Sir, We Wish to See Jesus (John 12:20-36)

By Andrew E. Courtis

Etched into many pulpits, both old and modern are the words, “Sir, we would see Jesus”. These words, taken from the passage we will be considering, serve as an excellent reminder of what the preacher's task is. Sadly, the pulpit in many churches has become a platform for entertainment and opinions. The Scriptures make it clear that the preacher has the mandate to study the Word of God, read the Word of God, and preach the Word of God. As the congregational member sits in the pew with their Bible open, ready to hear the preacher, the preacher needs to know that this is his task.This passage (12:20-36) introduces us to a shift in focus in the Gospel of John. Just after receiving and incredible welcome to Jerusalem (John 12:12-19), Jesus entered into the temple and cleansed it by rebuking the people a second time (Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-46). Interestingly, this happened at the start of His ministry (John 2:12-22) and at the end. On this occasion, after driving out those who sold and bought, He said, “Is it not written ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for the nations?’” (Mark 11:17). This revealed the true purpose of coming to the temple. The area where people were buying and selling was the outer court of the temple (“the Court of the Gentiles”). It had been changed from a place of prayer and preparation to a place of commerce and commotion. This now brings us to what happens in John 12:20-36.

Sermon Summary: By means of a request and response, we will learn how the crucifixion of Jesus Christ displayed the glory of God.

1. THE SEEKERS REQUEST (John 12:20-21) 

John introduces us to an interesting group of people who desire to have a meeting with Jesus. He writes, Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (12:20-21) The Greeks who sought to speak with Jesus were likely proselytes to Judaism and they have come to worship and be a part of the Passover celebrations. This very interesting account provides us with a symbolic picture of what is going to happen in the future. At the occasion of the Lord’s ascension He said to His disciples,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20). “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8)

This is a call for global missions. The gospel is not to stay within the confines of one’s life or location – it is a message for the world. This group of Greeks desiring to see Jesus is a picture of what is going to happen in the book of Acts, and something that is still happening today! Now this incredible shift of focus from the nation of Israel does not mean that God is finished with the nation of Israel. The Scriptures teach that in the future, just prior to the Lord’s second coming that all Israel will be saved (Zech. 12:10, 13:8 and Rom. 11:26). The point of this passage is to show that God has a plan to provide salvation for sinners that is global. 

2. THE SAVIOUR’S REPLY (John 12:22-36) 

In this section we read the reply Jesus gave. Jesus’ response doesn’t specifically address the request of the Greeks. However, it does give the reason and basis for the future gathering of people from around the world. In these verses Jesus gives clear insight into the fact that He is going to be a sacrificial provision for all who will believe in Him – both Jew and Gentile. After Philip and Andrew told Jesus, Jesus began His reply by saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). This really is the theme of all that Jesus is going to say. He is going to demonstrate that the cross will be the place that will display the glory of God. How did the cross display the glory of God? These verses provide three ways in which God’s glory was displayed at the cross. 

Glory through Death 

The cross of Christ displayed the glory of God through death. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (12:24). In the act of dying, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ displayed the glory of God because it brought about the salvation of many. The process in which a seed is buried so as to bring about a harvest illustrates this point. In-order for the fruit of salvation to occur, Jesus had to die. This is why the writer to the Hebrews says concerning Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). His death, as horrifying as it was, was the very means that brought eternal life to many. This has an important application for those who follow Jesus Christ. He continued by saying,

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (12:25-26).

These verses provide a plain call to be committed and genuine followers of Christ. For those who place all their value on this current life will not gain the reward of eternal life. Those who don’t treasure this life will gain the reward of eternal life. A true believer must prize Jesus Christ more than anything else in this world. This will mean that sacrifices will need to be made. But for those who serve Him is the promise of eternal reward in Heaven. Christians are to have the same mindset as their Master in this life. He died that He might bring life. 

Glory through Distress 

The second way the cross of Christ displayed the glory of God was through distress. Look at 12:27-30,

Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose 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 that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine (12:27-30).

As Jesus faced the cross, which was only a few days away, we are told that His soul was troubled. Why was that? It is true that after His arrest He is going to be brutally beaten and maliciously mocked. The physical pain that He is about to face will be excruciating! However, this is not what troubled Him. The very thing that later on caused Him to experience sweat that “became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44) was the weight of the wrath of God. At the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ will have the wrath of God poured out on Him because He will die as our substitute. The following verses reveal that despite this distress, Jesus committed Himself as a willing sacrifice desiring to glorify the Father. This is the chief reason why Jesus Christ died on the cross. Jesus wanted the magnificence of God’s character to be on display. An amazing result of God’s name being gloried at the cross was His triumph. This brings me to the final point. 

Glory through Triumph 

The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ displayed the glory of God through triumph. Jesus said,

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

These verses reveal three acts of triumph that came as a result of Christ’s death on the cross. Firstly, there is the judgment of the world (12:31a). Though Christ came to save, for those who reject Him they place themselves under judgment. The Person of Jesus Christ brings a dividing line in this world. You either receive Him or you reject Him. Those who reject Him are under the just judgment of God. This present judgment will one day be carried out in a final judgment in which all unbelievers will be sentenced to eternal judgment in Hell (Rev. 20:11-15). The second triumph at the cross was the casting out of Satan. Jesus said, “now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (12:31b). The Bible makes it clear that Satan’s present activity is devious and destructive (See Matthew 13:19; Luke 8:12; 22:3, 31; John 8:44; 13:27; Acts 5:3; 26:18; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 4:4; 11:3, 14; 12:7; Ephesians 2:2; 6:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Timothy 2:26; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 3:8-10; 5:19). So in what way was Satan cast out and defeated? The cross set the seal upon Satan’s final casting into the Lake of Fire. The book of Revelation tells us by means of specific and elaborate language that Satan will be bound for a thousand years after Christ’s return (Rev. 20:1-3). Then after this, he will be cast into the Lake of Fire for eternity (Rev. 20:10). He was defeated at the cross, and though now he roams around like a roaring lion, having the whole world lay under his sway, he is doomed to eternal ruin. Satan has been defeated. The third triumph at the cross is the drawing of all to Himself. Verse 32 is talking about crucifixion, and as a result of His sacrificial death He “will draw all people to” Himself. Here “all people” can’t literally mean every single person that has every existed. I believe the context of the Gospel of John makes it clear that this is a reference to all who belong to His sheepfold. This is referring to all who will ever believe – both Jew and Gentile. The glory of God is displayed at the cross, because the power of Christ’s death provided actual atonement for sin. For this reason, anyone who believes will be saved and guaranteed eternal life. After this the crowd asked, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” (12:34). Jesus graciously replies with an offer of salvation,

The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light (12:35-36).

This offer serves to remind us that the gracious door of salvation will not always be open. While you have opportunity come to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Do not neglect the opportunities the Lord has given you! 

CONCLUSION 

The Greeks wanted to speak with Jesus. We don’t actually know what was specifically said to them, but Jesus provides a response in which He reveals the glory of God through all that He did at the cross. This is what we all need to know and understand about Jesus. This is why we must treasure Him above all things. He is our Saviour and in Him alone is the gift of eternal life. Do you wish to see Jesus? It is important for you to know what He has accomplished. This is what He has done and you ought to praise Him for it!