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John 12:23-28 The Kernal of Wheat that Dies

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

The kernel of wheat that dies!

John 12:20-28

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.       John 12:26 NIV


Would you write your definition of servant, particularly a volunteer servant or servant by choice, someone who has a servant’s heart? How would you define servant in this case?

Second, would you write the name of someone you know who fits your definition or illustrates someone with a servant’s heart?

Third, what do you think caused this person to develop a servant’s heart?

The text we examine this morning represents yet another transition in Jesus’ life. We could call it “ratcheting it up to the next to the highest degree.” No longer is Jesus saying, “My hour has not yet come.” Rather, in replying to the inquiry of the Greeks, He declares, “My hour has come!” So, except for the moment when He cries out, “It is finished,” Jesus is in His final stage of offering Himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Here’s the text:

John 12:20-28 (NIV)

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.


23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, 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. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 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.


27 “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. 28 Father, glorify Your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

Jesus has just entered Jerusalem with the pomp and circumstance of a king. The crowds have been talking about the incredible miracle He did in Bethany just a few weeks earlier by raising Lazarus from the dead. If ever there was a man who could be trusted to rule the nation well and fulfill all the hopes and dreams of the people, it was Jesus. All He needed to do was declare His candidacy for king of the Jews and the whole nation would rally to Him. O, of course not the Pharisees and the Sadducees. But, they would be deemed irrelevant once Jesus took the throne.

Five distinct groups of people have watched Jesus make His entrance into Jerusalem. Most were misguided in their enthusiasm. The disciples were committed but confused. Those from Bethany seemed to exhibit the highest level of commitment of all those who followed Jesus. The Pharisees represented all those who opposed Him. And finally, the Greeks represented the curious and possibly even the seekers of truth.

As John writes His gospel, we take note that he tells us about the Greeks last. Their pursuit of Jesus is summed up in their request: “We would like to see Jesus.”

Here is a group of outsiders having witnessed a huge outpouring of adulation for an obviously great man. They probably knew a fair amount about Him, but wanted to know more. But, they wanted to learn more by meeting Him face to face.

Now, we don’t know if they ever did. But, it certainly seems reasonable to think they did since John includes them in the narrative. Would he only have told us about them so Jesus would have something to reply to? I am persuaded that these Greeks got their wish. But, I also think Jesus’ audience was bigger than just the Greeks and the disciples. What Jesus wanted to say was terribly important for all these people who had gathered to watch Him enter Jerusalem.

In essence, Jesus is saying that He is indeed a king. And, it was appropriate for the great crowd to welcome Him with honors fitting of a king. We read nothing of Jesus rebuking these people for hailing Him for His royal position.

But, Jesus is going to clarify something about His kingship that will trouble the multitudes, disturb the Greeks and open the minds and hearts of all those who wish to truly follow this very different kind of a king.

The hour has come, Jesus tells them, for the Son of Man to be glorified. But, what does that mean? What are these people thinking when He says that? Is He going to make the big anticipated announcement that He will lead these people to revolt against the Romans? What does Jesus mean when He says, “The hour has come?”

In previous settings where the opponents of Jesus were plotting and scheming ways to arrest Him and kill Him, they found themselves stymied in their goal.

John 7:30 (NIV) 30 At this they tried to seize Him, but no one laid a hand on Him, because His time had not yet come.

John 8:20 (NIV) 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized Him, because His time had not yet come.

But, now His time had come. His purpose for coming to earth was about to be fulfilled. That part of the equation most everyone agreed with. Things could not keep going on as they were. Something had to give. The hour had come. But, the events were going to happen on God’s terms and in God’s timing. And that time had come.

But what was not agreed on by all those gathered in Jerusalem for Passover was how Jesus would be king. Most were thinking a major political figure. But, they were hugely mistaken. And, I believe, it’s fair to say that after Jesus addresses the people there are a lot of disappointed admirers of Jesus. Their expectations would not be fulfilled in Jesus.

In verses 24-26, Jesus makes three statements that have a common message. Each verse helps explain the other two. You will also notice a movement from Jesus speaking primarily about Himself to Jesus speaking exclusively about those who truly follow Jesus.

The first one is found in verse 24. 24 I tell you the truth, 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.

Knowing that Jesus is on His way to die on the cross, clearly Jesus is speaking of Himself. He is that kernel of wheat. He will fall to the ground and die. Through His death His life will be multiplied. Jesus is talking about Himself.

His illustration should take some of the sting out of His death. To realize that much fruit can result from death gives purpose to what is commonly thought of as a waste, as an intrusion, an interruption of the severest magnitude. In Jesus’ case, death is not an option if He wants to be fruitful. The lesson is in the kernel of wheat. Apart from death there can be no multiplication of life.

The same is true for Jesus. The fulfillment of His purpose can only be achieved by His death on the cross. So, in the shocking news that He is on His way to die, there is a promise; there is hope.

What is that promise? It is that through His death many will find life. In fact, our life depends on His death. If He does not die, we will not live.

In World War II, Ernest Gordan was a British captive in a Japanese prison camp by the River Kwai in Burma, where the POWs were forced to build a “railroad of death” for transporing Japanese troops to the battlefront. They were tortured, and starved, and worked to the point of exhaustion. Nearly 16,000 died.

Gordon survived the horrors of that experience and wrote about it in a monumental work, Through the Valley of the Kwai, published in 1962 and later made into the movie To End All Wars. He describes an occasion when five prisoners were accussed of killing two Japanese guards and their punishment was to be execution by firing squad.

