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[Suggestion: Each person receives one kernel of grain. The usher tells them to keep it for later.]
People are greatly concerned about success but understand so little of its true nature. We want bigger, better and longer lasting but end up with what is smaller, worse and short-lived.
It is much like running around doing everything you can do to catch your dream. You grab that piece and then that piece of the dream. Once you grab hold of your dream (if you ever do), it crumbles into small pieces of dust in your hands and like sand runs through your fingers to the ground.
Can we trust God with His plan of success for our lives?
A. Trusting God with Our Lives
B. An Image to Remember
C. The Fallen Grain: Jesus’ Life
D. The Fallen Grain: The Christian’s Life
Significant Summary Points
What we believe shapes what we do. Here are three distortions of perspectives that derive from a poor understanding of God.
1) God does not want us to prosper.
Some Christians have got a whiff of the evils of the world and have come to believe that the Lord does not want us to have good things in our lives. This would be a grave theological error. If anyone wants you to prosper, it would be the Lord. As our Heavenly Father He seeks our very best.
This might shock some of you who believe that God is mean by trying to steal our money and time. You think He is rigid all these church rules to follow. We can understand why such people struggle and endure life. This is hardly what God wants for any of us.
2) God only wants us to get what we want.
Others go to the other extreme and affirm, as one sister told me lately, that God promises the best and will never hold back anything we want. This is totally unsound. In her case she could not accept that Jesus clearly says that remarriage after divorce is adultery. As a result to fit her beliefs, she twisted her view of the scriptures.
3) Grumbling that God gives us less than best.
Yet there are a greater number of people who grumble against God because they do not have things they want. They too have serious theological errors. These errors cost them dearly. Instead of enjoying life, they worry and fight to get the things they want. They demand certain things before they are contented.
Gaining the Right Perspective
The Gospel of John helps us get a proper understanding of life. But we can only rightly understand life when we truly get to know God. Our belief in God influences our actions and attitudes. It is not what one says he believes but what he does believe that makes him tick.
What is this proper understanding of God that we need? Let me summarize a thick theology book by four short descriptions.
When we put these four truths together, we have a good and proper concept of God. If, however, we doubt God’s Word at any of these points, then our understanding of God becomes perverted. Our perception of God becomes dislikable. Our lives are so unfulfilling. What a shame. So many people have rejected not Christianity but a false view of Christianity.
Jesus came to show us God and restore our relationship to God. God is holy and therefore must judge us for our sin. But He is gracious and therefore wants to help us. In His wisdom He devises a means to forgive us of our sins and restore our relationship with Him. Why? So that we can know the fullness of God’s goodness. Any other understanding of God is inferior and will mess up our pursuit for the greatest lives God desires for us.
Jesus in John 12:20-36 shows us how to get the most out of our life, or in more popular words to find success. The vision left by His words is challenging. The vision leaves an indelible image printed on our minds. It is like a Chinese painting. We can stand and enter the picture from a number of different angles. It is almost like going on a journey without going anywhere.
Jesus gives us a wheat plant to etch a proper perspective of success into our minds. By the way, I like most of you never got to understand wheat growing up. I never saw it growing in New England where I grew up. I did want to better understand the wheat plant so about ten years ago I planted some wheat kernels in my garden. And there, grew up about 8 plants or so, just enough to better understand the wheat plant.
Allow me to describe what Jesus’ words here in John 12:24 bring to my mind. I think of a full-grown wheat plant brimming with seeds. The season is passing though. The leaves are no longer bright and green but brown and golden. The leaves are not longer soft but crispy. The air is getting cold. The winds are getting stronger. We wonder why the grain was left on this one stalk. As we look closer at the head of grain, we see that the seeds are loosening and getting ready to drop to the ground. It looks as if someone has made a mistake by leaving this lone wheat plant standing in the field.
