We want to see Jesus

Sometimes, when people find out that I’m a minister, they feel the need to explain to me why they don’t go to church anymore and what they believe (or don’t believe).

I had one of those conversations the other day. There are too many religions making too many claims, the fellow said. How could you possibly sort them all out? Growing up he’d been an altar boy, but now that he had kids of his own, he wasn’t going to make them go to church.

It was variation on the popular idea that all religions are basically the same. 

Jesus didn’t believe that. 

Neither did the religious leaders who wanted him dead.

It was the time of the great Festival of the Passover. Jesus had made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding a little colt. The religious leaders’ plot to arrest Jesus was in motion.

It was then that some Greeks who’d come to worship at the festival went to the disciples and asked to see Jesus.

This was the Gospel writer John at his ironic best: The religious insiders wanted to kill Jesus. The religious outsiders wanted to worship him.

We don’t know if the Greeks got their meeting with Jesus or not, because instead of answering, Jesus started saying mysterious-sounding things, like, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” 

Jesus died when he was lifted up on the cross.

No other religion claims that.

It’s the beauty of that which draws all people to him.


Twenty years ago, I was part of a defense study trip to Central Europe. In Warsaw, we got to meet a member of Polish Parliament who later became President of Poland. In the 1980s, he’d been a contemporary of Lech Walesa and was part of the Solidarity movement that threw off communism. 

I asked him what was easier—to lead a revolution or to build a new democracy. He stopped and smiled. He said he’d been put in jail many times by the communists and thought he would die in prison. He never imagined that he would one day be leading a new government. 

One of his biggest challenges was meeting the expectations of young people who wanted the lifestyle of the west, but who had no real memory of socialism. He said his teenage daughter asked him, “What was socialism like?” His family had been on vacation in Ukraine, which was then still run by the socialists. His daughter noticed people standing in various lines, so he told her to stand in one of the lines and find out what it was for. When she got to the front of the line, a person put a piece of cheese in her hand. She came back to her dad holding the piece of cheese.

He told her, “Now you know what socialism was like.”

His point was this: If you don’t remember where you came from, how can you possibly know where you’re going? The lack of a shared memory—of the shared sense having overcome together—was causing the younger generation to be impatient.    

On the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, it’s important to remember the event that shaped us a nation. We don’t just remember the terror of that day or the heroism it inspired.

We pause to remember the faithfulness of God. Because it’s the faithfulness of God that gives us hope. 

Over and over in the Bible, God called his people to remember.

In Genesis 9, after the great flood, God put a rainbow in the sky and told Noah that it would be a reminder to God of the everlasting covenant between God and all creation.  God didn’t need to be reminded. The rainbow was a reminder to humanity of God’s mercy and faithfulness. 

In Joshua 3, after the people of Israel had safely crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, Joshua commanded that one man from each tribe take a stone from the riverbed and erect a memorial so future generations would remember how God had stopped the flow of water and got them safely across.

Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, gave his disciples the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, telling them that whenever they ate the bread and drank the wine they were to do so in remembrance of him.

When we baptize an infant, we’re to remember the vows of our own baptism, and how God is faithful, even when we’re helpless to help ourselves. 

In this church, we remember that we were once a frontier church. We remember how the men who founded this church first met in 1758 in the smoldering ruins of Fort Duquesne. 

We remember God’s faithfulness to us.

We remember the character of the God we worship. 

The God who weeps with us.

The God who suffers for us.

Going back in

How many times do you keep going back into danger?

How many narrow escapes can one person have?

I wonder if questions like that went through the minds of Jesus’ disciples. A series of controversies with religious leaders had come to a climax when the leaders picked up stones to stone Jesus. Somehow, Jesus slipped away before the stones started flying.

That sort of narrow escape seemed to be happening to Jesus more and more.

What if the next escape attempt became one too many?

Jesus and the disciples retreated to safer territory on the far side of the Jordan.

But soon a cryptic message arrived, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” That was all. No request. Not even, “Please come quickly!”

Of course, the request was from Mary and Martha, on behalf of their sick brother Lazarus. Jesus loved them and they loved him. It was as if Mary and Martha didn’t need to say anything else. If you know Jesus, you know he always does more than we ask or imagine.

But then Jesus waited two days. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived in Bethany, back across the Jordan, where the leaders wanted Jesus dead. Healing Lazarus meant going back into danger.

“This sickness will not end in death,” Jesus told his disciples.

Of course he was right, but not in the way anyone imagined.

Lazarus’ sickness led to his death, but things didn’t end there.

Lazarus went through death into life.

And that’s what happened to Jesus too. Bringing Lazarus back to life set in motion the events that led to the crucifixion.

But then Jesus went through death into life.  

We might question his timing, but Jesus always knows what to do, what we need, and what’s best for us.

When you trust in Jesus Christ, sickness and death become things you go through into life.