What Do You See When You See Jesus?

After my first year in seminary I served a summer internship in a church in Iowa. On my side of the pulpit was a brass plaque with the words, “Sir, we would see Jesus,” which I recognized from today’s text. At first glance, the quote might seem out of context, but both that summer and through the years since I have appreciated how profoundly appropriate it was and how crucial for the preaching and hearing of the Word of God—and how important it is for your life as a child of God.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. John provides an account of Greeks coming to Philip with the request, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip consults Andrew, and they convey the request to Jesus. The Greeks were not Greek-speaking Jews, but apparently Gentiles who had been attracted to the worship of the God of Israel. Something about Israel’s God and his Law contrasted with the polytheism and immorality of pagan life. They wanted to see (meet with) Jesus. Remember that a godly life accompanied by words that point to your Savior can have a profound impact on a culture that is not just drifting, but steaming full speed away from God, as evidenced by the way that we undervalue human life at its most vulnerable times and as we depreciate the importance of marriage as a union of a man and a woman made in God’s image.

Jesus takes the request of the Greeks to see him as a marker that his time has come. Throughout the time of Jesus’ signs (John 2–12) his time had not yet come. That was why Jesus had avoided confrontation with and capture by his enemies. See John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20. Other passages looked forward to a coming time, John 4:21, 23; 5:25. But now his time has come. Once again he uses the self-designation, Son of Man. This time it carries with it all of the honor and power that accompanies it in Daniel 7.

“In this Gospel we see Jesus as the world’s Saviour, and evidently John means us to understand that this contact with the Greeks ushered in the climax. The fact that the Greeks had reached the point of wanting to meet Jesus showed that the time had come for Him to die for the world. He no longer belongs to Judaism, which in any case has rejected Him. But the world, whose Saviour He is, awaits Him and seeks for Him.”

Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, p. 590

This is the time for him to be glorified. Notice the passive: he is not glorifying himself, he will be glorified. The triumphal entry had just taken place. Jesus had been hailed as king. It did appear that his glory was at hand. But Jesus knew that the road to glory lead past Golgotha. Even Zechariah combined the concepts of “king” and “lowly.” As soon as “glorified” is spoken (v. 26), he moves on to talk of dying (v. 27). His being “lifted up from the earth” refers not only to his ascension and glorification in heaven, but also to the more immediate event, his being lifted up on the cross. The way that Christ is going to be glorified is the way of obedience, the way of doing his Father’s will, the way of suffering, dying, and rising for the many whom the Father would give him.

“Jesus’ death — we may conclude — is not merely a change of scene that leaves his glory inviolate and that brings it to a higher stage of development. It rather marks the deep caesura in which the glory of his descent — he who is the light of the world — finds its limitation and its terminus and in which the glory of his ascent begins. It is where the two coincide — in a manner that is utterly paradoxical and scandalous to the human mind (cf. 6:53f.). It therefore also forms the point of division at which faith and unbelief toward Jesus as the Son of man diverge (cf. 76:61f.).”

Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, p. 431

Follow Jesus by giving up your life. When Jesus talks about death, he speaks not only of his own death, but also of you giving up your life. Don’t lose your life by loving it! Jesus’ language is full of paradoxes, of seeming contradictions. The time for the Son of Man to be glorified is the time for him to die. The kernel of wheat has to shrivel and “die” in the ground in order to be fruitful. He is not talking about botany or farming. Jesus is talking about himself. Even at this point in his work the temptation must have been there to take the easy way out, to reach for the glory without the cross, v. 27. But he reminds himself of the need to die obediently.

Notice the emphasis on the many in v. 24. Suppose Jesus, after entering Jerusalem and being hailed as King, had simply moved on to his ascension and glorification. He would have returned to glory. But he would have failed to obtain the far greater glory that came from walking the path of obedience, suffering and dying for his people. He is not about to enter glory alone. His resurrection, his ascension, and his glorification take you with him.

But that means that you also accompany him in his suffering and death. What is true of Jesus, is true of you also, his follower, v. 25. Jesus is also warning you not to love your life. Think of a toddler who has grasped something in his fist, and Mommy has to pry it out of his hand. What do you grasp hold of? Do you recognize how futile your grasp is? Jesus is challenging you to examine yourself, to as what is really most important to you. Is it your life, your own interests and desires? That does mean checking the big decisions in your life: what is your overall goal? are you living for yourself, or for the Lord? It also means evaluating how faithful you are in the small decisions: how do you spend your time? what books do you read? where do you browse on the internet? how do you relate to your family?

Live for life eternal. The self-centeredness that permeates our culture, that bombards you in advertising, exemplifies the “loving your life” which Jesus points out leads to the loss of life. Instead, live for life eternal. Jesus is speaking of himself first of all. The road to Golgotha led beyond the cross to the open tomb, to his ascension and glorification. His death results in life—for himself and for all who trust in him. To serve Christ means to follow him. That includes the suffering of life in this world, as well as the glory that is already yours in part, and will be fully yours at the end of the age.

The “hate” that Jesus speaks of is an emphatic comparison, not to be taken too literally. Martin Luther’s peace of mind came not from beating himself, but from trust in the Savior. Jesus is summoning you to a deep, life-changing commitment to himself and to his Father. That can mean a costly obedience. Grace is free, but is not cheap. What are the things you need to release from your grasp? How do you not love your own life?

“In short, to love this life is not in itself wrong, provided that we only pass through it as pilgrims, keeping our eyes always fixed on our object. For the true limit of loving life, is, when we continue in it as long as it pleases God, and when we are prepared to leave it as soon as he shall order us, or — to express it in a single word — when we carry it, as it were, in our hands, and offer it to God as a sacrifice.”

John Calvin Commentary on John at 12:25

The result is life eternal. Jesus assures you that as you live in covenantal obedience with him, you will share in his glory. You will be honored by the Father.

What do you see when you see Jesus? In him? In yourself? Jesus faces the time of his suffering and humiliation here on earth. Yet he gazes steadfastly at the cross, for he can see beyond it the glory that awaits him. Because you live on this side of the cross, the time has come for you, too. Christ invites, commands, you to a commitment that truly places him first in your life. The glory that he presently enjoys is the assurance for you, as you trust in him and walk in obedience to him, that the Father will honor you too.