“Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Some Greeks had come to the week-long festival of the Passover in Jerusalem and were hovering at the back of the crowd thronging around Jesus. This was just days after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and only one day after he had entered Jerusalem in the chaotic procession of Palm Sunday. In John’s text, this was right after the Pharisees said to one another, “Look, the whole world has gone after him.” That’s when, right on cue, these Greeks come to Philip and say, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”
It makes sense that they would come to Philip. Philip is a Greek name. They probably overheard him speaking to someone in Greek, which would come naturally to him since he was from Bethsaida, a Hellenized town on the northeastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Philip consulted with Andrew, another Greek name, incidentally, also from Bethsaida, and the two of them went to tell Jesus.
Andrew and Philip are among the earliest disciples named in John’s gospel and they are the first two disciples who bring others to Jesus. Andrew, having just met Jesus, himself, ran to find his brother, Simon Peter and blurted out, “We have found the Messiah!” Jesus invited Philip to follow him, and Philip immediately went to find his friend Nathanael and bring him to meet Jesus, too. And now, very nearly at the end of the gospel, Philip and Andrew are once again bringing people to see Jesus, but this time it’s because they have asked to meet him.
So. Philip and Andrew are good models for us. They bring people to meet Jesus. There’s a clue in there about effective evangelism, I think. They didn’t invite people to join their discipleship group. They brought them to meet Jesus.
“Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” We don’t know anything about the Greeks who make this request. Are they Greek-speaking diaspora Jews who have come to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage to complete the obligations of Torah? Are they Gentile proselytes preparing to convert to Judaism? Are they Gentile tourists in town to see the temple, one of the wonders of the world during the time of one of its great festivals? Have they heard about his miracles and are maybe hoping to see one for themselves? Have they come to offer themselves as disciples? We don’t really know anything about them or their motives. But we surely can understand their request.
We would like to see Jesus. I would like to see Jesus. Wouldn’t you? Oh, I know I see him all the time in a Matthew 25 way. I see him in people in need. I see him in people enduring injustice. I see him in people pushed to the margins. I see him. I do. And I see him in a 1 Corinthians 12, Body-of-Christ way. I see him in the kindness of friends and strangers. I see him in the ways we support each other and lift each other up and work together to dial up the love and grace and dial down the anger and fear and hate. I see Jesus in you. I see Jesus in you and that keeps me going.
But sometimes I would like to see Jesus the way Philip and Andrew got to see him, face to face. Debi Thomas put it this way:
I know what it’s like to want Jesus in earnest — to want his presence, his guidance, his example, and his companionship. I know what it’s like to want — not him, but things from him: safety, health, immunity, ease. I know what it’s like to want a confrontation — a no-holds-barred opportunity to express my disappointment, my sorrow, my anger, and my bewilderment at who Jesus is compared to who I want him to be.
It stings to read that, but it’s so honest. “I know what it’s like to want—not him, but things fromhim.” It reminds me of that African American spiritual we sing sometimes, I Want Jesus to Walk With Me. “I want Jesus to walk with me; all along my pilgrim journey, Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.” “In my trials, Lord, walk with me; when my heart is almost breaking, Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.” “When I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me; when my head is bowed in sorrow, Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.”
I want to see Jesus. That, right there, is a pivot point of spiritual growth. Why do I want to see Jesus? How do I want to see Jesus? Do I want to see Jesus because I want something from him? Do I want to see Jesus because my faith is wavering? Do I want to see Jesus because I want to surrender to him? Do I want to see Jesus just to sit in his presence?
Those are the kinds of questions we need to ask ourselves when we feel that powerful yearning to see Jesus. And let’s be clear. There are no wrong answers here except dishonest answers.
We don’t know why those Greeks at the Festival wanted to see Jesus. What we do know is that as soon as Philip and Andrew came to Jesus with their request, Jesus began to talk about the cost of discipleship and about his own coming death. We might be singing “I want Jesus to walk with me,” but Jesus responds with, “Fine. This is where I’m going. You might not like it.”
Peter and Andrew told Jesus that the Greek visitors wanted to meet him. “Jesus answered, ‘Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’” That’s how Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message Bible. Time’s up.
The time for sightseeing is over. The time for spectator discipleship is over. Now the Human One will be glorified. Glorified. As in martyred.
“Listen carefully,” he says. “Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”
Jesus is once again telling his disciples, then and now, a message that disciples are always reluctant to hear. If you hold on to life just as it is, you will destroy it. If you let go of it in reckless love, you’ll have it forever. Reckless love of God, yourself, and others is eternal.
“If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me,” said Jesus. “Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.”
I want to see Jesus. Yes. But there’s that question again: Do I want him—or do I want something from him? And have I given any thought to an even more important question: what does he want from me?
Do I want to see him so I can serve him? Do I want to see him so I can learn to be a better follower? Am I willing to be that seed that is buried?
The language that Jesus uses here as he talks to the Greek visitors and his disciples and the crowd is all imagery and metaphor. The time has come to be glorified. When a seed is planted. When I am lifted up. But all that poetic language is euphemism for a horrifying reality.
Beginning next Sunday we will observe again the events of Holy Week, a week that ends in the brutal torture and crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. Attendance at worship on Good Friday is always low. We want to see Jesus…but we don’t want to see Jesus on the cross. We don’t want to see Jesus die, especially not in such an ugly, helpless, brutal way.
We don’t want to see Jesus willingly take the hatred, the contempt, the violence, even the sheer indifference of this world into his own body. We want to see Jesus, but we don’t want to see Jesus there. Like that. We want to see Jesus in a hundred other ways—muscular super-hero Jesus, miracle-worker Jesus, wisdom Jesus, justice radical Jesus, social worker Jesus. But Jesus on the cross?
That’s where reckless love takes Jesus. That’s what he is saying in all the poetic language. The seed will be buried and dead to the world.
If I want to see Jesus, really see Jesus, I need to look to the cross… where, in reckless love, he opens his heart and his arms to you. And me. And the whole world.
 Debi Thomas, Journey With Jesus, 14 March 2021
 The Message, John 12:23
 The Message, John 12:24-25
 The Message, John 12:26
3 thoughts on “We Would See Jesus”
Thanks, Steve. Excellent, as usual!
Part of my problem with seeing Jesus at the cross is that he then invites me to walk with him to some of those seedy places. I probably would have been one who walked around Samaria back in the day.
That’s the challenge, isn’t it, Gary? It’s Jonah over and over again. Lord, I don’t want to go to Nineveh.