Text: John 12
Open your Bibles to the Gospel of John, chapter 12. In these five sessions I have with you this week, I am going to be talking about Jesus before and after the cross. The gathering storm of victory as Jesus approached the cross, and was on the cross, and then after the cross. The turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ comes within the passage we are reading this morning.
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip went and told Andrew. Then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it abides alone. It remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it. Those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me—and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Sigmund Freud, who was the father of modern psychiatry and not a Christian, had a favorite story. It was of a sailor who had been shipwrecked and washed upon a tropical island. The natives of that island took him and made him king, absolute ruler for a year. After that year, he was to be banished to a deserted island. They explained to him that he had two choices. With the first choice, everything he wanted during that year of his kingship would be given to him. He could immediately take that which was given to him and use it, consume it, enjoy it for the present, and then be banished to a deserted island without any resources. Or, he had a second choice: he could take all that he received during that year of kingship and conserve it, lay it aside so that when he was banished to that deserted island, he would have resources enough to live.
Two alternatives, two choices. The fact of the matter is that you and I have two choices in life—and only two. There is no third alternative. We can either consume our life for the present, or we can conserve it for the future. We can either enjoy our lives for the present moment, or we can lay them aside and use them in such a way that they will be future resources.
Basically, this is what Jesus is saying as he enunciates this very important principle in verse 24. He says, very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. So if you have a single grain of wheat, you can do two things with it. You can consume it, eat it, to satisfy present need, or you can let that seed die, put it into the ground and cover it up with dirt. For all intents and purposes it will die, but in the dying it will bear much fruit.
A bag of seed setting in a warehouse or barn is not worth much; it is only when that bag of seed is sown into the newly plowed ground that it becomes invaluable. The farmer must give up that present possession if he is going to have a future harvest. You’ll notice that Jesus didn’t answer the Greeks when they came to him. He said, well, the hour has come when the Son of man should be delivered. Later on in the passage he tells what that means: when the Son of man shall be glorified, it means it is time for his crucifixion. As I mentioned last year in our series on John 17, the coming of the Greeks to Jesus symbolized the coming of the world to seek him. So he knew it was time now that he should face the cross and the time of his crucifixion was near at hand. He explained his crucifixion. It was not the death of a martyr, and it was not the slaying of a thief. Rather, it was a grain of wheat sown into the ground so that it must bear much fruit. Jesus enunciates this principle of spiritual harvest and fruitfulness. It is this: if a grain of wheat is not sown into the ground, it abides alone. It remains a single grain of wheat. Those are almost condemning words. How many of us today would have to say, and may have to say at the judgment seat of Christ, here I am, but I am alone. I have no fruit with me. I consumed whatever I had for the present, and I refused to fall in the ground and die. I’m here; but I’m here alone. Jesus says, no, that is not the purpose of a grain of wheat. That’s not the purpose of a seed. The seed is to fall in the ground and die; therefore, it may bring forth much fruit. So, I want us to look at this principle. In this verse, Jesus establishes that principle, and then he goes on to tell us how this works out.
The first thing is this: if I hate my life in this world and I am willing to die and fall in the ground and be covered up, then I will bring forth much fruit. Jesus says, the consequences first of all will be fruitfulness in the life of the believer. Fruitfulness in the life of Jesus was the reason he was dying. He was born to die. What if he had not died. He would be in heaven, but he would be alone. None of us would ever be there with him. Neither would Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, nor any of the Old Testament saints be there. He would be alone.
And for Jesus to have a gathering of fruitfulness into his life–if his life is to mean anything, he cannot preserve it. He must be willing to die. There is nothing in the Scriptures that tells us so much about how out of step with the world we are because the last thing the world wants to do is to die–die to itself. We are living in a culture where we have gone from worshiping God to worshiping self, from character to celebrities, from self restraint to self indulgence, and from self sacrifice to self awareness. The whole theme of our culture is discovering ourselves, and being free to be ourselves and discovering all that is within ourselves. Nothing so strikes against the grain of today’s culture as do the words of Jesus that if we are to bring forth fruit, we must die. Nobody wants to die, not spiritually or physically. Nobody wants to die to themselves. We have the idea that we must live and realize ourselves and come to the consciousness of all that we are within ourselves. Yet, the Lord comes along with direct contrary advice. He says, no, the life is not to be saved; the life is to die so that it can bring forth much fruit. If we are not being fruitful as we ought to be, it is simply because we have not yet learned how to die to ourselves.
