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Written by Jeren Rowell

When I served at Chicago First Church of the Nazarene, the pulpit had the King James Version of the request from John 12:21 carved into the top: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Put in our modern-day context like this—carved into the pulpit from where the Word of God is preached by both men and women—the words seem to be a directive, a reminder to those who preach that Christian faith ought to be as simple as seeing Jesus. No need to make things complicated and heavy, “Preacher; we just want to see Jesus, that’s all.”

Our text today opens with some people who want to see Jesus. However, notice that these people are described by John as Greeks—in other words, they are gentiles and not Jews. The final words of the preceding text are, “Look how the whole world has gone after him” (v. 19). The very next thing we hear is about some Greeks (outsiders)—“the world” coming to Jesus.

“Jesus, there are some Greeks here who want an audience with you.” What would you expect to happen next? Wouldn’t you assume Jesus would say, “Oh, there are some people who want to see me? Fine, let’s go have a talk.” Can’t you imagine Jesus sitting down with them and answering their questions? After all, that would be the simplest thing to do.

Did you notice, though, that Jesus never answers the question of whether He will see them? This is a simple request that requires a simple yes or no answer. Yes, Jesus will see them, or no, he won’t. But look again at verse 23: “Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of man . . .’” What? Simple question, “Jesus: do you want to see these guys or not?” Yet He launches into this discourse on laying down His life, being glorified, and judgment coming on the world.

This is a critical point in John’s Gospel. The cross has begun to cast a long shadow over the story. Jesus has been trying to talk about it, but His words largely fall on deaf ears. So, in this final week, here comes “the world” (Greeks) with a simple question. It is our question too: “Can we see Jesus? We have heard the promise of the coming kingdom. Is it for us too? Will Messiah save not only his people but also the whole world?”

Yes, they can see Jesus. But they will see Him as the Suffering Savior. His answer to them was, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” They want to see Jesus. Maybe they simply desire a conversation, but He responds by pointing to His cross. This is how you ruin a good religion. You ruin it by bringing up this cross stuff all the time. Jesus just couldn’t seem to get it off His mind.

I don’t know exactly what the engravers of the Chicago First pulpit had in mind, but I do know that, often, the Jesus we want to see is the one who makes us feel better. We want a Jesus who makes life simple and enjoyable. Our religion doesn’t have to be complicated, right? “We just want to see Jesus.” Yet, when Jesus talks about what God is doing in the inauguration of the kingdom of God, He points to the cross. In the image of the one who is lifted up, we see the God who gathers into himself in the person of Jesus all of the sin, brokenness, and violence of a fallen world, takes it to death, and then delivers us out of it through resurrection and new creation.

The challenge for the church is that it’s not pleasant to talk about the cross. However, unless we’ve encountered the cross, we have not seen Jesus. The gospel of the suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and the gift of the Spirit mean to unmask the principalities and powers to which we, even in the church, are tempted to offer our lives.

Our Holy Week temptation may be to rush past these darkening days and get on with the brightness of Easter. Yet, if we are to know a deep relationship with God, we must not avoid the reality of suffering that accompanies the countercultural Christian life. Sunday is coming, but we need the discipline of Holy Week, the appreciative awareness of Good Friday. For it’s through the cross and resurrection that we are forgiven, healed, and made new. This is how we truly see Jesus.

Jeren Rowell is president of Nazarene Theological Seminary.

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