Nameless Greeks and a new covenant

A sermon by Ian Robinson, reflecting on the response of Jesus to unnamed Greeks who came looking for a meeting with Jesus in Jerusalem.


Jeremiah 31.31-34
Hebrews 5.5-10
John 12.20-33

Who were these nameless Greeks who made Jesus swoon so? They were visitors in Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, milling and shoving in the crowds, whistling at the stories of capital city politics, doing what they’re told by all the police – the build up of excitement is palpable, but they come around the corner and go first to Philip and ask to see Jesus.

For Jesus, it is as though the clock started to strike twelve. The booming voice from the sky confirms it. “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”(v 23).

What Jesus sees happening had been coming for a long time. This moment has always been in God’s plan.

Since the void was shattered by the explosive migth of God’s “let their be light”, 13.7 billion years of creation has been heading towards this moment. Since humans emerged and decided immediately to take all God’s gifts and rebel thanklessly against God’s promises and hide from God’s presence, 100 thousand migrations had seen the plan progressing.

Since an old Aramaean opened his mind to hear God afresh and heard a promise that through him ‘all the nations of the earth would be blessed’, two thousand years of promise had been building in the minds of men and women.

Since Moses ducked the lightning on Mt Sinai and heard the words and since he wept with God for the people’s fickle fast stupid callous brazen rebelliousness, the word of the Old Covenant has been repeated and translated.

The prophet Jeremiah was caught in the act of upsetting all the religious people who thought they had God sown up in their church. But God lamented their attitude with an unfathomable personal pain: ‘I was your husband’, God said – you were my bride and and you betrayed me!…..I was your husband! – (Chapt 31.31-34)

Jesus sees the promise, 700 years out of Jeremiah, emerging from around a corner. God will give a new covenant not like the old – because our hearts are so hard. No longer trapped in our ethnic box or our religious box – a covenant for all the world to know and a covenant of full and free forgiveness. Its about what’s in our hearts not what’s in our heads. It’s about where we’re going, not how good we are.

People can believe in God so clearly and ever so cleverly but not ever tasted God within. People can cling to church, or cling to their rejection of church, when Jeremiah says that that is exactly what they should be letting go of.

With the one mind you have to think with, with the one frail beating heart you have to live by, with the only pair of hands you have to hold on to what really matters – hang on to the new covenant, and not the old ways.

Jesus sees that the fierce grief-struck the jilted God, the cheated husband of the Bride, is now about to become a happy man again. Jesus is just SO happy to see these Greeks. It’s not because he likes souvlaki, or balalaika, or good old Greek smart-thinking. He had no relatives in Athens or Melbourne. …

Jesus can hear the New Covenant stepping closer. It’s here now for we Christians, but at the time it was just coming in. The New Covenant within the heart – is what makes us love God, listen to God, obey and serve, seek and find.

The Spirit is ours who makes us to taste and see, argue and cherish, repent and be cleansed.

Healing is ours for bitter memories, torn souls, jumpy egos, veils of shame, and even sometimes for sick bodies.

Salvation is ours that softens our hearts, opens our minds, swells our hearts in worship, stills our fear in trouble, draws us up to face the moments of accountability.

Jesus can see it. At that moment Jesus says what he sees: “Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up, + will draw all people = to myself.” ( v 31-32) And these Greeks are the first instalment of this worldwide explosion of love.

It’s happening. So now the other part – the ‘lifted up’ part – must happen to.

“ Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

He is talking about himself. He is talking about you… and me.

He knows he will be strung up to face all the evil the world has to offer – its contrived sincerity, its crushing political machinery, its brutal torture and naked mockery, abandoned by friends with a ministry that will seem still-born. On that cross he will go down every dark passage of our minds, every horror of our history, and will take on all the personal stupidity we have to offer, and embrace them, into his heart, and…. love us.

AND there is more. He knows that he will spring to new life and set us free to follow him on our path. So, my question to us all is, how are you following today?