What could be the reason for leaving one lone plant there? Why waste the crop? Why exert more energy by leaving it to die alone? All the other plants have been cut down and their grain robbed and consumed. Only this one plant remains with its seeds just ready to fall. Then we see one kernel of grain with its very light coat fall to the ground.
In slow motion we see the seed fall to the ground and remember Jesus’ words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” Our life is like a seed. Our whole life is summed up by a kernel of wheat. What will we do with our one kernel of grain? We have a choice with our one life. We can invest it into the future and into the lives of others, or we can go for quick results, success and image. But once our grain is eaten, it is gone. The burst of energy that it produced is quickly dissipated once consumed. This choice calls us to think how will we spend our lives. Will we spend it for the now and then be expended, or shall we invest it into the glorious future for the sake of others?
Real gain comes from wise investments. They say if you can just put a good sum of money in the bank when you are young with a fair interest, that with time you can gain an unbelievable amount of money. What you need is time.
You as well as I know that time is rushing along. All of us live in an age where information is being added to the databanks so quickly that one needs to take a class or two just to keep up with ones certain field. Computer power is being upped so quickly that today’s cool computer is ancient tomorrow.
I am reminded of this today more than usual. Give me one more year and I will be fifty. And although I feel young, I am getting older. Memories seem to make me feel younger by having me think I still live as if those events just happened. But they didn’t. Just before going on and studying East Asian studies at University, Linda and I had just got married. We were looking forward to the welcome banners of life. Wow! That is 26 years ago now.
Most of us are in a rush. We think we gain by getting; we win by running. But there is an image the Lord Jesus gave us that counters the modern approach of “Give it to me now.” Jesus’ way helps us understand God’s way of obtaining the very best. It is not so glamorous. It is quite sad at times. In fact it can even bring tears to our eyes. Instead of bright colors, we have grays. Immediacy is replaced with waiting. And, perhaps the most confusing, life is substituted by death.
God’s kingdom principles are revealed all around us through nature. (By the way this is proof that the spiritual world is linked to the physical world. God is the Creator of both). We need to interpret God’s world through the glasses of God’s Word to properly understand it. Jesus regularly taught spiritual principles through natural principles, processes or laws. That which is invisible is seen through what we can see with our eyes. Our Creator has given us this picture so that we might know the path of true success. Strangely though, Jesus connects the stains of failure, lack of control and dying with life and success.
Jesus uses this picture of the falling grain in two ways. 1) He, the Son of Man, refers to His own life, and secondly He uses this image to refer to the lives of His followers. We like the first; we quiver at the second thought.
Jesus first alludes to His own life as the falling grain in John 12:23. We might wonder what Jesus was trying to say to these non-Jewish seekers in verses 20-23. They were coming to celebrate at one of the Jewish festivals to worship Yahweh, the God of the Holy Scriptures. They perhaps weren’t sure about Jesus’ willingness to talk to non-Jews so they talked to Philip. Philip then spoke about the matter to Andrew and the two of them approached Jesus on behalf of the non-Jewish seekers.
20 ¶ Now there were certain Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; 21 these therefore came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came, and they told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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.
25 “He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. 26 “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. (NASB)
Jesus cleverly describes His mission to reach out to non-Jewish people in this illustration. The Jewish people would have been upset had He directly mentioned this point. Do you remember the Jewish people’s reaction toward the Apostle Paul when he mentioned this point in his speech (cf. Acts 22:21)? The crowds got exceedingly angry at that point and tried to kill him.
Jesus came unto His own people as John 1:11 clearly tells us. But because of their ultimate rejection of Him, the door of salvation would be opened to non-Jewish believers (Romans 11). In John 1 we are not told how Jesus would enable others to believe. This is what He is doing now through this image of the wheat kernel falling into the ground.
Jesus is not simply telling us that He would die here. That is true, but it is not the whole story. If the purpose of His death is not clearly stated, then something is missing from the Gospel. Jesus did more than just die as a brave man. He came to take away the sins of those who believe. Through His death we can gain life by believing in Jesus. Jesus’ one death would lead to life for millions including the non-Jewish (the Gentile) believers.
