“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
April 6, 2003
On backside of the pulpit in the chapel of Columbia Theological Seminary is a small, brass plaque which says, "Sir, or madam, we would see Jesus." When I first read the engraved words on the plaque, I wasn't sure what they were trying to tell me. You see, I may have been an experienced student, but I was a novice preacher, as were all of us who preached behind that pulpit.
For many of us novice preachers, our idea of a good sermon was a theological exposé and recitation of the text we were preaching on. If we didn't mention at least several Reformed theological tenets in our sermon, then we weren't preaching. After all, we spent a lot of time in our other classes reading famous sermons from people such as the early European reformers John Calvin and John Knox, and later American reformers George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, all of whose sermons were 30 to 40 minute theological dissertations.
In my first semester of seminary, I did an internship at a local church, and when it came time for me to preach at the Sunday night worship service, I had already spent a month on my sermon. It covered numerous essential tenets of the Reformed faith, from salvation by grace alone, to the sovereignty of God. After the service, as I was standing in the back of the church greeting people as they left, I heard people say things like, "good job," "I enjoyed it," or "good sermon." Until finally, a little, old woman came up to me, took my hand, and said, "You said a lot, but you didn't tell me about Jesus. I want to know Jesus."
This is way the small, brass plaque was put on the back of the pulpit. It was a reminder to all of us budding preachers that every sermon should enable people to know Jesus, to see Jesus more clearly. I know that I don't always do this. Sometimes the sermons we preach seem to cloud the issue, rather than to clarify Jesus, to obscure rather than proclaim Jesus.
There is something about the Gospel that is on one hand very complex. Whole libraries of books have been written in which scholars try to unravel the mysteries of God. You want to get to know Jesus? You want to see Jesus? There is an avalanche of material on the subject. Whether it be understanding the Trinity, justification, or the incarnation, or comprehending fully the meaning of bread broken at the Table and wine shared in the cup, it is no secret that our faith is full of complexities. We can’t understand them all, but we can’t even begin to, until we first see Jesus.
The Greeks who come asking to see Jesus, most certainly, had heard about Jesus, about his followers and his miracles, about his teachings and the message of eternal life. We can only wonder what was going on in their minds. Maybe they came to see Jesus because they wanted a new way of life, an end to social structures, economic security, or a new god to worship.
But, the Greeks are more than just a small party of Jesus seekers, they are in fact representative of humanity's wish to see Jesus. Many a people have labored all their lives in search of a glimpse of Jesus. They have tried to see him in the accumulation of wealth and possessions. They have tried to see him in personal ambition and professional pursuits. They have tried to see him in new age spirituality and religious sects, or in the comforts and safety of a self-centered life. But Jesus' words to his disciples are a reminder to all of us that the message of the gospel is not a complex one but a clear one.
“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”
If we want to see Jesus, we have to follow him, and to follow him means to travel in the same direction and by the same road he did - to the cross, because the only road that leads to the garden of the empty tomb must first pass by the hill of Golgotha.
In the end, we never find out whether or not the Greeks still wanted to see Jesus after hearing this. They just disappear from the text, and just like the Greeks, many people also just disappear. The cost of truly seeing Jesus is too high. The question for us then is the cost too high for us? Are we willing to truly see Jesus knowing what seeing Jesus really means, and are we willing to accept it?
There is not doubt that it is more comfortable and safer for us to see Jesus from a distance, to know what Jesus did for us from a purely intellectual point of view, but Christianity is more than just a theological tenet to be believed, Christianity is a faith and a life that is daily and actively lived out in our words and actions.
The choice for us is simple my friends. If we do not care to truly see Jesus, then all we need to do is just bypass the next two weeks and come back again on Easter Sunday. But if we do want to truly see Jesus, up close and personal, then we must follow him to the cross, see the sacrifice he went through for us, and how he used his life to bring glory to God, and then we must be willing to give ourselves to serving and using our life after his fashion.
Over the next two weeks, our Lenton journey will become less of a time of reflection and more of a time of preparation, as we prepare ourselves for Jesus’ Good Friday and Easter, and perhaps, in our seeing Jesus, it might also move us to prepare for our own Good Friday and Easter. Amen.