Sunday, January 4, 2015

Jesus, the Dying Grain of Wheat

We return to John this morning. We are approaching the climax of John's Gospel, Jesus' resurrection. Things are coming to a head. This morning we will take a look at Jesus before Pilate and some of what was going on there. Listen as I read what John wrote. (John 19.1-16)

Let's start with this. Why is this here? That's always a good question to ask. Why did John write what he did? To answer that you'll need to ask a larger question. What are the themes of John's work? It's as you understand the big picture of this Gospel that you will be able to understand the smaller parts of the picture, like Jesus before Pilate. So, for example, consider Mark's Gospel. A big theme, you might even say the big theme, of his Gospel is the coming of the Kingdom of God. The Gospel of Mark isn't about Jesus coming to make sure people get to heaven. It's about the Kingdom being established on the earth. And that affects how you understand the details that Mark writes about. So, what is the important theme in John? Why did he write his Gospel? Actually, that's easy to answer. He tells us.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John's Gospel is all about people gaining life, the life of eternity. That's the main theme, the big picture.

With that in mind, I think that you can see that one common response to what happened in our text is just wrong. The response of so many when they read about Jesus' suffering is a kind of sentimentalism, tinged with a bit of guilt. 'Look at what innocent Jesus had to suffer for an awful sinner like me.' I really don't think that John was hoping that his readers would feel guilty when they read this part of his Gospel. It doesn't help express the main theme of his Gospel. It doesn't move anyone to gain life. No, I'm quite sure that he had something else in mind.

So, consider another portion of John's Gospel. Jesus is speaking.

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 alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Jesus is describing what it takes to gain eternal life. For that to happen, you need to be like that grain of wheat. You need to die. And that just might look like hating life in this world. Jesus is clear. Unless a person dies, unless he does, in fact, hate his life, he will by no means gain eternal life.

Now, let's take that and return to Jesus standing before Pilate and our question. Why is this here? How does this help John express the theme of his Gospel? Here's the answer. Jesus is showing you what it means to be that grain of wheat. He is showing you what it means to hate life in this world so that you will keep it for eternal life. Remember that following Jesus isn't about trying to live according to some rulebook. It's about responding to the Master as He calls you to this or that. So, the Master calls you to die like a grain of wheat. And then, He shows you what that looks like. Do you want to have life in Jesus' name? Then, heed His call and follow His lead.

That's the basic point, but we need to fill it out. Does becoming like that grain of wheat mean that you have to be beaten within an inch of your life like Jesus was? No. Or I should say, 'Not necessarily'. You do need to be ready for that if Jesus calls you to it. However, it is, thus far, unlikely for that to happen to any of you who are adults. It might be different for your children.

But take a step back, and look again at what happened. Where did Jesus' suffering come from? First, it came from the state. It was the government that beat Jesus within an inch of His life. It was the government that executed Him. Jesus suffered because of Pilate. One of the themes of the book of Revelation has to do with the role of the state in the persecution of the saints. The government has been, and will again be, a tool of Satan as he fights against the Church. I have found it noteworthy that Timothy spent some time in jail. Even timid Timothy ran afoul of the state. I suspect that Christians like us are going to have to get used to the idea that there may come a time to break the law and get arrested, and deal with the consequences. It happened to Jesus. Why shouldn't it happen to you?

It wasn't only the state that made Jesus suffer. It was also the Church. It was the chief priests and those with them who condemned Jesus and handed Him over to Pilate. Sadly, the Church has not always been faithful to her calling. Through the centuries there have been those who have seized church authority and misused it for their own ends. As a result, some of the saints have suffered. We see it still today. We will see more of that. 

So, John has written about Jesus' suffering at the hands of Church and state. He writes this to present Jesus as the example that you are to follow. And you are to follow Him in this in order to gain the life of eternity. He writes to prepare you for what, in some form or other, awaits you. So, what are you to do in response?

The first thing is not to look for trouble; rather, quite the opposite. From St. Paul:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Paul knew - and he knew it from experience - that there would be times when it will not be possible for you to live at peace with others because of the choices they make. But still he urged peaceable living. You need to be sure that you are working at that.

So, don't look for trouble. Now, let's flip it over to what you are to do. It is by dying that you will be fruitful for Jesus and gain life. So, clearly, you need to be ready to die. But that doesn't have to mean martyrdom, the death of the body. It may very well mean the death of your dreams and desires instead of the death of your body. Right now a common expectation is to enjoy a comfortable life where you marry, bear and raise kids, marry off your kids, and then, as empty-nesters, relish being a couple again. That's pretty common, at least for the generation that most of you are a part of. And there is nothing wrong with wanting a life that turns out like that. But you need to understand that your having that kind of life may not happen. Jesus may call you to die to one or more of those desires. And that will hurt. It may be more difficult than martyrdom because you have to choose to accept this kind of death. Martyrs don't usually choose to be killed. Their murderers choose to do that. But to let a dream die is a choice you must make. And that is hard.

But as you are called to die to some desire, do it the right way. Do it in hope. Remember Jesus' promises. The result of your dying, of your being that grain of wheat, will be much fruit. It will be for your benefit, but, more important, it will be for the benefit of others around you. You live as part of the Body. What you choose affects all the others in the community. Accepting the death of a dream can be an act of great love for the others in the Church. Also remember that Jesus promised that anyone who does die will gain eternal life. Your dying to dreams and desires because of Jesus becomes an assurance of gaining life.

There have been and will be those who refuse to die to some dream or desire, even though Jesus calls for exactly that. Jesus included a warning when He talked about dying as a grain of wheat.

Whoever loves his life loses it …

Those who love the life of this world and refuse to let dreams die will not gain the life of eternity. And that's according to Jesus. Once again we see that simply professing faith in Jesus is not enough for entrance into the glories of the age to come. The choices you make have far‑reaching consequences.

There is one last promise that I want to point out to you for your encouragement. Jesus says this right after those comments about the dying grain of wheat.

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

To serve Jesus as a disciple means that you must follow Him into death. But, after all the dying, there will be life. It will be the life of eternity. And Jesus promises that this life will be enjoyed in His presence. That is amazing. One day you will see Jesus. You will see His smile. You will hear His voice. You will be with Him. But that's not all. This life of eternity will include being honored by the Father. Can you even imagine what that could be like? Honored by the Father! That's what happened to Jesus. He died to dreams and more. As a result, He was highly exalted and given the Name that is above every name. The Father honored Jesus. And that's what He is going to do to you. You will also be honored. Wherever there is loss in being a faithful disciple of Jesus here, there is always greater gain there. A faithful disciple never misses out.

But believing all of this and living it out is hard, especially in a culture like ours. So, once again, let me remind you. Nothing works unless God blesses. So, pursue the blessings of God by your daily prayers and your weekly worship with the rest of the saints. Desire that God would bless you with a willingness to die when Jesus calls for it. And ask that you would be granted a robust hope as you wait for the promises to be kept.