Jesus again speaks clearly about the purpose of His death through this image of the grain. This is not the first time. “The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). Neither will it be the last time. Without properly understanding the purpose of Christ’s death, the disciples would be totally confused. We can hear doubts being thrown at them, “He healed so many, could He not save Himself?” We know the answer of course.
Jesus died for our sins. He died and suffered God’s wrath on behalf of His people. Without God’s fierce anger and justice being met on Christ, the innocent lamb, it would have fallen on us. Our rebellion against the king certainly deserves great punishment. There would be no life, hope, joy or smiles. Forever we would remain under God’s fury in a burning hell. There would be no escape hatch. There would be no way to hide from His anger as the flames go on and on. Jesus instead bore the brunt of our sins. He paid for the penalty for our guilt.
Some people think that the New Testament version of God is not wrathful but loving and tolerant. Jesus knew otherwise. If God was indeed careless about instituting justice then Jesus would not have had to die. So either you can believe Jesus died foolishly and for no cause or we can believe that He strategically died to bring a greater blessing into the lives of our lives. He clearly says it was for the later reason here, “If it dies, it bears much fruit.” That one seed would bear much fruit.
My friend, if you do not yet know Jesus, run to Him now. If you still have not found refuge in Jesus, hide in Him now. Do you still carry your own guilt? Do you cover up your aimless and lonely life by its many distractions? He saves those who call upon Him for help. Right now in your seat you can cry out in your heart, “Save me Lord Jesus. Forgive me of my sin!” and He will do just that. One of the greatest mysteries of the universe is found right here in these verses. Jesus the innocent one died. He was innocent. If anyone should not have died, it was He. We deserve to die. Yes. Our sins make us as black as coal. But not Him.
Jesus had a choice; He took His choice and placed it in the most unlikely place: in death. My friends, it was for us that He died. Jesus had one life and chose to invest it in our lives. It was because of the great infinite holiness, patience, love and graciousness of God that He would have His innocent Son die for sinners like us. Let me read the verse John writes here in John 12:27-36a.
27 ¶ “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 “Father, glorify Thy name.” There came therefore a voice out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The multitude therefore, who stood by and heard it, were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.” 30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. 31 “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. 32 “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. 34 The multitude therefore answered Him, “We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Jesus therefore said to them, “For a little while longer the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. 36 “While you have the light, believe in the light, in order that you may become sons of light.”
Here are a few principles that come to light from this passage.
Jesus hid His message so that He could continue His ministry until the right time. But everything had to work around His plan to die on the cross for it was this means that He would bring forth fruit for not just the Jewish people but non-Jewish as well
Jesus not only describes His own life but also the life of His followers. By paying close attention to Jesus’ example we can fairly well understand how the Christian life is to be lived out. The grain stood for Jesus’ life. Jesus as a grain fell from the stalk down to the ground where it was stripped of what we know life. He was buried and died. But that one seed would spring back up into life and then bear much fruit.
This picture of the wheat grain dropping to the ground has everything to do with the meaning and purpose of our own lives.
He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If any one serves me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if any one serves Me, the Father will honor him (John 12:25-26).
Jesus’ words are so clear. They ring out more clearly perhaps than we would want to hear. Many times we are so desperate to know God’s will. Now we clearly hear God’s will, and we don’t want to hear it.
Keep your life and you will lose it. Hate your life in this world, and you shall keep it forever. If we are to follow Jesus, we need to go where He goes. It sounds fun and easy. We think of all the miracles that Jesus did. Imagine sitting by Jesus when He fed the thousands with five loves and two fish. Imagine being with Jesus as He stuns the Pharisees with His wisdom. But this is not where Jesus ended His journey. We would like it to stop in the playground of life. But it doesn’t.
