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WE WOULD SEE JESUS

Who He Really Is

John 12:20-23
4th July 2004

The eyes of hundreds of millions of people will be on the final of Euro 2004 soccer tonight when Greece is seeking to win its first ever final. Melbourne is the second largest city population of Greek speaking people outside of Athens. Consequently this weekend, Melbourne has been awash in blue and white flags. With the Athens Olympics in a few weeks time, Greece is again capturing the interest of the world.

I have spent much of my life in the culture of the Greek and Roman world. I spent six years in High school learning Latin and the story of the Roman world. This was then followed in University by studies in Greek and Roman history, then several years of learning classical Greek and in translating famous Greek authors, particularly historians and philosophers. I also spent three years learning New Testament Greek and in translating the New Testament. For forty eight years I have preached every week in churches, theatres, on radio and television, on a different New Testament passage several times each week. Part of my preparation has been the examination of the passage in the original language. For many years I wrote in a national magazine, weekly, then fortnightly a column called “Word Talk”, on Greek New Testament words and their insights for us today. I have brought many of those insights to bear in the films and videos I have made throughout Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Greece and Italy — the main countries of Greek influence. The study of Greek archaeological discoveries has been my bedtime reading and over the years, have shared those insights with you. In the fourth century Before Christ, Alexander the Great conquered the known world from Macedonia to India.

He left behind small communities of Greeks to spread Greek culture and language. This was called Hellenisation. A number of Jewish Kings were greatly influenced by this Greek culture and language. Over the next four hundred years Jewish Palestine was heavily influenced by Greek culture and language.

1. GALILEE WAS A COSMOPOLITAN COMMUNITY.

At the time of Jesus a number of Jewish historians and poets, wrote in Greek, including Josephus, the most famous Jewish historian. Greek was used on inscriptions and in public announcements. We have thousands of papyri written in Greek including letters, marriage contracts, legal documents and literary texts. In Acts 6:1 Jewish Christians of Jerusalem are spoken of as “Hebrews” and “Hellenists”. Who are these “Hellenists”? The Hellenists were those who habitually spoke only Greek. The Hebrews were those who usually spoke Aramaic. From 200BC, even Jewish worship was conducted in Greek in Egypt. The Greek term “synagogue” for a Jewish congregation shows the influence of Hellenisation. Subject nations accepted the culture of their conquerors including the idols of their conquerors. Today, countries change the image on their postage stamps when a new ruler comes to power. In the ancient world, they changed the statues and altars in their temples. Under Greek rulers they were expected to find a place for the Greek gods. Most nations did so. But not the Jews of Palestine. Politics could not be reconciled with a faith that insisted there was one God, and no idol worship. One Greek ruler of Palestine, Antiochus Epiphanes(175 164 BC) enforced Helenisation. He outlawed distinctive Jewish customs, including circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, and reading the Old Testament.

Even worse, Antiochus decreed the temple in Jerusalem should see the worship of the Greek god Zeus and by non-Jews. He underestimated the strength of Jewish religious feeling.They fought back in an armed resistance under the Maccabees. 165BC Their fighters defeated the troops of Antiochus and his policies were reversed. But the influence of Greek culture and language continued and was at its height in the day of Jesus.

2. JESUS FELT THE GREEK INFLUENCE.

Like most Galileans of His day, Jesus would have understood Greek. Jesus visited the Hellenistic cities of the Decapolis Mk 5:20;7:31). One of these cities, Gadara, was home to the famous Cynic philosopher Menippus. Jesus was an original thinker who was undoubtably influenced by local Hellenisation. But did Jesus speak Greek? The answer is almost certainly YES. Did He teach in Greek? Are any of the sayings of Jesus preserved only in the Greek? Jesus normally used Aramaic in both conversation and teaching. But did he also speak Greek? The evidence is in the Gospels. All four Gospels show Jesus talking with Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, at the time of his trial (Mk 15:2-5;Matt 27:11-14;Lk 23:3;Jn 18:33-38). In what language did Jesus and Pilate speak? It is unlikely Pilate, a Roman, would have spoken either Aramaic or Hebrew, so probably Jesus spoke Greek at His trial before Pilate. The same might have happened when Jesus spoke with the Roman Centurion (Matt 8:5-13;Lk 7:2-10;Jn 4:46-53) in the service of Herod Antipas. What language did Jesus speak to this first gentile convert? Probably Greek. (Mk 7:25-30) Jesus once journeyed to Tyre and Sidon and conversed with a Syro Phoenician woman. Mark says she was a Greek. Jesus probably spoke to her in Greek.

Then John says John 12:20-22 some “Greeks” came to see Jesus and he conversed with them, most likely in Greek. Almost certainly Jesus spoke Greek. But if Jesus also taught in Greek, then in the words of A. W. Argyle, “we may have direct access to the original utterances of our Lord and not only to a translation of them.” (Expos.Times 67 p93). The Gospels were written in Greek. A number of Jesus’ disciples had Greek names such as Andrew, Philip, Simon. Matthew, a toll collector, would have had to deal with people in Greek (Luke 5:27). You can see the influence of Greek language and culture on Palestinian Jewish life in the time of Jesus.

