The Second Sunday in Lent March 12, 2006
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
178, 349(1-4), 349(5-7), 306, 53
Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.
Dear fellow-redeemed who in Christ journey from glory to glory:
He may have been the Son of God, but you couldn’t get a simple answer from the Man. Have you ever noticed that about Jesus? He’s exhausted while on a journey through Samaria, so His disciples leave Him sitting by a well and go into town to buy food. When they return, He has just finished speaking to a Samaritan woman. When they urge Him to eat the food they have just brought, He seems uninterested, claiming that “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me” (John 4:34). Or, He is in a house preaching to crowds when someone informs Him that His mother and His brothers are outside wanting to see Him. Instead of excusing Himself to go out to see what they want, He keeps right on preaching, saying that this crowd—these spiritually hungry folks—are His “mother and brothers” (Matthew 12:49).
Now the twelve face another case in which Jesus is presented with a simple question: “Master, these Greeks would like to meet You…” But His response doesn’t even answer the question. Instead, Jesus makes an announcement that it is time for the Son of Man to be glorified.
The time came when Jesus’ disciples did realize the wisdom and power of the things Jesus had to say. They came to understand that when He spoke and they didn’t understand what He was saying, the problem was with them and not with Him. He was always looking at the larger picture and the grand design, but we sinful creatures are seldom prepared to see that.
The inquiry by these Greek worshipers prompted Jesus to reflect on the nearness of His glory. Today, we pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we learn what that had to do with these visitors, what it had to do with Jesus’ mission, and what it had to do with all of His disciples including us. The Son of Man shall be glorified I. Jesus’ glory would be “ecumenical,” not “parochial,” II. Jesus’ glory would come through surrender, not resistance, and III. Jesus’ followers would embrace such glory themselves
The inquiry by these so-called Greeks reminds us that Jesus’ glory would be ecumenical and not parochial.
The first question is, “what do we mean by ecumenical and parochial? The simple answer is that ecumenical means world-wide or universal. Parochial means narrow—confined to one parish or group. But we aren’t looking at the simple answer, we’re looking at the larger picture.
Who were the Greeks that came to Jesus? These were likely Gentile converts to the Jewish faith. The gentiles were commonly referred to as Greeks because that was the language many of them commonly spoke. It is a marvelous thing that there were people from the Gentile, pagan world who were led to the Jews and to the Word of God which they possessed. These Gentiles were led to worship the majesty of the one true God proclaimed by the Jews. They were sobered by the holiness of this God and drew comfort and spiritual joy from the words of the Scriptures and the meaningful rituals of the Jews.
So they came to worship God at Jerusalem. They were not permitted to enter the inner areas of the temple square if they weren’t circumcised; but they had undoubtedly heard about Jesus and were caught up in the expectation that He was the Christ. So these Greeks approached Philip and asked for an interview.
Perhaps it was a language issue and it was certainly a cultural issue: Philip wasn’t sure he should introduce them to Jesus. This seems strange to us, but Jesus had often emphasized to His disciples that His activity—and theirs—was not to go beyond the borders of Israel. Besides, Jesus and His followers were under a lot of scrutiny by people who were claiming that He was not orthodox—that He was, in fact, destroying the Law and the Prophets.
At this point, Philip and the other disciples were what you would call parochial in their interest. They thought of Jesus just as a Savior of the Jews. They thought in terms of a political kingdom ruled by Jesus over a largely supportive people. They took the recent events of Palm Sunday as a promise of how Jesus’ reign would commence.
But Jesus saw the larger picture—the ecumenical view. He recognized that the benefits of His work and the influence of His kingdom would extend far beyond the borders of Israel and the Jewish people. The visit of the Greeks was a stirring reminder for Jesus of the countless souls that were out in the world. These were the “other sheep” (cf. John 10:16) that He would soon gather into one fold. There were other countless souls who did not know the majesty of the true God, who had no hope in the world, who lived under the tyranny of spiritual ignorance and idolatry.
