Speaking of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews tells us, “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)
I think that one of the greatest temptations Jesus ever had to face occurred just a couple of days before His death. John records the incident in chapter 12, verses 20 through 33: “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” (NIV)
The text does not tell us what the Greeks wanted, or what they said to Jesus. Whatever it was, it was something which obviously upset Jesus. This is speculation on my part, but here’s what I think happened. In John chapter 7, Jesus warned the Jews that He was going to be with them only a short while longer (John 7:33). They would look for Him, but would not be able to find Him. This started some questions. “…Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks?” (John 7:35 NIV)
I think these men heard the speculation and rumors and decided to offer Jesus a place among themselves. “Jesus, it’s obvious that the powers that be, here in Jerusalem, are opposed to you and are planning to take action against you. Come with us. You can live with us and be our teacher. Our people will accept you. They don’t honor you here, but we will honor you.”
Jesus pointed out that there were two problems with the Greek’s proposition. The first problem is that it was based on a wrong world-view. Their concept was that you have to protect yourself from harm. Avoid confrontation. Preserve what you have. Jesus used the metaphor of a seed to point out that participating in God’s glory and eternal life are not obtained by playing it safe. In order to reproduce, a seed must first die. If we want eternal life, we can’t hang on to our natural, worldly passions, emotions and way of thinking. Just like a seed, we have to die in order to live.
The second problem with the Greek’s proposition is that it was based on a wrong concept of discipleship. A true disciple or follower does not ask his teacher to conform to his expectations. On the contrary, the definition of following is not gratification of our own expectations, but serving. A true follower, a true servant will be where his teacher is. He will conform to the expectations of the teacher. We call ourselves Christians. We claim Jesus as our Lord. Yet, how many times do we try to manipulate Him into endorsing what we want rather than asking what He wants?
Even though Jesus recognized the fallacies in the proposal the Greeks made Him, He was still shaken by it. Why would that be? Think about it. Jesus had publicly declared Himself as the Messiah, the King of Israel. Ever since, He had been involved in greater and greater controversy with the authorities. There could be no doubt how things were going to end. The authorities were going to kill Jesus at the first opportunity. And now, right at the last minute, Jesus is offered a way out. He could go teach among the Greeks and escape the cross.
In His agitation Jesus asked a similar question to the one He was going to ask later in the Garden of Gethsemane, “…what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?” (John 12:27 NIV) Then, He reminded Himself that it was for this very hour that He had come. If He turned away from the cross now, His entire ministry would have been pointless.
Jesus made His decision. He would face the cross. His decision was validated by a voice from heaven. He had passed the test.
There are two consequences of Jesus’ decision. The first is that judgment would be pronounced on the world and the prince of the world would be driven out. In the cross it looks like the world has pronounced judgment on Jesus. In reality it is the world which has been measured and found wanting. Having refused to believe in Jesus, the world has brought condemnation on itself. Similarly, it would look like Satan had won when Jesus was crucified. In reality, through the crucifixion God has destroyed Satan’s power and rule.
The second consequence of Jesus’ choice to go through with the crucifixion was that it would draw all people to Him. If I am correct, the Greeks offered Him safety and honor. The irony is that it was only through sacrifice, only through the crucifixion, that Jesus would receive true honor. The Greeks wanted Jesus to come to them. Through the crucifixion all peoples, not just the Greeks, would come to Jesus.
That’s why we’re here today. We’re to draw near to Jesus. We’re here to remember what He did for us on the cross. The bread reminds us of His body which He sacrificed for us. The juice reminds us of His blood which paid for our sins.
But the bread and juice not only remind us of the cross, they remind us that Jesus overcame the temptation to turn His back on the cross. They are also a symbol of hope. Jesus overcame temptation. Through His strength, we can overcome it, too.