I’ve always been vaguely puzzled by John 12:20-26. Here Jesus has come to Jerusalem in triumphal entry and is preparing for the feast of Passover. Some Greeks approach Phillip and make this request: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). Phillip and Andrew relay this message to Jesus, and he responds with the following: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:23-26). This is, you might notice, not a response in any way to the request made by the poor Greeks. At least, it doesn’t seem to be.
The words of Jesus are interesting here, though. He’s talking about his cross. In John, whenever Jesus mentions his hour or his being glorified, he’s talking about the cross. The next statement, this aphorism about a grain of wheat, also sounds like it could be about Jesus’ death, but it’s less specific to Jesus. He becomes more general still with the next line: “Whoever loves his life loses it–” now Jesus isn’t talking about himself alone, but seems to be laying out a principle. He finishes by talking not about himself at all, but about those who will serve and follow him. Do you see the trajectory? A statement about Jesus alone, two statements about those who will die faithfully, a final statement about those who will serve and follow Jesus. The implication is clear: Those who follow Jesus will need to lay down their lives, as he will shortly lay down his own life. Jesus died for the life of the world; his followers die to deliver his gospel to the world. Jesus died for sin; his followers die to the power of sin in their lives. If we are to follow him, we will need to do as he does.
How is any of this an answer to the Greek supplicants? I think Jesus does answer them, and his answer is profound. He’s saying that if these Greeks want to see him, want to see the fullest, truest picture of him, then they must look to the cross. There is a lesson here for us. If you want to see Jesus, then look to the cross. Jesus’ miracles are not a true reflection of who he is outside of the cross. His teaching is not a true reflection of who he is outside of the cross. Do you want to see Jesus? Do you want to see his mercy, his justice, his love, his obedience to the Father, his humility, his holiness? There are many places you can look to see these qualities, but only one place you must look: look to the cross. There is salvation nowhere else, and nowhere else will you become the kind of man or woman who will lay down your life for Jesus.