Shortly after the ‘triumphal entry’ into Jerusalem, a request made its way to Jesus from an unexpected quarter. Recalling this, the apostle John wrote:
Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” John 12:20-21 (NASB)
While we do not know if they ever did see Jesus, Jesus saw in their request an awakening interest within the Gentile world and declared that his ‘hour had come‘.
We cannot see Jesus, physically or in person today, and in a very important sense, we don’t need to. But, we do need to perceive Him, to understand who He really is, as wholly as the scriptures permit.
In this article, I have assembled a number of occasions when people came to Jesus. Some came to confirm what they already believed. Others came with an open mind and of course many came to be blessed and healed. What each one found in their encounter with Jesus depended to some degree on why they came and what they expected. Those who responded in faith became his disciples while other turned away, disappointed or offended.
How we ‘see’ Jesus today is really no different. It depends upon our reason for looking and our willingness to allow Him to speak to us through the scriptures. These eyewitness accounts have been preserved for us, for this very purpose. In them, we may meet Jesus as those did who saw him face to face, and experience the various aspects that these meetings reveal. We have the benefit of multiple encounters with Jesus which go far beyond what any one person experienced at that time. Even those who met Jesus had to rely on the witness of others to develop a holistic understanding of Him.
Most of the following events come from the gospel of John – though the first two are from Luke.
Luke 2:1-20 (NASB) 1Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
The shepherds responded in faith to the announcement of Jesus’ birth. The significance of his arrival was declared from heaven and with glory. It was not so much Jesus who inspired their faith or filled it with content as it was the message from on high. Yet finding him just where the angels had said, confirmed his divine origin and appointment as their saviour. They glorified God and praised him for what he was doing and for the privilege of witnessing his arrival.
Some time later, certain Magi – wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem seeking the ‘king of the Jews’. They had seen and followed his star to the land of his birth. The leaders in Jerusalem were unaware of what had happened but quickly identified Bethlehem as the birthplace foretold by the prophet Micah. When they saw him, they too rejoiced and worshiped Him. Then having been warned by an angel, they returned home without reporting the Lord’s location to Herod.
Jesus, the son of David was born in Bethlehem upon whose hills David once tended sheep. The arrival of the good shepherd was announced to shepherds who were the first to see him and to publish his arrival to the world. He was sought out at his birth and then also at his death…by Gentiles, whose salvation also depended wholly upon Him. The hand of God was at work.
At the age of 12 Jesus visited the temple for the first time. Having been formally recognized as a man, He amazed the Jewish religious teachers in the temple courts with His insight and understanding. But when he returned some 20 years later, those who found him precocious as a youth felt threatened by Him. He spoke with authority and performed miracles to confirm, that His were the words of God.
Of those ‘looking for Jesus’, John the Baptist was perhaps the best prepared. God had sent him to prepare the hearts of the people to receive the gospel of Jesus. His life and ministry revolved around Jesus, even before the two of them met. He confessed not only that he himself was not the messiah, but that regarding the actual messiah, John was not worthy to remove his master’s sandals. So much superior was the messiah to himself that He would baptize men and women with the Spirit and with fire.
When as God had foretold, John saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus in the form of a dove, he knew that this one was ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’.
John bore testimony to Jesus with the result that many of his own disciples began to follow Him. This was the purpose for which John had been sent and he again confessed that Jesus must ‘increase’ while he himself must ‘decrease’. There has only ever been one lamb of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God.
In John 3 we meet a Pharisee named Nicodemus. who was also a member of the Sanhedrin. He came to Jesus one night, starting the conversation with a confession. Nicodemus and others like him had drawn the reasonable conclusion that Jesus was a teacher sent from God. The miracles of Jesus demanded as much. But Jesus surprised him on that occasion with questions that revealed the invisible nature of the Kingdom of God and the spiritual nature of the new birth needed for entry. It was the start of a journey which led Nicodemus to defend the Lord before his peers in the Sanhedrin (Jo 7:50) and to bury him after his crucifixion (Jo 19:38-40)
As the circle of those who met Jesus widened, he met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar (John 4). This was no chance meeting, for John observes that ‘Jesus had to go through Samaria’. Far from a geographic necessity, Jesus took the short-cut from Judea to Galilee, to fulfill the long road of the mission set out by his Heavenly Father. Unlike other occasions, Jesus made first contact. He was looking for someone who was not looking for Him, but who needed him desperately. Ignoring racial prejudice and breaking social and religious norms, Jesus asked her for a drink. He put himself in her debt to engage her in conversation. As the event unfolds, Jesus uncovers her secrets to uncover the truth about himself. He shared spiritual insights withheld from the best Jewish minds and declared to her that he himself was ‘the messiah to come’. Faith came to a foreign land more readily than it did in his own home town.
Everywhere that Jesus went, men and women were forced to make a decision. He claimed to be The son of God and left no room for equivocation. The crowd was divided into two groups – those who believed, and those who did not.
The ‘signs’ that Jesus did demanded an explanation. Some who saw them concluded that Jesus had been sent by God, but stopped short of believing that his claims to deity were correct. He was most surely a prophet and quite possibly the prophet sent by God to act as the ‘messiah’. Even his own disciples held the view that his kingdom was ‘of this world’, and expected him to set up an administration in Jerusalem. Among those who believed that he had been sent by God were some who were afraid to confess their faith for fear of being persecuted (John 12:41).
The Gospel of John makes it clear that encountering Jesus is not the same thing as perceiving Him and that believing in Him is not the same as obeying Him.
When Jesus fed the 5000, those who ate bread failed to perceive the ‘glory of God’ in the person of Jesus. Like their ancestors who ‘ate bread out of heaven’ and yet died in the wilderness, they stripped out heaven and were satisfied with the bread that remained. They chose bodily nourishment over the food that God offered for their souls. They chose to be offended by the teachings of Jesus rather than to trust in his deity and to wait for an explanation.
After most had gone away, Jesus turned to his disciples asking: “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Speaking for the disciples, Peter replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
This article is an invitation and an encouragement to reread the Gospel of John. To do so with a fervent desire to see the Jesus who is there and not merely the one who you wish was there or who you think is there. To see the Jesus sent by the Father. To see the Jesus whom they crucified having proven that he was the son of God and to whom the Father gave authority to rise again from the grave.
May the Lord bless your study so that this is the Jesus that you see, that you believe , that you obey and in whom you are granted life.