Jesus’ journey ends as a kernel of grain dropping to the ground. In a moment I will pass a box around. It will represent the earth. The kernel of wheat in your hand represents your life. You will be asked to put the kernel in the ground symbolized by the box or just to hold on to it. This is your decision.
The more clearly Jesus talks about His oncoming death, the more nervous the disciples got. We are the same. We want to hold Jesus back from dying. He is doing so much good. Remember Peter, who actually rebuked Jesus for speaking about dying? Jesus rebuked him and told him, “Get behind me Satan.” We want Jesus with us. We want the dream world.
But Jesus said there is no dream world without us dying. It only is a nightmare. Only through His death can there be life eternal; otherwise there is only unending death. If we are to be a Christian, then we must follow Jesus. As I said, the great delusion of Christianity is to think that all is well if we only allow Him to die. We see Him die and say we believe. Our sins are forgiven.
Jesus does not allow us to say that. We simply have no choice but to follow Him. To follow Him means we need to let go of our connection with life and drop alone to the ground below like Jesus did. We loose our control of life because we have a sufficient faith and hope that somehow God will bring about a greater ending according to His promise.
We should not think that it is hard to do. Everyone can do it. Everyone here, make a fist and hold your hand closed tight. Now let go. Do it again. Do you sense the releasing power? Even little babies can let go. But we are more like the little babies that grab hold of Dad’s hair and pull and hold on to it. Ouch! They don’t want to let go.
The action required is simple and doable. The battle is with our will. We like control. We like holding on to what we have. Jesus tells us to follow Him. This means that each of us must hate his life here on earth enough to let it go. I look at it as a two part process.
The easiest way to do this is to think about all of your treasures and ambitions. One by one take them and let them go. Your nice new car or perhaps your hope of getting one. You let it go. Your family. You let it go. Your ideal job. You let it go. Dreams as well as reality can hold us back. Yes, think about your degrees, your salary, your home, and your earthly investments. In the end you only have your life left. Actually, Jesus said this elsewhere.
And He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
You might wonder if one has to give up ones possessions. It seems to me that if one does not give up control of ones possessions, then he will not be able to give up ones life. Our lives do not consist of our possessions. Our possessions confuse us. The more possessions, the more confusion. Let me make it clear that we are not saying that we literally sign our possessions away. But we offer them up to the Lord and tell Him that they are not so important that they will keep you from living for Him. When you offer them up, you tell Him that if He desires you not to have it, then you are agreeable to that.
This is what Jesus speaks of when He said, “He who hates his life in this world.” He speaks of a greater love and attraction for the things of God. If we love any one thing more than the Lord, then we will not be able to give up our lives. Possessions, longings, loves all need to be handed over to the Lord. In most cases, He gives them back but who knows what the Lord will really do.
Once you give up everything, you need to give up your life. This part is not as difficult as you might think once you let go of all your possessions. You just release your life to God. You follow Him to death. What does this mean? I think it means at least three things:
While this might seem to be a very mystical event, we find it is very real. God is watching what you do. Can you sense His presence when you think about giving up that one or two things? He is there listening to the grain drop to the ground. The genuine Christian has already done this when he or she was saved.
Some of us might think that God is taking everything away. In a sense this is true. But God knows something very clearly that we don’t. He knows that we can keep only what we give away. Anything that we keep will be lost. Only the things we release will last forever. If this were true, would you say that God is for you or against you when He asks for you to dedicate your life to Him?
We talked about success earlier on. Once you know your education, fame, wealth and overall success in life means nothing unless your control over them is released, then you see how much God is really for you. He wants your very best. But your best is only received by giving it up. And because of this, I with my full heart encourage you to give your all to the Lord.
