Dying as a Means of Loving, Part 1
From Gospel Translations
Now there were certain Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these therefore came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came, and they told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him."
"We Wish to See Jesus"
Summer is for doing what these Greeks wanted to do. Verse 21 says they came to Philip and said, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Summer is for seeing and showing Christ. We want to see Jesus, they said. And I say, I do too. That is what I want to happen in my life this summer. I want to see him so clearly and so powerfully that I am changed from one degree of glory to another into his image so that I can show him to others more compellingly.
So did they get to see him—these Greeks? Most likely they did. But the way Jesus handled the request is probably not what they expected. They said, "We wish to see Jesus." So Philip and Andrew came and told Jesus (v. 22). Does he show himself to them? Yes he does. The same way he shows himself to us—with truth about himself that becomes a truth about us. This is the way Jesus appears in power: he gives truth about himself that becomes truth about us.
Jesus Gives Them a Truth About Himself
He says in verse 23,
[So there are Greeks who want to see me? Here is the truth about me that matters for Greeks who want to see me and know me:] The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
I am on my way to glory. I really will be something to see. They are right to want to see me. I will be the most glorious person to behold in the universe when my Father raises me from the dead and gives me a name which is above every name that at my name every knee will bow—including the Greeks and the barbarians. Yes, they are right to want to see me—and even want to be identified with me.
Jesus Also Gives Them an Unexpected Truth
But here is a truth that they may not expect. Verse 24:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
My pathway to glory is through death. Do you want to see that? I will indeed bear much fruit—including Greeks—But I will not and I cannot bear this fruit any way but through dying. Tell the Greeks that I will not come to them now, because I have a hard work to do so that I might bear them as the fruit of my life and ministry. If I leave the road I'm on to go and be seen by men, I will remain alone and you and the Greeks will not be saved. But if I go and die on my way to glory, then I will bear much fruit—you will be saved and the Greeks will be saved, and all who believe in me will be saved. This is what I want them to see. See me dying. See me bearing fruit.
It Becomes a Truth About Them (and Us)
That is the truth about Jesus that he reveals to the Greeks. But now it also becomes a truth about them—and about us. Jesus' self- revelation is always a confrontation. He says in verses 25 and 26: my dying for your salvation is also my design for your imitation. If you want to see me, be prepared to become like me. This is what happens. Do you mean it: "We wish to see Jesus"? Do we mean it this morning? Jesus says, If you mean it—if you want to see me—prepare to become like me. Prepare to follow me on the road I am going.
So he says, (v. 25):
He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me [Where? To Gethsemane and to Calvary and to the grave]; and where I am, there shall My servant also be [in the presence of my Father in glory]; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
So Jesus begins with truth about himself—the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified and this will happen by the grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying. Then he makes the truth about himself a truth about his followers. Will we hate our lives in this world? Will we follow him on the path to Calvary? Will we serve the Son in this way? Will we let the truth about the Son of Man become truth about us?
This is the way we see Jesus and the way we show Jesus. He reveals himself to us as a Person who goes to glory and bears much fruit by dying—by hating his life in this world. That's what we see. And then he says, Follow me. Die with me. Hate your life in this world with me. Serve me. And if we do, we show Christ to the world. Christ means to be seen by the Greeks and by every other people group in the world. And the way he means for it to happen is by our becoming like him in his dying so that others may see him in us (2 Corinthians 4:10).
The Way Is Hard and Glorious
Two things are unmistakable here. One is that this is hard. And the other is that this is glorious. Don't miss either of these. If you only see the hard part, you will miss the power and the freedom. If you only see the glorious part, you will minimize the sacrifice. So let me show you four hard things and four glorious things.
The Way Is Hard
First, the hard things:
- Verse 24: the grain of wheat must die. "Unless the grain of wheat fall into the ground and die . . . "
- Verse 25: Jesus calls us to hate our lives in this world. "He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world . . ."
- Verse 26a: Jesus calls us to follow him—on his Calvary road, leading to death. "If anyone serves me let him follow me . . . "
- Finally, verse 26b: he calls us to serve him. To take the role of a waiter at his table to do his bidding, no matter what the demand or how lowly the status.
