“Sirs, we would see Jesus” – John 12:21
The chapel on the campus of Reformed Theological Seminary is the first things a visitor will notice. For good reason, too. It’s magnificent. Colonial style, pretty wooden pews, red carpets, the whole deal. Most notable, however, is the pulpit. It’s obnoxiously elevated. Imagine our own sanctuary about half the width. Then imagine a 10-foot high pulpit in the middle, with a set of stairs on either side. Like I said, it’s obnoxiously elevated for a sanctuary that size.
But on that pulpit is an indelible reminder to anyone who steps foot into that hallowed space. “Sirs, we would see Jesus.” Those words are stamped onto a copper plate about the size of a business card, but they scream in significance. The little placard on the massive pulpit made sure we poor students felt the constant prodding of our professors, “Whatever you do and say, give ‘em Jesus.”
The story of Christmas morning is filled with lowly servants and kings in high places. Consistently, as they come from places everywhere, they are compelled by a desire to see Jesus. The shepherds hear the angelic choir and run to the stable. The kings of the orient follow the star, gifts in hand. They have all come to see Jesus. Even Herod seeks Him, although for more sinister reasons.
In John 12, Jesus is an adult not very far from the cross. In that chapter gentile people come to Philip and utter the most important phrase of their lives, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” What’s remarkable, however, is Jesus’ response. Far from a casual or indifferent remark, Jesus responds to their interest by saying things like, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (a reference to the cross) and “Whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (a reference to our devotion to Christ). In effect, Jesus says, “If you want to see Me, then you must know My cross, and you must know the claim I have on your life.”
What does it mean to “see Jesus,” then? It means to come and behold Him, He who is born the king of angels, in His sufferings and demands on our lives. In this, the third week of advent, I wonder if you remember the claim that Jesus has on your life. I wonder if your wonder at His birth reminds you that He will not stay in that manger. That He will soon suffer many things to bring many sons to glory.
To ‘behold’ means to come and see. Come and see what God has done through Jesus Christ, late in flesh appearing. Whatever else He has done for you, he has done so through the cross because He loves you. And because He loves you, the claim He has on your life is for your good and for His glory.
That’s what it means to ‘see Jesus.’ It means to lay down the life that we owe at the foot of the cross in order that, by grace, God will exalt His Son in our midst.
Come to think of it, maybe that highly elevated pulpit wasn’t so obnoxious, after all. Maybe it’s exalted status was a reminder of the One Good Thing: To see Jesus in this life, as the shepherds did, and in the life to come, as sheep.