I spoke last week of us being signposts that are meant to point the way for others to the Cross, the Empty Tomb, and our Lord Christ. Predictably, the sermon caused a bit of pushback. It was not enough that some were not willing to let me spend time with my wife and children, but neither was it a discussion that was going to be allowed to fade into memory. Truthfully, as I looked at this week’s readings, I gave some serious discussion to preaching on our passage of Jeremiah that teaches us about the new covenant God has made in Christ and gives us a glimpse into what the life after death might look like. But as my discussions continued last week, we need to concentrate a bit on God’s fulfilled promises before we spend some time exploring how He might fulfill some of those promises still hanging out there for each of us. Put in different language, we need to be put in the mind of the wonderful saving works He has done before we can ever become effective signposts and guides to the future He offers all humanity. That being said, let’s stick with John again this week. . .
There are two lessons I particularly want you all to notice this week. Some of you sitting there may expect me to preach on the dying grain signifying our Lord’s death so close to Good Friday or maybe the voice from Heaven. I think those have been well covered here in the past. No, the first lesson I want you to notice is the time. Up until this point in John’s Gospel, what time has it been? Whenever people ask Jesus if it is now the time for Him to restore the Kingdom of God on earth, what does He say? Larry gets the gold star this week. He is absolutely right. Whenever Jesus is pressed about whether the time is at hand or if an untimely death is possible, Jesus always answers “Now is not My hour,” or “Now is not the time.” Every time until this point, as His ministry has flourished for three years, Jesus continues to repeat that now is not the time. Notice what moves the clock in His ministry. Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. . . . “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
On the outside, it seems a very simple request. Conversions were not at all uncommon to the Jews. There were Gentile who would convert to Judaism, and there were Gentiles who act as if they were Jews without the formal conversion. Of course, there was a limit to the participation of that latter group especially. Human nature being what it is, we know the natural distrust of the outsider. Our struggles with issues of immigration and of how to deal with Muslims in this country demonstrate that little under the sun, if anything has changed. For those in Jerusalem for the Passover, the demarcation between Jew and Gentile would be clearly marked in the Temple. The Court of the Gentiles, one of the outer rings of the Temple, signified how close foreigners could come to the presence of God. Like the women, the Gentiles were kept outside the center of the Temple. Serious discussions, good old boy networking, and serious teaching, of course, usually occurred closer to the middle of the Temple. In many circles, the Jews had forgotten that they were to be the means of salvation to the world. God, through Abraham, had called them to be a nation of priests, a light unto the world.
But here we have these Greeks asking to see Jesus. They approach Phillip, who has a Greek name, with a simple request. They want to see Jesus. What they are asking seems simple enough. Jesus has allowed crowds to come to Him; He has allowed children to come to Him. Heck, Jesus has even allowed women to learn from Him. But this request, this request carries a bit more danger and Phillip knows this. If Jesus consents to speak with the Greeks, hardliners will condemn Him for fraternizing with non-Jews. It does not quite rise to the seriousness of partying with tax collectors and prostitutes, but you get the idea. So, what does Phillip do? He goes to his brother to figure out what they should do.
Although they are somewhat slow, Phillip and Andrew decide to let their Master decide. Most of us, if reading the story for the very first time, might well expect Jesus to go and speak to the Greeks. Can speaking to Greeks be any worse than healing on Sabbaths? Forgiving sins while healing cripples? Allowing a menstruating woman to touch Him? Healing lepers? But a curious thing happens. How does Jesus respond to the request to see Him? He tells the brothers and us that “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” All the way to this point, Jesus has answered “not yet” when asked whether He was going to usher in the kingdom of God now. Now, when asked by Greeks to speak with them, He declares the hour has come. What is going on? Worse, is Jesus being rude? People want to speak with Him. Should He not allow them to speak with Him? Is He not, by His behavior, endorsing rudeness and exclusion? And how will the Greeks feel? Can you imagine their disappointment that they are the group with whom He decides He has not the time to speak? What is wrong with Jesus? Has He forgotten His own words of the 3rd chapter of this book? Did He not come into the world to save the whole world? What has changed?
