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Sermon for March 21, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3017 | See the Manager

Have you ever had a sour experience in a restaurant or store that you just wanted to see the manager? When we say “I want to see Jesus”, do we actually mean that we want to see him, or do we just want things to happen our way? Following Christ means that we can be joyful even when situations get sour.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3017 | See the Manager
Jeff Broadnax

Have you ever had a sour experience in a restaurant or retail store that prompted you to say, “I want to see the manager”? Maybe you felt the server was out of line or perhaps you had a disagreement at the return desk. When we say, “I want to see the manager,” we are appealing to a higher authority to settle our problem. We have had enough, and we want to be satisfied.

Been there? Reflect with me for a moment on that experience. When we say, “I want to see the manager,” we don’t really mean that we want to see the manager. What we are really saying is “I want to see things go my way” or “I want to see my complaint settled in my favor.” We mean to be satisfied. We most likely have never met the manager or know anything about her.

Now, consider this. Do we treat Jesus like the manager of a store when our experience turns sour? Is our desire to “see Jesus” really a desire in our heart to get our own way? When we are honest with ourselves, I think we would have to admit there are many times our desire to “see Jesus” is really our desire to get our way, on our terms.

It’s OK to confess that. The Lord already knows, and he knows how to change our hearts. In fact, that’s one of the reasons Jesus was sent to us. He came so we could indeed “see” him by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in seeing him come to know him and his Father who sent him.

That’s why we can pray with boldness this prayer recorded by David who went from seeking his own way to desiring to see and be transformed by God: desired to see and be transformed by God:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” 
Psalm 51:10-12 (NRSV)

When we really “see Jesus” and see his Father which he reveals by the Spirit, we find that the desires of our heart are satisfied or at least settled in him. We come to want to “see Jesus” because he, and the revelation of his Father, is beautiful to behold. This is when our desire grows to want to know him personally for who he is and not as a means to get our own way.

May our Father give you eyes to see how he is working even in your sour experiences and fill you with joy as you walk with Jesus.

I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 51:1-12 • Jeremiah 31:31-34 • Hebrews 5:5-10 • John 12:20-33

This week’s theme is the glory of salvation. The call to worship Psalm links confession and repentance to God’s saving renewal. The Old Testament text in Jeremiah is a direct announcement of salvation with an explicit reference to the new covenant where hearts are transformed. The reading from Hebrews highlights Jesus choosing not to glorify himself but being appointed to suffer for the sake of salvation for all who believe in him. The Gospel text looks forward to Jesus’ death, where the Father is glorified in saving his creation through his Son.

We Would Like to See Jesus

John 12:20-33 (NRSV)

Our text today comes on the last week before we enter Holy Week—the final week of Easter Preparation when we recount Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and where his passion and death come to a head. This presents us today with a turning point where we can look back on all we have learned through our preparation season for Easter while also looking ahead to the climax of Good Friday and the Easter Resurrection.

The passage chosen for today is also a turning point in John’s Gospel. John has structured his narrative with two main sections divided between Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing and Jesus’ final days of ministry involving his death and resurrection. Chapters 11 and 12 serve as a hinge section of these two movements. This section includes the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and the Sanhedrin setting out to kill Jesus, the giver of life. The turning point of John’s Gospel is a matter of life and death.

In the passage for today, we are met with the response of some Greeks after Jesus enters Jerusalem.

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. (John 12:20-22 NRSV)

By including “some Greeks among those who went up to worship,” John has expanded the implications of Jesus’ life and death to the whole world. These Greeks may have been what were referred to as proselytes, or non-Jewish people who were interested in the Jewish faith. Or they may have simply been Greeks passing through or visiting Jerusalem. These particular Greeks were searching for meaning. They were not Jews and therefore would only have been allowed in the Court of the Gentiles at the Temple. This designates them as the “rest of the world” in John’s telling of the account. Jews and “the rest of the world” are involved in the turning point of Jesus’ life and death ministry that leads to the resurrection. After “a large crowd” come to see Jesus enter the city with the expectation that he would save the Jews from Roman rule as their new King, we are told that the Greeks, or “the rest of the world,” also “would like to see Jesus.”