You see, the secret of fruitfulness is that life comes out of death. Paul echoed this in 2 Corinthians 4 when he talks about his ministry. He says, we are always carrying in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. (Watch it in verse 12.) So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
And I want to say to you that anytime life is working in somebody, it is only because death is working in somebody else. For anybody to live, to be born again, to be saved, it requires somebody to die. It required Jesus to die. Now for you and me to bear fruit and to win those who are lost, it requires the same thing of us—that we must die, die to ourselves, die to our own plans, wishes, and will, and to be covered up out of sight so that they no longer see me.
Sarah is a great example of this—life out of death. Why do you suppose God took a barren woman and said, this woman is going to be the mother of generations? That’s not the way we would have done it. It says from the very beginning that Sarah was barren and had no children. Why would it be that God would make to that woman a promise of motherhood and then wait until Abraham was one hundred years old, impossible for him physically to bear children. Sarah had always been dead as far as having children was concerned. Abraham was as good as dead, being one hundred years old. Yet, out of that death came the life of Isaac. God did it that way to demonstrate this principle that life comes out of death. That’s the way God works, contrary to man’s natural reasoning.
I remember some years ago I was in the first church after I had entered into this traveling ministry that I knew was going to give me a great love offering. The pastor had already hinted that it would be around $3,000. This was back in 1975. That was a lot of money back then. I was happy to go to that meeting. I kept thinking, boy, I can’t wait to get my hands on that $3,000. I thought of the bills we could pay off. We were in debt like everybody else. All I could think about all week long was that $3,000 love offering. I am sitting in my motel room one afternoon before the service, and I’m praying, God give us revival; God, come down; and Lord, let there be life born tonight. And do you know what God brought up? He brought up that $3,000 love offering. Basically, what he said was: how badly do you want to see me work? How badly do you want to see life? How badly do you want to see fruit born this week? Oh Lord, (not knowing what was coming, of course, in the arrogance of ignorance) I’ll do anything. And God said, Whatever the offering is, I want you to take it and give it away. Well, we talked about that for awhile. Actually, we didn’t talk about it, I talked about it. God said what he had to say on the matter, and that was all he was going to say. I struggled with that for several hours—I’m sorry to say. Finally, I got down on my knees and I said, Lord, yes. I know it. I’m thinking more about that $3,0000—preserving myself, than I am of seeing what you do in this meeting. I’ll do whatever you say. I’ll give it away. Boy, it was hard. I had to die to that. That night we had 28 people saved. .
That’s the way it is, folks. Life comes out of death. Every time somebody is saved in your church, it is because somebody has died. They have died to convenience in order to pray. They have died to their time in order to visit. They’ve died to their embarrassment in order to share the gospel. Somebody has died. Until people are willing to die, there will be no fruitfulness. We can have all the conferences and conventions we want on why we are so barren, but the main reason we are so barren is because we are so alive to ourselves.
But he goes on to explain this. In verse 25, he says, those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. He is talking about fullness of life. We already have eternal life. John speaks of eternal life on two planes. For instance, in John 10, Jesus said he came that he might bring life and life more abundant. There is life, and then there is life more abundant. And he says, there will be fullness of life, life abundant. But it is only for those who hate their life in this world; then they will keep it for eternal life. Those who love their life lose it. It is interesting that two different Greek words are used here to translate the word life. The first two words translated life is our word psyche. The last word in eternal life is zoa ?? (like zoology), the quality of life in general. But when he uses the verb psyche, he is talking about the ego. He is talking about the inner person. He is talking about the mind that makes decisions, makes plans, that charts its own course. He is talking about the inner will. He says, unless a person hates that inner will, he cannot enjoy the abundance of life that is in Jesus Christ. That is what dying is—taking your independent self, your wanting to do it your way, your plans, your vision, your ego and burying it in the ground and hating it. Here again, we are in such conflict with the philosophy of the world.
