Between the Seekers and the Saviour

Driving here to Corner Brook Baptist and turning onto the parking lot of 11 O’Connell Drive sometimes provokes my memories in a certain way. It’s the proximity to the Armory next door that sends me into the past for a few moments. I had the rare honour to take a leading role in the memorial service of Cpl. Brian Pinksen, and witness what “full military honors” really means in terms of the elaborate way tribute is paid to a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. I was so impressed with the turnout along the highway to the burial site in Sop’s Arm. Every town in the region had people lining the streets and highways to pay their respects, some of them in tears, others with the hands over their hearts, many holding Canadian flags and more who stood in the crisp attitude of salute to a fallen Canadian soldier, this time one of our very own boys.

As I prepared for this weeks message, driving past the Armory gates jogged my memory and I recalled scanning the auditorium of Brian’s funeral to see His Honour, the then Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland, John Crosbie, in attendance and I appreciated the fact that this aged public servant had made the trip to represent the Commander in Chief of the Forces, at that time Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaelle Jean, the Governor General of Canada. But it was another person to the Lieutenant Governor’s left side that grabbed by attention because I knew the position this uniformed person held. At all official occasions and engagements the Lieutenant Governor is accompanied by an Aide-de-Camp. This is a military or civil officer who marks the official status of The Queen’s representative and also assists the Vice-Regal Party in many practical ways.

It is the duty of the Aide-de-Camp to remain near the Lieutenant Governor at all times in order to assist in any way, to ward off any awkward situations, and to ensure that the Lieutenant Governor is not "pressed" by individuals or large groups of people. He stands on guard, but is rarely noticed! That’s his role. On the spot changes to the Lieutenant Governor’s itinerary or program will not be entertained without approval from the Aide. This person really protects the space and the agenda of the Lieutenant Governor.

It was far more informal and there was no uniform as such, but Jesus had loyal followers who performed this kind of duty for Him. One such occasion of the ministry of an Aide-de-Camp is in John 12:20-32: 20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn, told Jesus. 23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”  (NIV)

The Feast that is spoken of in this passage is the Passover, that special remembrance of God leading the children of Israel out of bondage. Jerusalem would have been overflowing with pilgrims. Let me set this scene for you a little better:

·      Every Jewish male in 20 mile radius expected in Jerusalem

·      The slain Lamb was the memorable icon dating from the time of Moses

·      Jesus and disciples ate a Passover meal together which formed the foundation of the ordinance we call the “Lord’s Supper”

·      In John 11 and 12 Jesus’ final days are unfolding in an atmosphere of tension as He is a guest of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany

o   Religious controversy had reached a boiling point as the events of Palm Sunday unfolded.

o   Secret meetings planned Jesus’ death.

o   He had cleansed the temple.

o   He had skirmishes with religious experts who tried to trap Him.

o   He was anointed by Mary in a touching banquet scene. Judas openly opposed the waste of perfume.

·      Jerusalem had rung with “Hosannas”, but it was a tense time.

If you look beyond the trappings of the Jewish Feast you have to glimpse the hand of God preparing the world to see Jesus in the Passover. He is the ultimate Lamb of God. And against that backdrop come Greeks seeking an audience. They approached Philip likely because he has a Greek name. They are probably from the northern region of Decapolis and likely proselytes or converts to Judaism and had submitted to baptism/circumcision. Perhaps the former maniac who dwelled among the tombs had told them his story after Jesus had released him from demonic control. They came to worship in Jerusalem and perform their religious duties so very respectfully they approached Jesus’ Aide-de-Camp, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” They wanted an audience so Philip then consulted with Andrew. He maintained Jesus’ Daytimer and made His appointments. Andrew is mentioned rarely in the New Testament, and only when he brings someone to Jesus. Jerusalem welcomed thousands, perhaps millions, each year at this time to observe a ritual that was passing away. Andrew had the task of bringing people to the new and living way.

What a shame today that so many have a traditional or historical faith, a few facts about a religious system, but have never met Jesus! So many come to churches dedicated to His glory and lose Him in some side issue or fail to prepare for an audience with Him; fail to approach Him with an open heart and go away unchanged! Do we only have a memory, but no reality? Have we come today to see Jesus? Does He reside within our hearts? Will anyone go home unsatisfied? What kind of itch are we scratching if we only come here, but have no intention of meeting Him or no hunger for what He offers? Do we even consider the question of these polite Greeks, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus?”

Jesus gives a curious response to this request. He does not bid them come or send them away, but their request disturbs Him. Jesus usually sought people out and ministered to them. Here are Greeks seeking Him and He doesn’t respond as we expect, but instead He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” There are so many layers of understanding that must have touched His heart as he pondered their request:

o   The news of Greeks seeking Him was thrilling because He could see the innumerable group who would find Him.

o   The news convinced Him even more that the moment He had come to earth for was getting closer. In other times “his hour” had not come, now it is close.

o   The picture is clear from the original Passover, but now the sacrificial lamb of the ultimate Passover had been selected and separated from the flock. In just four days the blood would be shed and applied to keep the angel of death at bay. In just days the slaves of Goshen would be on the march. The arrival of these Greeks was a symbol that liberty was at hand for the whole human race.

His answer continued with these words, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Jesus is using a powerful comparison. Spiritual life is always preceded by death. Water baptism is the picture of it. Perhaps we wonder why there may not be production from our lives. Where are the works of God today? Where are the spiritual babes that should be in the church? Perhaps we are still in the kernel form. We have not been planted and we have not died! If we are to share eternal life, we first have to die!