Jesus also spoke and read Hebrew. During His visit to the synagogue in Nazareth (Lk 4:16-19) He opened a scroll of Isaiah and read Isaiah 61:1-2 in Hebrew. Jesus was a trilingual Jew, capable of reading and speaking Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. This account of some Greeks coming to Jesus occurred in Jerusalem in the last week of His life on earth. None of the other gospels tells of this incident, but it is very fitting to find it in John. The Fourth Gospel was the one written to present the truth of Christianity in a way that the Greeks could appreciate and understand; and it is natural that in it the first Greeks come to Jesus. It was not strange to find Greeks in Jerusalem at the Passover time. They need not even have been proselytes. The Greek was an inveterate wanderer, driven by wanderlust and by the desire to find out new things. “You Athenians,” said one of the ancients, “will never rest yourselves, nor will you ever let anyone else rest.” More than five hundred years before this Herodotus had travelled the world, as he said himself, to find things out.

Far up the Nile to this day there stands a great Egyptian statue on which a Greek tourist, even as modern tourists do, had scratched his name two thousand years ago. The Greek voyaged for trade and for commerce; but he was the first man to wander for the sake of wandering in the ancient world. It is not surprising to find a group of sightseeing Greeks even in Jerusalem. The Greek was a seeker after truth. It was no unusual thing to find a Greek who had passed through philosophy after philosophy, and religion after religion, and gone from teacher to teacher in the search for truth. The Greek was the man with the seeking mind.

How had these Greeks come to hear of Jesus and to be interested in Him? If these Greeks were in Jerusalem they would have visited the Temple in the Court of the Gentiles where they were allowed to visit. Perhaps they had seen Jesus overturn the money changers tables, and liberate the animals destined for slaughter the day before. Perhaps they wished to know more of a man who could do things like that. However that may be, this is one of the great moments of the Gospel story, for here is the first faint hint of a gospel which is to go out to all the world. The Greeks came with their request to Philip, saying, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Why Philip? No one can say for certain, but Philip is a Greek name and perhaps they thought that a man with a Greek name would treat them sympathetically. But Philip did not know what to do, and he went to Andrew, a follow townsman of Bethsaida. John 1:44 Andrew was in no doubt and he led them to Jesus. Andrew had discovered that no one could ever be a nuisance to Jesus. He knew that Jesus would never turn any seeking soul away. Andrew and Philip tell Jesus that some Greeks want to see Him.

3. PEOPLE STILL COME WANTING TO SEE JESUS.

The great desire is: “Sir, We would see Jesus.” Every preacher needs to remind himself or herself, that may be the desire of those listening. Some followers of Jesus are better at introducing others to Jesus, and if like Philip you cannot do it, find someone like Andrew and let them introduce the seeking person to Jesus. Every time we read of Andrew, he is introducing someone to Jesus. First he was introducing his brother Peter, then the boy with the loaves and fish, now some Greek tourists. What a reputation to have - someone who was always introducing a person to Jesus.

The Hellenised world and a cosmopolitan Galilee help explain the phenomenal success of early Christianity. For the good news about Jesus was directly relevant to the Hellenised world. But the disciples preached Jesus, not as a Galilean thinker but as the Messiah, the Christ, who died upon the Cross for the sins of people, whom God raised from the dead. He opened a way into the presence of God for all who believed in Him. People responded to that Gospel.

The Christians met the needs of people. They answered their intellectual questions. They established Christian groups throughout the Empire demonstrating in a practical way, acceptance, purpose and meaning in life which satisfied people. The teachings of Jesus made sense. He pointed to a new and a moral way of living. The discovery the Risen Lord came to people in their need and lifted them to a moral standard that turned the world upside down. People now could belong to a new society, with new moral standards, where the old social restrictions and classes were lost in open fellowship around a table.

Because the Old Testament had already been translated into Greek, the earliest Christian missionaries had no difficulty at all in explaining their message in specific terms. Paul had Greek, Roman and Jewish training and expertise. The whole thrust of Jesus’ teaching gave a more convincing explanation of life. The Christian message was firmly based on events that had taken place in the real world of everyday experience the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But it also affirmed that a good life could not be achieved by human ingenuity or reason. Our own efforts could never save us or make us right with God. But the Gospel did offer the prospect of a new, close relationship with God Himself to those who were prepared to commit themselves to Jesus and allow his Spirit to remake their lives.

In addition, Christians found themselves part of a new social grouping, the church, which offered acceptance and encouragement in their personal beliefs. It is easy to see why and how the early Christians were able to fill the spiritual vacuum of the Hellenistic world. So today. People want to see Jesus. We should preach Jesus in the intellectual context of our day. We should find those people who are good at introducing others to Jesus. We should welcome them into a church that is accepting and warm. We should above all, let them see Jesus. People are seeking and Jesus is the answer to their search. “We would see Jesus.” Well let me introduce you to my dearest friend. Jesus is my friend. He is also my Saviour and my Lord. Without Him, life is completely empty. With Him, life is full and meaningful. Let me introduce you to my Friend.

REFERENCES

  • William Barclay's Daily Study Bible John.
  • Biblical Archaeology Review Ed H Shanks 18:3,5,1992

 

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