Jesus once said, “Very truly I tell you, 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” (John 12:24 NIV). Jesus was referencing His own impending death, pointing His disciples toward the power of what was about to happen. But what do these words mean for our lives?
I glimpsed the truth of these words once. My friend Diane and I had led a women’s Bible study for six years. Many of the women initially didn’t have a relationship with Jesus, but they were all friends of Diane and curious about her faith. Diane was exuberant, full of life, outgoing as they come, and wholeheartedly passionate about telling others of Jesus’ love.
Through the years of the study, some women became Christians, but others held back. Then, one night in January, Diane called to say she’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She and I both thought God would heal her and use her healing to demonstrate His power to the unsaved women. Instead, in late June, Diane asked me to gather them so she could say good-bye. She spoke with each woman, blessed them, and shared the truth of Jesus one final time.
In fact, in the six months between her diagnosis and her death, Diane told everyone she knew (including people she had just met) about the truth of Christ. Her life and message touched so many people that we had to hold her July memorial in a school auditorium.
Sitting there looking at all the faces hearing the gospel once again during her service, I thought of John 12:24 and the intensity of the gospel sharing in my friend’s last days. I knew she was home with Jesus, enjoying her faith become sight. I was still here, coming to appreciate what God can do when we are willing to bury our lives in Him.
Diane loved life, but she wasn’t afraid to die. She knew that death, for Christians, is just a door to eternity with Jesus. And she made sure she spent every moment testifying to the goodness of God and the gift of salvation through Jesus, even planning that message in her memorial.
We don’t have to die physically to demonstrate this verse with our lives. Jesus called us to “die to self.” In other words, not to try to hold onto our idea of what our lives should look like and live for ourselves alone, but trust Him with our lives.
Sometimes obedience can feel like death as we let go of selfishness and the fear that we’ll miss out. But who would tell an oak seed that by agreeing to fall into the earth and realize its potential as a mighty oak that it would be “missing out?” When we relinquish selfishness and a self-centered focus to keep our eyes on Jesus, living for Him and serving others, we discover His amazing power to turn our lives into something as glorious as a sheltering, nourishing, mighty tree.
What Is the Context of John 12:24?
The apostle John records these words of Jesus in his gospel and places them following two significant moments in the last days of Jesus. In John 12, we read of an incident at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with oil. When Judas protests the waste, Jesus admonishes Judas and indicates that Mary has anointed Him for His death. At this time, the Pharisees, knowing that Lazarus is a testimony to Jesus’ resurrection power, make plans to take His life.
John then records Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding in on a donkey and hailed by the people as a coming king. They wave palm branches and shout, “Hosanna!” which means “Save us.” Jesus’ growing following, and the commitment of His followers, increase the Pharisees’ concern.
Following these events, Jesus begins to speak more directly to His disciples about what is to come. Here is where we find the words “if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12:24).” In the next verse, He says, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (v.25).”
Why Was Jesus Troubled as He Neared His Death?
John reports that Jesus is troubled but that He tells his followers this was the hour for which He came. This passage demonstrates both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. Of course, as a human anticipating an agonizing death on the cross, Jesus is troubled. He knows the crowd who just hailed Him as king will shortly call for His crucifixion. As the Son of God, however, He willingly obeys the Father and commits to laying down His life for the sins of all humanity so that any who turn to Him might have eternal life.
Jesus knows the crowds and even the disciples expect a Messiah who takes an earthly reign. They have specific ideas about what would happen now that they have recognized Him as king. But He also knows He is about to disappoint those expectations by dying on the cross. Some will continue to believe, but many will fall prey to unbelief. Of course, this unbelief troubles Jesus, who loves the world so much He willingly dies for it.
But Jesus also knows that His death will conquer sin so that upon His resurrection, there will be power for us to be free from sin. All who believe in Jesus are His “many seeds.” As we die to self and live for Him, we produce more seeds in the generations to come through the spread of the gospel.
How Many Times Did Jesus Predict His Death?
Jesus predicted His death at least three times before he said, “if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
In Mark 8:31 He tells the disciples He must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and rise again. Then, in Luke 9:24, Jesus tells them that He will be “delivered into the hands of men.” The disciples don’t understand, of course. Mark even records Peter trying to stop Jesus from saying things like this, but Jesus rebuked him.
Then, a third time is recorded in Matthew 20:17-19, “Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!’” (NIV)
It’s hard to understand why the disciples didn’t clearly understand what was about to happen, but Luke explains in Luke 9:45: “But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them so that they might not perceive it” (NIV). Of course, once Jesus’ death occurred and He rose again, the apostles remembered all He had told them and understood clearly.
Why Does God Ask Us to Plant Our Lives as Seeds?
Jesus drew on creation and our understanding of the world to make eternal truths understandable. We all understand that seeds, left in their packets or seed form, won’t realize their true purpose and potential. Planting a seed in soil requires great faith in both the seed and the one who plants. The results aren’t immediate, and the reward only comes over time and with great work and care. Before the harvest, an enemy is also planting, but he plants weeds to try to overcome the good plants. This is all an amazing metaphor for life in Christ and spiritual growth.
All these analogies Jesus used were to help His followers understand that obedience can feel like death. Sometimes our lives will feel small, hidden, and unrealized for a long time. But, if we hide our lives in Him, over time and with much tending, the result will be greater than if we try to hold ourselves back and “save our lives” instead of giving them to Him. He has already, through His death, defeated both the evil in this world and death. When we die to ourselves by putting Him first and living in obedience to His Word, His resurrection power is at work in our lives, growing us to our full potential in Him.
Like Jesus, it’s understandable that we might face troubling moments when confronted with challenges and hard paths of obedience. Like my friend, Diane, we may ask and pray for a different outcome for ourselves. But hopefully, like her, when God makes the way clear, we’ll exercise our faith to trust Him, even at great cost.
In those moments, it’s helpful and inspiring to remember that the seed’s potential is unlocked only once it falls to the earth and dies. Then, the results are greater than the seed could ever imagine.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/lovelyday12
Lori Stanley Roeleveld is a blogger, speaker, coach, and disturber of hobbits who enjoys making comfortable Christians late for dinner. She’s authored four encouraging, unsettling books including Running from a Crazy Man and The Art of Hard Conversations. She speaks her mind at www.loriroeleveld.com.
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