At this point, maybe we should stop and ask, “Why?” Why do the Greeks want to see Jesus? Along with that question we should ask ourselves the same question. Why do we want to see Jesus? We are not told in the text why the Greeks wanted to see Jesus and we may not always know exactly what personally draws us to him. But it is probably safe to say that in most cases the Greeks wanted to see Jesus for much the same reason the Jews did. The Jews wanted to see Jesus set them free, save them and usher in the life they have always wanted. The Jews were searching for a Messiah who would deliver them from their current bondage and suffering. When the Greeks saw the excitement and expectations of the Jews, perhaps they were reminded that they too have their own shackles and sorrows they would love to be delivered from. As we come to the story, we also bring our own bag of bondage and suffering.

The Greeks may not have been able to identify with the Jews’ particular situation under Roman rule anymore that we can, but we all have our own experience of struggle that sends us searching for relief. Is Jesus the answer? Can he deliver us? Will he bring me the life I want? These questions drive us to want “to see Jesus.” We want to see a Jesus who will ride into town and fix all that is wrong, set things straight and restore our world the way we think it should be. In short, we want to see a miracle and we want to see it now. We want to see Jesus.

Do you see the impersonal nature of this search to see Jesus? Like the Greeks, we may “request” to see Jesus but it’s not Jesus we really want to see. It’s what we think he can do for us. Jesus is a means to an end. The way John tells the story carries this impersonal tone. First, the Greeks do not go to Jesus directly but to Philip, a disciple with a Greek name who is from Bethsaida, a Greek-Jewish town. These Greeks seem to want to stay in their comfort zone as much as possible in seeing Jesus. Philip responds by telling Andrew, another disciple with a Greek name from the same town. Philip seems to have picked up on the sensitivity of these gentiles and puts one more step of distance between them and Jesus by going to Andrew next. Philip and Andrew are engaging in a “seeker sensitive” approach to bringing others to Jesus.

How about our own desires to “see Jesus?” Do we really want to see Jesus for who he is, or are we wanting to see if Jesus can restore our comfort zones? Can you relate to the “Speaking of Life” video? Do we treat Jesus like the manager of a retail store that we only want to see when things don’t go our way? Often in our search to see Jesus we find that what we really want is to see ourselves getting our way on our terms. But, before we throw the Greeks and ourselves to the curb for self-serving intentions, notice how Jesus responds to the Greeks’ request:

Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. 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. (John 12:23-26 NRSV)

Jesus replies to their request with an odd little farming analogy about a wheat kernel that falls to the ground and “dies.” He follows this up with some paradoxical talk about losing your life to save it. Probably not exactly the response we would expect from our request to see Jesus. But Jesus has the cross firmly fixed in his mind. He is in Jerusalem and knows that very shortly he is going to be delivered up. He will die, be buried, rise and then ascend back to the Father. Jesus is not going to be around much longer to be “seen.”

With the use of a wheat kernel, Jesus has predicted that the restored life he is bringing will be accomplished through the paradoxical means of death. And like a kernel of wheat planted in the ground, this mysterious work will go unnoticed. We will not “see” it.

Have you ever planted a seed in the ground? If so, you probably can recount how the seed almost disappears after it hits the ground. It is hard to see as it camouflages in the dirt, especially a little brown wheat kernel. If we come looking to see Jesus riding in on a white stallion to set us up just the way we have decided it should be, we may be looking for a wheat kernel in the dirt. Don’t expect to see it. But the seed has been planted nonetheless. Only this seed will come up after its own kind. It will not break the dirt bearing the fruit we demand of it. It will come up looking like the resurrected Jesus, the ruler of his Father’s kingdom, on his Father’s terms and with his Father’s timing. And all this is God’s grace and mercy to us and all the world.

Jesus doesn’t turn the Greeks or us away for self-serving intentions. Rather, he reveals himself to us as the Life, Way and Truth who invites us to “see” and know him and his Father in the Spirit of their perfect relationship of love. You might say, “Jesus makes it personal.” No middleman for comfort’s sake, and no seeing from a distance.

