We Want to See Jesus
Lent is all about remembering why Jesus came the first time. He came because we need him. We need him to forgive all sinners so we know we’re part of his “in” crowd. We need him to open our eyes to his mercy. We need him to take us from darkness to light.
“We felt so cut off, so out of the loop. They won’t let us go into their restaurants. We’re not supposed to drink from their water fountains. Our kids aren’t allowed to go to their schools. We can’t even go into their church. There’s a courtyard around it with a special sign to keep us fenced into our area and away from theirs. You can guess what the sign reads, can’t you? ‘No Goyim Allowed!’ which means, ‘No Gentiles, no Heathen, Allowed!’ Those Israelites think they’re better than we. But there is that teacher, one of their own. He’s different, so different that leaders of his own people have tried every which way on this Tuesday to make him look foolish, turn the crowds against him, trap him into saying something that will get him in hot water with the authorities. There’s just something about him. It’s not the boldness of his overturning money-changer tables and chasing sheep vendors out of their churchyard yesterday. It’s his tone, his demeanor, and especially his pointed proclamations and powerful promises. We want to see Jesus. Look! He and his followers are leaving the temple area. Do you think one of them would approach him on our behalf?” The apostle John tells us that there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the [Passover] Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request, “Sir,” they said, “We want to see Jesus” (John 12:20-22), and so do we, which is exactly what the prophet Isaiah helps us do in today’s first lesson from chapter forty-two of his book, answering our request: We want to see Jesus.
We need to see him the first time
Have you ever wondered, “How can people hear the simple, straight-forward truths of Scripture and not trust that Jesus is the only hope for connection to God? How can they not see it? How can they hear and not understand?” The answer is no mystery but one of the inevitable facts that flows from the Garden-gaff of our first parents. All human beings are born spiritually dead, spiritually blind, and mortal enemies of God. That means that all of us along with every other creature that can claim human status cannot take even the first step toward God but instead are stubborn mules pulling in the opposite direction away from God.
That negative ability proved itself in the history of the ancient nation of Israel . If anyone had opportunities to learn about the true God, to watch him in action, to hear of his wonderful words and ways, it was the nation that God had started from nothing to bring the Savior into the world. He nurtured them from a small family into a huge nation. He set them free from certain doom in Egypt . He gave them guidelines to stay close to him and pictures to point them ahead to the best evidence of his love, a Savior from sin. But still they dug their heels in like muscle-bound weight-lifters on the end of a tug-of-war rope and went their own way. They were more interested in food for their stomachs than food for their souls, more interested in getting their taxes paid than in getting their sins paid for, more interested in seeing bright and sunny days than in seeing the Son of God. They didn’t see the need for a Savior from sin, and so they did not want to see Jesus. “Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but my servant [ Israel ], and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like … [the nation, which was supposed to be] the servant of the LORD? You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing.”. Why do people refuse to see and refuse to hear? Because it’s normal. It’s the default button with which we are all born.
Amazingly, by God’s undeserved goodness alone, there were exceptions. I’m thinking of a vertically-challenged little dude named Zacchaeus. He had made a mint off of his fellow Israelites as a tax collector for the oppressive Romans. What did he care what others thought? He had a big house, a big chariot, a big investment portfolio. When Jesus came to town, he could have remained seated in his comfy, swivel desk chair at his tax booth, letting the sea of bodies that surrounded Jesus flow past on the way to Jerusalem for Passover with Jesus remaining unseen by him. But Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. Why? Because the cheating he had been so good at was gnawing at his conscience, because he knew even though he had twenty-twenty vision, at least at his level, he could not see his way clear to a happy, guilt-free, harmonious connection with God. He wanted to see Jesus. So, he climbed a tree to catch a glimpse because he knew he needed Jesus to lead him on unfamiliar paths, paths line with streetlights of God’s forgiveness to dispel the darkness of doom, paths with speed bumps of “You’re guilty!” smoothed out. That’s what Jesus brought to Zacchaeus, and the Savior could hardly wait to make that happen. Seven hundred years earlier he had said through Isaiah, “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant”. What he planned and desired for so long, he now made happen with his first coming into the world – all for one purpose – “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them”.
