John 12:23-24 “Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’”
Jesus draws a beautiful illustration of his death and makes an emotionally charged prediction of his sufferings here. It may not impress us very deeply because we have become more or less comfortable with the idea of his suffering and dying. It’s our own suffering and dying with Jesus that troubles us.
We live in a world obsessed with ending all suffering. Doctors and scientists frantically struggle to hold death off as long as they can. Douglas Taylor Weiss once suggested that “Eliminate pain” and “Have a good day” and “Be entertained” belong in our culture’s new set of 10 commandments. Preachers of the prosperity gospel suggest that becoming a Christian means the end of putting up with life’s unpleasantries. But suffering, and even dying, are tools the heavenly Father uses to bring glory to his name.
The picture Jesus paints of the seed is not difficult to understand. When it is planted, it gives up all it has, its entire existence, to support the new plant. The seed itself “dies.” A new plant emerges. Eventually every trace of the seed disappears as the plant draws its life out of it. But the plant produces a whole crop of new seeds. Death leads to multiplication.
Jesus resembles that seed. Like the seed, Jesus gave up everything. He gave up the privileges of Godhood to live as a common man. He gave up the rights and freedoms of God’s Son to live in obedience under his parents, rabbis, and rulers. He gave up his time to teach, heal, and love the people of Judea and Galilee. He rarely took a day off. His students, his disciples, even lived with him.
Ultimately he gave up his Father’s love to know God’s anger at our sin. He suffered the hell we deserved. After tasting such spiritual death, he gave up his spirit. When they took his naked body down from the cross (for he had given up even his clothes to the Roman soldiers), they placed it in a borrowed tomb, because he had nothing left to give.
What if Jesus had never died? What if he had been spared all this pain, and suffering, and sacrifice? Then he would have remained only a single seed. God would have considered Jesus alone his child and Son. That would certainly have been easier for Jesus. But you and I would have no spiritual existence– at least not a positive one. Our sin made that impossible without him.
“But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” In God’s heavenly system of accounting, Jesus death cancels all the debt we owe for our sins. It sets us free from death itself. It may look weak and worthless, yet this great act of love has such power that the mere news of it miraculously takes hold of human hearts. It transforms rebellious sinners into believing children of God. In all this world, there is no greater power than Christ’s own self-sacrificing love.
You and I are the seeds Jesus’ loving sacrifice produced. We are the adopted sons and daughters of God, and we are only a small part of the family. It is so big, a harvest so fruitful, that when the Apostle John saw it in the book of Revelation, he described it as a great multitude no one could count.
This is the glory of our Savior’s death. It makes it possible to fear our own less as well.