Posted on Mar 18, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
So did the “Greeks” that wanted to see Jesus get to see him or not? That is a question I ask every time I read this story. All we know is that when Andrew and Philip told Jesus that these folks wanted to see him, Jesus gave a cryptic reply and then began speaking to the crowd, then he offered a prayer for others to hear and then God spoke and then Jesus spoke to the crowd again. We are never told that he spoke to those who came to see him. So what is the point of this?
Well, as I always say, it helps to put the story in context. Jesus had recently raised Lazarus from the dead and upon seeing this incredible “sign” many Jews came to believe in Jesus. In turn, the religious leadership, realizing that they were losing control of their people, make a plan to have Jesus killed because they feared that the Roman leadership would come after them for their inability to control their people (John 11:45-54). Jesus could no longer walk around openly, so he and his disciples went out into the wilderness. But it came time for the Passover again; Jesus needed to go to Jerusalem. So, he went to Bethany, where he stayed with Lazarus and his sisters, and then the next day it was time to head into Jerusalem. We will read about this next week as we celebrate his last entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and as we will see, he wasn’t able to sneak into town because the people celebrated his entry and crowds celebrated with singing and the laying down of branches. And it is at this point that we are told that some non-Jews wanted to “see” Jesus. Now as I read this I hear this as “code” language for even non-Jews had heard about this Jesus and they came to Jerusalem not for the Passover, but to hear and learn more about Jesus. And when we understand it in this way, then in my mind, Jesus' response makes perfect sense.
It is as if Andrew and Philip were saying, “Hey, Jesus, these people want to know who you are. They want to know what you stand for. They want to know what you are expecting of them if they want to follow you.” And then Jesus says, “Oh, you want to know who I am. You want to know what it will take to follow me. Well, that’s easy, to 'see' me and to know me means you have to be willing to die.”
As we heard Jesus say last week when he was speaking to Nicodemus, God didn’t send him to condemn this world; no, God sent him to save this world (3:17). And to save this world, Jesus said we would need to be willing to die, just as he was willing to die. There was a death warrant out for Jesus and everyone knew this, and yet, he was willing to come and do what God expected of him. An he did this because he knew that through his death a whole new way of living would come into this world.
Now, Jesus didn’t say it was going to be easy; in fact, this gospel writer tells us that Jesus said, “my heart is troubled over this…”. I am sure it was. I’m sure Jesus would have preferred to bring about these changes in an easier way, but there wasn’t an easier way. God, the Father, had already determined the only way was through death and resurrection. And so, to honor his Father and to bring the ultimate glory to his Father, Jesus says, “I will do what my Father expects of me, I will die.” I wonder if those “Greeks” were sorry they asked to know more about what it would take to follow Jesus. I know I am not always glad to know what it really takes to follow Jesus, because to follow Jesus means I have to be ready to “die” all the time, and to be a faith community that says we want to follow Jesus, we, too, need to be ready to die, all the time.
But are we ready and willing to die? Are we a faith community that is truly ready to change ourselves, and our ways, so that we might bear new fruit? Jesus said, “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” (12:24). But he didn’t stop there. No, he went on to say something else that I find very challenging. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (12:25). Why is it bad to love myself? I thought it was a bad thing to hate myself.
Jesus isn’t talking about literally hating ourselves. He isn’t talking about hating the way we look or our skin color or our sexuality, or those things that make us who we are and are how God made us. No, Jesus is challenging us to hate the ways of this world that we have adopted that cause us to deny the reality and needs of this world for self-gain. When Jesus says that we need to hate our life, he isn’t asking us to engage in "self-hatred," but more like denying oneself for a greater good. In other words, are we willing to change, give things up in our lives, so that we can help, care for, and love others? To really do this, we must be willing to “die,” Jesus says.
You know, I think this text is speaking directly to all of us as the faith community of Salem Lutheran Church today. As you all know, we have been around for over 132 years, and for all those decades we have gathered right here, and we are tied to this place in many ways. For most of us, we believe our existence as a faith community is dependent on this place. But the truth is, that isn’t true. What is true is that for our personal desires, this place is important, but to be the faith community God is calling us to be has nothing to do with this facility. Our existence depends on Christ and the faith community Christ has built through all of us.
Our existence, our success, our discipleship can’t depend on a building, or a piece of ground. In fact, I believe if we continue to love these things more than answering God’s call, we will die, but not in a way that can and will bear fruit. Remember Jesus’ words, “Those who love their life will lose it…”.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus' words today are a cry in the wilderness for us. As we journey to the cross this Lenten season, we must ask God to open our hearts and our minds to real change. Our focus shouldn’t be on land and buildings but on developing better children and teen ministry programs that help all youth, here at Salem and outside of our walls, come to “see” Christ. Our focus ought to be on offering ministries that help adults, in this busy, crazy world, develop healthy Christ-like relationships and help all adults come to “see” Christ wherever they are. Our focus as a faith community ought to be on developing ministries that continue to feed the hungry — literally, figuratively, and spiritually. Our focus ought to be like those “Greeks” who wanted to “see” Jesus.
So, as we come to the final days of our Lenten journey, are you ready to die? Are you ready to give up those things that you love so that you might bear much fruit? It won’t be easy, and some of us will walk away, but we are called to die, not for ourselves, but for the sake of the world and most importantly for the glory of God. I’m ready; are you? Amen.