As the men are forced to position themselves for execution in front of the comrades, four of the five are shot. But Major Campbell was to be beheaded by sword instead. Just as the executioner raised his sword, a soldier by the name of Dusty calls out, “Ito,” the name of the commander in charge. Then, for a moment, everything seems to be on hold. Dusty and Ito whisper their conversation. Major Campbell doesn’t understand what is going on, but is helpless to do anything about it.

Suddenly, Ito declares, “Take this man instead, over to the graveyard.” Major Campbell is dumbfounded by what just took place. His friend Dusty had just negotiated his own death so that Major Campbell could live.

We pick up the scene as he awaits his execution, presumably by firing squad. Here is a short clip from the movie, To End All Wars. [] start at 1:50, run 3 minutes to completion.

That someone would die in our place is almost incomprehensible, especially when we fully realize that we are deserving of death. Here is a man who had come to the brink of his life and was resigned to its inevitable end. But the brave and heroic act of a friend extended his life so he could live another day.

The allusion to Christ’s atoning sacrifice is obvious. Through one man’s death, another man lives.

The point of showing you this scene is to face us with the question, do were really understand that we are deserving of death for our sinfulness? For it is in understanding this that the act of love by Jesus Christ going to the cross to die for us was not just a nice thing to do, but an absolutely necessary thing to provide us with life.

Jesus, the kernel of wheat, must die that we might live. He died in our place a death we deserved so that we could enjoy the riches of eternal life in communion with our Father in heaven.

To elaborate on this, Jesus makes another statement. Verse 25: 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

At this point we begin to wonder who Jesus is talking about. Is He still talking about Himself, or is He now talking about us? I suggest both. For the decision facing Him is whether He will complete His assignment or bail out in the 11th hour. Jesus is stating to the crowd that He has turned His back on the attractions of a worldly way of life. All the thrills a life without God can offer, even with its bells and whistles, does not compare to the promise of eternal life with God.

We must not miss the point Jesus is making here when He uses the words love and hate. Clearly He is stating that the love we have to God must be so great that by comparison all other loves appear as hate. But, in no way is Christ saying we are to hate the life He has given us or hate our family members and friends.

To love God so much means that God has become primary and human existence has become secondary. If we are forced to choose but one relationship, it would be to our relationship with Almighty God through Jesus Christ.

Again, this choice involves the equivalent of death, like the dying of a kernel of wheat. If we refuse to choose God over all other choices, we are then choosing to be a kernel of wheat that remains a single seed and will never have eternal life.

So, as Jesus begins to draw all of us into this necessity of dying to our life in this world, He says that those who die will not only bear much fruit, but will enjoy eternal life beyond our life in this world.

Life is filled with illustrations of dying to the demands our body is making of us. If we refuse to learn the lessons of death, we will live miserable lives. Self denial is a crucial lesson we must all learn. Self indulgence is not the path to freedom, no matter how clever the advertisement. Accomplishment comes to those who learn to say “no” to the demands of our body.

The famous runner Jim Ryun, who set a record for the mile when he was eighteen years old, said about his training, “I would run until I felt I couldn’t take another step, then I would run until I felt my lungs were going to burst. When I came to that state, then I would run until I thought I was going to pass out. When I did this, I was making progress.” 1[1]

As many earthly benefits there are to learning the death principle or the seed principle, the greatest benefits are received when we apply the principle to our relationship with Christ. Until we are ready and willing to turn our backs on the things of this world to follow Christ, we will miss out in the multi-dimensional, fruit filled, eternal life with God.

In the third illustration that Jesus shares, He is now primarily speaking of His audience. Certainly His own life illustrates the truth of what He is sharing, but Jesus is making His appeal to all who would listen.

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.

Again we see the demand with a promise. Similar to the requirement that the seed must die in order to multiply, similar to the love for this world that must take a back seat to our love for Christ, now Jesus is saying what all this looks like is the obedient servant.

Surely, following Jesus means obeying Him. And obeying Him is to be His servant. And Jesus has demonstrated for us what it looks like to be an obedient servant.

So, how do we define the word servant, particularly a servant by choice? How do we describe someone who has a servant’s heart?

Our texts tells us that a true servant with a servant’s heart has discovered the joy of having died to his own selfish ambitions and given himself to the desires of his master. Folks, this is counter cultural. It goes against the popular notions of freedom and license. We are told we are foolish to deny our selves in order to obey God. What a waste!

But Jesus says, the way to find life eternal, to enjoy the presence of God at every turn in life, is to “hate” our life in this world. Be so in love with Jesus that by comparison all other loves are like hate.

A servant who focuses on the desires of God will find his own desires being fulfilled.

So, when you are looking for someone who illustrates this truth about a servant, would you be in your top ten group? Does your approach to life provide an example of the kind of servant Christ is speaking of here?

You see, Jesus is not just a servant to us. He is the Lord of servants. He is a master servant who leads a huge company of servants. And, one of the primary ways He develops servants is helping them to die to their selfish ambitions and put Christ first in all things.

Such a life is full of promise. Jesus says, My Father will honor the one who serves Me.

But, Jesus says by His own example that the servant life is not without its pain and cost and sacrifice. In fact, I believe He is saying, to live as a servant is to be in constant review of the game plan. Not to change the plan, but to be reminded and to be renewed in the plan to surrender all things to Christ and let Him lead by first dying to our own desires, inviting Him to replace those desires with His.

This is precisely what Jesus did as He presses in on the cross.

27 “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. 28 Father, glorify Your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

Jesus, the model servant, calls on us to join Him as a fellow servant. This is the way to eternal life. This is the path to fruitful living. This is the road of honor.

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.


1 H. P. Liddon, Passiontide Sermons (London: Longman’s Green, 1903), p. 105.

[1]Hughes, R. K. (1999). John : That you may believe. Preaching the Word (300). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

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