31 March 2015

John 12:20-36

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (vv. 24-25)

Psalm: Psalm 71


John 12 records the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (John 12:12-19) only five days before the Passover and one day after his anointing in Bethany.

In the aftermath of shouts of Hosanna, the waving of palm branches and the riding of a colt into Jerusalem we hear of some Greeks who had also come to the Festival who quietly desired to see Jesus. Interestingly, we are never told whether their request was granted.

Jesus' response to the request of these Greeks is to proclaim that the hour of his glory had come. It does not seem unreasonable to read in Jesus' response and the prophetic utterance of the Pharisees that the whole world would go after Jesus, some sense that this has borne some first fruits in these Greeks.

However, it is Jesus explanation of his glory that really indicates the paradoxical nature of divine glory. His glory is his death.

How is death glorious? Despite various monuments to the glorious dead, at war memorials across this great land, the ugly truth is that death is hardly ever glorious. Unless, that is, such a death leads to life.

Jesus' use of the imagery of grain of wheat, which cannot bear fruit unless it dies and is buried, is both profound and simple. Those who love their life (ie try to hold on to it) will lose it. Those who hate their life in this world (ie prepared to give up their life) will keep it for eternal life.

The path to eternal life is via the way of death. This is a distinctive Christian doctrine, to celebrate death precisely because we believe in resurrection to eternal life. Death therefore has lost its sting and become a mere tool for the glory of God.

To Ponder

  • These words of Jesus are often used at funerals, entirely appropriately. To what extent have they become for you a meaningless liturgy? How might you live as one prepared to give up their life?
  • 'Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die' is a widely quoted truism. How far would you say that this is incompatible with genuine Christian faith?
  • Are we meant to seek to apply John 12:24 to our own lives or do we recognise that this was one way of reflecting upon the death of Jesus?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Calvin T Samuel

The Revd Dr Calvin T Samuel is a Methodist minister, currently stationed as Director of Wesley Study Centre, Durham - a Methodist theological institution which is part of St John's College within the University of Durham. Prior to this he was New Testament Tutor at Spurgeon's College in London and Chaplain to Farringtons School in Kent