The disciples hesitated to introduce these people to Jesus despite the fact that these Gentiles shared in the same joyous hope and faith that Jesus was the promised One. They somehow thought that only Jews like themselves were really meant to bask in Jesus’ glory. They were hemmed in by worries about what was “proper” and conventional in their religious views.
Jesus’ glory was ecumenical, not parochial. God told Abraham, the father of Israel, that “in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Jesus was the Savior whom God had promised, not merely to the Jews, but to all the descendants of Adam.
When Jesus was born, it wasn’t long before the delegation of Magi from the east arrived to worship the new born King of the Jews (cf. Matthew 2:1ff). Now, shortly before He was lifted up on the cross, the true worldwide scope of His work was brought home by the arrival of these foreign worshipers of the Lord who wished to see the Christ.
One would think that Jesus would be flattered by the inquiry of these foreigners, but it seems to have a strange effect on the Master. He seems intensely sad and explains just after our text, “Now my soul is troubled, but what shall I say? ‘Father save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour’” (John 12:27).
With the appearance of these visitors, Jesus was once more brought face to face with the fact that His glory would come through obedience, not self determination.
Jesus gave His disciples a poignant illustration of what was to happen to Him soon, and why: “Most assuredly, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it produces much grain.” [v.24] He had told them several times that when they came to Jerusalem, “The Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of the gentiles, be crucified, and be raised again” (Matthew 17:22-23). Of course, the disciples could not, at the time, accept that message. Perhaps this illustration would help them understand that His glory would come, not by Jesus asserting His divine power and successfully arousing the passionate national hopes of the Jewish brethren, but by being obedient to the will of God. Jesus’ glory would come by going the prophesied course of a “lamb led to the slaughter” (cf. Isaiah 53:7), by being forsaken by all and taking up His cross. His path to glory would not be a glorious path. But glory would not be what He chose for Himself, for it is not the place for a servant of God to seek glory for Himself. It is God who glorifies those who faithfully serve Him.
If Jesus were to seek the Jewish throne and raise up a successful rebellion, where would those non-Jews be left—those who had come to the feast to worship God? They would have no part in such a kingdom. Jesus would have no particular glory in their eyes. Jesus would mean no more to Gentiles like us than Constantine of Rome, or Richard IV of England, or George Washington of America.
But in His obedience to God, in traveling the course of suffering and death, Jesus would be the atonement for the sins of the world. God’s love would be outpoured upon the whole world. Believing men, women, and children throughout the world would render to Jesus their praise and glory. His name would be precious on their lips. Their lives of willing righteousness and faith would attest that Jesus is the Son of God and the only name under heaven by which we must be saved.
This visit by the Greeks prompted Jesus to show His followers the nature of true glory. The passion history with which we are so familiar represents Jesus in a marvelous light, for He is so utterly faithful to God.
As Jesus prepares to go to the cross, He teaches us again the nature of things in the Kingdom of which He does come to rule: “he who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” [v.25] You can’t have your life and keep it too. True glory comes to the person who least seeks it, and concerns himself with faithfulness to his master. We simply cannot pursue this life as if the riches, pleasures, and goals of this world are really that important. If we love the world, the love of the Father—the love summed up in Jesus’ saving work—is not in us (cf. 1 John 2:15). There simply is no room.
But Jesus went the way of the cross to open that way for us so that by faith we may set our hearts on heavenly things and live with Jesus in everlasting glory and joy. He who loses his life for Jesus’ sake will have his life for eternity. It will be a glory that God bestows on us.
May we seek glory—the glory that God shone on the whole world through Jesus Christ. May we seek the glory that comes to those who have no desire for glory, except that which is bestowed by God. May we seek life—the life that comes to those who repent of all that would keep them from losing their lives. May we seek the life that comes through the Lord Jesus and His Gospel alone! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.