We Would See Jesus
"We would like to see Jesus," the Greeks say in our text. You know some pulpits have a plaque that only the pastor can see engraved with this verse from the King James Bible. "We would see Jesus," is all it says. "Don't show us yourself pastor; don't show us your oratory ability, your brilliant brains, your scintillating wit, not even your deep theology. We would see Jesus!"
As Lutherans you do. Why do you think your pastors wear robes? It's not because robes look churchly, holy, or nice. It's because robes highlight the pastor's office and diminish his person. His clothes, his physical features, and his personality are hidden under their official robes. That's why judges wear robes in courtrooms. They too are in an office.
For that same reason, judges and pastors speak from behind benches and pulpits. And we're not talking those clear glass ones that TV preachers use. Nope pastors and judges speak from behind big, thick wooden things. Why? Because they aren't speaking as individuals. Judges speak for the state; pastors speak for the Lord. Most of their individual person is hidden behind their official bench or pulpit. Frankly, I wouldn't dare come from behind this pulpit and say what I do and give the impression this was coming from me or between you and me.
You're to see Jesus not me. The stole around a pastor's neck stands for the yoke of Christ that was placed on him at ordination. The pastor is yoked to Christ; He is in "team" ministry with Him. Every Sunday Lutherans are reminded that in the pastoral office they see Jesus by the absolution in which the pastor says, "I forgive you in the stead and by the command of" Jesus. When the pastor forgives, baptizes, communes or does any pastoral act, it's really Christ who does it. You are to see in these robes Christ forgiving your sins, baptizing babies, and distributing His body and blood to you.
It is important that you see this because this is what makes the sacraments as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our Lord dealt with you Himself. You see if I was forgiving, baptizing, or communing you based on my person, you would forever have to wonder what kind of a person am I. Do I have enough faith? Am I Christian enough? Then any little or big flaws you find in my person would cause you to doubt, "Are my sins really forgiven? Is that baby really baptized? Can the body and blood of Christ really come from such sinful hands as his?" Focus on my office not my person, on my robes not my wardrobe. Our Lutheran Confessions point this out. Pastors "do not represent their own persons but the person of Christ, because of the church's call, as Christ testifies, 'He who hears you hears me.' When they offer the Word of Christ or the sacraments, they do so in Christ's place and stead." (AP,173:28).
As Lutherans you do see Jesus, but I wonder, do you really want to see the Jesus shown in our text? This isn't any glorified Jesus in the common sense of the word. This isn't a Jesus who leads millions of angels forth in glory. This isn't a Jesus who lifts high the cross in a victory parade over sin, death, and the power of the devil. This is a Jesus lifted high, crucified, dead on a cross, and then buried in the ground after.
Ah, but you're use to that, aren't you? We talk a lot about a dead Jesus during Lent. You don't mind that. You still would like to see Jesus even if we're talking about a dead one. How about a troubled one? Would you still like to see Jesus if we're talking about a troubled one?
Jesus says plainly, "My heart is troubled." "Troubled" is too mild. Agitated, terrified, grieved, are better translations. This is the word used for King Herod when he heard that Christ was born in Bethlehem. This isn't a godly emotion. This isn't a noble feeling. Have you ever thought you lost a child? That emotion that pounced on you, that you felt in your stomach, in your throat, down into your legs is what Jesus felt.
Would you really like to see such a Jesus? Did you ever see your mom or especially your dad troubled? Didn't that unnerve you? We shut such sights, such memories out of our mind because they bother us so very much. We expect strength, support, and courage from our parents, and from our Jesus. We want to see the Jesus of John 14 who says, "Let not your heart be troubled (the same word as here)." We don't want to see the Jesus who flatly tells us His heart is troubled.
We don't like to see the troubled Jesus, but we can get use to that too, can't we? Many trips to dark Gethsemane over the years have made us immune somewhat to a "troubled" Jesus. We've seen Him stumble, fall, and sweat blood because He was so troubled there, so we don't mind seeing a troubled Jesus too much. But what about a "lying" Jesus?
Oops! that got you to sit up and take notice, didn't it? Well, how else do you explain the text? Jesus says, "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? No, it was for this reason I came to this hour." Hold on there. You've been to Gethsemane; isn't this what Jesus prays there? "Father take this cup from Me; don't make Me drink of it. Let this hour pass Me by." Who wants to see an apparently lying Jesus? He says He won't pray "Father save Me from this hour," but in Gethsemane, according to Hebrews, "He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death." Isn't Jesus lying?
Of course, He isn't. He can't be. He is God in flesh and blood; He not only did not sin; He could not. The events in our text take place Tuesday of Holy Week. Here Jesus makes no such prayer to be saved. But over the next two days till Thursday night we see the troubling progress from His heart to His spirit and ultimately to His very soul. The pressure gets so great it squeezes the prayer out of Him that He would not pray on Tuesday, "Father save Me from death."