Jesus’ next words are among the most powerful he ever stated, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” We know what it takes to be a winner. Success stories in business and sports abound about people who won by being tougher or wiser, but in spiritual terms we win by losing. We abandon ourselves to God and that makes us successful. Seth Wilson said, “It doesn’t take a great man to be a Christian; it just takes all there is of him.” Martin Luther had a warning, “You ought to beware thinking that Christ will achieve things in the earth quietly and softly when you see that he fought with his own blood, and afterward with all the martyrs.”

We may ask if it really does take that kind of commitment to follow Jesus. It is amazing, but Greeks seeking Jesus provoked Him to utter these next words, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” Why such dire words?

o   The anguish and the dread of Calvary already clouded His life

o   The choice is always there before Him. He could have turned away, but He would not let the Father rescue Him and humanity be left in sin. He turned toward the cross and in so doing He turned towards you and me!

o   What began to break upon Jesus here, broke more fully in Gethsemane. His sinless life recoiled at the thought of bearing sin, but He knew the reason and He knew that no one else could fulfill the demands of God.

Then Jesus prays a short simple prayer, “Father glorify thy name.” In this sentence He denied self and sought God’s pathway. Sometimes we look at the cross and the empty tomb or the ascension and see all the glory there. But there is glory and honor for Jesus in the very fact that He was uniquely qualified to bear our sins. There was glory in being the spotless Lamb of God. And on this occasion God confirmed it again with His announcement that more glory is to follow.

My conclusion is simple. Surrender brings the glory of God to our lives. When that seed of wheat is planted a powerful principle of regeneration is enacted. God-ordered processes begin. In germination, moisture and temperature break down the kernel and chemical processes cause it to expand beyond the seed casing until a shoot forms. Nutrition from soil and a mysterious pull from the sun coax it upward. Sunlight and nourishment unleash the forces of photosynthesis and the plant puts on weight and gains height. Its root system seeks nutrients and anchors it to stand upright. Inches are added during the growing season until maturity demands it be harvested. But from the wheat also comes a multitude of seeds so that from the one kernel the potential of life flourishes.

Decades ago someone planted a seed at 11 O’Connell Drive. By ones and twos the powerful process of regeneration turned a solitary act of surrender into this congregation. It started with someone recognizing their chains, dying to self and committing themselves to the eternal God. It’s the way God grows His church. A word of warning: if we fail to commit ourselves as Aides-de-Camp to Jesus Christ and bring people to Him, our days are numbered. If seeds are not planted and if soil conditions are neglected, there is no future!

A little group of Greeks came to Jesus. They wanted to see Him. When Jesus heard they were there I believe He also looked ahead to the hosts of the redeemed that He was on His way to die for. It must have been an exciting moment. By faith Jesus could see the devil wrapped in the chains Jesus had broken from humanity. He saw sin nailed to the cross; exposed for all of its ugliness and corruption. He knew the price, but He saw a new nation march out of slavery into a Promised Land purchased with His own life.

There is no evidence Jesus ever talked to those Greeks. Verse 36 tells us He hid from them. Maybe they went away disappointed, but very likely they were present as Verse 32 was fulfilled: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” As He died a thief was drawn to Him. A centurion declared his certainty that he had watched the death of the Son of God. In days there were many believers. Perhaps it was the same group of Greeks who were back for another feast 50 days later. They may have been in the streets when they heard the commotion. Someone suggested a group of Galileans were drunk on new wine. Others spoke of hearing the works of God spoken of in their own languages. Perhaps they received the witness of one of the 120 in the streets who had been in the Upper Room when the mighty rushing wind and the cloven tongues of fire electrified the waiting disciples. Perhaps they were in the crowd which heard Peter stand up and preach on the Day of Pentecost and possibly their hearts were gripped with the conviction that the Jesus they had once sought could still be found. It is even possible that they were in the 3,000 that accepted Christ that day.

The possibilities for these Greeks are interesting, but I don’t know if they ever received Him. I only hope they did. We have [or I hope we have!]. We’ve met Him. He’s invited us to exchange our filthy garments for robes of righteousness. He’s promised to be with us each and every day. He’s created avenues called prayer and worship that keeps lines of communication open. He’s given us a manual called the Bible to guide our lives and teach us about Him.  He walks before us and opens up opportunities for us to serve Him by bringing others.

Between the seekers and the Saviour is the Church. Corner Brook Baptist is between the seekers and the Saviour and we dare not amuse ourselves with church-related work while they wait to meet Him. He’s shared His agenda with us and invites us to share in His passion. He’s promised to come for us and take us from this world with its pain and tragedy to a home where nothing sorrowful ever breaks His peace. Have you met Him? Too many today are surrounded by things Christian, but never really see Jesus. Oh how we need people like Philip and Andrew to close the gap between the seekers and the Saviour. He does not hide Himself, He desires to be found and we are the people who bring others to Him. It’s up front in our Strategic Plan. It’s printed in our bulletin: “The mission of Corner Brook Baptist Church is to help people begin and continue a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ.”

If we have not seen Him, we may be like these curious Greeks; we have heard of Him, but never met Him in person. We are in His presence today and His response to humanity is still the same as always. He sees us enslaved by sin and He holds out the remedy with nail-scarred hands.