John 12:20–33 (NRSV)
Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Jesus Speaks about His Death
27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
So often we look out at the world around us and get a feeling that all hope has left, and that everything we once stood for is in vain. For so long I lived in that darkness, the darkness where the only hope we had was for the return of our lord and the end of days. I would pray for the rapture and wake up in the middle of the night fearful that I might have been left behind. I also woke up thinking aliens were in my room but that is a different story. But over the course of the past couple of years my perspective changed. I do not know when it exactly began to change or even what triggered this change but through all the darkness I began to see rays of light shimmering and filtering through the shadowy figures around me. When I began to see these glimpses of light hope began to take hold, I began to see God working in the lives around me, I began to see seeds of love growing in places I once perceived to be barren wastes. Dawn is rising in a new era, the kingdom of God is near.
But still is wonder what caused this change? The only answer I can give is that the Spirit of God was working, as I sought to follow the ways of Christ more fully. I cannot say that it was something that happened instantly but little by little as I walked along in my journey with Christ. Along the way God would bring people into my life that I could encourage and we would walk for a while and I witnessed just a bit of light shine through their eyes. I first noticed this change when I went to Ukraine to teach English classes, as I spoke with fellow students from a land I had always perceived to be the enemy I began to see a unity and that unity was Jesus.
As I read through this passage today I am reminded of that first glimpse into true unity in Jesus. There were some Greeks that wanted to speak with Jesus. It is quite simple to gloss over this and just say that this passage was a precursor of the kingdom of God being opened to all people. That is true, and I would venture to say that it was always true, but I feel that that does not really catch the true gravity of the situation. These were Greeks, not just gentiles but Greeks. Often we forget the magnitude of why the gospel writers made sure to include the heritage of these particular people. We understand that the Romans were not exactly loved by the Jewish people of Jesus’ day but the Romans were there for a reason, they were there because they were invited. The Greeks were conquers from the days of Alexander the Great. When Israel and Judah were sent into exile they were conquered by Babylon, then Persia, and then Persia pushed back to their farthest eastern regions by the Greeks. The Greek empire stretched all the way east to India and Israel was occupied by this culture. Under Babylon the temple of God was destroyed, but when Babylon fell to the Persians the temple was rebuilt. When the Greeks came into Israel they began to saturate the land with their culture. They would not allow the people to speak any language other than Greek, they taught Greek philosophy and religion. It was the Greeks the performed the original abomination that causes desolation when a pig was sacrificed on the Alter of the Living God. Shortly after temple worship was restored and the people could worship again as their ancestors did the Greeks tried to put a wedge between God and mankind. This desecration provided the spark that would ignite beneath the people which lead the Maccabees to revolt and under their leadership the Greeks were pushed out of power in Israel and worship was restored. From that moment on the Greeks were regarded as the worst of the Gentiles.
The Greeks lost power but they had establish colonies throughout the land, and as time passed these colonies began to unite and grow in influence threatening the young kingdom of Israel that was established, so an alliance was found with the growing power of Rome. The Romans were invited to Israel to help protect the people from the Greek influence. And the Romans stayed.
Now imagine the situation, there were Greeks seeking to speak with Jesus. Greeks wanting to speak to the newly proclaimed King of the Jews. And they sought this audience through one of the disciples, Phillip. The Greek influence over Israel was deep, even after the revolt that pushed them out of power and allowed Israel to re-establish their temple yet again, one of the closest disciples of Jesus was given a Greek name. The Greek culture, for many of us in the west, did not seem that bad. They are the ones that gave the world the governmental system that we in America love so much, they were the ones that civilized the west. Yet to the east they were a parasite that was sucking the life out of their culture. To all of those that held tightly to the ancient traditions, the Greeks and their culture were darkness. Yet that darkness reached into every aspect of life in Israel, even into the lives of the disciples of Christ.
Contemplate that for a moment. The Greek culture colonized the East, they saturated the east with their ideas, their language, their culture they totally disregarded every tradition that was held dear to those of the conquered lands yet these people were seeking to speak with the newly proclaimed king of the Jews. Does that strike you as odd? What exactly did they see in Jesus that caused them to seek his counsel?
