he seems to go off at a tangent. He says:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

You’d think he’d sit down with these visitors from far away, or at least give them a number and tell them to wait in line. But his reply is a riddle. A mystery. An enigma. The hour has come…

Jesus has talked before about ‘the hour’. At Cana, when Mary asked him to fix the alcohol shortage, he said (John 2.4),

My hour has not yet come…

And he said (5.25),

Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

The course of Jesus’ life was heading to a climax, but not until the right time. Nothing could happen until ‘the hour’ had come (cf. 7.30, 8.20).

And with the Greeks, the hour had indeed come. What’s that about? The Greeks were the ‘other sheep’ that Jesus had spoken about (10.15-16):

I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

It was now time to bring all people together as one flock. It was time for the shepherd to lay down his life.

We don’t know if these ‘Greeks’ talked to Jesus. But their importance in John’s story of Jesus is this: they represent the rest of us, those who were outside the flock of Israel, those who didn’t have a revelation of God. They represent the uncircumcised, the unclean. It’s their time, our time, time for us all to ‘come in from the cold’. The enigmatic ‘hour’ is now.

And Jesus gives us another riddle (12.24):

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.

You know, Karen and I were once given some Kentia palm seeds. Not being a gardener, I kept them for quite a lo-o-ong time before I got round to potting them. When I finally started to put the seeds into pots, I realised that ants had eaten them from the inside out.

These seeds had to be buried in the earth to live. Keeping them out in the air led to their death.

Let me tell you one of the mysteries of life: God’s work is often done in the darkness. It’s done deep within, perhaps without our clear understanding of what’s going on. God’s work is done while we are in the darkness, stumbling through difficult times where it seems that God may in fact be absent.

I don’t recommend depression one little bit, but one of the fruits of depression can be that you discover your need to cling to God more. You dig within, and find you need to seek God out—and to your surprise you find that God is right there with you, even though you can’t feel it. I’ve found that it’s the buried grain that grows the fruit.

Jesus has yet more enigmatic mysterious riddles to tell in this passage. Let me finish with one of them. Jesus says,

…when I am lifted from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself.

What does that mean?

John says that it shows the death he was to die—he would be lifted up on a cross.

‘Lifted up’ also means exalted, glorified. Isaiah said, ‘I saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple’. Jesus will be exalted and glorified while he is lifted high upon the cross.

‘Lifted up’ also means to be easily seen. What did the Greeks say? ‘Sir, we would see Jesus.’ They shall see Jesus. His hour has come.

Jesus is exalted on that cross as a sign of the love of God. We get it horribly wrong if we think that God had to have blood to forgive us, and so Jesus died on the cross because of God’s anger. People crucified Jesus the Son of God, and God the Father shared his pain. The cross shows how much God loves us.

Jesus says he will ‘draw all people’ to himself. When we grasp the love of God shown in the suffering of the eternal Son for our sakes, surely our hearts are melted. He has done this for us. He has loved us to the end, so that we can know the fellowship of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When the Greeks wanted to ‘see’ Jesus, I suspect they wanted to have a discussion with him. To debate him, perhaps. To understand him. But all they got was ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’.

Can you understand the cross? I can’t—it always has an element of a riddle, an enigma, a mystery. But the main thing isn’t to understand it. We are asked to receive it, to live it.

That’s why our congregational mission statement says that we are

Living God’s mission
as disciples of Jesus
united in the Spirit

We ‘live’ the mission of God. God’s mission becomes something that lives in our flesh, in our bones, in our DNA. The cross draws us to Christ. Don’t worry if you don’t fully understand the mystery of the cross. We are drawn to ‘stand under’ the cross, rather than ‘under-stand’ it.

We ‘see’ Jesus on the cross not by getting it with our mind so much as receiving him into our being. To stand under the cross is far better than feeling we have to understand it perfectly. Then, deep within, we shall know something of that great hope that Jeremiah 31.33-34 points us to:

…this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

‘We would see Jesus’; we would have Jesus written on our hearts; we would ‘know the Lord’ and the mystery of his cross. Amen.

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