Hopefully, you see the significance of their request. God promised Abraham that, through His descendants, the world would be saved. Over and over, God has reminded His people of that promises, that THE seed of Abraham would fulfill the Covenant God made with Abraham. Lo, and behold, we get to Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate seed of that promise. Jesus is the longed-for Messiah, the desired descendant of David. Put in the covenantal language, Jesus is THE descendant of Abraham through whom the world will be blessed. That the Greeks have begun to see the light in the darkness, to use John’s language, means that Jesus’ purpose is being fulfilled. The promise of 3:16 that we read last week is beginning to be realized. How do we know? Greeks are coming to God’s Temple and asking to see Jesus! To make salvation for them and for the Jews possible, His glorification must take place. The events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday must occur so that the world can be drawn into His saving embrace! The Greeks’ desire to see Him means His hour has truly come. And it is appropriate, this fifth Sunday of Lent, that we, like our ancestors before us, stop and consider the significance of the events that we will remember next Holy Week.
There is another lesson in this passage I want you to notice. Were we to stop with the declaration that Jesus died to save us and give us eternal life, that would be a wonderful story. But this is the Gospel story, THE GOOD NEWS story, and God is not satisfied with good enough or wonderful. Look back up in the passage at verse 26. We spend a great deal of time in the Church telling ourselves and those not yet members that the reward for faith in Christ is eternal life. Certainly, that is one reward. But the nature of the covenant that God swore with Abraham and with us is one of way more profound significance. God has so bound Himself to us that we will honor or dishonor Him by our actions and words, and He has promised that we will share in His glory. Listen to His words this morning. Whoever serves Me must follow Me, and where I am, there will My servant be also. Whoever serves Me, the Father will honor.
Think on that this morning for another moment. Jesus declares to us that whoever serves Him must follow Him. These are not ironic words said just before that horrible walk to Calvary with the evidence of the beating and scouring raw upon His skin. No, Jesus tells us that the path He walk will be arduous. He does not want to walk it, but He knows that the Father’s plan of salvation depends upon it. So, as the obedient Son, He will walk that path of humiliation, of rejection, and of death, confident that His Father will glorify Him for His obedience. We who live on this side of the Resurrection and this side of the Ascension know that promised glorification has taken place. But, have you paid attention to His promise and instruction? Follow Me, and you will share in My glory because the Father will honor you. Has there ever be said a more beautiful promise? We human beings make promises all the time, but can we keep them? I might love my wife enough to move heaven and earth for her, but only God can truly move heaven and earth for her. Whatever promises we make pale when compared against the promises of God. Only He has the power to conquer all things. Only He has the power to redeem all things. How do we know? He conquered death as a lesson and pledge to us. Just as I have done for My Son, so will I do for you, if you will but follow Him.
Brothers and sisters, we gather this week, nearing the end of Lent, much as Israel did so long ago on the banks of the Jordan. Like them, we are about to enter into a season of God’s blessing. True, for them, it was real possession; whereas for us it seems more a reminder. But is it? Because His time was at hand and He went willingly on that path, you and I, like throngs of Gentiles before us, are grafted into His kingdom. Because His love and promise for us includes us sharing in His glory, you and I know, as obedient sons and daughters, that we can face the vicissitudes of life and evil of the world, knowing that our faithfulness in the face of oppression and degradation is none other than the life-giving, cross bearing path our Lord trod. Best of all, we know how our journeys end! We may not know the means. We may not see the potholes and back-switches in the trail ahead. We may not even seem to survive to our loved ones on this earth. But we know, we know, that He who has promised is faith and has power to redeem all things to His honor, even our own deaths. Brothers and sisters, whom will you follow? Whom will you serve? Will you follow that path that leads to your sharing in God’s glory, that journey He walked ahead of you and of me, that we might share in His eternal kingdom . . .