THE KERNEL OF WHEAT
Key Verse: 24
“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.”
Happy New Year! Last week, we learned that the gospel is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes. The gospel is Jesus. More specifically, the gospel is Jesus’ death and resurrection that brings salvation to all people. The gospel begins with death and ends with glorious resurrection. In today’s passage Jesus reveals that the time of his suffering and death has come. He also explains us the meaning of his suffering and death by taking the illustration of a kernel of wheat. Then he commands us to follow him in order to have eternal life. Let us listen to Jesus’ words attentively and live according to them and bear beautiful fruit.
Look at verse 20. “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.” It was just before the Passover Feast—precisely five days before Jesus’ death on the cross. Literally hundreds of thousands people were gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world, crammed into the city wall. These crowds of people took palm branches and welcomed Jesus when he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. They shouted, “Hosanna!” (meaning “save!”) “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” Among these crowds, there were some Greeks who came to worship at the Feast. These Greeks wanted to meet Jesus. So they approached two disciples Philip and Andrew who had Greek names and said, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus. Philip and Andrew then took them to Jesus.
Seeing these Greeks coming to him, Jesus said in verse 23, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” In John’s gospel, several times, Jesus said, “My hour (my time) has not yet come.” But this time Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” I don’t know if these Greeks understood the meaning of Jesus’ words, particularly the hour. Here the hour refers to the time of his impending humiliation, suffering and death. Jesus knew that his hour of death had come. But Jesus saw his death as “glory.” Humanly speaking, it is hard to understand why Jesus’ suffering and death is for his glory? Definitely this glory is not the glory of fame, but the glory of shame and pain. The word, “glory” has many meanings. But the biblical meaning of glory is revealing. Jesus would reveal God’s ultimate love for sinners through Jesus’ suffering and death. Truly Jesus’ death is his glory because it would complete God’s salvation work, and sinners could come to God and serve him in holiness and righteousness without fear. The work Jesus served was God’s salvation work which required his suffering and death and which exalted him through the resurrection. God’s glory shines on those who participate in God’s salvation work sacrificially.
Jesus continued in verse 24. Look at verse 24. “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.” Every seed contains an embryo. In that embryo is root which goes down into the ground, and a shoot that goes up into the sky. Every embryo has a root and a shoot. And the most amazing thing is that inside that little embryo, there is an “on” and “off” switch. When a seed is planted into the good soil that has enough water and temperature, the switch goes “on” and the seed takes in water and begins to expand. During its early stages of growth, the seedling relies upon the good supplies stored with it in the seed until it is large enough for its own leaves to begin making food through photosynthesis. Then the roots push down into the soil to anchor the new plant and to absorb water and minerals from the soil and its stem with new leaves goes up. In this way, the seed dies completely to supply a new sprout to take roots and grow during the germination stage. After this the plant grows continually and yields abundant harvest. It is amazing that each seed has the inner life power. To release this inner life power, the seed must be buried in the soil and die first. When the seed dies in the soil this life power multiplies and produces many seeds. But if the seed does not die, it remains only a single seed; its potential of life and growth is dormant and it produces nothing. It is a life principle that only a dying kernel produces many seeds. Our life on earth is like a seed that has God-given potential in us. The primary purpose of life is to bear much fruit, because God created human beings to bear much fruit. Genesis 1:28a says “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number…” Jesus also taught the importance of bearing much fruit through his parables, the parable of the talents, the parable of the sower, the parable of the mustard seed and many other teachings. To human beings, bearing fruit is not an option. It is our responsibility. To bear fruit, we must die and release God-given potential. Otherwise, we will remain as a single kernel of wheat in a storage room which eventually eaten by fungus or mice.
William Borden was the heir of the Borden millions. He met Jesus in high school. His family gave him a trip around the world for a graduation present. He felt the pain in Jesus’ heart for the world’s hurting people who were living without Christ, so he made a decision to give his life to Jesus for world mission. He loved Jesus and he wrote in his Bible, “No Reserves.” He would hold back nothing. He went to Yale, studied hard, and challenged fellow students to answer God’s call for world mission. After gradation, he turned down lucrative job offers and set out for China. He wrote in his Bible, “no retreats.” He wanted to preach the gospel to the Muslim people of north China. He stopped in Egypt to study Arabic and while he was there he contracted spinal meningitis and in a month, at the age of 25, he was dead. Was his short life wasted? Not from God’s perspective. Before he died he wrote in his Bible, “No regrets.” He had followed Jesus to become a kernel of wheat which was planted and died to produce many seeds. Many students were moved by his love and sacrifice for Jesus, and a great student missionary movement was born.