Each wheat plant produces about 20-25 stalks (spikes). Each stalk produces a head that has from 50 to 75 wheat kernels. So each wheat plant grows about 1000 to 1850 kernels. Let’s say 1400 is the average. How is that for an investment? 1 for 1400? This of course is just the beginning. Because if we have those 1400 do the same thing, we have almost 2 million kernels (1,960,000). The astounding success that comes through dedication of our lives is beyond our imagination.
But you might ask if I do this, “What will happen to my life?” That is a very good question. We can partly answer that question. It is left in the hands of God. We have to trust Him to bring a greater blessing into our lives. Although it seems to be taking a big risk, the risk is really on the other side of things. If you don’t invest your life, then it will be consumed in a flash. You will have nothing invested and end up impoverished throughout eternity. This is what Jesus says. Since He has been to heaven, I trust His opinion weighs more than your average investment broker. You and I are only fulfilled when we live by His design for us.
You see I have put my hands in lots of dirt. I am not talking about when I was a boy and loved to make things in the dirt. I am speaking as an adult readying the soil for seeds. There are different kinds of soil. Some are more red; others blacker. But the seed goes in alone. Then it is covered over. It is lost to sight.
I want you to remember this total lost of control. The world shouts out that we need to be in control of our lives. We have our own choice. Self-reliance. Really, it is this rebellious will of ours that got us into all the trouble in the first place. We were never designed to be in control of our lives. But even this belief that we control our lives is a pure delusion. Jesus says that we serve either the evil one or the Lord.
What does it mean to give up control of our lives? It is not like releasing the steering wheel and crashing. It is more like we were about to crash because we were in control of the car, and then quickly and wisely hand the steering, brakes and full control of the car over to the Lord. He alone knows how to drive us safely through this world. It is okay, good and right to be ignorant how to best live our lives on our own. We need His help. This is what faith in Christ means. As a Christian, the more we live in a humble submission to God’s leading and direction of our lives, the more you will see peace of heart and great things happen. We put our trust in Him. One other thing should be mentioned however.
There is an element of hope and anticipation. The seed is put in the ground because of a hope that something will arise and cause greater blessing. You could eat that seed. You can actually eat that wheat kernel in your hand. It is hard. There is also a soft wheat grain which is easier to eat. But when you plant it, you are not being dumb. You are not wasting the grain (seed). No, you hope that you will through that action bring forth more grain.
You must remember, though, that it is more than the seed. The seed is important. But what happens to that seed? What brings change to that seed? We know it gets its needed warmth from the sun and moisture from the sky. As they consistently bring their influence upon the seed, the outer coat softens, and life begins inside. And soon you will see the seed grow until it bursts through the ground. God designed the average wheat plant to shoot up about 20 to 25 stalks each with its own head that will eventually have its head full of grain.
We should never think that it is because of me this and that happened. We have our noble part of giving up our lives, which by the way must be done before our life is taken from us, but we must always remember how God causes us to be able to grow and have life. God gives us love.
When we die, we actually die to our selfish nature. When we live, we live unto God’s purpose. What is God’s purpose? It is to make His love manifest on earth. We live forth His good works through our lives. Love is the opposite of selfishness. We would not be able to love unless we died to our own desires and wants. Those things are too powerful.
In a sense we lose everything, but in losing it we really do gain it. When we live to serve our own purposes, then we cannot serve God. Our old selves focused on getting a girlfriend, money, attention and relationship all for ourselves. Now, as God’s people, we use what we have to give. Giving is the companion fruit of love.
I had our 5 and 3 year old in my study one day this past week. I reasoned with them that they had two choices. They usually play together real nicely. Once in a while, though, they forget the right principle of love and sharing, and a battle develops. I told them about the choice of fun or tears. The choice of good time or bad time. They knew what I meant. They with happy faces both chose to love and share. At the end of their playtime, Isaac proudly said to me that they shared and didn’t argue. They didn’t have any squabbles. Now if a six and three year old can see the plain advantage of sacrificing ones self for the preferring of the other, cannot we? Love requires sacrifice. But by giving up what we want to hold onto, we end up with something much better.
