Successful, But Empty
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 12:19b-22 (Holman) . . . ALook B the world has gone after Him!@ Now some Greeks were among those who went up to worship at the festival. So they came to Phillip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested of him, ASir, we want to see Jesus.@ Phillip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Phillip went and told Jesus.
As people swarmed Jesus, hailing Him as AKing of Israel,@ the jealous Jewish leaders anguished, ALook, the world has gone after Him.@ This was an overstatement, hyperbole, but John saw irony in their exaggeration.
These leaders were concerned about a few Israelites being influenced, but their frustration expressed John=s conviction Jesus had come to conquer the whole world. The skeptics forecast with their lips what would happen. They unconsciously predicted the effect preaching the Gospel would have (Acts 17:6).
Like Caiaphas= prediction and Pilate=s inscription, the Pharisees= words were an accurate prediction. The first representatives of this wider world were already in Jerusalem. Seekers from the outside world wanted to see Jesus.
These Greeks were the first-fruits of a whole world longing for what Jesus had to offer. We study them under three headings.
One, the religion they represented. Greeks were outsiders to the religion of Judaism, but were attracted to its monotheism and morality. They were reluctant to become members of Judaism due to the required initiatory rite of circumcision.
These Greeks would have been allowed to worship only in the Temple=s outer court, which was set aside for the Gentiles to use (I Kings 8:41-43). The religious leaders, disrespecting God=s gift to the Gentiles, had desecrated their place of worship by turning it into a marketplace.
Jesus cleansed this section of the temple right after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The Greeks had probably seen this, and sensed in Jesus a receptivity toward themselves lacking among the religious leaders. Encouraged, they sought an interview with Him.
These Greeks represented at the close of Jesus= life what the Magi had pictured at its beginning. AWe want to see Jesus@ was but another form of the wise men=s question, AWhere is He that is born King of the Jews?@ Magi, wise men of the East, came to Jesus= cradle; Greeks, wise men of the West, came to His cross.
These two delegations represented the two predominant philosophies found in the pagan religions of Jesus= day. Each had only fragments of the truth, and offered no hope or promise of blessing for people. Easterners tended to a superstition that believed everything; Westerners tended to scepticism which believed nothing.
The Easterners had robbed God of personhood and compassion. To them, gods were forces, not personalities. Westerners, on the other hand, had vulgarized God. The heroes of Mt. Olympus were merely overgrown immoral humans.
Both groups probably did not know precisely what they wanted from Jesus. They had a vague but insatiable desire for something more. They were victims of the world=s most common pain, the Aaching void@ of a heart away from God.
The Greeks and Magi represented people who were cultured and refined. They sadly demonstrated for all time the absolute failure of culture to regenerate people. The intellectual labors of their societies were those of Titans, but the grandeur of their effect was counterbalanced by the greatness of their failure.
The Magi represented a culture that would invent printing, introduce paper money, develop gun powder, and first use compasses in navigation. They accomplished all this while the ancestors of most of us floundered through the Dark Ages.
What the world owes to the Greeks is hard to overstate. In them is grounded our views of science, philosophy, sculpture, painting, and architecture. Their beautiful, expressive language provided a way for the Gospel to be spread quickly through the world, and gave us the richness of the New Testament.
Despite their accomplishments, the greatness of these two cultures was possibly caused in part by the emptiness of their religions. Their belief systems discouraged people from pursuing a relationship with God. The resulting Aaching void@ drove their attention to other pursuits. The public grandeur of their societies as contrasted to the emptiness of their private lives cannot be overstated.
People hated their past and dreaded the future. Suicide was recommended as the only sure cure for human misery, but this remedy left a person=s everlasting destiny in doubt.
Then came Jesus, who told of a living, loving, personal God who gives forgiveness for the past, power for the present, and everlasting life for the future. No wonder these Greeks asked to see Jesus. Their request was merely a small representation of what the whole world was seeking.
Paul the Apostle worked in Greece, planting churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, and elsewhere. From these points of light, Christianity spread like a blaze through the slaves and poor of Greece.
The gods of Greece were the first to fall before the march of Jesus. When Christ died, a scream was sounded in fancy on Mt. Olympus; a wailing voice was heard through the hills and forests of Greece, saying, AZeus is dead.@
Two, we examine the request they requested. They came to worship at the Temple, but decided they most of all wanted to see Jesus. This was a strange request, coming from men who idolized Apollo, the very opposite of Jesus.
What could Jesus be to men whose ideal was Apollo? Christ was Awithout comeliness@ and His emblem was a cross. They wanted to see a common carpenter who had no place to lay His head.
Our society has similar earmarks of those the Magi and Greeks represented: success, wealth, achievements. We also have Athe aching void,@ the emptiness Jesus still can fill.
But here=s the tragedy; the world by and large is not seeing Jesus. Clouded behind rituals, images, traditions, He is incarcerated in prisons called church walls. He is too often a prisoner in Second Baptist Jail of Springfield, hidden from the world He came to save.
Let the world see Jesus in us. He is our all in all. Apart from Jesus, the Bible is wasted paper, our worship services have no meaning, baptism is but a swimming party, and the Lord=s Supper no more sacred than a fish fry.
Each time we gather in this place, may we always see and encounter Jesus. Let this be the desire of our souls: to have our acquaintance with Him increased. And then, as a result, to be changed so that the world will see Jesus in us better than ever before.
Three, let=s see the response they received. The Greeks came to Philip. Since this was a Greek name, they possibly thought he would treat them more sympathetically.
These men gave Philip a title of respect, ASir,@ as one worthy of honor, because he was in relation to Christ. Our knowing Jesus does place honor on us.
People can not come to Christ apart from human instruments. Paul had to have Ananias. Cornelius needed Peter. The lost still need someone to point the way.
Philip, not knowing what to do, moved cautiously. He probably did not know how Jesus would respond. These were inflammatory days. Entertaining Greeks could jeopardize Jesus with the religious leaders.
Though Philip did not bring them directly to Jesus, he did bring them to someone who did. He consulted with Andrew, who knew what to do. He was always bringing people to Jesus, and knew marvelous results always followed.
Andrew had brought Peter, the lad with five loaves and two fishes, and now he brought the Greeks. Andrew had learned no one could ever be a nuisance to Jesus. He knew Jesus would never turn away a seeking soul.