The only reason is that Jesus brought to the world a different life. A different way of life and a different way of living. He did not seek to conquer the world but to love the world. He did not seek to condemn the world but redeem the world through him. Without raising a single sword this traveling teacher gained the respect of the nations. Jesus spoke of a different type of life, a life that opposed everything the world knew where people would conquer with friendship instead of violence and where faith was expressed with mercy mankind instead of religious rites. They sought his counsel because everything Jesus taught brought hope not only to the Jewish people but all people.
These Greek individuals came to Jesus and Jesus responded by saying, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.” It seems like an odd response but it is fitting. Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it through himself. The Greeks the most worldly of the gentile population was beginning to turn toward him this very action was a sign that things were changing and a new era was about to dawn. The powers of the world were losing their hold on the populous, not because of force but through the heart and the mind. This threatened the powers of Rome and of the temple. If this traveling teacher could attract the support of the Greeks over a third of the Roman Empire could be turned, if this teacher kept the hearts of Jewish people the power of the temple would no longer rule the faithful.
It is now time for the Son of man to be glorified. To most in the world the glorification of Christ is not something seen as powerful, it is often regarded as the exact opposite because Jesus did not use the tools the world used. In the world influence is gained through wealth and force. Jesus told the wealthy literally to give all their wealth away, and he told his disciples those that live by the sword will die by the sword. Everything about Jesus opposed the cultural norms of every civilization of the world, as does the kingdom that he established. It was not a kingdom of violence and force, it was not a kingdom of wealth and greed, but it is a kingdom of charity, service and love. Jesus is glorified because he established a new perception within the world a perception that those around us are more important than organizations, cultures, and nations. This threatens everyone who relies on wealth and force to maintain influence. Those that required those tools would then lash out and use those very tools to try to silence this emerging idea.
This new focus, this new era, the glorification of Christ is something that every generation struggles with for one very simple reason, it goes against everything the world teaches us especially in the western cultures whose roots are found among the Greeks. Jesus says, “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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” What is it that Jesus is saying what exactly does he mean? He is saying that our lives only have lasting value if we invest everything we have and everything that we are into those outside ourselves. Jesus is saying we only have true value and true life if we live for others. This is easy when it comes to people we like, it is easy for us to invest our lives in our children and our families. It is quite a different story when it comes to people beyond that, when our enemy comes knocking on our doors seeking an audience.
This is where the lights began to shine through the shadows in my life. For too long I saw the world falling apart and darkness overtaking the light, but then in the eyes of people perceived as enemies to my nation I saw something different. I saw them as they were, a human being as I was, someone that had passions and fears just as I had passions and fear. I saw that just as I was seeing them as an enemy the very same words were being used against me. And we all learned something, those words were lies. So I had to reevaluate my life and my world view because even though they may have different ideas on many things they were people, lovely generous people. They were not enemies but friends, and we were united in Christ. I came home and God began to show me many more things, not quickly but little by little. I began to see people around me differently. I began to hear the spiritual yearnings in their voices. What I once saw as darkness was actually cries for light. God is still working and he is still teaching me. The world around us is crying out to God yet do we hear their cries? They cry out to us through actions, in songs and lyrics, in art and in novels. Listen to these words, listen to what the world is seeking through the words of a song:
When I was a young boy,
My father took me into the city
To see a marching band.
He said, “Son when you grow up,
Would you be the savior of the broken,
The beaten and the damned?”
He said, “Will you defeat them,
Your demons, and all the non-believers,
The plans that they have made?”
Because one day I’ll leave you,
A phantom to lead you in the summer,
To join the black parade.”- My Chemical Romance “Welcome to the Black Parade”
Do you hear the cries? Will you be the one that will encourage the broken, the beaten, and the damned? Will you be the one to defeat the demons, and the cynical? They cry out and yet feel hopeless. They seek yet do not find. My heart aches for those people. Those people are our people. They are not the people in the jungles of Africa or the heights of India, but people all around us. People left broken and defeated conquered by the world yet loved by Christ.
They seek but they do not see the church as a refuge because all too often the church has joined with the others to damn them that broke their dreams, and left them struggling to find a way in the darkness, because often we forget what the Glorification of Christ is. It is for these people Christ died. It is for the perceived enemy, the artists, the bands, the people we label with countless labels and push to the fringe of society. And we forget that we must die with Christ so that those in the world might live. The Greeks sought Jesus and he came to them, will we open our lives up to them so that they can see the light of the Glorified Christ in us?