It’s a question about where you are going rather than how you are feeling. Some of us are at a point of decision in our personal life or in our faith and church life – What do I/we have to die to at the moment? What good things can not be taken in to the future?

Be sure of this: When a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it bears much fruit.

If that question is too hard, you need to hear this one. Have you actually got the message on why the Greeks came from so far away to see Jesus? Have you seen what they saw?

It wasn’t for his good looks or to buy his books. Hebrews 5.5-10 describes Jesus in a very Jewish way. (read) It is just one of many and various descriptions of Jesus, perhaps “celebrations” of Jesus in Hebrews. What picture of Jesus does it paint?

Firstly, Jesus is no accident of history, no Jewish phenomenon, he was not self-appointed. Jesus is God-ordained and God-begotten. The “Melchizidek” idea is to say Jesus surpasses the Jewish history, and surpasses both fate and chance, because the original M. served the most high god in Abraham’s time. That’s more than a thousand years before “Jewish” hit the press, or the Da Vinci Code or Bp Jack Spong or Phillip Adams. Jesus is ordained of God for any in the whole world who seeks the most high God. Forever and for all.

That’s why the Greeks know they can come. That’s why Phillip and Andrew are only too pleased to befriend them in evangelism. Is that what our neighbours know? Is that what pleases you?

But again, the knew THAT they could come, but WHY did they come to see Jesus? The signs (miracles) point to him but that’s all they do. People seemed to open to Jesus but also close to him, on the basis of the signs.

What attracted them, motivated them, changed them?

The picture in Hebrews 5 tells us that Jesus knew how to serve God while here on earth – v 7-8. You serve God on earth don’t you, that is if you’re not dead yet – so you do this don’t you?

By what actions did Jesus serve God, according to Hebrews?

He offered up prayers. He offered up earnest prayer. Do you do that? He knew how to pray for the lost with loud cries and tears. Have you learned to do that? He agonized about his decisions and keeping in the centre of God’s will. Did you know that sweet agony was normal for us all? He went beyond thinking about what God CAN do and knew what God WILL do here and now.

And not just actions but attitudes –

He faced everything he was about to suffer and lose and risk and throw away so that the glory of God could be seen in his small simple solitary son of man life. Is that how you leave church on Sunday? He sought “reverent submission” to God, that blessed soft strong responsiveness of one human heart to the heart of God, even though he was the royal son. Are you “reverent” – is that how you listen to others and read the Bible? He learned obedience, that self-control that marches to the beat of God’s drum despite all the others around us who are calling the tune? What particular obedience have you been learning lately?

All this showed in Jesus’ life.

His prayer was heard.(v7). That’s where the faith miracles came from.
He came into his purpose (v 9a). That’s where those words resonated from.
He became a source – not just the receiver – of blessing. (v9b). That’s where the love flowed from. That’s what I really want in my life.
And Scripture tells us that because of that kind of “reverence”, not the churchy kind, because of that kind of “prayer”, not the wordy fleeting kind, “eternal salvation” it says has spilled everywhere, like gold from a sunset.

This man of tender healing hands and fierce loving heart is someone you could travel a long way for. This salvation, if you only saw it, is something you could gladly sell all your gold for if only to be part of spreading around eternal salvation like gold from a sunset.

This morning, do you see Jesus? Do you see the looming promise that Jesus saw, stepping explosively into your life? Is that what you want? Can you make it your heart’s desire? Pray with me.

God of the Covenant,

You came for ever and for all, the source of eternal salvation for all who come and se and learn to obey.

You have not left us to wonder

and wander around the endless streets of the worlds religions.

Though sometimes it seems the easiest way,

it leaves hearts cold.

Nor have you placed us inside the package of church.

We welcome Your New Covenant to reach below the skin,

below the traditions and structures,

below the thoughts that control and limit.

We welcome Your Spirit to reach into our very heart,

to heal and save, and to take our whole lives over,

to sell us up and move us on with joy.

We love you, Jesus.

We are here with you, Jesus.

We are on the road with you,

come what may,

learning your prayer and obedience,

learning your reverent submission,

living in your grace.