Now look at verse 25. “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Here Jesus applies the principle to us. Our life was given to us by God as his gift. Our life on earth is the seed to bear eternal life. Jesus says that we must hate our self-seeking life, and welcome Jesus into our hearts and allow him to rule. We all know that our sinful self resists fiercely and wants to control of our lives. Our sinful self wants to be the center of the universe and to indulge in sins. So we must say to our sinful self, “I hate you!” and must turn our hearts to Jesus who helps us to put it to death. The great thing is that through the death of our sinful self, the new life, spiritual life, eternal life grows in us. We will bear the image of Jesus. We will be a blessing to others. Unwittingly and wittingly, however, many people, even many Christians struggle very hard not to die but to remain as a single seed. They are struggling like Frank Sinatra singing, “I Did It My Way!” We must rather sing, “I did it God’s way!” God’s way is the way of the cross, the symbol of death. Christian life begins after we crucify our sinful self. Levi began his new life after he died to his old sinful self by leaving his sinful self-seeking tax booth. Then he bore great life fruit. The Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress” began his new life after leaving his city, “the City of Destruction.” He hated his life and against numerous temptations he marched to “the Celestial City.” God’s way is the way that begins with death and ends with life. Apostle Paul bore great fruit. But his secret to being so fruitful was that he died to his old self and let Jesus live in him. He shared his daily life-principle in 1 Corinthians 15:31a, “I die everyday…” He died everyday and a new Paul lived everyday. This motto should be my daily motto. Let us remember that without first going to the cross to crucify our self-seeking and sinful ego, we will not experience a new life and new creation in us. We must also remember that death is not the end. The end is abundant fruit—eternal life. The great spiritual revival comes when we fall and die like Jesus.
Verse 26 tells us the glorious reward for those who follow Jesus’ example. Look at verse 26. “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” Serving Jesus means following Jesus. How can we serve Jesus? We must follow Jesus’ lifestyle. Jesus lived and died as the good shepherd. He lived and died to save them and give them eternal life. We must live and die for God’s soul saving work. We must be shepherds of God’s flock. When we follow Jesus and his lifestyle, we will be with Jesus. We will reign with Jesus forever.
Look at verses 27 and 28a. “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Jesus’ heart’s desire was to glorify God’s name. It reminds us of Jesus prayer at the garden of Gethsemane: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) Here we can see Jesus’ manhood. Even to Jesus, becoming a dying kernel and hating his life was difficult. Jesus wanted to get out of suffering and death. But his greater desire was to reveal God’s glory. In his anguish Jesus cried out for help, but each time he ended his crying by saying, “Father, glorify your name!” (28a) Here we learn that our spiritual life is a struggle between our will and God’s will. Prayer fills the gap between my will and God’s will. Through prayer Jesus affirms his purpose of coming into this world as a humble servant of God. Obedience to the will of God involves a tremendous self-sacrifice and self-denial. Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (28b). God accepted his crying out. We need this kind of crying out. The crowd who heard the voice from heaven did not know what was going on (29).
Look at verses 30-31. “Jesus said, ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.’” Here “the prince of this world” is Satan, who has controlled the precious children of God with his power of death. He would be destroyed through Jesus’ death on the cross. God’s love, which crucified Jesus because of man’s sin, defeated Satan’s hatred. At the same time, through Jesus’ death on the cross, judgment was declared on the evil world. The world that crucified Jesus would be condemned for the crime of rebellion against God Almighty. Satan’s mission was over when Jesus was killed on the cross; by this Satan became like an unemployed because he has lost his job.
Today we learned that fruit comes through life sacrifice. We can bear fruit when we let our sinful self die and God’s life grow in us. We must also pray like Jesus, “Father, glorify your name.” Then God will give us strength to die to our sinful self and to glorify God’s name and bear fruit. God will give us eternal life and honor in his kingdom. May God help us to live as a kernel of wheat, like Jesus.