Sermon: Seeing Jesus
Preached on 10th March 2008
by The Reverend Canon Dr David Kennedy
Sermon; Sedgefield Parish Church, Passion Sunday 2008 (9 March), Choral Evensong (Sedgefield Deanery Evensong)
May the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Title: ‘Seeing Jesus'
Jesus said, ‘When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.'
Tonight's New Testament Lesson is one of the great passages of the New Testament. It appears to begin harmlessly enough. Some Greeks come to Philip and say, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus'. Jesus' response is astonishing: ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified'. Now, at last, the hour, the decisive hour of his destiny has arrived - that great moment that St John has pointed forward to from the very beginning of his gospel. And what has precipitated it was that some Greeks - not Jews but Gentiles, wished to see Jesus. Truly, now the whole world is going after him. And Jesus foresees a wonderful harvest to come - using an image so familiar to any one here who loves garden and allotment - a seed planted in the ground must die if it is to bring forth a harvest; to produce abundant life, it must give its own life. And so, ‘When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself': Jews and Gentiles, the whole world.
Jesus' death in John is his glorification. In the Fourth Gospel Gospel, the cross is like a great triumphal procession, as Jesus the true King ascends the throne of his cross, where his true glory as Saviour, as Son of God, is revealed to all who have eyes to see. To all who have eyes to see.
But before I say more about ‘seeing', I'd like us to think about John's Passion Narrative in what might seem a rather unusual way; because I want to start with the great creation story of Genesis 1.
Genesis 1 is a profound piece of writing. It's not history in the sense of ‘1066 and all that', but a magnificently crafted poetic sermon. For example, take the idea of creation in seven days. The number seven was a sacred and special number for the Jews. It symbolised perfection, completeness, wholeness. So creation in seven days is about God's excellence: ‘And God saw all that he had made, and it was very good'.
Creation began on the first day of the week, what we call Sunday. Of course, in Jewish thought, a new day begins not at midnight or at dawn but at twilight. So, in Genesis we read, ‘And there was evening and there was morning, the first day, the second day', etc.
So it was in darkness and chaos, that God first said, ‘Let there be light'. And creation was completed on the sixth day, or Friday. In this sense, it seems that on Friday afternoon, God created the crown of his creation, by making men and women in his own image, after his own likeness. And with that God finished his work of creation: ‘God saw all that he had made and it was very good'. So as darkness fell on the first Friday, then the seventh day, the Sabbath, the day of rest, began - God resting from his work.
And we see exactly the same pattern for the cross. In chapter 12 of his Gospel, John speaks of six days before the Passover - well Passover was the following Thursday, so we are taken back to Saturday, when Jesus is anointed at Bethany. The next day, Sunday, he enters Jerusalem and all cry out ‘hosanna' - the last week has begun. And there is nothing random, or coincidental about the timetable. Because it was on a Friday afternoon, the sixth day, that Jesus on the cross, finished perfectly his work of redeeming and saving the world, and it was very good. And so at 3pm on that Friday, Jesus cries out ‘finished', ‘accomplished', ‘completed'. And as night begins to fall, and as the seventh day, the Sabbath day begins, God rests for the second time, as Jesus lies in Joseph's sepulchre. He rests for the whole Sabbath, until wonderfully in the darkness of Saturday night to Sunday dawn, now the first day of the week, he rises gloriously, and begins the new creation. God says, ‘Let there be light' once more, but this time it is the far more brilliant light of the resurrection. And where did that happen - well, where else? - in a garden where in the Genesis story we lost the life of paradise. And to whom was the resurrection revealed - well to a woman, Mary Magdalene - just as it was Eve who first took and tasted of the forbidden fruit.
Now I began this sermon by talking about ‘seeing'. And so I would like to share with you some further insights from John, bound up with the word ‘Behold'. ‘Behold', ‘look', ‘see'. I'm fascinated by the fact that when in John's Gospel, Jesus appears before Pilate, there is a real sense that Pilate as Roman Governor had all the power, and Jesus, a prisoner, had none - humanly, he was powerless. And yet it is clear that the roles are reversed. Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, yet he was powerless to act justly because he was being worked on by the crowd, and accused of being disloyal to Rome. So, in an attempt to show how pitiful and harmless Jesus was, he had him dressed up in a soldier's purple cloak, and stuck a reed in his hand as a mock sceptre, and pressed a crown of thorns on his head as a pretend crown, having first flogged him. And on that Friday at about noon, he then paraded this pathetic, wrecked figure before the crowds, with the words, ‘Behold the Man'. Remember that it was at this time in Genesis that God made man in his own image. ‘Behold the Man'. And here we have the true Man, the true human being, paraded. If only there were eyes truly to behold, to see that here is the only hope for humanity: Man in God's image perfectly and fully, Jesus the perfectly obedient human being, offering his life to restore that image in everyone.
Then later Pilate again paraded Jesus, this time with the words, ‘Behold your King'. For him, they were ironic, almost comical words. And yet, from the mouth of this heathen, who asked the question ‘What is truth' we have more truth. Behold the Man, Behold your King. Oh, that there were eyes behold, to see in this brutalised figure, the true kingship of Christ, who rightly claims our allegiance, who came to bring in his peaceable kingdom.
And the third ‘behold' is more subtle because in John's Gospel, Jesus dies on the Day of Preparation of the Passover. That was the very time when in the Temple in Jerusalem, thousands of lambs were being slain, that would have been eaten at the Passover festival. And so we are reminded of the words of the Baptist, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world'. Passover was all about freedom from slavery, life from death, so here we see God in Christ bringing to us salvation, forgiveness, life, If only, there were eyes to behold, to see that this Lamb would take away not just some sins, but the sins of the world - for ever.
We began with a request from some Greeks, ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus'. To see Jesus.
Now is the time for the Son of man to be glorified.
Only if a seed dies, can it bring a rich harvest.
When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.
Behold the Man
Behold your King
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
And just as there is nothing random or coincidental about John's timetable, as redemption follow the pattern of creation, so we worship him as the true Man, the true King, the true Lamb of God. And as we claim the promise, ‘I will draw all people to myself', my prayer becomes, ‘Lord, open people's eyes that they may behold, and let them see'. And please Lord, use us, our words and our deeds, our churches, our worship, our prayers, our love for people as we seek to love them for Jesus sake, That people may behold, and beholding see, and seeing believe, and believing, work with us for the sake of the world.