John 12:20-36: A Grain of Wheat
November 20, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Now at this great feast where Jesus was, there is a group of Greeks (12:20)—devout men and women who have come up to Jerusalem for the religious festival. They approach Philip and ask him to give them an audience with Jesus, to see him and meet him (12:21). When news of this development is brought to Jesus, he realizes that his “hour” (always in John’s Gospel meaning the hour of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection) has come (12:22-23).
This is then the occasion for a series of important lessons related to the cross. First of all, it is at the cross that the Christ is glorified. This is the hour where he is glorified, not the miracles, not the healings, not the teachings—they, of course, also glorify and honor Jesus. But it is at the cross, this “hour,” where Jesus is preeminently glorified (12:23). If, then, we wish to see Christ honored, appreciated, worshiped, exalted, it is the cross that we must emphasize. Why?
Because, second, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (12:24). In the same way that a seed, if not planted, cannot germinate and become fruitful, similarly, it is necessary for Jesus to die (and rise again) in order to bear much fruit. The counterintuitive necessity of the crucifixion is explained by association with the commonly observed necessity of a seed being “planted” (or dying) in order for a plant to grow. Jesus is not here explaining all the inner workings of the atonement, but associating in our minds the apparent strangeness of the atonement with a matter about which we are more familiar. Those who attempt to construct a theology without a centrality of the cross are like those who attempt to grow a crop of wheat without sowing wheat seeds.
But then, third, while Jesus primarily exemplifies this pattern, the same is also true, to a lesser degree, of Jesus’ followers. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (12:25). The pattern that is set by Jesus (and illustrated by sowing a seed) is a template for the Christian life. We die to ourselves in order to rise to newness of life, both now and forever. The person who attempts to “have it all” in this world will find that truly they “lose it all.”
By contrast, the person who does not seek the things of this world, but puts Christ first, will find that that the “Father will honor him” (12:26). We are made to live with God at the center, not at the periphery. And when we centralize our lives on God, the resulting effect, while meaning we decentralize our selfish self, also leads to a true honor received from God.
And then, fourth, Jesus is open about his own “troubled” soul as he contemplates the crucifixion. But what triumphs over the troubled experience as he thinks of the cross is his realization of the purpose for which he has been formed. “For this purpose I have come to this hour” (12:27). It is his purpose. Such a purpose is once more testified by the Father, this time with a thunderous voice from heaven (12:28). For when Jesus is lifted up (that is, when he dies on a cross), he will draw all people to himself (12:32).
Once again: the way to draw people to God, all kinds of people and races, “Greeks” as well as “Jews,” is to emphasize, centralize, and proclaim Christ crucified. Jesus finishes with a final call for his hearers to make the most of the opportunity in front of them by his presence among them. “While you have the light, believe in the light that you might become sons of light” (12:36).
By extension, we are to make the most of the light of the gospel afforded to us, not assuming that such opportunities will always be presented to us—and aware that death and judgment are coming. Make the most of the light.
This morning, would you thank God for the cross? Would you put Christ first over your life knowing that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground it cannot produce much fruit”? And would you make the most of the light from God’s Word this morning to serve him?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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