Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.” Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus.
Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.
“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name.”
Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.” When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him.
Then Jesus told them, “The voice was for your benefit, not mine. The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. And when I am lifted-up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this to indicate how he was going to die.
The crowd responded, “We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever. How can you say the Son of Man will die? Just who is this Son of Man, anyway?”
Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”
After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them. (NLT)
We are taking another step in our journey together with Jesus. That path leads to a cruel cross. For the past six weeks the Christian has been on a Lenten walk. To keep the long sojourn going, believers focus on spiritual discipline, prayer, and repentance. Along the way we come face-to-face with the shadow parts of ourselves. We discover that within us there is the pull to hold-on to unhealthy rhythms and habits of life, as well as a push to arrange our lives with the fragmentation of disordered love.
Perhaps our reflexive response to things we do not like about ourselves is to either use sheer willpower to change or try and somehow manage our brokenness, as if we could boss our spiritual selves out of darkness. The problem and the solution are much more radical than we often would like to admit.
The answer as we journey with Jesus is to die to ourselves. Yes, this is the teaching of our Lord. Sin cannot be managed or willed away – it must be eradicated and completely cut out, like the cancer it is. Transformation and new life can only occur through death. Jesus uses the familiar example of a seed to communicate his point. A tiny little seed can grow, break the ground, and develop into something which provides sustenance for others. It does no good to remain a seed in the ground.
Jesus did not tell others to do what he himself does not do. Christ is the ultimate example of the one who died to himself and literally died for us. Only through suffering and death did he secure deliverance and freedom from sin, death, and hell. Through his wounds we are healed. Through his tortuous death a resurrection became possible – and we must always remember that there must be a death if there is to be a resurrection. Death always comes before there is life. There must be suffering before there is glory.
Through dying to self and following Jesus, a wonderful growth and transformation can happen. It is a change, when it matures and produces a crop, which brings the kind of spiritual sustenance the world so desperately needs. Following Jesus, leaving all to walk with him, is true repentance and authentic discipleship.
Perhaps you think I’m being too forceful, too insistent about this Jesus stuff. Yes, you have perceived well. I am being quite single-minded about the need to die to self and live for Christ. Somehow, within many corners of Christianity, a wrongheaded notion that suffering is not God’s will has wormed its way into many churches. Jesus, however, is insistent that dying to self is necessary. And it hurts like hell. It’s a hard teaching to absorb when you so desperately want things to be rainbows and unicorns. Yet, the Epistle to the Hebrews makes explicit the way of Christ:
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9, NRSV)
We are not above our Master. Even Christ’s life on this earth, before his death and resurrection, was marked with suffering. Even Jesus learned obedience through struggle and adversity. Our Lord himself did what he is now asking us to do. He gave himself up to do the Father’s will. Jesus offered loud cries and tears and submitted to what the Father wanted. We must do no less. We don’t get to choose which parts of Christ’s life and teaching we will adhere to and which ones we don’t need to, as if Jesus were some spiritual buffet line. All who live for Jesus will follow him into the path of suffering, of death to self, and of new life through the power of his resurrection. In Christ’s own words from our Gospel reading today: “Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” We must…
We have hundreds, maybe thousands of small decisions every day with the use of our time, our money, our energy, and our relationships. If we have tried to fix what is broken inside of us, we will likely just try to hastily fix the problems and the people in our lives and move on with getting things done on our to-do list. Instead, we have the invitation to surrender. We have opportunity to create sacred space for solitude and silence, prayer and repentance. Take the time to (virtually!) sit with a person in pain and listen. Reflect on how to use your money in a way which mirrors kingdom values. Begin to see your life as a holy rhythm of hearing God and responding to what he says. It takes intentional surrender to do that.
Holding-on to our stuff and time is the opposite of sacrifice. In fact, it’s avarice. Yes, I understand that you and I are not Jesus – our sacrifice and suffering are not efficacious, that is, it doesn’t deliver other people from sin. Only Christ’s death does that. Yet, we are still called to sacrifice. This was the Apostle Paul’s understanding:
“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24, NRSV)
I’m just going to let you wrestle with that incredible verse and mull it over. Pleasure is not the summum bonum of life. Our lives are not meant to be lived solely for minimizing pain and maximizing comfort. Jesus has extended a call to view our workplaces, communities, neighborhoods, and families as our mission field of grace to a world in need of basic human attention. This takes sacrificial love on our part.
Christianity is not really a religion that’s for people who have put together neat theological answers and tidy packaged certainties to all of life’s questions. Rather, Christianity is a dynamic religion of learning to follow Jesus, discovering how to die to self, and struggling to put Christ’s teaching and example into practice. It is a path often characterized by a three-steps-forward, two-steps-backward, and three-steps-forward again kind of reality. The road is zig-zaggy with plenty of potholes. Those who don’t struggle are in big trouble. However, those who go through the pain of dying to themselves for the sake of their Lord, find that the harvest they produce leads to eternal life.
May you struggle well, my friend.
Almighty God, your dear Son did not ascend to joy until he first suffered pain and did not enter glory before he was crucified. Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it as the true way of life and peace, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
Click Lead Me to the Cross by Hillsong United to continue contemplating the way of Christ.