JOHN 12:19-21
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

John 12:19-21 Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see? You’ve accomplished nothing. Look ( the world has gone after Him!” Now some Greeks were among those who went up to worship at the festival. So they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested of him, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”

As people swarmed Jesus, hailing Him as King of Israel, the jealous Jewish leaders cried in dismay, “The world has gone after Him.” This was of course hyperbole, an overstatement. But John saw in their exaggeration a touch of irony.

These men were concerned about relatively few citizens in one city being influenced, but in their zeal the leaders expressed John’s conviction that Jesus was in actual fact going to impact the whole world. Those skeptics forecast with their own lips what was about to happen. Hidden in their words was an unconscious prediction of the effect preaching the gospel would have (Acts 17:6).

Even as the Pharisees were moaning, seekers from the world outside Israel were asking to see Jesus. First-fruits of a huge future international spiritual harvest had already arrived in Jerusalem. This Greek delegation, having traveled 700 miles, pictured a whole world longing for what Jesus came to offer.

Many Greeks were attracted to Judaism’s monotheism and morality, but were skiddish about joining Judaism due to its initiatory rite of circumcision.

Being Gentiles, they could worship only in the Temple’s outer court, a site the leaders had desecrated by turning it into a marketplace. This prohibited Gentiles from worshiping in the only place allotted them for this purpose.

These Greeks possibly saw Jesus’ recent cleansing of their section of the Temple. They sensed a receptivity in Him that was lacking in the religious leaders. Bolstered by Jesus’ actions, the Greeks sought an interview with Him.

They were not the first delegation to travel from afar to see Jesus. Thirty years earlier, another entourage came, traveling maybe 1500 miles, the distance to the easternmost edge of lands where Jews and their culture had been dispersed.

Matthew 2:1-2 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

These Greeks pictured at the end of Jesus’ life what wise men had pictured at the first. “We want to see Jesus” was but another form of the Magi question, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” Magi, wise men from the East, came to Jesus’ cradle. Greeks, wise men from the West, came to His cross.

These two delegations represented the two most common philosophies embraced in the pagan religions of Jesus’ day. Each had only small fragments of the truth. Neither contained hope or any promise of blessing for people.

Orientals robbed God of personality and compassion. Their gods were forces, not persons. Greeks vulgarized God. The heroes of Mt. Olympus were merely overgrown immoral humans. Orientals tended to a superstition that believed everything. Greeks tended to skepticism which believed nothing.

Both delegations probably did not know exactly what they wanted from Jesus. Having a vague but insatiable desire for something more, they were victims of the world’s most common pain, the aching void of a heart away from God.

Greeks and Orientals were highly cultured and refined. They demonstrate for all time the absolute failure of society to regenerate people. The intellectual and cultural accomplishments of both cultures were those of Titans, but the grandeur of their efforts was matched by the greatness of their spiritual failure.

The Magi represented the culture that would invent printing, introduce paper money, develop gunpowder, and first use compasses in navigation ( all this while most of our ancestors floundered through the Dark Ages.

What the world owes Greece is hard to state. In them we find foundations of our science, philosophy, sculpture, painting, architecture. Their beautiful language paved a way for the good news of Jesus to spread quickly through the Roman world, and gave richness of expression to the New Testament.

Don’t be fooled by the secular successes of these two cultures. Their greatness was due in part to the emptiness of their religions. Both left an aching void that drove people to other pursuits in an effort to fill it. It is hard to overstate the magnificence of their societies, and the emptiness of their private lives.

People hated their past and dreaded their future. Suicide was deemed the only sure cure for misery, but even then one’s everlasting destiny was a worry.

Then along came Jesus, a living, loving, personal God who gave forgiveness for the past, power for the present, and everlasting life for the future. No wonder the Magi and Greeks wanted to see Jesus.

Our society has many of the same earmarks of the cultures which produced Magi and these Greeks: success, wealth, art, achievement, education, and the aching void. Fortunately, Jesus can still fill emptiness.

The tragedy is, prechristians generally are not seeing Jesus in and through us. He is clouded behind our hypocrisy, our silence, our traditions. Incarcerated in church walls, Jesus is too often hidden from the very ones He came to save.

Having spoken of Magi and Greeks, let me tell of a third delegation who, seeking Jesus, traveled not to Bethlehem or Jerusalem, but 1900 miles to Missouri. Four Flathead Indian Chiefs traveled from Oregon territory all summer and fall, arriving in St. Louis in early winter 1832. Having heard of The White Man’s Book of Heaven, they came to hunt for it and to ask for teachers to be sent.

General Clark, military commander at St. Louis, took the chiefs to places he thought would entertain and interest them. Not a deeply spiritual man, Clark exposed them only superficially to Christianity. On the last night of their visit, General Clark gave a banquet in their honor. One of the chiefs made a speech.

“I came to you over the trail of many moons from the setting sun. I came with an eye partly open for my people, who sit in darkness. I go back with both eyes closed. How can I go back blind, to my blind people? I made my way to you with strong arms through many enemies and strange lands that I might carry much back to them. I go back with both arms broken and empty. My people sent me to get the “White Man’s Book of Heaven.” You showed me images of good spirits and pictures of the good land beyond, but the book was not among them to tell us the way. I am going back the long and sad trail to my people in the dark land. You make my feet heavy with gifts and my moccasins will grow old in carrying them, yet the book is not among them. When I tell my poor blind people after one more snow, in the big council, I did not bring the book, no word will be spoken by our old men or young braves. One by one they will rise up and go out in silence. My people will die in darkness and will go a long path to other hunting grounds. No white man will go with them, and no white Man’s book to make the way plain. I have no other words.”

A Missouri tragedy. We repeat it often. Many people come into the orb of our lives with an ache they can not verbalize or describe. Many want what we have, but their desires are met with our words about everything but what matters most.

There is a better way. What about Greece? Paul the Apostle later worked extensively in Greece, planting churches. 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 Jesus rose from death, a scream was heard on Mt. Olympus. A voice wailed through the hills and forests of Greece, “Zeus is dead.”

What about the Orient? The twenty-first century may see the center of Christianity shift from West to East. A whole generation of missionaries is now focusing on the East. Since the tragedy of September 11, 2001, eight Southern Baptist missionaries have given their lives as martyrs in Eastern lands.

What about the Flathead Indians? A medical doctor in New York, Marcus Whitman, read the account of their disappointment in Missouri. He and his wife applied to serve as Presbyterian missionaries to them. He told the sending agency he believed it the duty of every Christian to seek to advance the cause of Christ more than they want to promote their own favorite causes. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman served the Indians 11 years before being martyred for their faith. He represents the state of Washington in Statuary Hall in Washington D.C.