The Christian life is essentially living out our faith each day. If we die to our own desires, true to our confession to Christ and baptism, we will live in the power of His life and the Holy Spirit will flow through us. We can of course choose to live by our old ways. We can stain what God has given to us by living for our own needs. You know: being crabby, selfish, impatient, greedy, easily upset, lustful, irreverent, dishonoring of parents, etc. What happens when you turn from trusting and obeying the Lord’s plan as best? The results are terrible and you fill yourself with guilt, foolish decisions and bad relationships.
Let me speak about one practical example. Say you as a Christian have a non-Christian girl or boy friend. You think, so Satan tempts you to think, that you gain more by hanging on to that person rather than giving up the relationship. Do you see how it practically works out?
How about another situation where you lie or cheat to keep up with the others at work or school. God wants you to work hard and be satisfied with that work. Even if we have to live on a B scale rather than an A scale, that is fine. Satan would control you by saying you need to cheat. In fact, you gain more by giving up your false dream of controlling your life, and just living rightly. Yes you need to trust the Lord with the results, but isn’t that what the Christian faith is all about anyway?
If you are a Christian, why act inconsistently? Each day, live your life for the Lord. Our old man gets in the way time after time. Maturity in Christ only comes as we regularly and consistently live out our trust in His investment program.
I must say that it is kind of weird and stupid to let go of that one seed you have and then later change your mind. You go back and try to dig it up. Or if the plant starts growing up, you expose the roots looking for the seed. It is just like when our littlest one thinking she was doing something good took the clip that belonged to the fluorescence kitchen light that I was fixing and tossed it into our big full trash can. Was I going to fish through all that garbage to find it? If it is gone, let it be gone.
Blessed be the person who not only gives His life to Christ but trusts in Him day after day. This is the goal of John in this book. He wanted to bring us life.
Each of us has one life. We get to keep or lose it. If we give it away, we gain it.
As we pass this box around, I want you feel free to drop your grain in the ‘ground.’ You have to trust God with your life. You might not be able to do that right now. I hope you see that you have some serious issues in life to deal with. We cannot call ourselves to be a Christian unless we follow Jesus. If you can’t right now make that decision, take your seed with you. When you have finally released that last thing that you were wrestling over, then give your whole life over to the Lord. Make a tiny whole in the ground with your shoe or twig. Release the grain in it. Then it will be done. You will be free to live in the love of God forever. You can use your heart to fully anticipate a crop of love that will spring forth. Remember that these things will last forever. It will never be taken from you.
If you are a non-Christian, hold on to your seed. You have a decision to make too. You can drop your seed in the ‘ground.’ If you do, you can use it to symbolize your decision to follow Jesus. You want Him to be both your Lord and Savior. You give your whole life over to Him. In future days, you will need to testify of this decision through baptism. Baptism means the same thing. You die to yourself, and are now alive and free in Christ. If you are not there yet, that is fine. Hold on to your seed and work through that decision. Hopefully, very soon you will drop your seed in the ground. If you are still debating, you might want to put the kernel of grain on your dresser until you do.
Let me close by highlighting some significant points.
So tell me where the true risk is. Is the risk in giving up one’s life to Christ or on holding tight to your seed? You can make your own choice, but when we compare 1 unit of goodness to close to 2 million units of goodness, I think the only risk is not giving up one’s life to Jesus.
God is good, holy gracious and wise. God has opened the doors to eternal life through Jesus Christ. Escape now while you have a choice. You know the literal kernel of wheat grain that I gave you is not really you. This is just an illustration. But what we do with our life makes all the difference.
Christ gave us a vision of life. He not only showed us the glory of bearing fruit but showed us the way. Life doesn’t really start until we have died to ourselves. In one sense it is a life decision. On the other hand, it is a decision we need to make every day.
More reading > Gaining New Life
 Mark 8:33 But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted:
(C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988