Wednesday, February 9, 2022

We Wish to See Jesus

We Wish to See Jesus

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Little did they know how well they spoke — not only for themselves, but for the whole human race.

John 12:20 reports that “some Greeks” had come to worship in Jerusalem for that fateful Passover leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion. They approached his disciple Philip, who told another disciple, Andrew. Together, the two came to their Master with the request of the Greeks “to see Jesus,” to which Jesus gave this spectacularly unexpected response:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. (John 12:23–24)

Their wish to see him is not rejected but redirected. This is an admirable wish, profoundly so — and they will soon see the most important sight of him, if they remain in Jerusalem for the week. His time has come to be “glorified” — which will not mean leading a charge to overthrow Rome and seize the crown, but laying down his life. Like a grain of wheat, he will not bear much fruit unless he first dies.

These Greeks will indeed see him, and glimpse a sight far greater than they could have anticipated — far more horrible, and far more wonderful, than they could have imagined. They will witness the very apex of the glory of the one who truly is David’s long-promised heir to the throne, as shocking and unexpected as it will be.

And as they see him — in his divine and human excellencies, come together in one person, and culminating in the cross and its aftermath — they will have all they wished and more in the request they made expressing the deepest longing of every redeemed human heart.

Infinite Abyss

Famously, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) wrote in his Pensees of “the infinite abyss” in the human soul that we try to fill with all the wonders and the worst this world has to offer.

There was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.

So also the great Augustine (354–430), more than twelve centuries before Pascal, had spoken of the great, undeniable restlessness of the human heart, until finding its rest in God: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Moses, seeking to leverage God’s remarkable favor on him, was so bold as to ask to see God’s glory. God permitted him a glimpse of the afterglow of divine beauty, not his face, and Moses made no complaints. Yet redemptive history was not done at Sinai. Centuries would follow. The kingdom would be established in the land. Human kings would rise and fall, as did the nation. And in the same Gospel where the Greeks expressed their wish to see Jesus, John opens his account with one of the most stunning claims possible:

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The desire to see Jesus was far more profound than these Greeks could have guessed. They wished for amazement in the presence of someone great. And what they got instead anticipated the heavenly vision of Jesus the apostle John would see while in exile on the isle of Patmos.

Behold the Lion

In John’s vision, none in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth, is at first found worthy to open the scroll of God’s divine decrees of judgment (for his enemies) and salvation (for his people). Sensing the weight and importance of the moment, John begins to weep — perhaps even wondering if his Lord, the one who discipled him, the one to whom he’s given his life as a witness, is not worthy. One of heaven’s elders then turns to him, and declares,

Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. (Revelation 5:5)

Having heard the good news, John turns to look — and what does he see? Not a lion. “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes . . .” (Revelation 5:6).

We might mistakenly assume this was a disappointment, that John, hearing “Lion,” experienced some letdown to see a Lamb. But that is not how John reports it. This Lamb is no loss. The Lamb is gain. The one, just declared to be the only one worthy, is no less the Lion of Judah. He is also the Lamb who was slain. The Lion became Lamb without ceasing to be Lion. He did not jettison his lionlike glories, but added to his greatness the excellences of the Lamb. He is a Lamb standing — not dead, slumped over, or kneeling, but alive and ready — with fullness of power (“seven horns”), seeing, and sovereign over, all (“and seven eyes”).

So too the Greeks in John 12 who wished to take counsel with the purported Messiah and Lion of Judah. Whatever disappointments they experienced in the moment in not having their immediate request fulfilled, and whatever devastations they endured on Good Friday, it all changed on the third day. Then their wish, and perceptive inquiry, was answered beyond their greatest dreams — not just Messiah, but God himself, the Lion of heaven. And not just divine Lion, but the added glory of our own lamblike flesh and blood, and that same blood spilled to not only show us glory but invite us — Jew and Gentile, Greek and Barbarian — into it.

Looking to Jesus

Plain as it may seem, the author of Hebrews provides profound direction for the human soul when he says, simply, “Consider Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1). This is not a one-time exhortation, but continuous counsel, for every day and at any moment. And again, at the height of his letter, drawing attention to the great cloud of witnesses, he charges us to “lay aside every weight and sin” and “run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1–2). There is unmatched power in the Christward gaze. As Jesus himself would soon say to the same Philip: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Paul too, in one blessed flourish to the Corinthians, would celebrate, and commend, the unsurpassed glory of the Christward gaze: “beholding the glory of the Lord [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Unbelieving eyes have been blinded to “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” but we, by the mercy of God, have eyes opened to “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6).

We might here speak of the manifest Christocentrism of the New Testament and a kind of healthy asymmetrical trinitarianism in the Christian faith — “contemplating the Trinity through a christological lens,” as Dane Ortlund writes, “and Christ through a trinitarian lens.” Jesus is the interpretative key to the Bible, the pinnacle of history, and central in Christian preaching, evangelism, and sanctification, and so we fix our eyes on Jesus. True trinitarianism doesn’t constrain us to symmetrically parcel out our attention and focus to each of the three divine persons, driven by modern notions of fairness, balance, and egalitarianism. The New Testament is far from “fair” in this way. Rather, as humans, we receive a peculiar centrality of the God-man, as the one Person of the Godhead who has drawn near in our own flesh, taking our own nature, to no diminution of the Father or Spirit, but precisely according to their plan and work to direct attention to the Son.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus” would be a happy refrain to adopt at key junctures in the Christian life. Before morning Bible meditation: “I wish to see Jesus.” Before conversations with the unbelieving: “I wish them to see Jesus.” For preachers, preparing a message to imagine these words on the lips of our people: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Made for Him

We were indeed made for God — with an infinite abyss only he can fill, with a restlessness of soul satisfied in nothing less than him. And even more particularly, we were made for the God-man — for the greatness of God himself who draws near, in our own flesh and circumstances, in the person of Christ. The lionlike greatness of God in his divine glory is sweetened, deepened, and accented by his lamblike nearness and human excellencies. And his glories as the humble, meek, sacrificial Lamb are drawn up and magnified in the register of lionlike poise and majesty.

We wish to see Jesus — to know him as both great and near, and enjoy him forever.

from Desiring God
via DG