Do you want to see such a Jesus as this? Believe it or not, this is the Jesus I need to see. I need to see this Jesus specifically because of the apparent inconsistency in Him between Tuesday and Thursday of Holy Week. Do you know why? Because it is this Jesus that I can really relate to. I can relate to a Jesus who has to learn obedience just like I do. I can relate to a Jesus who is troubled like I am; One who gets so troubled that His prayers tumble out of Him just like mine do sometimes. One who shudders at the thought of death just like I do.
I can relate to this Jesus because He died like I expect to. He didn't face death like a stoic or a movie war hero striding confidently toward the cross saying like my youngest use to say about everything, "That's easy." No, in the words of our Introit, the cords of death entangled Him like I expect them to entangle me. The anguish of the grave came upon Him like I expect it to come upon me. He was overcome by trouble and sorrow just like I expect to be. And He called on the name of the Lord, "O Lord save me!" just like I expect to.
The difference is I will be heard where He wasn't. He wasn't heard so I would be. The Lord will deliver my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling because the soul of Jesus was given not only to death but to hell; His eyes were given not only to tears but to bruises, and His feet were given not only to stumbling but to nailing. Because Jesus wasn't delivered I will be.
I would like to see this Jesus - a Jesus who suffers in my place for my many sins - because this is the only Jesus who is capable of driving out the prince of this world. Note Jesus doesn't say that He is driving the prince of this world, Satan, out of this world for indeed He doesn't. What Jesus does, according to Revelation, is drive the prince of this world out of heaven. The death of Jesus prevents Satan from doing to us what he did to Job. Jesus dying for our sins makes it impossible for Satan to stand before God in heaven and accuse us on the basis of our sins.
That means the answer to your feeling accused; the answer to your feeling like you have to defend yourself; the answer to the ever-present guilt resting heavily on your mind is not in anything you can do or think. Learning to think positive thoughts doesn't cast Satan out. Trying to esteem yourself highly won't drive Satan out of heaven or your heart. Vowing to ignore the accusations of the prince of this world won't throw him out of your head let alone out of heaven. Only Jesus does that, and He does it not by force but by meekly submitting to torturing and crucifying in your place. Satan can no longer accuse you before God because there are no sins of yours left that Jesus hasn't already suffered and paid for. Satan has no standing in heaven because Jesus went to the depths of hell standing in your place.
Yes, show me this dying, troubled, suffering Jesus. This is the One I need. I remember seeing a cartoon in a pastor's magazine. It showed a pastor at the altar praying. There was a big crucifix on the altar, but in front of it had been hung a large sheet with a bouquet of flowers painted on it. The pastor was praying, "And deliver us from ugliness." Yes, this is a very ugly Jesus in our text, but this is the Jesus I must see. And amazingly this is the Jesus who draws people to Him. Jesus says, "When I am lifted up from the earth (That is, when I am crucified), I will draw all men to myself." The Greek is stronger. Jesus says literally, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will drag all (without exception) to Myself." This is the Greek word for dragging deadweight, a weight that doesn't in anyway help to be moved.
The text shows this happening. The Greeks want to see Jesus even though everyone knows that He is hated by the religious leaders. They all know Jesus has been cast out by them as a devil, a Samaritan, a rabble rouser. Yet still the Greeks are dragged to Jesus. Do note that at His birth wise men from the East were dragged all the way to Bethlehem to worship at His crib. At His death Greeks from the West are dragged all the way to Jerusalem to worship at His cross. The circle is now complete, East and West have met, all the world, has been dragged to Jesus. But this didn't happen till He died.
A crucified, not a reigning, ruling, risen Jesus does this. Although He is indeed all of these things, this is not the Jesus we need to see. The clerk who deal with Dracula in the novel came to this conclusion too. He is Protestant and so is offended when on the journey there a peasant insists he take a crucifix. But after being with Dracula, the clerk writes in his diary that the crucifix "is a comfort and a strength to me whenever I touch it. It is odd that a thing which I have been taught to regard with disfavor and as idolatrous should in time of loneliness and trouble be of help."
There are two lessons here: First, it is a crucified Christ who casts Satan out and comforts us. The risen Christ announces it but the crucified Christ did it. Second, a crucifix can be a comfort and a strength without being idolatrous. If it points your heart to Christ crucified it's no different than a picture of Christ. In a crucifix you see the Jesus who was lifted up so that Satan might be thrown not only out of heaven but out of your conscience. In a crucifix we might not see the Jesus we would like to see, but we do see the Jesus we need to see. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent V (4-9-00) John 12:20-33