Preached by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min. on March 21, 2021
The row between Jesus and the religious officials is growing and we join the Story after Jesus entered Jerusalem for the Passover festival. The crowds are full and they have heard the rumors that Jesus has raised his best friend, Lazarus, from the dead. Jesus’ mere presence is causing an uproar. I will begin my reading with John 12:19 – 26. Hear the Word of the Lord!
12:19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him!” 20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Our text this morning is a major turning point in John’s narrative and this shift is demonstrated three different ways in our brief seven verses. First, we have the introduction of Greek God-fearers who seek to know about Jesus. They go hunt down Philip, also of Greek descent, to see Jesus for themselves. The Pharisee’s words prove to be true: People from the larger, Greek-speaking world, are beginning to hear the Gospel.
Second, there is a trigger phrase John has used in his Gospel several times when Jesus has been in tough straights. Though the people have been upset with Jesus before, John always made sure that we knew, “The hour had not yet come.” Well, that’s all changed because in verse 23, Jesus reminds the disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
Third, our text this morning highlights a shift in John’s Story as it summarizes three sobering truths for those of us, who like the Greeks, want to see Jesus. These three truths are John’s way of making sure we who wish to see Jesus are truly up for the task. Standing like a Drill Sargent face to face with a fresh Marine recruit, verses 24-26 are John’s ways of asking, “Do YOU have what it takes to do this!?” This, my friends, is what we are going to look at this morning. You see, these three verses add up the cost for you and me to come and see Jesus. The rest of John’s gospel story has Jesus personally showing you and me how to do it through his own example.
Unbeknownst to many of you, there is a little message that is inscribed on pulpits that you never see. It’s been carved into the wood or placed on brass plaques on pulpits from all the various Christian traditions from Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, to Baptists. Sometimes it placed on the lectern itself so you are forced to see it as you preach like it is on our pulpit. Other churches have it placed more discreetly on the back of the pulpit furniture so it’s eye height as the preacher sits in the chair behind it and sees it before she gets up to preach. The “secret” message only preachers see? It’s six simple words taken from today’s text: Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
These six words stare at preachers from pulpits to remind us that the world, i.e. you, are eagerly searching for the grace and power of God in your life that is manifested in Jesus. You eagerly want to be touched by his touch, embraced by his arms, have your face cradled in his hands as well. Every time we pastors preach, we are reminded that you, beloved, want to see Jesus and it’s up to us as the preachers of the Good News to paint you an accurate picture of who Jesus is and what Jesus requires of us. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” is the warning label on church pulpits that as pastors, we had better get it right.
Unfortunately, too often we have not done a very good job at accurately showing Jesus to others. In many churches, Jesus has left the building and isn’t talked about much at all. Other times, preachers have wrapped Jesus up in the American flag and have paraded him around to create a hostile Christian nationalism. Then there is the soft, silky Armani Suit Jesus of the prosperity Gospel that preachers highlight that says if you give your money, you will be blessed with blessings. Too often we preachers, out of fear of offending members of our churches, preach a watered-down and diluted Jesus to make him more palatable for you; you see, if we make Jesus palatable to you, comfortable for you, then you’re more apt to give to or join the church! On behalf of preachers everywhere, I say for all of us, “We repent.” When we dilute Jesus and the Gospel, we are showing a disservice to you and we are dishonoring the Christ. Our reading from John verses 24 to 26 demonstrate what it really takes to see Jesus; these few verses remind us that the six words, “Sir, I wish to see Jesus” truly is warning label not to be taken lightly!
Verse 24. Jesus says, “Listen up and pay close attention: I tell you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
The cost to see Jesus means a hard spiritual reboot. It means life is not solely about me and my needs; no, life is meant to be lived as life together – you and me side-by-side. I give up of parts of myself in order to compensate for the parts you lack in yourself. You give of yourself in order to compensate for the parts lacking in me. This is what Jesus did; it’s what we are called to do as well. I have to die so that together we can live! You have to die to self in order that together we can live! This is a high price to pay in order to see Jesus.
Verse 25. Jesus says, “Hey listen up and pay close attention: Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
If the first cost to see Jesus is a spiritual reboot, the second cost to see Jesus is an entire reinstall of the hardware, software and operating system! Jesus is telling the disciples that those who befriend and love the way the world as it is and currently works have already lost what it means to truly live today. Like our world, Jesus’ world was full of consumerism, sexism, ageism, colonialism, racism, and every other -ism there is out there. The cost to seeing Jesus is for you and me to name and claim all those -isms of our world that we cling to so desperately and swap them out with a new, Spirit-guided operating system that values sacrificial love and justice for the ‘least of these’ in our midst. This is a high price to see Jesus.
Verse 26. Jesus says, “Hey listen up and pay close attention! Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”
The cost to see Jesus in this verse is that we must follow Jesus where he goes; and where does he go from here in John’s Gospel? Jesus travels to the Cross. In order to see Jesus, you and I must follow him to his Cross as well as our own. Easy-going, laissez faire Christianity is an oxymoron; it does not exist, beloved. Jesus-following faith pinches a bit, my friends! This is a high price to see Jesus.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
As your pastor and preacher, I pray I preach the full picture of Jesus and what it means to follow him in a life of love, service, and joy. I pray that I paint all the colors of what it means to live an eternal life this very day. I pray that I do not lead you on a primrose path of convenient Christ-followership that makes you feel all comfortable and cozy. If so, I have failed and I repent.
But if I have preached faithfully, well …
There is a cost to see Jesus. His gift of new and eternal life is free for the taking but we have to get up and out of our seats and pursue it. It requires us to reboot, reinstall, and follow his directions. As a preacher, I do not know how to make it any more clear than that. And all of God’s people say together, “Amen.”
© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.