All Greek to me!

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the fateful Passover Feast.  The “great crowd” [John 12:12] heading the same way took up palm branches and greeted him with shouts of, “Hosanna!”, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, and “Blessed is the King of Israel!”  Then John tells us something very curious.


“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.” [John 12:21].  Jesus had 12 disciples, so why did they approach Philip?  Was Philip the first disciple of Jesus they came upon?  Probably not, for John took the trouble to mention that Philip was from Bethsaida, and that this town was in Galilee.  Why did he do that?  It was to draw attention to the fact that Philip [that’s a Greek name] came from an area in which there were many Greek-speaking people.  Hence, the Greeks probably chose a disciple who spoke their language?


Now what was their request?  “ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus’.” [John 12:21].  See Jesus?  Wasn’t he in plain view before thousands of people?  Were the Greeks blind?  But would a bunch of blind people travel from Greece to Jerusalem in those dangerous days?  So what did they mean?  They wanted to speak to Jesus in private, didn’t they?  Otherwise they could have shouted out to him what they wanted to say.


Private interview?  That’s a simple enough request.  So why did Philip go off to tell Andrew?  Perhaps the answer is in John 2:44, which says: “Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida”.  He too was probable Greek-speaking.  So it had to be a Greek problem.  And by choosing Andrew to consult, Philip avoided having to interpret into Aramaic or Hebrew what the Greeks had said. 


A careful scholar would of course consider the possibility that the Greeks, as worshippers of Yahweh, might have learnt Hebrew in order to read the Hebrew Bible.  But then, didn’t they have the Septuagint, the Greek translation?  Do all Christians read the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek when there are good translations in their own languages?


 So “Andrew and Philip” [Andrew had taken the lead] went to speak to Jesus about the request of the Greeks.  It had to be something important, for weren’t they disrupting Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem?  Or should we imagine that Philip was empty-headed and had not enquired what the Greeks wanted to speak to Jesus about?


Thus, Jesus got the message.  How did he reply to the Greeks?  Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  Hey, wasn’t the crowd already glorifying him?  And what kind of reply was that for the Greeks?  Moreover, the whole reply [John 12:23-28] seems to have nothing in it about or for the Greeks!  Conventional wisdom among scholars is neatly summarized by Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry in “The NIV Harmony of the Gospels” as follows: “Jesus totally ignored the Greeks and their request.”  But did he?


If you visited the President of the United States and he exclaimed, “The time has come for me to be glorified!”, was he not telling you that your visit was the signal for something great to happen?  Wasn’t he telling you how important your visit was?


The rest of Jesus’ cryptic reply to Andrew and Philip [v.24-28] must have sounded mysterious to the Greeks as well as to the Jews present.  Jesus described how his coming death would give life to many, and he wanted everyone there to hear this important message, both the Jews and the Greeks. 


It was so important that Jesus called on God to glorify his [God’s] name, and the crowd heard God speak from heaven.  Jesus’ important message was authenticated by God.  Wow!


Then Jesus continued his reply, and ended with these words: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” [John 12:32].  And that included Greeks.  What an assurance that Jesus was not excluding Greeks from his kingdom.  If the Greeks had been unsure on that score, Jesus certainly answered them unequivocally.

Now, if Jesus had in fact been replying to questions posed by the Greeks, what were the questions?  From an answer we can deduce the question.  So when Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me” [v.26], was the question not something like: “How may we become your disciples?” or “How do we serve you?” ?


When Jesus said, “And where I am, my servant also will be” [v.26], was he not saying that when he goes to heaven, his servants will also go there eventually?  So, was the Greek question not:  “How may we get to heaven?”


Chapel on 10 November was chaired by Mr Andrew Lee Boon Hui. He is our alumnus (Dip CS & MCS) and presently working toward the M.Div. He gave the following message.


Ours is a fallen world in which the wicked prospers and the godly suffers.  Christian pilgrimage in this world is undoubtedly a daunting experience especially when we do not receive God’s answer to the most trying situations in our lives.  In such times, everything seems wrong, including our faith in God.  Asaph, Israel’s worship leader, was in such a state of affairs in Psalm 73.  His faith was almost shattered when God was seemingly silent over the prosperity of the wicked.  Yet, God in His faithfulness restored Asaph and taught him three precious lessons which we would do well to take heed (I am indebted to Rev Edmund Chan for his insights into Psalm 73):


First, Asaph realises that he has been operating from a wrong perspective (vv. 18-20).  He has shifted his focus from God to circumstances.  Consequently, his faith fluctuates according to the latter and he becomes more captivated by earthly things than by God.  No wonder he envies the wicked and the arrogant (v. 3).  Secondly, he realises that he has been serving with a wrong desire (vv. 21-22).  His desire for riches and material things pierces him with many pangs.  In the sanctuary of God, Asaph repents because he recognises how corrupted his heart has become.  Thirdly, he realises that he has been living on a wrong foundation (vv. 23-24).  He has been relying on his own ability, not God’s.  Therefore, Asaph has to painstakingly re-learn the lesson of trusting God because only God is the solid foundation in one’s life.


The outcome of Asaph’s encounter with God is a changed disposition (vv. 25-27).  How about us?  Are we living and serving with the right perspective, desire and foundation?  May we echo with Asaph, “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the LORD God my refuge (v. 28)!”


Chapel Speakers for December will be:


  1 December - Mr Edwin Tay Ed Min

  8 December - Mr Samuel Ratnam

15 December - Mr Bernard Chaing

22 December - Dr Quek Swee Hwa

29 December - Dr Aquila Lee  

        We welcome you to join us for a time of worship every Wednesday from 12 noon to 12.45 pm at our new location in Tanjong Pagar.


As the office was closed last week for the big move, we have a few announcements that are belated. 

1. Our heartiest congratulations to Mr & Mrs Francis Wong on the arrival of their 2nd child, Aidan Wong, on 18 November 2004. We rejoice with Dr & Mrs Quek Swee Hwa for the Lord's blessing of their first grandson!

2. Dr John Lim is warded in Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Ward 10D and Bed 120. Appreciate your prayer for him and his family.

3. Dr Philip Satterthwaite is on leave from 29 November 2004 to 6 January 2005. Please contact Serene if you need any assistance.

4. Biblical Basis of Tentmaking (Tent module) by Dr John Lim on 4 December will be rescheduled to a later date.

5. With immediate effect our new address is 31 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088454. Tel: 62276815; Fax: 62276816. Email addresses remain unchanged.

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A Blessed Birthday to…

Ms Amy Fong  23/11

Ms Nellie Har  23/11

Ms Sherry Hua  23/11

Ms Joyce Tay  23/11

Ms Koh May Fern  24/11

Ms Carol Cheang  24/11

Mr Lim Teck Sin  25/11

Ms Hukali Aye  25/11

Mr Paul Kendagor  25/11

Mr Henry Toi  28/11

Ms Rebecca Ng  28/11

Rev Song Young Hak  28/11

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