Now that is what it means to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus. And it is hard. Jesus knew it would be hard. That's why he said in Matthew 7:14, "The gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." It is hard to die. It is hard to hate your life in this world. It is hard to follow Jesus on the road that leads to the cross. It is hard to take the role of a servant in a world of power.
The Way Is Glorious
But it is also glorious. And the glory compensates for the hardness of it all. In fact the glory turns the hardness of it into the most significant life imaginable. Just this week I was reading about the search for significance. Do you know what next year is? Beginning January 1, 1996, and continuing for the next 18 years, someone in America will turn 50 every 1.8 seconds. So the books are rolling off the press, because one thing we Baby Boomers know how to do is cash in on our life-stages. And virtually all the books address the theme of significance versus success. You're 50. You've made it in your career. How do you feel about it? Not so great. Well, take stock of the last 15 and go for significance not success. That's the message.
It's a good one. And the good news is that you 20-year-olds don't have to wait till you're 50 for a life of significance and you 70-year-olds don't have to think that it's too late. The life Jesus is calling for here is glorious in its outcome and therefore deeply significant in its hardness.
Here's the glory:
- Verse 24: Yes the seed must die, but "if it dies it bears much fruit." The death is not in vain. It is significant. It bears fruit.
- Verse 25: Yes, if we love our lives, we will lose them; and yes, we must hate our lives in this world. But why? What will be the outcome? That we may keep it to eternal life. "He who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal." What we lay down for Christ he will put in our hands again with glory. You cannot out-sacrifice his resurrection generosity.
- Verse 26a: Yes, we must follow him to Calvary. But with what outcome? "And where I am, there shall my servant be." Jesus used those very words one other time (John 14:3), and he meant heaven: "I go to prepare a place for you that where I am there you may be also." If we follow him to Calvary, we will be with him in heaven.
- Verse 26b: Yes, we must become his servants. But what does the Father do to his servants? "If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him."
So don't miss the glory in this hard life of being a Christian.
- We die;
- we hate our lives in this world;
- we follow Jesus on the Calvary road;
- we become servants.
And when we do, what we find is that
- We bear much fruit;
- we keep our lives for eternal life;
- we join Jesus where he is in glory;
- the Father honors us.
At least for this almost-50-year-old, that sounds like the way I want to live the few remaining years I have left in this world, and how I want to spend eternity. I invite you to join me. It won't be easy, but it will be significant.
Before Revival and Fruit Bearing: Death
We are praying for revival in our fellowship and across the Twin Cities and around the world—that God would come in great self- evidencing power and make his church vibrant and strong and bold and joyful and radical in allegiance to him. When this text (John 12:24–26) came to me Saturday a week ago, it came with the force of a warning and an invitation: beware of praying toward revival. Why? Because before there will be the life of revival, there is the dying of reward. Beware of praying toward great fruitfulness in ministry and in your personal life. Why? Because only if the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies does it bear much fruit. Know what you are asking. But if you are willing, I invite you to seek this. This is the most significant life there is on the planet. Not many are willing to even think about it. But I offer it to you in Jesus' name.
So I have been asking myself earnestly, and I want you to ask with me this morning, "What in me must die?" What must die for my life and ministry to bear more fruit? Is there a corporate dying that we have to go through in order to bear more fruit? What in our church must die for us to bear more fruit? It's a scary question—personally and corporately.
It has a lot to do with love. That is what I will try to show you next week from 1 Corinthians 13:4–7—how love is the topside of this dying. That is, what lives when all dies that ought to die is love. It was an amazing discovery for me to compare John 12:24–26 with 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. That's what we'll do next week.
I had planned on doing that this week. But the more I thought about this issue of dying for the sake of fruit-bearing, the more I felt I needed to see this in the bigger picture of what it means to be a Christian. I don't want you to get the impression that this word from the Lord is a little peripheral word. This word about dying and hating your life in this world is not a marginal word. It is a central word. So let me draw things to a close today by showing you what I mean.
There are two straightforward points.
