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.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have thought about what people see when they look at me. Some of these ponderings are the result of nostalgic musings as I have listened to music from my college and high school years while working in the backroom of the store. But some of the thoughts are a result of the discussions we have had during our Wednesday meetings. Another reason I have thought about what people see because this week one of my coworkers asked why I chose the life that I live. What do people see when they see you? Are they seeing who you truly are or are they seeing a carefully maintained image that we have crafted to hide and protect our vulnerable hearts?
When I looked at this passage this week, the idea of what people are seeing when they look at me stuck. The passage begins by saying that among the people worshiping at the festival were some Greeks. These Greek individuals had a desire to see Jesus, but they clearly did not know how to make this happen because they were not members of the community. If you have no connection, no network of people to rely on, how will you gain access to people of importance? Think of this for a moment, if you wanted to visit with any celebrity, anyone you find as being someone you would want to really sit down and talk to, how would you go about making it happen? You have to know someone. You have to know someone who knows someone that can make a connection which will take you one step closer, and you continue until you have what it is you want. Or you must leverage enough influence to turn their attention toward you. And that type of leverage usually comes from a network of individuals as well.
It is interesting when we think about it that in most spheres of life a relationship between individuals always seems to matter. Providers of goods and services and their customers, professors and students, mentors and disciples, political entities all have to develop some relational format to improve their standing in whatever community they wish to be included in. It is quite literally a myth to think that someone is self-made. Relationships must develop because we are social beings.
Some Greek individuals were seeking to see Jesus, but they were not members of that particular community. They were attending a Jewish festival. They were clearly intrigued by this culture or they would not be there. They had obviously recognized that Jesus was something fascinating because they wanted to see him, but how can they get there from where they were standing? They look at that those who know Jesus.
Who are these people that know Jesus? Simon also known as Peter, his name is derived from the one of Jacob’s son’s obviously a Jewish name. James which is a form of Jacob which was the original name of the patriarch who became Israel. Levi the name of the priestly tribe, Judas a form of Judah another name of one of the sons of Israel, Bartholomew which means son of Talemai which is also a strong name within Jewish history. If we look at all the names of each of the disciples every one has a Jewish origin except one. Each of those names in some way restrict outsiders because names are important. Parents name children according to what is important to them at that time. If we give a child a name we hope that they will live into that name, it is somewhat a prophetic declaration of a parent’s hope for their children. All these disciples were named after strong Jewish identity. And people with strong cultural names tend to be brought up within a strong cultural identity, this is especially true in ancient cultures. So, these names and the meanings they imply to those on the outside looking in became a closed door, except for one Philip. This one disciple we know almost nothing about, was one of the first disciple and he was the only disciple with a Greek name. What do people see when they look at you?
These Greek individuals wanting to see Jesus looked around and they could see who the closest friends of Jesus were. I imagine that they engaged others around the festival in conversation and eventually found out the names of those men. And in that process, they hear a name similar to theirs. Could this person help them speak to Jesus? They took the risk and spoke to Philip. They saw in Philip an opportunity where the others were a closed door.
This idea excites me. The concept that people might see in me an opportunity to assist them to their desires and dreams. I know it sounds a bit weird, but I like to help people. I like to assist people, especially when it comes to them finding what they are looking for. That might be why I work in retail, because I can help you find the food coloring you need for your holiday entertainment. But hopefully there is more, I hope that I might have the opportunity to help someone find who they were created to be.
These Greek individuals wanted more than anything at that moment to have the opportunity to see Jesus. And it just so happened that there was one person in his closest circle of friends that provided access for them. It is fascinating to see how even within Jesus’s inner circle of friends from the beginnings of his ministry provided for this event, this one Jewish man who spent his entire life living in a community of Jewish people carried a Greek name for one reason. Through him the hope of Christ would be opened to all people. Through him access to God would be granted common gentiles. Romans had access because they wielded power, but the Greeks were just common people like you or me. God used the seemingly apostate prophecy of a name. And if he can use that for the glorification of the kingdom what can he do with us?
