SHOW US JESUS
John 12: 20-33
Having spent many years growing up in Missouri, I had to learn that Missouri is “The Show-me-state.” That means people from that state, supposedly, don’t always take someone’s word for a claim. They say “You have to show me.” They say: “Seeing is believing.” And I used to believe that until I saw illusionists in person do things before my eyes that tricked my eyes. I’ve learned that even my eyes can be tricked, and so can yours. Seeing is not always believing.
You might know that after Jesus rose from the dead, (oops; Easter spoiler alert!) Jesus then appeared to his disciple Thomas who said unless he saw Jesus with the nail holes in Jesus’ hands, he would not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. At first glance from this Missourian, that seemed reasonable to me. I can understand why someone wants to see before believing. But then, where does that leave us? Where does that leave those of us who are alive long after Jesus walked the earth? So today, you and I will need to re-evaluate our need to “see” Jesus. Jesus himself said: “Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet believe.” (John 20:29) And then John, the writer of the Gospel, speaks to the readers directly. He says in John 20:30 “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in his name.” No one knew Jesus like John knew Jesus. He was known as “the beloved disciple.” John’s gospel lifts back the curtain on who Jesus is in multifaceted ways. He is the Way; the Door, the Lamb of God; the Good Shepherd to name a few. John knows he is writing to people who have not seen Jesus; but it’s his mission to convince them that they, and we, are at no disadvantage.
Back in John chapter 12, some Greeks, that is, non-Jews, came up to Philip, one of the disciples, and said: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” In his day that was not a hard request to satisfy; they just led him to Jesus. But today, 2000 years later, my job, and your job as a Christian, is to show people Jesus, not in the flesh, but in power, and presence and influence. That is something I can do; that is something you can do.
In the Laura Hillenbrand’s tremendous book “Unbroken,” Louis Zamperini came to know Jesus at a Billy Graham Crusade. You might say Billy Graham “introduced” Zamperini to Jesus. Did he shake his hand in the flesh? No. But did he come to know him personally in ways that could be considered even greater than meeting him in Galilee? Yes. After meeting Jesus, Zamperini’s seething anger from his torture at the hands of a prison camp officer dissipated; it was transformed into a love for Jesus and a love for others, and a desire to forgive and to witness. That’s what he did. He traveled back to Japan to not only spread the love of Jesus, he also sought out the officer who tortured him to say he forgave him. In those years from his conversion on, people saw Jesus through the life and actions of Louis Zamperini.
In Russia in the 1870s, most people were familiar with one of their most famous writers through his epic works War and Peace, and Anna Karenina. Leo Tolstoy is the author. But at the age of 51, Tolstoy met Jesus, not in a fleshly way, but he met him nonetheless. That meeting changed his life. It was after that meeting that he wrote the short story that I mentioned a few weeks ago, “Where Love is, There is God Also.” It’s the story of Martin the Cobbler, a man who spent his life wanting to see and serve Jesus. As he grew older, Martin thought he would die without having his hopes fulfilled. Then one day he gave a cold man some cups of hot tea and his company; he later gave some clothing to a very cold mother and her child; and then he rescued and mentored a boy who had tried to steal an apple from a food cart because he and his family were so hungry. It was a big day in Martin’s life, but he still didn’t believe he had seen Jesus. At the end of the day he was discouraged as he prayed. Then, in a vision, Jesus appears to him. A voice whispered, “Martin, didn’t you recognize me?” And then Martin saw a vision of the hungry man, the cold mother and child, and the boy. Suddenly Martin knew; he had seen Jesus, just not in the way he expected. He remembered his Scripture when Jesus said: “I was hungry and you gave me food; thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Martin had found Jesus, even in the 19th century.
We learned about hymn writer Fanny Crosby in our Wednesday night study two weeks ago. She wrote hymns under more then 200 pen names in addition to her own. Every one of them pointed to Christ, witnessed to his power to save us, or glorified him. She wrote hymns like “Blessed Assurance Jesus is Mine,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “To God be the Glory,” and today’s anthem “Draw Me Near.” She wrote like she had seen Jesus. But she hadn’t; not with her eyes. Blinded by an improperly trained doctor as a child, she went through life blind. Although she wrote about her Savior and praised her Savior, she never saw her Savior any more than you or I have seen him with our eyes. But she said that her greatest joy and anticipation would be seeing him on the other side, in Heaven, when her earthly blindness would become sight.
Can we join Fanny Crosby in yearning to see Jesus one day, when we cross over to the other side? Colton Burpo from “Heaven is for Real” said he saw him there. In our Friday Food and Film night we once again saw the story based on actual events when a four year old boy learned things that it was not possible to know. He said he had been to heaven, and he had seen Jesus. His father, a minister, showed him classic picture after classic picture of Jesus, but his young son said Jesus didn’t look like any of them in Heaven. Then a news report showed a drawing made by a young girl. Her name was Akiane Kramarik, born in Illinois to a Lithuanian mother and American father. Her parents were atheists when she was born. After their daughter’s extraordinary paintings, teaching them about a Savior in whom they did not believe, the scales dropped away from their eyes and they become Christians. All from a girl who started painted what she saw at age 4. When Colton Burpo saw her picture of Jesus on the television, he said, “There! That’s him!” That is Jesus, said a 4-year-old boy.
Can we, like Martin the Cobbler, serve others food, or water, or give shelter, or company or support? In so doing we might hear the voice of Jesus: “It was I! It was I who you helped!” Or perhaps like Louis Zamperini you’ll need to be introduced to Jesus by a preacher, or an evangelist, or a hymnwriter, or another ordinary human being who knows him. Let me tell you today: I know Jesus. I have seen people healed in his name; I have baptized in his name; and I have grown to know him by prayer and the study of the New Testament. I have heard some the testimonies about how some of you know Jesus too; I’m telling you, all around us on a day like this, people have met and gotten to know Jesus. Their stories are not all alike; they are all different. A few have seen him, but many know him. Very few have had the experience like the Apostle Paul who met Jesus after Jesus’ physical death in a flash of light on the road to Damascus. And don’t feel ashamed if you haven’t had that experience. If you want to know and meet Jesus one day, pray; pray for it. And then expect it. And read the New Testament. As I said to the children today, I often see Jesus in their faces; I see Jesus in the faces or youth and adults too. I have seen the evidence of people who have put him on the throne of their heart, like many of you have already done! Invite him into your life; or if you have done that already, revisit him with renewed love. Then may your eyes be opened; your ears be opened; and your hearts be opened. Jesus is with us; we are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: Dear Lord Jesus: some here long to see you, yet we know you especially bless those who have not seen you, and yet believe. Bless those who seek your face until the day that they do. Until then, work through those who have invited you into their lives as they serve, and feed, and clothe others. As we do so, speak to people in whispered tones saying, “It was I. It was I that you served!”
Jeffrey A. Sumner March 22, 2015