Let’s read the last two verses again:

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. (John 12:25-26 NRSV)

Jesus then goes on to talk about losing one’s life to save it and a life of serving and following Jesus. This is the means of apprehending the restorative work he has accomplished. By faith, not by sight. We can take comfort today as we look around and see so much unrest and pain. We see evidence all around us that we live in a broken world full of death. But we don’t live by sight. We live by faith. Jesus has reconciled the world. He has restored and redeemed all creation. He has made all things new. And all this has been accomplished in Jesus Christ. We can’t always see it, but we can believe it. So, as we experience our own daily deaths by way of pain, loss, disappointment, discouragement, depression, and whatever else may be on our list of sorrows, we can take comfort and find peace in the fact that it is in and through these things that Jesus is mysteriously working to bring about new life.

Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. (John 12:27-30 NRSV)

Take note of the voice from heaven that says, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again,” in response to Jesus’ request to “glorify your name.” There are a couple of interpretations to this voice that Jesus said was for our benefit, not his. One possible reference being made here is the raising of Lazarus as the first instance of glory and the raising of Jesus as the second. In both of these we see that the Father is glorified in the restoration of humanity. John 11:40 records Jesus as saying in regard to Lazarus’ resurrection, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” When Jesus is resurrected, we see the restoration of not just one human but of all humanity. In this the Son glorifies the Father.

The second interpretation to consider is seeing, “I have glorified it” as referring to the life of Jesus. The incarnation of the Son, living his life in human flesh, serves to restore and redeem humanity. The statement, “and will glorify it again” can be a reference to the death of Jesus that was about to take place. Both the life and death of Jesus serve to restore all mankind.

Either interpretation helps us see that the Father is glorified in our restoration. This is of great benefit indeed for us to hear that what brings the Father glory is our restoration and healing. He is more for our deliverance and healing than we are. He knows how tight the shackles of bondage we are enslaved in really are. He knows the root of our suffering and he has plunged the depths of our sorrow. He doesn’t settle for our shallow request. He provides in himself the very life we are created for. In him there is true freedom, peace and joy far beyond our wildest imaginations.

The passage concludes with a statement about judgment.

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. (John 12:31-33 NRSV)

We see that the judgment of the world involves a “driving out and a drawing in.” The first Adam listened to the serpent in the garden, resulting in he and Eve being driven out. Jesus, as the second Adam, listens faithfully to his Father and the “prince of this world” is driven out. Verse 32 provides the restoration or the “drawing in” that Jesus accomplishes through his death: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” When he said this, he predicted how he would die. And like the wheat kernel that falls to the ground, he will spring all humanity upward in a restored and resurrected life in him.

What is important here is to see that our true humanity is found not in ourselves but in Jesus. What needs to be driven out of us is our self-reliance and self-centeredness. We cannot be like a sulking child who refuses to come out of his room in defiance to his Father. That would only lead to a loss of freedom to live in the other parts of the home as part of the family. He has imprisoned himself in his own self-determined reality. It’s only when this sinful rebellion is driven out of us that we can enter into the full home of the Father that Jesus has drawn us into. And even this is by God’s grace. It is his glory to make us fully human, to live as children of the Father, just as Jesus lives as the Father’s beloved Son.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • The Speaking of Life video used the analogy of saying “I want to see the manager” as a way of saying we want to see Jesus, when we actually want to see Jesus as a means to an end. Can you share ways we treat Jesus as a “means to an end” in our lives?
  • What did you think of the statement from the video that the Father will never say, “It’s not personal, it’s only business”?
  • The sermon presented this Sunday of Easter preparation as a “turning point” where we can look back on what we have learned during this season while looking forward to Good Friday and Easter. Is there anything you can share as you make this reflection?
  • Were you surprised in the text to see that the Greeks wanted “to see Jesus”? Can you think of examples today of “Greeks” or the “world” who are seeking to see Jesus?
  • The text states that the Greeks made their request to Philip, who had a Greek name and was from a Greek/Jewish town and also that Philip took the request to Andrew, who also had a Greek name, from the same town. The sermon said this was an “impersonal” way of seeing Jesus where the sensitivities of the seekers were given higher priority than a personal encounter with Jesus. Can you think of ways we might do this today? Have your own “sensitivities” or preferences prevented you from personally seeing Jesus? Discuss this dynamic.
  • How did the statement “the Father is glorified in our restoration” strike you? Have you ever thought of the Father’s glory being displayed in his grace and mercy to us? What are other ways we may think of the Father’s glory? Positive or negative?

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