“Sir, we would see Jesus.” – John 12:21
Today is celebrated throughout the Christian Church as Palm Sunday in memory of the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem amid the acclamations of the people.
Earlier in His ministry, after He had performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand, the multitude sought to make Him their king and, knowing what was in their hearts, He withdrew from them. But the multitude followed on to Capernaum, where the next day they found Him. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, told them that they were following Him because of the loaves and fishes. Then He told them that they were laboring for the bread that satisfieth not, and that He had come into the world to teach them the things of eternal life. When He finished telling them of His mission, it is recorded that many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him. They were natural minded and though they had heard Him and witnessed His miracles, when He told them to “labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life,” they were angered. They knew the joys of material prosperity, the delights of success in the world. They knew the pleasures of honor and fame. These were tangible things. But “that meat which endureth unto everlasting life,” what is it?
Life eternal is to know me, He had said; and again, “Search the Scriptures for… they are they which testify of me.” When He tells us, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” when He says, “I am the door,” “I am the vine,” “I am the bread of life,” and “without me ye can do nothing,” He is not indulging in mere figures of speech. He is good and truth. He is the veritable bread of life. Knowledge of Him is essential to a good life. And this knowledge is given us in His Word. Yet some regard knowledge of the Lord as so remote from their actual needs that they feel no necessity of learning about Him or of attempting to understand what He says.
How marvelously this is told in the prelude of the Gospel of John. And it is told in words so simple and so few. Here is the story of God’s life in its going forth to reach men. God in the act of revealing Himself, making Himself known, is expressed in the Greek word “logos,” for which our nearest equivalent is the term “Word.” The “Word” is the forthgoing of the mind of God to make itself known, to declare itself.
“In the beginning was the Word.” From the very first God had this infinite desire, as an essential part of His Being, the desire to reach men, to give Himself to them, to bless them. This is the cause of creation. “All things were made by him.” And from Him too goes forth a sustaining and illuminating power. “The life was the light of men.” Even in man’s blindness and sin the eternal “logos” or Word tries to present itself to man’s consciousness – “The light shineth in darkness.” But instead of being welcomed, it was ignored. “He was in the world… and the world knew him not.” So this history goes on to say, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The story of the logos completes itself in the story of the incarnation; so it declares, “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”
The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are no mere man-made record of events. Given by verbal inspiration, they are the very mind of God speaking to us in terms which we can understand. They not only instruct us about the Lord and heavenly life, but God Himself comes to us through them. His life and power dwell in them, and in us through them. The Word is God with us, speaking to us, instructing us. As we learn its precepts and keep them, the Lord is enthroned in our minds and hearts as King.
One week before Easter day the Lord entered Jerusalem as its King. It was the beginning of His last visit to that city. At each visit the rulers had become more angry and jealous, so that until His “time had come” He could not go there again. His time had now come, and He entered Jerusalem as had been prophesied of Him – as its King.
It was at the time of the Passover, which was celebrated in remembrance of the deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Multitudes were journeying to Jerusalem, and as they had heard of or perhaps seen many of the wonderful things that the Lord had done, and especially the raising of Lazarus from the dead, they were expectant. The Lord had often gone to the Passover before, sometimes in secret; but on this occasion, which was to be His last, He came openly with public acclaim. When He entered the city, multitudes went before and followed after Him, saying, “Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.” And they cast their garments and branches of palm trees in His way.
Jerusalem should indeed have been glad to receive Him as its King. Out of Jerusalem had gone forth the Law, and from Jerusalem the prophets, and now He of whom the prophets spoke was entering its gates. Through His marvelous works many had come to be His followers, and for the moment they thought that surely He was the Messiah. The rulers were dismayed and said among themselves, “Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.”
Immediately following this statement by the Pharisees it is recorded that certain Greeks, who had come up to worship at the feast, asked that they might see Jesus. In the Scriptures the different nations represent different types of mind. The Greeks were eager for knowledge. Modern science owes its origin to them. They desired to understand, not merely to see with their eyes or to learn. The request of these Greeks is a very important one. It is one that many an anxious soul is making today.
It was not long after the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem before many began to turn away from Him, and increasing numbers became offended in Him, until within one short week even His closest disciples had deserted Him and fled. The prophecy was fulfilled, “I beheld, and, lo, there was no man,”
Certain Greeks came and asked, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Is Jesus the incarnate God? That is what the Gospels declare. His disciples had come to believe it, and when He entered Jerusalem, they thought that He would manifest His power and establish His kingdom. But as the multitudes began to turn against Him, they began to doubt, and to wonder if they had not made a mistake. Apparently they had forgotten what He had told them on the mount: Blessed are the poor in spirit, they who mourn, the meek, they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted. Those characteristics must be in everyone who would follow the Lord. It is to be expected that the wicked and those in love with the world will be offended in Christ. They resent His claims, as they are repelled by His ideals. But the words “Blessed is he whosoever is not offended in me” are addressed to His disciples.
Men would have received Him if He had come in outward splendor and might. But that was not His mission. His mission was to meet the inner needs of men, and to make known what the really godlike virtues are.
To the Greeks who sought Him, Jesus replied, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” This does not seem to be an answer to their question, but in reality it is. It tells them that knowledge merely stored up in the memory is – like unplanted seed – unfruitful. If they would know Him, they must keep His commandments. Religion is not knowledge alone; it is primarily obedience. If they will learn and obey His teachings, then shall they see Him.
“Sir, we would see Jesus.” How closely this comes to John’s question, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” John the Baptist had suffered so much, and nothing had come out as he had expected. Where was that kingdom of heaven which he had been commissioned to declare was at hand? The world was going on its accustomed way. He himself was in prison. He had done his utmost. Sometimes standing by the truth seems to be in vain. Often we cannot see the results of our own efforts to do the Lord’s will. But if John the Baptist could have seen the future, he would have had no doubts. The results of obedience and steadfastness are spiritual rather than natural. They are internal rather than external. “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.”
We keep this day of the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem as its King because it stands for His entry into the soul with heavenly love, beauty, and power. Let us so think of it and open our hearts and minds to let Him in. The prophet Isaiah tells us of the transformation that will surely take place: “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”