It is assumed that after Philp and Andrew speak to Jesus, these Greek individuals were brought to Jesus and witnessed first-hand Jesus teaching. Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” This is an extremely important statement. It is after these Greek individuals come to see Jesus that He announces that everything is now set up for the fulfillment of His given mission. All people now have access to Jesus, Jew and Greek, and through the Greeks all of us. The courses of history were all coming to this point, the rise and fall of Israel, the exiles, the conquests of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans, the rebuilding of the temple the infatuations with the peculiar monotheistic religion of the Hebrews in a polytheistic culture. Everything is set for God to make his greatest revelation, and now all various groups of people within the Roman Empire have someone in place to observe. The promise to Abraham is about to be fulfilled, Israel will become the light to the nations, and God will be glorified. And God orchestrates it through a Jewish man burdened with a Greek name.
Jesus goes from this revelation to teach us what his glorification is and in turn what ours will be also:
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. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
What do people see in me? What do people see in you? I thought about this all week long. I considered it as I listened to the music of my youth, which I was told is now classic. I hear echoes within the lyrics of people seeking something in their lives and they are looking everywhere they can think of to find it. In these artistic testimonies they cannot name what it is they are looking for yet they express they are seeking. Just yesterday at Aubrey’s birthday party more songs were shared from previous generations and the current one, also expressing the same longing. We often think that the world does not seek that they have no desire for faith, yet why do so many of the testimonies of a generation speak of the quest to find meaning and purpose? Why do so many songs of our youth express a longing that so many morn at not finding?
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. What do people see when they look at us? Do they see a friend of Jesus or do they see yet another paper façade? Jesus came to this world, he left the throne of heaven to be born as a baby within a community for one purpose. He taught and demonstrated a life and lifestyle that built up to one central theme. He came to glorify God, he not to condemn the world but to save it so that through him the world would have the hope of life. And he provided the way for that life through his life, death and resurrection. And we have the opportunity of life if we believe and take on his life and follow him.
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies. Jesus told the crowd that through one man dying many would live. Through one life, much fruit would be produced. Jesus died. He took upon himself the entire human experience life and death, shame and glory, hope and despair, so that through him we could have true life. But what do people see? That very same life is the life he calls each of us to. It is the life the writers of the music we love seek even without knowing it. It is the life the artists of history depict even though we may not understand. They long for us all to die to self so that many might live.
This is a life of love. Love is not a mere emotion but it is a depiction of who God is. It is giving our life for someone else. We die to our own desires so that we might glorify someone else. When the writers of scripture speak of love they speak of it as submission and the love that Jesus had for the church, both of which places the life of the other as more important then one’s self. The same is spoken of in the love that parent have for children, a truly loving parent gives up their life for the life of their children. Each of these relationships are building blocks for something more. The family is the nucleus of society. When families fail society fails. And men, a great deal of this rests on our shoulders. We have a hard time dying to self, we have a harder time submitting and loving others more than ourselves. A lot of it has to deal with the chemical makeup of our bodies and the hormones that flow through our blood. And when we fail to regard our relationships as more important than our goals we leave the next generation longing and seeking for things they cannot see.
What do people see when they look at us? Do they see something worth dying for? Do they see something they long to have? Do they see an opportunity to obtain that longing within their hearts that they cannot fully express? And are we showing them something worth living for?
This season leading up to Easter, this transition from winter to spring reminds us of many things. Hope, life, resurrection and new opportunities. God’s creation is showing us the Gospel, it is preaching the good news from the seeds that fall to the ground taking on new forms to produce fruit. To the previous lives returning to the earth to nourish the lives of the next generation. From the cycles of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation bringing water to the dry soils. To photosynthesis converting the light of the sun to nourishing substances to be consumed by animals of various kind. Life dies to give greater life. Will our life be lived for the glory of our Creator, who fashioned the cycles of history to bring about his glorification in the life of His One Son, through one oddly named friend redemption of all people. Will you give life?