“Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ ” John 12:21
The Lord Jesus told us to “remember Lot’s wife” in Luke 17:32. You remember the story. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lived in the city of Sodom with his wife, two daughters and their husbands. The people of Sodom were so wicked in the eyes of God that He planned to destroy the city. But Abraham interceded for Lot until God sent two angels to lead him out of there (Genesis 18:16-19:11). As Lot and his family were led out of Sodom, the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. The angels had warned them not to look back but to press on to the town of Zoar where they would find refuge. But when Lot’s wife thought about all the pleasurable things she had left behind in Sodom, she turned to look back and she became a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:12-26).
Jesus then said, “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33). Lot’s wife sought to save her worldly lifestyle. She loved her earthly things so much that she could not leave them all behind. They were more valuable to her than her own life. The bottom line was she did not take God seriously! She was bent on doing her own thing rather than what the Lord wanted her to do.
The same thing can happen to us. The Lord saves us and we begin walking with Him. But as we encounter difficulties, we begin to wonder if our old life would be better. Eventually we can turn to a pillar of salt spiritually. How can we escape this worldly kind of lifestyle? How can we overcome the natural tendency to put self ahead of our Savior? Over the next few days we will discover the answers in John 12:20-33.
In our study of the gospel of John we saw a significant proof that Jesus is the Son of God when He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44). As Jesus entered Jerusalem He was presented as the Son of David Who received joyful praises from the multitudes testifying that He was the King of Israel (John 12:12-15). As the Son of David, Jesus is related only to the nation of Israel, but now we see in John 12:20-33 that Jesus is portrayed as the Son of Man Whose coming Kingdom will consist of “all peoples, nations, and languages” (Daniel 7:14). 3 Christ’s love is not exclusive, it is inclusive (cf. John 3:16; 4:4-42) as we shall now see.
The first way we can overcome self-centeredness is by SEEKING JESUS (John 12:20-23). Christ’s popularity was increasing quickly as people heard that He had raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:9-11). On the Monday before the Passover feast, Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem on a donkey (John 12:12-19). People perceived Him to be the Messiah-God and thought He was bringing in a material triumph whereby He subjected the nations to His rule as their King. But Jesus did not come to provide an outward triumph, He came to provide an inward or spiritual triumph through the cross.
“Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast.” (John 12:20). These “certain Greeks” were not Greek-speaking (Hellenistic) Jews, but authentic Greeks or Gentiles. They were God-fearing Gentiles who worshiped with Jews in the synagogues much like Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2) who attended the Jewish feasts. They believed in the God of Israel but had not become full proselytes, that is, they were not circumcised or purified. They may have come from Galilee or the Decapolis (ten Gentile cities east of Galilee and the Jordan). The word “now” contrasts the religious leaders of Israel who were opposed to Jesus (John 12:11, 19) with these Gentiles who wanted to see Christ.
The Pharisees had said, “the world has gone after Him” (John 12:19), and now we see Gentiles doing that very thing. “Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ ” (John 12:21). Why did these Greeks seek out Philip? Perhaps it was because “Philip” (Philippō) is a Greek name meaning “horse-loving” 1 and he was from Bethsaida of Galilee (John 1:43-44), so they may have seen him before. Greeks had probably already “seen” Jesus pass by in the procession, but now they wished to speak with the Lord up close. It is significant that Gentiles were attending a Jewish feast seeking Christ. This symbolizes Gentiles seeking salvation from the Savior of the world (cf. John 4:4-42). 2
Being religious like these Gentile worshippers does not satisfy our inner longings or meet our deepest needs. This is why they sought Jesus. They needed more than a prophet or religious ceremony to find complete forgiveness and eternal life. They needed a Savior Who came to earth to show them what God is like since He Himself is God (John 1:1, 18; 8:58; 20:28). Their spirits needed to connect with the true God of the Bible Who is Spirit (John 4:23-24).