If You're a Christian, You've Already Died
First, if you are a Christian, you have already died. This is not a second or third stage in the Christian life. This is the meaning of becoming a Christian. Becoming a Christian means dying. Here are the key texts: Galatians 5:24,
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Note the tense: if we belong to Christ (that is, if we are true Christians), this is what has happened to us. Our flesh—that old rebellious, unbelieving, self-centered person we were apart from Christ—was crucified. That is, when we put our faith in Christ, we were united to him and what he experienced, we experienced (Romans 6:5). His death became our death so that his life might become our life.
Don't panic here, thinking, "O that can't be, I still have some very rebellious, unbelieving, self-centered tendencies." Yes, me too. But do not let your experience become the main authority here. The Word of God says, "Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh." That is something we are called to believe and live by.
Or consider the word in Colossians 3:3,
You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
This is what happened to you when you became a Christian. This is the meaning of your baptism:
We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
Becoming a Christian means a decisive death to the old and a newness of life, walking by faith with Christ. Paul put it like this in Galatians 2:20:
I am crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.
My old unbelieving self died; the me that lives lives by faith (moment-by-moment) in Christ.
So when I ask myself and you about dying as a means to revival, we must understand that we are not talking about becoming Christians all over again. We are not denying that something glorious has happened to us decisively and already and once for all. It has. We have been joined to Christ by the Holy Spirit and we have died with him and are walking in newness of life in him. Our life is hid with Christ in God. Something eternal and magnificent has happened.
So what am I asking, when I say, "What in me must die that I might be a more fruitful father and husband and pastor? What in us must die as a church for us to be more fruitful?" I said a moment ago that there are two straightforward points. The first was, if you are a Christian, you have already died.
If You're a Christian, God Calls You to Die Daily
Now the second one is: If you are a Christian, God calls you to die daily. Or, if you don't like paradoxes, God calls us to experience practically in daily life what is true about us positionally in Christ. In Christ we are dead to sin and our lives are hidden in Christ in God. Now because that is your position in God's reckoning, put it into practical experience. In fact, making it true in practice by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13) is the evidence that this is your position.
Where do I find this second point in the Bible? First, I find it in the words of Jesus, Luke 9:23,
If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
The word "daily" shows that following Jesus means a daily dying, not only a once-for-all dying. Each day I must experience in practice what is true of me in my position in Christ. I am once for all "crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20; 5:24)—that's my position; my life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). Therefore I must believe this reality and act on it and experience it. I must become in practice what I am in my position. And the practice confirms the reality of the position.
The other place I find this truth is in the apostle Paul's letters. In Romans 6, after saying in verse 5 that we "were united with [Christ] in the likeness of his death," and after saying in verse 6 that our "old self was crucified with him," then he says in verse 11, "Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." In other words, you are dead with Christ—that is your position; therefore "consider yourselves dead to sin"—demonstrate your position by your practice.
It's the same in Colossians 3. After saying in verse 3 that "you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God," he says in verse 5,
Therefore put to death the members [of your sinful body] on the earth, immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed.
You have died and your position is in Christ. Now experience this death in your fight with sin. Put to death your sinning self. Show who you really are in Christ by trusting his promises above all else.
I want you to glory in what it means to be a Christian. You do not become a Christian by working away at all the things you must die to. You become a Christian by a decisive work of God in you and by a decisive surrender to Jesus Christ through which, by faith in him, he becomes your substitute and your Lord. Then comes a life-long experience of becoming in practice what you are by your position. And that becoming—called sanctification—strengthens your assurance that you are real.
So what I am asking myself and you is this:
- Is there something God is calling me to die to that I might experience more fully my position in Christ; that I might see Christ more clearly and show him more compellingly?
- Am I striving against my very nature as a Christian by trying to keep alive something God sentenced to death when I became a Christian?
- Are my weaknesses as a father or a husband or a witness owing to something that needs to die in me—some old habit, some secret sin, some root of pride, some fear of looking silly, some desperate need for approval, some desire for wealth?
Next week I want to share with you what the Lord is showing me about how loving each other is what this dying is all about. But this morning let's just soberly ask ourselves the question: is there something that is hindering my fruitfulness in Christ—something that keeps me from seeing him and showing him—something that I need to die to? Lord, show us what it is; and we will obey the Word and put it to death by the Spirit (Romans 8:13).