In the early 1500s, Matthias Grunewald painted a picture of Jesus – one you have perhaps seen. This picture of Jesus was for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Issenheim, France. It’s not a pretty picture of Jesus. It’s dark, almost too dark. Jesus himself appears as a broken and gnarled man, pitted with sores and hanging on a cross. Yet, in the monastery at Issenheim, that dark and gloomy picture stood front and center. It was impossible to miss as it was a permanent piece of the altar.
That makes me wonder, if someone asked you to paint a picture of Jesus, how would you paint him? If you’re like me, you would be reduced to drawing a stick figure Jesus because your art skills are on par with a Kindergartners. But say you were artistic; how would Jesus look to you?
Maybe you’d paint risen Jesus. A wonderful picture of Jesus and how he contained and destroyed death for you. Beams of light shining from him; bursting behind his back. Maybe you’d paint good shepherd Jesus – gentle, guardian Jesus – with a babbling brook in the background. Or a different scene? Something that had to do with end times, and there is Jesus putting away evil forever as you walk with him into Jerusalem the Golden. Maybe your picture would be simpler and it would be of Jesus welcoming children with open arms.
There are many ways we can portray Jesus. At different times, you might see him in different ways. But if you could only have one picture of Jesus, one way to share him with others, which picture would you choose? What would you like people to see when they look at Jesus? Maybe though it would be better to think of that question in a different way, what would Jesus like them, like you, to see? In God’s Word, today, some Greeks find out the answer to that question.
Jesus is just a few days away from his crucifixion. He is in Jerusalem and while he is there these Greeks show up, they are there for the Passover, and they hear Jesus is in town; they want to see him. Now, I don’t know the particular reason these Greeks wanted to see Jesus, but I know the desire. I want to see Jesus. I’ll bet you do too. Seeing Jesus makes it all real. After all, seeing, they say, is believing.
But there was some uncertainty as to whether these Greeks should be allowed to see Jesus. They asked Philip for permission. Philip in-turn asked Andrew, and they both told Jesus, “Hey these Greeks want to see you.” Now, at this point, it’s not clear whether they brought those Greeks to Jesus or whether those two disciples went alone to Jesus but looking further into our lesson it becomes clear a crowd had gathered. So, those Greek were likely present, they got to see Jesus, but maybe Jesus wasn’t what they were expecting. Here is what they heard from him, verse 23, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Those first words likely impressed them, “The hour has come…the Son of Man is to be glorified!” But then Jesus started talking about wheat and death. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” In the plant world, this is how new life begins, with death. A grain of wheat, though it has the germ of life in itself, is useless as a life-giving medium unless it falls into the ground and dies. But if it dies…life…lots of life, but only after death.
You maybe see the point Jesus is making here. He’s the kernel of wheat, and he is going to die. You wonder if this was what those Greeks were hoping to see, hoping to hear. “We want to see Jesus!” Well, there is Jesus, and he’s about to die. That was his answer to those who wanted to see him, “I die.” Do you think that was disappointing to those Greeks?
Yet, often, isn’t that what happens? The picture of Jesus we want to see is not the picture Jesus gives. And, why is that? Because we tend to look for Jesus in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons. There are as many Jesuses out there as there are people. Professor Mike Berg from Wisconsin Lutheran College once wrote this, “There is a Republican Jesus, a Marxist Jesus, a self-help Jesus, and a life-coach Jesus. Do you want a conservative Jesus? A Democrat Jesus? No problem, there are plenty of churches who will give you exactly what you are looking for.” So what Jesus are you looking for today? Because the picture he gives you might disappoint you too.
Look at verse 25, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Go back with me for a moment to Issenheim, France, and the Monastery of St. Anthony. The monks at that monastery they served a very specific group of people. They served people who suffered from plague, people whose bodies had been ravaged by disease. They served people who were dying.
And when those people came in for help and for comfort, there front and center was that dark picture of Jesus gnarled, and broken, and dying too, covered in sores. As they looked at that image of Jesus, it wasn’t pretty, but neither were they, and in this life they never would be. They knew there was no joy and glory left for them on this earth, but because of Jesus there was glory waiting for them in heaven. And that dark depressing picture to those sick and dying was glorious.
Hate your life, Jesus says. Your life might be pretty good right now or your life might just be garbage. Whether it’s the former or the latter, today we are called to remember where true glory lies. It’s not here. It’s not in the things of this world. It’s not in your relationships, your career, your dreams, your hopes, in your wealth, or in your health. You wanna see Jesus? Your not going to find him in those things, and if you expect to, you’re going to be disappointed.
We have to face the hard fact that being a follower of Jesus isn’t going to be about living up life, but about giving up life; about adopting God’s will and abandoning our own. “Whoever serves me must follow me,” Jesus said. You see we look for Jesus in all the wrong places because we are looking to glorify ourselves, to reinforce what we already believe to be true, to validate ourselves. But the glorification of Jesus is found in the last place we would ever look, the cross
Your relationships here on earth aren’t going to carry you into heaven. Your career isn’t going to buy you a ticket in, and, I have news for you, we are all going to die. Do you see then why Jesus wants you to hate your life? Because your life ends. The things in this world end, and then the question is where will you go? Well, “The one who hates his life, the one who keeps Jesus front and center in life, will keep it for eternal life.”
To the extent we avoid death we avoid life. The degree to which we are afraid to die is the degree to which we are afraid to fully live. Every time we avoid and turn away from death we proclaim it stronger than God, more real than life, and the ultimate victor. But do you know what God did with death? He used it for his own glory. Jesus says as much in verse 27.
In verse 27, Jesus wondered aloud if God should save him from that terrible hour. It was a fleeting thought but don’t miss how he responded to it. “No, for this very reason I came.” For this very reason Jesus was born, to die. And so he said this, “Father, glorify your name!” But that idea of glory maybe still doesn’t sit right. Glory in death? The cross is not a glorious place. I don’t know of any historian who has described a crucifixion in glowing terms. No, there is no glory there. But Jesus embraced it, vs 32 “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.”
In that last verse, Jesus embraced death because that death, that picture of himself himself broken and beaten on a cross, meant there would never be a picture of you broken and beaten and forever in hell. Instead, your picture is and will be one with him, in the glory of eternal life, forever in heaven. And that’s why, here on this earth, we die. By faith, we know it would be better to lose everything in this earthly life than to lose Jesus who refused to glorify himself so he could save us.
So, do you want to see Jesus? See him next week riding triumphantly into Jerusalem. See him sitting at that table with his betrayer, see him before Pilate and his accusers, but don’t miss him there on that cross. That’s what he wants you to see. It’s not pretty. It’s not winsome. It’s death, but there is his love for you. There he is in your place. There he is covering you with his righteousness. Giving you freedom from guilt and freedom from fear. There he is dying so you can die to this world and all its sin and live into eternity.
A dying Jesus maybe isn’t the first picture that comes to our mind when we think of our Savior, but remember a kernel of wheat? If it dies it produces many seeds. A dying Jesus lifts us up. A dying Jesus draws us to himself. A dying Jesus is the reason our own pictures so often become those pictures of comfort, the Shepherd, those arms welcoming children, an empty tomb, Jerusalem the Golden, and best of all, heaven. But it all starts there, a cross, Jesus dying for you. It’s a glorious sight. Amen.