Dear Christian Friends, we want to see Jesus!
We can imagine crowds and calls and jostling and ‘down in front!’ and peering heads and standing on tiptoes, maybe climbing trees or looking out of windows or getting up on rooftops if you want to see the
celebrity pass by. Children on shoulders would get in the way. Palm leaves waved likewise – better put them on the ground. Sitting on a donkey doesn’t really help. It’s not the same as riding a horse or being on the back of a chariot – a donkey doesn’t give you much elevation. Who is Jesus? Did you hear what he’s just done? Raised Lazarus! Yes! I heard he was dead 4 days! Really?! Wow! No way! Are you sure? I saw it. My neighbour’s uncle told me. What’s going on?! We want to see Jesus!
Such is the setting of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The palm branches have associations with liberation – dealing with oppressors – no wonder the Jewish authorities are nervous. History tells us that the Romans brought in extra guards at the three temple festival times and the Passover was the biggie because the Passover itself is a story of liberation – of rescue – of God dealing with false gods and wicked kings – and who’s to say that someone won’t make a leap and cry for liberation from Caesar and Rome?
But afterwards some Greeks – Gentiles – come to Philip who is from the north, from the more cosmopolitan part of the country – think of Galilee as more like London or New York and Jerusalem more like the Midlands or the Mid-west – and Philip checks with Andrew and they go to Jesus and we have no account of whether the Greeks saw Jesus then – that’s not John’s interest in writing this account. No, John want us to hear what the triumphal process means – what entering Jerusalem – the place where the temple and the place are very close together – means and what it means that Gentiles also want to see Jesus. Remember Jesus has all the associations of a Jewish rabbi, a prophet, the Messiah (someone for the Jews) but there’s also this idea that he is the Saviour of the world – and whirling around him are God allusions or links because Jesus also talks about being God’s Son, and doing the works of his Father, and implying and saying the outright blasphemous thing (to Judaism) that he (Jesus) and God are one! We want to see Jesus!
Jesus puts his appearing in Jerusalem into perspective – the hour has come – he is where he needs to be – a king among his people heading towards his coronation battling everything that enslaves all his people and he talks about glory – God’s glory – in terms of death and new life – the seed goes into the ground and the new life comes forth. He talks about what you love most – our lives – and losing them to have them. He talks about glory which the world regards as you have glory when you are being served but for Jesus it is when you serve. And this is what the Father – again there’s that personal link with God – will honour.
We want to see Jesus. The student is nervous before the exam; so are the bride and groom before the wedding; the athlete before the event; the expectant mother before the birth. There comes a point when it is you and you alone going through it – and we find Jesus troubled in this week – there are tough times to come. Who wants pain and suffering? No one! And yet Jesus doesn’t flinch from the pathway but the steps are heavy and God says, ‘I know’. Thunder? For whom? The revolution is coming – the ruler will be cast down and the Son of Man lifted up and the people are confused. It will take an empty tomb and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to get the words straight that God is rescuing his people and bringing them out of the darkness and into the light.
But the greatest mystery of all – and philosophically and theologically it is the hardest thing to get our heads around – is why people prefer the darkness. Why in a good world can sin exist and it not be God’s fault and why is it that humanity never learns about sinfulness, fear, power, corruption? Why do we all think, yes, those are problems but I can handle them? Why are we so blind to our sin? Our brokenness? Our selfishness? Our rebellion? Our stubbornness? It is like each person is a sin addict – we can’t – and won’t give it up.
Believing in Jesus is mysterious because faith has the essential quality of gift about it. However God is not stingy with his gifts and through his Word the message goes out – as it does today – that Jesus died and rose again – he is the King and Messiah and Lord – for forgiveness of sins. Ours. Yours. Mine. All people’s. Jews and Gentiles and any other category of people you want to use. Most people in the UK know this – know about it – like a piece of history – but still they push it away and say, ‘Not for me’ – or secretly they say ‘Not for me yet’. They know they could ‘step across’ and believe but they resist and reject because they don’t want to change – to be beholden – to be a beggar of grace. These can be good people according to the world – kind – neighbourly – but they want to live on their terms and not with Jesus. These can be rogues and those only out for themselves. These can be people who believe that Jesus can’t forgive sins because the god or gods they follow say that forgiveness is a lie and you must show your repentance first.
Back then many people kept Jesus at bay – didn’t believe because of the social consequences – the lack of glory – the ridicule they’d receive. Today people keep Jesus at bay often because of pride – I don’t really need Jesus – I don’t need to go to church – I’m good enough. Why cut oneself off from the light – from the bread of life – from the resurrection and the life? Because people think they know best! Welcome to the darkness!
We want to see Jesus!
But you can only see him where he reveals himself – lifted up on a cross – through water in Baptism – in and with bread and wine in Holy Communion – and through his Word which gives us the Jesus we need not the one in our own image.
We want to see Jesus! Look out for water, bread and wine but most of all listen to the Word. It is true after all, Christians see with their ears!
And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. [Amen]
- John 12:20 - 43