In John 12:24 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Think about those who heard this. Perhaps the Greeks who came in v20-22 heard Jesus say the hour of His glorification had come in v23 and thought it meant something else, that Jesus was about to set up His dominion on the earth and crush Israel’s enemies once and for all. To them, v24 would’ve been confusing and disappointing.[i]‘What? The hour of your glorification has come and you’re speaking of dying?’ What Jesus implicitly stated with the donkey in His triumphal entry He now explicitly states here in an agrarian paradox. For Jesus, the way to fruitfulness lies through death, the way to gain lies through loss, the way to glorification lies through humiliation. Or to say it another way, like the seed whose death is the germination of life for a great crop, so too Jesus’ death produces an abundant harvest.[ii]When you hold a kernel of wheat (or an acorn) in your hand you cannot see all that is in it. It looks rather small and unimpressive but it contains a world of life on the inside. How does all that world of life get out? By the kernel being shoved beneath the ground. Then, and only then, life breaks forth out of it for all to see as new plants burst upward out of the ground. By speaking like this in v24 Jesus is saying that by dying He will bear much fruit. He will be plunged beneath the ground in death and put in the tomb. From the appearance of things this will look very unimpressive and disappointing. But this death will cause the life within Him to burst forth from the grave in resurrection power which in turn causes more resurrection fruit to come forth all over the globe.
v24 is about Jesus and what will soon happen to Him. When Jesus goes on further to v25 He applies this same principle to those who follow Him. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Jesus is saying the way to truly love life is by losing it and the way to truly gain eternal life is by hating our life in this world. This is the cost of discipleship, this is the cost of following Jesus, this is self-denial. This principle is the secret of the Christian life. Spiritually speaking, do you want to be rich? You must become poor in spirit. Do you want to be first? You must be willing to be last. Do you want to lead? You must be willing to serve. Do you want to live? You must be willing to die.[iv]Or perhaps think of it like this. Our conversion is a twofold event. On one hand it is as bright as dawn for we have been born again, raised to walk in new life, filled with the Spirit, and are now adopted children of God. On the other hand it is as dark as night for a death has occurred. Not the death of anyone else, no, the tombstone has our own name on it for our old nature has died. This means our will, our agenda, our plans, our desires, our loves, and ultimately our whole life is over. Someone may think, ‘Well geez, isn’t becoming a Christian by free grace?’ Of course it is, salvation is free indeed, but it costs us everything. Until you come to the end of yourself true life in Christ cannot begin. Are you willing to do this? If not, you have no part with Christ. If so, you’ve learned the secret of the Christian life. That by dying to self and dying to sin you have found out who you really are and discovered your true identity, not in yourself but in Christ.
Many these days are now reading blogs like this and attending healthy churches because they want their theology reformed, but how few want their lives reformed as well! We must learn anew. The character of Christ must also be the character of all those in His Kingdom. Like Jesus, our greatest gain comes by loss.
Lady Jane Grey is a mammoth historical figure in the Protestant Reformation. She, only being a teenager, caught wind of Reformation teaching and began teaching it to others. The local catholic priest heard of this and set up a debate with a catholic theologian to squash efforts and embarrass her, but to everyone’s shock she not only held her own, she presented the teachings of Scripture with such accuracy and fervor that she persuaded more than half in attendance that day. For this she was to be executed. And as the day came she gave her Bible to her sister Katherine with a note inside it that said, “If you with good mind read it, and with earnest desire follow it, no doubt it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life…my good sister…deny the world, defy the devil, despise the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord…with whom even in death there is life.”[v]
May God make us more and more like Lady Jane Grey.