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"Looking Past the Horizon"

Philip and Andrew bring a group of Greeks who have requested to see Jesus. Jesus takes this opportunity to continue teaching the disciples and us about his death and resurrection, and about our need to remain faithful followers. We need to be continually expanding our vision of Christ, so we do not stagnate in our faith.

 

 

            Reverend Phillips Brooks was a very influential pastor in and around Boston in the 1800s. He was born about two weeks before Christmas in 1835 and died a month after Christmas in 1893. I’ll say more about Christmas a bit later.

 

            He was an imposing man, standing about 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed about 300 pounds. He was also a great preacher. He once said that preaching is “truth through personality” and that “preaching is the communication of truth by man to men.”1 He had a world-wide reputation as both a speaker and a man of God. He served several parishes in Philadelphia but was best known as the Rector of Trinity Church in Boston, which at the time was the most important and prestigious Episcopal Church in the United States.2

 

            He once replied to a young clergyman who had asked what the secret of life was. Brooks wrote, “I am sure it is a deeper and truer love of Christ ... I cannot tell you how personal this grows to me. [Christ] is here. He knows me and I know him. It is no figure of speech. It is the realest thing in the world ... and one wonders with delight what it will grow to as the years go by ....”3

 

            I mentioned Christmas earlier because this great preacher is known by many, not as a preacher at all, but as the man who wrote the words of the Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

 

            Phillips Brooks is a man who never stopped worshiping and expanding his vision of Jesus Christ.

 

            Our text today includes the request by a group of seekers who said to Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

 

            Indeed, that is a lofty goal for all of us.

 

            Although our passage begins with this request to Philip by “some Greeks” to see Jesus, that misses the context. The incident preceding this was Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem where people waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”4 John tells us that many in the welcoming crowd had recently witnessed the scene where Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.5 So we can understand that their telling of that event had spread the news, and that Jesus had been the topic of many conversations. Indeed, the Palm Sunday story ends with the Pharisees looking at the welcoming crowd and saying, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”6

 

            There was also the incident the day before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem when Mary, sister to Lazarus and Martha, anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume and wiped his feet with her hair. Jesus defended her actions, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial ... You [will] not always have me [with you].”7 This scene would not have been known by the crowd, but it helps us understand what was going on in Jesus’ mind and emotions.

 

            So, with Jesus’ growing fame, this group of Greeks came to Philip and made their request. By identifying them as “Greeks,” John is telling us that these were Gentiles, and their coming and wanting to see Jesus likely serves as evidence that what Pharisees said was true: “the world has gone after him!”

 

            In any case Philip told Andrew of the Greeks’ request and together they went and informed Jesus.

 

            Here is where things take an unusual turn. Andrew and Philip delivered their message to Jesus, but, at least in what John records of this incident, Jesus did not address the matter of the Greeks who wanted to see him. Rather, what Jesus next said seems to be addressed to a larger audience, rather than Andrew and Philip alone. Jesus said, “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.” Clearly his impending death was on his mind. And it may be that the request of these Gentiles to see Jesus was what helped him to realize that his crucial moment had arrived.

 

            As the reading continues, Jesus says more about his coming death: “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.”

 

            As mentioned, Jesus is not recorded as actually speaking to or showing himself to the Greeks who wished to see him. Perhaps he nonetheless did, but John didn’t report it, caught up as was in reporting Jesus’ statements regarding what was coming, Jesus knew he was in his last days on earth. He knew the trial and the cross stood before him. And so Jesus continued to prepare his disciples and to prepare himself for what was about to happen.

 

            Even God the Father entered this preparation. Jesus said, “Father, glorify your name.” and a voice from heaven responded, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.” Jesus told those nearby that this was for their sake, for their benefit.

 

            He then spoke about being “lifted up” to indicate the kind of death he would experience. Then, Jesus said, “The light is in you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light... so that you may become children of light.”8

 

            In verse 36, John says, “After Jesus said these things, he departed and hid from them” [italics added]. Jesus needed time alone as he approached the coming events. This was a pattern throughout Jesus’ ministry: being alone in prayer and conversation with his Father.

 

            This is not the end of the story, however. Jesus wants his followers and us to know that his death is not the end. He is helping all of us to understand and have a sense of resurrection. The cross is not the end. Resurrection hope is close at hand.

 

            Some of us are familiar with and remember churches where “testimonies” were solicited during evening prayer services or Bible studies. These can be real times of growth when people speak from the heart about how God is helping them in their life. These real-life examples of God at work are encouraging and can help others in similar situations to continue to walk in faith.

 

            But while many of us have experienced help and growth, we may also remember people who were quick to stand and “give a testimony” but always said some variation of an experience they had with God 20 or more years ago. It was like their faith and their walk with Christ never progressed from that one special day or time.

 

            If we find ourselves always thinking back to “that time when God did ...” we need to remember God is still at work today. God calls us to walk every day in faith and understanding of what God has called us to be and do.

 

            God has been courting you and wooing you before you even knew he existed. From your very beginning you’ve had a special place in God’s heart. God knew you would mess up, so God sent his Son to be your savior. God waited for the day when you said, “Yes,” to his love. What a remarkable day that was! Or, what a remarkable day that will be!

 

            But when you acknowledge God as Lord of your life, the journey is just beginning. Life continues. Love grows stronger, or weaker, but certainly it is tested. Life happens: health issues, job issues, relationships with spouse and children, relationships with family and friends, responsibilities change, church life and involvement, money issues (good or bad) — the list goes on.

 

            But the constant is always God’s unfailing love through Jesus for you and for the world! Never be content with what you know about and have experienced with God. God has more for you. Expand your vision. Love deeper every day.

 

            Phillips Brooks said this at the end of his sermon called, “Standing Before God”: “Only the change from the struggle to the victory, only the opening of the dusk and twilight into the perfect day. ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

 

            Great words to look forward to one day!

 

 

1 Quote found in an article by Peter Kountz at https://tinyurl.com/y99x2s9h.

2 ibid.

3 William Scarlett, Phillips Brooks: Selected Sermons, introductory material page 11.

4 John 12:13.

5 John 12:17, cf. John 11:38-44

6 John 12:19.

7 John 12:1-8.

8 John 12:35-36.

 



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