Saturday, 21 March 2015

Lent 5

We would like to see Jesus Jeremiah 31: 31-34; John 12: 20-33

‘We would like to see Jesus.’
I would like to see Jesus – wouldn’t you? Out of curiosity, if nothing else -  wouldn’t it be fascinating to know exactly what Jesus looked like. Did he look particularly kind (I hope so) or wise (I expect so). Was there anything in the way he looked which gave a hint to his identity as the son of God?
Yet all four gospels remain frustratingly silent on the subject of what Jesus looked like – because they’re far too busy wanting to give us the good news about who Jesus was, and what he did and said.

So John’s story of the Greeks who say ‘We would like to see Jesus’ is so much more than just a story of idle curiosity: it cuts to the heart of who Jesus is and what he has come to do.
These Greeks are in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, they have come to worship God.
And presumably they have heard something of Jesus of Nazareth. So they come to Philip and ask ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus’.
Idle curiosity? I doubt it, why would they care what Jesus looks like, but they want to meet him, see him in action, and understand who this teacher & healer that everyone is talking about really is and what he is doing.

And when they ask ‘We would like to see Jesus’,  were you struck by the very strange answer that Jesus gives when this request is passed on to him? ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… I shall draw everyone to myself when I am lifted up from the earth.’

The Greeks have been drawn to Jesus by what they have seen and heard of his teaching and healing ministry – they want to meet the great healer, the great rabbi, Jesus. And Jesus says, in effect ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet’.

We might think we have seen Jesus’ love in action in the way he treats people and speaks to the outcast and heals the sick – but the most dramatic display of the extremity of God’s love has yet to be seen.

It is fascinating that it is right now, at this stage of Jesus’ life, that John tells us a voice from heaven speaks to confirm Jesus’ work as glorifying the Father. In the other 3 gospels there is a confirming voice at Jesus’ baptism, at the start of Jesus’ ministry of healing and teaching – but for John this voice comes now as if to signify that this is where Jesus’ real work begins, with his act of willing sacrifice on the cross.
For John, Jesus is not the healer/rabbi, he is the Messiah who has come to save the world by laying down his own life in love. Johns says of Jesus’ statement ‘I shall draw everyone to myself when I am lifted from the earth’, ‘he said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die’.

Jesus shows us God in human form and then goes to the extreme of death to display the love God offers.
The Greeks say ‘We would like to see Jesus’  - and Jesus points forward to his place on the cross. When they see the Messiah who suffers and dies out of love for the world, then they will really see what God’s love is about and what that love is prepared to do on the cross, in the tomb and in the eternal life beyond death.

We don’t know what sort of Jesus the Greeks were expecting, but Jesus himself tells them to expect to see him lifted up on the cross to suffer; lifted up by God when he is risen from death, and lifted up so that he might be glorified in the whole world. When anyone asks ‘We would like to see Jesus’  - they should show them a suffering, risen and glorified Jesus.

But, honestly, when was the last time anyone asked you to show them Jesus? How can we get people interested in Jesus at all?
I think this is a vital question facing Christian churches throughout our country. We know that the number of people attending Christian churches each week is falling and the statistics tell us that whilst in the 2001 census 72% of the UK population said they were Christian, ten years later that had dropped to 59%. We say the church is the body of Christ – if people want to see Jesus they should look at the church, but many people aren’t interested in Church, and no-one is asking to see Jesus.

So what are we to do? The question from the Greeks didn’t come out of the blue, it came because they were already looking for what God was doing in the world – they were in Jerusalem to worship – and they had heard rumours of signs of God’s kingdom in the life of Jesus.
The people we meet may or may not be interested in church – but I’d be surprised if none of them was interested in hope, or healing, or justice, or love, or joy or forgiveness or peace… or all the other things we know are part of God’s kingdom.
So our job as a church is to make sure that we are proclaiming – in words and in deeds, God’s kingdom, God’s love. Like Jesus, we need to be showing God’s healing and forgiveness and hope. Then just possibly, people will want to see more, to see the source of our hope and love and joy – to see Jesus: the suffering, risen and glorified Jesus.

Perhaps in all you do here as a church you need to be asking “how is this proclaiming God’s kingdom?” and “how is this showing the world a suffering, risen and glorified Jesus, whose love can bring hope to all?”.

May your celebrations of Easter which are to come help you to see Jesus and to know his love and resurrection power. And seeing and knowing, may you be filled with the desire to share and reveal that love to others – through God’s power at work in you.

Amen.

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