When’s the right time for Jesus to forgive us? How about whenever I sin and whenever you sin. That’s when we need his mercy. But do we need it right now? We’re in church, after all, fairly safe from bad thoughts, dirty words, and naughty actions, right? But if we think we don’t need his mercy every moment every day whether in church or not, we are saying that we aren’t such bad sinners after all, and that very thought is arrogance and nothing short of idolatry. “Those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame.” Lent is all about remembering why Jesus came the first time. He came because we need him. We need him to forgive all sinners so we know we’re part of his “in” crowd. We need him to open our eyes to his mercy. We need him to take us from darkness to light. That is what he did. Isaiah wrote, “It pleased the LORD for the sake of his righteousness to make his teaching great and glorious”. The Savior burst onto the scene at his first coming with passion to go through passion so we wouldn’t. We want to see Jesus. Why? Because we need to see him the first time, that is, we need to see what he did for us at his first coming into the world so we can quiet our conscience and live with God in peace right now. Isaiah proclaims, “Look! He’s here!”
We can’t wait to see him the second time
The Greeks who wanted to see Jesus on Tuesday of Holy Week wanted to see him for the first time so that the first time they would see him would not be Judgment Day which would then the last time. As surely as all are born with a stubborn, blind, enemy-of-God nature, so surely all are born with an inbred sense that sooner or later we all have to face God. And if Judgment Day is the first time we face him, look out! The LORD spoke through Isaiah, “I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools”.
The Israelites who paid attention to Isaiah’s message understood that the Babylonians whom God had raised up to bring God’s discipline on them were going to be knocked down by God. The devastation would one day come on their enemies and ultimately all enemies of God, if not in this world then in the world to come. That’s why they could hardly wait for the Savior to be born and to come into the world the first time. His arrival and his work would usher in a new era of joyful anticipation of his second coming in judgment.
Amazingly, by God’s undeserved goodness alone, there were other examples of that attitude. We don’t know what happened to those Greeks of Holy Week or whether they even got to spend a few minutes with the Savior on that Tuesday. But why would the apostle John include that brief encounter amid the intense events of that most stupendous week other than to signal what was going to happen to the good news about who Jesus is and what he did – first, proclaimed to the Jews, and as they rejected, then proclaimed to Gentiles? When Zacchaeus at Jericho and a little later those Greeks of Holy Week had seen Jesus with eyes of faith, they couldn’t wait to see him again at his second coming. Could they make that happen? No! Did they know when that would occur? Of course not! No one does. But the knowledge that their dear Savior had come the first time to seek and save sinners like them gave them confidence to look forward to his second coming in judgment, underscored their certainty that Jesus’ second coming would mean pure joy for them, and supplied them with energy to give and serve so that others would have their hearts opened and would want to see Jesus. The Israelites of old who took Isaiah’s message to heart along with Zacchaeus and the Greeks of Holy Week wanted to see Jesus and couldn’t wait to see him again.
If you know and believe why Jesus came the first time, then you’ll have no fear in seeing him the second time. Then you’ll know like Zacchaeus that the Savior has opened your eyes to his forgiveness and opened the path to heaven. Then you’ll know like the Greeks of Holy Week that Jesus came the first time for you and will come a second time for you, not to condemn but to affirm the verdict for all eternity, “You’re in!” We want to see Jesus, and we will when he opens his arms and welcomes us into eternal glory.
In this Lenten season of the church year, we’re up on our tippy-toes and climbing trees with Zacchaeus because we want to see Jesus. He actually has paused today and through the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “I want to see you.” Oh, what a Savior! On this day and every day, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org)