When our Savior stood before Annas, father-in-law of the high priest, during the first of those mockeries of justice he had to endure throughout the night on Holy Thursday, Annas asked our Lord about his disciples and his teaching. Our Savior’s response? “I have spoken openly to the world. I always taught in a synagogue or at the temple, where all the Jews gather. I said nothing in secret” (John 18:20). Do you realize how much of that public teaching Jesus did during Holy Week? After he cleansed the temple on Monday and when he returned again on Tuesday to the temple courts? Despite the obvious danger, he didn’t shy away from those final confrontations with the high priests and experts in the law. Nor did Jesus hide himself from lost sinners who still yearned to hear him teach. Instead . . .His Final Steps Led to Some Greeks. And these were just a few more steps in the Savior’s mission…
- to bring life to us all.
The event we are studying this evening likely took place on Tuesday of Holy Week. That’s when some “Greeks . . . who went up to worship at the Festival. . . came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus’ ” (John 12:21). Almost surely, these were non-Jews who were converts to Judaism – people who worshiped in the outer courts of the temple. People who’d seen Jesus clear it out so they could worship earlier in the week. And so they would know the prophecies about the Messiah, prophecies like Isaiah 35:5,6: “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unplugged. The crippled will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy.” Since word about Jesus’ miracles was spreading like wildfire—including the raising of Lazarus from the dead—these Greeks must have wondered, “Could Jesus be the Promised One?”
So they came “to see Jesus.” First to Philip – then he got Andrew – finally they got to Jesus. But do you see how Jesus responds? Sort of like when I asked my grandpa about his service in the WWII – and he leaned back and looked off somewhere else – remembering something far graver and more weighty than a quick question over a beer warranted? Here – it’s as though Jesus saw why his final steps led to some Greeks. He saw this as another sign along his path to Golgotha and part of the big picture of God’s plan of grace. “The time has come,” the set time, the appointed time the Lord had chosen from all of eternity. The kind of weight that would make him press on, “Amen, Amen, I tell you” (John 12:24). It’s as if our Savior had placed his hand on a Bible and was taking an oath: “I swear, I’m telling the truth. Listen up! This is important.”
Jesus knew what lay ahead: The betrayal. The trials. The mockery. The scourging. The spitting. The hitting. The hate. The cross. “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it continues to be one kernel. But if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24). Jesus is that kernel of wheat, the single seed that would go to the cross to die for all of us. Jesus is that kernel of wheat that would be laid to rest in the tomb. Jesus is that kernel of wheat that would be raised again on Easter Sunday to prove he has brought life to us all! Jesus is that kernel of wheat Paul was thinking about when he wrote this victory chant: “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
“If it dies, it produces much grain.” These words help explain why you and I don’t have to be afraid – whether of disease or broken economy or bank runs or death. They can’t take away from us God’s gracious gift of eternal life—a gift that is ours all because of Jesus, that kernel of wheat who went into the ground on Good Friday and came out again on Easter Sunday!
And the blossoming of his death and work moves us to follow his words right now. “Anyone who loves his life destroys it. And the one who hates his life in this world will hold on to it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, let him follow me. And where I am, there my servant will be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:25,26).
We believers are in this world to serve. We are called to follow our Lord. Our lives – in pain or pleasure, with joy or sorrow, receiving all we’ve ever wanted or really wanting for even basic things… our lives are pointing others to this same Christ – for seeing that he is the kernel that produces the life we have with God and moves the life we live now.
Some time ago, in our worship spreadsheet online, I entered all the themes for our Lenten series and I noted there after this theme – that his final steps led to some Greeks – “That’s weird.” Jesus’ audience with the Greeks is important for you and me! You and I are also “Greeks.” Our Savior wanted us to know he came to bring life to us all! That’s why his final steps led him to some Greeks. But there was also another reason.
- To bring glory to his Father.
I said a few moments ago that Jesus replied as he did because he saw how all of God’s plan was bringing him finally to the cross. Can you imagine how that must have weighed on him? To know that he was going to take our place on the cross to suffer the torments of hell for us? To suffer for the sins of the entire human race, including you and me – sins “big” and sins “small…”
Jesus was going to shoulder the crushing weight of all our sin, all our guilt, all our selfishness. Because of us, he was going to be separated from his Father, enduring the agony of hell. And he knew it! That’s why he said, “Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, this is the reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27,28).
Two days later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, our Savior prayed this way. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Moments later, he roused his disciples from their sleep and said, “Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise. Let us go. Look, my betrayer is near” (Matthew 26:45,46). Jesus set his face like flint (Luke 9:51). He never wavered, never turned away from the Father’s plan to save you and me. Jesus gave glory to his Father with a devotion that was 100 percent faithful and pure!
And the Father knew it! That’s why “a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified my name, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said it thundered. Others said an angel talked to him. Jesus answered, ‘This voice was not for my sake but for yours.’ ” (John 12:28-30). This is the third time the Father spoke from the clouds, delighted by his Son’s perfect devotion. The first was Jesus’ baptism. The second time? At Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. Now the Father spoke a third time. “I have glorified my name, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:28). For three years, Jesus’ perfect ministry brought his Father glory. So would Jesus’ final steps: his crucifixion and his resurrection.
Jesus saw it too. That’s why he said, “ ‘Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be thrown out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:31-33). When Jesus talked about being “lifted up from the earth,” he meant his crucifixion – by which come sour salvation. When our Lord hung on that cross, that was the time for “the judgment of this world.” All sins of all people of all time hung there with him. Your sins and mine. And in that same moment, the “ruler of this world” was thrown out! The devil’s power over us was crushed (Ephesians 2:2), and the Father was glorified yet again!
Jesus’ final steps led to some Greeks who brought this request: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” That’s a good pulpit-prayer for a pastor – Lord, let them see Jesus through me… That’s actually what we gather in this house of God for anyway, isn’t it? Whether in crisis or calm, at a time of blessing or a time of loss—through all the twists and turns of life, can there be anything more important than seeing Jesus above it all? The writer to the Hebrews didn’t think so. That’s why he wrote, “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author of our faith and the one who brings it to its goal” (Hebrews 12:2). Amen.