Some of you reading this article may identify with these Gentile worshippers. You may have religion, but your spirit longs for a relationship with the true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ (cf. I John 5:20). Jesus invites you to come to Him just as you are – as a sinner in need of forgiveness and eternal life. Because Jesus paid the penalty for all your sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6), He can now freely offer you everlasting life and complete forgiveness if you would believe or trust in Him alone (John 3:16; Acts 10:43). The moment you do, He comes into your life through His Spirit to enable you to experience His abundant life as you learn to abide in Him and His Word (John 15:1-8; Romans 8:1-13; Galatians 2:20).
John informs us that “Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.” (John 12:22). Philip, who was a Jew, appears to have some hesitation about bringing these Gentiles to Jesus. Perhaps he has some racial prejudice. He may have thought, “While it is true that Jesus had said something about “other sheep” outside the fold (John 10:16), He has not explained that yet. Maybe Andrew knows what to do.” So, Philip seeks counsel from “Andrew” (Andrea) whose name is also Greek. Andrew was a man of wisdom for a crisis (cf. John 6:8-9), but he too had no solution so together they bring the problem, not the Greeks, to Jesus.
One of my favorite foods in the Philippines was 7/11 convenience stores’ soft ice cream. During some of my mission trips there, I intentionally set aside time and money in advance to make a run to 7/11 to buy some of their delicious ice cream. Why? Because I enjoyed the taste and texture of this ice cream. For the Greeks to seek Jesus at the Passover Feast, they had to set aside time and money to travel to Jerusalem to see the Savior. As children of God who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:2-14), how much more motivation do we have to prepare to seek Jesus!?
If we are going to overcome self-centeredness in our lives, we must make it our priority to seek Jesus; to know Him more intimately. Do we “wish to see Jesus” in every area of our lives? Or are there some dark places in our lives that we have shut Jesus out? We are too ashamed to invite Jesus into those areas. Please understand that Jesus already knows about those dark places of sin and shame in us. But He will not force His way into them. He is waiting for us to open the door to that part of our lives not so He can condemn us or shame us, but to shine the healing light of His love and grace on them. Christ is not uptight about our sin and shame. He died for them and He wants to set us free from them. He wants to walk through our sin and shame to bring us healing and hope once again. Will we let Him?
Only Jesus has the power to overcome our sinful desires. We must rely on His strength, not ours, to overcome them. But as Christians, our default setting is our sinful flesh (I John 1:8, 10). When we wake up in the morning, our natural bent is to pursue our selfish desires. Hence, we have a choice to make every day – to walk in the flesh or to walk in the Spirit (cf. Romans 8:1-13). Therefore, we must be intentional about walking in the Spirit and setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. We can do this by spending time with Jesus in prayer, asking that God’s will be done instead of our own will (Matthew 26:36-44). Also consistently studying and applying God’s Word (John 15:1-7; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17; James 1:21-25) and hanging out with other believers to connect with Jesus in them (Hebrews 10:24-25) will retrain our minds to yield to the Holy Spirit instead of our selfish desires.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, all my life I have battled selfishness. Even after becoming a Christian, I still wrestled with my sinful flesh. The world in which we live selfishly indoctrinates people to put their own agenda above all others. Only You, Lord Jesus, can reverse this pattern in our lives and world. It begins with us making it a priority to seek You first above all else. Thank You for the beautiful picture of Gentile worshippers coming to Jerusalem to seek You. You are not only the Savior of the nation of Israel, You are also the Savior of the world which includes all countries, cultures, and colors! For me to become more humble and selfless like You, Jesus, I need to spend time with You, Your Word, and Your followers. I need to invite You into every area of my life, including the dark places where sin and shame have reigned in my life. I want to see You living in my thought life, my motives, my actions and attitudes, and in my words so I can be a life-giving vessel of Yours to a lost world. Thank You for showing me the importance of connecting with You. Please use me to introduce others to You so they also can experience Your transforming love and grace from the inside out. In Your name I pray. Amen.
1. Strong’s Concordance, http://biblehub.com/greek/5376.htm.
2. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), pg. 592.
3. Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973, 2:262.