It is also interesting in this passage that he says, those who love their life lose it. It is really the present tense, those who love their life are already losing it. Phillips translates it destroys. Now, think about this for a minute. This is so paradoxical to man’s way of thinking. If you love your life, you are going to retain and guard your ego at any cost. You are actually, even right now, in the process of losing it, of destroying it.
Do you know who the Inuits are? They are the Eskimos of Canada and Greenland. Do you know how they hunt bear? They take a piece of bone, preferably the bone of a wolf, and they whittle each end to a sharp point, coil it, freeze it in blubber, and lay it along the path that the bear travel. They wait and watch. A bear comes along and smells that blubber and swallows it. He has just killed himself, but he doesn’t know it. He thinks by eating this he is going to save his life. The Indians follow along at a distance and watch the bear as he weakens. Every movement the bear makes, the sharp points of that bone tear into his flesh and lance his stomach. He begins to bleed internally, and finally dies. He thought he was saving his life, but the moment he swallowed that blubber, he killed himself. It’s tragic today that many people today think they are saving their lives. Look out for number one. Nobody tells me what to do. I have a right to do with my body as I please. I have a right to choose my own course of life. I have a right to my own way. The minute you do that, you have killed yourself– a slow death.
Well, there’s one last word. When we die, not only will there be fruitfulness, and not only will there be fullness in sharing the abundant life, but there will be faithfulness. Look at verse 26: Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me the Father will honor. Service is an outgrowth of this. You can’t get away from it. No man will serve two lords at the same time. He will hate the one and love the other. It is only as we die to our own egos and our own wills and our own selves then we are qualified to be servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will follow him. Watch this: whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am there will my servant be also. Now, there are two things about that.
1) Where Jesus is, that’s where we’ll be. Wonder where Jesus is? Wherever he is, that is where we ought to be. In our daily life, it may mean one thing for one person, may mean another thing for another person. If Jesus Christ came to Colorado Springs today, where do you think he would be? Where do you think he would go? I have an idea he might go down on skid row, or down on the street and talk to the homeless. He might not go the places we go. But I want to tell you something, wherever Jesus is, there will his servant be also—if you are really his servant. We need to ask ourselves in our own individual lives, where is Jesus? Wherever he is ministering, that’s where I want to be. But it means another thing.
2) It means that wherever I am, there he is also. I am not alone. You cannot separate the servant and his master. Where Jesus is, that’s where I’ll be. Conversely, where I am, that’s where Jesus will be. No matter where I am, perhaps in the most desolate place I could ever imagine, and I feel isolated and cut off from everyone else, Jesus is there. That ought to be enough for us.
When Eisenhower was president there was a story in the newspaper about a reporter who called the church where Eisenhower attended each Sunday. He asked if the president was going to be in the service this Sunday. The pastor replied, I don’t know, but Jesus will be here and that should be enough incentive to get you out. Wherever I am, Jesus is there.
Then he ends with this promise: and my father will honor him. Spurgeon used to tell the imaginative story about a prince and his servant who were traveling. They fell into the hands of bandits. The servant was with the prince. And the prince was more than likely going to be killed, if not ransomed. The prince fell ill, and the servant began to minister to him. There came a day when the servant had an opportunity to escape and save himself, but he stayed with the prince, ministering to him. Then the king found out where they were and sent an army and rescued him. Spurgeon said, now who do you think the king is going to honor? He is going to honor that servant who stayed by his son. I don’t have time to go into what all that may mean. You need to do a little work for yourself—study it for yourself. It ought to be enough for us that whoever serves Jesus will receive the honor and favor of the father.
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2006